FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA

Local lifestyle columnists

Cruising the Caribbean, Italian style

By From page B10 | July 05, 2014

Cruising Italian style took a giant leap in my eyes in May as I experience the MSC Divina; now deployed year-round from the port of Miami.

I sailed another Italian line several years ago and was quite disappointed. The food quality was poor and I discovered at one port day pallets of dehydrated ravioli, pre-baked bread and other packaged foods being loaded on the ship. The other line’s staff seemed not too interested in customer service and multi-language announcements were blaring all the time.

But my Divina journey soared compared to the other. Every meal was fresh, tasty and well presented. The decor was pleasing to the eye and the staff much friendlier.

The Divina is the 11th cruise ship of MSC Cruises, a subsidiary of the giant MSC shipping empire. The ship launched in 2012 after the christening by godmother Sophia Loren. Like her godmother, this Mediterranean-style vessel exudes elegance. One of her most dazzling features is the grand entrance bejeweled with two dramatic Swarovski crystal staircases.

Loren personally designed the Sophia Loren Suite featured in the MSC Yacht Club class. MSC calls this class “an oasis of tranquility with its own concierge reception and impeccable butler service, creating a unique private club.”

Starting price in this category is considerably less than other cruise lines, making it an affordable luxury. Additional amenities include complimentary wines and spirits, an exclusive restaurant, bar lounge and dedicated pool services at a starting price of $1,749 per person on seven-night sailings, depending on destination and sailing date.

The ship’s standard accommodations (interior, ocean view and balcony) are also competitively priced with a range of $399 to $699 per person for seven-night cruises. Children 11 and under sail free and 12- to 17-year-olds have a special reduced rate when sailing as third and fourth passengers in a stateroom.

Children’s programs and activities are free of charge and organized into four age groups. Another neat service is the 3- to 6-years-olds can stay in the Mini-Club on port days so parents and older children can enjoy shore excursions. The children’s play area includes a swimming pool with waterslide and an aqua park featuring 150 illuminated musical fountains.

There are a few differences in sailing Italian-style aboard the Divina.

First, the announcements are done in five languages but aren’t very intrusive to staterooms. Europeans go for less frills than the North American market so some services that are traditionally free on other cruise lines have a fee.

For example, room service is from $3.50 to $11.50 depending on menu choice. If you have a designated dining time, you better get to your assigned restaurant within 15 minutes of your scheduled time – otherwise the doors are closed. Also, passengers vary greatly in ethnicity, culture and traditions, making for a very cosmopolitan atmosphere.

Nightly shows in the 1,700-seat grand theater were fantastic. Entertainment had a definite international favor and was reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil. Daytime activities were not as numerous as some other cruise lines as Europeans are more into laid-back relaxation and shore time rather than games and contests. But there was enough to keep passengers busy while on-board with amenities such as: a 4-D cinema, Formula 1 simulators, bowling and sporting activities.

The Divina is chartered until mid-July, providing floating accommodations for the FIFA World Cup. When returning to Miami, she’ll sail seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries, except for a short stint in Europe, April through October 2015. Given pricing, accommodations and programs, this is a great ship for family and multigenerational vacations.

So, if you desire a wonderful cruise experience at reasonable prices, check out the MSC Divina. For a tour of this “grand lady” see the video online at http://youtu.be/wtfWaNP3HsM.

For additional savings and shipboard credit, contact your personal travel professional now to take advantage of current offers. In the meantime – Happy Travels!

 Rose Alston is a certified travel and master cruise counselor. She operates a business in Fairfield and can be reached at [email protected]

Rose Alston

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