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, it’s smaller MSC that might be making some of the biggest moves.
The cruise line is among the biggest in the world, but up until recently hasn’t focused heavily on the United States. Today, it’s offering cruises from Miami, Tampa, and New York, with more homeports likely 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., but that’s just the start. A staggering 10 ships are slated to be introduced to its global fleet during the next five years.
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 for the first time, as well sailing the other major cruise lines regularly, we will be the first to tell you that there are some major differences between this line and its competitors.
Below, we’ve broken down some of the items we noticed as being different from other major lines during our recent cruise.
MSC Differences From Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise 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 Seaside (a relatively new ship) from Miami in July 2020 can be had starting for just $609 per person.
Comparable trips during that time run between $670-$990 aboard Carnival ships sailing from Miami. Sailings on Royal Caribbean for a week in July from Miami start at $1,049.
MSC doesn’t have a lock on cruise deals (we did find a less-expensive Norwegian cruise from Miami in July), but it does offer a lot of affordable choices.
More International Passengers
The vibe on an MSC cruise is decidedly different than other major cruise lines, and so much of that is because of the passengers. In short, the makeup of your other passengers is very international. You’ll find Americans, Canadians, Brazilians, Australians, Italians, Germans, and much more.
With MSC being more familiar to cruisers in other parts of the world, it draws a worldwide audience. Announcements are made in multiple languages so that everyone understands, and you’ll find new friends from all around the world.
If you’re someone that doesn’t like how many cruise ships feel like they are simply an American city floating in international waters, then MSC might be right for you.
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 still a work in progress, but it’s already 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.
MSC continues to work on the island and it still needs a couple of years for the vegetation to grow in (much of the island looks barren), but the beaches and water can’t be beat.
Not as Tech Savvy
In some ways, cruising with MSC is reminiscent of sailing about a decade ago. While some cruise lines continue to add technology everywhere, MSC seemed a bit behind on our cruise.
For instance, while MSC has an app for its ships, it isn’t rolled out across the fleet just yet. And while some lines have gone to online check-in and facial recognition to speed up getting on and off the ship, MSC didn’t have either for our recent trip. In fact, the lack of online check-in meant we stood in line for an hour before we could get squared away and board the ship. (That’s why it’s a good idea to arrive later in the boarding window.)
There’s no doubt that technology will catch up with the cruise line, but for right now the tech changes that have made cruising easier on other lines isn’t quite there with MSC.
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 goes to people like your room steward and the dining staff — have crept up among most cruise lines.
These days it’s usual to pay $14-15 per person, per day for these charges. Book a suite, and the charge is usually higher — up to $18 or $19 per day.
MSC charges a relatively low $12.50 per person, per day for passengers that are 12 years and older. Kids aged 2-11 are charged just $6.25 per night.
Note: In summer 2021 these rates will rise to $14 and $7, respectively.
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 having to meet the room steward on the first day of the cruise, and then see them regularly each day coming to and from the room. On MSC, we never officially met the room steward, and spotted him only a couple of times during the cruise.
Even so, our room was regularly cleaned twice a day and we had everything we needed, including fresh towels. 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 room.
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 its newest ships.
In comparison, MSC is different. A handful of ships feature Cirque du Soleil at Sea, but not all. In our experience, the entertainment is more of a “variety show” featuring singing, dancing, and acrobatics. It was certainly enjoyable, but struck us as something we haven’t 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 pizza and love that every cruise line usually serves it somewhere for free on the ship. What we’ve found, however, is that these dishes usually aren’t that great. Pizza on many cruises 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:
- Premium Plus
What’s the difference? Each package gives you drink options up to a certain dollar amount. The Easy package offers drinks up to $6 each, the Premium package offers up to $12 each, and the Premium Plus gives you any drink on the ship for free.
Prices run $35, $62, and $79 per person, per day. This gives you a much cheaper option than you’ll find on other cruise lines with the Easy package.
Linking a Credit Card to Your Account
One difference between MSC and other cruise lines 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 whatever your bill is after you leave.
In our cruise with MSC, passengers completed this process themselves. Several terminals are setup 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 (no word on what happens if you don’t attach a card to your onboard spending account).