Good Morning, your European ship has arrived in Miami
North Americans may not be aware that saying “Hello” or “Good morning” to fellow passengers and crew, strangers whom you meet in the hallways, is not an ordinary exchange of greetings on a European cruise ship.
Passengers from Europe do not expect a friendly greeting of any sort from their waiters or cabin stewards. As a result, for Americans traveling in Europe, sometimes a grunt is the best response you can hope for.
So, when MSC, which is Europe’s largest cruise line, decided to base one of its new ships, the Divina, in Miami and sail year-round into the Caribbean, “we needed to make a cultural accommodation,” says cruise director Andre Schlemmer. “We changed our focus on customer service.”
Re-training a crew, some of whom have only a minimal acquaintance with English, no doubt was a challenge. But the plan is working, I can report, after a one week cruise on MSC Divina in January.
Three months into Divina’s stay in North America, crew behind the Customer Service desk were accommodating, and the “Good mornings” and “hellos” rolled off the tongues of cabin stewards in the hallways as if I were passing a host of my new best friends.
The friendly banter that North Americans expect from a cruise ship crew was in full glow.
Staying authentic, with cultural accommodations
“We made other cultural accommodations, too,” says Schlemmer, such as thicker steaks, more coffee, and more English-oriented activities onboard.
But the key, he says, is to remain a ship that provides a European experience, in contrast to most other ships cruising out of North American ports .
“We have tweaked the product for the American market, but we always will stay authentic to what we are. We are Italian. We make bread every day. We make pasta.”
In the highly competitive cruise business out of South Florida, clearly, vacationers who choose Divina will be those who want a traditional style, with a European twist to their week, starting with the food.
Pasta, prosciutto, gelato, coffee
Never have I eaten so much prosciutto or pasta. Normally, an order of pasta is a meal for me. On Divina, at dinner, it’s simply one of the courses, a special tasty treat with different ingredients that I ordered each evening, balancing it off by choosing flights of stairs instead of elevators on the ship for the week.
MSC Divina also has two gelato stations, where my delight in a coconut concoction ($2-$3.50 for a cup) was marred a bit at the station on the pool deck by its location beside one of the ship’s smoking sections. (Catering to North American clients, who are expected to account for more than half of the 3,500 passengers on Divina, MSC has reduced the number of places for smoking.)
New to MSC, at Divina’s mid-ship coffee café, is a brand, Segafredo from Italy. It was added, says MSC, because North Americans like to drink coffee that comes from a well-known brand.
How accommodating, I thought, until my partner Fran Golden walked into the café and asked for a Segafredo latte with skim milk.
The coffee barista scowled.
“We only have fat milk,” he said. How European.
Production shows, crystal steps, arresting sculptures
Divina offers plenty of other European experiences, from shopping -- candy from the Continent, clothing at La Boutique, and the largest Effy jewelry collection at sea -- to nightly productions shows with talented singers who can, and do, present opera voices on a stage that accommodates more than two dozen for a curtain call.
My favorite show was French, a sort of Moulin Rouge (with can-cans, without naughtiness) that drew strong applause. Curiously, it was called the “Witches of Paris,” though nary a witch was apparent.
Glittering steps in twin staircases of Swarovski crystals in Divina’s atrium get the most stares (left), but there is more arresting artwork aboard. I especially liked the metal sculptures of a woman alone on a bench (above) and pizza pie man on the Apollo Deck .
I spent a good part of a sea day wandering around the ship, reading the captions under large photographs of American and Italian movie stars on film location in Italy, from the 1950s to the 1970s.
I was impressed with MSC Divina and its choices for eating, relaxing with live music, and watching or engaging with an energetic activities staff. You can dine at a branch of Eataly, the popular Manhattan restaurant (extra fee); drink lots of Italian wines; and hang out at MSC’s own spa, with a staff largely from Bali.
Divina is a strikingly pretty ship, well designed and pleasing to the eye throughout. It looks much more like an expensive hotel than the budget cruise ship that its rates suggest.
Last I checked, Divina was sailing at bargain rates out of Miami this winter, advertised as low as $400 for a week in March. If you want more luxury, check out the Yacht Club, MSC’s version of a ship within a ship, with private pool, lounge and restaurant.
David Molyneaux writes regularly about cruising news, tips and trends at TravelMavenBlog.com. His cruise trends column appears monthly in U.S. newspapers and on other Internet sites. This blog was published by All Things Cruise. He is editor of TheTravelMavens.com