Fodor’s Expert Review
More widely known as one of the world’s largest cargo shipping companies, MSC has operated cruises with an eclectic fleet since the late 1980s. When the line introduced two graceful, medium-size ships in 2003 and 2004, it ushered in an era of new shipbuilding that has seen the fleet grow faster than any other European cruise line. This line is growing into a major player in both Europe and the Caribbean.Read More
MSC blankets the Mediterranean nearly year-round with a dizzying selection of cruise itineraries that allow a lot of time in ports of call and include few if any sea days. In summer months, several ships sail off to northern Europe to ply the Baltic. Itineraries planned for repositioning sailings visit some intriguing, off-the-beaten-track ports of call that other cruise lines bypass.
No glitz, no clutter—just elegant simplicity—is the standard of MSC’s seaworthy interior decor. Extensive use of marble, brass, and wood reflects the best of Italian styling and design; clean lines and bold colors set their modern sophisticated tone.
MSC adopts some activities that appeal to American passengers without abandoning those preferred by Europeans; however, regardless of the itinerary, be prepared for an Italian-influenced experience. Also expect to hear announcements in several languages.
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What to Expect on Board
Dinner on MSC ships is a traditional multiple-course event centered on authentic Italian fare.
Menus list Mediterranean regional specialties and classic favorites prepared from scratch. Some favorites include lamb-and-mushroom quiche (a Tuscan dish) and veal scaloppini with tomatoes and mozzarella (a recipe from Sorrento in Campania). Although food is still prepared the Italian way, in a nod to American tastes broiled chicken breast, grilled salmon, and Caesar salad are additions to the dinner menu that are always available. Healthy Choice and vegetarian items are offered as well as tempting sugar-free desserts. A highlight is the bread, freshly baked on board daily. Pizza served in the buffet is some of the best at sea. The nightly midnight buffet is a retro food feast missing from most of today’s cruises. Room service is always available, though the options are somewhat limited.
In addition to the guest lecturers, computer classes, and cooking lessons featured in the enrichment programs, Italian-language classes are a popular option.
Nightly shows accentuate the cruise line’s Mediterranean heritage; there might be a flamenco show in the main show room and live music for listening and dancing in the smaller lounges, although the disco is a happening late-night spot.
MSC entertainment staff members shine offstage as well as in front of the spotlight. They seek out passengers traveling solo, who might be looking for activity or dance partners, so that they feel fully included in the cruise.
Up-to-date exercise equipment, a jogging track, and basic fitness classes for all levels are available in the fitness centers.
Spa treatments include a variety of massages, body wraps, and facials that can be scheduled à la carte or combined in packages to encompass an afternoon or the entire cruise. The hottest hair-styling techniques and nail services are offered in the salons. Unlike most cruise lines, MSC Cruises operates its own spas.
Key cruising tips
Most passengers are couples in the 35- to 55-year-old range, as well as some family groups who prefer the international atmosphere prevalent on board. Although more than half the passengers on Caribbean itineraries are North Americans, expect a more international mix on European cruises, with North Americans in the minority.
Two formal nights are standard on seven-night cruises, and three may be scheduled on longer sailings. Men are encouraged to wear dark suits, but sport coats and ties are appropriate. All other evenings are casual, although jeans are discouraged in restaurants. It’s requested that no shorts be worn in public areas after 6 pm.
Children ages 3 to 17 are welcome to participate in age-appropriate youth programs. The Mini Club is for ages 3 to 8, Junior Club for ages 9 to 12, and Teenage Club for youths 13 years and older. Counselors organize daily group activities such as arts and crafts, painting, treasure hunts, games, a mini-Olympics, and shows. Children under age three may use the playroom if accompanied at all times by an adult. Babysitting can be arranged for a fee once you’re on board.
Service can be inconsistent, yet it’s more than acceptable, even if it’s not overly gracious. The mainly Italian staff can seem befuddled by American habits and expectations. Ongoing training and improved English proficiency for staff are top priorities for MSC, and these weaknesses are showing improvement.
For cruises of eight nights or less, customary gratuities are added to your shipboard account in the amount of €7 per person per day for adults and half that amount for children; for longer cruises, the customary daily amount is €6. You can always adjust these amounts at the reception desk or even pay in cash, if you prefer. Automatic 15% gratuities are incorporated into all bar purchases. You may also reward staff in the spa and casino for exceptional service.
After sailing on MSC Cruises once, you are eligible to join the MSC Club by completing the registration form found in your cabin or by writing to the club through the line’s website. Membership benefits include discounts on your cruise fare for the best itineraries, travel cancellation insurance, shore excursions, and even onboard purchases. You will also receive MSC Club News magazine.
Membership levels are achieved on a point system determined by the number of cruises taken. Classic members have up to 21 points; Silver, between 22 and 42 points; Gold, 43 points and over. Silver and Gold members receive pins to commemorate their status.