A giant, floating taste of Italy has made a home in Miami aboard the MSC Divina, which began year-round cruising of the Caribbean in November.
The arrival of Divina marks the first time MSC Cruises has based a ship in the United States for the entire year. The ship takes the place of the MSC Poesia, which had been sailing seasonally out of Port Everglades.
"We've had a good season every year, but when you leave a market, people tend to forget about you for a while, so the continuity of having a year-round ship is very good for our travel agent partners and very good for our customers," said MSC Cruises USA President and CEO Richard Sasso. "Because they know they can count that we're going to be there, and not have to think, 'Oh did they leave yet and when are they coming back.' "
The ship is a larger class than what the line has offered stateside in the past. Built in 2012, the 3,502-passenger ship also features the line's MSC Yacht Club, an exclusive area with private butler service, dining, spa and pool.
"We're offering them the Yacht Club, which didn't exist in this market before," Sasso said. "And it is the purest execution of a ship within a ship. Privacy. Pampering. Luxury -- yet they can still have the rest of the great public spaces on a modern cruise ship."
The ship is expansive with 18 decks named after Roman gods like Apollo and Aphrodite, with countless public spaces and activities from bowling to a Formula 1 racing simulator to a 4D theater that can get a passenger a little lost when trying to move through the ship. Each one is visually striking and inviting, with modern yet comfortable designs in the chairs and tables. The paintings, sculpture and attention to detail definitely remind you of Italy, not to mention the brands like Nutella. There's a lot of Nutella.
Which brings me to the food...and the wine...and the coffee...and the gelato. It's definitely a cruise for the indulgent, although there are plenty of exercise opportunities on board to work off that Alfredo sauce, including a unique form of spin cycling underwater.
While Sasso says MSC lines up with Celebrity, Princess and other higher-end cruise brands, the MSC option is unique to North America.
"We're offering a European-Mediterranean way of life. Slow. Slow cooking instead of fast foods. Moments," he explained. "We're trying to make sure people can feel like they're testing Italian-European brands while they're cruising in the Caribbean. That's different."
Truly, dinner, and even lunch, will take its time, which is fine, but if you want to enjoy the spate of evening offerings including original theatrical performances, comedy shows, the casino and more, you'll need to pace yourself lest you fall victim to a food coma.
The ship has a modern, sweeping curvilinear style from its smokestacks down, and simple dark blue and white color scheme on the outside. The public spaces inside though are every color in the palate while the cabins range from comforting burgundies and chocolate browns to cool blues and greens or purples and yellows with nice flourishes in the wall designs and furniture. The European-style showers, which invite water spills on the floors for us clumsy Americans, takes some getting used to as do the mirrors in the bathroom and across from the bed. The ship has a lot of mirrors.
For the high rollers, you could stay in the Sophia Loren suite, in honor of the ship's godmother. That room has all sorts of deep reds and lots of black-and-white photography from the movie star's films.
Children 11 and younger sail free, and there are offerings to keep their attention including a Smurfs-themed area complete with a giant mushroom. Except they don't call them Smurfs. They call them "i Puffi." And did I mention the Nutella? There are also spaces, activities and clubs just for teens and pre-teens.
As far as destinations, the ship features a variety of itineraries, including three-night getaways to the Bahamas, seven-night eastern and western Caribbean trips and 11-night southern Caribbean voyages.
"Our goal is not to compare ourselves to others, but to offer one of the most beautiful ships, most cleanest ships, great food and entertainment -- quality entertainment -- in a very high quality fashion," Sasso said. "If anybody wants that in a holiday, they can come to us. They don't have to choose the other guy."
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