I recently took my family on a 7 night Western Caribbean cruise with MSC Cruises aboard the Divina. MSC Cruises (Mediterranean Shipping Company) has been around for years but has been actively marketing to North American cruisers for the past 5-7 years and specifically their Caribbean cruises out of Miami. I knew prior to booking that it was a European cruise line that offered a mid-range cruise experience but honestly the rates were too good to pass up. We booked on a 2-for-1 balcony promo where kid’s under 11 sail free! That meant our family of 5 cruised for only $1975 (approx. $395 each) for 7 nights! That is with tax and meals. It was a super rate for peak winter travel so I quickly booked not only our family but several others. MSC touts being super family friendly with a wide range of onboard activities for the kiddos. The website especially promotes their LEGO themed games and building competitions so my 3 boys were super excited to participate in the kid’s program. Given the price we paid, I wasn’t expecting luxury by any means but an experience on par with say Carnival, Royal Caribbean or Norwegian Cruise Line.
- Great prices
- Beautiful ship – the Divina is modern, spacious and well laid out. I liked the more modern/contemporary color scheme vs. loud in your face neon (Carnival) or over the top brass and shiny chandeliers (some older Royal Caribbean ships).
- Ample dining & drink options – the main dining room and buffet is available for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily and included in your cruise fare. There are also 3 specialty restaurants available at a surcharge. Overall I thought the food was good. The buffet could have used more variety day to day but when you’re cooking for 5000 people it can be difficult to get creative. The specialty dining restaurants especially were worth the additional cost.
- 3 separate pool areas including an adult only pool, main deck pool and garden pool with a glass solarium, sports bar with 2 lane bowling, plenty of shopping and places lounge with a good book
- Full service spa and fitness area with spa deals daily
- Port intensive itineraries. For those that do not want a lot of days “at sea” this is a great option
- About 80% of the guests onboard were from outside of North America. As a European cruise company, the staff maybe spoke 4-5 languages but not necessarily English so I felt it was difficult to communicate our needs at times. In the kid’s club, the other kid’s also spoke different languages so it made it difficult for the kiddos to make friends. I think we as Americans forget that most of the world speaks more than one language and while we may think everyone should speak English – they don’t (rather presumptuous of us I know). Personally I don’t mind the mix of travelers but if you like cruising for the social aspect and meeting new friends this could affect your cruise experience. The cruise line will try to assign you to dinner with other guests that speak your language but this isn’t guaranteed. Beyond the language barrier people were super pushy. Maybe we are slow, too used to waiting in lines or maybe it’s a cultural thing. It was especially noticeable in the buffet lines and getting on/off the ship where it was complete chaos at times.
- Pay particular attention to your cabin type and class. There are 3-4 different “classes” of cabins that include various amenities from bare bones to their “yacht club” with butler service. Further still, North Americans are on a different pricing structure than the rest of the world it seems. Non US/Canada guests are on more of an ala carte price structure with additional costs for most meals and beverages. This made it incredibly difficult for the staff and confusing for the guests when it came time to settle the bill. There were a lot of erroneous charges for dining that had to be addressed with guest services. They took care of it but it’s annoying. Especially at the end of the cruise when the last day is so hectic. It also meant you had to pay particular attention to every bill or receipt you signed to make sure you weren’t over charged
- The MSC Divina also has a section of balcony cabins with a solid metal balcony vs. a see through glass one (these are forward cabins both port and starboard). Most ships have these cabins as it has to do with the way the ships are built but cruise lines typically call them “partially obstructed balconies” or they are noted in some way. Well, MSC doesn’t. All balconies are the same and they are flagged no differently in the brochure, online or in the cruise documents (I triple checked). You can imagine my surprise to find out that one of my clients/friends were assigned one of these staterooms. For many travelers this may make no difference at all (MSC certainly doesn’t think so) but my friend deals with severe motion sickness so this was a big deal for them. I felt awful and got guest services involved as well as the headquarters in Miami while we were on the cruise and the answer was basically “thank you for the feedback”. They did offer them a complimentary dinner in a speciality restaurant but it’s more about communicating everything to the traveler ahead of time and avoiding unnecessary surprises. Perhaps because of the low price point the cruise line feels we shouldn’t be as picky. What do you think?
- You should probably buy a drink package or coupon book. I’m not sure this is a con as it could be considered a pro if you enjoy several beverages each day. The staff pushes hard to sell you their drink coupons as soon as you get on the ship as it no doubt makes it easier for bar staff to fill drink orders. BUT there are too many drink coupon options. Some you could redeem in the bar only, others were for cocktails only etc. it got confusing having 3 different color coded coupons. Kind of silly. It’s a good idea to go ahead and book your drink package online or the first day of the cruise just so you’re clear on what you have available during your cruise.
- A lot of missed opportunities. I guess with those great cruise prices you have to sacrifice service in some areas. 1) Like the fact there is no pool /bar service. We rented a sunbed on the adult deck on one our days at sea but didn’t realize there wasn’t drink service. I had to send the hubby down 3 flights of stairs to the main pool bar to get a drink. That main bar was always packed 4 people deep so it took forever to get a drink. 2) You can’t leave messages for other cabins. Because of the various pricing tiers, cabins are all spread out based on your cabin occupancy and cabin rate plan. So unless you are right next door to your travel companions it is very difficult to reach anyone. You can call cabin to cabin but not leave messages either on the phone or with the main desk. The system appears to be set up for this but it’s not offered. 3) Our minibar was not restocked unless we asked for it – repeatedly. It is so difficult to just get bottled water on the cruise. I don’t mind paying for it but I don’t want to walk all the way to the main pool bar and wait 30min for my $6 bottle of water. We ended up buying waters in port and bring them back to our cabin. Technically this is a no-no but it didn’t seem to be enforced by port officials.
- Not really kid friendly. There is no kid’s pool and one water slide that was mostly for adults. There is maybe a 4 inch splash zone around the main pool that some kids were in but if you splashed you were shooed away by the pool attendant. The main pool is really deep as well so not great for little kids at all. There are a lot of kid’s activities throughout the day but it wasn’t as heavily “lego” themed as we were lead to believe. All of the evening movies throughout the week were adult-themed so at night there was not a lot for kids to do unless they were in the kids club.
- Service is super slow. The main dining room service is really slow and our waiters were always confused. They were friendly enough but it’s so chaotic that the process takes forever and our drink orders were always getting confused. I felt like maybe the staff were spread too thin with too many tables assigned to each serving pair.
- Entertainment – the nightly shows were odd. One night was “Treasure Island” but it was a lot of different songs by people in pirate costumes, not actually “Treasure Island”. The “Michael Jackson” show was pretty good. I will say the shows were packed out every night so getting there early is key if you want a decent seat. It’s something to do at least just don’t expect a Broadway quality show.
- No frills – no funny towel animals on your bed, no lively music by the pool except one day when they did country line dancing (again, kind of odd), no music or dancing by waiters in the main dining room (everyone seems so stressed all the time), bars were not open all the time. The ala carte ice cream and coffee bar were often unattended so we couldn’t get anything there.
So now you may be thinking – wow they hated their cruise. We really didn’t and that is because for us the focus was on the destinations we were visiting. We went to Ocho Rios, Grand Cayman, Cozumel and Nassau. Personally, I love this itinerary. It’s a great blend of outdoor activities, lounging at the beach and cultural exploration. Our group enjoyed cooking classes in Ocho Rios, the turtle farm in Grand Cayman, a chocolate making class in Cozumel followed by some serious retail therapy and then we spent the day at Atlantis while in Nassau.
I think if I hadn’t already been on several cruises to compare this one too and I wasn’t traveling with small children it would have been a much better experience overall. In fact some dear friends of ours that went on this cruise with us had a great time. They traveled without kids and didn’t have a past cruise to compare it to. So what you don’t know won’t hurt you and it’s only up from here! LOL. Our kids had a great time overall and especially loved ordering room service and relaxing on our balcony. They were a little disappointed by the kid’s club but because this was a port-intensive itinerary, we only had two days at sea for the kid’s club so it was a good balance overall.
The bottom line
Manage your expectations. For what we paid MSC Cruises is a tremendous value. You get what you pay for! When we were in Nassau our ship was docked next to the Disney Wonder and the Norwegian Getaway. My kid’s were in awe by all of the pools, slides and play apparatus that you could see on the top deck of the ships. And of course Lion King was playing on the big screen (“Mom, how come our ship doesn’t have that?!”). NCL had lively music you could hear from our balcony and I thought to myself at the time – that is what our cruise is missing! It was just too quiet overall. BUT a Disney cruise would have cost our family 3x what we paid and NCL 2x. So you have to factor that in and adjust your expectations accordingly. Would I pay more next time? For my family, yeah probably. I would suggest this cruise for first time cruisers, independent travelers or cruisers traveling without young children. I think older children past the kid’s club age would do just fine on this cruise. It should also be noted that for Caribbean cruises, ships with all the bells and whistles are almost expected now which is why this experience fell a little flat. It’s a totally different experience if we were to compare cruise lines in Europe where ships are more of a floating hotel and you’re off the ship nearly every day exploring new places. So please keep in mind this review is for the MSC Divina Caribbean cruise specifically.
My Rating (1-5):
MSC DIVINA – 4*
Dining Options – 4*
Food/Drink Quality – 3*
Onboard Experience – 3*
Itineraries – 5*
Would I cruise with MSC again?
Yes, I would now that I know what to expect. I recently saw specs for the new MSC Seaside which will be joining the Divina in the Caribbean and this new ship seems to have been designed with North American travelers in mind. The kid’s space is much much larger and there is a dedicated children’s splash/pool area. So we may look at doing that ship in the future. I think the key is to book early to make sure you get cabins close to your family & friends and again, manage those expectations.
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