The scene on the quayside after the official launch of MSC Divina.
The scene on the quayside after the official launch of MSC Divina.
One of the several pools aboard the MSC Divina.
One of the several pools aboard the MSC Divina.

It would be a bit of an exaggeration to say I rubbed shoulders, but I was a few feet away from them at the Press Conference and a few rows away from the stage set up on the quayside for the launch.

Sophia looked lovely (with the help of a few nips, tucks and a red wig), Gérard was grossly overweight with his shirt tail hanging out.

If you’re into the bush, deserts, walking with the San Bushmen or any other back-to-nature trips, then steer away from the MSC Divina.

She is beautiful, sans doute, but there will be 4 344 other passengers on board, plus a crew of more than 1 000, so you might find it difficult to be alone.

The statistics are staggering – she’s more than 330m long, has 18 decks (14 for passengers), 1 751 cabins, 6 000m2 of carpet, a 1 600-seat theatre, a superb spa, a Smurf-themed play area for little ones, a Formulator 1 Simulator for older ones and Dads, restaurants, wine bars, a hamburger house, a real stone piazza and an Italian captain. Plus a Swarovski crystal staircase and lots more…

The highlight of my trip to Marseille (MSC Divina only set sail after I got off) was the quayside launch where security was tighter than a gendarme’s peaked hat.

Beautifully dressed ladies in silks, satins and impossibly high stiletto heels strutted to their seats; burly security men in dark suits and dark glasses kept constant watch on all of us, and beyond, a couple of squawking gulls hovered overhead and then the fun began.

Depardieu gave rather a long poem of praise to MSC Divina (he does have a wonderful speaking voice) and then Sophia Loren, godmother of the MSC Cruises fleet, swathed in a long-sleeved black clingy gown encrusted with crystals (perhaps to match the Swarovski staircase?) tossed the obligatory bottle of champagne against the ship’s side as international celebrities, selected guests, media, authorities and the top management of MSC Cruises sat under an early summer sky in the shadow of the huge ship.

A roar of jets drowned out the gulls as the seven jets of the Captens Aerobic Display team and the Breitling Jet Team roared overhead seemingly only centimetres above the ship’s massive funnels.

Their display of precision flying was breathtaking as they swirled patterns of smoke against the dark sky. (However, the efforts of Les Pilotes on the disco floor much later in the evening were not quite so impressive.)

The jets were followed by a performance from a local Provençal folk-group who capered and pranced in the style of Morris dancers, and then the legendary Italian singer, pianist and composer Paolo Conte mesmerised us all with his initimitable gravelly voice and biggest hits.

The evening festivities over, we all trooped off to a gala dinner with two signature gourmet menus cooked for us by French favourite Chef Christian Constant. Somehow, a picnic in a row boat on Zoo Lake will never seem quite the same…

lThe MSC Divina will be cruising in South African waters later in the season. MSC Starlight Cruisesphone: tel: 11 807 5111, or website: - Sunday Independent