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We Took The Same Cruise With MSC and Royal Caribbean: Differences and Comparison

Whilst I was busy enjoying my Norwegian Fjord cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas my parents were sailing around the Norwegian Fjords on the MSC Virtuosa. This wasn’t planned at all, it was just a coincidence.

We were never in the same port at the same time, my parents started their cruise two days ahead of me and we literally were “Ships that pass in the night!”

In this post we compare the two cruise experiences, so you can see which might suit you best.

Price Comparison – Royal Caribbean vs MSC

My parent’s MSC cruise was £849 per person for a balcony cabin on deck 10 in the middle of the ship.

My Royal Caribbean cruise was £809 per person for a balcony on deck 13 at the front of the ship. 

Both prices are based on two sharing and these prices included gratuities.

MSCRoyal Caribbean
£849pp – Balcony Cabin£809 – Balcony Cabin

It’s very rare to find a Royal Caribbean cruise cheaper than a MSC cruise but in this case, it was.

This may have been to do with the fact that my Royal Caribbean cruise was booked over 3 years ago and the price was honoured during the pandemic.

norwegian fjord cruise view from balcony emma cruises in geiranger

Which Cruise Included More?

The MSC cruise included gratuities, and a premium drinks package

The Royal Caribbean cruise included gratuities – because I chose to pre-pay them. 

MSCRoyal Caribbean
Balcony Cabin, Food, Gratuities, DrinksBalcony Cabin, Food, Gratuities

No drinks were included on our Royal Caribbean cruise so we paid £8 per day for the soda package on top of the cruise fare which was more than worth it.

There were many options to drink in the soda machines, including non-carbonated drinks.

How Was Check-in?

MSCRoyal Caribbean
Fast (<1 Hour)90+ Minutes

MSC – Norwegian Fjords Check In

My parents had the following to say about their check-in process for their MSC cruise:

“MSC Check in was easy, our check in time was 11am.  No delays, we were on board by lunchtime, and had lunch in the main dining room.”

They did say that the MSC website was a little tricky when trying to do their online check-in.  Many people seem to experience problems uploading their photos. 

They eventually managed it – but MSC took better photos in the terminal when they checked in anyway. 

MSC Virtuosa check in southampton port

My parents were able to print off all their other documentation without issue. 

MSC checked their proof of Covid vaccination, and that they had taken a negative Covid antigen or PCR test.  You needed to have a certificate proving that you had completed a negative test within 2 days of sailing (as of June 2022).

With MSC guests can link their own credit card to their cruise card via machines on board.  Although one of my parents had agreed to pay all charges for the other in the cabin, the second person’s account said no card was linked so they had to go back to the machine later in the cruise and link the credit card to their account.

Royal Caribbean – Norwegian Fjords Check In

For our cruise a supervised Covid test was required, we did it via zoom within two days of sailing and it was easy to do. 

Check-in took us around 90 minutes, due to a group of previous passengers that tried to stow away on board, and not get off! This delayed 4000 of us from getting on the ship so I do hope that the people responsible got in trouble for this.

We were able to upload all the information that we needed to our phones before going on the cruise. I’m very used to this not working but with Royal Caribbean, we had no problems at all.

We were able to watch the safety videos on our phones before we even got to the terminal. This meant that when we got onboard we only needed to check into our muster station.

 Similar to my parent’s MSC experience our cards didn’t correctly link to our accounts so we had to go to reception to sort this out. It was easy to fix and the person at reception was very helpful.

Did The App Work Onboard?

MSC – App

My parents said that the MSC app was not the best and that they didn’t use it much. They didn’t feel reliant on using the app during their cruise.

The MSC app is used to scan the bar codes on the tables to get bar menus or restaurant menus. The daily schedule is on the app too as well as maps and other useful information.

“We booked ourselves tickets to see shows – but they never checked you into the theatre when you got there, and the theatre shows were never full.”

Royal Caribbean – App

The app worked very well during our cruise and we never had a problem with it. We used the app to do the following:

  • Book dinner
  • Look at deck plans
  • Book shows (where needed)
  • Check the daily schedule
  • See what was on our itinerary

Were They Any Covid Rules Onboard?

The cruises we are comparing were taken in May of 2022. Please check with the cruise line or your travel agent if you are taking a cruise with either line.

On both cruises, there were no Covid rules once on board. Passengers didn’t wear masks but staff did.

Both cruises required quests to be fully vaccinated and all guests had to provide evidence of a negative test pre-cruise.

Royal Caribbean required the test to be observed, MSC did not.

How Was The Onboard Service?

MSC – Service

My parents said that the MSC Service was very good. Their rooms were made up once a day, in the mornings. 

“Our cabin steward was unobtrusive, but she was there if we needed anything.  No complaints!  All the staff we had contact with were friendly and helpful.  No towel animals – but we don’t need towel animals….!”

Royal Caribbean – Service

The service was very good on our cruise and our room was cleaned twice per day.

We would arrive back to our cabin to find towel animals most days.

Although we had prepaid gratuities we definitely felt more pressure to tip on our Royal Caribbean cruise than we have on cruises in the past.

An envelope for extra tips was left in the cabin at the end of the cruise and on the last dinner in the main dining room, the waiters waited awkwardly by our table as we finished our meal.

This is a common difference between US cruise lines and cruise lines from outside the US.

Why are MSC so different to the American cruise lines?

Was The Cruise at Full Capacity?

MSC VirtuosaAnthem of The Seas
Maximum Capacity63004200
Actual Capacity16003900
Capacity Percentage25%93%

MSC – Capacity

My parents were told that there were 1600 guests on board.  The full capacity is 6300 but my Mum said that she thought that the ship would feel very crowded if that were the case.

She said that sometimes they struggled to get a seat in the bars, even with such low capacity. 

There were very few children on board as they sailed in UK “term time.”

Royal Caribbean – Capacity

Royal Caribbean are now sailing at full capacity and the Anthem of the Seas takes a maximum of 4200 guests. In reality, there were around 3900 on board and this was probably because we sailed outside of the school holidays so cabins that hold 3 or 4 weren’t at full capacity.

Despite this the ship didn’t feel too busy. It was cold most of our cruise so it wasn’t difficult to get a sun lounger on the top deck but this may be different in warmer weather.

The theatre onboard Anthem of the Seas holds around 1300 guests. The broadway-style musical We Will Rock You was shown twice during our cruise meaning that 67% of guests were able to attend, assuming that nobody went to see the show twice.

What Was The Entertainment Like Onboard?

MSC – Entertainment

My parents had the following to say about the MSC entertainent:

“We weren’t particularly impressed by the entertainment.  They had Opera and Ballet show one night, which was very impressive – even if you don’t like Opera and Ballet!”

Most shows were singing and dancing – excellent – but not really my cup of tea. 

There were other entertainers around the various bars.  Classical piano and violin, and easy listening duo, and a jazz trio who were excellent. 

MSC Virtuosa ROB robot bartender

There were no tribute bands or big “West End” type shows.  

My parents said that they found the entertainment around the ship a little dull and that they could have done with more choice. 

There was little in the way of quizzes or other game shows.  

They did have dance classes in the Virtuosa lounge – Tango/ Irish Dancing – all sorts! 

These were free of charge.

As well as things like gym and the spa, the MSC Virtuosa has an indoor pool and outdoor pool onboard where guests spent their time.

msc virtuosa top deck

There were also big, long hot tubs that looked out to sea which are great for a Fjords cruise with the stunning views.

There is a splash park with slides at the back of the ship and a Himalayan ropes course. 

msc meraviglia ropes course himalayan bridge

These were free of charge but you need to sign a disclaimer before you were allowed to use the facilities.  My parents went on the ropes course when in Geiranger and had amazing views from 80 metres above the ocean.

To learn more about the ropes courses on MSC ships, check out this post: Ropes Course and Waterslides

Royal Caribbean – Entertainment

The daily schedule on our Royal Caribbean cruise was always full of trivia, live music, and gameshows. Royal Caribbean have one of the busiest schedules in the industry and if you ever have any spare time you can just go for a wander around the ship and you’ll find something happening somewhere.

The headline show was “We Will Rock You” – a two-hour-long, “West End” type show which was amazing. It was backed by a live band and all of the singers and dancers were very talented.

There were also other things to do around the ship like:

oyal caribbean ifly by ripcord emma cruises skydiving

What Was The Food Like?

MSC – The Food

“I’ve never had a bad meal on MSC, all was hot and well presented.  The bread was outstanding!”

My Mum

My parents mostly ate in the dining room during their cruise and they had early dining. 

msc cruises main dining room dinner

On the occasions they used the buffet, they found a good selection and all food was served by the staff, not guests helping themselves. 

“Staff were always available in the buffet for you to order cold drinks or tea and coffee – as well as self-service tea and coffee stations.”

My Mum

They never found the buffet completely closed, there was always some sort of food or tasty snack available.

During the cruise, they had free breakfast room service – only because they were in a “Fantastica” grade cabin. 

The food choice was limited. It was a continental breakfast of yogurt, juice, tea, coffee, bread, and pastries. But apparently, the bread was outstanding! 

The cost of breakfast delivery if you are in a “Bella” grade cabin is £3.50.

To learn more about the food on MSC cruises, check out my full review of the food I had onboard the MSC Seaview: Everything I Ate on my MSC Cruise (Photos and Menus) – Food Review

Food – Royal Caribbean

On our Royal Caribbean cruise, we had LOTS of places to eat. Including:

  • Buffet
  • Main Dining Room
  • Two70 Cafe
  • Cafe Promenade
  • Sorentos Pizza

As a vegetarian, I found my choices limited and I would have had far more vegetarian or vegan options with MSC. The main restaurant food could have been better, but the buffet food was very good so we often ate there. 

royal caribbean buffet food examples cookies pie vegetables

Guests were allowed to help themselves to the buffet food, it is not served by the staff.

We had free room service, which was a cold, continental-type breakfast.

To learn more about the food on our Royal Caribbean cruise check out my food review post here: Royal Caribbean Food Review – EVERYTHING I Ate During my Cruise: (Photos and Menus)

Which Languages Were Spoken Onboard?

MSC – Languages

On this MSC cruise announcements were made in English and Portuguese. The cruise director was English and the assistant cruise director was Portuguese. 

My parents never heard any other languages spoken. 

There were guests of various nationalities on board, on the tables on either side of my parents at dinner, and there were two lovely American couples who loved to chat! They were great company. 

They only witnessed one rude passenger, who was very unpleasant to a staff member, and it was totally uncalled for.

Royal Caribbean – Languages

English was the only language spoken on board. The majority of the guests were from countries like the UK, America, Canada, and New Zealand. 

I had the pleasure to meet lots of lovely people on board which was amazing.

What Could Have Been Better?

MSC – Improvements

I asked my parents this question and the below is their answer:

  1. More/better entertainment. 
  2. The beer selection on board was quite limited.  Research prior to the cruise suggested all sorts of craft ales available.  In reality, most of the beer we asked for wasn’t available, and the staff always suggested you drank Heineken!  Not a favourite of ours.
  3. There is only a partial promenade deck and you can’t walk all the way around the ship.  You can walk up and down – but you would only get a view of the lifeboats, no view out to the ocean.
  4. The hard selling at the beginning of the show, when they were trying to sell you two, paid for shows in the Carousel lounge at the back of the ship.  Even the Captain was suggesting you bought a ticket to “avoid missing out.”  I can only assume they sold all the tickets, as, after a couple of days, it was never mentioned again.

Royal Caribbean – Improvements

  1. A better ‘flexible’ dining process. I couldn’t ever make a booking before 8.30 pm.
  2. The theatre had a strange design where a lot of the seats had an obstructed view. I’ve not been on a cruise with a theatre quite like it before.
  3. There were lots of ‘seminars’ for things like wrinkle treatments which were pushed quite heavily.
  4. The promenade deck wasn’t a useable space.
  5. The staff were always trying to sell us alcohol which we didn’t want/need as we had a soda package.

To learn more about the differences between MSC and Royal Caribbean. Check out this post next: 10 differences between MSC and NCL/Royal Caribbean

What Did We Love?

MSC – Favourite Things

I asked my parents this question and the below is their answer:

  1. We liked the ship, it was new modern and sparkly. 
  2. We liked the English pub and Sky Lounge which had lovely views of the sea. 
  3. The indoor promenade with the longest LED domed ceiling at sea was breathtaking.

Royal Caribbean – Favourite Things

  1. I liked how many things there were to do onboard and how many places there were to get included food.
  2. I loved the solarium area and two70 lounge.
  3. The soda machines were great, I loved having a cup that I could refill.
  4. The app was very good and worked well.
  5. I was able to go skydiving FOR FREE.

Final Thoughts – Would we Recommend Our Cruises?

MSC – Overall Impression

“We had a great cruise, relaxing and chilled – just what we were looking for.  The cabin was modern and well appointed.  The balcony was pretty standard, and we had wonderful views of the Fjords.   We certainly got value for money, and I would have no hesitation in sailing with MSC again.”

My Parents

Royal Caribbean – Overall Impression

We had a brilliant cruise and were very lucky with the price we paid for the cruise. We booked pre-pandemic and the price was honoured.

I loved the ship, the soda machines, the entertainment and the crew. I would definitely recommend a cruise on Anthem of The Seas and I look forward to cruising with Royal Caribbean in the future.

To find out more about my Royal Caribbean cruise, check out this video next:

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