MSC Cruises is the newest of the four largest passenger cruise lines to be created. Their rapid growth over the last decade has seen them join the longer established Carnival Corporation (1972), Royal Caribbean (1969) and Norwegian Cruise Line (1966) as one of the larger players in the business. However, Carnival and Royal Caribbean still dominate cruising carrying, based on Cruise Market Watch estimates, over 70% of passengers.
The Italian Aponte family created the line as a spin off from their privately owned Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), which they had already built into a major sea freight operator. MSC Cruises is Mediterranean inspired and promises a “Mediterranean Way of Life” on board. This means they have a strong focus on families, relaxed but efficient service and food from the region – especially Italian. There is a laid-back atmosphere and informal dress codes. They provide more traditional entertainment and activities rather than attractions like water slides, ice rinks and brand name production shows. The ships have partnerships with famous Italian brands such as Nutella, Segafredo coffee, Disaronno liquor, Venti Gelato and the premium Italian food chain Eataly
MSC embraces a more multi-lingual and multi-cultural approach than most cruise lines. It uses six official languages and so attracts cruisers from many countries. It is popular with families as children under 18 travel free, when staying in the same cabin as their parents, and they offer good kids’ clubs and family friendly entertainment. Some English-speaking passengers are put off by the idea of announcements being made in all languages but most enjoy the mix of different nationalities once on board.
The line is more popular in the Mediterranean, South America and South Africa. They are trying to attract more North Americans to the line and even placed the MSC Divina in Miami and run a large Caribbean schedule in the European winter. MSC are also trying to tap into the fast growing Australian cruise habit by placing ships there and running Grand Voyages from Europe through Asia to Australia.
MSC Cruises operate busy, bustling ships providing good-value fares with service, food and facilities to match this pricing. They especially appeal to families as children under 18 sharing a cabin with their parents travel free; they have good kid’s clubs, special family tours and traditional-style family friendly entertainment. Their ships are not full of added features like ice-rinks, water slides and brand-name production shows and provide a more interactive and classic approach to entertainment. MSC attracts a mixture of nationalities and run with six different language announcements, on-board materials and tours to reflect their wide cultural appeal. In Europe most of the passengers are likely to be Italians, French and Spanish, in South America Brazilian and in South Africa the locals.
- Ideal for: Families with young children looking for a good value vacation with a traditional resort-like atmosphere, food and entertainment, rather than added features, that caters for and understands the needs of parents and children.
- Probably not ideal for: Couples or solo travellers looking for a quiet sophisticated break.
- Personal highlight: The pizza served most of the day and evening. On ships like MSC Lirica these are made and served in the open-air restaurant on the pool deck while on the bigger ships in the pizza restaurant.
MSC Versus Luxury Lines
MSC Cruises provides a good value vacation. Their fares are priced attractively compared to many cruise lines making them especially appealing to families.
- The staff-to-passenger ratio will be lower than on luxury lines. Service on MSC is efficient but crew cannot spend as much time on each guest to give as personal and personalised service as on luxury lines. In my experience they do respond enthusiastically to help resolve issues and when asked for help.
- Space-per-passenger ratio is lower. One of the expectations of passengers paying higher fares is that they have more space. This is akin to being on an aircraft where fares differ for First, Business and Economy with one of the main differences being greater space. The ship will seem busy at times with areas like the pool deck being crowded on sea days and cabins being slightly smaller. Fares are affordable by having more passengers on board.
- Less added touches in the cabins. Toiletries are in dispensers versus brand name individual bottles, bathrobes are not supplied as standard, there is no suitcase-unpacking protector and the quality of bed, linen and towels is comfortable versus plush.
- Guests have to sign out pool towels with a 29 Euro charge if not returned.
- Less added service touches like wet towels on return from excursions and bedtime chocolates.
- You have to pay for transfer busses into town in ports that need them.
- Enrichment Lectures and Classes are not run as standard on MSC Cruises. The luxury lines will usually run extensive programs including guest and celebrity speakers, technology classes and cooking classes.
Common with luxury lines MSC does offer:
- All meals and entertainment, with the option to have some premium dining on some ships. Drinks are not included in the fares – and neither are they on “luxury” lines.
- Complimentary tea, coffee and water all day.
- Children’s Clubs and Facilities.
- Complimentary access to facilities like the fitness centre and some classes.
MSC Cruise operates a number of classes of ships. The “Fantasia” Class ships are their large resort-style ships carrying over 4,000 passengers. These ships include MSC Divina, MSC Preziosa and the MSC Splendida. They also have ships that pre-date these which are smaller and include ships like the MSC Lirica that carries fewer than 2,000 guests.
They have a fairly young fleet, although not the youngest in the industry. Stuart Chiron of The Cruise Guy provided data at the time of writing showing Aida has the youngest fleet at 6.9 years, Cunard at 7 years and MSC Cruises third at an average age of 7.08.