With several attention-grabbing new ship launches and a hard push into the U.S. market, MSC Cruises is a name that’s hard to ignore in the world of cruising at the moment.
The Italian-owned cruise line competes with other resort-style cruise operators such as Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, but there are significant differences in their approach.
MSC—at least on its flagship Mediterranean itineraries—is a busy multinational, multilingual experience that’s an assault on the senses. Guests can expect a pan-European menu including pizza available almost around the clock, announcements in multiple languages, and people arriving and leaving the ship in most ports.
If you can deal with such a hectic experience, MSC might be a great option for you as it offers some of the most competitive prices in the market.
Entertaining resort ships
MSC Cruises boasts a fleet of 22 ships that cater to various cruising styles and budgets, with more on the way.
The focus on MSC ships has long been keeping guests of all ages entertained inside the ship, with multiple restaurants and entertainment venues on all their vessels. This means that vast promenade decks are not a common feature on the fleet.
There’s outside space, of course, especially the pool decks that often feature water slides and other family-friendly attractions.
The recent launch of the MSC World Europa, one of the world’s largest cruise ships, shows the direction in which MSC is headed. World Europa is bigger and bolder than previous MSC ships, featuring a water park, arcades and sports facilities, a looping dry slide, and a Y-shaped promenade.
It also points towards a more sustainable future. While no-one can claim the new vessel is entirely environmentally-friendly, the World Europa does run on LNG. That means a significant reduction in emissions of sulphur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and CO2 compared to standard marine fuels used in many other cruise ships.
Earlier in 2023, the LNG-powered Euribia launched in Northern Europe. From 2025, the World America—sister ship to World Europa—will offer year-round cruises in the Americas on a greener ship.
The MSC onboard experience
MSC Cruises ships are loaded with things to do, including vast theaters and show lounges, multiple bars and restaurants, boutiques, casinos, and relaxing spa facilities.
Attending theater shows is free for everyone, but seats must be reserved using the MSC app or one of the onboard touchscreen systems. Dining is offered at fixed times in the main dining rooms, with the informal buffet restaurant, poolside grill, and fast-food outlet also included for all. Speciality restaurants come at an additional charge.
As with many cruise lines these days, MSC offers three ‘experience’ tiers with various amenities bundled in to your fare. Each package—Bella, Fantastica, and Aurea—offers an increasing range of perks, from the standard Bella package to many luxuries such as room service breakfast and more choice including dining time included in more expensive packages.
On most of its ships, MSC also offers an additional tier called the Yacht Club. In this ship-within-a-ship concept, guests pay a premium for access to private restaurants, lounges, sun decks, pool, and even have 24-hour butler service.
If the MSC experience is too hectic for you, Yacht Club could be a solution. But at the prices—typically 3-4 times a standard fare—you may also want to consider dedicated luxury or small ship lines.
Regardless of your choice of ‘experience’, a beverage package will cost extra. The cheapest tier to include alcohol, named ‘Easy’, is the most popular and includes a basic range of beers, wines, spirits, and cocktails.
MSC for kids
With age-specific clubs for infants to teenagers, children can enjoy a variety of activities, including Lego-themed play areas, sports tournaments, discos, and karaoke parties. The latest ships offer access to cutting-edge equipment like VR gaming as part of their activity roster.
What this means is that MSC is hugely popular with families, notably in the European vacation months of July and August. At this time, the ships are often over the advertised capacity (because of children staying with parents in double rooms) and can feel crowded.
MSC Cruises loyalty program
The MSC Voyagers Club is MSC Cruises’ point-based frequent cruiser program. With four tiers ranging from Classic to Diamond, members earn points based on the length of cruises they take, the ‘experience’ they book, and their onboard spend.
Unlike frequent cruiser programs at some of its competitors, MSC doesn’t offer free cruises or discounts on single supplements to its most loyal customers.
However, it’s still worth joining if you plan to cruise at least twice with MSC with perks included priority tender access and free meals inspeciality restaurants.
The Voyagers Club program also allows you to status match from another cruise line straight into one of its top tiers. That’s a significant benefit for frequent travelers.
A good value option?
MSC Cruises is renowned for its affordability, with off-season cruises in the Mediterranean often available for under $100 per person, per night, and to the Caribbean for under $75.
As with most cruises, onboard extras such as drinks, specialty restaurants, spa services, and internet access come at an additional cost and can quickly add up. That being said, MSC Cruises still offers one of the most competitive cruising deals out there, if the onboard experience works for you.