In November, MSC Cruises will bring its Fantasia-class MSC Divina to port in Miami. The 1,751-cabin ship was launched last year with the MSC Yacht Club ship-within-a-ship configuration for VIP passengers. The 69 refined suites, located high in the foredecks, deliver a host of added amenities and upgraded services with a Mediterranean flair. This sets the ship apart from many other choices in the Caribbean because it gives planners the opportunity to buy out part of the ship for 1-week sailings through the islands.
“The 69 suites come with 24-hour concierge and butler service, offering a more private experience for all kinds of groups including seminars, annual meetings and incentive groups,” says Wayne Peyreau, director of sales. “We also offer high-tech meeting facilities, a spacious theater and smaller breakout rooms with all the audiovisual equipment.”
When we first heard about this we were hooked. So we boarded the Divina in Venice in March for a weeklong sail to explore the MSC Yacht Club experience.
MSC YACHT CLUB
There’s a certain heady sense of anticipation as you make your way up toward the bow and pass through into the exclusive Yacht Club area. We loved the cabins immediately, ranging in size from the 295-sf Deluxe to 562-sf Royal Suites. The Deluxe Suites have a soothing palette of pale brown, cream and mauve tones, with a walk-in closet, marble bathrooms with bathtubs, and a minibar stocked with complimentary snacks, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages. Each suite offers a couch/seating area and balcony with chairs to enjoy the lofty views.
As expected, there’s nightly turndown service and a pillow menu to ensure you have a lovely sleep at sea. Daily newspapers, WiFi and TV with a nice variety of news stations help keep you connected to home.
The MSC Yacht Club features a stellar array of private venues; these are really where the experience begins to shine. Our favorite is the private Top Sail Lounge located steps away from many of the Yacht Club cabins on the 15th deck. It is a private haven with 180 degrees of glass running across the bow, providing passengers a magnificent panoramic view of the open sea. It’s a tranquil hidden retreat from the world with great natural light and comfortable seating, trimmed out with eggplant suede walls and carpeting.
Groups that buy out the Yacht Club have total privacy for their events in this peaceful and functional area with a maximum capacity for 141 group members. It’s perfect for award ceremonies or a sunset cocktail hour.
Our experience in the Top Sail Lounge was impeccable. The service was deft and friendly. Every day began with a scrumptious light breakfast, followed by a variety of snacks refreshed throughout the day. And there’s a fully stocked bar offering beer, wine, soda and an extensive cocktail list.
More than once, we gathered in the Yacht Club to listen to the piano player perform at the grand piano during afternoon tea. Our initial experience of that on the first day really set the perfect tone for many delightful days aboard the Divina.
On Deck 18 within the MSC Yacht Club, the One Pool is another private area and event venue. The space is designed with both outdoor/covered areas and a full bar, which is especially popular for receptions as the ship leaves port. There is also a small pool and jacuzzi that make an absolutely wonderful break when you want a quick and quiet dip in the water away from the rest of the ship population.
DINNER ABOARD THE DIVINA
At the aft, Le Muse is the private dining room set up for Yacht Club members only. This is an excellent space for buyout groups to gather for full breakfast, lunch and dinner seatings. While planners can customize their menus from a wide range on nationalities, our first recommendation, which you might expect from an Italian cruise line, is the Italian food.
Our pasta dishes during the cruise were absolutely divine. The ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta cheese on an herb-scented artichoke crème was gorgeous, as was the pennette served with a delicate, yet oh-so nuanced pesto sauce.
“A signature feature of our product is our Mediterranean-style cuisine,” says Peyreau. “With the arrival of the MSC Divina to the Port of Miami, the overall menu for our Caribbean sailings will be enhanced to accommodate the preferences of guests from the USA. However, we are always happy to work with our group customers in advance of their sailing to create customized menus tailored to their desires.”
During our sailing we enjoyed fresh shrimp cocktails and grilled sea scallops with ginger. We also think quite highly of the chefs’ homemade pizza with a base of creamy buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes and basil pizza, topped with ham, artichoke and mushrooms. The Mediterranean salads with feta cheese and olives were fresh and cold and served with perfectly mixed balsamic dressing.
Each group has different culinary needs and expectations, so we recommend you work with the MSC sales team to experience/choose your food like they suggest beforehand to enhance your custom experience.
THE DIVINA EXPERIENCE
The MSC Yacht Club is designed to accommodate an incentive group with children. The ship offers many events and entertainment for them throughout the entire ship. Amenities include the main pool with water slides, 4D cinema, game room and mini bowling. There’s also a Kids/Teen Club for ages ranging from three to 17.
We asked Mr. Peyreau what’s fun for adults.
“Anything is possible according to what the client is looking to achieve onboard the ship,” he says. “Themed performances, sport tournaments, pool activities and costume balls are popular. And we help organize special teambuilding group shore excursions.”
Another special treat, the Yacht Club suites are connected to the Balinese-inspired Aurea Spa via direct elevator. The wellness facility can organize group massage/facial events and an array of other services. The Thermal Suites (sauna, steam, thalassotherapy and relaxation rooms) are complimentary to Yacht Club members. There’s also a full gym area.
When you look at how the Yacht Club venues and services can be customized to the individual group, it boosts the overall value of the program to achieve your business objectives. When you combine the rest of the ship, that provides a wealth of personal choices for the individual passenger. So everyone can experience the Divina differently as he or she prefers, while planners can easily maintain group cohesion.
In other words, ROI and ROE work in unison.
“We feel the phrase ‘affordable luxury’ is a good descriptor of the MSC Divina as our fares are quite competitive given the offering,” says Peyreau. “The MSC Divina is the third of the Fantasia-class ships, designed with enhancements ranging from a real stone piazza to a Broadway-sized theater, Swarovski crystal staircase and the Aurea Spa.”
He adds that the personal attendants are all trained at the prestigious International Butler Academy in the Netherlands, and the ratio of butlers to staterooms is 1:5.
“What makes the MSC Yacht Club unique in the cruise market is wherever you turn, the Yacht Club staff are there to greet you and provide assistance,” explains Peyreau. “Butlers are assigned to each suite to ensure the guest experience is seamless, and that every detail is taken care of…. Also, unlike our competitors, we offer complimentary select wines and spirits as well as minibar access, which adds to the already wonderful value that MSC Yacht Club offers.”