Sailing the Eastern Caribbean with MSC Cruises

Join us this week as we sail with MSC Cruises aboard MSC Divina to the Eastern Caribbean! Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises

Join us this week as we sail with MSC Cruises aboard MSC Divina to the Eastern Caribbean! Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises

This Saturday we’re beginning another exciting Live Voyage Report – this time from the warm, sun-kissed expanse of the Eastern Caribbean. It’s a region we’ve been to many times before – but we’ve never experienced The Mediterranean Way of Life there.

MSC Cruises’ MSC Divina will be our home for the next seven days as we embark this gorgeous ship at the Port of Miami.

You may have heard of MSC Cruises before; but then again, perhaps you haven’t. The cruising arm of the Mediterranean Shipping Company S.A., MSC Cruises began life as Lauro Lines. In 1995, the company changed their name to MSC and a decade later they had embarked on an ambitious newbuild programme. In fact, it’s hard to believe that, just ten years ago, the MSC fleet was radically different than it is now. There were no megaships, and the few modern cruise ships they had (most notably MSC Lirica and MSC Opera) were supplemented by older, ex-transatlantic ocean liners pressed into cruising service.

Balcony staterooms aboard MSC Divina are filled with rich colours and textures. Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises.

Balcony staterooms aboard MSC Divina are filled with rich colours and textures. Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises.

MSC Cruises today couldn’t be more different. The line currently has a fleet of 13 modern cruise ships that range in size from the intimate MSC Sinfonia to the massive MSC Divina and her Fantasia-class sisters, MSC Fantasia, MSC Splendida and MSC Preziosa.

Originally, MSC Divina was to be called MSC Fantastica, but her name was changed in mid-2010 to honour actress and MSC spokeswoman Sophia Loren. On May 27, 2012, the 1,092-foot long vessel set out on her maiden voyage in the Mediterranean. Capable of carrying 3,959 guests and a crew of 1,325, she was repositioned to Miami in the fall of 2013 to begin operations in the Caribbean. This made her the newest and largest ship that MSC had ever sent to the North American market.

MSC Divina's glittering atrium. The two sweeping staircases are inset with Swarovski crystals. Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises

MSC Divina’s glittering atrium. The two sweeping staircases are inset with Swarovski crystals. Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises

Our Eastern Caribbean itinerary aboard the MSC Divina is a fun one. After two days spent sailing the Caribbean Sea following departure from Miami, we’ll arrive in Philipsburg, St. Maarten – one of my favorite Eastern Caribbean islands thanks to its unique Dutch and French heritage. I’ll even be doing something different here than I typically have on past visits by taking part in a cycling tour of historic Philipsburg and its surroundings. It’s an interesting excursion put on by MSC, and I’ll be keen to experience it.

Philipsburg offers a great mix of history and, of course, the duty-free shopping the Caribbean is known for. Photo © Aaron Saunders

Philipsburg offers a great mix of history and, of course, the duty-free shopping the Caribbean is known for. Photo © Aaron Saunders

The very next day, we’re docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico – a beautiful city that is part of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, itself an unincorporated territory of the United States. There’s so much history here that simply wandering the streets of San Juan can be an enjoyable experience. While some of the city has become commercialised like much of the Caribbean (Starbucks, anyone?), there are still plenty of local shops, restaraunts, bars and cafes that I am looking forward to discovering on what is only my second visit to the island.

Historic San Juan, Puerto Rico's El Morro fortress. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunder

Historic San Juan, Puerto Rico’s El Morro fortress. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunder

Our last port of call was a late but welcome addition to the itinerary. Originally, MSC Divina was to have anchored off Great Stirrup Cay, Norwegian Cruise Line’s private island in the Bahamas. But as anyone who’s ever endured tender operations ashore from onboard a large ship, the act of simply getting to the beach can be a real sore point. So, when docking space became available in Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos, MSC snapped it up, securing a berth for MSC Divina.

What do you do on Grand Turk? Not a whole heck of a lot – and that’s the entire point: it’s the ideal private island getaway thanks to cruise piers that are located just a few hundred feet from the miles of pristine beach that stretch along the shoreline.

Grand Turk, in the Turks & Caicos: the quintessential beach day. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunder

Grand Turk, in the Turks & Caicos: the quintessential beach day. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunder

As nice as the Eastern Caribbean is, the real reason I am here is for the MSC Divina herself. Even with seven full days onboard, there’s a lot to take in. In addition to the ship’s main dining rooms, specialty dining venues are a real focus aboard MSC Divina, which includes the Eataly Steakhouse; a venue focused on Slow Food Italian cuisine where dishes are meant to be savoured, not devoured.

There are also number of distinctive bars and lounges onboard MSC Divina, each boasting their own unique theme and interior design. In fact, interior design is one of the hallmarks of MSC Divina; from the photographs I’ve seen, there’s nothing else afloat that is quite like the creation that the team at De Jorio Design International have come up with.

Each public room aboard MSC Divina has its own unique style and theme. Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises.

Each public room aboard MSC Divina has its own unique style and theme. Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises.

This will be my first experience with MSC Cruises, though I’ve been reading up and researching the line and their itineraries religiously since 2005. I’ve almost cruised with them twice now: they were a strong contender for a Caribbean vacation back in 2009, and I nearly went in early 2011 with them aboard MSC Poesia.

Now, I get to experience MSC’s uniquely European brand of cruising – and I am looking forward to taking you all with me for the experience! So – in that vein – if you have any questions or queries about the ship or the trip, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me. It’s amazingly easy to answer questions once I’m actually onboard.

Stay tuned – our Eastern Caribbean Adventure with MSC Cruises begins now!

MSC Divina at port in Miami, Florida. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

MSC Divina at port in Miami, Florida. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report aboard MSC Cruises’ MSC Divina begins tomorrow from Miami, Florida! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

 

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