MSC Cruises

MSC Cruises

MSC Divina in Philipsburg, St. Maarten. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
MSC Divina in Philipsburg, St. Maarten. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

MSC Cruises Overview

MSC Cruises is Italian born and bred, created in 1990 as a small offshoot of the massive, privately owned Mediterranean Shipping Company, the second largest container-ship company in the world. From humble beginnings with one previously owned vessel, the line has grown to be one of the most popular in Europe, operating a fleet of 11 ships and with another two on the way. More than half its fleet is made up of massive modern megaships (including two that are among the largest at sea), while the rest is made up of comfortable midsize vessels.

While the vast majority of its business is in the Mediterranean — sailing there year-round and catering primarily to European travelers — it also has ships seasonally in northern Europe, the Caribbean, Canada/New England, South America, and Africa. A combination of fairly low rates and a policy by which kids 17 and under travel more or less free (when sharing a cabin with two adults) means a lot of families sail aboard, especially in Europe.

MSC Sinfonia
MSC Sinfonia and its beautiful balconies. © Ralph Grizzle

“Italian” is a concept you’ll see a lot of on an MSC cruise, where the atmosphere (and the attitude) is Italian all the way — even if many of the staff are not. By design, the onboard vibe is a bit old-fashioned, promoting guest interaction and low-tech fun over the kind of big-brand entertainment tie-ins and marquee “wow” attractions you find increasingly on the big American lines – though the line’s newest ships, like MSC Divina, offer more than enough features to compete with the likes of Carnival and Royal Caribbean.

Meals also follow an old-fashioned, set-time schedule, with dinners served primarily at classic, large, formal restaurants. Even on its largest ships, MSC doesn’t offer the huge range of alternative dining choices that have become standard-issue for ships targeted to the US market. What it does offer, however, is a truly European experience that is best for open-minded North Americans who don’t mind having things done differently than they are “at home.”

As for the ships themselves, they’re generally fine-looking vessels. While the older midsize ships (Lirica, Opera, Sinfonia, and Armonia) are pleasant if not distinctive, the newer megaships are downright gorgeous in places, evincing a classic European cruise look, with just enough glitz and high-style glam.

The builder's model for MSC's massive MSC Seaside. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
The builder’s model for MSC’s massive MSC Seaside. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

MSC is poised to shake the cruising world up in 2017 with the launch of the massive new MSC Seaside, which will homeport in Miami, Florida.

MSC Cruises: An International Passenger Mix

On-deck aboard MSC Divina. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
On-deck aboard MSC Divina. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Because of the wide swath of (primarily European) nationalities sailing on the typical MSC cruises, mass communication is a complicated issue. While Italian and English are the two official languages of the line, you’ll also hear announcements over the PA read in babel of other languages, including German, French, and Spanish. The language issue also means entertainment on board tends toward things that don’t need translation: musical revues, dance and acrobatics shows, and the occasional classical pianist, opera singer, or magician. There’s also a ton of music in the various bars and lounges, played by soloists and small groups.

The exception to this rule is MSC Divina, which is based year-round in Miami, Florida. With the exception of the muster drill, which is conducted in several languages, the official language onboard is English. International guests will still find the daily program and all printed materials translated into half a dozen other languages, including French, German and Spanish.

Activities On MSC Cruises

Kick back and relax poolside. MSC boasts some of the most gorgeous pool decks and solarium's afloat. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Kick back and relax poolside. MSC boasts some of the most gorgeous pool decks and solarium’s afloat. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Activities, on the other hand, are all about participation and interactivity. As is common on European ships, activities are led by an “animation team” designed to get people animated, often via outrageously goofy games (outside at the pool by day and in the ships’ lounges by night). There are also karaoke sessions, dance lessons, trivia contests, cooking demos, multi-lingual bingo, language lessons, wine tastings, arts and crafts, gambling in the casino, and dancing in the busy disco.

Kids’ activities follow a similar vibe, emphasizing playful fun over the kinds of elaborate venues and branded cartoon-character meet-and-greets you find on some American lines. Supervised activities are available for kids 3–17, divided into several age groups, and might include dress-up, dancing, pajama parties, treasure hunts, pool games, quizzes, volleyball, and arts and crafts. All the ships have colorful if not overly elaborate play rooms, and the larger ships also have outdoor areas with wading pools, water slides, splash zones, and jungle gyms.

Dining On MSC Cruises

Bright, airy and comfortable, the Il Covo Dining Room aboard MSC Sinfonia serves up delectable meals. Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises
Bright, airy and comfortable, the Il Covo Dining Room aboard MSC Sinfonia serves up delectable meals. Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises

As mentioned, dining on MSC is mostly traditional, with meals served at set times in large, formal restaurants (open seating at breakfast and lunch, assigned seating at dinner). Meals emphasize Italian/Mediterranean cuisine, with a different Italian regional specialty available at dinner nightly. Service can be a bit . . . Italian, and can come off as brusque to people used to studiedly friendly American service. (Service overall has been a sticking point at MSC for years, the main problem being just that: that it’s not targeted toward American expectations — not a great surprise, considering that Americans represent a minority of MSC guests.)

All MSC ships also offer a buffet restaurant that’s open for all three meals, and the line’s megaships offer a range of alternative restaurants: Chinese, Tex-Mex, sushi, etc. Room service is available, though it’s only free on Caribbean cruises; elsewhere, there’s a charge.

MSC Cruises Staterooms & Suites

MSC Orchestra Balcony Suite. Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises
MSC Orchestra Balcony Suite. Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises

In addition to standard inside, oceanview and balcony staterooms, the line’s biggest ships, the 133,500-ton, 3,300-guest Divina, Fantasia and Splendida, and Preziosa, have what’s essentially a first-class section, the Yacht Club. Usable by suite guests only, it combines 71 suites with a private bar, solarium, combo concierge/observation lounge, glass-roofed pool, and two hot tubs. And of course, there’s also 24-hour butler service, private afternoon tea, and private, suite-guests-only parties. It’s good to be king.

Click below for MSC ship reviews

MSC Cruises Reviews

To read a review of a particular ship, click the link under "Read the Review." If applicable, our Live Voyage Reports offer a day-by-day overview of an actual cruise onboard. In some cases, there may be more than one report, to be sure to see if your favorite destination is represented.
Ship ReviewLive Voyage Report
MSC Armonia
MSC Divina Review• Eastern Caribbean from Miami
MSC Fanstasia
MSC Lirica
MSC Magnifica
MSC Meraviglia
MSC Musica
MSC Opera
MSC Orchestra
MSC Poesia
MSC Preziosa
MSC Seaside
MSC Seaview
MSC Sinfonia
MSC Splendida
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3 Comments

  • To start, the impact of the CV19/Global Pandemic does not go without mention or some consideration, we’ve all been impacted to some degree or another and a canceled cruise is low from a priority perspective.

    However, for those of us impacted by cruise cancellation, a second injury/assault seems to be occurring.

    On March 31, 2020, MSC cancelled the above mentioned cruise. Offering either a 100% refund (within 60 days of processing the form) OR a 125% cruise credit for future use, both are reasonable and fair terms.

    I personally elected to receive a full-refund, accepting the “up to 60-days” terms from the 3/31/2020 filing date.

    I spoke with MSC yesterday (5/21/2020) to inquire about communication I’d received and the status of the refund as we fast approach the 60-day mark, only to be informed that MSC are now refunding people “up to 60-days” after the original sailing date. This is not what the email confirmation from MSC states, nor is it what the own website states as of today, it is a unilateral change to a policy which further impacts its loyal customers and its being done without communication.

    Buyer beware – if you plan to run out and book a cruise with MSC once it becomes possible again, your “investment” in a family holiday is far from secure with this company. You cannot expect them to honor commitments made verbally or in writing, all are subject to change and potentially illegal. Any company wishing to “rip-off” its customers during this time should be shunned and held accountable to do the right thing.

    For those of you that may be in dire financial straights due to loss of work, and counting on a refund of your hard earned monies from MSC, don’t. This company appears to want to take an interest free loan from its consumers, and hold on to money for 4-6 months, without any regard for your rights as a consumer.

    Reply
  • I booked a cruise on the Divina in march 2021. My daughter was diagnosed with having MS earlier in the Yr and I wanted to take her on a Cruise to cheer her up. Due to Covid 19, A representative from MSC approved a cruise credit, being my daughter had a weakened immune system. Ever since then, I never received the voucher and every time I speak to a representative, they tell me that my account was sent to corporate. I’ve documented at least 30+ representatives and approx 20 responses, usually leading back to call back in 2 weeks. I’ve never dealt with a company so unorganized. Every one of the representatives throw the blame on the last and state that they, past representative, has no clue on what they are saying ( indicating lack of training). This is going on for over a yr now. I would really appreciate any assistance in this matter

    Reply
  • Over the last fifteen years we have cruised on such cruise lines as, Oceana, Princess, Celebrity, Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Carnival. We thought Carnival was the worst until the cruise on MSC Virtuosa 16 December to 23 December. In all of our travels, we have never seen such an inept crew, incompetent senior staff, hotel and restaurant operations. Here are some of the problems we encountered:
    1. The embarkation port at Doha, Qatar was a mess. There was no place to sit, nowhere to eat and no MSC staff available until ½ hour before start of boarding. Ordinary fifteen minute check in took 45 minutes.
    2. Wrist watches and cards they issued for access & purchases did not work. We had to change them 3 times, We were denied port exit three times, bar & restaurant service twice due to faulty watches & cards.
    3. No library on board & no prior notice. When asked, got the usual covid response.
    4. No access to menus, excursions, port visits or room statement on the useless tv interactive system.
    5. No way to read tiny markings on cabin telephone. Had to call operator for all issues.
    6. No Kleenex or hand towels in cabins. Excuse..saving the planet. Suggested getting rid of toilet paper also.
    7. No information ship wide about port visits for guests refusing to pay MSC exhorbitant excursions.
    8. No news channels in English. Only Russian, Italian and French. No onboard newspapers.
    9. No enforcement of the four person per elevator limit. People crowded elevators constantly.
    10. No respect for peace & quiet. Constant announcements in four languages which were loud, poorly spoken and incomprehensible.
    11. No decent food choices at the main restaurant. Terrible food quality & preparation, inexperienced staff.
    12. No fresh fruit, salmon, barbeque meat or chicken, decent pizza or spaghetti at the buffet restaurant.
    13. Most of the beers and wine from bar and restaurant menus were not available. They said they were out. Paid extra for liquor package and got no benefits.
    14. No decent internet service. Highest speed we saw was 3 mb/s. Couldn’t open web pages or make calls.
    15. No possibility of changing U.S dollars on board. Both interactive machines were broken.
    16. An unauthorized service charge of $140 & a foundation charge of $2 showed on statement 2 days after departure. Had to fight tooth and nail to get them removed.
    17. No explanation given for cancelling port call at Dammam, Saudi Arabia, even though the port was open, ship had no mechanical problems & weather was great. They probably wanted to Save Fuel, with the ship less than one half full.
    18. Human waste was pumped out into tankers at Dubai under our balcony. Smell was overpowering.
    19. MSC required all guests going out at Doha, except those on excursions, to get a rapid antigen test on board at 12 euro/per. Absolute discrimination. Besides, no one at Doha asked to see the test results.
    20. MSC required travel insurance, covering covid treatment & repatriation, in order to allow boarding at DOHA. They offered it at $320/person. We found it at half the price. However, no one asked to see the proof & others we spoke to onboard said they had not bothered to get it & no one asked them to see proof of insurance.
    21. Several guests who hailed from Russia told us they had obtained vaccination certificates without being vaccinated, simply by paying for them. We brought this to MSC management, who did not do anything.
    We presented all this and more to MSC staff onboard and in emails to their offices in Florida and Europe. They did not bother to respond to our complaints.
    WE urge everyone planning on cruising with MSC to think twice before booking. MSC pricing may be attractive, but their service, food, internet, customer service, safety, port calls & other amenities usually found on reputable cruise lines are sorely lacking and you will be unhappy after the trip is over.

    Reply

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