What is it about MSC?
MSC Cruises, the Geneva-based big-ship line that’s been on a new-build tear over the past decade, announced yet another new-build on Wednesday. The 133,500-ton, 3,274-passenger Preziosa — a sister ship to Fantasia, Splendida and, debuting in May, Divina — will launch next year and bring this young but energetic cruise line’s fleet to 13 ships. Clearly the line, which celebrates its Mediterranean influence and markets primarily to Europeans (though Brazilians make up a strong and growing fan base), is doing something right. But then, why does it rate so low when it comes to Americans?
A mere 50 percent of Cruise Critic members, who primarily hail from English-speaking countries, rate their experiences on MSC as good — an astonishingly low satisfaction rate. For its part, Costa, another European line, fares only slightly better, with 55 percent meriting a “good” experience.
I don’t get the low scores, though I’ll admit they were somewhat influential to me before my first MSC cruise. Preparing for a winter Mediterranean voyage aboard Fantasia a few years back, my expectations were extremely low based on all I’d read. I expected rude staff, pushy passengers, general chaos at embarkation and muster drill, and terrible food.
I didn’t find any of that. What I did discover was a ship whose interiors were far more beautiful than almost any other mainstream cruise vessel — think floating staircases studded with Swarovski crystals; elegant wood-paneled veneer in public rooms; and the sweetest, most beautiful piazza at sea, complete with gorgeous hand-painted murals of Italian street scenes. Service was consistent with what I’ve experienced in Europe land hotels: efficient and pleasant. (It’s a different style than service you’ll find in the U.S., which is friendlier and more outgoing.) Cuisine was adequate, about what I’d had on Princess, Carnival and Royal Caribbean.
It occurred to me then that the biggest challenge facing MSC, particularly when it comes to U.S. and Canadian cruise travelers, is communicating its differences. “Travel agents have to help us explain to customers that MSC is unique,” MSC Cruises USA honcho Rick Sasso told me in a chat this week in Miami. “It’s not American apple pie,” he said. Anywhere its ships sail, the onboard ambience is a “nice, cultural Mediterranean experience.”
“You will need to be adventurous,” writes member Smahk in a recent review of her family’s Mediterranean cruise on Splendida in February. And that might just be the point about MSC.
Maybe passengers who find the line’s European ways challenging (a different, less personal service style, the Continental habit of charging for bottled water in the dining room and a generally chaotic, effusive atmosphere) should not have been on MSC to begin with. But if you’re a Euro-phile (particularly if you’re fascinated by the Mediterranean) and if you, to concur with member Smahk, like your cruises to be a little bit adventurous, MSC offers a cruise worth trying.
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