MSC Cruises: The Biggest Cruise Line You May Have Never Heard Of
By: Bruce Parkinson
Most North Americans are familiar with cruise brands Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line. But how about MSC Cruises? This family-owned, Swiss-based company with an Italian heritage has rocketed up the cruise line charts since the turn of the century, now ranking as the third- or fourth-largest in the world, depending on which parameters are used.
MSC is short for Mediterranean Shipping Company, of which MSC Cruises is a division. The parent company is a giant, with over 600 vessels that carry shipping containers around the world.
In its early years, MSC Cruises kept a strong focus close to its European base of operations. But as it has grown, North American cruisers have become a more important target audience, especially after the line began basing a substantial portion of its fleet in Florida.
The MSC Cruises fleet is one of the newest in the world, with 22 ships ranging in size from 2,520 passengers to 6,334 passengers. Another five are scheduled to arrive by 2027, with some of them among the largest in the world. The newest ships offer a huge range of onboard activities, comparable to its American counterparts.
For its North America-based ships, MSC has tailored its product – and its new ships – more closely to North American tastes. But it still delivers an international, Mediterranean-style experience. That is evident in its cuisine, décor and entertainment, which displays a pan-European aesthetic.
As well as spending billions on new ships, MSC has also made a major investment at its own private Bahamian island, known as Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve. An artificial island created by dredging in the 1960s for the purpose of mining sand, Ocean Cay has been transformed into a playground for cruisers, with over two miles of glorious beaches, and range of excursion opportunities and venues for food and drinks.
The island was developed with sustainable concepts and technology as a demonstration of the company’s respect for the oceans where it earns its livelihood.
MSC ships are a destination unto themselves, but the ports and cities the ship visits are another important part of the experience. Guests can discover the rich backgrounds of destinations with a Culture & History excursion, experience breathtaking views on a Scenic Route, get an adrenaline hit with an Active & Adventure tour, relax in the beauty of Natural Wonders, enjoy a Something Special experience, or take an Accessible Tour to take in the destination at your own pace.
Are You The Right Fit For An MSC Cruise?
When MSC first arrived in North America, some guests found the experience a bit too ‘foreign.’ Others saw the European ambience as a good thing. But as mentioned above, MSC has adjusted its U.S.-based offering to cater to North Americans, while maintaining some of its more popular international amenities, including entertainment that transcends language differences, Italian-inspired art, décor and menu choices, great pizza and more.
MSC ships sailing from Miami and Port Canaveral in Florida definitely cater to North Americans, reflecting the fact that most passengers are English-speaking. Ship announcements are in English only, whereas on European journeys, announcements can be made in up to five languages. Travelers will find that crew members speak English as well as their native languages no matter where the line is cruising.
In terms of demographic appeal, MSC covers a lot of territory.
It’s newest, massive ships are designed to offer something for everyone – families, couples and solo travellers. The newest ships come complete with special cabins designed for one person. There’s a wide range of income levels represented among guests too: entry-level pricing is often lower than its major competitors, but MSC also attracts luxury travelers with its ship-within-a-ship MSC Yacht Club product.
In keeping with its desire to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, MSC Cruises prices differently than other cruise lines. It offer a choice of three ‘experience’ packages, which come with different amenities and price-points.
Here are the three categories:
Bella: MSC’s basic package includes your cruise fare and taxes, tap water, tea and coffee in the dining rooms, access to kids’ programs, and most onboard activities. This lowest price category offers a ‘guaranteed’ cabin, but guests can’t choose the location or specific cabin, which is assigned prior to the sail date.
Fantastica: Offered for those booking interior, ocean-view and balcony staterooms, this package offers the ability to choose the stateroom and its location. One free change of date or destination is also allowed. The Fantastica package also offers room service breakfast at no extra charge and 24-hour room service with a delivery fee. Discounted drink and specialty restaurant packages are also available prior to the cruise date.
Aurea: Reserved for those staying in suite categories, the Aurea package offers everything included in Fantastica, plus a welcome package of prosecco and chocolate, flexible dining times, free 24-hour room service, complimentary access to the Top Exclusive Solarium, free use of the spa’s thermal area and discounted spa treatments.
A Comfortable Stateroom to Fit Your Tastes & Budget
For some cruise guests, a stateroom is simply a place to store belongings and lay their head at night. As long as their basic needs are covered, they’re happy. For others, a stateroom or suite is a place to luxuriate, savor sea views and spend quality time.
Here are MSC’s stateroom choices:
Interior Staterooms: These efficient spaces offer comfortable double or single beds, an armchair for relaxation, bathroom with shower, vanity area and hair dryer, plus an interactive TV, safe, phone and minibar.
Ocean View Staterooms: This choice adds a window offering natural light and views of the ocean and passing scenery.
Balcony Staterooms: These larger staterooms feature a sitting area with sofa, as well as an outdoor balcony with space for two chairs and a table. A highly popular choice.
Suite: Larger again, these spaces feature a sitting area with sofa and armchairs, a balcony or panoramic sealed window, a spacious wardrobe and a bathroom with tub and shower.
Another Level: The MSC Yacht Club Experience
Currently offered on 11 MSC ships, the MSC Yacht Club is an exclusive area that gives guests private venues, concierge service and dedicated 24-hour butler service. Your butler will even unpack and pack for you.
Elegant suites are fitted with ergonomic Myform memory mattresses, luxurious bedding, a menu of pillow choices, Egyptian cotton bathrobes, lavish marble-floored bathrooms, interactive LCD TV, complimentary mini-bar and exclusive goodnight chocolates.
But the accommodations are just the beginning of the MSC Yacht Club experience. Yacht Club bookings come with priority check-in and check-out, and priority departure and return on excursion days. Guests get the Premium Extra Drink Package and the Premium Internet Package.
Other perks include a private and spacious pool deck with whirlpool baths and sunbathing area, an outdoor bar and a gourmet restaurant offering a la carte dining for breakfast, lunch and dinner with free choice of dining time.
Dream Cuisine: MSC Offers A World Of Options
Like most major cruises lines, MSC Cruises offers buffets loaded with choice and main restaurants that offer a different menu selection each day.
Extensive buffets offer huge choice for three meals daily, including Mediterranean and International choices, a meat carvery, daily specials, a pasta station, a kids corner, a take-away station, wellness choices, extensive desserts and dishes for special diets. Buffets are even open for late-night snacks.
Depending on the ship and the ‘Experience’ booked, guests can choose from Classic, Early or Late Dining, or the My Choice dining style, which lets you dine any time you like during the main restaurant’s hours.
For those who want to splash out, MSC Cruises offers a range of specialty restaurants that vary by ship. These come at an extra cost, but specialty dining packages can be booked in advance at a discounted rate. Choices include packages featuring 1-5 dining experiences or an unlimited package.
There are restaurants specializing in steak and seafood, as well as a range of cuisines, including Japanese, Chinese and Thai, French, Spanish and Mediterranean cuisine and Nordic gastronomy.
Cocktail Hour? MSC Bars & Lounges Range From Casual To Chic
Cruising can be thirsty work, especially in a hot climate. MSC ships offer a wide range of venues, both indoor and outdoor, to enjoy your favourite beverage.
You can pay as you go, but for many, a drink package is an attractive option. Despite recent price hikes, MSC packages tend to offer savings compared with competitors. Here are the choices available:
Easy Package: This entry-level package includes some beers, well cocktails, house wines, soft drinks, juices, bottled mineral water, and coffees.
Easy Plus Package: With this you’ll have access to a much wider selection with cocktails, wines, and beers, as well as sodas, juices, energy drinks, and more.
Premium Extra Package: The top-of-the-line package gives access to higher-priced drinks, more options and specific liquors. It also offers everything included in the previously described packages.
Non-Alcoholic Packages: MSC features two packages that feature drinks across the ship that don’t include alcohol. This includes virgin cocktails, soda, energy drinks, juice, water, coffees, tea, and even ice cream. The Alcohol-Free Package and the Minors Package are similar, but there’s a lower price on the package for minors.
Day & Night, Let MSC Entertain You
From enriching indoor and outdoor activities during the day to Broadway-style entertainment and casinos at night, there’s always something entertaining on an MSC ship. That includes cinemas, sports tournaments, bowling, billiards, Flight and F1 Simulators, arcades and more, which translates to fun for the whole family.
Depending on the ship, outdoor activities include everything from fun in the pools to zip lines, waterslides and more. The Broadway Theater on each ship features shows with high production values, included with your cruise fare. For an extra fee, guests can visit the Carousel Lounge on several ships, featuring Carousel Productions at Sea, an all-new entertainment concept blending acrobatics, dance and live music created exclusively for MSC Cruises ships.
Every MSC ship features a dedicated Kids Club, where young cruisers from babies and toddlers to teens will enjoy fun, play and entertainment, led by well-trained staff. There are family game shows and family discos too – even special off-ship excursions designed especially for families.
Expert Author: Bruce Parkinson
Bruce has written about the travel industry for over three decades, focusing on ocean and river cruising in recent years. Currently Senior Editor for TravelPulse Canada, Bruce is also a travel communications consultant and contributor to the popular CruiseRadio.net.