I sailed onboard MSC Divina, a Fantasia-class ship, on her first roundtrip cruise from Miami last week. Here are a few of my initial impressions of this MSC Cruises ship, the first of the line's vessels to sail from North America year-round.
Lovely Architectural Styling and Design
I truly loved the look and feel of MSC Divina. She's elegant, yet comfortable, edgy yet welcoming. The vessel is also European in styling with free-flowing lines, lots of curves and high-quality materials. While the ship-wide look isn't Tuscan with warm colors, it's cosmopolitan and European in feel with a great design. Overall, this is now one of my favorite ships sailing the seven seas.
Red’s the Word for the Sophia Loren Suite
The top suite onboard MSC Divina honors the famous Italian actress who’s also the ship’s godmother. Clients will definitely need to love red to enjoy this suite. It’s red all over.
Agents touring with me remarked that the suite is rather small (comparatively with top-end accommodations on some other ships). “So it’s important to not ‘overpromise’ and ‘oversell’ in describing this” to clients, one agent said out loud, while another replied, “yeah, but the price point is good and it’s really cute.” She was right. It is cute and many clients will enjoy it.
This suite, however, is far forward and both balconies (from the main living area and the bedroom) lacked appealing outdoor space; the forward part of the balcony was protected by plexiglass and a railing that limited optimum use of the space.
Still, the suite has its wow elements, most notably the lush red décor with a wild heather-and-red carpet, special lamps and large black-and-white photos of Sophia Loren on the walls. Plus, the suite contains a replica of the special dressing table the actress uses. Movie buffs will love it.
The Latest Fitness Craze with a Water Twist: Aqua Cycling by Hydrorider, essentially "spinning" in the pool, is an exclusive addition to MSC Divina’s Caribbean itineraries. For a minimal fee, guests can participate in this new fitness craze with classes led by fitness professionals trained in the benefits of cycling under water.
At the same time, participants enjoy peppy music and healthy challenges. Classes we viewed in the aft pool were booked solid and guests were having a great time. Couch potatoes can watch the action in the pool on their in-stateroom television.
An Intimate Place of Respite -- MSC Yacht Club
My deluxe balcony suite within the MSC Yacht Club was fabulous. I loved the suite, the dark yet attractive colors, the size of the stateroom, comfortable bedding, a mini-fridge, the large couch (doubles as a pull-out bed), the walk-in closet, plethora of shelving along the entry wall and a roomy balcony.
The bathroom, while not large, felt luxurious with marble, glass and mirrors. The humongous mirror in the shower/tub was a bit disconcerting for bathers but made the small room seem larger.
The club is a ship-within-a-ship private access area with 69 suites; guests enter using their key card. The service in the MSC Yacht Club was the best on the ship – exceptionally friendly, caring and pleasant.
The club's exclusive Top Sail Lounge serves a robust continental breakfast and snack items throughout the day like taffy, dried apricots, pistachios, walnuts, baked goods and much more. The forward views were superb from the lounge, which has a full bar and live piano music nightly.
Outside the lounge, the MSC Yacht Club has its own atrium with a sparkling staircase, a huge circular skylight, a concierge desk and a small library. Up several levels by private access elevator is the club’s private pool, two whirlpools, a large deck area with loungers, a full bar and al fresco tables where a pool lunch is served daily. And the elevator also whisks guests directly down to a club-only spa entrance.
Another perk of the MSC Yacht Club is exclusive access to Le Muse, a lovely full-service restaurant with warm interior décor and an elegant look. Cuisine was tasty and the service attentive the two times I dined there. That said, this venue is not within the MSC Yacht Club but on the other side of the ship.
In addition, while the dining venue has a lovely expanse of windows that might provide panoramic views, instead they look out to a narrow exterior deck where bikini and speedo-clad guests can be viewed close-up as they sunbathe on loungers just steps away. The addition of sheer curtains to the restaurant might be appropriate to let in the light but block the odd views for diners wanting to a pampering, relaxing and intimate dining experience, which the venue's interior does deliver.
Eataly Steakhouse and Ristorante Italia
After the first two Eataly restaurants at sea proved a major hit on sister-ship MSC Preziosa, MSC Divina now boasts her own Eataly restaurants, a popular Turin-based chain founded by Oscar Farinetti in 2007. It opened in the US in 2010 in partnership with celebrity chefs Mario Batali and Lidia and Joe Bastianich.
On MSC Divina’s Deck 7, the 115-seat Eataly Steakhouse is fashioned after Manzo, the famed restaurant in Eataly’s Manhattan location. An adjacent 30-seat, evening-only Ristorante Italia offers an ultra-high-quality, table d‟hôte‟ menu every evening.
Eataly Steakhouse's Decor is basic with plastic chairs, but it was a fun space and we liked the Italian maps on the walls. Take a big appetite, though, as the portions are large. The pasta second course was so good we all “ate it all,” and it was tough to find room for the next course. The food here is very good; the filet mignon steak was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Service was good.
New Product, A Few Service Hiccups
Overall, I loved the look and feel of MSC Divina. It has great potential as a year-round Caribbean ship, particularly for experienced travelers who don’t need a ship to look as though it just came out of the tropics in terms of its design.
Rick Sasso, president of MSC Cruises USA, and Ken Muskat, the line's senior vice president, sales and marketing, have both been highly involved in adapting the product for the U.S. market. You can read about the vision in the link below.
RELATED LINK: Inside MSC Divina's Miami Move
Delivering that vision with an adapted product on the first cruise roundtrip from Miami had some challenges, though. Staff were dealing with the typical U.S. health and U.S. Coast Guard processes and inspections. And, it was the first time the crew were delivering the adapted product for North Americans.
Most notably, the service levels in the main areas of the ship, outside the MSC Yacht Club, was inconsistent. We met some extremely friendly, smiling and helpful crew members, but others weren’t yet clearly on the same page. Service in the main dining room, in particular, was very uneven and rarely anticipatory. We had to ask for everything repeatedly from water to bread refills and wine.
Sasso told me that he feels the line has an excellent foundation for success on MSC Divina and that the product changes will become more familiar to crew moving forward. But both he and Muskat found things they wanted to immediately change or address onboard. They had multiple meetings with onboard staff. And so, it will be interesting to see how things go over the next few weeks.
One agency executive, who wished to remain anonymous, told me that "they'll get it right," that it will just take a few weeks and "this it's very helpful for the industry to have another competitor at this price point to give us options other than Carnival."
From my perspective, I felt the ship itself was lovely, the product has great potential, and the MSC Yacht Club is a good upscale choice for guests seeking pampering and their own intimate enclave. I'd like to sail in a few months and see how the service delivery is progressing and I'll ask agents to keep us informed in that regard.