What do American cruisers like? a. Good service b. Comfortable surroundings & space c. Good food d. Price vs. value My wife and I recently sailed on the MSC Divina out of Miami to answer this question: Can this Italian cruise line known for its Mediterranean lifestyle relate to the American market? Historically, MSC has been on the waters of the world for more than five decades, mostly as the second-largest container shipping company. It started in the cruising market in the 1960s by buying older ships and providing “low cost” cruising for the European market. The next 30 years saw growth and disaster as it lost some of these earlier ships. Several name changes brought us to MSC Cruises in 1997 along with newer ships. In 2010 they began to build new large ships of 139,000 tons to carry about 3,500 passengers. The MSC Divina is one of those ships and let me say right up front, it is a beautiful ship. BUT, that 139,000-ton ship (built for 3,500) can sail with as many as 4,300 passengers. We sailed with more than 4,000 passengers. Might this be a space issue? The décor is delightful and the color scheme is, in most cases, perfect. BUT, they have the worst pillows
on the seven seas with no option to change them. One design flaw is elevators that go to strange places. You have to take the elevator to the seventh floor in the stern of the ship & then take the stairs down to the sixth floor to go to one of the main restaurants. If this is your assigned restaurant you must follow this maze every day. Good Service: Americans like to be pampered with options and speed of service. We have been raised on “the customer is always right” and there is always a way to make him happy. BUT the training on this ship seems to be narrow and highly restrictive. Let me explain: I went to the Customer Service Desk and asked, “Can I get my shoes shined on the ship?” They answered, “I don’t know. Go up to your cabin and check the book.” I asked for a poached egg on my French toast, they said, “That can’t be done!” I asked for directions to a particular club location on the ship. The answer: “I don’t know. They don’t let me walk around the ship.” We asked for extra Diet Coke in our cabin refrigerator. They did that, BUT they took out the regular Cokes because they could have only “x” number of drinks in the refrigerator. My wife was waiting for her spa service and asked where the bathroom was. She was directed to go out to the pool area because her service didn’t qualify her to use the bathrooms in the spa. The last straw was on departure day in Miami. We had requested an early 8:15 a.m. departure to catch our 9 a.m. shuttle to Ft. Lauderdale. OK, they said. BUT, at 8:50 a.m. we were still waiting to be called, plus we still had to get our luggage from the dockside & go through Customs. I asked the staff person in charge of our room why we had not been called. She said, “I don’t know. They don’t tell me anything!” I shouted to by wife, “We are going.” I stormed down two flights of stairs and walked right off the ship because there was absolutely no one in line. I guess they were all upstairs waiting to be called. That delay cost me an extra $30 to replace the shuttle we missed. Plus the extra tip to the driver to get me to the airport on time for my flight. Comfort & Space: Americans are used to a lot of space; that’s why we created the suburbs. While this was a new ship, the ceiling in the general dining room was very low. This low ceiling style is not normal on newer ships. AND, the dining room was overcrowded (that extra 500-plus passengers had an effect). The tables were so close together that no waiter weighing more than 130 pounds and who had a butt could get through. Getting up in the middle of the meal for a bathroom trip was only accomplished with community agreement. Good Food: Americans don’t expect great food at the buffet, because it’s included and allows you to eat while still in a wet bathing suit. The selection was good & the operation smooth. Good points. BUT, in the main dining room we were shocked. Our anticipation was Italian & Mediterranean, flavors to die for! What we received was mostly under-seasoned food. I haven’t eaten food that bland since I had lunch at a retirement home. The food was cooked well & the portions were fine. However, it seems only the dessert chef understood how to excite your palate. We also checked out every specialty restaurant on board. While they had different names, all the menus were 75 percent fish dishes. I understand where they were coming from, BUT fish is not my food foundation. The chef’s wine dinner was also disappointing because fish again dominated the menu. Also, at the chef’s dinners on Carnivals, Holland America, and Royal Caribbean, the wine flow was endless. On MSC, a “tasting portion” came with each course. Enough said: More wine, more seasoning, more meat!!! Price: Here MSC Cruises shines. Their pricing is very aggressive, following their historic philosophy of providing a low-cost cruise. BUT, are they buying the market and how long can they do that? Also, when will the value test be made? I think NCL gives more of what the typical American values for the same price. The week we sailed was spring break in Florida. Children sailed free, but who will be there when the kids are in school or at Disney World? Also, while the initial pricing was low, they did not miss a chance to up-sell. At times this became annoying. Conclusion: Most cruises ships work hard to make everything feel homey and everyone feel welcome. MSC Cruises seems to be too restrictive and lacks flexibility & imagination. The MSC Yacht Club for the select 200 with a private pool, dining room, and butler may look too much like the old European cast system. Their ads say their style helps you savor the moment. BUT their actions seem to favor their system and schedule. If you are price-driven, then this is the cruise for you. You have to decide what you value and whether or not they deliver what you expect for your money. But to answer my initial question: No, MSC Cruises currently cannot relate to the American market. AND FOODIE ALERT: This is not a cruise you take for the food!
Join Patrick Barney as he explores his love of travel & food around the world & in his home town of Las Vegas.