December 2014 - MSC Divina to Caribbean - Eastern
MSC Divina, 7-night, east Caribbean cruise ----- I consider myself a somewhat hardy traveler, having spent much of my life overseas. Joining a cruise ship was not my idea of seeing and experiencing other cultures. However, I recently joined a cruise to be accommodating to my wife. Overall, I found the cruise was well run and put together, and provided an enjoyable experience.
Boarding and Welcome The journey began with port entry and ship boarding. Due to the ship's modern facilities and organization, the process was orderly and efficient. Once on board, we dropped our things in our room and then attended the welcoming buffet meal prior to departure. I was immediately struck by the variety of well-prepared food. The ship was modern and clean throughout. Antiseptic hand dispensers were placed strategically and conveniently, indicating a concern for hygiene and public health. The MSC cruise line is owned and operated by Italians. Under the supervisors, the operating staff come from all over the world, mainly from developing countries. There were also a number of different nationalities seen in the passengers.
Room Our cabin room was clean and well appointed. Housekeeping service was friendly and efficient, yet unobtrusive. Not once did housekeeping service disturb the inner peace of the cabin while we were there. It is a tribute to them that they could clean, service and stock all of the rooms while we were not present. In the hallway, when encountered, they were always courteous and friendly.
Fitness Gym I am not much on social swimming pools and jacuzzis, which of course, the cruise ship had. But, I was pleased to find a good-sized, high-quality gym with a wide range of equipment. While it was well attended at certain times of the day, I found if I was minimally patient and worked a number of different exercises, the popular treadmills and stationary bikes opened up for use intermittently.
Entertainment Entertainment during the evenings was well done -- on par, for me, with Las Vegas shows that I have paid for. The thematic presentations of song, dance, and gymnastic display were colorful, fun and impressive. Not being an opera aficionado, I enjoyed the opera presentation, and this was perhaps my favorite.
Food Going back to food, the buffet continued to have a wide variety of well prepared foods throughout the week. While there were some regular foods throughout the week, there were also unique courses presented, ensuring a diversity. Depending on one's inclination, choices from healthy to indulgent were available. I enjoyed the salads, fresh fruit, fish and ethnic presentations. The food/waiter service was friendly and efficient, whether in the buffet, the bars, or the restaurants. As an alternative to the buffet, the dinner restaurant was a fine dining experience. Providing individualized attention, the restaurant wait staff were friendly and responsive to any of our requests.
Prices While on board, I was worried that being captive, so-to-speak, we might be subject to some on-board price gauging. However, I found prices (for beverages such as beer or water, or for the port-of-call tour excursions) were reasonable and competitive to on-shore prices.
TV If this were to be an all-glowing report, credibility might be in doubt. I felt the in-room TV channels and content were somewhat limited. There were several news channels, and one could order special content, such as movies, for additional fees. I feel that, like most hotels today, the cruise could provide free movie channels, and a greater variety of content. Likewise, the cruise on-board "cinema" provided some films -- basically low-brow Hollywood comedies. I think that the quality (how about movie classics in line with the theme of the "Divina" concept itself -- 1950s&60s film icons) and quantity (how about two per night?) of movies could be improved...?
Ports of Call The selection of stops during the cruise were satisfactory. We stopped at Philipsburg-St.Maarten, San Juan-Puerto Rico, and Grand Stirrup Key-Bahamas. Prices of tours were comparable both on the ship or in the ports. We chose to arrange our tours in the ports as we arrived rather than doing so on-board through the ships excursion office. Services were readily available in each of the ports on arrival. For our last stop at Grand Stirrup Key-Bahamas, I was worried that we would be in a crowded, private cruiseship haven. I was impressed to find a relatively large island-beach with more than enough area to easily accommodate our cruise ship. We were the only ship using the facility and most passengers gathered at the main beach. Other beaches, however, were just a stroll away.
Conclusion Not being inclined to travel via the cruise experience, this trip was, for me, an unexpected pleasure. My congratulations to the staff and crew of the MSC Divina for putting all this together successfully. Lastly, I would like to note the hard work and sacrifice put in by the developing-world staff -- many of whom work 12-hour shifts, 6-7 days a week, for contracts of 7-9 months, as I understand it. Many are mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, or children -- all separated from their loved ones, yet working to send money home to provide a better life for immediate or extended families. My sense is the salary amounts to $1 to 2 thousand/month... not much by western standards for that level of work, but it is likely more than they can make at home, and mostly savings in sound currency (dollar or Euro).