MSC Cruises’ ships feel thoroughly European: The Swiss-based cruise line has partnerships with brands like Eataly and Lego, and the big, glittery ships carry primarily European travelers. The company is shifting focus to this side of the world, though. MSC Divina is based in Miami year-round and MSC Seaside (which will have a 5D theater and the longest zip line at sea) will launch there in December 2017.
What We Love
The Innovative Pricing Structure: In 2014, MSC Cruises introduced four pricing levels, ranging from a basic cruise-only fare to all-inclusive. Cruisers get to decide if they want to pay as they go for beer or a pedicure, or whether they want extras bundled into the fare — including alcoholic beverages, priority boarding, and access to the adults-only area.
The MSC Yacht Club: These ship-within-a-ship luxury enclaves, available on newer vessels, include private lounges, butler service, complimentary beverages, and an exclusive pool area and restaurant. These intimate spaces are welcome escapes from the crowds on the rest of the ship — you won’t have to fight for a lounge chair on the pool deck or wait in an interminable line at the buffet.
Best Known For
Over-the-Top Design: Whether you love the incredibly bold decor (think lounges decked out in zebra print and neon-pink nightclubs) or hate it, you have to appreciate that there’s nothing boring about these ships. The sparkly Swarovski crystal staircases in the atrium of newer vessels are the setting for many selfies. (The infinity pool is cool, too.)
Celebrating Italy: The divine Italian specialties on board range from espresso to Parmesan cheese and gelato. Most noteworthy: the fabulous Eataly Steakhouse on MSC Divina, where modern and traditional Italian dishes are served à la carte.
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Who It's Best For
Travelers With European Sensibility: MSC is a European line with mostly European guests, so your fellow passengers might not speak English, tend to linger a long time over dinner, and may just spark up a cigarette (whether it’s allowed or not). One exception is the Miami-based MSC Divina, which attracts more American travelers. English is also the primary language on this ship.
Sophisticated Partygoers: You won’t find frat house-type antics and all-night beer guzzling on these ships. But that doesn’t mean quiet nights, either. The volume and energy are still high, with much of the revelry revolving around dancing to live bands playing different genres of music, with the participation of an animation team on the dance floor. It’s rare to stumble across a lounge that’s disappointingly dead or a roomful of merrymakers who don’t have a sense of rhythm (lessons are available to cure cases of two left feet). The nightlife is also a family affair: You may find that even the little ones are out celebrating way past their bedtime.
Families: MSC line has a partnership with Chicco to provide strollers, travel cribs, and high chairs to passengers, while a Lego partnership means playrooms full of bricks for free play as well as competitions. The ships also have splash parks and water slides to keep kids busy, and teens get their own spa menu. MSC also runs generous promotions where on select sailings children can stay with their parents for no extra charge.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
You May Experience Service Issues: Many Americans find the European-style service lacking and a bit ... indifferent. Some of the staff members are still getting acclimated to the pricing system (you may need to remind them what beverages are included in your package), and something as stressful as misplaced luggage can be treated as a minor inconvenience.
Ship Size (and Amenities) Vary: With each launch, vessels get bigger and flashier. Not all of the signature amenities are available fleetwide, however. If you have your heart set on aqua-biking, a steak dinner at Eataly, or a Cirque du Soleil show (which will debut on MSC Meraviglia in June 2017), research what is actually on your ship before booking.
Theresa Norton Masek is a Chicago-based contributor to ShermansCruise and a longtime cruise writer.
Lisa Cheng is a New York-based writer for ShermansCruise who also writes for Travel + Leisure.