I used to balk at people who went on cruises. I didn’t understand the appeal. To me, it was akin to staying in a floating hotel in a state of constant gluttony, while being forced to partake in activities I had no interest in. I also wasn’t sure if it would be a good choice for my adventurous family. Little did I know that my perception was all wrong, and my recent week spent on a MSC cruise ship proved otherwise.
My children were extremely excited about this trip as soon as it was booked. They had been dreaming about going on a cruise for months, but my husband who has traveled extensively, remained skeptical, as did I. However, after just 1 or 2 days on the ship, we were both converts as soon as we realized the escapism factor that cruising offers and it’s not something to be taken for granted.
Traveling on the MSC Divina on our first family cruise was really special and sheer luck as our first venture out onto the high seas for many reasons. For one thing, the Divina is a new ship and a spectacular one visually. It offers the best of cutting-edge technology, the glamour of golden age sea travel (there are photographic reminders all over the ship) and a full itinerary.
MSC’s story began 300 years ago in Sorrento, Italy and the line maintains their legacy. Their mantra is literally that good food is a way of life and that following your heart is just as important as following your head. Life should be measured in moments, not minutes. Hence, my family savored our time on the ship, and the warm staff helped in our quest to have an authentic cruise experience.
Another reason we favored this ship is that MSC is a European line. Since it derives from Italy, there are many Italian touches on board, from the staff to the foot to entertainment. From Italian opera to learning the language to espressos to a gelato bar to wine tastings, the ship exudes Italian culture and heritage.
That said, the entire staff is from around the world, and I think, for that reason, they aren’t pushy. No one pushed us to book excursions on board or purchase anything from the shops. The service was nothing but attentive and courteous. There was also a great deal of focus on safety and hygiene.
We also enjoyed the variety of entertainment and daily activities. The night time performances were outstanding. Every night after dinner we were treated to a night of acrobatics, music and dance. By day, we were all doing our thing, whether it was lounging by the pool or jive dancing. The options were creative and fun and often there was more than one activity at a time that I wanted to participate in, but we refused to follow a schedule and went with the flow during our entire seven days on the ship.
We were given a perfectly sized stateroom for four persons with a balcony overlooking the sea. The room consisted of a double bed, a pull-out sofa, a TV and bathroom. While it wasn’t easy keeping it tidy with two kids, our room attendant cleaned it twice a day, replacing our towels, making our beds and tidying up our belongings. The mini bar was refreshed daily. After a long day out in the sun, sitting out on the balcony watching the view of the sea felt just right.
I had a bit of a misconception about cruise food before getting on the Divina. I envisioned one long buffet after another, so I was pleasantly surprised to find not only restaurants that served sit down meals for lunch and dinner as part of our package, but also specialty restaurants that offer a change of pace from the normal cruise food. These weren’t included in the cruise package but were nice diversions from the set meals.
Buffet breakfast is served from 6:30-10am and offers just about everything you and your family could want. It was definitely the most crowded meal of the day, as it’s the only place to go in the morning, but the room is huge and it was always possible to find seating with a view of the ocean by the window, or we could take our morning coffee and meal out on the deck to get some air.
There were more options for lunch. If you’re into buffets, the Buffet Calumet and Manituris is open all afternoon. We were pleased to find an ethnic section and traditional offerings, as well as a full salad bar. For more controlled portions and refinery with a sit down meal, we went to the Villa Rossa. Seating times were more limited (12-2), but when time is of no issue, it is well worth it.
The food during this meal was not dissimilar to the evening meals. We had a reserved table each night for dinner at 6pm. Two waiters were assigned to our table, both from Indonesia and both very well mannered and attentive. The boat has a dress code in the evening, no jeans or shorts are allowed. As a mom who works and has to get food on the table regularly, it was a treat to have full sit-down meals with polite service. I can’t say the food was extraordinary, but most of it was quite good. We always had an option of fish, meat or pasta, and always a vegetarian option, which I appreciated. Wine and beer was included with evening meals.
The Divina also hosts several specialty restaurants including Eataly Steakhouse, which we were happy to experience during a date night without our children. The popular Turin-based chain was founded by Oscar Farinette in 2007 and opened in the U.S. in 2010 in partnership with celebrity chefs Marion Batali and Lidia and Joe Bastianich.
Eataly now has 16 locations around the world. It’s an upscale Italian culinary experience and we were treated with exceptional wine, exquisite fish and steak, the best salads on the ship and out of this world cannoli for dessert. The décor is simple yet elegant. White tablecloth, white flowers, wooden floor, exposed brick walls. The bread is served in paper bags to keep it warm with olive oil for dipping it into. Eataly serves their homemade pizza with individual toppings all day – either in the restaurant or via room service. It’s not the pizza you can get from the buffet, it’s gourmet and it’s sublime and worth the extra fee.
Each night we received a full agenda for the next day and were able to check off our planned activities. There was an entertainment team who led everything and was seen all over the ship all day and night who led these activities. My daughter enjoyed arts & crafts and spent several hours each day designing a tee shirt, making a decorative box and paper flowers. My husband likes to dance and took classes daily including tango, jive and waltz. We took Italian lessons. We went shuffle boarding and joined in ping pong tournaments.
I took yoga classes daily (for a small fee) in the gym and took morning walks on the top deck. There are trivia games, aerobic classes, water balloon tosses and so much more. We could be busy…or do nothing. After dinner, we danced (with the kids in tow). We drank cocktails in the jazz bar. We went to the shows. One night there was an Elton John tribute, another night karaoke. We drank tea in the lounge and listened to a Russian trio playing classical music. It was a true break from reality and great for the whole family to do together.
The boat had three port stops. We spent a whole day in St. Martin, 1/2 a day in the British Virgin Islands and a whole day on a private island called Great Stirrups Bay in the Bahamas. We booked our tours off the ship for a fraction of what was charged on board ($20-$25 a person) and got a full taste of each island.
We shopped in the markets, soaked up the sun on paradisiacal beaches and met the locals. Great Stirrups Bay was quite a special day as it’s a private island shared by the cruise line with Norwegian. Our shop brought off food for lunch, their entertainment crew, bar drinks and equipment to enjoy the sea. We snorkeled all day and saw the most brilliant, colorful fish. It created quite a memory for all of us.
MSC is one of the newer cruise lines, and my hunch is that they are still figuring out kids’ activities. The good news is that they offer a full kids’ club that is open most of the day. Mine were hesitant to join, mainly out of fear they would miss out on what we were doing but also because they worried about being on the older side. Their age group ran from 7-11 and my daughter is right at the tail end of the spectrum. But when they finally went into the kids club on our 3rd day, they enjoyed themselves immensely.
The ship offers a water slide and several game rooms. We purchased a “Teen Card” when we boarded to control their spending in these areas, which was a brilliant idea. We put a cap of $30 on each card and they couldn’t spend beyond that amount. I have a feeling that MSC will keep improving their selection of activities for kids as time progresses so that parents have more alone time but I think they are more than on their way.
Right now if you head over to MSC’s web site, you’ll see that you can book the cruise for $299 a person for a 7 day Caribbean cruise. That is for an interior room with no balcony or view of the water. Or you can get a stateroom with a balcony for $599.
We even met people on the ship who booked the cruise for $199 for the week, plus taxes. Booking prices have never been cheaper, and you have to wonder what MSC prices are going to do to the rest of the cruising industry.
Editor’s Note: Holly was provided with complimentary cruise fare and a special package to review the boat’s services with her family. However, all opinions are her own. Photos by Holly Rosen Fink
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