Our Mediterranean Experience in the Caribbean
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Recently, I spent a week aboard MSC Cruises’ MSC Divina in the Eastern Caribbean. Truthfully, I went not to see Philipsburg and San Juan and Grand Turk, but to experience both MSC cruising and MSC Divina herself. Chances are good that you’ve heard of the rapidly-expanding European cruise line – but chances are equally good that you’ve heard some not-so-great things about them.
Initially, MSC Divina was plagued by comments about uneven service, language barriers, and products that didn’t quite cater to the needs of North Americans. That, however, was nearly two years ago – and in that time, MSC has made some remarkable strides in the Caribbean. I don’t like to say any one voyage was my favorite – but this was one of the most enjoyable and surprising mainstream cruises I’ve ever been on.
Our full Live Voyage Report:
- Day 1: Embarkation in Miami
- Day 2: At Sea
- Day 3: Cruising the Caribbean Sea
- Day 4: Philipsburg, St. Maarten
- Day 5: San Juan, Puerto Rico
- Day 6: Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos
- Day 7: One Last Mediterranean Day at Sea
MSC Divina is superbly designed, and looks like no other vessel afloat. Colourful and trendy, there’s sure to be a public room that appeals to you. Staterooms, even in non-Yacht Club categories, are larger than you might expect, and beautifully appointed.
Your fellow guests are an intoxicating mixture of singles, couples, families and retirees from around the world. There’s a large European presence, as you might expect, but also a significant portion of people who hail from South America, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Canadians and Americans make up roughly half of the sailings out of Miami, and many French Canadians from Quebec make the journey down thanks to MSC’s policy of offering printed materials in French as well as English, German, Spanish and Portuguese.
Unlike MSC’s other ships, English is the primary spoken language aboard MSC Divina. It’s a policy that has done well for the line in the Caribbean, and they will be keeping the English-language focus there when MSC Divina sails for the Mediterranean this summer.
One of the things I appreciated most about our Eastern Caribbean voyage were the uncommon experiences that MSC filled our days with. I’d even place the onboard production shows in this category, for the simple reason that they were so diverse, from Michael Jackson tributes to full-blown Italian operas. The only thing that united them, however, was their high quality: I’ve never seen so many standing ovations given to entertainment on a weeklong Caribbean cruise.
If I had to pick, my favorite onboard activity was the wine blending classes held by MSC Divina’s onboard resident wine expert, Dina. You could do classes on blending red or white wine that were offered multiple times per week at a cost of $40 per person, which included your very own bottle of wine, blended to your exact specifications. Even if you don’t know anything about wine, it’s a heck of a lot of fun, and Dina made the experience engaging and personable.
Even the act of ordering an extra-cost Eataly Pizza – made with real Italian ingredients – was a form of entertainment in and of itself, as guests gathered to watch the pizza dough being flipped high above the Executive Chef’s head. When the pizza was fully baked, it almost looked too good to eat. I say, ‘almost’ because the pizza aboard MSC Divina was the best I’ve eaten outside Italy. No joke.
I think it’s most important to highlight a question that you’re surely all asking yourselves by now: should I sail with MSC?
Give MSC A Try If:
- You’re looking for an affordable, big-ship cruise that’s not a floating theme park. MSC Divina is a huge ship with plenty of fun features and activities to satisfy guests of any age, but it’s an experience with a lot of class.
- You appreciate good food. MSC Divina, in particular, is loaded with great culinary offerings, from freshly-made pizza to gelato and pasta – all of which are produced right onboard the ship.
- You love good coffee. The caffeinated offerings onboard MSC’s ships are on par with what’s available on ultra-luxury lines like Hapag-Lloyd Cruises and Silversea. And yes, the coffee alone is worth the price of admission. Just try the cappuccino; it’s the best I’ve had outside of Italy.
- You enjoy live music, dancing, and quality entertainment. MSC’s entertainment is uncommonly good, and the amount of live music spanning all genres scattered throughout the ship is inspiring. Guests think so, too: public rooms are typically busy and inviting until well past midnight.
Maybe Take a Pass If:
- You demand a homogenized, rah-rah-America big ship experience. This isn’t it. Your fellow guests hail from all over the world, and they like good food, late evenings, live music and dancing. Although English is the official language spoken aboard MSC Divina, you’ll hear many others during your days and nights onboard. The atmosphere onboard is proudly European.
- You’re looking for a quiet, unassuming cruise. Again, this isn’t it. MSC is bold, fun, and decidedly upscale. However, even on the MSC Divina, quiet nooks and crannies could always be found.
- You hate dress codes. MSC still features Formal Nights in conjunction with several theme nights throughout the voyage – and onboard the MSC Divina, nearly every guest dressed accordingly.
- You’re put off by things that are ‘different.’ If you’re expecting this to be just like Carnival or just like Royal Caribbean, you’ll be disappointed. MSC marches to the beat of their own drummer…and their guests love them for that.
On a personal level, my week with MSC was an illuminating experience. That they’ve had a rocky road in the North American market in the past is undeniable; that they’re making significant changes and inroads for the better is an understatement. This, truly, was my kind of mainstream cruise: big, bold, fun – but with a touch of class and European atmosphere.
If you’ve been on the fence about MSC, you’re not alone. A lot of people are. I was – but not anymore. In fact, I feel like I’ve stumbled upon some sort of wonderful secret in discovering both MSC Cruises and the classy MSC Divina.
It’s a secret I can’t wait to repeat.
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|