MSC Cruises has shot to the top of the European market to become the Continent's number one cruise line! The 2015-2016 Cruise Industry News annual report was released this week and has declared that the Swiss-based, Italian-founded company is top of the heap in its home ground with a capacity of 1.1 million passengers.
You might have been hearing more about MSC in cruise circles recently, as the line has been pursuing global ambitions. With a plan to double its passenger capacity by 2022 through new builds like Project Seaside, it's on its way to world domination. MSC's Mediterranean cruises are their bread and butter, Northern Europe is extended home ground and the Caribbean is now old hat for the line with the MSC Divina, MSC Orchestra and MSC Opera sailing seasonally from Miami, Fort de France and new cruise port Havana. There are also South American cruises departing Rio de Janeiro on the MSC Lirica, and some middle eastern itineraries from Dubai on the MSC Musica.
MSC's CEO Gianni Onorato said of the report, "We are particularly proud of this achievement. For it, we wish to thank all our guests whom with their choice recognised the quality of our product and offering thus making MSC Cruises the number one cruise line now also in Europe... Going forward, we will continue to build on this position of strength in Europe to ensure we remain the cruise line of choice for more than 150 nationalities every year, in Europe, in the Mediterranean and in other markets, where our distinct cruise experiences set us apart."
Like Australia, Europe is a burgeoning cruise market - and MSC is providing a cruise experience there which makes it a great choice for any cruiser.
What is it about MSC?
It's difficult to put words to the appeal of MSC. To borrow a phrase from one of the line's onboard languages, it has that certain "je ne sais quoi" that adds European style and refined elegance to the cruise industry, which can sometimes be described as in-your-face and perhaps a little tacky. Here's why you might like to try an MSC cruise in 2015 or 2016.
From the Med to the Caribbean
The line's European dominance is a no-brainer. The ships, rather than operating in English or Italian with other languages as an afterthought, give equal prominence to English, Italian, French, Spanish and German which means no-one is left in the dark. Your tours and newsletters will be in the language you selected on booking, but announcements and menus show all five - a great opportunity to brush up on your linguistic skills. Such a multilingual offering means the line can accommodate a range of nationalities, and cater to a wider base of passengers. Other cultural norms like slower and later mealtimes, multi-course Italian menus and the occasional topless sunbather make European cruisers feel at home.
In the Caribbean and other cruising destinations, the cruising style is a little more adapted to the American audience, but still retains its distinct Mediterranean flavour. English is the primary language although all-ship announcements are still done in all five, and there is an earlier 6:30pm dinner seating - in combination with the 9pm seating for the Europeans on board. A slower pace of life keeps things "Euro" and the decor is the same as the Mediterranean offering, but the menu has American dishes alongside the Italian specialties. Its something a little different in a market dominated by cruise lines which are much of a muchness - but whether it is embraced by North American and other cruisers remains to be seen.
Kids cruise free! That might be one of the reasons MSC is so successful in Europe and elsewhere. When sharing a cabin with their parents, kids under the age of 18 pay only taxes and port charges. From summer 2016, this will apply only to kids under the age of 13 - still a great deal! They are also well catered to onboard, with programmes for children and teens, a new Babycare service for limited free babysitting, childrens menus, family activities, lots of lego, and great pools and aquaparks. MSC's passenger base includes many families and younger cruisers.
For the Aussies
Australian cruisers heading north to try out an MSC cruise might take a while to get used to the multiple languages seen and heard, but we think this is a very small inconvenience. In fact, it can add something to the atmosphere, especially in the Mediterranean where you will feel more immersed in the culture rather than travelling around in an English-speaking bubble. The family-friendly nature and youthful energy of MSC will likely be a tick in the box for cruise lovers Down Under, as will the fabulous Italian menus. We would certainly recommend that anyone making the trek to the Northern Hemisphere consider MSC, particularly as a way to discover the delights of the Mediterranean.