Just a few years ago, MSC Cruises was a virtual nobody in the cruise industry -- a second-tier operator with a small fleet of well-kept but rather old ships bought from other operators. Then, in 2000, huge container ship operator Mediterranean Shipping Company, the line's parent, decided it was time to expand their presence in the cruise market. The result was an order for a pair of brand-new 58,000-ton ships, the very first new-builds in the company's history. Three years later, in 2003, the company took delivery of their first-born, MSC Lirica, setting off an epic expansion that would catapult MSC to the number four spot worldwide -- and number two in Europe -- in a matter of years.
As luck would have it, just after MSC Lirica was delivered, Festival Cruises -- one of MSC's biggest competitors in Europe -- fell into bankruptcy and was liquidated. This left two nearly new ships, European Vision and European Stars, in the hands of Festival creditors eager to offload them. Fortunately for MSC, the two Festival ships had been built off almost exactly the same plans as MSC Lirica. European Vision became MSC Armonia, and European Stars became MSC Sinfonia. By the time MSC Lirica's sister MSC Opera was delivered in 2004, MSC had four new ships and had more than doubled the size of their fleet.
While they were a big step for MSC, which has gone on to build larger ships since then, MSC Sinfonia and its sisters are relatively small by today's standards (at least for new, mass-market ships). Sinfonia does have fewer balconies and suites than most other ships its age, and lacks a few other amenities like an alternative restaurant for dinner. Nonetheless, this ship will appeal to lovers of smallish, classy ships who appreciate the clean, stylish European design of its interiors and its more intimate size in comparison to the latest mega-ships from the major North American lines as well as MSC's chief competitor, Costa.
While it is important to remember that this is a product very much geared to a continental European audience and English-speakers will be in the minority, MSC Sinfonia offers good value for the cruise fares charged and a truly Italian-style cruise experience in stylish surroundings that will be appreciated by North American and British passengers looking for a something a bit different from the mainstream English-speaking cruise.
One note: MSC's prices for onboard charges are calculated in euros; we've offered charges in euros and converted to dollars; at press time, the conversion rate was approximately $1.35 euros to the $1. Check XE.com
for the latest rate.
This is a very cosmopolitan ship; the majority of passengers are Italian but you'll also find French, Spanish, German and British passengers. Italians tend to barge about a bit, so people used to holding back and saying please and thank you may find them a bit much at first, but they don't mean to be rude -- it's just their way.
Sophisticated travelers who enjoy practicing their foreign language skills will be very much at home on this ship, while those who dread endless multilingual tannoy announcements will be pleasantly surprised to find they are kept very much to a minimum, except at the mandatory boat drill, which seems interminable.
Europeans tend to be casual dressers by day and even in the evenings some of them don't go to much trouble outside of the captain's formal welcome and farewell gala evenings. It's worth taking some smart outfits along for these but otherwise you can dress pretty much as elegantly or casually (within reason) as you wish without exciting comment.
Six euros ($8.10) per person, per day covers waiters and cabin stewards; other gratuities are at your discretion.