Unfortunately, we have seen a steady decline in the product at the same time as prices have gone sky high.
We kept threatening to try MSC’s Yacht Club and finally took the plunge last week on Divina, three months after our last cruise on Breakaway.
I will attempt to review, contrast and compare The Haven to the Yacht Club focussing on whatever strange facts that I found interesting to me! I am posting this review in both the MSC and NCL boards.
On MSC, you pull up to the white Yacht Club tent and it's all pretty smooth after that. Your bags are whisked away curbside as are you! You are quickly guided through the crowds and handed a glass of prosecco to handle the stress of checking in. You wait in a room with a window having more prosecco and cookies. And more prosecco. The check in staff are efficient and organized.
In Miami, Haven check in has always been a hot mess with the generally bewildered check-in staff completely unable to figure out who arrived first. It is always as if they're doing it for the first time. You then wait in a small, closed - in room until you board, usually just before your head is about to explode but generally after general embarkation has begun.
Clear win for MSC.
Our cabin was ready and we were in one of the much discussed square Yacht Club Cabins. It was large, well appointed and decorated in shades of brown, beige and colours not seen since 1986. The lighting was excellent and the COMPLIMENTARY mini bar full and refilled daily. The bathroom was dripping in marble and soon dripping in water because of the insane ½ glass wall partition in the tub. You must shower with the bathroom door closed, otherwise your hanging toiletry bag will get drenched. Water temperature was extremely variable.
The walk-in closet was much appreciated as was the daily full printed copy of the newspaper of your choice. Our cabin crew were SUPERB! The MSC butlers wear many different hats - they're really super-charged cabin stewards who also work the lounge and pool area. As such, they service far fewer cabins than the Haven and ARE included in the tipping pool. The junior butlers just work the Lounge and One Pool.
Our usual Haven Spa Suites are probably a bit smaller but with a far more contemporary design and with a superb glassed-in shower stall and double sink. Haven Courtyard and Spa Suites are equivalent in size to the 8, larger square Yacht Club Suites. The majority of Yacht Club Suites are in fact, much smaller and there are only 5 cabins that are actually two room suites. There is a much larger selection of two room suites and larger in The Haven. There is always a complimentary flower arrangement and pod coffee machine in Haven Suites. Of course, your butler in the Yacht Club will extremely quickly bring you an amazing complimentary cappuccino within minutes!
Beautiful bed linens in both, better towels in the Yacht Club. Nicer toiletries in the Haven but decent in the Yacht Club.
Cabin: a draw. Cabin service: a win for MSC.
We went to our first lunch in Le Muse, the Yacht Club dining room and it aspired to be wretched . Excruciatingly slow with over cooked fish and sour beef. We left after two hours without even making it to dessert.
Dinner was much better as were all of our subsequent meals. This is where it starts to get complicated. The Haven really has better food and much higher quality ingredients . But the menu NEVER changes. The NCL concept assumes that you will eat at one of their numerous excellent specialty restaurants.
While MSC has some specialties, the focus for Yacht Club guests is Le Muse where there is a different lunch and dinner menu every day. The food is of a quality similar to how HAL was a few years ago. There are many superb items but unfortunately a lot of duds too. Frequently, many of the items are insanely oversalted.
Your choices of specialty dining are limited to the starkly decorated Eataly (we seriously skipped it for this reason) and the bizarre Galaxy “Disco Restaurant”. Actually great food but just a weird ambiance.
I will definitely give the dining advantage to NCL but MSC was decent enough. I didn't starve. A sort-of first for us - in spite of The Daily Service Charge, we additionally tipped FOUR of our Divina dining servers. They were just swell!
The Haven Lounge versus The Top Sail Lounge
The Haven lounges have no view but an active bar. The MSC bartenders are friendly but more reserved with little social interaction but the butlers get to know you by cruise’s end. The Top Sail is easily twice the size of the Haven Lounge and with beautiful forward facing window walls and live music in the evening.
There is always a fantastic buffet available with pastries, candies, nuts or just gorgeous and delicious antipasti. The large size of the room discourages easy socializing but is a win for MSC. It's waaaaaaaay more elegant than The Haven but ultimately not as convivial.
The Haven sun deck versus The One Pool
The One Pool deck is HUGE - chair hogging is nonexistent as there are simply so many chairs. There is also a bar and a mini buffet. But, unlike the Haven, the EXTREMELY uncomfortable chairs have no cushions and there truly is a complete and nonsensical lack of shade. On some afternoons, it is like the surface of the sun on the deck. Why they haven't installed umbrellas or pergolas is a huge mystery. The angled windbreaks basically stifle any air movement.
In fact, my sun loving partner cited this (spoiler alert!) as his number one reason why he wouldn't return on the Divina - its absolute and complete lack of comfortable lounge chairs in the shade. While your Yacht Club cabin also gains you admittance to the Top 18 Solarium, it was equally sun blasted with a different type of uncomfortable chair.
Even with the occasional screaming kids in the covered pool under the glass roof inside the Haven, I was almost always able to find a chair in the shade on the outer deck.
A clear win for the Haven.
Alcohol and other inclusions
MSC leaves NCL in the dust for wine drinkers. Each meal in Le Muse features generally excellent multiple choices of many varietals in addition to the superb selection of wines by the glass. The available liquors are all top shelf and bottled Pellegrino and still waters are available everywhere including your cabin at no cost. You can even get a glass of real champagne (no bad prosecco or NCL liquid poo) in one of the bars with your included deluxe package. The Haven bartenders are waaaay more animated and fun and mix much better cocktails though. Drink orders throughout the Divina were frequently wrong.
A draw - better selection on MSC but better mixology on NCL
Now, I had a mental image of what MSC would “feel “ like and I wasn't disappointed. Some of the decor is *ahem* CRAZY (chrome/silver pleather/Fred Flintstone boulders in plaster/Venetian chandeliers and marble)(I’m talking about just 50 square feet in one lounge!) but it somehow works! There are fantastic lounge acts with four and five person combos, generally mia on NCL. While crowded, the pool decks are extremely pretty with numerous pools, whirlpools and different levels. The numerous depicted fountains and waterfalls are ALL disappointingly turned off. The sun decks are far more appealing than the disasters of the “away” ships and Escape. A not surprising European vibe extremely different from NCL. Actually pleasant!
Odds and ends
The bars on MSC are ridiculously understaffed. The main Black and White Lounge had one (!) bartender around dinner.
Your included MSC Deluxe Beverage Package includes gelato at the various outlets and pastries and chocolates at the Pasticceria. But - the person serving you decides on whether they feel your Yacht Club cabin entitles you to the Deluxe Package or not. It does.
All exterior staircase treads on Divina have a brass facing - all glittering and gleaming. They are CONSTANTLY polished.
When we boarded in Miami after a large rainstorm, there were buckets EVERYWHERE in the deck 16 Yacht Club elevator lobby as water POURED in. For the rest of our cruise, both elevator lobbies smelled like giant and gross wet dogs. Unfortunately, Divina had numerous areas that just smelled of mold and mildew. Which is frankly surprising as the ship, as all of the reviews have stated is SPECTACULARLY clean and well maintained.
We were also on the rerouted sailing because of Hurricane Irma. I cannot say enough about how calmly and professionally this was all handled. The Concierge staff were SUPERB in helping us arrange an early departure from Cozumel. They waved most of the costs of our satellite calls and paid our Mexican immigration fees on leaving the ship! They also gave us 25% off our next MSC cruise- incredible.
Internet service, while “meh” on NCL is dismal on Divina. It practically ceased working after our itinerary was changed and everyone tried to log on.
This really is a “do you prefer the Moet and Chandon or the Veuve Clicquot” question. Both ships offered spectacular service for their Suite guests. Maybe we were lucky on both but I always think that an ounce of honey and a smile go a lot further than a pound of vinegar and a complaint ….
And Finally ...
Warts and all, I LOVED my Divina cruise in spite of some of the food, The One Pool and Hurricane Irma. It all kinda’ worked ! But, and it’s a big but ….I wouldn't return on a Caribbean sailing on Divina until they improved the One Pool experience.
If you're reading this MSC, get some cushions for the chairs and get some umbrellas or install some pergolas to block the sun. If NCL can do it on their ships, so can you.
The value for money, though, really leaves NCL in the dust . The imminent launch of Seaside combining MSC’s “signature” Yacht Club elements in a truly new and possibly revolutionary design is reason enough for me to try them again. Don't forget that this is the exact same prototype that NCL has purchased for Project Leonardo. The addition of numerous specialty restaurants along with the One Pool cabanas will hopefully take the product to the next level.
So … thanks for reading!