11 Important Differences Between MSC Cruises and Other Major Lines

MSC Cruises may not be huge in North America just yet, but that’s quickly changing. While the big three cruise lines — Carnival, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean — may get most of the headlines, MSC is actually just as large and even larger than some of those names.

MSC cruise logo aboard MSC Divina
What’s the difference between MSC and other major cruise lines like Carnival or Royal Caribbean? We break down what you can expect…

Seemingly until the past few years, however, MSC hasn’t focused as heavily on the United States. That definitely isn’t the case going forward. Today, it offers cruises from Miami, Port Canaveral and New York, with more homeports on the way.

As well, the line is expanding its fleet. It made a mark with the introduction of the MSC Seaside in the U.S., followed by MSC Seascape more recently, but that’s just the start. The line currently boasts the largest cruise ship in the world outside of Royal Caribbean with its MSC World Europa. That will be joined by MSC World America in 2025.

In other words, if you haven’t been tempted by an MSC cruise yet, it could be a different story in the near future.

Having recently sailed on MSC, as well as sailing the other major cruise lines regularly, we can tell you that there are some major differences between this line and its competitors.

Differences Between MSC and Other Major Cruise Lines (Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Etc.)

MSC Seaside docked at Ocean Cay.
If you sail MSC, you can still expect plenty to be similar to any other cruise. But there are some big differences you’ll want to know about.

MSC Is Less Expensive Than Most Lines
If you’re searching for a cruise aboard MSC, the first thing you are likely to notice is the price of your trip. We’ve priced thousands of cruises over the year and MSC offers many of the cheapest trips we’ve seen; often times even less than Carnival, which is known as a budget-friendly line.

For example, a week cruise aboard the MSC Seascape (a relatively new ship) from Miami in July 2024 can be had starting for just $749 per person.

Comparable trips during that time run more than $900 aboard Carnival Celebration sailing from Miami. Sailings on Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas for a week in July from Miami start at $2,207. 

MSC doesn’t have a lock on cruise deals, but it does offer a lot of affordable choices. Rates are even less expensive if sailing outside of summer or holidays.

Fewer Included Restaurants
Like other cruise lines, MSC also has a mix of included restaurants and specialty restaurants where you will pay extra to dine. 

What’s different with MSC is that the amount of included restaurants — and the number of restaurants in particular — are sparse. 

This isn’t every ship, but on those we’ve sailed, only the buffet and main dining room have been available with the cruise fare. All other restaurants (of which there were only a handful) cost more.

Compare that to a line like Carnival that includes spots like Guy’s Burger Joint, BlueIguana, and more restaurants with the cruise fare.

View of MSC's Ocean Cay from cruise ship
Ocean Cay is MSC’s private island. It’s large with tons of space and often the cruise line stays until late or even overnight thanks to its close distance to Miami.

Ocean Cay (MSC’s Private Island)
While all the major cruise lines have their own private islands, only MSC has Ocean Cay. Just 65 miles from Miami, MSC poured $300 million into converting the island from a former sand excavation site into a tropical paradise. It’s a must-see. (Read our complete guide to Ocean Cay here.)

What makes it so special are the beaches and water. It features multiple massive beaches, giving plenty of room for everyone to have their own space. In addition, the water is an electric blue that’s some of the most beautiful we’ve ever seen.

While some cruise lines have created wild island that almost look like a cartoon with all the attractions, Ocean Cay is more subdued, with more space, and fewer visitors each day. If you’re wanting a relaxing beach day, this is it. 

Not as Tech Savvy
There’s no doubt that technology has come a long way in cruising. These days you can do everything online from checking in to buying excursions to navigating the ship via the cruise line app.

And while MSC has come a long way in the past few years regarding integrating technology into cruising, it still has some room to improve.

For instance, when we checked online prior to the cruise, we encountered numerous errors trying to do basic things like add a credit card to the account. Anytime we did make a change or added information, it would automatically send out an entirely new booking confirmation to our email.

Lower Gratuity (Service Charge) Amounts
Of all the major cruise lines, MSC has the lowest automatic service charges of any line we’ve seen. Over the past several years gratuity amounts — the daily charges that go to people like your room steward and the dining staff — have crept up among most cruise lines.

These days it’s usual to pay $16 per person, per day for these charges. Book a suite, and the charge is usually higher — closer to $20 per day. Norwegian Cruise Line, for instance, charges $25 per day for people in suites and $20 per person, per day, for other rooms. 

MSC charges a relatively low $14.00 per person, per day for passengers that are 12 years and older. Kids aged 2-11 are charged just $7.00 per night (typically kids are charged full price on other lines).

Room Stewards
In our experience with MSC, the room stewards are much less noticeable than what you’ll find on other cruise lines.

We’re used to meeting the room steward on the first day of the cruise, and then seeing them regularly each day coming to and from the room. On MSC, we only spotted him a time or two during the cruise.

Even so, our room was regularly cleaned. In fact, we actually prefer not having to constantly bump into a room steward and make small talk on our way in and out of the cabin.

While other lines continue to go bigger and fancier with shows, MSC features more performers like acrobats, dancers, singers, and jugglers.

Evening Entertainment on the Ship
In a world where cruise lines are pushing the envelope everywhere to make your experience bigger and better, MSC is decidedly old-school in some respects — like your evening entertainment.

Most cruise lines seem to be pushing toward full-scale production shows. Norwegian Cruise Lines, for example has productions of Footloose and Kinky Boots on some of its newer ships. Royal Caribbean offers big budget programs and even aqua shows on its Oasis-class ships.

In comparison, MSC is different. A handful of ships feature Carousel Productions at Sea (similar to Cirque du Soleil), but not all. In our experience, the entertainment is more of things like a “variety show” featuring singing, dancing, and acrobatics. For instance, one cruise had a new take on Peter Pan that included contortionists, circus acts, and a juggler. Another show was a dedication to Michael Jackson, complete with an impersonator and full dance numbers.

Frankly, the talent level on these programs has been amazing, and the shows have been a big hit. However, they’ve struck us as a big departure from what we’ve seen on other lines.

For pizza to be pointed out as a difference with other cruise lines, you know the pie on MSC must be pretty good.

We’re big fans of “good” pizza. What we’ve found, however, is that these dishes usually aren’t that great on many cruises. Frankly, the pizza on many ships is usually a bit bland and has a cardboard taste that you’d find at a cheap buffet.

Maybe it’s because MSC has roots in Italy, but they take their pizza seriously. It’s on par with anything you’d find at a popular pizza joint (and much better than chain restaurants). Best of all, it’s free at the buffet. You can also get an entire pie made to order and delivered to your cabin for $6-$10.

Drink Package Options
Most cruise lines have a single drink package… or maybe a regular package and a high-end package. Meanwhile, they all have one thing in common — they are pricey. Most drink packages start around $60 per day and go up from there.

MSC does things a bit differently, offering three different options:

  • Easy
  • Easy Plus
  • Premium Extra

What’s the difference? Each package gives you drink options up to a certain dollar amount. The Easy package offers drinks up to $8 each, the Easy Plus package offers up to $10 each, and the Premium Extra gives you any drink up to $16 per glass.

Prices run from about $50-$90 per person, per day if booked ahead of time. This gives you a cheaper option than you’ll find on most other cruise lines with the Easy package. 

Instead of linking a card to your account at check-in, on MSC you’ll find a kiosk and do it yourself once on the ship.

Linking a Credit Card to Your Account
One difference between MSC and other cruise lines definitely struck us as odd, and that’s how you attach payment to your onboard account.

Every cruise line we’ve been on always asks for a credit card at check-in. It is scanned and linked to your account. At the end of the trip, your card is automatically charged after you leave.

In our cruise with MSC, passengers completed this process themselves — either online ahead of time or once actually on the ship. Several terminals are set up around the ship where you will insert the credit card you use for payment to link to your onboard account.

It’s on you to make sure your account is all squared away with a payment method. If you forget then you’ll have to go see Guest Services to settle your bill before you are allowed to leave the ship.

Be Prepared for Lots of Waivers
If you sail MSC, then be prepared to sign waivers for things you don’t have to on other cruise lines.

Should you do some of the more extreme things on other cruises, it’s likely you have to sign something. For instance, the Flowrider surf simulator on Royal Caribbean requires you to complete a form before you can enjoy.

MSC takes it to another level. On the cruise line if you want to lift weights or run on the treadmill in the gym, you’ll need to sign a waiver. Want to ride one of the waterslides? Yes, there is a form to complete before you can do so.

Not Completely Different Than Other Lines (Tons That’s Familiar) 

We don’t want to give the impression that MSC is an absolutely unfamiliar experience or completely different than sailing any other line. If you’ve sailed a cruise before, there’s a lot that you’ll know and love.  

Want to sit on the pool deck, sip a cold drink and soak up the sun? There’s plenty of that. How about dinner in the dining room followed by an impressive show in the theater? Sure, that’s there too. And what about a little late-night gambling in the casino? Of course.

However, it’s the details surrounding life onboard that might stand out if you’re used to some of the other lines in U.S. cruising.

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  1. Took my four times to read your article. The stupid ads kept interfering sending you back to the start. Annoying Should be fixed!


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