If you are new to MSC Cruises and thinking about giving them a try, there are a lot of benefits to sailing with this European cruise line. They offer some of the cheapest cruise fares in the market, making their voyages an incredible value.
MSC Cruises has become increasingly popular, especially in North America. Not only do they have some of the best budget-friendly prices, but they also often include add-ons like basic wi-fi and drink packages as part of their promotions, luring cruisers from other cruise lines. So what’s the catch?
There are many pros to sailing with MSC, but there are a few cons that cruisers should know about when booking. The European cruise line does a few things differently than some of the other mass-market cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line.
After four MSC cruises, here are my thoughts on the top benefits and drawbacks of sailing with this cruise line.
Pro: Cheap cruise fares
Incredible prices are one of the main reasons cruisers try MSC. As the world's largest privately held cruise line, they have among the most competitive cruise fares in the market, sometimes even offering lower prices than Carnival Cruise Line. This can be a significant incentive for cruisers who want to try the new brand without spending tons of money.
To give you an example, my best MSC deal to date was a 4-night cruise onboard MSC Divina with free Wi-Fi and drinks for $185 per person. That is hard to beat! You certainly can't spend a weekend anywhere for that kind of price.
Beyond their low cruise fares, they offer numerous promotions, which provide coveted perks like cabin upgrades, free Wi-Fi, drinks, and onboard credit. Wi-Fi and drink packages are big-ticket items that can cost cruisers hundreds of dollars. On Carnival, for instance, you can pay $65 per day just for a drink package.
Con: Add-on costs
Although there are some bargain cruise fares with MSC, guests will have to open their wallets for several add-on items that have become must-haves for many passengers.
Specialty dining is popular, especially with the limited complimentary food venues onboard MSC ships. Butcher’s Cut Steakhouse or sushi are some of the favorites for guests wanting something special. Others like to upgrade drink packages or Wi-Fi to get top-shelf spirits or more reliable internet. If you travel with kids, they will love the arcade, but that’s an additional cost. On MSC ships, activities like the race car simulator are $12 per person and movies are $11, which can quickly add up.
Most of their add-on packages are cheaper if booked pre-cruise, enticing customers to lock in savings. The cruise line provides lots of options; guests can choose from five different drink packages, 8 different Wi-Fi packages, and several specialty dining combinations. There is something for every budget and preference.
Read more: What’s included on an MSC Cruise?
Pro: Large fleet
With 22 ships currently sailing and more on the way, MSC Cruises has a lot of options to choose from. Its biggest ships, such as the upcoming MSC World America due out next year, rival mega-ships of competitors with all the bells and whistles modern cruisers love.
There is something for everyone. Smaller, more intimate ships of the Lirica and Musica Classes travel to more off-the-beaten-path itineraries with less than 3,000 passengers onboard, while MSC’s Seaside Class was specifically designed for warm environments with plenty of light-filled spaces and outdoor dining and lounges. There are also numerous family-friendly venues and activities for cruisers of all ages, especially on their newer ships.
MSC ships have a wide range of cabin options, which include everything from solo, inside, ocean view, balcony, and suites. Their top-end suites, called Yacht Club in MSC language, offer premium service and amenities cruisers would expect on other lines.
Con: Staff shortages
MSC’s lower prices come at a cost; their staff ratio is lower, meaning their crew has more passengers to care for. While sailing on MSC ships, I noticed that bars and lounges could use extra staff, with service being slow, especially on sea days.
Compounding this was the number of open venues. While there were numerous bars and lounges on all of the MSC ships I have sailed on, I was surprised to find some not open, even when the ship was busy. I felt like there was not enough staff to go around, and they staggered opening times to deal with this.
From my experiences onboard MSC cruise ships, the staff were friendly and welcoming; they seemed to be hard workers. Would be cruisers just need to pack a little patience. One thing that still remains is the twice-a-day cabin cleaning/turn-down service, which many cruise lines have gotten rid of.
Pro: Wide variety of itineraries
MSC Cruises currently sails to over 100 countries in the world, with extensive offerings in Europe, as well as South America, Asia, and Africa. In the United States, they sail out of Port Canaveral (Orlando) and Miami.
Recently, they have started sailing out of New York with plans to sail out of Galveston, Texas in 2025, making it easier for more cruisers to sail with MSC.
They also have a massive range of options in terms of length of itineraries, everything from 1-day cruises to a 116-day World Cruise. Another nice perk to sailing with MSC is the ability to embark at numerous ports during a cruise.
For example, for my upcoming MSC Seaside cruise, passengers can get on in Barbados, Martinique and Guadeloupe. Similarly, cruisers have this option in Europe, where they board in many ports in Italy, France, and Spain.
Con: Lack of complimentary dining venues
Although this varies by ship, many of the MSC ships I have sailed on have fewer complimentary dining options than other cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean's Oasis Class ships. More spots to grab a sandwich, a slice of pizza, or a mid-afternoon snack would be a major improvement.
Although MSC Cruises seems to have addressed this issue, as the new World Class series has far more food venues, cruisers sailing on older ships such as the Seaside and Fantasia Classes may want to take a good look at the options on their ship and try and get a specialty dining restaurant at a reasonable price.
Pro: Stunning private island
One of the best things about MSC's sailings to the Caribbean is its idyllic private island: Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve (Ocean Cay). This lush, natural island makes cruisers feel like they have stumbled upon a serene oasis with a laid-back Bahamian vibe.
A redeveloped industrial site, it has found new life as a tropical hideaway for the exclusive use of MSC guests. Unlike some other cruise ship islands, Ocean Cay does not have big slides and pools; however, it provides numerous beaches, water activities, and even an epic evening dance party. Guests can enjoy the day at the beach, snorkel, go on a boat ride, or try some jet skis in the crystal clear waters of the area. MSC’s drink packages and Wi-Fi work on the island, too. There's also a complimentary buffet and food truck.
The island itself showcases the cruise line's focus on conservation. Lush with vegetation, they have planted 75 thousand plants and shrubs and have restored the natural flora and fauna native to the region. The 64 square miles of marine reserve includes growing coral reefs, plants, and fish, an underwater haven for guests and snorkelers.
Con: Technology limitations
Although Wi-Fi packages are not as expensive on MSC cruises as some other cruise lines, they have one major drawback: you can't switch between devices, which is annoying, to say the least. Many of us have our phones while cruising, along with a tablet or computer, or simply want to share among people in our cabin. In this scenario, you need to book at least a two-device package.
If you are a family with teens who can’t live without an internet connection, this can quickly increase your bill if you need to buy an internet package for more than one or two people. Also, the basic package “Browse” is not meant for streaming services like Netflix or YouTube, which means you will spend more money if you want the premium internet package.
The MSC for Me app lets you communicate with other passengers on board without getting the internet. However, the MSC for Me app is not available on all ships. Ships that pre-date the Meraviglia Class, like MSC Divina, don't have it. On those sailings, guests will receive a physical Daily Program.
MSC Cruises is definitely a family-friendly cruise line and is well-equipped for the youngest of sailors. Water parks, family-oriented activities, dedicated kids’ clubs, and even a kids-only section of the buffet help make it fun for all. They frequently run a Kids Sail Free program and have family cabins for larger groups that can accommodate up to 10, making lots of room for multigenerational passengers.
Once onboard, the complimentary kids' clubs offer plenty to entertain kids, along with products and services provided by well-known brands such as LEGO and Chicco.
There are tons of fun activities and amenities, a variety of sports, cinemas, and arcades. Highlights include epic slides and fun-filled waterparks that are great for cooling off.
There are loads of sports activities and onboard tournaments for soccer, basketball, tennis, ping pong, and foosball. MSC also has high-tech activities like an F1 Simulator, bowling, VR Maze, video games, and 4D Cinema. Parents and guests can purchase the Fun Pass Package to cover most of these. Other favorites, such as the Family Game Show, Family Disco, and live theatre productions, are all complimentary.
Con: Entertainment is a work in progress
MSC Cruises cater to a wide variety of clientele, many of whom speak different languages. Often, you will hear announcements in English, French, Italian, and more. This also makes entertainment a little trickier when appealing to a variety of customers.
Their live bands are quite good, and it is easy to find music throughout the day. But for those cruisers who love Broadway-style shows, they may not find what they are looking for.
They are improving, though, thanks to their new partnership with Guinness World Records; they have a fun, crowd-pleasing show that has everyone participating. But their productions just aren't at the level of some of the other cruise lines.
Pro: Loyalty program status matching
MSC’s Status Match program lets guests transfer their status for immediate onboard benefits. Travelers who have gained status in a hotel or airline loyalty program will love this MSC perk. Eligible loyalty programs include those with Marriott, Best Western, Expedia, Club Med, Starwood, Sandals, Hilton, Hyatt, and Wyndham, to name a few.
What does this get you? Extra onboard credit, discounts on internet packages, access to the thermal spa, priority boarding, and dinner at a specialty restaurant, including their popular steakhouse, Butcher's Cut.
There is no fee to transfer status, but it can only be done once, so guests should carefully consider which program is the most valuable. Ideally, this should be completed 7-10 days prior to sailing to ensure the status is recognized. The application can be found on the MSC Cruises website.
Con: Guests can't bring alcohol/drinks onboard
Many cruisers like to save money by bringing their own wine and soda onboard. This is a big no-no on MSC, which really sets it apart from other cruise lines. You can't buy drinks in port and bring them back onboard, either; that is not allowed.
MSC does offer customers five different drink packages, so there are lots to choose from with a range of price options. The cheaper packages are good for those who like a glass of wine or beer but don't need all kinds of high-end cocktails. Still, it is not as cheap as bringing your own drinks on board.
Good news, though – there is no limit on the number of drinks per day (unlike on Carnival Cruise Line), and the drink package does work on their private island in the Bahamas.
Pro: Upscale suite experience
MSC Yacht Club is a special tier of rooms and services within MSC cruise ships. Think of it like "a ship within a ship." MSC Yacht Club is the ultimate luxury for cruisers.
This all-inclusive style of cruising includes ungraded suites, personalized service, and dedicated venues onboard, such as a private lounge, restaurant, and sun deck area. I loved the Yacht Club lounge, which has an incredible menu, as we were well at the rooftop buffet at breakfast and lunch.
The premium experience also extends to customized port experiences as well as unique amenities at Ocean Cay Reserve, MSC’s private island in the Bahamas. Based on my experience, the suite is much cheaper than other cruise lines while offering an incredible, boutique-style experience.
Con: Hectic muster drill
This may seem like a minor point, but MSC’s muster drill could really do with a little bit of a remake. It is unnecessarily confusing and less than ideal to start a cruise vacation.
Other cruise lines allow cruisers to watch safety videos at their own pace on the first day of the cruise, and then check in at the appropriate muster station within the specified period. It is far better than previous processes where everyone has to gather and watch a safety briefing in large groups.
However, on an MSC cruise, passengers are directed to go to their cabins to watch a safety video and then go to their muster station. During this time, guests can't use elevators, which leads to a whole lot of chaos on the stairs. Everyone coming and going and searching for their muster station in a short amount of time creates a less-than-zen atmosphere for the start of a cruise vacation.
Pro: Italian flair
Whether it's the freshly made pasta, some refreshing gelato, or its elegant interiors, MSC Cruises showcases the best of what Italy has to offer. Although MSC is now officially a Swiss company, the cruise line began in Italy, and the owners can trace their maritime heritage back hundreds of years. Given this legacy, it is not surprising to find many European traditions intermingled into various aspects of the cruise experience.
MSC caters to a diverse clientele, evidenced by its massive buffets and selection of restaurants. However, touches such as freshly made Naples-style pizza and festive Italian night celebrations in the Main Dining Room are all nice extras. There is even pizza available at breakfast!
Lots of traditional Italian dishes are offered onboard, such as spaghetti, artisanal bread, salads, and, most importantly, an impressive selection of gelatos. Some ships even have a famed chocolatier, Venchi Chocolate. Onboard, they provide the silkiest frozen delights and treats, and their chocolates are an ideal gift to bring home or the perfect bite to satisfy afternoon hunger.
Con: Smoking onboard
Most cruise ships have designated smoking areas outside on the decks, and many allow smoking in the casino. As a non-smoker, I am a big fan of Celebrity Cruises’ no-smoking casino, which many applaud for its improvement in air quality in the venues nearby.
Unfortunately, in my experience on MSC cruises, the smoke from the casino really drifts to other areas. I noticed this on MSC Divina, where the odor was strong in a café near the casino.
Beyond smoking around the casino, I did see several passengers smoking in non-designated areas, and the staff seemed to do nothing about it. I have also heard from fellow MSC cruisers that guests smoking on balconies have not been dealt with sufficiently.
Pro: Oodles of options
MSC offers its customers a unique way to customize their cruise experience, which is quite different than most other cruise lines. With MSC Experiences, guests can choose from distinct levels when booking their cruise.
From the basic Bella experience to the more inclusive Aurea level, there are prices and options for every type of cruiser. The MSC Yacht Club experience is the most luxurious option, which includes everything from a butler to private venues.
The wide variety of options extends to drink packages. MSC Cruises offers its customers five different drink packages to suit different preferences and needs. Whether you want a few beers and a glass of wine or a more extensive package that provides top-shelf spirits, champagne, and specialty coffees, there is an option for everyone, even kids.
Con: Customer service
While sailing on previous MSC cruises, I found the staff onboard MSC to be friendly and hardworking. However, sometimes, getting pre-cruise information can be hard. Onshore customer service could definitely be enhanced.
A common complaint I hear from other MSC cruisers is issues with their website, especially when booking or checking in for cruises. I have had problems booking the specialty dining package and excursions, and the customer service representatives were not able to help me, citing system issues.
Regardless of what cruise line I sail with, I use a travel agent who is always helpful in answering my questions or dealing with any issues. A well-rated, trusted travel agent can be of immense value, especially if you need to make changes to your cruise. Cruise contracts and the terms and conditions are lengthy and complex, and most cruisers don't read through them. A good travel agent will tell you what you need to know and help you out when a problem pops up.
There are a lot of great reasons to try an MSC cruise!
Personally, I think that the cruise line is a fantastic value for the price. I have enjoyed all my cruises, and I have another upcoming sailing to the southern Caribbean, which I am very excited about!
For those trying MSC, it is important to understand what you are getting for your money. It is a company that wants to make money, so you can’t expect premium vacations with such cheap fares. Like anything in life, there are pros and cons to each cruise line.
With low base fares, drink packages, Wi-Fi, and any other additional expenses, such as specialty dining and excursions, MSC provides a lot of ways to customize your cruise, multiple experience packages, and plenty of ships and itineraries to choose from. A good travel agent will help sort through what is best for you and can be of great benefit when planning to MSC cruise.