MSC’s Yacht Class is the epit­ome of lux­ury cruis­ing

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - TRAVEL 2013 -

KEVIN RITCHIE

THERE’S cruis­ing and then there’s MSC Yacht Class. In­tro­duced on the com­pany’s flag­ship Fan­ta­sia class (MSC Preziosa, MSC Div­ina, MSC Splen­dida and MSC Fan­ta­sia) it sep­a­rates the dis­cern­ing trav­eller from the or­di­nary pas­sen­ger.

Hav­ing said that, there isn’t much that’s or­di­nary about the MSC Div­ina. It’s the 10th largest cruise ship in the world, with a plethora of re­sort-type ac­tiv­i­ties on board from a su­per­tube for the kids to dance floors, spe­cial­ity restau­rants, buf­fets, swim­ming pools and even a spa.

Yacht Club, though, takes it all to a new level. Mem­bers are al­lo­cated two decks in the fore of the ship, above the bridge.

Ac­cess is con­trolled by key card and al­lows the mem­ber to ac­cess the Top Sail Lounge, a panoramic lux­ury lounge and bar di­rectly above the bridge with the same 180o vista. But­lers at­tend to the mem­bers’ ev­ery need; from know­ing what type of tea you’d like in the morn­ing to af­ter­noon cock­tail. They will also bring you a spe­cially printed on­board edi­tion of your favourite news­pa­per.

Break­fast, tea, high tea and snacks are served in the Top Sail Lounge, while the five- course lunches and din­ners, com­pleted with paired cham­pagne and wines are served in the be­spoke Le Muse restau­rant. It’s the kind of place where the wait­ers take it as a per­sonal in­sult if you miss din­ner to dine with the cap­tain in­stead.

When it comes to bask­ing in the sun, as you do when you are be­tween naps, ex­cur­sions or meals, Yacht Club mem­bers have their own ex­clu­sive pool area, served by a pool­side bar which mir­rors the meals avail­able in the top sail lounge. It’s a rare ex­pe­ri­ence de­signed to take the angst out of life on the ocean, start­ing with an ex­pe­dited check-in to pain- free dis­em­barka­tion for the daily ex­cur­sions and never hav­ing to sign for a sin­gle drink – within the club con­fines – as ev­ery­thing, even the bar fridge, is com­pli­men­tary.

All cab­ins are sea fac­ing, with most hav­ing bal­conies, the rest have panoramic floor to ceil­ing win­dows in­stead. Each has an in­ter­ac­tive flatscreen TV with games con­sole for the kids; the bath­rooms have ac­tual baths and show­ers, while the walkin cup­board has a safe.

The level of ser­vice on the rest of the ship isn’t to be sneezed at ei­ther, with 1 300 crew on board for a max­i­mum of just over 4 000 pas­sen­gers.

The Div­ina of­fers al­most non­stop en­ter­tain­ment morn­ing to night, from veg­etable cut­ting demon­stra­tions and cha-cha lessons on the deck to danc­ing and gam­bling down be­low into the early hours.

There are two shows a night in the Pan­theon The­atre and mu­si­cians play­ing gui­tars, vi­o­lins or pi­anos at restau­rants and bars across the ship.

As al­ways, the big­gest dan­ger is food – the range, the amount and the round- the- clock avail­abil­ity, with break­fast to din­ner and mid­night snacks where you can make your own sand­wiches.

Each night, a bul­letin is slid un­der your door ex­plain­ing the next day’s desti­na­tion and how the ship will get there, ex­pected tem­per­a­tures on board, en­ter­tain­ment, the theme for the evening (there are two gala evenings on a seven- night cruise) and spe­cials on sale from jew­ellery to per­fume and pizza.

For the or­di­nary pas­sen­ger there’s a re­cep­tion area on Deck 4 the size of a large ho­tel, to an­swer all your queries.

And that’s the key to the Div­ina – it’s a float­ing re­sort ho­tel.

Like the MSC ships op­er­at­ing from Dur­ban and Cape Town dur­ing the sum­mer sea­son, the Div­ina is a cash­less en­vi­ron­ment. Ev­ery­thing is charged to your cruise card which is also your cabin key card and your iden­ti­fi­ca­tion card to em­bark and dis­em­bark at each port of call.

Your credit card will be deb­ited and your cell­phone will ping as you cruise around the Med and spend.

All food on board is free, ex­cept for the food in the spe­cial­ity restau­rants – Cantina di Bacco, the pizze­ria; and Galaxy, the Mediter­ranean themed disco restau­rant.

Drink is another mat­ter. Cof­fee, tea and iced wa­ter are free from the buf­fet restau­rants but cooldrinks, beer, wine and spir­its are not.

The good news is that there are tipple pack­ages that mean size­able dis­counts (and peace of mind).

There is plenty for chil­dren on board, from age-ap­pro­pri­ate dis­cos to games rooms and even a four­deck-high slippy slide.

There’s a well-equipped gym next door to the spa. Many pas­sen­gers though, choose to power walk along the top pub­lic deck or even run past the aqua park and the sunbeds, ac­com­pa­nied by stun­ning vis­tas of the Aegean and the Adri­atic is­lands.

For those in the Yacht Club, liv­ing atop an 18-deck ship guar­an­tees a climb of 12 decks on em­barka­tion from ex­cur­sions or you can just use your key card to com­man­deer the lift and ex­press ride it to the top, over­rid­ing the decks in be­tween. Get­ting out of the lift, you’ll head past the pri­vate concierge and into the Top Sail Lounge where the but­ler will serve your favourite drinks, some­thing light to nib­ble as the crew pre­pares to slip the moor­ings and Cap­tain Francesco Ve­niero pre­pares to ex­e­cute another in­cred­i­ble act of sea­man­ship as he deftly or­ches­trates another flaw­less de­par­ture and sets course for the open sea.

It’s been a day in par­adise, and the evening awaits.

SHEER SPLEN­DOUR: The MSC Div­ina of­fers the ul­ti­mate in lux­ury cruis­ing.

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