Your Private Island…With a Dock
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Thursday, February 12, 2015
Today, MSC Cruises’ MSC Divina was originally supposed to spend a day at sea before anchoring off Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas tomorrow. But a last-minute alteration was made to the itinerary, and it was one for the better. An unexpected berthing space popped up in the picturesque paradise of Grand Turk in the Turks & Caicos, and MSC jumped at the chance to bring MSC Divina there.
Created for Carnival Corporation PLC in 2006 at a cost of $40-million, Grand Turk is a manufactured cruise port of call – but a beautiful one at that. In many ways, it was designed to serve the same purpose as the so-called “private island experience” that many cruise lines have been offering for decades, but without the cumbersome need to tender ashore. In the 1990’s, when ships were smaller, tendering was possible, and even fun. Today, with ships holding thousands of guests, tendering ashore can be a real pain.
There is a smattering of local history here in Grand Turk. The United States previously used the island as an Air Force base, and NASA picked the Turks & Caicos to be one of their splash-down sites back when the Apollo space program was all the rage. But by and large, this is unabashedly nothing more than a beautiful place to kick back on the beach, go for a swim, and down a cold beer – all within sight of your cruise ship.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can set out for the island’s main settlement of Cockburn Town, just few miles up the road from the Cruise Center. There are a few good beaches near there that are far less heavily…populated…but nearly everyone will flock to Governor’s Beach near the cruise ship terminal as it has the most magnificent view.
Is it touristy? Yes – nakedly so. And you might be inclined to turn your nose up at it and state that you don’t want to do touristy things. Guess what? The vast majority of the Caribbean is touristy! So go ashore, grab an adult beverage, and – as they say, “When In Rome, Do as the Romans Do.”
A few photos of our picturesque day ashore:
Now, I should let you in on my beach afternoon, which I spent briefly with my friend and fellow colleague Jason Leppert of Popular Cruising. You see, we just wanted to go out onto the beach, snap a few photographs of MSC Divina at her berth, and head back to the ship for some Italian gelato. Not intending to spend much, if any, time on the beach, we wore runners. That turned out to be a mistake.
Larger-than-normal swells swept ashore and raced higher up the beach than I’d seen them come on previous visits. Naturally, I was taking a photo when one washed ashore. It didn’t just touch my runners. No. It absolutely swamped them, coming up past my kneecaps and swamping my shoes completely.
Turns out I wasn’t the only one. Jason’s shoes got completely swamped, too. At one point, it almost became comical: it didn’t matter how high up on the shoreline we walked – the high waves found us. We conceded defeat and took our sopping wet footwear off, only to have a small mountain of sand drain out of each shoe.
You see, kids, the lesson of the day is this: just wear sandals or flip-flops. Or no footwear at all. Right now, our shoes are in our respective staterooms in a “drying out” program on our respective balconies. The Caribbean heat is doing all it can to resuscitate our shoes, but the prognosis looks grim.
As I said to Jason, “Don’t worry. Someday we’ll be cool!” At least, I keep telling myself that.
Fortunately, I still have two pairs of dress shoes to play with, which came in handy since tonight is Formal Night once again here onboard the MSC Divina. Once again, nearly the entire ship dressed up in their best for the occasion, which was punctuated with a Gala Dinner and a special reception from Captain Pier Paolo Scala (who is quite a funny, engaging gentleman).
I kicked the evening off in my favorite lounge, the La Luna Piano Bar, where I tried to order a suitably vibrant-coloured drink. It didn’t quite work out; the Ginger Martini I selected turned out to be completely transparent. The second instructions to the waiter (“Bring me your most vibrant, colourful drink!”) worked out much better!
At 7:00 p.m., I went to see the first performance of Starwalker: A Tribute to Michael Jackson in the Pantheon Theatre. Once again, I’m not a big fan of production shows anymore. I rarely watch them when I am on a cruise ship, but I decided to because I’d heard good things about the show from past guests.
This, however, really exceeded my expectations. Not only did it showcase some of Jackson’s most famous hits, it also combined multiple styles of media, including video, dance, lighting, fog effects, recorded intros, and more.
One of the most moving tributes came near the end of the show, as the cast of the MSC Divina came together to thank everyone – via illuminated placards – in several different languages, with the English “Thank You” closing out the show to thunderous applause.
Once again, the audience rose to their feet and gave the cast a standing ovation. I’ve never seen so many standing ovations for cruise ship entertainment as I have here onboard the MSC Divina. Tonight’s performance really seemed to strike a chord with the audience, and I am not ashamed to say that I teared up a bit at the end. It was a touching, moving, and beautiful show. Absolutely not what I had expected.
Dinner in the Villa Rossa dining room was also quite special tonight. For those who love lobster, take note: this is your night! I myself don’t care for the stuff, so I settled on Duck a’ L’orange, which I absolutely love. Couple that with some pan-seared sea scallops, chilled watermelon soup and a flamboyant Baked Alaska parade, and you’ve got the recipe for a great evening onboard.
Tonight, 576 nautical miles separate us from our arrival at the Port of Miami on Saturday. That distance grows shorter with each passing hour as we spend our second last night at sea here onboard the MSC Divina. The mood onboard, however, is jovial. It would seem that I am far from being the only guest who is reluctant to let a single moment of this cruise slip past them.
And still, there’s so much left to do. I haven’t been to the Spa yet, except to have my hair cut a few days back. I haven’t taken a whirl on the Formula 1 simulator, or the 4D Cinema experience. I haven’t sat down in the Solarium and read my book. I haven’t had lunch at Eataly like I was going to, and I haven’t just sat by the pool doing nothing at all. I’ll have to try my best to remedy that tomorrow.
A the end of the day, I think the charismatic Captain Pier Paolo Scala put it best during his speech at the conclusion of the tribute to Michael Jackson. MSC Divina boasts a crew of over 1,300 individuals that hail from 42 different countries. What a wonderful world it would be if everyone on Earth got along as well as they do on a cruise ship.
Our full journey:
MSC Divina, Sailing the Eastern Caribbean, Mediterranean Style
|Saturday, February 7, 2015||Miami, Florida||Embark MSC Divina||19:00|
|Sunday, February 8||At Sea|
|Monday, February 9||At Sea|
|Tuesday, February 10||Philipsburg, St. Maarten||09:00||18:00|
|Wednesday, February 11||San Juan, Puerto Rico||08:00||16:00|
|Thursday, February 12||Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos||10:00||17:30|
|Friday, February 13||At Sea|
|Saturday, February 14, 2015||Miami, Florida||07:00||Disembark|