We’re avid cruisers and love traveling by sea. We recently sailed onboard the MSC Magnifica and felt compelled to share some of our MSC cruise travel secrets with you! MSC Cruises is completely different from the other cruise lines we’ve sailed – Royal Caribbean, Disney, Carnival, and NCL. It’s a European cruise line and, as an American, that takes some getting used to. But that’s all part of the experience!
MSC stands for Mediterranean Shipping Company and, just as the name implies, they were originally a container shipping company. In 1988, the Aponte family got into the cruising business making MSC the largest privately owned cruise company in the world. Today, MSC Cruises is the leading cruise company in the Mediterranean, South Africa and Brazil.
MSC Cruise Travel Secrets: Tips & Tricks for Sailing with MSC
Don’t over pay – The tips start even before you sail! MSC is always offering some type of deal, so you should never pay full price for a cruise. During our recent sailing, they were offering kids sail free and two for one. We’ve found MSC to be competitively priced and a good value for the money.
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Kids sail free – I mentioned this above, but it’s worth repeating. Kids 11 and under sail FREE and special rates are given to kids aged 12 – 17. You’ll only pay taxes and port charges! This helped make sailing with MSC extremely affordable for my family. Lucy sailed free and K sailed super cheap. I couldn’t feed the kids for 11 nights at home for the amount we spent for their tickets.
Choose your experience – MSC has several experiences you can purchase to enhance your cruise. Each experience provides different benefits and also dictates which staterooms are available for booking.
- The “Bella” Experience is perfect for budget savvy travelers.
- The “Fantastica” Experience offers more ideally located staterooms, free room service, and the Fantastica Drink Package.
- The “Aurea” Experience offers premium balcony stateroom or suite, free UNLIMITED drinks & more. Read our review of the Aurea experience HERE.
- The MSC Yacht Club offers all-inclusive amenities and is the top tier experience for cruisers.
- The “Wellness” Experience is a new service dedicated to health and fitness.
Take advantage of the Status Match Program – Have you achieved a status with another cruise line or hotel? MSC will offer special benefits to you with the MSC Voyagers Club card which includes a 5% discount on booking, priority boarding and more.
Arrive early – Don’t waste a minute of your vacation! I usually suggest arriving early for your cruise. Getting onboard before everyone else is a great way to explore the ship, grab a bite to eat and swim before the crowds take over. We found this especially true sailing out of Italy. Generally, Europeans aren’t known for being early. As a result, we had almost no one in line with us when we checked in around noon.
However, there were two embarkation ports for our cruise, Civitavecchia and Genoa. Since other passengers were already on board, we didn’t have the entire ship to ourselves. But there were very few people hanging about.
Once you get on the ship, don’t stop in the atrium or the first bar you happen across. On the MSC Magnifica, we came onto the ship in the Tiger Bar. There were a ton of people sitting around having drinks there. Keep going to the pool deck and you should find it to be less crowded.
Don’t miss our article on the MSC Area Experience!
Beware of the upsell – One of the most frustrating things about MSC is the constant bombardment of crew members trying to sell drink packages, photo’s and excursions. They have enticed you onboard with the attractive cruise fare, now they need to make that money up. While other cruise lines do try to sell extras, I found MSC to be the most harassing. Even the photographers didn’t want to take no for an answer when we (and other cruisers) declined having our photo taken.
Watch for sales – Every evening your cruise program will include a sheet with the daily specials. If you’re considering a spa treatment, you may want to wait to see what is offered during the cruise. Some services were discounted up to 30% Bali massage, manicure, haircut, color and set were some of the common spa discounts we saw on our recent sailing.
You’ll also find photography, laundry, cocktail and shopping discounts as well as excursion bundle discounts. While many of these offers didn’t make me want to part with my cash, it pays to wait for sales before making a purchase.
Mediterranean style cruising – MSC is a European cruise line with a strong Italian influence, therefore things are a bit different compared to other cruise lines we’ve sailed with. The food and entertainment is European inspired. Cruisers will notice more traditional Mediterranean dishes and shows featuring opera singers & ballet.
However, if sailing in the Caribbean or South America, you should notice the cruise tailored more toward American tastes and expectations. The currency on board will also be in USD instead of Euros.
They speak your language – There are six official languages on board MSC – English, Italian, German, French, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese. Announcements are made in several languages, English usually first followed by Italian. Don’t let this deter you! It makes for an interesting cruise and all the staff we encountered spoke English. Some crew members spoke 2 – 5 languages! Makes me feel quite inadequate my little bit of French….
Nationalities galore – Especially if sailing out of Europe, you’ll notice a wide range of nationalities onboard, but mostly Italian, French and Spanish. However, we did encounter Germans, Austrians, British, a few Americans and more. Interestingly, a lot of the kids in the teens club were from South America.
Variety of beverage packages available to suite all budgets – Save money by purchasing a beverage package. You can purchase packages with drink vouchers or all inclusive packages which include alcohol, soda, bottled water, coffee, ice cream and more. See the list of packages to choose what’s best for you.
You are no longer allowed to bring wine on during embarkation. No alcoholic beverages can be taken onboard the ship. If you purchase alcohol while in port, it will be held and given back to you prior to disembarkation.
Stay connected while sailing – MSC offers a variety of internet packages to help you stay connected during your cruise. You can choose from social or email and social to a set amount of web data per cruise. Just ensure you turn off the connection or better yet, go into airplane mode after you login. You don’t want those background apps running and eating through your data allowance!
Link a credit card to your cruise card for easy payment – After boarding your cruise, head to the kiosk (Cruise Card Activation Point) to link your credit card, debit card or prepaid card for all onboard expenses including gratuities. Linking a credit card is the easiest method of payment. A hold of 250€ will be placed on your credit card for initial purchases.
Having to use the kiosk to link my sea card with a card card was a different experience. I’m used to this being done when we check-in at the terminal. It didn’t take much time, but it was something else I had to do. Another step before my vacation could really begin.
If you pay by credit card, your account will automatically be closed at the end of the cruise. You won’t need to go to Reception – Guest Services or worry about settling your final bill.
If you paid by debit card or a prepaid card, any amount debited to your card that is not spent during your cruise will be reimbursed in cash at Guest Services on the final morning before disembarkation. This means you will have to wait in line for reimbursement.
A cash deposit is also accepted at Guest Services. However, you will need to keep an eye on your balance. Once you’ve met your deposit you’ll need to return to Guest Services to add more cash to your account. You will also be required to visit Guest Services on the final morning before disembarkation for a refund of the cash you didn’t spend.
Also, ensure you check your statement delivered to your stateroom on the last night of the cruise. We saw people turned away while trying to disembark because their account was not settled.
Look for the 4D experience on the kids club schedule – A few times during our cruise, the kids could visit the 4D Cinema with the kids club for FREE. They both had a blast and it saved us money!
Get the Teen Card – If you’re allowing your kids spend money during the cruise, get a teens card to set a spending limit plus get a bonus credit. Purchase a 35€ card for only 30€ or a 60€ card for only 50€. Kids can also make charges on their sea card.
Tipping – I found the auto-gratuity on MSC interesting. The gratuity amount and currency varies by destination. Caribbean cruises have the highest gratuity rate which is still slightly less than some of the other major cruise lines. Children pay less gratuity than adults. During our European cruise we paid 9€ per day per adult and 4.5€ per day per child. A 15% gratuity is automatically added for bar and spa services.
Grab a ship map from reception – To help navigate the ship, you can pick up a map from the reception area. You’ll also find ship diagrams near all the elevators.
Insert your keycard to turn on the lights – This isn’t the first ship we’ve sailed where you need to insert a card to turn on the lights, but it’s worth mentioning for first time cruisers. Other membership type cards from your wallet will also work. Since we are a family of 4, we tend to have a lot of electronics. If you don’t have a key card in the slot, nothing will charge while you are away. On MSC, the bathroom light still worked, but I don’t remember this occurring on other cruise lines.
Ask for a washcloth – Just like most European hotels, washcloths aren’t provided in your stateroom. Since we are used to this in Europe, we always travel with baby washcloths (they dry super fast and take up almost no luggage space). However, you can ask your room steward for a “facecloth” and they will be delivered to your room.
Eat gelato and drink coffee – Take advantage of the Italian influence and indulge in Venchi gelato and Segafredo coffee. Seriously, I can’t even count the number of cappuccino’s I consumed during the cruise. I was transported back to the little Italians cafes I love so much with each sip.
Smoking *sigh* – Not so much of a tip as a warning. Smoking is prevalent onboard the ship. They are catering to European clientele, after all. As a nonsmoker, this aspect of our European cruise bothered me the most. Smoking is permitted in the casino, the Cigar Lounge and one side of the pool deck. The inside smoking areas are the worst and didn’t have proper ventilation. Going anywhere near the casino was horrible in the evenings. We learned to bypass that area quickly.
Where’s the queue? People don’t tend to queue on the ship. The Americans and British seemed to be driven crazy by this. It was even one of the top complaints we read prior to cruising. You just have to learn to deal with it and don’t wait around for others trying to be polite. Go with the flow and move along or you will end up last and aggravated every time. You’re on vacation. Relax, breathe and enjoy.
Bonus Tip – I highly suggest bringing a lanyard for your kids cruise card. You can get them with various characters to make it more fun. Lanyards are also common for adults as well. An MSC lanyard can be purchased on the ship for 4€ and a jeweled lanyard is priced at 9.90€. Personally, I don’t like the cruise line specific lanyards. I prefer having a generic lanyard that can be used for all cruise lines.
Overall, we enjoyed sailing with MSC. It was a good experience for the kids, a great value for the money and our ports of call were perfect. While I can’t say it’s my favorite cruise line, it’s definitely worth cruising if you’re in Europe.
What other MSC Cruise travel secrets do you suggest? Do you have any favorite MSC cruising tips?