When we had gone on our first cruise on the Carnival Destiny in 2007, it was only because we didn't think we could afford a gay cruise and because of my job's annual vacation bidding process was too far in advance to get gay cruise itineraries. We had to bid on our vacation time about a year and a half before our vacations and R.S.V.P. Vacations and Atlantis Vacations released their information about a year ahead. We ended up going on five straight cruises before we had finally had it with other people's screaming kids. Don't get me wrong, I had thoroughly enjoyed each of our straight cruises but I always missed having gay people around. When we were on the world's largest ship at the time, The Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Sea's with six thousand passengers and no gay people we could find, I felt like I was in some small town. I felt isolated.
The previous two cruises with family were great because we had people we knew to interact with. The Allure of the Seas was an incredible ship. We loved that cruise but 6,000 straight people are just not as fun as a couple thousand gay men! By this time, I was willing to go ahead and book a gay cruise and gamble that I would get the time off from work. It did turn out to be a bit of a scramble getting coverage for all the time off I needed but it all worked out.
We had married in September, so this cruise was a bit of a honeymoon and it was also the week of my birthday so it was kind of birthday thing too. The ship was from a company called M.S.C. out of Italy. It was the crews first American cruise and their first gay cruise. They obviously had issues. RSVP Vacations were incredible. M.S.C., though was terrible!! I would never, ever go on an M.S.C. cruise again. The pillows were lumpy. The cabin was the smallest we have ever had on a cruise. The food was terrible.
My Cruise Critic review of the MSC Divina:
My spouse and I had been on 5 previous cruises. We had been on enjoyed cruises with both Carnival and Royal Caribbean. We found that Carnival was fine if we were traveling with other family members that had children but Royal Caribbean had much better activities since they had bigger ships with rock walls, ice skating rinks, huge promenades, and both a higher quantity and higher quality of entertainers. For us, the food was comparable on Carnival and RC and the cabins were also about the same size. Our favorite ship had been Royal Caribbean's "Allure of the Seas." The only reason that we chose the MSC Divina this time was because it had been chartered by RSVP Vacations for a gay cruise and we had never been on a gay cruise and wanted to try one. RSVP was incredible but MSC lacked in several ways.
On our first Carnival cruise, we were really impressed with the bedding in our cabin. The pillows and comforters just felt luxurious. The bedding was so good that it was available to buy on the ship! On each of the ships we were on after that, we never had issues with the bedding. All the ships were comfortable. We were very surprised to find MSC pillows felt like pillow cases filled with rags. It wasn't just one pillow in the room that was defective. ALL the pillows were lumpy and uncomfortable.
Divina also had the smallest cabin of any cruise we had ever been on. We have always got a balcony cabin and both Carnival and RC balcony cabins have two single beds that can be put together and then a couch that can be folded out into another bed if there are three in the cabin. We were impressed on our first cruise with Carnival that, besides providing shampoo and body wash, they also provided small samples of toothpaste and other toiletries which was a nice touch. Our cabin on MSC had no sitting area. The only place to sit inside the cabin was on the beds themselves.
The steward for our room was as nice as any we have had although this was the first time we were on a cruise with no towel animals or chocolate on our pillows or some small extra touch. The room was kept clean and fresh towels provided but nothing that felt "extra."
The food on MSC Divina definitely seemed more mediocre than either Carnival or RC. To be honest, I am not a big fan of buffets where hundreds of people are serving themselves anyway. I took Microbiology in college and I always feel a little hesitant about cruise buffets where passengers are handling the utensils after sneezing or coughing into their hands and then they lay the utensils across the food itself. This has been common on every cruise we have taken. Apparently it doesn't bother everybody. Over time, it does seem like there has been more of an emphasis on using hand sanitizer as one enters the buffet but not everyone uses it and even though YOUR hands may be clean initially, after you have handled the utensils that a hundred other people have handled before you, your hands end up contaminated with every cold and flu virus or norwalk virus that someone before you was carrying. Unless you wash your hands again AFTER handling the contaminated utensils, you are still putting yourself at risk. I think this is why cruise ships are notorious for spreading such things like Noro virus. At the minimum, there should be plates on which the utensils are laid and signs directing passengers not to lay the utensils on top of the food after handling. Handing out disposable gloves at beginning of buffet line might help. Ultimately, it is best that only one or two people handle the serving utensils and passengers be served by staff. Add children into the mix and buffets are a little gross as far as I'm concerned, but I am digressing.
One of my favorite things on the Allure was all the alternatives to eating at the buffet. There were plenty of alternative restaurants where one could be served. The MSC did have some alternative restaurants but all for paying extra except for the Black Crab and Villa Rosa. If neither of those two were open, you were pretty much stuck with either paying extra or eating at the buffet. Thankfully, there were no children on the cruise and I could only hope that these adults were more careful about washing their hands and basic hygiene. I was still careful to always try to reach back to the back of steam table where utensils had not laid across the food. The real problem was the repetitive dishes they offered. At EVERY buffet other than breakfast, there were warmed over hamburgers and cheeseburgers under heating lamps and pizza under heating lamps. We were so sick of hamburgers and pizza by the third day!! Breakfast at the buffet was okay, although every other ship we had been on offered an omelet station where you could get a fresh, made to order omelet that no one else had touched. I missed that!
The Black Crab and Villa Rosa were pretty repetitive too. We saw the same menu almost every night. I think that one night they did have an alternative menu but most nights, the same dishes were offered. One of the things I liked on RC was the ability to just pay a few extra dollars for a fillet mignon steak in the main dining room. The Divina offered no extra's in their dining rooms and seating was problematic. We prefer sitting at a table for two and that always seemed a bit of a problem with Carnival although RC always accommodated us with no questions asked and no problem. On the Divina, on this cruise, the first problem you had with the dining rooms is that you had to be sure you showed up at the right door at the right time. First, they would open the downstairs area of the Black Crab. If you showed up at the upstairs door or the Villa Rosa, you were redirected to the downstairs door of the Black Crab to accommodate the needs of the maitre de apparently rather than accommodate the needs of the passengers to be seated. If there were just six seats left on the first floor of the Black Crab, there was no way that the upstairs or Villa Rosa was going to be opened, even if a long line had formed. It was cause for a lot of grumbling among the passengers waiting to eat in one of the dining rooms.
One of the worst things for us for eating choices was the lack of choices after the incredible parties at night that RSVP Vacations provided. When we were exhausted from dancing and partying with RSVP Vacations, we would head to the buffet for a snack before going back to out cabin. Every night, warmed over hamburgers and pizza and maybe some pasta. You could not get the fresh pizza right out of the oven, until the warmed over pizza had all been consumed. On Carnival and RC, there were sometimes midnight buffets or chocolate or dessert buffets. I think they all depend on pizza way to much for late night snacking and that gets boring real quick but MSC offered no alternatives in the entire seven days while Carnival and RC did have a few other options in this regard.
Speaking of repetitive, I was surprised by the lackluster entertainment the MSC offered. We saw their show in the Pegasus theater two nights in a row and the acts were essentially the same but different costumes and theme. Thankfully, we were traveling with RSVP Vacations and the entertainment they brought on the ship was amazing! I can't say enough about the RSVP Vacations for troubleshooting a lot of the problems we had with MSC.
With exception of a bartender here and there on our cruises, staff have always been friendly and attentive. The staff on MSC, other than the stewards, seemed a bit aloof. For the first four days or so, it seemed like they didn't want to make eye contact. Below deck, the staff was typical of other cruises and friendly from various places in the world. Above deck, they were mostly Italian and maybe that had something to do with their attitude toward us? I overheard someone saying that this was the first American cruise for the Divina staff and they were not used to Americans and then there was the fact that the passengers consisted of about 3,000 gay men partying all week. Regardless, after about the fourth day, it did seem like the staff warmed up a little but still not as friendly as some of our previous cruises.
We didn't use the spa services on MSC at all but I do want to mention that they did have a gym which was about the same as other ships we had been on. On the Carnival ships we have traveled on, anyone could use the steam rooms or sauna. We were surprised to find that the RC Allure did not allow passengers to use those facilities unless they booked expensive spa treatments. This was also the case on the MSC Divina.
Overall, I would never choose to travel on an MSC cruise if I could avoid it. I would definitely travel with RSVP Vacations on another chartered ship of this size or larger, though. Since I like big ships with the most amenities, RC probably wins out for me overall and I would love to see RSVP charter one of their ships. I loved the fact that there were no children on this cruise because often on Carnival, you can't find a serene place on the ship that doesn't have screaming kids running by. I think it is great if you are parents traveling with kids but we are probably done with Carnival for that reason. The pools and hot tubs are often filled with kids on Carnival. The Allure of the Seas did have several jacuzzi and pool areas that seemed set aside for adults. That is another reason, RC gets extra points over Carnival. I am not sure how MSC Divina would be regarding this as there were no children on this cruise. There was a "European" nude sunbathing area, though. I'm not sure if that was a feature that MSC always offers or was something RSVP Vacations created just for this cruise.
My ratings for this cruise do NOT include the RSVP parties or entertainment.