Cruising the Caribbean aboard the MSC Divina

What’s the best way to fight off winter’s chill?  Spend a week cruising the Caribbean of course!  Right before Christmas the Root of Good family did exactly that. I wanted to share a few pictures from our eight day, seven night cruise aboard the MSC Divina sailing out of Miami, Florida.

After two lazy days at sea, we reached the island of St. Maarten where we watched airplanes zip by just feet off the beach.  The next day we docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico where we explored the city and toured the Castillo San Cristobal fort.  Then we enjoyed another relaxing day at sea before we reached Nassau, Bahamas.  We didn’t get off the boat in Nassau since we seem to visit the island on every cruise we take.  Relaxing on the ship while everyone was on shore proved to be the perfect way to spend the last full day of our vacation.

Since this is a finance blog, I’m compelled to share the numbers for our trip.  We spent about $2,100 total on this cruise.

  • Cruise tickets for five: $1,600
  • Gas to/from Miami from Raleigh: $150
  • Hotel on the drive down: free with Marriott points (travel hacking)
  • Parking at South Miami Park and Ride lot: $40
  • Local bus in St. Maarten: $14 round trip
  • Mandatory gratuities for housekeeping/dining staff: $294

MSC offers a “kids sail free” promotion on many of their Caribbean cruises for kids up to age 10 or 11, and a steep discount for older kids up to age 17.  Their mandatory gratuities are also halved for kids ($6 per day compared to $12 for adults).  MSC served up an incredible experience along with great value for our family.

It’s also worth mentioning that we’ll get around 10% cash back from buying the cruise at Expedia after clicking through the Ebates online shopping portal. After factoring in the cash back, the final cost will be closer to $2,000.


The Beautiful MSC Divina

The MSC Divina is your typical monstrosity of an oceangoing cruise liner.  At almost 1,100 feet long and a displacement of 140,000 tons, it’s big. The crew of 1,388 works hard to make things happy for the more than 4,300 guests on board.  Built in 2012, it’s the newest cruise ship we have sailed on.

Our ship, the MSC Divina, sits to the right while docked in St. Maarten.
Our ship, the MSC Divina, sits to the right while docked in St. Maarten.
The kids' balcony room, sleeps four.
The kids’ balcony room.  Sleeps four.
The Atrium connects all the interior common areas of the ship.
The multi-story Atrium connects all the interior common areas of the ship.
Main pool deck
Main outdoor pool deck
Indoor pools if you like a bit of shade
Indoor pools if you like a bit of shade
Formal dining room. Fancy eating!
Formal dining room. Fancy eating!
Enjoying the view!
Enjoying the view!


Entertainment options – How to never get bored

Every night we saw a wonderful show in the theater. Mostly singing, dancing, and acrobatics.
Almost every night we saw a wonderful show in the theater. Mostly singing, dancing, and acrobatics.
The hula hoop guy performing in mid-air while dangling from a rope strapped to his head. Seems safe.
The hula hoop guy performing in mid-air while dangling from a rope strapped to his head. Seems safe.
The guys on stage enjoyed throwing this lady 20 feet into the air.
During the “Pirates” show, the guys on stage enjoyed throwing this wench 20 feet into the air (look for the upside down lady hovering above the skull if you missed her at first glance).
The Italian opera night reminded me that opera isn't my thing.
The Italian opera night reminded me that opera isn’t my thing.  They were pretty good though.  It’s also the first time I have seen a cruise ship performance troupe with a pair of dedicated opera singers.
Other musical options: piano music in the Atrium (occasionally accompanied by a violinist)
Other musical options: piano music in the Atrium (occasionally accompanied by a violinist)
Or you could listen to Greg jamming out classic hits
Or you could listen to Greg jamming out classic hits.
Or check out the Black and White lounge for more live music and dancing
Or check out the Black and White lounge for more live music and dancing.  Not shown are several other live music venues on board.  My only complaint is they mostly performed in the evenings.
Or you could order up most major newspapers in a variety of languages.
Or you could order up most major newspapers in a variety of languages.  This selection caters to the wide range of international guests on board.  I never did figure out how they delivered newspapers while we were in the middle of the ocean.
Not a bad view sitting on deck watching the ocean
Not a bad view sitting on deck watching the ocean
For the kids, there's constant fun in the kids' club. Ours didn't participate as much since they are getting older (and the little guy wanted to do everything his sisters did!).
For the kids, there’s constant fun in the kids’ club (and it’s free!). Our children didn’t participate much since they are getting older (and the little guy wanted to do everything his sisters did!).


Time to eat!

Overall, the food on the MSC Divina was great.  Possibly the best we have enjoyed at sea.  Compared to the past few Carnival cruises, the buffet restaurant was amazing.  The formal dining room wasn’t as impressive this time around.  Since most of the formal dining room’s appetizer and entree choices appeared in the buffet restaurant, we tended to dine in the self-serve buffet restaurant for most meals during this cruise.

Many of the dishes reflected MSC's Italian heritage.
Many of the dishes reflected MSC Cruises’s Italian heritage.  And then there was the seafood fried rice.
For display only, but technically food. The Caribbean's warm, balmy weather made us forget it was almost Christmas.
For display only, but technically food. The Caribbean’s warm, balmy weather made us forget it was almost Christmas.
Fancy some caviar?
Fancy some caviar?
It pairs well with the free champagne at the "Welcome Back" cocktail party.
It pairs well with the free champagne at the “Welcome Back” cocktail party.
Pool-side ice cream for dessert.
Pool-side soft serve ice cream for dessert.


Port of Call: St. Maarten

This was our second time visiting the island of St. Maarten.  We hopped off the ship and walked about a mile into the center of town where we picked up a local “bus” (minivan).  Then we made our way to the nearby Maho Beach.  The beach itself is pretty but not great for swimming.  The airplanes landing a few feet away made up for it.

The St. Maarten city "bus"
The St. Maarten city “bus”
The "not great" Maho Beach
The “not great” Maho Beach
The airport runway is immediately adjacent to the beach. Most inbound planes were smaller than this Delta jet.
View from the bus
Mountain view from the bus
Just another day in paradise!
Just another day in paradise.
All the customers' yachts
Nice boats!


Port of Call: San Juan, Puerto Rico

The last time I visited San Juan twelve years ago I didn’t have time to visit the massive fort watching over the harbor entrance.  During San Juan round #2 I finally got to tour the fort!

Castillo San Cristobal fort. Since Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, the US National Park Service maintains the fort.
Castillo San Cristobal fort. Since Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, the US National Park Service maintains the fort. My mom was on the cruise with us and she bought the $10 lifetime admission Senior Pass for all US Parks which admits her and three other guests.  Score!  The rest of us avoided the $5 park admission.
Our view from the cruise dock.
The fort from the cruise dock.
Man the cannons!
I bet the soldiers loved defending the island while enjoying that view!
The view from the fort's bathroom.
The view from the fort’s bathroom.
This cruise ship was slightly cheaper but we opted for the more luxurious and modern ocean liner for this cruise.
This cruise ship was slightly cheaper but we opted for the more luxurious and modern ocean liner for this cruise.
A friendly San Juan caterpillar.
A friendly San Juan caterpillar.
The streets of Old San Juan.
The streets of Old San Juan.


Port of Call: Nassau, Bahamas

Our cruise stopped in Nassau on the last full day.  Being lazy, we decided to enjoy a day on board the ship (which is basically a floating luxury resort) instead of muscling our way through the throngs of tourists and touts in the port terminal.  We have probably visited and explored Nassau a half dozen times in the past, so we’ve seen most of the noteworthy destinations on the island.

Our home for the day
Our home for the day next to the world’s second largest cruise ship, the Oasis of the Seas.
Junkanoo beach, minutes away from the cruise terminal (taken during a previous visit)
Junkanoo beach, minutes away from the cruise terminal (taken during a previous cruise in January 2016)
The mighty vessels of the Bahamian Navy
The mighty vessels of the Bahamian Navy
The sun setting on our neighbor
The sun setting on our neighbor
City lights of Nassau as we sailed out of port
City lights of Nassau as we sailed out of port


Miami and the drive to Raleigh

The sobering reality of dawn: we're back in Miami and it's time to get off the ship.
The sobering reality of dawn: we’re back in Miami and it’s time to get off the ship.
The Raleigh-Miami drive is about 800 miles. At least we enjoyed distractions like this!
The Raleigh-Miami drive is about 800 miles each way along I-95.  At least we enjoyed nice distractions like this sunset.  Our minivan once again proved its worth as a great “road trip” vehicle after rocking it on this summer’s Great American Canadian Road Trip.


Land ‘Ho!

We had a great time as a family and really enjoyed the MSC Divina and the warm weather. Cruises are our time to relax and enjoy some modest luxuries.  That’s why we saved all this money, right?

Although $2,100 is more than we typically spend for a week of vacation, it would be hard to beat that price for the five of us at a land-based all-inclusive resort.

Interested in cruising? Check out all the posts in my “Going on a Cruise” series:

Going on a Cruise Part 1: Overview

Going on a Cruise Part 2: Getting the Best Deal

Going on a Cruise Part 3: Save on Board and on Transportation

Going on a Cruise Part 4: The Food!

Cruising the Caribbean Aboard the MSC Divina



Ever been on a cruise?  How did it compare to a land-based resort or other kind of vacation?  



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  1. While $2,100 (or $2,000 after ebate) may be more than you typically spend on vacation, that’s great value for a family of five. Many families spend that much on airfare to get to the port. Transportation, entertainment, and just so much food for a week — that’s a bargain. My biggest complaint about cruising is that my weight gain averages about a pound a day on those things.

    That picture of the jet is insane. I could almost hear the engine’s roar just looking at it.


    1. Those jets were pretty cool. I like watching planes anyway so this was a great place to visit. +1 on the weight gain. We opted to walk the mile into town instead of paying an extra $7/person to take a taxi. Not that that little bit of exercise helped much 🙂

    2. Completely agree! We’ve only been on one cruise and had a much better time than we expected. However, the weight gain is insane. You can’t put that much bacon in front of me and expect nothing to happen. It just doesn’t work that way.

      1. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I made an effort to skip breakfast or eat something very light since I knew breakfast was pretty much the same each day (and yes, the unlimited bacon is tempting). Waking up at 9 or so certainly helps in that regard. I don’t think it cancels out eating 2 lunches and 2 dinners each day but at least I’m hungry once lunch does come around!

  2. Love Maho beach in St. Maarten. We got some pictures from underneath the plane as it flies a few feet overhead.

    I’m more partial to Dawn beach on the island though. It’s where I proposed to my wife a little more than 10 years ago.

  3. Champagne and caviar, looks like you guys were living it up. That’s an awesome deal for an 8 day vacation floating around the Carribean!

    I also dig the picture from the fort bathroom, heck of a view 🙂

    You have me eager to see those blue waters again. Just a couple more months before we head to Jamaica. We got the Hyatt all inclusive for 9 days using all travel rewards. I’m ready for some R&R, not that I’m working too hard now 😉

    1. The kids love love love cruises. I think I have created monsters.

      The older two used to love the kids clubs more but I think they are getting too old for it now. I mean what’s not to love? Swimming pools, water slides, ice cream, pizza and fries. You stop in a few ports and go to the beach or exploring and see some interesting new wildlife and scenery you don’t see at home.

  4. We have never done a cruise! I thought about it a few times when we lived in Europe, they have Italy-Greece-Turkey 10 day trips, that were appealing. We live about 12 hours from a port now, so it seems like a bit of a hassle. But we could do an Alaska cruise from Seattle. I think once the kids are a tiny bit older, it could be a lot of fun. Thanks for all the photos!

    1. We’re almost 12 hours away from Miami and it’s certainly a big time commitment to get there and back. Even if you fly, you typically have to fly in the previous day to ensure you make the cruise.

      I bet your kids would love it! Water slides, entertainment, dozens (hundreds??) of other kids! And unlimited ice cream! Good luck persuading them that “real food” is mandatory before ice cream.

  5. Ohhhh maaaaaan. Mr. Picky Pincher and I were JUST talking about how badly we need a vacation. And then I see this. You aren’t helping my wanderlust. 🙂

    $2,100 isn’t shabby at all for a cruise for five people. I don’t think cruises are for me, though; they look crowded and I don’t think we’d be a fan of the food!

    1. After posting that one pic of the outside pool deck I realized “wow that looks horribly crowded!”. In truth, there were only a few times the crowding proved inconvenient. Of course we’re good at doing things off peak. Certain times of day the hot tubs and pools are empty, and the restaurant usually wasn’t that crowded (once we did have to circle for a while to find a free table large enough to accommodate our group).

    2. We go to all inclusive resorts in Mexico & love it. Definitely cost more than what they paid for a family of five, but for the price they paid you can get everything air/hotel/all inclusive for two people. It’s totally worth it & super relaxing. We book on Expedia.

  6. Nice photos! Did you happen to visit That Yoda Guy’s ( shop while you were in St. Maarten? I spent a week in St. Maarten but forgot to visit until the last day but he was closed that day. Next time…

  7. We did a lot of cruising growing up and I always enjoyed it. I still want to do the Antarctica/Chile/Argentina cruise but it’s definitely pricey compared to your standard Caribbean or Mexico jaunt.

    The last few Carnival cruises I’ve done, the safety/lifejacket meeting has dragged on longer than in the old days. Did you notice MSC to be more efficient in that regard?

    it looks like you guys had a great time, and certainly good value. The crazy part is your costs probably would have been even lower had you opted to go for cheaper rooms that did not have the balconies.

    1. I’d love to do one of those Argentina to Chile cruises. I think I’d like to go on an Antarctica cruise but I’ve heard horror stories of the high waves between the tip of S America and Antarctica.

      The MSC lifeboat drill was actually a little longer than what we’ve experienced on Carnival. Not horrible but not fun either. We literally stepped foot onto the MSC ship as the life boat drill was underway so we had to go straight to the muster station with our bookbags still on our backs. At least I managed to persuade them to give me a couple glasses of ice water to cool off (Miami in December isn’t cool and I had done a lot of walking to get to the port).

      That balcony room was a freebie. At the time it they were running a “book a balcony room for $399 + tax per adult and kids sail free” deal. Pretty amazing because their current deal is only $50 cheaper for an inside room. I’m kind of mixed on the inside vs. balcony rooms. I might pay a little premium for the balcony but not a ton since there’s usually a ton of nice public spaces for relaxation. I did spend a nice afternoon on our balcony reading an ebook and watching this one maritime bird fly alongside the ship, occasionally diving for fish through the waves (and we were at least 20 miles from land at the time).

  8. I’ve been on about 5 cruises and enjoy them. I just got back from Hyatt Ziva all-inclusive resort in Cancun since I wanted a break from cruises for one trip. But the warm weather made me want to book a cruise when I got back. Unfortunately the cruise I’m looking to book at the end of February is already at 90% capacity and therefore they aren’t running any good deals. Glad you had fun, looks like a nice trip with good ports of call.

    1. Finding good cruise deals has been difficult lately. It’s the economy’s fault – we’re doing too well! Booking rates are up in spite of all the cruise lines adding additional capacity.

    1. Yes, very nice to have all the service since we’re more accustomed to DIY vacations. I also love that your hotel floats with you so you don’t have to pack up and move each day to reach a new destination (like an RV, in a way 🙂 ).

  9. I’ve never been on a cruise. I really need to fix that. Loved the pictures, especially that awesome caterpillar. It looks like you had a fantastic vacation, and that price just can’t be beat.

  10. Very cool Justin. Thanks for this entertaining post. Love the pictures!

    I’ve never been on a cruise, but it seems like a very efficient way to see a bunch the caribbean in one go.

    As a family man myself, $2000 does seem like a pretty good value for 5 people. In my case though, we would have to fly to the port, so that pretty much kills our chances at a reasonably priced cruise.

    We could take an Alaskan cruise, but I’ve spent way too much time in Alaska…I’d probably be bored to tears!

    1. I think my interest in taking a cruise first developed after I saw how expensive it would be to visit several Caribbean islands on one vacation. Airfare to get there plus flights or ferries between islands adds up quickly. And that’s before you even pay a penny toward hotels, rental cars, and food. The cruise takes care of almost all that (except local transport), so we ended up going that route over a decade ago and still enjoy this style vacation today.

      I’d like to visit Alaska some time and it might be by cruise! Our oldest daughter really wants to visit too.

  11. Sounds like Nassau is staying in business from cruise liners, ha! Both times we Docked there was on a Sunday. It was a ghost town…and most everything was closed. Note to self…don’t go on a cruise that docks on a Sunday.

    1. They get tons of traffic from cruise lines. I think the pier can handle five or six huge cruise ships at a time so you can imagine ten or twenty thousand visitors in a day! And even if everything was closed on a Sunday you could always walk down to Junkanoo beach and relax on the sand.

  12. Very cool. You guys are lucky that you can just drive down to Florida. We have to fly down if we were to do a Caribbean cruise. Good point on kids sail for free… Will have to investigate that. We were looking at Princess cruise but I don’t think to offer kids sail for free. How old do the kids have to be for you to drop them off at the kids club?

    1. Flying to Florida has some advantages, but there are other ports (e.g. Baltimore) that you could depart from that offer cruises and may be closer to you or be cheaper air fare that you could consider.

      1. I’m always checking local ports like Baltimore, Norfolk, Charleston, and Jacksonville since they are all 3-6 hours away by car. Lately, Jacksonville has been the only port to offer really cheap cruises, however Baltimore does offer some longer cruises at still competitive prices. Good option for those not wanting to fly or drive to S. Florida.

    2. Driving down works wonders on the price because we don’t have to worry about airfare, and especially for last minute cruises where airfare can be very expensive or awkward/inconvenient schedules.

      Not sure if Princess offers kids sail free. I think Norwegian does on some cruises so might want to check that out.

      For kids club, it’s usually around age 2-3 and/or potty trained. Policy varies by cruise line so check that out and you might have to make your choice based on that. Having a full time free babysitter at your disposal is a great way to relax on vacation for those times you just want to kick back and chill for a few hours. I think Carnival takes kids at age 2 and still in diapers while Norwegian does not accept them in diapers but that’s just from memory.

  13. Wow! Looks like a fun trip, Justin!

    I’ve never been on a cruise, but maybe I’ll go on one in the future! Your pictures look very awesome and are just drawing me in to take a vacation again!

    1. Glad to be a bad influence 🙂 We love land-based vacations even when done on a relatively shoe string budget, but also enjoy the small luxuries of cruise travel.

  14. We LOVE cruising! Have been three times and would like to go much more often.

    I had never heard about MSC and will have to check them out. They seem very affordable and the ship looks awesome.

    1. Check them out. They are an Italian cruise line so a little different than the Carnival/Royal Caribbean/Princess cruises but in a good way I think. Costa is similar (had a great experience with them 7 years ago).

  15. Very nice pics! Looks like you all had a great vacation.

    I’ve never been on a cruise. Also not very customary where we live (Netherlands). But we already have planned out next trip to the West Coast! Which will be our first time to the US. We hope to stay close to the 3000 euro’s for the trip, but that might be a tight budget.

    1. There were a lot of Europeans on this MSC cruise. For us it was a cheap vacation somewhere warm. For them it was probably a crazy expensive “trip of a lifetime” given the international airfare and cost of some of the rooms.

      Enjoy the West Coast. You can spend a little or a lot depending on what you want to see and do and your taste for luxury.

      1. Thanks a lot! We rented a car and will be driving around most of the time. Hopefully not exceeding our budget, but we will see. It has too be fun as well 😉

        Interesting that there were so many Europeans on the cruise, I imagine it would be more of an expensive, once in a lifetime trip indeed.

  16. How did you split up the kids/cabins? The Kids Sail Free is only for the 3rd and 4th passengers in a cabin, and only 2 per cabin I believe. I think Divina has a max of 4 people per cabin anyway, though Seaside (arriving later 2017) will offer expanded options for families.

    1. Five people don’t fit in a 4 person room, that’s for sure! My mom came along on this trip and she was technically booked into a 2 person cabin with our youngest son. So he was discounted slightly but not free and my mother paid full price for her ticket. We ended up switching around so the final arrangement was me and Mrs. RoG in the 2 person inside room and my mom with our 3 kids in the 4 person balcony room. I’d love to see a 5 person room with kids sail free as that would save us even more!

      1. “my mom with our 3 kids in the 4 person balcony room”… got to love that! Some ships have 5 (or more) person cabins, but it tends to be the newer ships, and ironically some of the much older ships. However… price wise it isn’t always the best decision. KSF on MSC is a huge win for us, though we still cruise on Carnival ~50% for the variety. MSC doesn’t seem to rotate shows, so we’ve seen the same shows year after year. They have some of the best shows at sea, but only the first couple of times! 🙂

        Another thing to note about MSC is that the VIP program will match status one time per person. For someone who is thinking about trying MSC and has high status on another line, this is a good thing. Among other things, it gets you the 5% discount off the base cruise fare. Note, however, that the status expires if unused for some amount of time. If you want to try MSC and match status, it might be best to patch only one person and save the other in case you want to do it again 3 or 4 years down the road.

        Bon Voyage!

        1. I’ve seen the 5 person rooms come up occasionally and they are usually more expensive than 2 rooms for 2-3 people each. I think the one exception was a carnival ship (Ecstasy out of Charleston??) where a five person room was basically the same price as a 4 person room plus a small extra charge for the fifth guest (plus the taxes of course). But if you have to upgrade to a suite or loft/studio cabin the upcharge destroys any cost savings from 3-5th passengers being cheaper (and even then they aren’t always cheaper than 1st-2nd person in the third class steerage section of the ship 😉 ).

          Thanks for the heads up on the MSC status match. I actually completed the status match before this cruise (which gained us admission to the welcome back cocktail party and what turned out to be maybe a dozen glasses of champagne). Unfortunately I status matched my whole family including my mom so I guess we are at risk of losing the status if we don’t sail on MSC in the next few years. That’s a weird quirk I wasn’t aware of.

  17. Wow! Those pics look FANTASTIC! And how adorable that Julian wants to do everything his sisters want to do. Awww.

    $2100 for the whole family for that much quality is hard to beat! Curious to see the budget for your European adventures. Maybe by the end of the trip, Europe will end up owing you money 😉

    1. I once left Vegas with them owing me money. Long story but it wasn’t solely due to winning at the tables. 🙂 Hint: travel hacking was involved.

      Don’t think I can pull it off in Europe though. However we are running $400 under budget for lodging so far (with 21 out of 64 nights booked). Some nice deals out there.

      1. Nice! Las Vegas is sweet is that you can take advantage of the cheap deals if you don’t gamble. We stayed at a 4 star hotel off the strip with pool for $40/night. Steak dinners at 2am were $2, and they gave us free buffet dinners. All in all, it seemed like we made money after the trip 😛

    1. That makes sense and I kind of assumed the technology is there at this point. We get tons of printed material every day so there’s probably a few crew that work full time in the print shop on board. I also like my wild dream of helicopters dropping a bundle of international newspapers at 4 am every day 🙂

  18. Posts like this get me excited about cruising during “off-peak” times like the couple weeks before Christmas. I’ve always worked in schools and we’ve been held to school vacation schedules. I think $2000 for that kind of trip is a great value for the experience you had. You do many frugal activities a good part of the year, time to live it up a little!

    1. It’s really great to snag these off peak bargains. We were looking at some cruises over spring break and the price shoots up about double. Summer time is the same way.

      The other huge benefit to off season cruising is the warm weather in the Caribbean. It’s freezing at home in most of the US but perfect weather (70’s daytime high) across most of the Caribbean. Best time to visit I would say!

  19. Those are really great pictures, Justin. Thanks for sharing them with us.

    We have been on 3 cruises (Alaska, Mexico and Caribbean) and absolutely love them. Our last was in 2012, so I think we are about due for another. We will have to take a look at MSC. The ship looks awesome!

  20. Nice one Justin! Looks like you guys had a blast and enjoying all of those pictures you took..
    Gotta love that St Maarten airport right near the beach as well right?

    Hope you’re having a great start to 2017 as well!

    1. Those plans landing were insane! Makes me want to go to that airport in Asia (Hong Kong??) where the planes bank in at a steep angle then land after flying right over a bunch of buildings.

  21. We almost booked a trip with the MSC divina last year. They had quite nice prices. But we ended up doing a Florida roadtrip instead because we didn’t like itinerary available when we where in FL. But we will check them out again the next time we head for a Florida vacation. Looks like an awesome week 🙂 I am not to afraid of the pounds gaining on a cruise since i never in my 9 visits to the US have ever gone home (Norway) waying less 😛

    Keep up the good work/blogging 🙂

    1. Definitely check out the cruise options next time you’re back. Should be nice prices during the winter and you can defrost from the Norway winters 🙂 Always warm in Southern Florida.

  22. That ship looks beautiful! I usually cruise Carnival with my 12 year old son- usually their mid to large ships. How do you think you’d compare Carnival to MSC from a 12 year olds perspective. Any tips aside from Ebates for the best deal?

    1. Our kids were in the age 7-11 kids club so I’m not sure how the 12-14 age group’s kid club was. I think MSC is certainly on par with Carnival. Depends on what they like doing on board I guess. Overall it’s fairly similar. In a way, the food on MSC was more kid friendly since they had the burger/fries/hot dogs from noon till 9 or 11 pm (the Carnival ships stopped the grilled foods at 6 pm I recall).

      As for tips, just watch the prices and see if you can find a good deal. MSC had surprisingly affordable rates for early to mid June right as school gets out so that might be an option (though I haven’t looked for a month or two so those deals might be gone).

  23. Great pictures…it reminds me of the cruises we took with our kids when they were little and how much fun it was to travel in luxury even though we were on a tight budget.

    I think it would be interesting to create cruises with like minded people and hold conferences and learning seminars on the cruise…ya know like how to manage money and save millions so they can retire early?

    ; )

    1. I looked into organizing a group cruise. Maybe it’ll happen some day. 🙂 Probably a lot cheaper to do the cruise than rent hotel space for a FIRE convention. There are a few out there already and they aren’t cheap – $400-3000 for a few days to a week.

      There’s also the Nomad Cruise folks that organize group cruises for nomadic people (no, not like the Berbers or Maasai peoples). It’s for people that have a digital nomad lifestyle and I assume they have breakout sessions during the cruise for various topics of interest for that group.

  24. I had plans to take my son and his family to Disneyland this year. (so 4 adults and 3 children). It used to be a reasonably priced vacation from my recollection. When I started to look into things I estimated a 4 day visit would end up costing about $10 – $12,000. (partly because of the CAD/US exchange rate, to be fair). A 3 day pass to Disneyland for the 7of us was closing on $3000 and this was before we flew there, slept there or ate anything. That’s the problem when you remember the days of package deals where kids were free and breakfast was included.

    1. I’ve priced out Disney a few times and it’s never cheap. So far the kids don’t really seem to care much as they aren’t all that into Disney stuff. When I ask if they prefer a cruise or Disney, my ears hurt from how loud they scream CRUISE!!! I’m 100% happy with never taking them to Disney as I imagine a cruise is 100% more relaxing than the typical Disney experience. And none of us are big amusement park people (I can’t stand roller coasters 🙂 )

    1. We don’t drink a ton off the ship so we don’t drink much on the ship. Which means we rarely buy alcohol on board. Although on this particular MSC ship the draft beer prices were pretty good. I think they had Heineken and one of their own “craft” brews on tap on a “pay by the ounce” through an automated machine and it was something like $1.50 for a 7 ounce beer (small by American standards) and closer to $3-4 for a full 16 ounce pint pour. That’s certainly what you’ll pay in most bars and restaurants if not even more.

      We also took advantage of their champagne cocktail party (see pics!!) and drank our fair share of the bubbly (about 5-6 glasses each by our estimate). Although not an option on this MSC ship, many cruise lines allow you to bring your own wine on board (one 750 mL bottle per adult), which means you can have a small glass of wine once per day on a 5-7 day cruise for the price of a $3-10 bottle of wine brought from home.

      Then there’s the bootlegging. Some people will smuggle liquor on board! We haven’t done that in a loooong time but it’s fairly easy with a little prep work and they always have some form of free fruit drink if you need a mixer to make a cocktail.

      For heavy drinkers there are drinks packages. There was one on this MSC ship that looked pretty decent – 18 drink tickets for $80 or so, which works out to about USD$4.50 per drink and I think they include the 15-18% mandatory gratuity in that price.

      1. MSC has a variety of AI booze packages also. Like you, we don’t drink much so the we actually used some of our coupon book for gelato (which is about break-even). Last time I read up on it, they do not add the gratuity on when you pre-purchase. If you buy the coupon book on the ship, the gratuity *is* added on. I don’t know if that money goes into a common pool, or if the actual server gets credited with the gratuity… and if so, does that individual lose the gratuity if you pre-pay?

        Also note that the Fantastica ‘experience’ will begin to include 12 drink tickets in “summer 2017”.

  25. Wow, you guys had a great vacation! Cruises aren’t our thing, but now I want to try one again. The price is right especially if kids are free/discount rate. The MSC Devina looks awesome. Much better than the old cruise ship we went on 15 years ago…

    1. There’s definitely a different breed of cruise ship today vs 10-20 years ago. Very nice resort-like experience that the kids enjoy too. Not something I would want to do for every vacation but it’s nice to get away somewhere warm (and relatively cheap) once or twice during the winter here.

  26. Thanks for the post on the MSC Divina! Glad you had a great time. My daughter is getting married on the Divina (in San Juan) this coming May and we are really looking forward to it. Have sailed mostly Carnival and Princess previously, so hearing a bit about MSC was very helpful. My experience is that if you aren’t enjoying a cruise, you are working to hard to find something to complain about! My kids loved them when they were little, and still love them now in their 20’s.

    Regarding Alaska – you should just do it! It took me 10 years to convince my wife to cruise Alaska, and after doing it this past May she says it was her favorite cruise. We loved our one-way cruise from Seward to Vancouver, but expect that they are all good. Tip: we got much better airfare on the return flying Air Canada from Vancouver to Toronto, then down to the U.S.

    1. “My experience is that if you aren’t enjoying a cruise, you are working to hard to find something to complain about!”

      Yep. When I read reviews from people on previous cruises I always wonder what kind of person has a horrible time on board. Worst case you eat basic food, relax for a few days, and maybe sleep more than you usually do. Too much to see and do to get bored unless you need stimulation 24-7.

    1. I tried the “skip breakfast and eat 2 lunches and 2 dinners”. Not sure if that was the best strategy though lol. Definitely true that you’re going to eat more than you should.

  27. What a great life you have Justin, I look forward to early retirement, I am 35 and read every single one of your posts. I am aiming to be retired when I am 45 (have roughly 200K in Vanguard so far, assuming will grow 100K per year for the next 10 years). I am in a small town and work all day long, I am single but want to try to find someone to marry which is a big challenge in this area so I was hoping to do it when I retired. How did you and your wife meet?

    1. Way back in college when we were both mostly broke. 🙂

      I’m afraid I don’t have much advice for dating these days other than to try to weed out the financially incompatible sooner in a relationship rather than later (if your goal is FIRE). 🙂

  28. Justin, I’ve been following you for a while – since hearing about your blog on the Radical Personal Finance podcast. Your blog is uniquely appealing to me because you have a family and you do the kind of travel we do/would like to do, particularly cruising. We’ve always wanted to take our kids on a cruise as we’ve been and love it, but could never figure out how to justify the cost for four people. Seeing your costs laid out, and your easy, attainable strategies for saving on cruises is SO helpful! Thank you for sharing.

  29. We’ve done a lot of all inclusive sand other land based Caribbean vacations but no cruises. Mainly I don’t like the idea of flying from the northeast to then get on a boat. We could try one from Boston or New York, maybe that will be our next vacation.

    1. Flying down to cruises usually sucks. Unless you can snag a very early non-stop flight, you pretty much have to fly in the day before, deal with hauling your luggage to a hotel, then haul your luggage to the port the next day. I’ve flown to exactly one cruise, and while it worked out fine, a few hours delay in flight schedule would have meant a lot of stressing on my part, and 5-6 hours of delay would mean we wouldn’t be on the cruise 🙂

      We’ve done several from more local ports in Charleston (4 hour drive) and Jacksonville (6.5 hr drive) and it’s nice to be able to drive down the morning of the cruise and hop on the boat. Problem is the selection of itinerary is poor, ships aren’t as nice, and they’re usually 5 nt cruises vs 7+ night cruises (we prefer 7+ night cruises). But 5 nt cruises are better than no night cruises 🙂

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