The discussion of which cruise line is the best is a highly subjective matter. From price to amenities, there are a host of reasons why a traveler might choose one cruise line over another.
In this article, we’re going to show you why we think MSC might just be the best cruise line sailing. And if you think we’re going to say it’s because they embed Swarovski crystals into the staircases of their atriums, you’d be wrong (although that helps).
In fact, our reasons for coming to this conclusion about MSC Cruises don’t focus on the usual cruise talking points of cabins, the buffet and entertainment (although we will definitely be talking about the shows on MSC cruises in a bit). As you’ll see, MSC is unlike just about every cruise line out there. And for reasons most other cruise lines don’t even come close to matching.
For example, do you enjoy eco-vacations? Do you want to see your cruise line take the same interest in being eco-friendly? Are you bored of the live entertainment on cruise ships? What if you could see a different show every night, even on a 7-day cruise? And what if some of them were from the same production company that produces some of the most popular shows on the Vegas Strip? How about a private island where you and your family can actually learn something and still get wet?
Well, buckle up. We’re about to lay out how MSC Cruises hits on all these points. And why you should at the very least investigate this cruise line. From our review, you might think that MSC is sponsoring this post. They are not. However, we’re not opposed to hearing from them should they be so inclined.
Let’s get started from the beginning.
MSC Cruises Beginnings
MSC Cruise Line might not be a familiar name if you live in North America. With Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Princess Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line dominating the voyages to the Caribbean and Bahamas, it’s understandable why it doesn’t ring a bell. And yet MSC stands apart in very significant ways.
First, they are privately held. Of the major cruise lines sailing out of the United States, it is the only privately owned company. That means they can do things that the others can’t. More on that in a bit. What we’d like to do right now, is give you a bit of their history to put into context why MSC is where it is today.
MSC is owned by a single family that has been in the sailing business since the 17th century. Their foray into the cruising industry didn’t happen until much later.
In 1970, Gianluigi Aponte, himself a seaman and former bank teller, purchased a cargo ship named Patricia. He made another cargo ship purchase in 1971. And hence, the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) was born.
By 1988, MSC was ready to jump into the cruising side of sailing. They purchased Lauro Cruise Line and made it a subsidiary of MSC Group.
Once the 21st century hit, things really began heating up. In 2003 the company invested $5.5 billion to build 4 Lirica class ships, 4 Musica class ships and 4 Fantasia class ships. In 2014, MSC began Phase 1 of an initiative to modernize their fleet.
This would involve building up to 7 new ships and enlarging 4 existing ships. By 2016, the budget increased to $9 billion to build an additional 4 ships. These new ships will be propelled by next-generation LNG (liquefied natural gas) engines.
Adding it all up, between 2017 and 2026, MSC will have a fleet of 11 new, next-generation ships coming into service.
Cruise ships have made headlines because of violating environmental laws designed to protect the environment.
In the summer of 2019, Carnival Corporation was found guilty of pollution and probation violations landing them a fine of $20 million. According to the website EcoBnB.com, even if a typical cruise line doesn’t engage in practices similar to Carnival Corporation, most ships release a high amount of sulfur by using diesel engines to power the vessels.
How does MSC fare in this discussion?
Remember those new ships MSC is building powered by LNG (liquefied natural gas)? They’re building 11 of them.
What that means is when all 11 of those ships are sailing, MSC will be in a position to retire the older diesel burning ships in the fleet.
We’re not trying to imply that only MSC is focused on building ships that run on LNG. In fact, most new ships being built by cruise lines will use LNG. Carnival Mardi Gras, Princess Cruises Enchanted Princess and ships from other cruise lines will also be powered by LNG. What we are implying is that this private, relatively small cruise company is taking greater steps than their corporate competition to reduce sulfur emissions in its fleet.
Recognition By Environmental Organizations
Most companies like to praise themselves for the steps they are taking to help the environment. Sometimes it’s legitimate. Other times they’re riding the hype in order to deceive the unsuspecting.
So when industry recognized organizations say a company is measuring up, it’s worth giving it some attention.
In 2008, MSC Cruise Line became the very first cruise company to be awarded 6 Golden Pearls for outstanding standards in environmental protection, health & safety, and food safety by the Bureau Veritas. Continuing to show their commitment to the environment, they won the Golden Pearls again in 2013. Except they got 7 Golden Pearls this time.
There are other steps they’ve taken to become environmentally friendly. From recycling aluminum, plastics and glass to using organic and biodegradable detergents, MSC is demonstrating they take their environmental responsibility seriously.
Check out this video to see the other things they are doing that won them the 6 Golden Pearls award.
Eco-friendly Sustainable Shore Excursions
Most shore excursions on a typical cruise involve getting on a bus, being driven to your destination and returning on that same bus. It’s normal, but not necessarily friendly to the environment. MSC Cruises has an option in addition to traditional shore excursions.
They call it PROTECTOURS. As implied in the name, these tours help protect the environment. How so? Well, 70% of these tours involve activities with zero environmental impact, including walking, cycling or kayaking. Other PROTECTOURS involve making a direct contribution to the environment like tree planting or beach cleaning.
If you’re looking for an excursion that helps the environment and can even provide some education, make sure to book a PROTECTOUR as part of your cruise package.
A Private Island Like No Other
Private islands are a big deal for cruise companies. It gives them a port they can go to without having to pay port taxes and fees. So, a 3- or 4-day cruise with a stop to a private island cost them less than stopping at a populated island.
It’s also a place for them to make additional revenue. Because they own everything on the island, anything like food & drink (if it’s not being provided complimentary) as well as rental equipment is profit for the cruise line. And unlike a stop to a populated island, all the money stays with the cruise line instead of being diluted among the restaurants and shops at a typical port of call.
Eco-friendly Private Island
MSC is all-in with protecting the environment with the way they operate their ships. This same philosophy carries over to Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve Bahamas. For starters, the 64 square miles of water surrounding Ocean Cay is a protected marine reserve. That means restrictions on commercial fishing and aragonite mining. That’s a big change considering that the island was an industrial sand excavation site prior to MSC’s involvement.
As of the time of this writing, MSC is in the process of completing the details of the island. But it’s ready to visit right now. And when it comes to being eco-friendly, they’re checking all the boxes. I’ll let you be the judge:
- 400 coral colonies relocated
- 95% of planted species are native Caribbean
- 5,000 trees and palms planted
- Solar farm with the capability of producing 600kW of electricity & 150kW of storage (for evenings and when the ‘sun don’t shine’)
- LED lighting with smart grid
It costs a lot of money to implement these eco-friendly details. For this island, the bill is to the tune of $200 million. Of course, all that money didn’t go into environment development. But consider this: Why is it that so many companies and governments (not all of course, such as Germany) are slow to adopt environmentally friendly standards? It usually comes down to cost. Specifically, return on investment. The thinking is that it will take too long to reclaim the money spent on environmental development to pay for itself.
But let’s not kid ourselves. MSC Cruises is a business. And they’re in business to make money. The investment in environmental development on this island is to get travelers to book cruises to visit Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve Bahamas. So, what else is there about this island that should make an eco-vacationer put it on their travel destination list?
Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve Conservation Center
With all the effort expended to relocate coral colonies, plant trees and other vegetation, it presents an opportunity to study. So MSC is doing something truly unique among private islands owned by cruise lines.
The Conservation Center on the island is not just something cruisers will be interested in visiting. It is a genuine research facility. MSC is partnering with universities and local environmental NGOs with a specific goal of getting students to participate in coral relocation efforts. And let’s face it, getting university credits on a Bahamian island isn’t the worst way to get an education.
The Conservation Center on Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve is another demonstration of MSC’s commitment to the environment. Drawing biologists, coral reef experts and students to the Conservation Center is something truly unique from a cruise line. MSC isn’t just donating tax deductible dollars to ‘fund’ coral reef research; they’ve expended the money to build it and maintain it.
Time to Have Fun
Unless you are a biologist or a marine studies student, you’re probably going to visit this island by taking a cruise. It is, after all, a cruise line private island. Therefore, you’d expect to be able to do vacation type stuff once you pull up to the pier.
Did we forget to mention that? Yeah, unlike some cruise line private islands where the only way to the island from the ship is a tender, MSC ships pull right up to the dock. So you can get on and off the ship as often as you like. To make things even better, most sailings arrive around 7AM and don’t leave until midnight.
One of the reasons ships stopping at Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve Bahamas leave so late is to allow guests to enjoy viewing the night sky in beautiful surroundings. It’s a great experience doing it with the naked eye. Seeing the stars with state-of-the-art computerized tracking telescopes away from the bright lights of populated areas is even better. This excursion will give you an education on the Solar System exploring star clusters, nebulas, and galaxies. And just to make sure you’re relaxed while you learn, guests booking this excursion can be educated while sipping complementary drinks.
Sunset Champagne Cruise
Sunsets are awesome. They are my favorite time of the day. If you share this sentiment, you will want to make a reservation for the Sunset Champagne Cruise. You’ll take a romantic boat cruise along Bimini Island. As the warm orange glow blankets the sky above, you’ll be greeted by dolphins and other marine life in the water below. The unlimited wine and champagne will make this romantic boat ride even more memorable.
Honeymoon Harbor Stingray Adventure
If you’re been to an aquarium, you’ve likely noticed stingrays gliding effortlessly through the water. That’s cool. But what if you could interact with them in their environment? The Honeymoon Harbor Stingray Adventure will let you do just that. Wade into the water and watch the stingrays come up to you. If you’d rather sit in a boat and enjoy the stingrays, you can do that too. This excursion is open to guests as young as 4 years old.
Glow Nighttime Stand Up Paddle Boarding
We told you at the outset that this private island is unique among cruise line private islands. This is one of those distinctions.
Can you visualize yourself standing on a paddle board, LED lights glowing in the water? Small fish and other sea creatures gather under the light to investigate this phenomenon. This is an excursion unlike what you’ll find on any other cruise line private island. Simply because most cruise ships are on their way to another destination at the time you’d be paddle boarding.
While I haven’t done it, it sounds like an extremely cool experience. If you’re into paddle boarding, this is an excursion you will want to take part in.
Ocean Cay Rum Rendezvous
Picture yourself on a double-decker power catamaran. As the pristine waters ebb and flow around you, your skin is bathed in the warm Bahamian sun. Your complementary MSC signature cocktail – the ‘Ocean Cay Sway’ – enhances the relaxation factor.
As your catamaran gets closer to the shore of Bahama Banks, you hear the sound of festive music. Upon exiting your boat, you’re given your choice of complimentary rum or fruit punch. This is, after all, called the “Rum” Rendezvous.
Sunset Beach Picnic
Ships docking at Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve will remain there for a full day. Not 8 hours. A FULL day, well into the evening. That gives vacationers plenty of time to engage in water sports, beachside star gazing, glow standup nighttime paddle boarding and more.
Perhaps in-between those activities, you’d like to slow it down. You know, sit back and soak in the beauty and serenity of your surroundings. If this sounds enticing, make sure to reserve an excursion for the Sunset Beach Picnic.
You’ll be whisked away to a secluded area on the beach, the mood set with electric candles and a picnic basket filled with items of your choice. A bottle of prosecco or wine finished by dessert caps off this romantic excursion with that special someone.
There’s Even More to Do?
These are just some of the excursions you can plan for when visiting Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve. In addition to all that we’ve discussed so far, there are the usual splash park type things one would expect on a private island. Here are the remainder of activities you can enjoy on this private island:
- Marine Reserve Snorkel Safari
- Ocean Cay Bahama Bank Escape
- Two Tank Scuba Dive
- Ocean Cay Deep Sea Fishing (Catch, Tag and Release)
- Shipwreck Snorkeling & Secluded Getaway
- Kayak Explorer Tour
- Bahamian Cooking & Cocktails Class: A Martha Stweart Tour
- The Spa at Ocean Cay
Life Onboard an MSC Ship
There are tons of YouTube videos showing you around various MSC ships. They’ll show you the pool areas, specialty restaurants, deck-by-deck tours – the whole nine yards. So we won’t bore you with the same rehashing.
Instead, let’s focus on some of the more unique aspects of life onboard an MSC cruise ship. Beginning with the entertainment.
Entertainment on an MSC Cruise Ship
You may have heard stories about entertainment on an MSC cruise ship. Assessments ranged from boring to, well, boring. You see, when cruisers think of cruise entertainment, it’s in terms of spectacle, modern music, big production value. MSC Cruises were not that.
MSC has changed since then. Many shows featured opera. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with opera, it’s not something typical cruisers want to see on vacation. Because MSC has been making an effort to increase its presence cruising to the Caribbean, they’ve modified the entertainment to align more with the types of entertainment on other cruise lines traveling to the Caribbean.
Cirque Du Soleil
If you want to find entertainment that’s as far removed from opera as possible, perhaps the universal answer would be Cirque Du Soleil. If you’ve ever been to Las Vegas and attended a Cirque Du Soleil performance, you know the spectacle, music and big production value Cirque Du Soleil brings to their shows.
You can now experience that same quality and awe-inspiring entertainment at sea on board MSC Cruise ships. While not yet available on every ship in the fleet, these shows can be seen on the MSC ships Grandiosa, Bellissima, and Meraviglia – basically all Meraviglia class ships (as of the time of this writing, the 4th Meraviglia class ship hasn’t been determined).
Here’s what you can expect on each ship:
MSC Grandiosa – Extendricks & Cosmos
- Exentricks – An eccentric show that “dares you to embrace your eccentric side”. This is an interactive show. So don’t be surprised if you are invited to be part of the performance.
- Cosmos – “Takes you on a soul-stirring voyage across the galaxy along with a brave cosmonaut on a quest for self-discovery.”
MSC Bellissima – Syma & Varelia
- Syma – “Takes you on the epic journey of a young sailor, brimming with imagination. On this bold expedition, he braves the elements, plunges into waters and discovers the mysterious island of his dreams, populated by surreal, and colorful creatures.” This show is a visual feast for the eyes with bioluminescent lighting to make you feel like you’re in the water.
- Varelia – “Puts a futuristic twist on a traditional medieval tale. It traces the arduous course of an unconventional courtship between a princess with distinctive violet skin and a charming hero who is blind.” This performance has a pre-show and you can even turn it into dinner and a show.
MSC Meraviglia – Sonar & Viaggio
- Sonar – As the name implies, expect your auditory receptors to be on heightened alert as the ‘astonishing sounds, bold music and immersive projections…culminate in a grand finale for the senses’.
- Viaggio – “Is the story of a passionate and eccentric artist who hears the call of his Faceless Muse. Mysterious and seductive, she beckons him into the vivid world of his unbridled imagination to complete his masterpiece…. Majestic acts transform the theatre into a living canvas. Before our very eyes, a very masterpiece comes to life.” Viaggio can also be enjoyed as a dinner and a show.
Broadway On the Sea
At the outset, remember we said that onbaord MSC cruises, you can see a different show every night, even on a 7-day cruise? It’s true. And this doesn’t include the Cirque Du Soleil shows we just discussed. These are Broadway quality shows. And to keep things interesting, the performers come from all over the world, including:
Every cruise ship has activities onboard to keep the passengers busy, especially on sea days. With highlighter in hand, experienced cruisers diligently examine the daily planner to see what activities to engage in, particularly on sea days.
On MSC ships, the onboard activities are similar to what’s available on most cruise ships. There are also some that may be unique to MSC. For the active person, there are sports tournaments including basketball, soccer, mini bowling, mini golf, table football, table tennis, tennis, and volleyball.
Want to do your best Fed Astaire impression? Professional dance classes are offered. If you’re sailing during Oktoberfest, you can still engage in the festivities with Bavarian flair – including decorations, costumes, games, music and beer.
More Things That Make MSC Different
As you probably have deduced, MSC Cruises isn’t your typical cruise line. From their focus on protecting the environment to have Cirque Du Soleil at sea, MSC is a little different than most cruise lines. They’re serious about getting your business. So serious, they’re even willing to match rewards points.
Matching Rewards Program
Most cruisers have a loyalty program with another cruise line. Even more, those individuals likely have hotel rewards programs, possibly from multiple hotel chains.
For example, let’s say you’re a member of Starwood Preferred Guest program or even Best Western Rewards. Likely you have a rewards program you feel is best. Whatever level you are with those rewards programs, MSC will match your level with their corresponding level on your cruise.
Remember, this doesn’t just apply to hotel chains. It also goes for competing cruise lines and tour operators. Such as Carnival Cruise Line’s VIFP (Very Important Fun Person) Rewards Program or Norwegian Cruise Line’s Latitudes Rewards Program. You also get a 5% discount on any cruise. Not to mention a bunch of freebies thrown in. If you want to enroll in MSC’s Status Match Program, make sure to sign up no less than 14 days before your sail away date.
Post Office Services
Most cruise ships, particularly those on Carnival Cruise Line, offer post office services. But it’s just for sending postcards back home to family and friends to show them how awesome a time you’re having on vacation.
MSC Cruise’s post office service is different. It’s a “real” post office service. MSC will “send any gifts and mail” to whomever you’d like. Not just postcards. It isn’t free, of course. The shipping charges will be billed to your stateroom. But at least you’ll be able to send back those souvenirs before you leave instead of figuring how to stuff them into your luggage the night before disembarkation.
Book Your MSC Cruise
If you’ve made it this far and you’re an experienced cruiser, you now see why we are excited about featuring MSC Cruise Lines. They offer a host of eco-friendly features for guests and they demonstrate a commitment to the environment in the way they operate.
Once you’re ready to get onboard an MSC Cruise, check out J’s Dream Travel’s exclusive packages. For MSC, we’ve arranged packages that will get you a Cirque Du Soleil show with dinner, compliments of J’s Dream Travel.
What do you think about MSC’s environmental efforts? Do you think it’s genuine? Are they just doing it to get more people to spend money with them? Or is it simply a publicity stunt? Share your thoughts in the comments below about MSC or even the environment impact of cruising in general. We may even feature your idea in a future post.