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MSC Divina Cruise Review
Southern Caribbean Cruise
Dec. 10-21, 2013

by Mary & Vincent Finelli

This is our second cruise on MSC ships; our first one was in February last year on the MSC “Poesia.”  We published a review on the “Poesia” and included a history of MSC and its founder Commander Gianluigi Aponte, who in 1970 started the company as a container shipping enterprise and in 1987 added the cruise division. Commander Aponte’s son Diego heads the cargo sector and his daughter Alexa, the cruise division. This venerable family has a shipping history of over 300 years (in 1675 it transported its first passengers).  Today it carries passengers from 186 different nationalities, while sailing from five different continents with a fleet of over twelve cruising ships. We were so happy to be welcomed back by Hotel Director Neven Zdunic and the Guest Relations Manager Mandy Leigh Castle. Just like coming home! We also met Captain Francesco Veniero, who conversed in Italian and Neapolitan with Vincent, since they are both from the same region of Italy, Campania. Capt. Veniero is a very friendly and cordial person. He is the epitome of an officer and a gentleman.

The  port of Miami is easily accessed during the week, as most cruise lines depart and return on Saturday and Sunday. Since this was an 11-day cruise to the Southern Caribbean Islands, boarding on Tuesday 12-10-13, the MS Divina was the only large ship in port. She appeared more like a three block long Condo Complex than a ship. Check-in was fast and simple with wheel chairs given priority boarding. We completed the procedure in only 20 minutes from curb (baggage drop off) to cabin. Excellent! Upon entering the ship, the cabin stewards were lined up to assist us with hand luggage, a classic welcome aboard. 
The Ship is lovely, highly decorated in every square inch. Much emphasis is placed on beautiful and stunning art work and gorgeous sculptures: witness the beautiful mural of a mermaid with a shining tail of mother-of-pearl (abalone) mosaic iridescently attractive. The Divina is just over 139,000 tons, 330,30 meters (1,093.5 ft.) long and 37.92 meters (124 ft.) wide. Her draft is just 8.68 meters (28.5 ft.).  She is run by 5 diesel generators and two propellers: her maximum speed is 23.75 knots. The maximum capacity for passengers is 4,363; there are 392 inside cabins,122 ocean view cabins, 1,097 balcony cabins. and 97 suites. There are 26 elevators/lifts with 17 of them reserved for MSC Yacht Club Guests. 

Decks 1 through 3 are for crew use only.

Deck 4 Atlante has the Medical Center.

Deck 5 Saturno, forward are Passenger cabins; midship are the Reception Desk, the Cybercafe’ and the Divina Bar; and toward aft there is the lower level of the Black Crab Dining Room.

Deck 6 Zeus, forward there is the Pantheon Theatre, simple and elegant in red and gold: every seat in the theatre has a perfect view of the stage, since there are no poles or columns. Towards midship is the Casino Veneziano. Then, there are  Piazza del Doge, the Cigar Lounge, the shops, Ponte dei Sospiri, the Excursion Office, the upper level of the Black Crab Dining Room and finally, all the way aft, is the Villa Rossa Panoramic Restaurant. By the way, this restaurant cannot be accessed from deck 6, but one must go to deck 7 or other decks, walk to the aft elevators and take the elevator or the stairway to deck 6.

Deck 7 Apollo forward is the Theatre balcony, towards midship is the La Luna Piano Bar and the Caffe Italia. Midship is also La Cantina di Bacco, while aft is the Black and White lounge.

Deck 8 Artemide, Deck 9 Minerva, Deck 10 Giunone, Deck 11 Iride, Deck 12 Aurora and Deck 13 Cupido are all cabins and suites.

Deck 14 Afrodite forward has the Aurea Spa and toward midship is the covered pool. Midship is the Aqua Park with whirlpool spas, flanked by the Poseidon and Tritone Bars. Aft are the self service buffet Calumet and Manitou Cafeterias.

Deck 15 Mercurio forward are the MSC Yacht Club Suites. the Top Sail Lounge and the Concierge Area. Midship are whirl pool spas and the power walking tracks. Aft is the Le Muse MSC Yacht Club Restaurant and finally the Garden Pool Zen Area.

Deck 16 Urano forward has the MSC Yacht Club Suites and the sliding roof over the pool. Aft on 16 are Virtual World and the Sky and Stars Library. The hours are short and when taking a book out, you are required to sign a “legal document” which automatically charges your account $15 for each book until returned to the Passengers Service Desk.

There is no Deck 17, since in Italy it is an unlucky number as 13 is for the Americans.

Deck 18 Elios forward has the hydro massage whirlpool and the Top 18 Exclusive Solarium.

The Divina was built in St. Nazaire Chantiere D’Atlantique, in June 2012 she was launched and christened by her godmother Sophia Loren. At just more than a year old she is immaculate and very glitzy. She received a perfect CDC score of 100, making her a safe ship too. This ship is huge and very beautiful with many things to see and do. It takes forever to learn to navigate her, since the interior has circles and curves which create a maze; however, half the fun is getting there, as the old adage goes.

Our cabin #10221, wheelchair accessible is large and airy. When entering on the left is a triple armoire with two sections for hanging clothes and the third is drawers and the private safe. Next, there is a long convertible sofa, which sleeps two. Next there is a king sized bed, (quite high and extra firm) flanked by two night stands with reading lamps. The bed is too high for the physically challenged; the night stands are too low, with drawers on the floor. The furniture is dark mahogany with exquisitely grooved flat surfaces, no hardware, knobs etc. just hidden grooves below the doors for opening draws. This is very stark and stunning to look at, but not practical. Furniture design should be both beautiful and user friendly, that means comfortable.                            

When entering on the right there is the huge bathroom, large enough to accommodate the wheel chair. There is a sink with two large shelves for toiletries and the far wall has a safety rail. The commode has the racks for the bath towels directly behind it, which interferes with comfort; likewise, the shower seat has a pole for the shower head directly behind it, also making it uncomfortable. 

Next, there is a very long desk: at the first end is the refrigerator. At the other end there are the TV and  three drawers, the bottom one is fake. There is also a nice size glass coffee table and an upholstered chair (alas, no arms to aid the physically challenged to rise from the chair). On the back wall is a glass door and window. We asked our cabin steward several times if the ramp to the balcony could be moved from in front of the window to in front of the door, so we could go onto the balcony. Unfortunately, something was lost in translation. It was not until the Assistant Chief Housekeeper Kenny visited our room that the ramp was adjusted and the drapes moved away from blocking the door to park against the wall.  Better later than never. Thank you, Kenny for visiting our stateroom and fixing the problem. In planning and furnishing wheelchair accessible cabins, all aspects should be taken care of, including the furniture. The cabin should be surveyed by a physically challenged consultant.

On the walls are three huge prints in black, beige and maroon of abstract circles (signed Briata '10), nice for those who enjoy modern art!

The Divina carries 4,350 passengers and this cruise she was full. She usually has a crew of 1,360; however, it appeared that there was a shortage of staff, since in the dining rooms the waiters were always very busy, yet active and enthusiastic, but at times the communication in English was difficult. The efficiency and dedication of Station Captain Florentina made up for the deficiencies by frequently passing through the tables making sure that the passengers received the proper attention and satisfaction. She is one of the most active and efficient staff members and knows her business well.  We had a table for two #876, first seating, in the Villa Rossa dining room.  Our waiters, Rai and Rahmat, were excellent.

Assistant Maitre D’s Mario and Maurizio were always very helpful at lunch assigning us tables near the entrance to the dining room, since both of us have limited mobility and utilize a motorized wheelchair and a scooter. They always greeted us with friendly smiles and made us welcome in the dining room.

Executive Chef Attilio Ascione is young and personable. He is excellently trained in hotelier schools in Campania; in addition he has experience in Italian cuisine, which showed in the quality of the many pasta sauces offered both at lunch and dinner in all the dining venues. He is in charge of the Black Crab and Villa Rossa dining rooms, as well as other venues, Eataly Steak House and Pizzeria, the Buffet Calumet & Manitou, etc. The food is generally good with flashes of brilliance, especially with pasta dishes, steaks, and sea food that border on gourmet quality. 

On Gala nights there is a bottle of excellent quality Greek Calamata extra virgin olive oil on every table which we feel was one of the best olive oils we have ever tasted. At dinner appetizers are varied and include delicious shrimp cocktail  served differently each evening (i.e., with avocado, lettuce chiffonade, and various sauces).

Soups are varied from bean, tomato, chicken and beef broths, minestrone and cold soups worthy of trying. Salads are inventive with exotic greens such as radicchio, arugula, Boston bibs, mesclun, etc, nicely combined with nuts, raisins and fruits. You may want to ask for dressing on the side since the salads are usually heavily dressed. We prefer extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar which we can control ourselves.

Entrees include a pasta course, such as homemade maccheroni alla chitarra,  gnocchi,  fettuccine, etc, all delicious with authentic Italian sauces. Chef Attilio is terrific with some of our favorite sauces, such as puttanesca, amatriciana, arrabbiata, alla boscaiola, etc. In addition to the great pasta dishes we enjoyed the bread which was freshly baked every day, bread sticks, rosette, whole wheat rolls with seeds and the tasty focaccia, all baked to perfection!

Desserts included Italian gelato made on board, creme brulee, profiterols, cakes, cream puffs, etc. On Gala nights there were two dessert parades, one with a delicious tiramisu and the other with a tasty baked Alaska. Delightful.

The Divina has a full schedule of daily activities, events and entertainments. Each morning Cruise Director Andre Schlemmer does a shipboard TV program that highlights the special activities of the day, including the usual shipboard activities, such as Bingo, trivia, shuffleboard, ping-pong, arts & crafts, aqua cycling, dancing and Italian lessons, etc., as well as other unique games (i.e.,Formula 1 and 4D simulators). The Divina also continues the old custom of dancing with the Officers. 

There are evening movies on the giant screen (MSCinema al Fresco) at the Aqua Park, deck 14. MSC has an international ambiance and style which sets it apart from other lines. There are modern activities with an old world flavor in such a diverse variety that should please every passenger.

Well-being Packages are offered at the MSC Aurea Spa. Vincent, who suffers with sciatica, has taken advantage of a 3 sessions package of Acupunture with the SPA Doctor Majlinda Sotiri. She was very thorough and effective with the treatment. She is a very pleasant and interesting person who also conversed in Italian. The treatment resulted in a temporary improvement of the symptoms. Thank you, Majlinda!

We are going to list the ports of call without describing any excursion tours or the ports themselves, since we have not visited them on this cruise. We have cruised so many times in the Caribbean and have visited these ports on previous cruises, but now our objectives for cruising are the enjoyment of the ship, rest and relaxation.

Day 1.  Port of Miami, FL, Depart 7:00pm   
Day 2.  At sea
Day 3.  Falmouth, Jamaica, Arrive 9:00am,  Depart 6:00pm
Day 4.  At sea
Day 5.  Oranjestad, Aruba, Arrive 8:00 am, Depart 7:00 pm
Day 6.  Willemstad, Curacao, Arrive 8:00am, Depart 6:00pm
Day 7.  At sea
Day 8.  Cristobal, Panama, Arrive 7:00am, Depart 5:00pm
Day 9.  At seaDay 10.  Cozumel, Mexico, Arrive 10:00am, Depart 6:00pm
Day 11.  At sea
Day 12.  Miami, FL, Debarkation 8:00am

We requested wheelchair assistance for debarkation. A crew member came to our cabin at about 8:00 a.m. and assisted us to the assembly area for wheelchair passengers, then we proceeded to the gangway, but we had at least a half hour wait, since there was a stoppage at Passport Customs booths. Once the problem was solved, we went to pick up our luggage, through passport control and outside, where our son Enzo loaded Mary’ motorized wheel chair and Vincent’s scooter in the van and drove us home. Before 10 o’clock we were home, home sweet home!

This was our second cruise on a MSC ship. We wrote a review for the MSC Poesia in February 2012, where we criticized the ship for not being wheelchair friendly, mainly for the high thresholds throughout the public areas of the ship and the lack of automatic door openers in certain access areas. For this aspect, we said that we would not take another cruise with MSC, unless something would be done to correct the inconveniences for wheelchair passengers. However, we did recommend this ship for the general public in view of the many good aspects: beautiful ship, great cuisine and pleasant entertainment. Due to these positive points, and hoping that some of the previous problems had been solved for the newer Divina, we booked this cruise. Although we encountered the same problems on this ship, we coped with them and still had a good cruise. We hope that this criticism reaches the planners and builders of ships, who in the future can take advise from disabled passengers to make their ships wheelchair friendly.

It is a well known fact that we are addicted to cruising. We never had a perfect cruise, we are still looking for one. Actually, we enjoyed all of them, some more than others; we never had a bad one. We will return to the Divina with our two grandchildren next March 15, but before that, we’ll have our anniversary cruise on the Ruby Princess, Jan. 23rd and a Valentine cruise on the Norwegian Epic, February 9th. Happy Cruising!

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