Yacht Clubbing On The MSC DIVINA, Part One

Peter Knego’s latest trek begins in Istanbul at the outset of a six night cruise aboard MSC Cruises’ spectacular 2012-built MSC DIVINA. Part One gives a general overview of life in the exclusive Yacht Club ship-within-a-ship and a brief tour of the other public spaces on a day at sea.

MSC Cruises USA

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All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2013 unless otherwise noted.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

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Turkish taxing.

Oh, Istanbul! What a wonderful city, full of some of the world’s most exciting sites and best food but not the ideal place to catch a cab if Turkish is not on your short list of spoken languages.

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When I finally arrived at the international cruise terminal to board the MSC DIVINA, I was, in pure shipping terms, a wreck. Add grunting security guards, hostile port police and a downed computer check-in system to the equation and I was not exactly a bundle of smiles when greeted by Vishesh, the MSC DIVINA’s head concierge. With walkie-talkie in hand, he calmly called for a plate of sandwiches for my cabin, summoned people for my luggage and assured me that all  I needed to do now was “relax and enjoy the MSC DIVINA.”  Words to live by for the next six nights…

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DaVinci meets Swarovski in the Yacht Club Concierge Lounge.

A word or two about the Yacht Club, a ship-within-a-ship haven on board MSC’s quartet of 139,400 gross ton FANTASIA-Class vessels, the third of which is the 2012-built MSC DIVINA.  Not unlike Cunard’s Grill Class with its own devoted lounge, deck area and restaurants, the Yacht Club (located at the top/forward end of these massive ships) contains a world of butlers, spaciousness and comfort while also having access to the vast facilities, dining venues and entertainment in the rest of the ship.

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Top Sail Lounge, facing starboard.
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Top Sail Bar, facing aft.

In addition to a concierge lounge with a swirl of a staircase studded in Swarovski crystals, the Yacht Club has an observation lounge and bar on forward Deck 15 called the Top Sail Lounge.

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Yacht Club Solarium, facing aft (photo taken later in the week).
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Yacht Club Pool (photo taken later in the week).
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One Bar, Yacht Club, facing forward.

At the top of the ship on Deck 18 (Topazio), in the surrounds of the radio mast and protected on three sides by glass screens, the Yacht Club has a sunning deck, two Jacuzzis, a small pool and a bar/buffet called the One Bar.

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Room service.

As promised, those “pick me up” sandwiches were waiting when I opened the door to Suite 15016.

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My man Sata.

My prior experience with butlers on a number of five star cruise ships has been awkward, their sole purpose usually limited to polishing shoes and serving up unwanted canapés. But on the MSC DIVINA, butlers take care of everything, from arranging meals in specialty restaurants to booking excursions, bringing cappuccinos at a moment’s notice, selecting pillows from a pillow menu, ordering an in-cabin local daily paper, getting guests on and off the ship and generally fixing all communication errors made by others along the way. And my butler, Sata, did it all with a wonderful sense of style, humor and apparent effortlessness.

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15016, facing starboard.

Aside from being slightly larger with a walk-in closet and some extra amenities like a stocked mini-bar and Nintento Wii console, the aforementioned pillow menu, Yacht Club logo’d linens and towels, my Deluxe Suite category stateroom is pretty similar to all standard Balcony staterooms on the MSC DIVINA. It has rich colors, dark wood tones and an excellent layout with loads of storage space, one 220-volt European socket, two 110 volt American-style sockets, a mini bar, wifi connection, flat screen television, great lighting and a fantastic king-sized bed.

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15016 WC.

In Yacht Club, the stateroom WCs have beautiful marble-topped counters and a tub with Hans-Grohe controls as well as those posh towels with a golden rose Yacht Club logo.

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Yacht Club amenities.

Yacht Club also provides amenities in small plastic bottles versus the dispensers with bath gel and shampoo in standard cabins.

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15016 balcony.

Balconies in Yacht Club are like those in standard but the views are even loftier from the top of the ship.

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“Emma Essa Che” DIVINA at Istanbul.

My plan was to scarf down those sandwiches and run ashore to get some photos of the ship from the Galata Bridge on the Golden Horn but the port authorities refused to allow me out of the terminal since I had boarded in Istanbul. Must be a new rule since I have always gone ashore on my previous ex-Istanbul voyages. I settled for a bow shot before the rain began to pour — maybe the authorities were looking out for me, after all!

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Mid-afternoon express.

From my balcony, I watched as several of those great-looking local ferries passed by, en route to various parts of the Bosporus.

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Golden Horn exit.

I alternated between unpacking and watching the scenery unfurl as MSC DIVINA pulled away from her berth at a timely 5:00 PM.

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First, the domes of Topkapi Palace…

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Hagia Sophia versus The Blue Mosque.

and ultimately, the metropolis’ two grandest Mosques, each armed with a battalion of missile-like minarets.

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Crazed ellipticals.

And then, the best cure for an exhausting day of travel, a good cardio session. I understand why MSC’s ellipticals and treadmills are programmed for only 20 minute intervals but forget about just using one for a good uphill sprint. These things are programmed to stop, start, slow down and go in every direction on their own whim. Eventually, I just went with it…and learned to love them!

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Le Muse, facing aft.

Yacht Club, like Cunard’s Grill Class, has its own “grill” at the back of the ship. On the DIVINA, the 100-seat restaurant on aft Deck 15 is called Le Muse.

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Le Muse setting.

Le Muse has elegant linens, tall stemware and handsome Schønwald custom tableware.

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Le Mousse bouche.

Dinner starts with an amuse bouche, in my first instance, a vegetable mousse tart. Mineral water and a house red, white and sparkling wine are also included with meals in Yacht Club and there is an extensive extra-tariff wine list for those looking for something special.

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Balsamic chicken in Le Muse.

The menu evolved daily with a choice of two appetizers. I went with a Balsamic Chicken on the first night.

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Le Muse spaghetti pomodoro.

For the entrée, I ordered a spaghetti pomodoro off the “always available” menu. MSC makes some of the best pasta afloat and I was craving this simple, fresh al dente dish.

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Salvatore, hoping some nice girls will see this…

Service for the next five nights would be impeccable, thanks to a fine-tuned staff that included head waiter Giovanni and stellar server Salvatore from Sorrento.

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And ever-smiling Uputu from friendly Bali was at beck-and-call with water, more wine, breads, balsamic, extra virgin olive oil, Parmesan and all the necessities…

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“Pirates” in the Pantheon. Don’t try this at home!

I was really tired but had to stop in at the three deck high Pantheon Lounge to get an essence of the mainstage show. MSC doesn’t provide typical Broadway/Vegas style revues as it carries a multilingual crowd. Instead of Andrew Lloyd Weber, the shows brim with dazzling effects, soaring music, a tour-de-force of sound and lighting and some of the most spectacular dancing and acrobatics on any ship, ever. My pit stop didn’t end until the last curtain call, then it was straight up to 15016, where I drew the curtains on my first night on board the MSC DIVINA.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

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Golden Jazz Club, facing aft.

Frustratingly, I awoke at 7:00 instead of my hoped-for “sleep-a-thon” target of 10:00, which would have caught me up from the prior week of traveling. Instead of staring at the ceiling, I grabbed the cameras and tripod and decided to get some interior spaces documented on Decks 7 (Rubino), 6 (Diamante) and 5 (Corallo). Fortunately, the rest of the ship was still asleep and I had free reign of the public spaces along with crew members yielding vacuums and dust cloths. Each of the four FANTASIA ships has a jazz club with MidCentury Modern-inspired decor. On the DIVINA, this midships Deck 7 space seats 106 and boasts rich gold and orange tones.

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Sacramento, facing aft.

MSC brings Mexican food to the Med. on board the DIVINA with a Deck 7 extra tariff eatery called Sacramento. I had plans to sample the 115-seat venue later in the week…

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Sweeps of Swarovski.

Swarovski Crystals also adorn the staircases in the three deck atrium, which boasts a waterfall and a pair of panoramic elevators.

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The Black Crab, facing port from Deck 5.

The Black Crab is a double deck dining venue that accommodates 529 guests on its upper level (Deck 6) and 626 on its lower level (Deck 5) in two seatings. A second, two-seating restaurant, the 726-seat Villa Rosa is located on aft Deck 6 and serves the identical menu.

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Piazza del Doge, facing aft/port.

The Piazza del Doge is located on Deck 6 and functions as a café, gelaterie, patisserie, entertainment venue and shopping arcade in one.

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Atrium, facing aft from Deck 5.

The rest of the interiors will be covered later on in this blog or in a fully detailed Decked! feature. After a final shot of the atrium from the bottom level, I headed up to Le Muse for a little fuel before starting on the outer deck areas.

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Cappuccino blur in Le Muse.

Ah, Le Muse! No better way to begin a day, than with one of its piping hot cappuccinos. Warning, espresso lovers, these are the real thing — if you ask for a double, you may end up flying around the ship for the rest of the day.

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Le Muse-li!

I ordered a bowl of muesli but Giovanni suggested I let him turn it into something special. When it was delivered, it had been sprinkled atop a mound of yogurt and was dressed up with bananas and honey…

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MSC LIRICA passing.

Just as I wrapped up brekky, I saw something familiar pass very quickly off our port side. By the time I got to the stern for a photo, it took a digital zoom to identify the MSC LIRICA, which I had just seen the prior week lingering around the San Giorgio del Porto shipyard in Genoa.

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Solarium, facing aft from port (later in the week).

OK, so the upper decks were cold and drenched when I started working my way down from the top of the “flying saucer” structure in front of the ship’s grilled funnel. On this level, Deck 18 (Topazio), there is a Solarium with a sheltered Jacuzzi and rows of deck chairs interspersed with two-person cabanas.

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Grilled dome.

From there, a nice view showing the taper of the massive funnel structure. What is nice about MSC’s vessels are the unique curves that have been added to soften the otherwise often harsh lines of a typical mega-ship.

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Games Court, facing port through splotch.

Aft of the funnel on the next lower level, Deck 16 (Aquamarina — interesting that MSC does not have a Deck 17 but DOES have a Deck 13), there is a large games court. On the brand new, almost identical MSC PREZIOSA, this portion of the ship houses a vast waterpark and slide.

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MSC DIVINA rides the waves.

Working my way forward, I stuck my cameras out between the glass panels on Deck 15 (Cristallo) for a view of the DIVINA’s nameboard over a surging sea.

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Magrodome morning.

Directly inside, one of three large pools for non-Yacht Club guests was already in use, thanks to the shelter provided by a huge sliding glass Magrodome.

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Under the Aegean sun.

By noon, as we wound our way between several rugged Greek islands, the sun had began to break through the cloud cover and the open-air Fountain pool and its surrounds on Deck 14 (Smeraldo) buzzed with sun worshipers.

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Calumet, facing forward from starboard.

Craving one of my salad mountains, I joined the throngs in the twin buffet eateries, Calumet and Manitou.

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Calumet salad, PK style.

In the American-native-themed spaces, I dined on olive oil and balsamic-drenched veggies, al dente pasta and Ementaller Swiss cheese.

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Tea time in the Top Sail.

Between 4:00 and 5:00 PM, High Tea is served in the Top Sail Lounge by white-gloved butlers. There are several fresh leaf black tea varieties but I went with my usual green (two bags, well-steeped) and plucked away at various morsels on a multi-tiered tray.

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MJ tribute in the Pantheon.
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Smooth moves.

There was another spectacle in the Pantheon, this time dedicated to the music of Michael Jackson.  I think even he would have been impressed.

End of Yacht Clubbing On The MSC DIVINA, Part One

Much More to Come…

Very Special Thanks: Yvette Batalla, Martin Cox, Gail Nicolaus, Gene Sloan

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea.  With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications.  Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India.  He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."
Peter Knego

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