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MSC Cruise Review – in Europe (Food, Service, Entertainment and More)

A couple of months ago, I was set a challenge. Two of my friends said that they’d like to come on a cruise with me and even though I’ve been cruising for years, picking a first cruise for somebody else is not easy. The pressure was on because they were trusting me, not just with their money but also with their time.

I knew that they wouldn’t like a formal cruise line or one with strict dress codes, and I was pretty sure that they’d like a newer modern looking ship. Those things alone wouldn’t be too tricky, but I knew that we wanted to cruise from the UK and were looking to take this cruise on a tight budget. 

What Did I Book?

When I saw a 6-night MSC cruise advertised for £320 per person, I hoped that this would be the answer. 

I’ve had some great experiences with MSC in the past, but also some that weren’t so good. It isn’t uncommon to see complaints about MSC’s food or entertainment or service but for £53 a night, I figured it couldn’t go too wrong. It was cheaper than a budget hotel on land.

We boarded the MSC Preziosa around midday and embarkation was incredibly easy. We had to show our passports, covid vaccine certificates and cruise tickets at the port and that was it. No more covid tests or any other checks. We just went through security and our cruise was ready to start.

I did notice straight away that my cruise card said I’d been assigned late dining. I did request early dining when I booked but I thought no problem, I’ll sort it out onboard.

MSC’s pre and post-cruise customer service isn’t great, but I’ve always found the staff onboard to be helpful. 

Is Preziosa a New Ship?

Preziosa was built in 2011 and my recent MSC cruises have been on newer and bigger ships. I didn’t know how I’d like going back to a smaller and older ship but I knew that, to my friends, this ship would still seem huge. At full capacity the ship still holds almost 4000 guests, so she’s not a small ship by anybody’s definition. 

The Atrium Is VERY Sparkly

We walked straight onto the ship and arrived in this big atrium. The atrium was sparkly and shiny and exactly what I expected from MSC. The staircases are made of Swarovski crystals and each one is estimated to cost around $10,000. 

I often joke that MSC stands for ‘most sparkly cruise’. I personally love this modern look and even though the ship is over 10 years old, she still felt brand new to me. The staff were constantly cleaning the ship and MSC ships are definitely some of my favourites. 

MSC Has Their Own Scent (You Can Buy it!)

MSC actually has a signature smell onboard that you can buy in the gift shop. A couple of my friends have the scent in their house so when I walked onboard I thought ‘oh this smells of Justin and Tristan’s house’. 

For some reason, MSC’s app (which we used a lot on our last MSC cruise) isn’t supported on older ships like Preziosa. I’ve become so used to using apps on cruises to check my onboard account, the daily schedule, or deck plans so I did wonder if it would be like going back in time and if that would cause any problems.

MSC’s cruises vary a lot depending on the location and nationalities of the guests, I did expect this cruise to be mostly full of British people as we were sailing from and to the UK, but I was wrong about that.

There were 62 different nationalities on our cruise and in every port we picked up new guests. 

The Crew Tried to Sell Us Drinks and Dining (Quite Often)

As we embarked there were lots of crew members trying to sell us drinks packages, speciality dining and spa treatments. This is pretty common on an MSC cruise and, given how little I’d paid for the cruise, I wasn’t surprised that they’d try and get money from us this way.

I didn’t buy a drinks package and didn’t plan on spending any money on speciality restaurants or spa treatments. I wanted to keep my onboard spend as low as possible, but without being able to check it on the app like normal, I didn’t know if I really would. 

I had a couple of tasks on my first day to-do list which was to complete the safety drill, find my cabin and sort out our dining times. 

We Were Upgraded to a Balcony Cabin

We headed straight out to the top deck to get a drink and then decided to find our cabins.

MSC had a balcony upgrade offer on at the time so everybody I met on the ship who had booked a guaranteed inside cabin had been upgraded to a balcony a month or so before the cruise.

Actually, I met one person who was still in an inside cabin because they turned down their upgrade, but apart from that everybody had been upgraded. I’m pretty sure MSC still have this offer, which made this cruise cost around a third of what it would for a balcony with another big cruise line. 

£320 for 6 nights was an incredible price for an inside cabin, let alone a balcony. I didn’t know how much we would use the balcony though, as we were sailing around Northern Europe in October.

I knew that the ports were all quite industrial and, because we were having long days in port, I assumed that it would be dark whenever we sailed in or out. 

My Friends Had a Junior Balcony

We went first to my friend’s cabin as it was in the middle of the ship. They were assigned a junior balcony on deck 12. It was quite small and was missing the sofa that I’m used to in most balconies, but I loved the design and it all felt very clean and modern.

It had all the usual things, a tv a safe a fridge a hairdryer and of course a bathroom.

To find out more about the differences between junior and premium balconies, check out this post: The Difference Between Junior and Premium Balcony Cabins (MSC Preziosa/MSC Divina)

My cabin was further forward on deck 12 and I actually filmed a timelapse of me walking from one end of deck 12 to the other. This wasn’t a particularly big ship, but it still took me three and a half minutes to walk the full length.

This is one of the reasons why sometimes people don’t want upgrades. If you’re travelling as a group and have picked cabins together, being upgraded could mean that you were now at complete opposite ends of the ship. That didn’t matter to us though, we would just meet in the public areas. 

What Was Our Premium Balcony Like?

Our cabin was a premium balcony that measured in at 18 meters squared, the junior balcony was 14 meters squared so quite a bit smaller. The design was the same as my friends but our cabin was much longer and our balcony was a little bit bigger.

We could see the bridge from our cabin as we were very close to the front. I’d often see people up here working away or even cleaning the outside of the bridge.

We had lots of storage in our cabin and everything we needed. A kettle would have been a nice addition and sometimes MSC do add kettles to their cruises from the UK, but this ship is leaving the UK very shortly so I don’t blame them for not adding the kettles. 

The Showers Design Was Amazing

The bathroom had one of my favourite features that I’ve ever seen on a cruise ship. The shower doors folded inwards into the shower so that when you weren’t using it there’s more space in the cabin.

This means there’s more space around the toilet which is great for plus-sized guests and it meant that I didn’t keep banging into the shower door when drying off after a shower.

Sadly MSC hasn’t continued this onto any of their newer cruise ships, but I thought it was great. 

The Safety Drill Had to be Completed at a Set Time

The safety drill was different to my last couple of MSC cruises and I think this might have been because of the lack of an app. In the past, you used to do the safety drill all at one time in one place but, more recently, cruise ships have changed to doing muster drills on either an app or on the cabin TV and you do it whenever you’re ready.

On this cruise, I saw that the muster drill was at a set time, which I thought was strange, but we basically just had to watch the safety video in our cabins at the same time, and then go to our muster station. It was a little odd, but it got the job done. 

To learn more about what muster drills are like on most cruise lines, check out this post: Muster Drills Have Changed For The Better (REVIEW of New After Covid Process)

I think “A little odd but got the job done” could be used to describe most things on MSC cruises.

I do try to explain to people that if they’re taking an MSC cruise they need to forget what they know about cruising and just go with the flow. If you take it too seriously small things will annoy you, but if you remember how much you paid and are open to just relaxing and having a good time, it’s usually a good experience. 

We Weren’t Able to Sit With Our Friends at Dinner, Because of a Strange Reason

My friends had decided to buy a drinks package but I didn’t, and this was why we needed to sort out our dining. 

When picking our dining before the cruise, the website said that we couldn’t sit together because they had a drinks package and we didn’t.

We went to the main dining room and asked if we could change to early dining and sit together. The staff were very friendly and took a note of our cabin numbers, and said that from tomorrow they would be able to make the change.

We did go to late dining on the first night, and it definitely wasn’t what I expected based on my last 5 MSC cruises. Something happened that hasn’t happened to me in years but more about that when we get to dinner. We still had a show to go to first! 

Does MSC Preziosa Have a Theatre?

The theatre onboard the MSC Preziosa is huge. There are well over 1000 seats and more modern cruise ships, even though bigger, have made their theatres smaller. I love theatres like this, every seat has a good view and the seats are comfy.  

The first show was almost entirely in Italian. There were some Italians on our cruise but mostly the guests were British, German, and French as that’s the places where we picked up guests. 

The Cruise Director Spoke Multiple Languages

The Cruise Director came out at the start of the show and she spoke in English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and I think Portuguese.

Some people don’t like how everything is done in multiple languages on European MSC cruises but it just blows my mind that some people can speak so many languages, even the Captain came on stage and spoke to us in all these languages.

English definitely was the primary language spoken onboard, it was always first and was usually the default. Sometimes the crew would speak to us in German but our blank faces told them pretty quickly that we didn’t understand. 

The First Show Wasn’t my Favourite

The singers in the shows were very talented, but I’m quite a visual person – I like colours and costume changes and set design and this show didn’t have any of that.

I did think to myself “oh no, what have I got my friends into, this is like MSC from 10 years ago”. I hoped that things would be different as the cruise went on, and it was.

I’m glad I didn’t decide to not see any more shows after this one. The rest of the shows were much more what I was used to from cruising with MSC in the Caribbean and around the UK.

When I took those two cruises everything was done just in English and, although I did hear a few other languages spoken on the Caribbean cruise, it wasn’t too different from a cruise with another cruise line.

We Were Table Sharing at Dinner – Without Warning 

Heading to our first dinner onboard I was surprised when me and my friends were both seated on tables for 6 sharing with other guests. There was no mention of table sharing before this and tend to opt out of table sharing if I can. We had a great evening though and were so lucky with our table mates.

If I can give you one piece of cruise advice, especially for an MSC cruise it would be to go with the flow. We did and we had a great evening.

I asked my table mate Mark, who was a first-time cruiser, if he was having a good cruise and he said “I’m having a great time and I’ve not even been here 24 hours yet!’

I Had Read Bad Reviews of The Food

To say that MSC often receive bad reviews about their food online would be putting it lightly, I took my first MSC cruise way back in 2012 and my experience of MSC’s food has gotten better and better every cruise since.

On my last MSC cruise on the MSC Seaview, we had some great meals and never found anything that we thought was badly cooked, that cruise was at only 23% capacity though so I hoped that on this cruise the food would be just as good. 

My friends do like their food, but they’re like me in that they don’t need things to be particularly fancy. Just food that is well cooked, hot and options that they like. 

MSC Have a ‘White Night’ on Most Cruises

After dinner, it was white night in the safari lounge and I accidentally attended in a red dress. It wasn’t a problem though, plenty of people weren’t in white and it’s often quite hard to find out what theme nights there will be ahead of a cruise.

I often wonder how people just manage to pop out a 70s costume or something. Maybe they always travel with a cowboy costume. 

Guests Could Embark Every Day

On this itinerary guests could embark and disembark every single day. That meant that the crew were always trying to sell speciality dining and drinks packages and that every day there would be a safety drill. Everybody only has to do one safety drill, but it can get quite confusing hearing it happening most days and just ignoring it. 

Our cruise started with a sea day which I love. It gave us a chance to properly explore the ship and I even found my first cruising duck.

What’s a Cruising Duck?

I had no idea that cruising ducks were a thing until recently but, basically, people buy lots of rubber ducks and hide them around cruise ships for other guests to find. You can then either rehide the duck or keep the duck. There are Facebook groups where you share photos of you with the ducks and it seems like it’s a big thing! 

Because there wasn’t an app we did get a paper schedule in the room each evening, we would take a photo of it so we knew what was happening around the ship.

MSC definitely don’t have as busy a schedule as cruise lines like Royal Caribbean or Norwegian but there were things like trivia, sports games and plenty of dance classes happening. 

MSC Do Add a Gratuity to All Drinks

I mostly came on this cruise to spend time with my friends so I spent a lot of time sitting around in bars with a Pepsi Max. It is worth noting that MSC does add a 15% gratuity to every drink if you don’t have a drinks package, so 2 Pepsis always cost us $6.90.

To learn more about cruise ship gratuities, check out this post: Cruise Gratuities: A Simple Step by Step Guide For First Time Cruisers

On MSC You Have to Assign Your Card Onboard

On most cruise lines you’ll assign a credit card to your account at embarkation or before you get onboard, but on MSC you use these machines around the ship to assign your card within 48 hours of embarking.

This means that when you buy things using your cruise card, it’ll come off your credit card when you get home. We did this and it was very easy. I’m not sure why they do it like this, but as I mentioned earlier “a little odd but it works” seems to be how MSC do things.

How Did Preziosa Compare to Virtuosa?

I was amazed by how much I liked this ship. Having been on a lot of the newer and bigger MSC ships I assumed that I wouldn’t like this one as much but I honestly think I might prefer Preziosa over the newer ships like Virtuosa. Preziosa doesn’t have a big street in the middle like Virtuosa and I did miss the sky lounge, but apart from that, we found lots of nice areas onboard. Each one was as sparkly as the last.

I Have The Highest Loyalty Status With MSC

It was on this first sea day that my loyalty bonuses arrived in my room. I have the highest loyalty status with MSC, not because I’ve earnt it but because MSC matches your status with other cruise lines. I have a full guide on how to do that and it’s well worth getting freebies. Who doesn’t like free macaroons and Prosecco?

To check out the step-by-step guide, click here: MSC Status Match – Step by Step Application Guide and Chart

We Were Moved to Early Dining (Yay)

Also in our room was a little piece of paper that said that we had been moved to early dining. My friends had been assigned the same table so we were happy. Early dining was at 5.45 and late at 8.15. If I’m at home, I tend to have my dinner at around 5.30, so 8.15 to me felt like bedtime snacks.

True 5.45 is quite early, but we would go to the buffet every night before bed to get more snacks and a cup of tea. I mostly drink peppermint tea and MSC do it better than any other cruise line, I’m not sure why it might be because of the temperature of the water or it might be because of these nice mugs. 

How Was The Main Dining Room Food?

Our main dining room dinner was quite nice, and I mean that in the British sense of “quite” not the American sense. The food wasn’t anything amazing but it was perfectly okay, the food was hot, and the portion sizes were good.

My friend Chris did end up having multiple starters and multiple mains as the cruise went on – he didn’t mean to, but some communication mixups meant that he had lots to eat but he didn’t complain! 

At one point he thought he was asked if he wanted another beer so he said yes, when another starter arrived he was confused but didn’t complain, he happily ate it and had another beer afterwards.

The service in the main dining room was always good and the bread was amazing. At two points during our cruise, we had a little show with dinner, one where the waiters sang a song to us and another where we were introduced to the crew.

To learn more about MSC’s food, check out this post that includes photos of everything I ate and menus: Everything I Ate on my MSC Cruise (Photos and Menus) – Food Review

There Isn’t a Start or End Day

One thing that is a little odd about MSC cruises is because everybody is getting on and off each day there isn’t really a ‘welcome onboard’ or ‘thank you for cruising with us’, sometimes you’ll watch a show on day 3 that seems like its saying goodbye, but really you’ve just started the cruise. 

Treasure Island Was Much More What I Expected

Next up on the schedule was a show called Treasure Island. This was entirely in English and told the story of Billy Bones the pirate. I have to admit when they got to the end and said ‘That was the story of Billy Bones’ I was like what who, there was a story? But the show was definitely entertaining.

It was a mix of singing, dancing, acrobatics, and magic. It was more what I was used to from more recent MSC cruises. MSC has really improved their shows in the last few years. They’re still bizarre, and I think they always will be, but they’re entertaining.

I’d describe MSC’s shows as ‘May seem crazy’.  I did spend a lot of time on this cruise coming up with what MSC could stand for, it stands for Mediterranean Shipping Company really but that isn’t as fun as ‘Maybe sorta chaotic’.

Every Evening Ended With Pizza

We ended our evening in the way we did every day, at the Pizza station. MSC are amazing at Pizza. I’d place them just behind Princess Cruises in terms of quality, but the access to pizza on MSC is much better than Princess.

The Pizzeria is open until late at night and they don’t just have the normal pizzas like margherita or Hawaiian, they also have some interesting choices – I tried one with seeds on it, and another with a charcoal base. All with ketchup of course. 

It was at this point that I was reminded how different MSC cruises are to most other cruise lines. When I went back to my cabin I saw suitcases in the corridor. This usually only happens on the last day of the cruise as guests disembark but on MSC cruises, guests do disembark most days! 

We Visited Hamburg, Bruges and Le Havre

Our first port stop was in Hamburg, Germany followed by Bruges, Belgium and Le Havre, France. Both Hamburg and Bruges are quite far from the port so you’ll need some mode of transport to get into the city. In Hamburg, we used the MSC shuttle for 11 Euros each and in Bruges, we used the Cruise Express bus. 

In Hamburg, I Met a Friend

I met up with my fabulous friend Morgan from Morgan’s Very Unofficial Travel Guides in Hamburg and he gave us a tour around his hometown.

Morgan is an American who now lives in Germany, and he recently took a cruise on Wonder of the Seas which you can see on his channel.

My Shoes: Skechers (Affiliate Link)

I’ve just booked Symphony of the Seas so we chatted about the big Royal Caribbean ships and the weather was beautiful despite it being October.

Our Hamburg trip was interrupted quite dramatically but a WW2 bomb, but more about that later.

In Bruges, We Used The Cruise Express Bus

In Bruges, we bought some Belgian chocolate, stopped for a drink and wandered around the beautiful little streets.

I Did Have Breakfast in The Buffet

I’m not much of a breakfast person but I did make sure I had it on the port days. The doughnuts were my favourite even though I still don’t believe that doughnuts are a breakfast food.

To us in the UK a doughnut is cake, so you’d eat it whenever you eat cake, maybe in the afternoon or after dinner. Still, when on a cruise… I eat doughnuts for breakfast. 

The Buffet Food Was Good and I Loved The Space

We found the food in the buffet to be good and there was always space to sit. The buffet felt very spread out so it didn’t feel as busy as it did on some of the other MSC ships. 

Did We Use Our Balcony Much?

As the cruise went on I did use the balcony, but mostly just to check what the weather was like before going off for the day.

None of the ports that we visited were very picturesque and it was too chilly to spend much time on the balcony. My balcony was quite protected too due to its position near the front so the sun never made it in. 

I did love having daylight when I woke up though and the extra space was helpful. I spent a lot of the cruise working here and also from the bed which was very comfortable.

I’m still not sure why there’s such a huge mirror opposite the bed, but who am I to judge? It made the room feel very spacious.

I Bought WiFi, Was it Worth it?

I bought the surf and stream WiFi package but, to be honest, it really wasn’t worth the extra upgrade of adding the stream part.

Although I could stream in theory, I never managed to get internet that was fast enough to do that. The best speed I had on the cruise Wifi was 2MB and that was when I was in port, so could use my 4G anyway. Most of the time it was less than that.

My WiFi at home is almost 200 times faster. It worked well for checking in on my emails, and working on my website and social accounts but I definitely couldn’t stream. 

I Wouldn’t Have Paid For a Balcony Cabin Upgrade

64% of the cabins on the ship do have balconies. I definitely wouldn’t have paid to upgrade to a balcony on an itinerary like this and I suppose that lots of other people had the same idea, hence why they had a free upgrade promotion. 

I Won in The Casino!

I did decide to have a little gamble in the casino and I actually won $40 which was amazing. I usually set myself a $10 budget per cruise because I’m not much of a gambler but it’s worked out on my last two cruises. I’m sure overall I’m still down, but my luck has been good recently. 

The casino was a fair size but much smaller than the casino on my last Carnival cruise. On my Carnival cruise, the casino was full at every hour of the day but on MSC it was much calmer and wasn’t ever busy.

Did I Notice Guests Smoking in The Casino?

Guests can smoke in the casino and it did really smell of smoke, I usually don’t notice it but here I did. The good thing was that the location of the casino means that you can avoid it if you’d like to.

There was also a big smoking area on the top deck by the main pool and others around the ship. The percentage of people that smoke in Germany and Italy is higher than that of the UK and the US, so bigger smoking areas does make sense. Guests can’t smoke on balcony cabins unlike on the Italian cruise line Costa where this is still allowed. 

To find out more about which cruise lines allow smoking on the balcony, check out this post next: Cruise Line Balcony Smoking Policies – On These 4 Lines You Can

How Much Did I Spend in Total?

Apart from my $10 gambling budget, the only other thing I spent money on during the cruise was soft drinks, and a little bit in the gift shop.

MSC cruises do include tips when booked from the UK so I didn’t have to add an automatic gratuity to my cruise fare like you do on a lot of other cruise lines.

I brought a couple of little concentrated squashes to drink in my cabin so I didn’t actually drink a lot of Pepsi and my total onboard spend came to less than £100, which I was pretty happy with.

6 nights for £320 plus £100 spend, not bad. 

We Also Ate in The Sports Bar (Included in Cruise Fare)

Aside from the main dining room and buffet there was another place where food was included in the cruise fare. I didn’t know about this one until I saw photos from my friends, Jonny and Will, but it was the sports bar. 

Here you could get burgers, onion rings, and chicken nuggets. I love onion rings and there was a veggie burger on the menu so I was happy.

We ate next to the bowling alley and MSC does have other things onboard too like F1 simulators. You do have to pay for these so I didn’t but they always seem to be popular on MSC cruises. 

Was it Annoying Not Having an App?

I did worry that the lack of an app would be a problem and I did find it annoying in a few ways. I missed being able to check the daily schedule and my onboard account but I managed to find other ways to do these things. There are big machines around the atrium where you can see your onboard account. 

It isn’t unusal for cruise lines to make mistakes so it’s always worth checking it throughout the cruise. They will print out a statement for you at the end of the cruise but by that point the lines at reception will be very long. My friend Ruth had a drink charged to her account by mistake but because we checked she went straight to reception and it was removed. There was no queue at all at the time, it was around 3pm and the staff were friendly and polite. 

Overall our cruise was pretty relaxing but there was one part that was very, dramatic I think is the word. When we were trying to get back to the cruise ship in Hamburg, they were defusing a WW2 bomb and closed the port completely. We were stuck on the bus in a thunderstorm and it was this whole thing. To find out what happened and why it couldn’t have been at a worse time for me, check out this video next.

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