Entertaining, affordable cruises for families and budget travelers.
A deep dive with MSC Cruise lines shows high-energy entertainment with musicals and themed parties, and activities for the kids like F1 simulators, 4D cinemas and waterparks. Teens can even get a debit card for onboard spending. Best of all, kids age 11 and under sail free to over 150 destinations worldwide.
But if you’re looking for unlimited cocktails, complimentary Wi-Fi and gourmet food, you may want to book with a luxury liner.
Amy Stoltenberg writes about lifestyle and money for Finder, researching the best options for shopping, banking, insurance and authentic travel experiences. After studying writing and fashion at Savannah College of Art and Design, she worked as a technical designer before opting for a career with unlimited travel time. She lives in Los Angeles. When her laptop's closed, you can find her wandering the streets looking for hole-in-the-wall eateries and daydreaming about her next great adventure.
Read a MSC Cruises review
Case study: Robin's experience
Travel Writer and Technical Virtual Assistant
Our cruise with MSC was a Mediterranean Cruise that embarked in Genoa, Italy and visited five countries in Europe and Africa.
Prior to the cruise, I had read some bad reviews. Since I planned the trip and several friends (seven of us) were cruising, I was concerned.
The ship was beautiful and the glittering stairway was stunning. There were lots of entertainment options late into the night — I loved that you could get snacks and pizza till 2 a.m. We were very happy with the cruise overall and the service.
The ports of call were all huge highlights. Every place was different, beautiful and a new adventure. Cruising with friends also made the trip extra fun.
The port I was disappointed in was Casablanca. Aside from the Hassan II Mosque, there is not much to see or do there. If I were to go again, I would head for Marrakesh the minute I got off the ship. It is an hour or so away, but has lots to see and do.
Also, the shows were good, but many were repeats just with different costumes. I enjoyed the first one, but by the third night, we were ready to skip the show.
The other disappointment was the food at the buffet. Many entrees were European and just different than I was used to.
There were a lot of smokers on this cruise and MSC did not do an adequate job of containing the smoke. To go to a show, you had to walk through the casino full of smoke.
The cruise we were on took a lot more photographs than other ships I had been on. They were snapping away almost every night. They really try to sell the pictures — the photo viewing area was crowded and not well organized. I always wait till near the end and then pick which pictures I like the best…not a good option with MSC since you had difficulty finding the pictures after a day or two.
Be aware this cruise picks up new passengers at almost every port. So there are new people getting off and on all the time.
My advice to someone considering an MSC cruise is to go for it. Have an open mind and enjoy the differences. You will have a great time!
The “MSC” in MSC Cruises stands for its parent company, Mediterranean Shipping Company — the second largest container shipping operator in the world.
Where do MSC Cruises’ ships depart from?
MSC Cruises ships mostly depart from Europe and the US, though it also has ships that sail from the Middle East and Asia.
Abu Dhabi, Ancona, Barbados, Barcelona, Bari, Brindisi, Buenos Aires, Cagliari, Cannes, Cape Town, Copenhagen, Doha, Dubai, Durban, Fort-de-France, Genoa, Hamburg, Hong Kong, Itajai, Kiel, Le Havre, Lisbon, Livorno, Malaga, Malta, Marseille, Messina, Miami, Montevideo, Naples, New York City, Palermo, Palma De Mallorca, Piraeus, Pointe A Pitre, Rio De Janeiro, Rome, Rotterdam, Salvador, Santos, Shanghai, Sion, Southampton, Tokyo, Trieste, Valencia, Venice, Warnemuende, Yokohama
MSC Cruises destinations
MSC Cruises is based in Geneva, so a majority of its cruises depart from ports in Europe and the Mediterranean — though you’ll still find plenty of exciting voyages and world tours that’ll take you to South America, the Caribbean, Oceania, Asia and the Middle East.
Africa, Arabian Gulf, Asia, Canada and New England, Caribbean, Eastern Mediterranean, Europe, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean, Middle East, Northern Europe, South America, Southern Caribbean, Transatlantic, Western Mediterranean, World Cruise
MSC Cruises is the first cruise line with “carbon neutral marine operations”
In November of 2019, MSC Cruises announced that as of January 2020, all of the CO2 emissions from its fleet will be offset by a combination of technology upgrades and Blue Carbon Resilience Credits.
What that means is, MSC Cruises has placed a priority on updating ships to have new technology that reduces the amount of CO2 it leaves behind with every sail. Its goal is to reduce emissions by 40% in 2030.
But the biggest reason MSC is able to claim “carbon neutral” status is because it purchases Blue Carbon Resilience Credits to make up for the amount of greenhouse gas it emits with every cruise. The money goes towards coastal restoration and conservation in the seas where MSC sails. So while the ships themselves aren’t carbon neutral, as a company it aims to make up for its environmental footprint by investing in the ocean’s health.
What is included in MSC Cruises?
Items included in MSC Cruises’ fare are similar to other mid-tier competitors such as Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Line.
Here’s the breakdown:
Dining — restaurant and buffet
Water and non-specialty coffee/tea
Kids and teen clubs
24/7 room service
Casino and nightclub entry
Why you should — or shouldn’t — cruise with MSC Cruises
MSC’s cruises are great for multigenerational groups looking for an affordable getaway. But it’s definitely not the luxury experience you’d get on a Viking Cruise Line or Crystal Cruises trip. Consider these drawbacks and benefits:
Kids 11 and under sail free on cruises to 150+ destinations.
Enjoy a wide variety of evening entertainment with nightclubs, discos, musicals, live music and movies.
Keep busy with activities and classes like art classes and group games.
Kick back in the onboard library.
Time your meals with flexible dining options from reservations to open seating.
Babysitters are available.
Focus on reducing carbon emissions and neutralizing environmental impact.
Gratuities aren’t included in the fare.
Drink packages for alcoholic and non-alcoholic specialty drinks can be expensive.
From $35 per day for adults, $11 per day for kids age three to 11, and $29 per day for youth age 12 to 20.
Wi-Fi can get pricey.
Packages start at $160 per cruise.
Dining choices are limited, and food in main restaurants and buffet is average
How do gratuities work on MSC Cruises?
Gratuity — or the “hotel service charge” — is automatically added to your shipboard account, and the amount you pay depends on your itinerary and departure location. Check the terms and conditions of your cruise so you can budget.
Each adult can expect to pay between $8 and $14.50 per night, with discounts for kids under 12. Kids under two are free.
A 15% service charge is added to the bill when you dine at specialty restaurant and bars.
MSC doesn’t recommend tipping staff members directly. But if you want to adjust your tip, check with the guest relations manager before you disembark.
If family time and action-packed fun are your priorities above the waves, MSC Cruises is positioned to deliver a vacation that checks all your boxes. But if you’re looking for luxury and gourmet meals, compare other options.
Traveling during COVID-19
The CDC advises postponing travel to protect yourself and your family from getting or spreading COVID-19. If you plan to travel during the pandemic, monitor the risk assessment levels for your destination when planning your trip, before departure and on arrival. Follow safety measures that include wearing a mask in public, social distancing and washing your hands. If you are diagnosed with, have symptoms of or are waiting for test results for COVID-19 — or are otherwise at risk of illness — do not attend gatherings or travel for 14 days.
Frequently asked questions
Who owns MSC Cruises?
MSC Cruises is the largest privately owned cruise in the world and is owned by Mediterranean Shipping Company — the second largest container shipping operator in the world.
What is the MSC Voyagers Club?
MSC Voyagers Club is MSC Cruises’ rewards program. It’s free to join and has five membership levels: Welcome, Classic, Silver, Gold and Diamond.
While the Welcome level offers few perks, you’ll get a 5% discount on every booking once you move up to Classic. It offers freebies like onboard credit, fresh fruit baskets, welcome cocktails, complimentary birthday cake and priority disembarkation at the end of the cruise. The more you book, the more you’ll earn.
What’s the MSC Cruises’ policy on tipping staff?
MSC Cruises recommends that you don’t tip individual staff members while aboard.
Which drinks are free on MSC cruises?
Nonspecialty drinks such as unbottled water, juice, lemonade, coffee and tea are free on MSC Cruise ships. However, drink packages are available if you’d like to sip unencumbered above the waves.
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