The ship appears like an oasis in the middle of the desert -- a mirage shrouded in early-morning fog rising off the water. The fog is the precursor to a hot afternoon in the Middle East sun, while the oasis comes in the form of MSC Cruises' brand-new ship MSC World Europa -- the line's biggest, most ambitious yet.
We made the 19.5-hour journey from wintery North America to sunny Doha, Qatar, to join MSC World Europa on its inaugural Middle East itineraries for a look at what makes MSC's latest-and-greatest ship tick -- and a preview of what North American cruisers can expect when sister ship MSC World America makes its debut in 2025.
MSC Cruises named MSC World Europa in November 2022 after functioning as a floating hotel in Doha, Qatar for the 2022 World Cup, MSC World Europa is MSC's newest and largest cruise ship to-date. Powered by Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) technology, it is the first in what will eventually be a class of four nearly-identical cruise ships -- including MSC World America, which makes its debut in the United States in 2024.
With its uniquely tapered bow and swooping architectural accents on its upper decks, MSC World Europa cuts a sleek profile. As we departed Doha, people came down to a quay near the cruise terminal to watch the massive ship -- the newest and largest in the Middle East -- depart. It's a scenario that repeats itself over successive days and ports. Locals here, it seems, can't wait to get a glimpse of the future of cruising.
Despite being an absolutely massive vessel capable of carrying 6,762 passengers, MSC World Europa disperses people well. During our first four days onboard, we found the bottlenecking present aboard the early Seaside-class ships is gone, and MSC World Europa's three-story central promenade is a great improvement over the two-story space found aboard the Meraviglia-class ships.
In fact, there's so much deck space and public rooms to move around that we've been pleasantly surprised by the entire experience. Evening performances in all lounges require reservations (which can be made through your interactive stateroom TV or the app), which ensures people are spread out each evening throughout three distinctive venues. It also prevents overcrowding -- once a show is sold out, reservations become impossible.
That's not to say it can't get crowded aboard MSC World Europa -- it can, and does, particularly around the usual suspects, like the champagne bar and the ship's dual buffets on Decks 18 and 19 aft. But there always seems to be a quiet spot to get away from it all -- or to get into the heart of the action, depending on your preference.
Another high point has been the service onboard, which has been friendly, efficient and professional. The crew are clearly proud to be working on MSC's latest-and-greatest, with many crewmembers having joined at the shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, France, while construction was still going on. It's also a welcome change from our recent MSC Meraviglia voyage, which had a slew of issues related to understaffing.
Once cruise lines have been around for a while, they start to have signature spaces that are present on every ship. And to be sure, MSC World Europa has those spaces, but what is pleasantly surprising is the sheer number of new experiences MSC Cruises has introduced on MSC World Europa.
A standout win this voyage has been the Raj Polo Tea House on Deck 8. This quiet, cozy bar decorated in a colonial style offers both indoor and outdoor seating, along with a fabulous selection of teas, two of which -- an English Breakfast and Afternoon tea sourced from Sri Lanka -- are produced exclusively for MSC World Europa. They're just two of the 27 different varieties of tea on offer, so sink into one of the plush chairs in the afternoon with a book or come back in the evening for some tea-infused cocktails set to the soundtrack of an accompanying pianist for an experience so subdued and classy you'll think you've been transported back to the days of the Orient Steam Navigation Company.
Then there's Masters of the Sea, a thoroughly English pub on Deck 7 that wouldn't be out of place on a Cunard liner. Three brews are produced right onboard the ship in tanks that stand two stories tall as part of the Oceanic Craft Brewery: a Pils, a Bitter and a Wheat beer. Nine beers are on tap, and 33 types can be ordered by the bottle -- including seven from Italian craft brewer Baladin that will make you think twice about ever ordering a Peroni. We hope its beer selection will make its way Stateside to replace the ubiquitous "all-Heineken, all the time" mentality that was pervasive on a recent MSC Meraviglia trip.
Right above the pub, connected by a spiral staircase reminiscent of that found in the libraries aboard Cunard's Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth is The Gin Project, a gin-themed cocktail bar that is absolutely packed every evening. The live music from the pub below wafts up through the open atrium space, making this the place to be for those who love a classic G&T made-to-order.
The Coffee Emporium on Deck 8 is a brand-new coffee concept for MSC, though the always-popular Jean-Philippe Chocolate and Café can still be found down on Deck 6. The Coffee Emporium is situated on the new World Promenade and has indoor and outdoor seating and tons of caffeinated options. And, like the Raj Polo Tea House, cookies seems to be on offer here all the time.
Other new MSC firsts include a juice bar; a molecular mixology bar called Elixir where bitters and ingredients are made right onboard; a dedicated cigar-and-scotch enclave where leather couches and swirling smoke are de rigueur; and two brand-new specialty restaurants: La Pescaderia, for fresh seafood selections; and the Chef's Garden Kitchen, an upscale venue featuring ingredients sourced from the ship's own onboard garden.
All of these new spaces break the mould when it comes to décor: gone is MSC's standard mirrors-and-marble from past vessels, replaced instead with décor that is as crisp as it is elegant -- one that effortlessly weaves from modern and futuristic to classic and cozy. Don't be surprised if you find yourself gawking at the light fixtures in one room or admiring the armchairs in the next.
But perhaps the most exciting addition is one I'm not going to tell you how to get in, or where it is -- that's part of the fun -- but I'll tell you all about.
It's a hidden speakeasy bar that's accessible by invitation only -- that does not appear on any deck plan.
I am told it seats about 70 people and is routinely packed and it's one of the most creative, fun diversions I've ever experienced on any ship.
Decorated in what could be described as 1920's speakeasy meets 1940's World War II bunker, this clever little bar boasts its own dedicated entertainment -- a trio of talented musicians on the piano, vocals and sax -- and a menu of prohibition-themed cocktails that are presented with incredible flair. Expect to order more than you think you will -- you'll want to work your way down the menu, if only to see how each drink comes to your table.
Everything about this space has been cleverly branded and thought out, right down to the speakeasy's bathroom. I have no idea who came up with this concept, or how it ended up on the finished ship, but it’s a winner. I came expecting to stay for one hour and one cocktail; instead, I found myself there four hours and four cocktails later. I have no idea when the bar closes -- when I left at one in the morning, well past my bedtime, it was still hopping.
Drink packages don't work here, but you're not going to regret the 14-18 Euros these unique beverages cost. Make it an evening and enjoy the experience -- and head to the Zest Juice Bar on Deck 8 the following morning to detox!
Our journey has us ensconced in the MSC Yacht Club aboard MSC World Europa. MSC's luxury ship-within-a-ship concept continues to grow and mature, and here aboard MSC World Europa, it offers even greater value than ever before.
First introduced aboard MSC Fantasia in 2008, the MSC Yacht Club is an exclusive area of accommodations that spans the forward parts of Decks 15 to 22 aboard MSC World Europa. And while lavish suites are definitely available -- Owner's Suite 16002 comes in at a whopping 1,119 square feet, excluding its whirlpool tub and 516-square foot balcony -- we're in an entry-level Yacht Club Deluxe balcony suite that is plenty spacious, and just one step up from the arguable best value onboard: the MSC Yacht Club Interior Suite.
Yacht Club suites of every grade get the services of a butler and concierge, who ensure you never have to stand in line for, well, anything. Butlers even escort passengers down for shore excursions. Why wait on the motorcoach when you can have a cup of coffee in the gorgeous, two-story Top Sail Lounge on Deck 19 while you wait?
The design of the Top Sail Lounge and the dedicated Yacht Club Restaurant one deck above on Deck 20 largely mimic the great design introduced aboard the Seaside-class ships, but feel even more spacious here. Beverages are inclusive here except for top-shelf varieties, and everything from the cuisine to the service to the entertainment has an air of polish and sophistication about it that would not be out of place on the likes of luxury lines like Seabourn and Silversea.
However, it's also family-friendly: we've seen families with kids and teenagers in the Yacht Club on our sailing, and no wonder: with private sun decks, outdoor dining, pools and whirlpools, multi-generational families are perfect for MSC Yacht Club -- those who want all the big-ship thrills like waterslides and bumper cars (yes, there are bumper cars onboard!) can find them.
MSC has been nothing if not creative with its ship design over the past few decades, churning out vessels that have their own unique look and feel that's wholly different from anything else in the cruise industry. MSC, however, might have struck gold with MSC World Europa in designing a big ship for thousands of people that still manages to dole out plenty of charm, fun, and even quiet -- something its previous vessels lacked.
When sister-ship MSC World America launches in 2025, North American passengers are in for a real treat. MSC World Europa pays homage to all things European; one wonders what innovations MSC has in store for the U.S. market.