Though MSC was founded in Italy in 1990, it is new to the North American
cruising public. Costa Cruises, another Italy-based cruise line that markets its
ships to America, has already proven that it can be done successfully. But, do
we really need another cruise line offering "Cruising, Italian style" to the
American audience? Why not? There are enough differences between the two lines.
MSC Cruises is known for somewhat more subdued ships, with classic ship
interiors of brass, glass and marble. Costa, on the other hand, owned and
closely managed by parent company Carnival Corp. has ships that are identical to
Carnival ships in structure; and interior decor that is equally fanciful. This
is not to say either is better, it merely implies that if you prefer Carnival,
you might choose Costa, whereas if you prefer Princess (for example) you might
choose MSC Cruises. For the record, MSC is an independent cruise line, not under
the umbrella of any U.S.-based corporation. Also for the record, Costa has been
marketing its line to Americans for over a decade now, whereas MSC started in
The first step MSC took in establishing credibility in the U.S. was to hire
the highly respected Rich Sasso, former president of Celebrity Cruises, to head
up the marketing and operations for MSC cruises in North America. His first step
was to re-purpose two existing MSC ships to handle the English-speaking market.
Phase two is embark upon a rapid expansion plan to offer even more of the MSC
fleet to North Americans.
From the U.S. Operations office established in Ft Lauderdale, the company now
offers a selection of winter Caribbean voyages that are finding their way into
the hearts of American bargain hunters. Indeed, with beautiful, modern ships
offering discounts to the same itineraries as the more well-known brands,
depending on what you expect out of a cruise, you just might find the right
ticket on MSC Cruises.
MSC Cruises added the MSC Armonia to its fleet in spring of 2004 and the new
MSC Opera debuted in June 2004. The line purchased the MSC Sinfonia in July
2004, which began cruising in March 2005. Two The first Panamax vessel, MSC
Musica, debuted last spring, and two more 2,600-passenger Panamax ships are on
order, MSC Orchestra will sail out in 2007 and MSC Poesia in 2008. The line has
an option to build a fourth Panamax ship and has also contracted for two post-Panamax
ships, the MSC Fantasia and MSC Serenata.
Regarding your expectations; these ships are still marketed primarily to
Europeans, so the same caveats we offer for Costa apply where MSC is concerned.
Especially in Europe, English will not be the first language on board, or even
the second or third. You will get your menus and daily programs in English, but
communication with real people, your waiters, room stewards, and tour guides,
for example, can be a challenge.
In the Caribbean, English will be the primary language spoken on board, with
a smattering of Spanish. However, there will still be an unmistakable Italian
influence on everything, especially the cuisine. So, if you are able to deal
with a little inconvenience, and understand that things like trivia games just
aren't going to be the same, you will have a fine cruise. But if you want your
entire vacation to go smooth as silk and for the staff to be with you every step
of the way, then you may be expecting a little too much.
The MSC Experience:
Unlike Costa, MSC offers a bona fide Italian cruise experience suitable only for
the sort of American who, in a foreign country, is never heard to demand, "But
how much is that in real money?" The good news is that this is a classy, low-key
cruise line where announcements are kept to a minimum and you won't feel nickel
and dimed on board. And you can look forward to being served exquisite Italian
cuisine by Italian waiters at every meal.
While the dining room has a no-smoking policy, so many Europeans still smoke
(albeit in the areas where it is allowed) that some rooms get inundated, and
even some non-smoking rooms can become affected. Cabins are smallish, but
On Caribbean itineraries, expect about 70 percent of your fellow passengers to
be American, the remainder European or South American. The 11-night cruises
attract passengers over 65. Lower-priced one-week cruises attract younger
passengers and more families.
Taking the Kids:
MSC caters to families, with plenty of family suites and supervised activities
three times a day for kids three to eight in dedicated children's play areas.
There is a kids' menu in the dining room.
Theme Cruises & Special Events:
MSC has several musical and baseball theme cruises aboard Opera and Lirica.
In the Caribbean, a daily gratuity of $12 for cabin attendants, bellboys and
wait staff is automatically added to the onboard account of everybody but
children under 18 sharing with two adults; they must pay only $6. The amount can
be adjusted at the front desk.
A gratuity for bar staff is already included in the price of drinks. Spa and
casino staff may be tipped in cash at the passenger's sole discretion. In the
Caribbean, the staff reflexively extend their palms around North Americans.
In Europe, tips, as custom dictates, are presented to service personnel on
the last night of the cruise. Guidelines are $3.50 to $5.00 per person per day
for the waiter and stateroom attendant and $1.00 - $2.00 per day for the maitre
d'. Children under 12 pay half the recommended amount. Here too, the gratuity
for bar service personnel is included in the price of the drink.