The Italian cruise line MSC are to homeport one of their ships in Southampton this year. The 95,128 tonne, 964 feet long MSC Magnifica was built for the line in 2010 and was the last of the Musica class to be built. She has 13 decks and a maximum passenger capacity of 2550 (lower berths), served by 1,038 crew.
MSC have tweaked their product offering for the homeporting from Southampton, in order to please the British cruisers tastes, with offerings such as roast dinners, comedians, afternoon tea and even kettles in cabins. Yorkshire tea was also chosen in a public poll that was run in 2017. A British cruise director will also be onboard.
I take part in several cruise forums around the Web and groups on Facebook, and being a seasoned MSC cruiser, and quite frankly addicted to the product, I’ve understandably seen several queries from cruisers new to MSC, so, the idea of this blog post came from asking a group of cruisers what questions they have about MSC, and to try and answer them as best as I can from my experience and knowledge of the line.
David asked ‘how about making people aware of the MSC Voyagers Club’
The MSC Voyager’s Club is MSC’s loyalty scheme. Points are collected based on cruises taken and are earned through a combination of the length of the cruise, the experience booked and onboard spend. There are several different levels to the scheme, from Classic to Black, which is the highest level. At each level you get increasingly more perks for your loyalty. The MSC Cruises UK website has a really handy table, which can be accessed via the following link – https://www.msccruises.co.uk/en-gb/MSC-Voyagers-Club/Voyagers-Club.aspx
The Voyagers Club also offers discounts on cruises. 5% as standard and then specially selected departures which offer the 5% plus another 5% or the 5% plus an additional 15%! In my experience, it’s always worth checking the offering on this part of the site regularly as it does change.
Unique to MSC is that they will also status match your loyalty status with another cruise line or hotel chain to the equivalent in their scheme.
Karen asks ‘is there a daily newspaper like on other lines?’
There certainly is Karen, a daily programme is left in your cabin each night by your steward. It contains all of the information for the day ahead, with details of arrival and departure times, the opening times of the restaurants and facilities on-board, what entertainment is on, where and when and of course the dress code for the next day.
Which leads nicely on to a question from Brian – ‘what to wear on formal / theme nights?’
One of the joys to many people when cruising is getting dressed up for the gala dinners. MSC is no different to most cruise lines in that regard. During a week’s cruise there will usually be two gala nights. MSC are perhaps a little more laid back than some lines – dress codes are suggested but not mandatory. This means that you may see other passengers coming to dinner in more casual clothes compared to some lines where it may look like an army of penguins heading for dinner! My partner and I usually wear a smart lounge suit with a shirt and tie. I would expect that with a greater number of British passengers on-board, that there will be a higher contingent dressing in a tuxedo with bow tie, as compared to sailings from Mediterranean ports.
Go with what makes you feel comfortable, and don’t be concerned with what others wear. Remember that if although someone is wearing a pair of smart jeans on formal night, it doesn’t stop you from going for it with dressing up and shouldn’t impact on your enjoyment of that experience.
Other theme nights include the White Night, Mediterranean night where you’re encouraged to wear something green/red/white (the colours of the Italian flag), the flower glory party (60s/70s/80s) and casual nights. Again, these dress codes are just suggested, and go with what makes you comfortable.
Dawn asks ‘What about food, the dining room, buffet etc?’
Unlike some cruise lines, the main dining room (MDR) is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, even when the ship is in port. My partner and I are real ‘foodies’ and were very disappointed on other cruises when the MDR was closed at lunch time.
Breakfast and lunch are on an open-seating basis, which means that when you go to the restaurant, you’ll be escorted to a table and you will probably have to share with other diners. Due to the international clientele of MSC, this can present a language barrier. We have found on all of our MSC cruises that we’ve been able to muddle through lunch. And communicate as best we can with our fellow diners.
MSC still have ‘traditional’ dinner times with early and late sittings. Early tends to be around 6-6.30pm and late 8.30-9pm although this does vary depending on the ship and itinerary. Tables vary in size from two to ten, and although it is possible to indicate a preference, it isn’t guaranteed. If you’re unhappy for any reason, speak with the Maitre D’ who will try and assist where possible.
MyChoice dining, where you can book a table for whatever time you like during set hours is usually only available for Aurea experience passengers.
Rachael asks ‘What about shows such as Cirque du Soleil and speciality dining – how do you book them?’
An experience we had on another cruise line was that shows, dining etc had to be booked weeks before embarkation, which was very disappointing as we were relatively new to cruising at the time, and that was our first (and only) cruise with that line.
MSC work differently. You don’t need to book everything weeks in advance, and only on the newest ships (Meraviglia, Seaside and soon Seaview and Bellissima) do you have to book to see a show, which is done either through the interactive screens around the newest ships, the MSC for Me app or your in cabin TV.
At present, Cirque du Soleil is only on MSC Meraviglia (and soon Bellissima) – you can purchase tickets prior to the cruise on the MSC website. You book once you’re onboard.
Speciality dining, across all the ships on the fleet which offer this experience can be purchased in advance, with some favourable rates. Bookings are made once you’re on the ship.
Diane asks about embarkation day
On your cruise ticket, you will see your allocated time for embarkation. This is there to prevent a glut of passengers all turning up as soon as embarkation opens. We have, in the past, been able to board before our allotted time, and owing to the fact that there are usually multiple embarkation ports (depending on itinerary) we find embarkation can be a very quick and smooth process.
The MDR is open for lunch every day, as previously mentioned, however the waiters tend to usher you to the special welcome buffet.
At embarkation, you’ll be given details of the mandatory safety drill, which is a SOLAS regulation. As with all cruise ship embarkation, you must attend the drill on the day you board.
Cruise cards (sometimes referred to on other lines as the Sea Pass) are usually located in your cabin. You need to activate the card at one of the activation points around the public areas – there’s usually a few around the atrium area and in walk throughs. You’ll need a debit or credit card (my recommendation is to use a credit card – it is far easier!) the instructions of what to do are on the screen. If you wish to lodge cash against your account you’ll need to see Reception – Guest Service to do this.
Jayne asks ‘can an iron or hair straighteners be taken on?’
Unfortunately not. Irons are a safety hazard and can cause a fire. Any irons spotted in luggage may be confiscated and returned to you at the end of the cruise. My top tip here would be to give everything a good iron and place it neatly in a vacuum bag which you can get from places like B&M or Poundland – provided everything is nicely folded before sealing it shouldn’t crease.
Hair straighteners I believe are allowed, but please, please be careful with them and unplug them when you’re finished!
Rob asks ‘How does MSC differ from other lines?’
I haven’t sailed with many other lines, so please excuse any errors I might make here, but perhaps the best way to summarise this would be to say what other cruisers have found surprising about MSC.
- There is a mix of passengers on board, with many Italians, French and Germans.
- The ship will pick up passengers at most ports of call. This means the safety drill needs to be done at each port where pick-up happens, to ensure those who have joined attend the drill. You only have to attend when you join, and not to every drill.
- The ship is multi-lingual, although English is the first language, you will hear announcements in other languages. The crew may know five or six languages, just bear this in mind if you find communicating difficult – their English is probably better than your Russian.
- Shuttle buses in to town are generally at a cost
- The all inclusive drinks packages is probably the best at sea!
- If you wish to use the thermal suite (sauna / steam room etc) it is at an extra cost unless you have an Aurea experience (or Yacht Club on ships with a Yacht Club) – Voyagers Club passengers who have either a Gold or Black card receive an hour’s pass per cruise. NB the gym is free to use, although you will have to sign a disclaimer.