Can a ‘European’ Cruise Line Win Over America?

April 3, 2013 | By | 20 Comments

Despite having ships stationed in five continents, Italy-based MSC Cruises is almost always thought of as “very Euro.” (We’ll explain in a minute.) So it may have come as a surprise to some that the line will be basing its splashy 3,502-passenger MSC Divina year-round in Miami. The one-year-old ship will begin offering Caribbean cruises in November, marking the first time MSC has positioned a ship full time in America. Divina will compete with the biggest, newest offerings from Carnival, Royal Caribbean and NCL.
“The brand is starting to gain momentum here in North America,” president Rick Sasso told me. The snowball has taken awhile to form. For the past nine years, MSC has homeported ships in the U.S., but only on a seasonal basis. Divina, too, was initially slated to sail from Florida seasonally, but due to the positive response it received, MSC decided to drop the ship’s anchor in one place.
In my opinion, MSC gets an unfair shake. It offers a solid product at modest prices, which often attract budget-minded cruisers who expect a more “Carnival” vibe. When they don’t get it, they’re disappointed. That’s why, when you read Cruise Critic’s MSC member reviews, you’ll get a ton of mixed signals.
But, if you’re looking for affordable elegance and a different type of atmosphere, you might find that it’s just the line for you — and with a 4-D cinema, a Formula 1 simulator and the line’s exclusive ship-within-a-ship MSC Yacht Club concept (which includes private decks and butler service), Divina more than holds it own with Yanks used to competitors’ amenity-laden new-builds.
I took my first MSC cruise two years ago on MSC Poesia, and I loved it, but I also knew the “European” style I was getting myself into: smaller portion sizes in the dining room and meals that move at a much slower pace; service that’s professional but much more hands-off than what’s found on more U.S.-centric ships; a cosmopolitan passenger base that necessitates announcements in five languages and stellar nonverbal entertainment that includes magicians, dancers and acrobats; and a marked lack of garish neon and hairy chest competitions. (Check out another post, 6 Signs You’re Sailing on a European Ship, for more.)
“But wait,” you say. “I LIKE bigger portion sizes. And what’s wrong with hairy chests, anyway?” Nothing at all. That’s why Sasso says the line has taken steps to tweak everything from menu descriptions to entertainment, taking American tastes into consideration — not just on Divina, but across the fleet.
“We get high marks for our entertainment because we hire the best, but we also want to make sure it’s more to the style of our North American guests,” Sasso told me when I called him this afternoon. Specifics on how these changes will take shape should materialize closer to Divina’s Miami debut. (By the way, kudos to Sasso for answering his own phone, a small but impressive gesture that’s indicative of the company’s commitment to personal touches.)
Have you taken an MSC cruise? What did you think, and why? Talk it out in the comments below.
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    20 Responses to “Can a ‘European’ Cruise Line Win Over America?”

    1. Michael Boxer
      April 4th, 2013 @ 11:02 am

      My wife and I also took that maiden cruise out of NY on the MSC Poesia to Canada and loved the ship and everything about her. We were very disappointed to find out that the MSC Poesia, would not be coming out of NYC any longer.

    2. wayne ziemer
      April 4th, 2013 @ 11:03 am

      I did a 13 nite cruise on the Poesia from NYC to Quebec City and back. I thought it was a great cruise at a great price. I enjoyed the international flavor of the cruise. The only disappointed was the fellow passenger. I guess many expected chest hair contest rather than opera. Maybe that was why they were so grumby. I am disappointed they want to be come like Carnival!

    3. Debby Couture
      April 4th, 2013 @ 11:06 am

      MSC is the worst line ever, I was on The Posenia 2 years ago and it was awful. The language barrier was just one of the shortcomings. The ship itself is beautiful, not so with the service. Food was so so. RCL is much better. One of the deck chairs on our balcony collapsed from dry rot. They did nothing about the deck chair said they didn’t have another and gave us an office chair. We refused it, and eventually they produced another new chair. My husband hurt his back when the chair broke and they told us he would have to pay 120.00 to be seen by the Ships Doc. I read about The Moody Blues Cruise and was so psyched about it until I realized it was on MSC. I would not recommend this line to anyone.

    4. BRPaul
      April 4th, 2013 @ 11:47 am

      We were on the Divina in the Mediterranean and the ship offerings are the lowest possible. No room service w/o charge, same food on buffet everyday all day, poor and very small choice in DR and no coffee, tea or even water. They offered US travelers a coupon for water at dinner only. People w/kids were carrying huge bottles of soda and trying to hide them from staff. There is much more but I’m not devoting my time to them. We would never cruise on MSC again and we cruise a couple times a year.

    5. Audrey shore
      April 4th, 2013 @ 12:38 pm

      Tried MSC Lirica twice, never again. Beautiful ship but that was the good bit. The Italians couldn’t organise anything.
      Embarkation dreadful, disembarkation worse. Everything in 5 languages a pain. Food strange.dont ask for bacon & egg, bacon comes as one course egg as another. Any question staff don’t like they pretend they don’t speak English.. Would not recommend MSC to anyone.

    6. Susan
      April 4th, 2013 @ 1:11 pm

      my husband and I have sailed on msc several times. It is funny, but you sit in dining room, the next morning and all you here about is the food. The people making most of the complaints should be getting smaller portions, they are very overweight. We enjoyed all the cruises and the price was very reasonable (especially for the balcony). The ships are beautiful. having a little different cultural experience is a good thing. Entertainment excellent. So my advice is if you want to stuff your face 24/7 and have the carnival mentality, don’t cruise on msc.

    7. Jenny
      April 4th, 2013 @ 1:18 pm

      I would love to sale a European line. Having lived there for several years I know it would be fantastic!

    8. Alex K
      April 4th, 2013 @ 1:23 pm

      MSC Fantasia last year it was a wonderful cruise and very different venue. Enjoyed the change and Booked the Divina

    9. Janet Cartwright
      April 4th, 2013 @ 2:00 pm

      A friend and I took a 3 day Bahama cruise on the Posenia 2 years ago. The ship is lovely, the veranda cabin was very nice. We were impressed.
      Until dinner the first night. Spaghetti and other pasta meals were main on the menu. No one spoke English, including the people at our table
      the lunch buffet was lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables and green salad makings, but again several pasta dishes. Breakfast was the best meal. Desserts were very plain and not much choice.

      We never did meet our room steward, even after calling for him/her with questions. Calling the front desk was not helpful as no one spoke our English language.

      The shows were ok, but not what most M=americans would expect. My advice to them on the comment card was to Americanize the food and language to attract more of us. I will try them again, just waiting until I begin hearing good reports on them.

    10. Shawn
      April 4th, 2013 @ 4:46 pm

      Screw “Americanizing” the ships!!! It’s about time Americans realized that there are more people on this planet BUT them!!

    11. Scott
      April 4th, 2013 @ 11:54 pm

      We haven’t tried MSC, but have had two Costa cruises. That was enough to put us off Italian lines. We live in Europe – multiple language announcements don’t bother us – but Italian rudeness, loud families and disorganization does put us off. Also, charging for water is unconscionable. Food was good, entertainment was juvenile. Not enough to inspire us to give Costa another try, or try MSC. mSC may want the US market, but they will never win a decent share offering service, Italian-style.

    12. AudalSomerset
      April 5th, 2013 @ 11:45 am

      In reply to Susan it’s not about stuffing ones face it is about quality. Give me Princess every time

    13. Margot
      April 10th, 2013 @ 1:28 pm

      We took the Poesia to Quebec two years ago, and loved it. Food was delicious (except for the lobster which was filled with bread stuffing) and we found the service first rate. Americans need to open them,selves up to more European
      Centric experiences….there are man ways to learn, this one ship was top notch in,o!

    14. Carol
      April 10th, 2013 @ 1:44 pm

      Took MSC Poesia from Ft. Lauderdale 3 years ago. Not only were food portions extremely small, the food was the worst we’ve had on any of the cruise lines we’ve sailed on. I had a food related illness from bad strawberries used in a frozen daquiry and was miserably sick for 2 days. Service was extremely poor. Having to listen to frequent announcements in 5 languages was annoying because not only was it very loud, it disrupted what you were trying to do at the time because it took so long for the announcemts to be made.

    15. John Gawne
      April 10th, 2013 @ 2:37 pm

      We have sailed twice on MSC, the Orchestra and the Poesia. We loved it, which is why we booked them the 2nd time. Loved having multiple dance venues, and everyone dancing. Food was great. Americans are so ethnocentric, thinking the world revolves around them. It doesn’t. We enjoyed the food. See me reviews posted here on Cruise Critic of these two sailings.

    16. Doug
      April 10th, 2013 @ 2:48 pm

      After reading comment i think i wont waste my money

    17. Carol L
      April 10th, 2013 @ 3:53 pm


      They(MSC) are the ones wanting to attract Americans- Americans don’t care if they Americanize or not. If we want European style cruising- we can go that route but rude service, bad food and disorganization have no place on either European or American style lines.

    18. Tom
      April 10th, 2013 @ 7:40 pm

      I agree totally with Shawn. It is about time Americans grew up and realized that they are only one part of the world and not everybody speaks English and supersize their meals. I am from an English speaking country and have been on two MSC Cruises and loved them both.

    19. Florence Allegretti
      April 10th, 2013 @ 9:36 pm

      Firstly, Susan needs to sign up for English 101 at her community college. People who complain about sloppy English from staff on a cruise ship need to have a listen to themselves and look at their own e-mails. We had planned to book the MSC cruise in April, 2014, sailing into Venice. MSC apparently cancelled that cruise with no explanation. Rumor has it that they just bail out whenever they come across a lease situation which might be more lucrative. Companies that don’t honor their commitments tend to cause potential guests to look elsewhere. For many, a cruise is a once in a lifetime treat. Rather than have a cancellation or a ship on the rocks, I think we’ll stick with Celebrity.

    20. Suzie
      April 11th, 2013 @ 2:08 am

      I’m from the U.K. and I think the main article has hit the nail on the head with the ‘service much more hands off’ comment. I have been on two MSC cruises to date and have another one booked next month. I love to cruise, but I dislike the false ‘in your face’ service you get on the mainstream cruislines. I tried Carnival becaue of the price, and hated it. MSC is much more laidback and lets you enjoy your cruise without having someone asking you if you’ve had a nice day every 5 minutes.


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