The ultimate guide to MSC Cruises ships and itineraries
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But that’s all changing now — and in a big way.
As it expands its fleet at a rapid pace, MSC Cruises is massively building its footprint in North America in an effort to woo more Americans. In 2017, the line only had a single vessel based in North America. It now has two vessels based year-round in Florida and two more sailings out of the state on a seasonal basis.
All the North America-based ships are marketed heavily to Americans, and the line has tailored some of the features and activities on the vessels to a North American crowd.
Like Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, MSC Cruises in recent years has been building big, resort-like vessels that offer every sort of amusement known to humans, from giant waterparks to race car simulators. It currently operates three of the 11 biggest cruise ships in the world — one of which (MSC Meraviglia) calls North America its home with sailings out of PortMiami in Florida to the Caribbean.
Related: Which cruise brand is right for you?
3 Things TPG loves about MSC Cruises
- Its affordability
- The incredible array of activities on its ships
- The status-match it offers with its loyalty programme
What we could do without
- Onboard announcements in five languages (on overseas sailings)
The MSC Cruises fleet
MSC Cruises has grown enormously in recent years. As recently as early 2017, the line had just 12 ships in operation. But it’s been adding new ships at a rapid pace, and it now operates 17 vessels, with two more on the way this year.
As a result of the growth, MSC Cruises recently passed Norwegian to become the world’s third-biggest cruise brand when measured by passenger capacity. Only Royal Caribbean and Carnival are bigger.
Not including pulldown bunks and pullout sofas, MSC Cruises’ 17 ships have 53,880 berths — about 3,300 more than Norwegian’s fleet. By the end of the year, that number will grow to 62,854. At its current pace of growth, MSC Cruises soon could pass Carnival to become the world’s second-biggest line.
As noted above, the MSC Cruises fleet includes three of the world’s 11 biggest cruise vessels — MSC Grandiosa, MSC Meraviglia and MSC Bellissima. Similar in design, these three ships aren’t quite as big as Royal Caribbean’s giant Oasis Class vessels, but they’re right up there when it comes to size, amenities and passenger capacity.
MSC Grandiosa, which debuted in 2019 and is a tad bigger than MSC Bellissima and MSC Meraviglia, is 18 decks high and can hold 4,842 passengers at double occupancy — 6,334 passengers if every last pulldown bunk and pullout sofa is filled. The other two ships, which date to 2019 and 2017, respectively, can carry more than 5,600 passengers with every berth filled.
The latter two vessels make up what’s known as the Meraviglia Class. MSC Grandiosa is the first in a series of stretched and enhanced versions of the ships known as the Meraviglia-Plus Class.
In addition to these three giants, MSC Cruises also operates two large Seaside Class ships that each have a total capacity of 5,336 passengers.
Add those in, and MSC Cruises operates five of the world’s 25 biggest cruise ships.
The line also operates four somewhat smaller Fantasia Class vessels that can each hold around 3,900 to 4,400 passengers at maximum occupancy.
Together, the seven Meraviglia-Plus, Meraviglia and Fantasia class vessels make up MSC Cruises’ big-ship fleet. The line’s remaining eight vessels, split among two classes, are relatively smaller, with maximum occupancy topping out at around 2,000 to 3,600 passengers.
The smaller ships, which in general are the line’s older ships, allow MSC Cruises to offer itineraries to places that aren’t as easy for big ships to visit. Not all ports in the world can handle a ship the size of MSC Grandiosa, although even the biggest MSC Cruises ships are still designed to be able to call at most ports around the world.
The smaller ships also appeal to a subset of MSC Cruises fans who are willing to give up some onboard amenities in exchange for intimacy. They’re also usually less expensive on a per-day basis.
MSC Cruises is in the midst of an unprecedented expansion focused on its fleet of big ships. The line has ordered a new series of four massive megaships that’ll be its biggest ever at around 200,000 tons. They’ll each carry up to 6,761 passengers. Dubbed the World Class, the vessels are due to arrive between 2022 and 2027.
Two more Meraviglia-Plus Class ships also are on order, with the first one, MSC Virtuosa, due in April of this year. The line also has two new ships on order that’ll be stretched versions of the existing Seaside Class vessels. The first of the so-called Seaside EVO ships, MSC Seashore, is scheduled to debut in July.
MSC Seashore is scheduled to sail from Miami starting in November and likely will draw a lot of North Americans.
In addition, MSC Group — the line’s parent company — has announced plans for yet another class of big ships to start arriving later this decade (though there have been few details released) and a series of small luxury vessels that’ll operate under a separate division.
Destinations and itineraries
MSC Cruises sails almost everywhere in the world, but its heaviest presence is in Europe, where it’s the biggest cruise operator.
In a typical summer, the line will deploy the vast majority of its ships in the Mediterranean or in Northern Europe. In recent years, the line also has kept at least a couple of ships in Florida in the summer for voyages to the Caribbean and the Bahamas. This year, the line plans to have three ships in the region for the summer.
During the winter, MSC Cruises typically will add more ships to the Caribbean and the Bahamas (for the coming winter, it expects to have four in the region). It’ll also typically send four ships to South America in the winter, though this year it plans to have five in the region. It also often deploys vessels in the winter to South Africa and the Middle East. For the coming winter, it’ll have two ships in both regions.
In addition, MSC Cruises typically offers an around-the-world cruise in the winter on a single ship.
In North America, MSC Cruises ships generally sailed out of PortMiami, but the line is adding Port Canaveral as a home port in 2021, too. In addition, the line offers cruises from the Caribbean islands of Barbados, Martinique and Guadeloupe. In a major development, the line recently opened its first private island, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, in the Bahamas. It’ll be a major stop for a large number of MSC Cruises itineraries in the region.
In Europe, major MSC Cruises hubs include Southampton, in the United Kingdom; Copenhagen, Denmark; Kiel and Hamburg in Germany; Ancona, Venice, Genoa, Naples, Palermo, Bari and Civitavecchia (the port for Rome) in Italy; Barcelona, Valencia and Palma de Mallorca in Spain; and Marseille, France.
Who sails MSC Cruises?
MSC Cruises is increasingly known for big, bustling megaships that’ll appeal to people who like a megaresort experience. In other words, if you’re the kind of person who loves staying on property at Disney World or at a giant Las Vegas resort, this is a great line.
The bigger MSC Cruises ships offer holidaymakers a ton of options for dining (some vessels have more than a dozen distinct places to eat dinner or at least grab a quick bite) or entertainment. They’re lively and fun.
They also have an inordinate amount of teen- and tween-friendly attractions — everything from some of the largest waterslides at sea to sprawling amusement areas with race car simulators, flight simulators and XD cinemas (more on all this below). That makes them particularly appealing to families, including multigenerational groups. Families are a big part of MSC Cruises’ business.
But it’s not just families that flock to MSC Cruises.
The line’s ships are designed to offer something for everyone, and they thus appeal to a wide demographic, including couples of all ages and even solo travellers (the line has added solo cabins on its newer ships and occasionally runs promotions for solo travellers). They also draw customers from a wide range of the income spectrum.
At one level, MSC Cruises ships have a for-the-masses feel. But overlaid across many of the line’s ships are high-end suites, upscale restaurants and luxury services — most notably the suites and amenities in the exclusive, upscale MSC Yacht Club areas found on some vessels (more on that later). As a result, the line draws a good number of luxury-seeking travellers.
The demographic profile of MSC Cruises ships can be markedly different depending on where the vessels are based. On Caribbean sailings out of Florida, you’ll find that a large percentage of passengers are English-speaking North Americans.
But MSC Cruises voyages in Europe often are heavily filled with Europeans speaking Italian, German, Spanish and French as well as some English speakers. In Europe, the line offers onboard programming in all five of these languages (all crew members speak English no matter where the ships are sailing).
Reality check: Due to the diverse origins of passengers on European sailings, the line typically makes announcements in all five of the aforementioned languages. This can result in extraordinarily long announcements at times, which can be a distraction to some cruisers. The good news is that on sailings out of U.S. ports, only safety announcements are made in all five languages. Other announcements are in English only.
Cabins and suites
MSC Cruises offers a wide range of accommodations on its ships. On its newest vessels, you’ll find everything from relatively low-cost, windowless “interior” cabins that measure as little as 172 square feet (perfect for the budget traveller) to suites more than five times that size that sprawl across two decks.
Still, MSC Cruises doesn’t offer the sort of truly giant suites (more than 1,000 to 2,000 square feet) you’ll find on some Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean ships.
At the high end, the accommodations are aimed at affluent travellers who, for whatever reason, prefer the megaship experience to being on a luxury ship, and they can be quite impressive.
The biggest suites on the line’s newest ship, MSC Grandiosa, for instance, span two levels and offer around 635 square feet of interior space plus another 237 square feet of outdoor balcony space.
On more than half of MSC Cruises’ ships, many of the top suites are part of an exclusive, keycard-accessed area called the MSC Yacht Club. Billed as an upscale “ship within a ship” and aimed at luxury travellers, the MSC Yacht Club is located at the very top of vessels and comes with a private lounge, pool, sunning areas and even its own restaurant.
MSC Yacht Club accommodations also come with 24-hour butler service and a dedicated concierge.
Solo cabins (called interior studios) measuring just 127 square feet can be found on the line’s five newest vessels.
Insider tip: Passengers can use the interactive televisions in cabins to browse information, find out about daily events and activities, check bills and book services. On some ships, MSC for Me interactive wristbands can open your cabin door and also allow you to make contactless payments for items on board and book services.
Restaurants and dining
While a few of MSC Cruises’ smallest ships have relatively limited dining venues, many of the line’s vessels offer a wide range of choices.
On the line’s 1-year-old MSC Grandiosa, there are nearly a dozen distinct eateries as well as a number of bars and lounges that serve at least small bites. When the MSC Seashore arrives, it will have five speciality restaurants that feature waterfront, outdoor seating on the ship’s boardwalk.
Every vessel has at least one or more main dining rooms and a casual buffet where meals are included in the fare.
For dinner in a main dining room, you must either have My Choice dining with the Aurea experience (a flexible dining option where you dine whenever you want), or classic dining, where you have a fixed table and time for dinner.
Nearly every ship also has a least one — and sometimes quite a few — extra-charge venues. Among the most common across the fleet is the American-style steakhouse Butcher’s Cut, which is found on more than half of the line’s vessels. There also are sushi bars on more than half of the line’s ships, with varying names including Kaito Sushi and Galaxy Sushi.
The line’s newest ships have teppanyaki restaurants, and passengers on MSC Cruises’ Seaside Class ships, as well as MSC Meraviglia and MSC Splendida, can dine at a Mediterranean-style seafood restaurant.
The line’s two newest vessels — MSC Grandiosa and MSC Bellissima — also have the French cuisine-serving L’Atelier Bistrot.
Entertainment and activities
MSC Cruises offers a broad range of entertainment and activities on its ships. As noted above, the line’s biggest vessels offer multiple entertainment venues, from Broadway-style theatres to spaces for circus-like performances; all manner of deck-top attractions; large casinos; and full-service spas. Plus, you’ll find a huge number of bars, lounges and nightlife spots.
Theatres and shows
Like other megaship lines, MSC Cruises is known for big, glitzy theatre productions performed in onboard theatres that are as state-of-the-art as anything you’ll find on Broadway.
On the line’s newest ships, such as MSC Grandiosa, there are main theatres that hold nearly 1,000 people. They offer as many as six different full-scale theatrical productions during a typical voyage, with multiple showtimes for each production and a range of styles. You’ll find original Broadway-style musicals, piano concerts and even opera.
Some MSC Cruises ships also have high-tech, multipurpose entertainment spaces that serve as comedy clubs and karaoke bars but also can be transformed into music venues. Dubbed the TV Studio & Bar on some ships, these spaces also house radio and television broadcasting equipment, and they can host games, quizzes and talent contests aired live on television sets in cabins.
Other interior attractions and activities
In addition to entertainment spaces, the interior of MSC Cruises ships are loaded with other venues where passengers can kick back and let loose day and night, including a seemingly endless array of bars, lounges and nightspots.
Every MSC Cruises ship has a casino, and on the line’s larger vessels, they are big operations. Le Grand Casino on MSC Grandiosa has 164 slot machines, 12 table games (including blackjack, roulette and poker) and its own bar.
The three Meraviglia and Meraviglia-Plus class vessels also have soaring interior mall-like spaces called Gallerias with bars, restaurants and retail shops.
Each of the Gallerias, for example, is home to an innovative chocolate bar and boutique created by well-known French patissier and chocolatier Jean-Phillipe Maury.
The Gallerias on the three vessels — MSC Grandiosa, MSC Meraviglia and MSC Bellissima — are topped with one of the most stunning features found at sea: A dazzling “digital sky” made with curving LED screens that offers regular light shows during the day and evening.
The bigger MSC Cruises ships also have interactive game zones with such attractions as F1 racing simulators, immersive XD cinemas, arcade games and even full-size bowling alleys.
For something a bit more soothing, MSC Cruises ships also all have spas, which can be quite big on the larger vessels with expansive thermal areas and a wide choice of treatments and services.
Insider tip: Passengers can get information about onboard entertainment and restaurants (and make reservations), on the interactive screens found around MSC Cruises vessels.
The top decks of MSC Cruises ships offer pools, hot tubs and plenty of lounge space but also — on the line’s newest ships, at least — some spectacular family-focused fun zones.
On the line’s Meraviglia and Meraviglia-Plus class ships, this includes sprawling back-of-the-ship waterparks with multiple waterslides, ropes courses and watery play areas for the little ones.
Some ships even have zip lines — the longest at sea.
And the main pool areas on the newest MSC Cruises ships are among the biggest and most stunning at sea. Some of the line’s ships also have adult-only pools topped with glass ceilings that can be opened on warm days.
MSC Cruises has some of the most extensive children’s programmes at sea, with dedicated clubs and activities for children as young as a couple of months old through the age of 17.
On most ships, the line offers programming for five distinct age groups.
For the very youngest cruisers, there’s Baby Club, a programme for babies and toddlers up to the age of 3. The line partnered with baby care brand Chicco to develop dedicated Baby Club play areas on every ship with toys, games, and music and rhythm activities. You can leave your toddlers at the clubs, which have dedicated staff, or stay and play with them.
MSC Cruises ships also have a dedicated Mini Club (ages 3 to 6) and Junior Club (ages 7 to 11) with age-appropriate activities. Designed in a partnership with the Lego Group, the Mini Clubs offer games, events and activities such as arts and crafts. Junior Clubs have a Masterchef at Sea Juniors competition, plus acting, dancing and singing activities.
MSC Cruises ships also have Young Club, a tween programme (ages 12 to 14) that brings sports tournaments, high-tech games and other activities.
Then there’s Teen Club (ages 15 to 17), which hosts disco parties; karaoke parties; and Wii, Xbox and PS4 tournaments. On MSC Grandiosa, teens even get the chance to pilot a drone through an obstacle course during an activity called the Drone Academy, and the ship also holds a teen dance competition designed in partnership with the company behind “The X Factor.”
Kids and teens clubs on newer MSC Cruises ships are also equipped with such cutting-edge equipment as 3D printing machines, VR Gaming and 3D product scanning, all of which are used in activities.
What to know before you go
You’ll need a passport. It’s important the name on your reservation be exactly as it appears on your passport or other official proof of nationality.
MSC Cruises adds an automatic service gratuity of $14 to final bills on sailings out of U.S. ports. Gratuity charges on sailings in other parts of the world vary significantly, from $8 for voyages along the South Africa coast to $14.50 for some sailings in Asia.
Sailings with pricing in euros have a 10 euro charge ($12.28 at current exchange rates). Children 2 to 11 pay half the adult rate on most cruises. Children under 2 years old are not charged gratuity.
Also, a 15% gratuity is added to bills at bars for cruisers who do not have a drinks package. If you have a drink package, you’ll pay a 15% service charge when you purchase the package, but not on individual drinks. A 15% service charge is also added to items in mini-bars, salons and spas.
MSC Cruises has been rolling out Wi-Fi so fast you’ll be able to watch Netflix from your room on your mobile device.
But, unlike some lines, MSC Cruises doesn’t offer flat-fee pricing for Wi-Fi. Instead, MSC Cruises charges by the number of devices you use and how you want to use the internet (think: browsing, texting, sending emails or video streaming).
Basic packages for browsing start around $72 for one device with unlimited data. A two-device plan with unlimited data for browsing costs about $109. There’s also a four-device browsing plan for about $223. If you’re looking to stream video along with other internet uses, you’ll need a streaming plan. These start around $100 for one device and can be as high as $313 for a four-device plan.
Remember, passengers can chat with friends and family on board ships even if they don’t have an internet package by downloading the MSC for Me app to a smart device. The app also lets you book services on board.
Carry-on drinks policy
Unlike some lines, MSC Cruises doesn’t allow passengers to bring their own alcohol on board.
Smoking (including e-cigarette smoking) is allowed in a limited number of designated areas on ships, with the primary smoking area on ships being an outdoor pool area that varies by ship and is indicated by signage. Smoking is forbidden in cabins and on cabin balconies, and those who violate this rule will face a $250 fee.
Unlike some lines, MSC Cruises does not build self-service launderettes onto its ships. Vessels offer extra-charge laundry and dry-cleaning services.
All vessels have standard North American-style, 110-volt outlets in rooms as well as European-style, 220-volt outlets. A growing number of vessels also have USB ports in cabins.
For cruises in the Caribbean, South America and South Africa, as well as on MSC Grand Voyages going to Europe and to Australia, the onboard currency is the U.S. dollar.
On cruises in other parts of the world, the onboard currency is the euro. All vessels operate on a “cashless system” with any onboard purchases you make posting automatically to your onboard account. You’ll receive a Cruise Card (or, on the newer ships, an MSC for Me wristband) that you can use to make purchases.
You must be 21 to consume alcohol on sailings in the U.S. and Caribbean. The drinking age on sailings everywhere else in the world is 18.
During the day, there’s no specific dress code, and people dress casually. If it’s a sea day in a warm-weather destination and you’re bound for the top-deck, that means dressing for the beach — T-shirts, shorts and bathing suits (with a cover-up to go inside) are just fine.
On most evenings, the line recommends “smart casual” dress, meaning summery dresses for women and a lightweight jacket for men. But the line also holds Gala evenings on its ships on select days where the dress code can be more formal. For Gala evenings, if dining in a main dining room, the line suggests a tuxedo, dinner jacket or dark suit and tie for men and a dressy outfit, formal gown or cocktail dress for women.
Related: What to pack for your first cruise
MSC Cruises loyalty programme
MSC Cruises has a point-based frequent cruiser programme, the MSC Voyages Club, that has four tiers ranging from Classic (requiring 1 point) to Diamond (10,000 points).
Members earn points based on the length of the cruises they take and which “experience” they book on those sailings. There are five different “experiences” you can book on an MSC Cruises sailing, each with different inclusions and price points. The most basic “Bella” experience will get you fewer points than the top “MSC Yacht Club” experience. A chart shows how point-earning works:
Every person in your stateroom will earn the points for the cruise based on the chart above. You can also earn points with onboard spending and any prebookings you made before embarkation. You’ll earn 100 points for every $150 in prepaid expenses and onboard expenses.
Caveats: Only the Voyagers Club member who makes the final payment for the onboard expenses will receive those points. For prepaid expenses, points will be equally distributed among the cabin occupants.
Say, for example, the total amount of prepaid onboard services that apply to all cabin occupants before the cruise is $600. If there are four cabin occupants, the spending for the points calculation of each member will be $150, which is equal to 100 points.
Lower tiers don’t bring all that much in terms of truly valuable benefits. You’ll get things like a single “welcome back” free cocktail (at the Classic level) and a complimentary fruit basket (at the Silver level). The one standout perk from the lowest tiers is a 5% discount on cruises. That’ll save you real money.
In addition, Voyagers Club members have access to members-only Voyages Selection Departures, which are select cruise dates where club members can book with an additional 5% to 15% off on top of the 5% they automatically receive with all cruise bookings.
The real perks begin at Diamond status, which brings a free dinner in an extra-charge restaurant, some treats in your cabin, priority embarkation and late disembarkation, and priority access for everything from dinner to tenders.
Unlike most cruise line loyalty programmes, you won’t automatically keep your status forever with MSC Cruises. Once achieved, your status is good as long as you take a cruise at least once every 36 months. If you don’t, not only will your points disappear but also your entire account will be erased, and you’ll have to re-enrol and start all over again.
Due to the coronavirus-related shutdown of cruising in 2020, Voyagers Club memberships are being extended, with the same current point balance and status, for an extra year.
That’s the downside of the MSC Voyagers Club. But the programme also comes with one very big upside: MSC Cruises will let you “status match” your way to top-tier Diamond status based on your status level with any of more than two dozen other loyalty programmes — not just those run by competing cruise lines but also those operated by Marriott, Hyatt and Hilton. It’s very rare in the cruise world.
How much does an MSC Cruises voyage cost?
MSC Cruises is known for some of the most affordable ships at sea. It’s not uncommon to find MSC Cruises voyages to the Caribbean and the Bahamas from under $75 per person, per night, including all taxes and fees — at least in the off-season.
For instance, at the time of publication, seven-night sailings from Miami to the Bahamas and the Eastern Caribbean for this start at just $199 per person, not including taxes and fees of $150. That works out to just $50 per night, per person, with taxes and fees for a package that includes your lodging, transportation and meals.
As you might expect, pricing for ships generally will be lower during off-season periods such as September, October and parts of November.
The timing of when you book also can matter. Cruises book up much further in advance than aeroplanes or hotels, and many cruisers will tell you the best pricing for any given sailing often is available when cruises first go on sale (which can be a good two years before a departure). Booking far in advance also will give you the best chance of getting your preferred cabin type and location on a ship.
Once on board an MSC Cruises ship, you’ll pay extra for most drinks, extra-charge restaurants, spa services, shore excursions, internet and a few other amenities — unless you’ve paid up for a more inclusive package.
When pricing cabins, MSC Cruises offers one of three main “experiences” — each of which comes with different inclusions and price tag. The basic Bella experience includes your room, dining in the main restaurants and buffet, and access to all the included features of the ship such as kids programmes and theatre shows.
One step up is the more expensive Fantastica experience, which adds room service and breakfast delivered to your cabin, priority choice of dinner sittings, access to additional kids activities and classes, and more.
With the even pricier Aurea experience, you’ll get an unlimited drinks package, a complimentary massage in the ship’s spa, complimentary access to the spa’s thermal area, priority boarding and other perks.
Then there’s the MSC Yacht Club experience, mentioned above, which is the ultimate in onboard living. Even with its higher price tag, the MSC Yacht Club still boasts great value for its wide range of perks, such as unlimited drinks in all MSC Yacht Club areas, including premium spirits and minibar items.
How to book
If you’re sure you know what sort of cabin you want, on which ship, on which itinerary — and about a dozen other things — you can head over to msccruises.com to make a booking directly.
That said, given the complexity of booking a cruise (there are a lot of decisions to make during the booking process: trust us) we recommend you use a seasoned travel agent who specializes in cruises.
A good travel agent will quiz you about your interests, travel style and preferences, and steer you to the perfect cruise line, ship, itinerary and cabin for you. They also can help if something goes wrong just before, during or after your voyage.
If you’re sure MSC Cruises is your line, look for a travel agent who specialises in trips with the brand. You want someone who knows about all of the line’s various cabin categories and, preferably, has done ship inspections to see them firsthand.
Long a major player in Europe, MSC Cruises is growing fast in North America with a lineup of big, new, amenity-filled ships. If you’re a megaresort lover, you’ll feel right at home on its new Meraviglia-Plus, Meraviglia and Seaside class vessels, which rival the biggest vessels of Royal Caribbean and Norwegian for their array of onboard amusements.
You’ll also love their affordability. Among the world’s biggest ships, they offer some of the lowest pricing. You’ll be sharing your holiday with a huge number of other people, of course — as many 6,000 on some MSC Cruises vessels. But even the biggest MSC Cruises ships have quiet nooks where you can escape the crowds.
Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:
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- A quick guide to the most popular cruise lines
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- 15 ways cruisers waste money
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- What to pack for your first cruise
Featured image courtesy of MSC Cruises
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