When scouring the market for cruise deals, one name consistently floats to the top as a budget-friendly option, MSC Cruises.
Remarkably, these cruises are typically 15 to 25% cheaper than their counterparts, offering a similar experience at a much cheaper price.
This naturally raises the question, how does MSC Cruises manage to offer such affordable prices, and does this impact the quality of the cruise experience?
Here we’ll delve into the strategies MSC uses to keep their prices low, examine how this affects the onboard experience, and guide you in deciding if an MSC cruise is the perfect fit for your next sea voyage.
Why Are Msc Cruises Cheaper?
The main reasons why MSC Cruises are so cheap that relate to most to customer experience are the following:
- Lower Space to Guest Ratio – MSC Cruises designs ships to maximize passenger capacity, reducing cost per passenger.
- Dining – Cuisine is tailored to the majority of guests onboard, less variety, aiding cost efficiency.
- Entertainment and Activities – Fewer scheduled activities throughout the day may reduce operational costs.
- Service – A European service style and lower crew-to-guest ratio
There are many more factors that help MSC Cruises keep fare prices low which we have covered below in more detail.
MSC Ships – Size to Passenger Ratio
One of the key factorsthat helps keep MSC Cruises low in price is the low space-to-passenger ratio.
This ratio is a measure of the amount of space available per passenger on a cruise ship.
It’s calculated by dividing the gross tonnage of the ship (a measure of the ship’s overall internal volume) by the number of passengers.
The higher the ratio, the more space there is available per passenger, and vice versa.
Basically, MSC Cruises ships take a lot more passengers for their size in comparison to other cruise lines.
So how does this affect pricing, as well as the cruise experience for the passenger?
Lets take a look.
The primary reason cruise lines opt for a lower space-to-passenger ratio is to maximize revenue.
More passengers on a ship mean more revenue from ticket sales, onboard purchases, excursions, and other additional services. T
By accommodating more passengers, cruise lines can increase revenue from:
- Ticket sales
- Onboard purchases
- Other services.
This allows the cruise line to spread the fixed costs of operating the ship (such as fuel, crew salaries, and maintenance) over a larger number of passengers, reducing the cost per passenger and allowing the cruise line to offer lower prices.
Efficient Use of Space
Cruise ships with a lower space-to-passenger ratio are designed to make efficient use of space.
Cabins may be smaller and more closely packed together, and public areas may be designed to accommodate a large number of people.
This efficient use of space allows the cruise line to accommodate more passengers without significantly increasing operating costs, again contributing to lower ticket prices.
Economies of Scale
A lower space-to-passenger ratio also allows cruise lines to benefit from economies of scale.
As the number of passengers increases, the cost of providing services to each passenger decreases.
For example, the cost of preparing meals in the ship’s kitchen decreases per passenger as the number of meals prepared increases.
This cost efficiency can be passed on to passengers in the form of lower prices.
How a Low Space-to-Passenger Ratio Can Impact the Cruise Experience
A low space-to-passenger ratio, while beneficial for cruise lines in terms of revenue, can significantly influence the onboard experience for passengers.
Here’s a closer look at how this ratio can impact various aspects of a cruise:
One of the most immediate impacts of a low space-to-passenger ratio is the potential for crowded spaces.
With more passengers onboard, public areas such as dining rooms, lounges, pools, and entertainment venues can become congested, especially during peak times.
This can lead to longer wait times for services like dining or entertainment shows, and it can be more challenging to find available lounge chairs by the poolside or seating in the theater.
The overall atmosphere might feel less relaxed and more hectic, which could detract from the leisurely pace many people associate with cruising.
The space-to-passenger ratio also directly affects the size and layout of cabins.
In order to accommodate more passengers, cruise lines may design smaller cabins with less personal space.
This can mean less room for luggage, smaller bathrooms, and less living space overall.
For passengers who spend a significant amount of time in their cabins or who value spacious accommodations, this could impact their comfort and enjoyment of the cruise, although theres always the option to choose large cabins for a higher price.
This video by the Travel Scouts shows what you can expect in the cheapest allocated interior cabins.
As you can see in the video, although small, the cabin is spacious and well-equipped with amenities such as a TV, vanity area, king-size bed, mini bar, and a small bathroom with a standard shower.
Level of Service
A low space-to-passenger ratio can also impact the level of service on a cruise ship.
With more passengers to attend to, each crew member has less time to devote to individual passengers.
This could result in longer wait times for services like room cleaning, dining, or assistance from guest services.
It could also mean less personalized attention, as crew members have less opportunity to get to know individual passengers.
MSC Cruises offer a more European service than perhaps some US passengers might be used to. The staff are more focused on serving your food or providing the service than perhaps engaging in friendly chat which you might find on other cruise lines.
For passengers who value high levels of service and personal attention, this could negatively impact their cruise experience. For others it will be the normal service they are used to.
Longer Refurb Cycle
Another factor which helps keeps the price of MSC Cruises cheaper is the longer refurbishment cycle they have for there ships.Cruise lines typically have a refurbishment cycle where ships are periodically updated and refreshed. These refurbishments can range from minor cosmetic updates to major overhauls that introduce new features and amenities.
Typically many cruise lines get have their ships refurbished every 3 to 4 years, sometimes less.
However, MSC Cruises tends to have a less frequent refurbishment cycle compared to some other cruise lines, 7 years or more is not uncommon.
Cost Savings from Less Frequent Refurbishments
Refurbishments are a significant expense for cruise lines.
They involve not only the cost of the updates themselves but also the lost revenue from taking the ship out of service during the refurbishment period.
By having less frequent refurbishments, MSC Cruises can save on these costs, which can contribute to their ability to offer lower prices.
Passenger Experience and Ship Refurbishments
Refurbishments play a key role in the passenger experience. They ensure that ships stay modern and appealing, with up-to-date amenities and decor.
Refurbs are anopportunity to introduce new features that enhance the onboard experience. With less frequent refurbishments, MSC Cruises’ ships may not have the latest features or updates that passengers might find on other cruise lines.
Older Ships Can Be Cheaper
MSC Cruises operates a diverse fleet, with ships ranging in age from brand new to over two decades old. The age of a ship can significantly impact both the pricing of cruises and the passenger experience.
MSC Cruises’ fleet includes ships built as recently as 2023, such as the MSC Euribia, and as far back as 2001, like the MSC Armonia.
The newest ships are typically the largest in the fleet, boasting the most amenities and industry-first features.
However, the older ships, while perhaps lacking some of the latest innovations, still have much to offer.
Pricing and Ship Age
Cruises on older ships are often cheaper than those on newer vessels.
There are several reasons for this. Older ships tend to be smaller and have fewer amenities, which means they cost less to operate.
Additionally, as ships age, the initial investment made by the cruise line in building the ship is fully amortized, reducing the financial burden that needs to be recouped through ticket sales.
These factors allow MSC Cruises to offer more affordable options on their older ships.
Passenger Experience and Ship Age
The age of a ship can also impact the passenger experience. Newer ships often feature the latest amenities and innovations, offering passengers a wide range of experiences.
They may have more dining options, larger and more elaborate entertainment venues, and state-of-the-art wellness facilities.
Older ships, on the other hand, offer a different kind of charm. They may have a more intimate atmosphere due to their smaller size, and their design and decor may reflect a different era of cruising.
Additionally, older ships are often better suited to port-intensive itineraries, as their smaller size allows them to dock at ports that larger ships can’t access.
MSC Cabins, Experiences and Upgrades
MSC Cruises offers a unique approach to accommodation and pricing with its ‘experiences’ concept.
This system groups cabins into three categories:
Each offering different amenities and at varying costs.
This structure allows passengers to choose the level of luxury and service that suits their preferences and budget, including the option to upgrade.
Bella – Budget-Friendly Basics
The Bella experience is the entry-level tier, offering the most affordable option.
Bella cabins are typically located in less favorable locations on the ship, such as lower decks or closer to the bow or stern. Despite this, they still provide a comfortable and clean space to rest and relax.
The Bella experience is designed for budget-conscious travelers who prioritize the destinations and general cruise experience over cabin location or extra amenities.
Fantastica – A Step Up
The Fantastica experience offers a step up from Bella.
Fantastica cabins are usually located in more desirable locations on the ship, such as mid-ship or on higher decks.
They may also offer additional amenities or services not included in the Bella experience.
The Fantastica experience is designed for passengers who are willing to pay a bit more for added comfort and convenience.
Aurea – The Luxury Option
The Aurea experience represents the luxury tier of MSC’s offerings.
Aurea cabins are often the most spacious and are located in prime locations on the ship.
The Aurea experience includes additional amenities and services designed to provide a more luxurious and personalized cruise experience.
This could include things like priority boarding, inclusive drink packages, or access to exclusive areas of the ship.
The Experience Pricing Strategy
The initial price quoted for MSC cruises typically starts with the cheapest Bella inside cabins.
This attractive entry price draws potential passengers in.
Once interest is piqued, options for upgrades to Fantastica or Aurea experiences are presented.
Many passengers opt for these upgrades, which provide additional amenities and better cabin locations. As a result, they end up paying more than the original quoted price.
MSC Cruise’ Food Offerings and Their Impact on Pricing
MSC Cruises’ food offerings are heavily influenced by its Mediterranean roots, featuring staples like pasta, pizza, and a variety of vegetables.
The availability of pizza almost around the clock is a testament to this influence.
However, the food on MSC Cruises sometimes receives criticism, often stemming from mismatched expectations.
Understanding the cruise line’s food philosophy can help set appropriate expectations and enhance the dining experience.
Buffet and Dining Room Options
The buffet on MSC Cruises offers a wide range of food options.
While some passengers have noted a lack of variety, others appreciate the extensive selection and the cruise line’s accommodation of dietary restrictions. In the main dining room, portions tend to be smaller, reflecting a more European dining style.
However, passengers are encouraged to order multiple dishes if they wish as well as additional sides if they have a larger appetite, providing flexibility to suit different dining preferences.
A feature of MSC Cruises’ food offerings is the adaptability to the passenger demographic.
The cruise line tailors its cuisine to the nationalities of its guests. For instance, if the majority of passengers are French, the food will lean more towards French cuisine. Similarly, if most passengers are American, there will be more American food options.
This can lead to some minority nationalities on a particularly ship possibly feeling the cuisine is not suited to them.
Personally I love to try to different cuisines, but some passengers prefer to stick to what they know and enjoy.
Accommodating Dietary Preferences
While MSC Cruises does not specifically offer vegetarian and vegan menus or label foods as vegan or dairy-free, there are always options available for those with these dietary preferences.
This flexibility ensures that all passengers can enjoy their meals, regardless of dietary restrictions.
Freshness and Quality
All food on MSC Cruises ships is prepared with freshness in mind. The pizza, pasta, and bread are made onboard, ensuring quality and taste.
Impact on Pricing
MSC Cruises’ food strategy plays a role in its ability to offer affordable fares. By offering a wide range of food options but keeping portions smaller, the cruise line can manage food costs effectively and reduce waste.
Additionally, by tailoring the cuisine to the predominant nationalities onboard, MSC Cruises can streamline its food purchasing and preparation processes.
This approach, rather than attempting to cater evenly to all tastes and cuisines, allows the cruise line to leverage economies of scale and reduce costs.
This strategy contributes to keeping the overall cruise fares more affordable
Additionally, the flexibility to order multiple dishes allows passengers to customize their dining experience without significantly impacting the overall cruise fare.
Drinks on MSC Cruises
When it comes to beverages, MSC Cruises operates in a manner fairly similar to other cruise lines.
Like many of its competitors, MSC Cruises does not include drinks in the cruise fare. Instead, passengers have the option to purchase a variety of drink packages.
These packages are priced similarly to those offered by other cruise lines, allowing passengers to choose a package that suits their drinking habits and budget.
MSC Cruises does offer some complimentary beverages, but their availability is typically limited to the dining areas at specific times.
In other areas of the ship and at certain times you will be expected to pay.
Drink Packages and Special Deals
In addition to the pay-as-you-go option, MSC Cruises offers a selection of drink packages that passengers can purchase to upgrade their cruise from full-board to all-inclusive.
The prices of these packages vary depending on the types of drinks included and the itinerary of the cruise.
Occasionally, MSC Cruises includes a drinks package as part of a special deal or promotion, providing excellent value for passengers who enjoy a variety of beverages throughout their cruise.
Overall the the cost of drinks and drinks packages are pretty much on a par with its competitor cruise lines.
Perhaps the only difference is the availability of free drinks which is slightly less.
Service on MSC Cruises
The service on MSC Cruises is another key aspect that contributes to the cruise line’s affordability.
With its European roots, MSC Cruises offers a style of service that may differ from what passengers accustomed to American cruise lines might expect.
European vs. American Service Styles
European service, as offered on MSC Cruises, tends to be more formal and to-the-point compared to American service.
The focus is on providing efficient and professional service. This might be perceived as less personal or friendly compared to the service style on American cruise lines, which often emphasizes personal interactions and a more casual approach.
MSC Cruises tends to operate with a lower crew-to-guest ratio compared to some other cruise lines. This ratio can vary depending on the specific ship and how fully booked it is. A lower crew-to-guest ratio can contribute to lower operational costs, as fewer crew members are needed to service the ship.
However, it’s worth noting that a lower crew-to-guest ratio does potentially impact the level of service, as crew members may have more responsibilities and less time for individual passenger interactions.
However, generally MSC Cruises is considered to offer a good service, but maybe not what your’re used to if you typically travel with other competitor cruise lines.
Generally the more expensive a cruise, the more crew to guest there are, and therefore a better experience for guests.
Extra Fees – What costs Extra?
Like many cruise lines that don’t offer all-inclusive fares, MSC Cruises provides a range of optional extras that passengers can choose to purchase.
These extras offer the opportunity to enhance your cruise experience, but they’re not mandatory.
If you’re cruising on a budget, you can certainly enjoy your journey without incurring these additional costs.
However, if you appreciate a little extra luxury or convenience, these options are available to you at an extra cost.
Specialty Dining and Room Service
While meals in the main dining room and buffet are included in the cruise fare, specialty dining options and room service come at an additional cost. This includes themed restaurants and certain food items at bars and pubs.
While basic beverages like water, tea, coffee, and juices are available at no extra cost during meal times, other drinks including alcoholic beverages, sodas, and specialty coffees are not included in the base fare. MSC offers various drink packages for purchase that can cover these additional drinks.
Spa and Wellness Services
Services such as massages, facials, and other spa treatments are typically not included in the cruise fare and come at an additional cost.
While some MSC ships offer limited free internet access, higher-speed or unlimited internet packages usually cost extra.
Specialty Shows and Onboard Activities
Some special shows or entertainment options, as well as certain onboard activities, may come at an additional cost.
Photos taken by the ship’s professional photographers are usually not included in the cruise fare and cost extra.
Excursions in Ports
While the beach in Ocean Cay is an exception, other excursions in ports usually cost extra.
Staff members may try to sell passengers specialty dining and drinks packages, which can add to the overall cost of the cruise if accepted.
By charging separately for these services and amenities, MSC Cruises can offer a lower base fare, making their cruises appear more affordable.
Many of these extra costs are similar to other competing cruise lines where you’d also expect to pay extra for certain choices.
Entertainment is a key aspect of the cruising experience, and MSC Cruises offers a wide array of options to keep passengers from a awide range of nationalities engaged and entertained.
However, the way MSC Cruises structures its entertainment offerings also plays a role in the affordability of their cruises.
Broad Range of Entertainment Options
MSC Cruises offers a broad range of entertainment options, including Broadway-style theatre shows, nightclubs, dance classes, fitness classes, pool games, arts and crafts, dance nights, and activities for children.
There are also special shows and activities that are unique to certain ships in the fleet.
Inclusive and Extra Cost Entertainment
Many of the entertainment options on MSC Cruises are included in the base fare. This means that passengers can enjoy a variety of shows, activities, and events at no extra cost.
However, there may be some exclusive shows or activities that come at an additional cost. These shows are considered a step up in quality and worth the cost.
This allows MSC Cruises to offer a lower base fare while still providing a wide range of entertainment options.
Activities – A Balance Between Variety and Affordability
When it comes to the cruising experience, onboard activities play a significant role in shaping passenger satisfaction.
MSC Cruises, like many other cruise lines, offers a variety of activities to keep passengers entertained.
However, the way MSC structures its activity offerings is also a factor in their competitive pricing.
Variety of Activities
MSC Cruises provides a diverse range of activities for both adults and children. Depending on the ship, passengers can enjoy everything from bumper cars and roller skating to waterslides and kids’ splash pools.
These activities cater to a wide range of interests and age groups, ensuring that there’s something for everyone.
Comparison with Competitors
Compared to some competitors, such as Royal Caribbean, MSC Cruises may offer fewer activities.
Royal Caribbean is known for its extensive list of activities, with events happening throughout the ship all day long.
In contrast, MSC Cruises, while still offering a broad selection of activities, may not have as many scheduled throughout the day.
This difference in activity offerings could contribute to MSC Cruises’ lower pricing.
By offering fewer activities, MSC Cruises are be able to reduce operational costs, which can then be passed on to the customer in the form of lower fares.
However, it’s worth noting that the number of activities does not necessarily equate to the quality of the cruise experience.
Many passengers on MSC Cruises have reported being satisfied with the range of activities available, stating that there was more than enough to keep them entertained throughout their cruise.
Gratuities, also known as service charges, are an integral part of the cruising experience.
The inclusion and rate of gratuities on MSC Cruises can vary depending on the location from which the cruise is booked.
Location Varying Gratuities
For cruises booked from the UK, gratuities are included in the fare.
MSC doesn’t expect guests to tip any more than beyond the amount included in the cruise fare. This inclusive approach provides a clear upfront cost for UK passengers, allowing them to budget effectively for their cruise.
On the other hand, for cruises booked from the USA or other European countries (excluding the UK), gratuities are not usually included in the fare.
Instead, they are automatically added to the passenger’s onboard account. The rates for these gratuities depend on the location of the cruise and can range from $8 to $14 per person per day.
When compared to other cruise lines, MSC Cruises’ gratuities are on the lower end, with the average price typically in the $15 to $16 range.
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Other Factors That Help Keep MSC Cruises Cheaper
Large Cruise Line
MSC Cruises, being one of the largest cruise lines in the world, benefits from economies of scale. This means they can spread their operational costs over a larger number of passengers, which can help to reduce the cost per passenger and thus the fare.
As a privately-owned company, MSC Cruises doesn’t pay dividends to shareholders, allowing more funds to be allocated towards cost-saving measures.
Seasonality and Itineraries
The cost of a cruise can vary significantly depending on the time of year and the itinerary.
Cruises during off-peak times and to less popular destinations are typically cheaper.
MSC Cruises offers a wide range of itineraries, including some to less-traveled destinations, which can help to keep their fares competitive.
Finally, MSC Cruises’ pricing strategy is likely influenced by their market positioning.
As a European-based cruise line, they may be aiming to offer competitive fares to attract a broad customer base, including budget-conscious travelers.
It’s important to note that while MSC Cruises’ fares may be lower than those of some other cruise lines, the total cost of a cruise can vary depending on a variety of factors, including the specific ship, itinerary, cabin type, and the number and type of services and amenities that a passenger chooses to purchase.
MSC Cruises’ affordability does not necessarily equate to a compromise on the quality of the cruise experience. Instead, it reflects a business model that aims to provide a satisfying cruise experience at a competitive price.
Whether you’re a budget-conscious traveller or someone looking for a bit of luxury, MSC Cruises offers options to suit a wide range of preferences and budgets.
While MSC Cruises may offer fewer activities and less personal service compared to some competitors, they still provide a wide range of entertainment options and a satisfactory level of service.
The food and drink offerings, while tailored to the majority of passengers on board, still offer variety and quality.
If you’re planning just one cruise for the year and want to minimize the risk of disappointment on your main vacation, it’s worth carefully considering your choice of cruise line.
However, if you’re a frequent cruiser, MSC Cruises is certainly worth considering for its unique offerings and value.