MSC Cruises: A Mystery Worth Pondering

March 15, 2012 | By | 7 Comments

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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    7 Responses to “MSC Cruises: A Mystery Worth Pondering”

    1. ron fiore
      March 20th, 2012 @ 11:29 am

      msc closes its buffet and have the time it is so crowded by the time you get your food you have to take it somewhere else as they are closing.unlike other lines you cant stay and have to leave as they close.
      on one cruise they shut down early due to running out of food.
      i went alone so i chose to eat only in the buffet.i was told by ress. that you could adjust the gratuities.however at the front desk they said no.
      their ships are beautifull but service is awfull

    2. fluffies
      March 20th, 2012 @ 12:16 pm

      I’m not sure it’s primarily the ships or the service…I think that, as a rule, Americans like to cruise with other Americans. We liked MSC and would cruise with them again if price and itinerary were right. We don’t mind more formal service or set dining times. Of particular interest to us are MSC’s Mediterranean ports in Tunisia and Malta, which we’d enjoy visiting.

    3. Kate
      March 20th, 2012 @ 3:25 pm

      I have had numerous American and Canadian guests tell me that the high levels of cigarette smoke on board were huge turnoffs. Also- not everyone is keen on baby octopus coming out with every course during dinner. Heavily seafood based menus do not appeal to everyone.

    4. James
      March 22nd, 2012 @ 5:37 pm

      We recently sailed on MSC Poesia and I wish our travel agent had taken the time to tell us about MSC. I expected the best service and amazing food. We received neither. Poor food quality caused many a nights stomach upset (I lost 5 pounds on our cruise). We were treated poorly by the staff and we speak three different languages (English, Spanish and Farsi), but we did not speak Indonesian to communicate what we needed from our dining staff. One evening in L’Obelisco (fine dining with a surcharge) we asked for water and still had not received it by dessert time, so we left.

      Cigarette smoke was heavy all over the ship. The 5th floor also smelled like sewer the entire trip so we walked down the 6th floor to get to the center of the ship and then to our dining room.

      Lots and lots of children too. The disco had teenagers in it every night and they were fighting with the adult passengers. The teenagers were drinking and smoking.

      The pool deck was extremely crowded. The smoking tables for the buffet took up about 20% of the deck with eliminated the shade spots for those of us that seek shade while swimming or reading on deck.

    5. Tim Davis
      June 6th, 2012 @ 8:56 pm

      The story with MSC is real simple in our eyes…Yacht Club absolutely, anywhere else on the ship no. We sailed around the Med last year on the Splendida in a Yacht Club cabin and loved it.It was a great experience with fast escorted embarkation and disembarkation, free well drinks, serviceable wine, excellent service(particularly the Butler), an exclusive restaurant with good to very good food and fantastic, exclusive pool and lounge areas (never crowded). Yes it is measurably more expensive, but if you spend much on drinks, the difference becomes minimal in the end. (Our final statement balance was $250!). MSC frequently offers free upgrades from balcony cabins to the YC.
      The privacy, and uncrowded nature of the Yacht Club combined with the service easily makes up for the difference. Outside the YC, the ship was, and felt packed and uncomfortable, but it NEVER felt a bit congested inside the confines of the YC. Smoking was prevalent around the ship, but not overwhelming. Smoking in the YC was minimal and limited to exclusive inside areas…never obtrusive.
      It really was an excellent experience. We will sail MSC again in the YC, never outside.
      Read my full review on Cruise Critic.

    6. Amy
      February 16th, 2013 @ 2:50 pm

      When you book a guarantee cabin on a MSC ship, they can require you to change cabins in the middle of cruise. It happened to me and several employees told me that it is common practice because people get on and off at every port. They want to keep all their cabins full at all times and use guarantee cabins to make sure this happens.
      The Divina is beautiful and the workers are friendly. But the food is very low quality and activies onboard the ship are expensive (e.g. bingo, fitness classes).

    7. Cruising-Tom
      March 10th, 2013 @ 12:46 pm

      Maybe a european cruise ship F/B Manager had no experience about how much american guest can eat
      I never saw a ship run out of food in the last years.
      Smoking Areas are restricted to left side of the ship on one or two deck, casino and one bar.
      The rest is normaly smoking free? Wheres the problems?
      Evening Diner is a 5 course meal with 3 different choices. You do not get only baby octopus every
      day, better read the card. The same people not liking “seafood” are the same missing surf-and-turf.
      And even the Splendida has more to offer than only the YachtClub.
      Fitness, even on Divina, is free. The Spa and Massages, you have to pay for.

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