November 01, 2016

Ocho Rios and Grand Cayman

We arrive in Ocho Rios on time at about 9:30. We are the only ship here as I think the port is only capable of handling one ship at a time. The weather is perfect with temperatures expected to be in the middle 70's. There is a brisk breeze which makes being outside very comfortable.

I elect to stay on board and take some pictures around the ship, and check out the pools. I am surprised how few passengers stay on board. I doubt if there are 50 left on the ship. The pools don't work for me. They all require climbing down a ladder to enter the water I won't take the risk of a slip or fall. Additionally one of the main pools has a sign indicating the water temperature is 72 F. A little cool for my taste.

The crew has a life boat drill, and launches about half of the lifeboats. It may be done this way on other ships, but they use some of the staff to simulate a group of passengers moving from the muster stations to each appropriate life boat. The captain personally inspects each boat, and checks that the proper staff members are at their appropriate stations. Everything appears to go smoothly.

As to be expected, only half the buffet is open for lunch, but there is no signage indicating what is open or closed until you arrive at a particular food station and find it bare. What food is available has been sitting a long time. There are few passengers, and the food warmers under the serving pans don't work. (According to buffet manager.) Though the presentation is excellent, the food quality is very poor. The freshly cooked pizza slices are colder than the self service plates, the pasta dishes have been sitting for hours, and not a single prepackaged hamburger or hotdog has moved in the 30 minutes I sit nearby.

My table in the dining room is set for 6, but so far there have only been 4 of us each night. My three table mates are from England, and this is also their first time on MSC. So far they haven't been pleased, and have sent food back every single night, either because it is cold when served, or just wasn't cooked. I agree with them on the cold part, but have refrained from asking for a new plate.

One thing I haven't quite figured out yet. Like all cruise lines, they sell beverage packages to guests. I seldom do, but not getting free drinks during happy hour I purchase a small package that is good for a given number of drinks, ice cream, sodas, and maybe a few other options. I ordered online before boarding the ship to save about 35%. When I arrive on the ship, I am told to go to the casino bar to pickup my beverage package. I am then given a booklet of coupons which I would expect are to be used to for purchase. Well almost. At each purchase I give the server a coupon, my room key, and then have to sign the charge slip which has a balance due of zero. Now you might expect this is a way to give a tip to the service person, but there is no space for a gratuity, and several times passengers have been specifically told not to tip individuals.

The show tonight is the same performers, but a different show. Very appropriate for Halloween, "The Witches of Paris". Again very good and a definite step up from the entertainment on many ships. Parts of the ship are appropriately decorated, and late in the evening there is a Halloween party for those so inclined. It is scheduled past my bedtime.

We arrive at Georgetown, Grand Cayman at 8:30. The Freedom of the Seas and Disney Fantasia are moored nearby. There is no cruise ship dock here, and everyone tenders to shore. After finding a ham and egg sandwich cold, and a doughnut with frost in the center, I decide to go ashore to get a relatively tasty lunch. Unlike every other cruise line that stops here on a regular basis, MSC uses life boats for tenders instead of using the tenders from shore side. It takes over two hours to get all the passengers to shore for their excursions. Being a black level customer I am given priority boarding on a tender if I choose, but instead just wait to be one of the last to leave the ship.

The weather here is perfect. The high is expected to be 77, there is a brisk breeze, but with a possibility of a scattered showers later in the day.

As our tender ties up and I am waiting to go ashore, a harbor patrol boat approaches with flashing lights. Heated words are exchanged with the tender driver, I don't know what was said, but the harbor police were not happy. Was our tender driver speeding?

One of the closest food places I spot is the Hard Rock Cafe. I slowly find my way and go upstairs for lunch. I didn't think I would ever say a cheese burger from Hard Rock Cafe was good!

Back on the ship I catch up with writing this blog. At 5:00 there is a special reception for the "Black" level members of the Voyagers Club. It is being held at the piano bar. I will go if for no other reason than to see how many there are of us. Other benefits of being Black Level include: Expedited terminal check in; two fruit baskets in my cabin upon arrival; a bottle of wine, which I will carry home; a plate of chocolate dipped fruit; and discounts on stuff I never buy like spa treatments, jewelry, and tee shirts.

The piano bar area is like the jazz band area. Passengers have no choice but to walk thru the room. As I arrive, my name is checked off the list of about 100 passengers expected. We are offered drinks, and everyone is given a chocolate ship that weighs about a pound. I am going to try and get it home without melting in the car. Various staff members talk with everyone present, many are like myself, cruising with MSC for the first time but being a "Black" level because of their reciprocity program. Personally I think a smart marketing move to attract frequent cruisers. Many passengers voice feelings similar to my observations. Poor food quality and a very difficult ship for the physically challenged to move about.

We are told again about all the ships in the pipeline with one twist. They are all being purchased for cash in the bank, funds accumulated from from the revenue generated by the 500 freighters, tankers, and container ships the company owns. And yes the company is husband, wife, and several children.

My table mates are over 20 minutes late again tonight. I elect to not have an appetizer, and my entree arrives at the table before they even get their menu.

Skipping desert as I often do, I excuse myself when finished and take the opportunity to walk thru the buffet. It is surprisingly empty. 50 passengers at the most, with many eating pizza. The other selections are very limited. I will continue to endure the dining room.

I talk with a fellow passenger from Germany and learn the reason for so many Europeans on the ship. This is a Holiday week in much of Europe. Something I need to be conscious of in the future.

I finally run into a passenger I know. We think we met about 4 years ago on the Celebrity Equinox. He and his wife are in a suite and there is a special dining room just for suite guests. They experienced poor service and cold food and then tried one of the specialty restaurants and found it no better. I guess this is a common theme on the Divina, maybe the owner likes the food service this way.

I skip the main show tonight, "A vocal Presentation of Italian Classics". We arrive in Cozumel tomorrow morning at about 10:00.

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