Day 3 – Cruising the Caribbean Sea

At Sea En-Route to Philipsburg, St. Maarten

Once again, we're sailing the Caribbean Sea en-route to Philipsburg, St. Maarten aboard the gorgeous MSC Divina. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Once again, we’re sailing the Caribbean Sea en-route to Philipsburg, St. Maarten aboard the gorgeous MSC Divina. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports

Monday, February 9, 2015

In the old days, doctors used to routinely prescribe a “long sea voyage” as the cure-all for a variety of ailments. It was thought that the ocean air had rejuvenating powers, and that being at sea was good for the patient’s overall well-being. While 19th century medicine was no picnic, doctors of the time were right about one thing: being at sea is definitely good for you. Here onboard MSC Cruises’ MSC Divina, thousands of very happy guests are, at this very moment, discovering just how relaxing two days in a row at sea can be.

A trip to MSC Divina's enclosed Le Sirene Covered Pool on Deck 14 proved to be a popular choice. I wish more ships would do the indoor pool/solarium thing. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
A trip to MSC Divina’s enclosed Le Sirene Covered Pool on Deck 14 proved to be a popular choice. I wish more ships would do the indoor pool/solarium thing. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The vast majority of today’s activities took place outside on Deck 14, near the Aqua Park, MSC Divina’s exquisitely-designed pool deck midships. In fact, the Aqua Park is the one-stop-wonder when it comes to outdoor entertainment. Starting with the Morning Walk group at 9:00 a.m., a total of 13 separate activities are scheduled to take place here until the evening concludes with poolside karaoke at 10:30 p.m.

I’m not much of a pool deck guy, but by the time I did decide to take a break from working and go up and read a few chapters in my book topside, the rest of the guests onboard had figured out that Decks 14 and 15 were the places to be. But, no matter: I spent an enjoyable hour reading on my balcony, listening to the sea churn beneath our hull as we continued to make our way at 19 knots towards Philipsburg.

Deck 14's Aqua Park was packed today! This was the pool deck when it was still relatively calm...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Deck 14’s Aqua Park was packed today! This was the pool deck when it was still relatively calm…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...during Poolside Bingo! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…during Poolside Bingo! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Personally, today I discovered just how attentive MSC can be. Guest services called this afternoon to check up on my nut allergy, and to ensure that everything is being taken care of to ensure that I never ingest any of the little critters. That’s not so unusual, though it does tent to pop up more on luxury cruises.

Here’s the real winner, in my eyes: the Black Pearl Dining Room will be listed as “closed” when we’re in port – but it is still open for guests who have pre-registered dietary concerns when they booked their cruise. In fact, guests with noted dietary restrictions are actually encouraged to dine there instead of in the buffet. The word from the top: just open the doors and come on in!

Tile work in the Le Sirene Indoor Pool. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Tile work in the Le Sirene Indoor Pool. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

As an allergy sufferer, I can’t even begin to describe how endlessly impressed I am with that. To hold dedicated dining room service between Noon and 2pm on port days as an alternative to the buffet for those with dietary restrictions is huge. And I am one of the fortunate ones: I can usually manage my meals fairly well by making careful choices and asking questions. But if you were lactose or gluten-intolerant, having this could be a real stress-reliever.

One of the most common complaints about modern mainstream cruising – that I have, at least – is that the focus has become very insular on newer cruise ships. On other ships operated by other lines, guests are sheltered, even protected, from having to see the ocean. Public rooms have few windows, and activities are geared towards the Vegas set more than the seagoing crowd. That’s not the case with MSC – and I couldn’t be happier.

Public rooms - and restaurants, like the Black Crab Restaurant that spans Decks 5 and 6 - all feature an uncommon number of windows that face the sea. That's a good thing. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Public rooms – and restaurants, like the Black Crab Restaurant that spans Decks 5 and 6 – all feature an uncommon number of windows that face the sea. That’s a good thing. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Black Pearl details. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Black Pearl details. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Onboard MSC Divina, nearly every single public room has oversized windows that let in plenty of natural light. Even on Deck 7 where the view is obstructed by the ship’s lifeboats, each and every public room has windows that flood the ship’s interior spaces with sunshine.

That’s impressive because, from the outside, you’d never guess that the ship has so much natural light – or a spacious Promenade Deck hidden behind the lifeboats.

The aft end of Decks 8.9.10,11,12, and 13 feature these little outdoor wings, tucked away at the end of the passenger stateroom corridors. You can actually ascend from Deck 7 to Deck 14 all without needing to go back inside the ship.
The aft end of Decks 8.9.10,11,12, and 13 feature these little outdoor wings, tucked away at the end of the passenger stateroom corridors. You can actually ascend from Deck 7 to Deck 14 all without needing to go back inside the ship.

Other cool design features: open wings on the aft port and starboard sides of Decks 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 that feature staircases for guests to use. You can literally ascend from Deck 7 all the way to Deck 14 using these outside staircases – and get an amazing view to boot. Even better, each deck “wing” provides access to the guest corridors.

Of course, the views from the stern are suitably rewarding as we speed along at 19 knots. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Of course, the views from the stern are suitably rewarding as we speed along at 19 knots. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

This particular cruise is also one of MSC’s Theme Cruises. In the case of our Eastern Caribbean sailing, the theme is Baseball Greats. I won’t even attempt to bluff my way through baseball; I know absolutely nothing about the sport. But there are four ex-Baseball greats here onboard, including Art Shamsky from the 1969 Mets; Gorman Thomas of the Brewers; The Indian’s Johnny Romano, and Stan Bahnsen, former NY Rookie of the Year and White Sox all-star. Fans of the game will no doubt love the clinics and baseball-themed movies that are available onboard.

Since we’re cruising along with MSC Divina to the Caribbean – and since an English-language brochure for the line mysteriously cropped up in my stateroom this afternoon (thank you!) – it seems only fitting to talk about where this gorgeous ship will be this year.

Ta-Daa! An English-language brochure mysteriously found its way to my stateroom today. Nice touch! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Ta-Daa! An English-language brochure mysteriously found its way to my stateroom today. Nice touch! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Between now and April, MSC Divina will be sailing the warm waters of the Caribbean. But did you know she sails to Bermuda from Miami? It’s true – on April 11, 2015, MSC Divina sets sail from the Port of Miami on a weeklong itinerary that spends three days in King’s Wharf, Bermuda and a single day in Nassau, Bahamas. This one-off itinerary will be repeated in April of 2016, but itineraries to Bermuda from Miami are exceedingly rare. For my Floridian friends: this is one trip you might want to take a closer look at. Unless, of course, you enjoy flying into LaGuardia and sailing out of New York.

Another very cool cruise: MSC Divina’s dual transatlantic crossings that take place in April and October of this year. Her April voyage offers the ability to embark in Miami or New York, and spans 20 days in length if you sail from Miami all the way across the Atlantic to Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy.

Let's have a look around the ship! Pictured here is the Calumet & Manitou Buffet on Deck 14. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Let’s have a look around the ship! Pictured here is the Calumet & Manitou Buffet on Deck 14. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Yes, it’s true: the Diva will be leaving Miami. But her absence is only temporary, because she returns this fall on a spectacular crossing from Genoa, Italy to Miami? Departing October 24, 2015, this 18-night voyage calls on Barcelona and Malaga, Spain before setting out for Funchal, Madeira, Portugal and the Caribbean. Before her arrival in Miami, she’ll stop in Bridgetown, Barbados; Fort de France, Martinique; Philipsburg, St. Maarten; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, and a special overnight call in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

A season of Mediterranean cruising fills in the gaps, and MSC Divina returns to the Caribbean this coming winter, where she’ll sail three separate itineraries covering the Eastern and Western Caribbean.

A quick look at what’s happening onboard MSC Divina today, in terms of live music:

Monday, February 9, 2015

Sunrise: 7:14 a.m. | Sunset: 6:23 p.m.

Forecast: Low 24°C/75°F | High: 27°C/80°F

~

“GREAT CLASSICS”

Old Favorites and Timeless Classics performed by The Amsterdam Trio and Luis. From 5:15 p.m. until late. Divina Bar – Reception Area, Decks 5 and 6.

“COFFEE BREAK”

Do a spot of shopping, have a coffee or enjoy an ice cream in a lively, fun environment. Music Performed by Duo Secret Soul and Nello Russo. From 5:15 p.m. until late. Piazza del Doge, Deck 6.

“UNFORGETTABLE”

Listen to the most beautiful songs ever written, performed by Duo Ameritalian. Request your favorites! From 6:15 p.m. until late. La Luna Piano Bar, Deck 7.

“MUSIC & DANCING”

With Duo Elements. From 5:45 p.m. until late. Golden Jazz Bar, Deck 7

“LET’S DANCE…”

International dance music with Caribbean Flavour and Trio Latin Mambo. From 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. and from 10:15 p.m. until late. Black & White Lounge, Deck 7

“POOLSIDE MELODIES”

Dance music for all with Leandro. From 1:15 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. Aqua Park, Deck 14

“MUSIC & WINE”

International Music with Leandro and Nello. From 8:00 p.m. until late. La Cantina de Bacco, Deck 7.

“MEZMERISING SAX”

With Nello Russo. From 7:15 p.m. to 10:45 p.m. Galaxy Restaurant, Deck 16.

This afternoon, we took in a matinee opera performance in the Pantheon Theatre on Decks 6 and 7 forward. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
This afternoon, we took in a matinee opera performance in the Pantheon Theatre on Decks 6 and 7 forward. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

This afternoon, I also made time to take in the one-time-only matinee performance of Amiami Quant’io T’Amo! – or Love Me As Much As I Love You. It’s a condensed version of La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi, starring Iryna Zima (soprano) and Nazar Tatsyshyn (tenor).
As I wrote earlier, I stopped going to shows onboard cruise ships years ago. The simple, honest reason is that they bore me. I’m tired of seeing the best of the Burt Bacharach Songbook or A Tribute to ABBA.

An afternoon at the Opera...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
An afternoon at the Opera…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...garners a standing ovation for the cast. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…garners a standing ovation for the cast. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

This, however, was something entirely different. This was The Opera. Sure, it was The Opera, Abridged, but it was still The Opera! I barely realized a full hour had passed when the final curtain came down and the audience rose to their feet to deliver a standing ovation that lasted nearly five minutes.

I might start rethinking my policy on onboard shows if they’re as culturally-immersive as today’s Opera was. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe MSC is a mainstream cruise line; their offerings frequently reveal their premium (and even luxury) aspirations.

More fun! This afternoon, we had the chance to blend our own bottle of wine...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
More fun! This afternoon, we had the chance to blend our own bottle of wine…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...in the beautiful La Cantina di Bacco on Deck 7. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…in the beautiful La Cantina di Bacco on Deck 7. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

In keeping with that theme, this evening we participated in one of the coolest things I think I’ve done aboard a cruise ship: a full-blown Winemaking Experience.

Each winemaking session takes place in La Cantina di Bacco on Deck 7. It’s a gorgeous space decorated in shades of forest green and flanked with faux brick work that makes it seem as though you’re in some quaint little cantina in Italy.

Led by MSC Divina’s onboard resident winemaker Dina, sessions cost US$40 per person – but that includes the session and your very own bottle of wine, complete with custom label.

Playing mad scientist with some Malbec... Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Playing mad scientist with some Malbec… Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

So how do you blend wine? It’s easy – and then it’s not. The first step is to taste four separate varietals: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Zinfandel. Dina guides you through what you should be tasting, and how to differentiate between the varietals.

The next step is the fun part. Here, you get to play Mad Scientist and mix up your very own concoction of wine using the prescribed amounts of each varietal that you specify. It’s great fun – a lot of trial and error is involved, and you’ll soon discover why they call this an ‘art.’ I’d highly recommend this as a group activity; our small group was nearly in tears from laughter. Or was that just the wine?

La Cantina di Bacco also has its own dedicated wine bar, if you don't feel like blending your own. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
La Cantina di Bacco also has its own dedicated wine bar, if you don’t feel like blending your own. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Wine tastings on cruise ships are as old as art auctions and fixed-seating dinner – but I have to admit to have never seeing a blending class onboard before. It’s a great way to improve your wine appreciation and have fun at the same time. Highly recommended.

Tonight, I am becoming a creature of habit. Despite my best efforts to sit and do this blog somewhere else, I keep returning to the Caffe Italia on Deck 7, where I can sit in the comfortable plush chairs in elegant surroundings while I listen to the classical music emanating from the atrium below.

If there has been one surprise on this cruise, it is this: I never expected to find such an elegant environment onboard – or such variety. If the disco is your thing, it’s here too. If country duets are your thing, they’re here, too. Few ships can offer the kind of live musical entertainment that MSC is offering to guests each night aboard MSC Divina – and certainly not at this price-point.

Perhaps that’s the best way to describe MSC: Pleasantly Surprising.

Goodnight! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Goodnight! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Our full journey:

Our MSC Divina Eastern Caribbean Live Voyage Report will run from February 7-14, 2015. Illustration courtesy of MSC Cruises.
Our MSC Divina Eastern Caribbean Live Voyage Report will run from February 7-14, 2015. Illustration courtesy of MSC Cruises.

MSC Divina, Sailing the Eastern Caribbean, Mediterranean Style

DAYPORTARRIVEDEPART
Saturday, February 7, 2015Miami, FloridaEmbark MSC Divina19:00
Sunday, February 8At Sea
Monday, February 9At Sea
Tuesday, February 10Philipsburg, St. Maarten09:00 18:00
Wednesday, February 11San Juan, Puerto Rico08:0016:00
Thursday, February 12Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos10:0017:30
Friday, February 13At Sea
Saturday, February 14, 2015Miami, Florida07:00Disembark
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