November 01, 2016

Boarding MSC Divina

It is Saturday October 29th. I actually packed yesterday as I need to drive to Miami to board the MSC for a week long cruise to the Western Caribbean. But I am getting ahead of myself. I need to start many months ago after my daughter Adrienne and her husband Steve told me they were taking a transatlantic repositioning cruise on the Harmony Of The Seas from Barcelona, Spain to Port Everglades. She approached me with a sincere idea. Since I am always looking for an excuse to cruise, why don't I book a cruise that arrives in Fort Lauderdale the same day, and we can ride together back to Clermont?

Yes, this is a good excuse for a cruise, and it will save her $50 or $100 in not having to rent a car. Now, never mind what my week cruise will cost to attain this saving. Pretty smart on her part.

Since this was over 18 months ago, I didn't get serious about finding a cruise for many months. When I did start I was at first surprised to learn the Harmony is the only major cruise ship arriving at Fort Lauderdale on November 5th. Despite my initial surprise, it does make sense. This is the arrival of a major new cruise ship to Port Everglades, and there will be many festivities to celebrate the occasion. Likewise, if I were a captain of a competitor cruise line I would enjoy disrupting the festivities by pulling into port right in front of the Harmony if I could. Ultimately this led me to look at the Port of Miami. The MSC Divina was my only choice. Several friends have been on the Divina and enjoyed it, I booked a week and after disembarking will drive to Port Everglades to find my passengers from the Harmony.

The drive to Miami seems very long even though it is only just over four hours. As everyone has experienced, my GPS took me into a dead end parking lot instead of to the Port. A little extra driving around downtown Miami and I arrive at the port parking garage. Empty spaces are abundant, I choose a spot on one of the upper floors near the elevator. It is only about a two block walk to the terminal. The facilities in Miami are much smaller and more compact than Lauderdale or Canaveral. This probably has led to being well staffed, and it is a near continuous walk for the entire process. I say near, as is usually the case my new body parts trip the metal detectors at security. A quick explanation and quick hand scan, and I am on my way.

I miss the line for priority check in, and go through the general boarding line. A little further to walk, but very little additional time. MSC is the only cruise line I know of that recognizes priority levels of competing lines, and enrolls new customers at the equivalent level in their rewards program. My first cruise with them, and I am at highest level, black.

The first spot of congestion is just inside the ship at the end of the gangway. There are about a dozen employees soliciting the boarding customers to buy drink packages. Now every cruise line does this, but usually not is such a way that it blocks entrance to the ship. I work my way to the elevators.

I don't expect my cabin to be ready for about an hour. I head to the ever present buffet for lunch. The choices are extensive. A carving station serving a round of beef, dozens of cold cuts and cheeses, many kinds of pizza, a complete salad bar, a pasta bar, and of course the ever present hamburgers, cheeseburgers and hotdogs, but not piled in a steam table pan but made up on a bun and either wrapped or in a cardboard serving container. I have a small serving of tortellini, while I wait for my cabin. The flavor is good, but it barely warm. An indication of things to come? Surprisingly I see a few empty tables available at all times, unlike many other ships on the day of embarkation where seating is scarce.

The cabin is spacious enough for me with plenty of storage for a weeks worth of clothes.

At about 4:45 we have our muster drill. Only passengers that have just boarded are requested to attend. If for some reason you can't attend, let them know and they will send someone to your stateroom to instruct you. Since we don't sail until 7:00, some passengers arrive too late for the muster drill and they are requested to attend a muster drill the next morning.

Again being an Italian line instead of an American line they do things different. We are asked to bring our life jackets with us. All muster station assembly areas are indoors. There is enough room for everyone, standing if not seated. Instructions are repeated in 5 languages which makes the process quite long. Even though we have our life jackets, we are not asked to put them on, but many passengers do. It is quite obvious that it is the first time many of the passengers have ever touched a life jacket. After about 45 minutes we are all dismissed, I wait for 5 minutes for the elevators to clear.

I am scheduled for early dining at 6:00. The server is anxious to take my order and get started, so my appetizer comes before my table mates even arrive at the table. Yes, they are late, having cruised only once before they didn't understand that a 6:00 PM dining time meant that they are expected at the dining room at 6:00, not anytime after 6:00.

The first night menu is more limited than what I experience on most other cruise lines, but the choices are good and my first nights dinner was edible if not great.

At one point the head waiter stops at the table and immediately begins to apologize for the service. He explains that much of his staff is new, and they haven't quite got it figured out yet. I had noticed but didn't say anything. Sometimes I am told I am too critical and will try to wait a few days before forming opinions.

Unlike most other cruise lines, the waiter is responsible for everything. Bar drinks, wine, bread, water, etc. She has an assistant that helps clear dishes. I think the menu is split into two parts like the other cruise lines, the "classic" section that is available every night, and the featured section that varies each day. I have to say "think" as the waiter shares no information with the passengers. More attuned to just doing her job than chatting with the guests.

At 8:00 PM there is the one show for all guests. The first 15 minutes is spent introducing some of the entertainers and the sales and entertainment team. This is followed by several numbers from the entertainers. Some of the songs are in Italian (I think). The show is short as many guest are due in the dining room at 8:30.

Off to the cabin about 9:00. Tomorrow is a day at sea.

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