MSC Cruises recently debuted its first Seaside EVO-class ship, MSC Seashore, via a special christening sailing from Miami to Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, the line’s new private island and marine sanctuary in the Bahamas.
For many aboard, the brief two-night preview sailing marked the first time cruising with the brand (myself included). Overall, reviews for MSC are mixed, both in person and online, making it difficult to gauge or even set expectations for the experience.
The cruise line estimates that roughly 65%t of MSC Seashore has been reimagined from its Seaside sister ships, MSC Seaside and MSC Seaview. “It’s not just a matter of being better, it’s an evolution,” MSC’s EVP Chief Operating Officer for the USA, Ken Muskat tells me during a one-on-one interview during the sailing.
“We learn something from every ship. We learn things about the guest experience and where the traffic flow is, and how to improve things. By the time Seaside came out, Seaview was already nearly done, but we had more time with Seashore to be able to make some changes.”
These include the ship’s new infinity pool at the back of the ship and a 400-person aft lounge, as well as the new location and arrangement of the ship’s specialty restaurants which now offer both indoor and outdoor dining. Muskat credits the relocation of the food outlets as the riskiest gamble in the MSC Seashore revamp).
"That was a significant change for us," he shared with me. "Whenever you're messing with the culinary experience and you're dealing with the galleys and the design, it's a challenge. It definitely works incredibly well on this ship"
He also mentions a few of the ship's superlatives for the brand -- it’s got the largest kids club center, the biggest Yacht Club (MSC's suite enclave), and the most onboard space per person of any MSC ship. Add to that, it’s the longest of any MSC ship out there -- and it was built with even bigger aspirations in mind.
For MSC, the 5,632-passenger mega ship represents the Italian-owned line’s latest mega gamble toward its ambitious goal of becoming the number one cruise brand in the U.S. market. MSC also hopes to become leaders and stewards of sustainability in the cruise industry and has designed MSC Seashore with several eco-friendly features such as hybrid exhaust gas cleaning systems on all engines to reduce emissions, underwater radiated noise management systems for less disturbance to wildlife, and energy efficient systems on board.
So how did MSC’s most recent roll of the dice turn out? Here’s our first impressions of MSC Seashore, hits and misses.
It may seem strange to theme a ship geared toward a U.S. audience and assigned to a U.S. homeport after a U.S. city. It's kind of like if a U.S.-owned company started running a ship from France, designed it for a French audience, and then gave it a Parisian theme. It's a bold choice from MSC that begs the question: could they pull it off without being tacky or cliché?
The answer is a somewhat surprising yes.
Stepping into the atrium is a glitzy and classy contrast to the drab (temporary) cruise terminal at PortMiami.
MSC’s famous sparkling Swarovski crystal staircases bookend the atrium, while curvy, ultra-modern polished silver barstools dot the length of the glossy Seashore Bar. A multi-level entertainment platform stretches several decks up above the bar, sporting huge and bright digital screens and performance balconies that host DJs, musicians and dancers. Taking in the scene, it’s cleverly reminiscent of the Times Square billboards, if Times Square billboards were inside a Manhattan club.
Elsewhere on the ship, the subtle take on NYC continues, mostly exposed in tasteful artwork (black and white portraits, a casual three-deck-high Statue of Liberty statue, etc) in various concepts such as menu items and venue names and themes --like the aptly named American Sports Bar, which is truly a sports fan’s dream come true with numerous booths and TV (and TVs at booths!), a massive Vegas-sports-betting-style screen, décor incorporating sports paraphernalia, and a menu with all the traditional fixings.
MSC Seashore’s decor is impressive, of an unexpectedly stylish and chic quality that features touches like contemporary wooden mid-century modern chairs and loungers, thick leather sofas and lounge chairs, and plush red velvet armchairs and barstools, all pieces that make you feel like you’re on a ship with a much higher price point.
MSC Seashore boasts six pools, all of which are winners, including the new infinity pool at the back of the ship overlooking the ship’s wake -- but it’s the Jungle Pool that really grabbed our attention.
Located under a retractable magrodome on Deck 16, a trip to the Jungle Pool feels like an onboard excursion. The surrounding hearty curation of very convincing fake jungle greenery, faux-stone tile deck, and raised lounge area with a bi-level rock wall waterfall make the Jungle Pool the perfect place to spend the day sipping on drinks and leafing through a book. However, if the two hot tubs are on and the magrodome is closed, the jungle experience becomes a little too real (a.k.a. humid).
Almost anywhere you look on MSC Seashore, there’s a bar right around the corner. In other words, you don’t ever have to go too far to fill your glass; even the Marketplace buffet has its own snazzy full-service bar.
The variety of bars is also impressive, including the number of specialty bars like the mixology-focused Shine Bar, upscale Champagne & Wine Bar, and even the Venchi 1878 Chocolate Bar. The caveat to this perk: the cocktails were surprisingly disappointing across the board, so best stick to wine, beer or mocktails.
One major area where this ship really shines is its wheelchair accessibility, particularly in the staterooms. Not only does MSC Seashore have 66 dedicated accessible rooms, the brand has gone the extra mile to make these staterooms as comfortable and easy to navigate as possible. Roll-in showers with a folding bench seat, automated balcony ramps, and pull-down levers in the closet are standout features. ADA accessible rooms can also be connected to adjacent rooms to form a family suite, which can be huge for multi-gen family trips.
What we saw of the ship’s MSC Aurea Spa may not have been the sprawling space we’d expected (the changing rooms are particularly tiny), but it was out of mind as soon as we stepped foot into the ship’s thermal area.
You could easily spend half a day or more traveling through all of the different stations -- chromotherapy shower circuits, multiple types of saunas, a huge hot tub, aromatherapy rain showers and arctic showers, Himalayan salt room, a snow room, a dark steam room and a light steam room and relaxation areas.
Finding a thermal circuit this comprehensive is difficult even in the best of U.S. hotels., let alone at sea on a ship at this price point -- this is a major plus for MSC Seashore.
MSC prides itself on being a family cruise line, and the investment in their biggest-ever Doremi Club (pronounced Do-Re-Mi) onboard MSC Seashore underlines this. Programming is available for kids of all ages -- literally infant to 17 years old -- in outer space-themed kids club areas with fun, immersive touches.
Partnerships with LEGO and Chicco provide relatable and familiar experiences for younger kids, while older kids can tune into Doremi’s own web series or sink into a gaming chair. There’s even a dedicated black box theater for special performances and activities.
One of the coolest kids features is the pirate-themed water park, where you’ll find suspended rope bridges, a shallow splash pool, a mushroom waterfall, squirt guns and racing waterslides.
While the cocktails onboard MSC Seashore mostly skewed toward disappointing (and sometimes undrinkable), we found the food to either be excellent or embarrassing. In the main dining room, we were served an unbelievably perfect filet of Chilean sea bass and devoured a sunchoke bisque that demanded seconds one night, only to be served bland and mushy lobster tail and what looked like days-old salad the next. That said, the main dining room was absolutely stellar at managing my celiac disease — a rare and invaluable find on any cruise, soggy lobster or not.
Our experience at the specialty restaurants was limited, but it also seemed to either hit the bullseye (shout out to the DIY guacamole at Hola Tacos & Cantina) or miss the mark completely.
Two experiences on our MSC Seashore sailing ended up being shaky, really shaky. When the ship turned around to leave PortMiami, and again to leave Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, it felt like an earthquake on the ship. We’re talking things falling off shelves, dishes breaking, doors rattling, the works. It’s like nothing we’ve ever felt before on a ship, and could be quite jarring if you’re not expecting it (or sleeping).
Cruisers who are used to stateroom balconies that run flush up against the side of the ship, offering unobstructed ocean views and privacy from decks above and below may be disappointed with many of the balconies on MSC Seashore. Balconies on the side of the ship are tiered, and recessed from the edge of the ship in order to make room for more public deck space and private cabin terrace space below. Unfortunately, this allows noise from the bottom decks to travel upward and sacrifices privacy.
● Our preview sailing was only at about 20% capacity, and frequently felt right on the edge of being crowded in several indoor public spaces with long waits at the bars and crowded throughways. We’d be curious to see how spacious MSC Seashore feels at full capacity.
● After only three years of undergoing massive renovations to go from industrial artificial island to tropical island getaway, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve is definitely a success story. We’re just not sure it’s quite up to par just yet. For all the hype, we found the island underwhelming, but are hopeful it grows into itself as planned.
● Connectivity was one of the biggest challenges felt across the ship during our sailing. Wi-Fi was not only spottier than a leopard, but regular cell service was also hard to come by, even in port. This made communication with people both on and off the ship a hassle most of the time and downright impossible some of the time.
● MSC has boasted their fleet, especially newer ships, are sailing with the latest in passenger technology. Unfortunately, while we found the tech available (we appreciated details like wireless charging stations in staterooms), it was often clunky, buggy or just plain didn’t work. This includes the ship’s new ‘MSC for Me’ app.
MSC Seashore is brimming with thoughtful details, great design and looks fabulous. It’s obvious that feedback on previous ships helped inform many of their decisions when reimagining the spaces and that the brand is really trying to up the game when it comes to what U.S. cruisers should expect at this price point.
For the money, MSC Seashore definitely packs a punch, offering up glittering venues, spacious and stylish rooms, excellent pools and kids features, and a fantastic variety of food and beverage options. However, there are still a few kinks and quirks to work out (like the connectivity) that will hopefully come with time.
Is this the ship to woo U.S. cruisers from their tried and true, recognizable cruise brands? We’re happy to say that it certainly has a fighting chance.