Updated: Aug 8
Norway is a destination I always wished to visit. Following my past travels to Antarctica and Alaska, I knew that seeing the Norwegian fjords is something I would have to do at sea, rather than taking a road trip.
I spent hours researching the right itinerary and ship to make it happen. The one that caught my eye was Celebrity Cruises, as I remember the unforgettable experience I had the first time I sailed with them in 2022. However, when looking at sailings based on my availability, I only found a sailing that would be longer than 10 days, which would be impossible with my tight work schedule. So I opted for MSC Cruises.
Despite having heard several mixed reviews about MSC, I decided to go forth with it (though I had my doubts it'd be any good). Two friends of mine had recently sailed with them on a cruise to the Caribbean, so I asked them for their feedback before confirming my booking. Both had positives more than negatives so once I got that green light, I checked the flights and offers available at the last minute (keep in mind I booked this very very late, only 2-3 weeks before!) and it happened to be the only option that would allow me to pay less than $1,000 for a week (not including flights). It also turned out that the ship is brand new (less than a month old) and that motivated me even more to give it a try.
After spending a week on MSC Euribia though, I concluded the following:
1. Less is more
Personally, I didn't enjoy my first time on MSC, as much as I had enjoyed my first time at sea on other cruise lines; the best of the best being Windstar Cruises and Celebrity Cruises. However, keeping in mind that those two cruise lines are also categorized as more luxurious than MSC, it makes sense why the experience was different. When comparing it to my experience with Holland America (which to be honest, wasn't even that great either), I still found Holland America to be better than MSC in different aspects. One is the crowd.
One morning, I spent at least 45 minutes circling around the buffet area to find an empty table. There was sensory overload in the restaurant (the noise adds up with the crowd). I could feel it to the point that I couldn't handle it, so I left, and at that point, I no longer had an appetite. The crowds can get very hard to handle, especially when there are thousands and thousands of people surrounding you. But unfortunately, it wasn't just that one time. Many times, when it came to exiting at the port, there was an issue of crowd control. Long lineups to go through security checkpoints to exit/enter the ship. Despite the gangway being on the 4th floor, the lineup even went up to the 6th. On Celebrity Cruises, we were over 1,000 passengers on board, yet I have never had such an experience.
For the crowd alone, I wouldn't come back on such a big ship. Wait times at the fine dining restaurant made the experience feel as if I was at a "slow dining" restaurant. One day, the couple sitting next to me actually left following their main course, as it was taking too long for their dessert to arrive. When the waiter came with my dessert, 10-15 minutes later, he was shocked to see that the couple had left and I explained that they said it was because it was taking too long. This happened during lunchtime, which is not even as busy as dinner. I didn't feel that they were understaffed, as there were so many staff around, but the service was extremely slow.
2. Repetition is noticeable
I was told that the entertainment is not the greatest. When I came to the same conclusion, it was no surprise to me as I had already been warned. Though they do pack a good mix of activities throughout the day, the nightly performances are very similar and it's quite noticeable. For example, on the first night, the show had already covered Adele, but by the third day, they had an entire show dedicated to Adele's songs. Another example is the act itself, with the acrobats and dance moves, which I found similar. I wasn't particularly impressed by any of the shows and none really left me with a "WOW" factor. It was just a show that I'd see once and probably not remember again. With other cruise lines, such as Celebrity, for example, I still remember some parts of the shows, despite it being more than a year ago.
MSC also organized a good mix of different types of dance classes (none of which I actually attended), but I also found that they also offered a mix of activities, such as visual trivia and ring toss. They also had a nightly-themed party, such as their popular white party and a tropical party (again, none of which I decided to attend, but it was nice to see many people on the theme and dressed for the occasion). I would love to see similar events to other cruise lines that allow you to network and meet more people. For example, I've seen solo travelers meet up on other ships or meetups for people in the same age group. I noticed that since most of the people traveling on MSC were with family members, perhaps those events wouldn't work as well, though it was harder to interact and make friends with other people on board, because of the amount of people and type of travelers.
3. Friendliness creates memories
I think one of my most memorable times from past sailings was the staff I met on board. With Windstar Cruises, I actually felt very sad to say goodbye to the crew members because they became like family and close friends. They knew our names, we had conversations and we would see the same people every single day when we go to eat, out on the port, etc. It was similar with Celebrity Cruises as well, where I felt that the staff actually made an effort to be very friendly and welcoming, while also remaining professional. However, with MSC, I found the opposite. Despite coming across a few friendly staff members and seeing the same people every day, I never got to know any of their names or didn't find that they wanted to talk. They were serious, and just here to do their job and that's it. What I appreciated was the professionalism of the lifeguard when one guest was making comments about my modest swimwear. However, I didn't like a particular staff member making it clear that they didn't like the presence of certain groups of people around them. She was the security officer welcoming/scanning people back on board and you can see her tone of voice changing and/or her greeting a specific kind of people in a different way.
4. You get what you paid for
Compared to other cruise lines I have researched (with the exception of Carnival), I found MSC Cruises to offer a cheaper price for their sailings. Though I could say that sometimes when you go cheaper, you pay the price for it - I don't necessarily feel that it could always be the case. My experience on Atlas Ocean Voyages cost me over $3,000 but there were still a few things that went wrong. A higher price doesn't necessarily mean perfection, but there are still expectations set.
When it came to food and overall experience, I didn't feel that I got my money's worth. The food wasn't that great, it was just OK. I even got stale bread for lunch on one of the days. There are also many things not included, which meant that if you wanted to add on more, you would need to spend more. As I don't drink alcohol (and I am not fond of soft drinks either), I was OK with the basic package. I was shocked to see that it was only coffee/tea and/or water included though (with the exception of juice being available during breakfast time only) since I thought that juice would at least be included the rest of the day as well.
5. Where am I?
I do admit that MSC's newest ship, Euribia, is beautiful. Where am I exactly when I am inside? Well, it can get a bit confusing as the layout of the ship is not very consistent. There is a different design and feeling all over, so while I walk through the Galleria, I felt like I had stepped into a mall, but when I went on the deck with the waterpark, I felt like I was at a resort. At the Sportsplex, it felt more like an arcade. The lounges were very nice though and I quite enjoyed that. On other ships, despite having different themes around, I didn't feel that I was out of place, but on Euribia, I did.
There's a lot more I could say about my first impression of MSC Cruises. The one thing that stood out for me (and really annoyed me) was the amount of announcements repeated at least 2-3 times, in more than 3 languages. When the announcements last longer than 15 minutes, it can get quite annoying, especially when a passenger is trying to rest.
I wouldn't say that based on the experience I had, I would go back to MSC - because, I probably would not. It would never be a first choice and I would much rather pick something else.
Is this a place suitable for families though? Most definitely. Did I like that they had a status match program? Absolutely, as I was able to be upgraded to a Gold member. Did I find the room comfortable? Yes, as it was quite spacious, though the washrooms were a bit tight. Was the food worth it? Not at all - the taste was lacking flavor, and the items would be similar at different buffet times (it looked to me that they reused a lot of the food, which I was a bit worried about since it could cause food poisoning). However, I did like the fresh mozzarella station that they had (where you can see them make it!) Were they organized? I wouldn't say so. Was it worth saving hundreds of dollars on the fare? I'll let you decide...
Which cruise lines have you sailed with (and loved)?
Let me know what I should consider next!