If you are considering a cruise with either P&O Cruises or MSC Cruises you may be wondering how the cruise lines compare.
I’ve cruised with both cruise lines multiple times and regularly recommend both. That said, there are some big differences between the two cruise lines.
In this article, we will look at differences in the onboard experience, food, ships, passengers, and more.
What is the Difference Between P&O Cruises and MSC Cruises?
Cruises with P&O Cruises are more traditional than MSC Cruises with a higher focus placed on dress codes and formal dining. On MSC Cruises multiple languages are usually spoken whereas on P&O cruises only English is spoken. P&O Cruises are a British cruise line and MSC Cruises are Italian which is reflected in the entertainment, activities, and food.
I’ve enjoyed the cruises that I have taken with both cruise lines but like any cruise line, neither will suit everybody.
The most important decision you will make when finding a cruise is picking the right cruise line.
|MSC Cruises||P&O Cruises|
|Food||Primarily Italian||Primarily British|
The below photo shows me standing with the MSC Orchestra, I had just disembarked P&O’s Britannia seen in the background.
Cruise Ship Design
MSC Cruises have considerably more ships in their fleet with 19 currently in operation compared to P&O cruises 6 ships.
The design of P&O cruise ships is much more traditional than those owned by MSC Cruises.
Both cruise lines have ships of similar ages.
|Cruise Line||Number of Ships||Ship Design||Onboard Activities|
|P&O Cruises||6||Traditional, Elegant||Relaxing|
P&O Cruises – Cruise Ship Design
P&O Cruises have a variety of cruise ships that range in age and size. They have quite a few small traditional cruise ships and their newest, largest ship is Iona.
Iona is an exciting ship for P&O Cruises as she is aimed at the family market and is increasingly focusing on the flexibility of cruising.
Many of the P&O cruise ships are adult-only.
|Ship||Year Built||Gross Tonnage|
P&O’s ships are very elegant and most have central atriums that become the hub of the cruise ship.
Many of the older P&O cruise ships also have a tiered aft which is something that I particularly like in cruise ships. All ships have plenty of outside space and feel considerably less crowded than cruises on other cruise lines.
Below is a photo of the Crow’s Nest on board P&O’s Britannia. A very popular place to grab a drink and look out over the ocean. The lounge is located on deck 16 and has glass windows on three sides.
The design of MSC ships
MSC ships are very glamorous, they’re all about sparkles and have very clean lines and a modern look. The MSC style is very distinctive and no other lines really have ships like it. I would describe the style as Italian elegance.
Most MSC cruise ships have lots of top deck space and multiple swimming pools. Many of the newer ships also include things like ropes courses (free to use) and sports courts.
Check out my video below to see what I mean about the sparkles:
All the ships in the MSC Cruises fleet were built after 2001.
MSC’s cruise ships are generally very modern. Many of their ships have a promenade in the middle which is lined with restaurants, shops, and my personal favorite, a pub!
The below photo shows the pub onboard the MSC Meraviglia.
MSC are bringing out new cruise ships every year and have very ambitious shipbuilding plans moving forward.
P&O Cruises vs MSC Cruises Ship Comparison
Guests that are looking for adrenaline-filled activities and new, large ships may prefer MSC Cruises. Guests who like traditional cruise ships may prefer a P&O cruise.
P&O ships are much more relaxing and traditional than MSC cruise ships.
Cruisers who are used to cruising with MSC may find P&O cruise ships to be lacking in activities because there are none of the adrenaline-filled activities on board that you’ll find on MSC cruise ships such as ropes courses or waterslides.
Dress Codes and Dining
P&O Cruises provide a traditional cruising experience, dress codes are adhered to and formal nights of very popular.
MSC Cruises do have formal nights of sorts but they’re not as formal as the formal nights that you would find on a P&O cruise and many people choose to not take part.
|Cruise Line||Evening Dress Codes||Enforced|
P&O Cruises Dress Codes
Guests who cruise with P&O Cruises usually enjoy the dressing up element of formal nights. Meeting the captain is a very popular event onboard P&O cruises and guests wear their best clothes to do so.
Dress codes are strictly enforced compared to many other cruise lines.
P&O are increasingly offering flexible dining now but have traditionally always had fixed dining. During my cruise on P&O’s Britannia, we opted for flexible dining and it worked very well.
With their newer cruise ships, they are increasingly offering flexibility as an option but on the smaller older P&O cruise ships the majority of dining is still fixed.
Dress codes are taken pretty seriously by the majority of the guests and even on non-formal nights some dress codes are still in force.
MSC Cruises Dress Codes
MSC do have formal nights on every cruise but the dress codes are INCREDIBLY relaxed. I’ve seen other guests wearing tank tops and baseball caps in the main dining room on a formal night
On a 7 night cruise, there will usually be one formal night, on cruises longer than 7 nights there will usually be two formal nights.
There is a dress code for the main dining room on all nights of an MSC cruise. MSC have both ‘gala’ and ‘dress to impress’ nights as well as informal nights.
To learn more about MSC’s dress codes, including what percentage of past MSC cruisers believe that the dress codes are not enforced, check out this post (spoiler, it isn’t very high!): MSC Cruises Formal Nights – Everything You Need To Know
That said, just because the dress codes aren’t strictly enforced on MSC cruises that doesn’t mean that some guests don’t enjoy dressing up. You definitely won’t look out of place if you do decide to wear your best formalwear.
P&O Cruises vs MSC Cruises – Dress Codes and Dining
Guests looking for a traditional cruise experience that includes formal nights and dress codes would enjoy a P&O cruise. Guests who prefer a more flexible and relaxed dining experience may prefer a MSC cruise.
P&O Cruises tend to attract an older passenger demographic than MSC Cruises despite also being popular with families.
The majority of guests on P&O Cruises are British as opposed to MSC Cruises where you will find Italians, Spanish, French, American, British, and almost all nationalities on board.
|Cruise Line||Target Market||Nationalities|
|P&O Cruises||Families, Solo Cruisers, Adults||Mostly British|
|MSC Cruises||Families, Friendship Groups, Young Cruisers, Adults||Varied|
P&O Cruise Demographics
On a P&O cruise, you can realistically expect 99% of the Passengers to be British.
They are the largest British cruise lines by passenger numbers and advertise heavily in the UK.
P&O Cruises do advertise regularly to families and are very popular with them. That said P&O cruises do tend to have an older passenger demographic than MSC Cruises.
P&O Cruises attracts passengers who enjoy traditional dining, dress codes, and a classic cruising experience.
MSC Cruises Demographics
MSC Cruises primarily target families, friendship groups, and couples. The average age of an MSC cruiser is much younger than the industry average.
Their ships are designed with children in mind and have watersides, kids clubs, and children’s activities on the daily schedule. The ropes courses aren’t just for kids! I gave it a go too.
You’ll find passengers from lots of countries onboard an MSC cruise regardless of where the cruise is sailing.
P&O Cruises vs MSC Cruises – Passenger Demographics
The P&O Cruises experience is tailored towards a British market so you’ll find UK plug sockets in the cabins, kettles in the staterooms, and Yorkshire puddings on the menus. You won’t find these things on an MSC cruise in quite the same way.
MSC tend to attract a younger passenger demographic than P&O cruises but both are loved by cruisers of all ages.
I continually recommend both cruise lines to families. Both lines often offer discounted, or even free, places for children. To find out more about why I recommend both to families, check out this post: Best Cruise Lines For Families (Tried & Tested, Pros & Cons!)
The majority of cruises for P&O Cruises cruise from the UK. MSC have cruise ships stationed all over the world and also have cruise ships occasionally based in the UK.
The majority of MSC cruise ships are located in the Mediterranean.
|P&O Cruises||Mostly from the UK (or including UK flights)|
P&O Cruises Itineraries
P&O cruise worldwide but the majority of cruises either leave from the UK or include flights that go from the UK.
It is assumed that the majority of passengers on a P&O cruise will be British so will either want to cruise from the UK or book a cruise package which includes flights from the UK.
P&O Cruises do cruise to places like the Caribbean and a very popular P&O itinerary is to fly from the UK to the Caribbean take a P&O cruise and then fly home.
Random fact: I was featured on the entertainment on the plane for guests heading over to join Britannia in the Caribbean.
When I cruised on Britannia I took part in a cookery class and it was recorded and shown on the plane as an advert for other guests. Cool!
P&O also cruise to the Norwegian Fjords, northern Europe, the Mediterranean, Canary Islands, and more.
MSC Cruises Itineraries
MSC cruise often in the Mediterranean and have ships stationed here year round. I’ve taken two cruises onboard the MSC Meraviglia and both have been Mediterranean loops.
On MSC cruises guests are usually able to board at any point during the cruise and as a result, the itineraries can be extremely flexible.
You will find MSC cruises from the UK and many stationed in the US.
P&O Cruises vs MSC Cruises – Itineraries
Guests looking to cruise from the UK will have more choice if cruising with P&O cruises.
P&O have multiple ships that sail from Southampton year-round and for passengers from the UK, this can be a very easy option.
Guests looking to cruise in other parts of the world may prefer a MSC cruise as there are many destinations that MSC Cruises cruise to that P&O cruises do not.
If itinerary flexibility is needed, MSC may be a better option as they allow guests to board and disembark at different points during the cruise.
The food found on a P&O cruise is often different from that which is found on a MSC cruise. There are of course some similarities.
The majority of food on a P&O cruise is geared towards a British palate, whereas food on a MSC cruise is more ‘Mediterranean’. Think pasta, pizza, bread, and vegetables! Yum!
The quality of food on both cruise lines is, in my experience, very high with a range of options available for every meal.
|P&O Cruises||Primarily British||High|
|MSC Cruises||Primarily Italian||High|
On a P&O cruise, you will find foods like beef wellington, shepherd’s pie, toad in the hole, fish and chips, and carvery meats in the buffet and dining room.
Note the chunky chips in the photo below of my lunch in the main dining room! No fries here. Chunky chips all the way.
P&O Cruises do also offer American-style food and other food from across Europe.
The buffet on P&O Cruises is fantastic and one of my favorites. It is open late into the night and serves a variety of food which is all very good.
If you are cruising with P&O be sure to look out for sugared bread rolls that they have available for breakfast, it’s like having an iced bun for breakfast. So yummy!
P&O Cruises are, in my experience, one of the best cruise lines for vegetarian and vegan options. They also have a variety of different types of milk and alternative products for those who have an intolerance to dairy.
MSC Cruises Food
On an MSC cruise you’ll find a variety of free food in the main dining room, buffet and pool side grill. MSC do have a number of speciality restaurants too for those wanting something extra.
The buffet on MSC cruises is open ALMOST all the time, if you want pizza at 2am, no problem!
I was lucky enough to cruise over Christmas one year, the Christmas dinner wasn’t exactly what I was used to but it was brilliant to be at sea over Christmas!
As well as Mediterranean staples such as pasta dishes MSC do also serves American favorites like hot dogs and burgers.
To learn more about the food availble on an MSC cruise, check out this post:
P&O Cruises vs MSC Cruises – Food
If you are somebody who likes your home comforts when it comes to food and are from the UK, a P&O cruise would be a great option for you.
If you would like to try something a little different a MSC Cruise cruise may be a better fit.
Both P&O cruises and MSC Cruises do have specific menus for children and dishes can be adapted where necessary.
MSC cruises are usually cheaper than P&O cruises but it is possible to find a cheap cruise with both cruise lines.
Both P&O Cruises and MSC Cruises include taxes, fees, and gratuities in their cruise fare. If booking an MSC cruise from the US, gratuities are not included.
|Cruise Line||Pricing||Includes Gratuities?|
P&O Cruises Pricing
The P&O cruise fare includes gratuities and taxes/fees. The only things that guests will have to pay extra for, if they want to is:
- Drinks (There is free tea, coffee, and water available in the buffet but all drinks from the bars are chargeable)
- Specialty Meals
P&O Cruises pricing is mid-range, there are some bargains to be found, I managed to book a 14-night cruise on the newest P&O ship for £800! It was later canceled due to Coronavirus.
MSC Cruises Pricing
If booked from the UK MSC cruises also include gratuities. Food, basic drinks and entertainment are included in the cruise fare.
MSC often have discounted prices for children and it’s possible to find a VERY cheap MSC cruise out of season.
I took a week-long cruise on board the MSC Meraviglia, including flights from the UK and a hotel in Barcelona for £400.
The cruise was well under £50 per person per day, I don’t know about you but I DEFINITELY can just eat £50 worth of food per day, let alone the entertainment, transportation and everything else that’s included in a cruise.
If you’d like to learn to cruise as cheaply as I do, so that you can cruise more often, check out our cruise course: How to Cruise For Less.
P&O Cruises vs MSC Cruises – Pricing
P&O and MSC Cruises prices are often pretty comparable. Generally speaking I’ve found that it’s easier to find a cheaper cruise with MSC but there are bargains to be had with both.
Both P&O and MSC Cruises include gratuities when being booked from the UK and are usually considerably cheaper than American cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line.
The onboard schedule on an MSC Cruise cruise is slightly busier than that of a P&O cruise. You won’t be bored on a P&O cruise but compared to an MSC cruise it is more relaxing.
|Cruise Line||Onboard Schedule|
P&O Cruises Onboard Schedule
On a P&O cruise, there is a daily schedule of things like trivia, game shows, and entertainment in the theatre.
I’ve always really enjoyed the theatre entertainment on P&O cruises, the musicians, tribute acts, and magic show ‘Astonishing’ are all brilliant.
There will be a variety of live music and singers performing throughout the cruise and things like football are often shown in the onboard pub.
Guests who cruise with P&O Cruises often like to relax by the pool and with a good book and a nice drink.
The pace of life on a P&O cruise is slower than that of an MSC cruise but nevertheless, guests are very rarely bored. I personally enjoy the more relaxed atmosphere of P&O cruises.
MSC Cruise Onboard Schedule
On a MSC cruise, there are lots of things to keep everybody busy.
The ships are full of adrenaline-filled activities and the daily schedule on an MSC cruise has activities happening every hour, multiple things per hour in fact.
It is almost impossible to be bored on an MSC cruise the problem is trying to fit all of the events you want to attend into your day!
The entertainment on an MSC cruise is different from that which you’ll find on P&O or any American cruise line. Due to the fact that multiple languages are spoken on an MSC cruise, you’ll find that the entertainment tries to avoid the use of language as much as possible.
It’s very ‘interpretive’ and I’d say strange. Many people love it but it isn’t my favorite.
MSC do have Cirque Du Soleil available on many of their ships for an extra cost which is BRILLIANT.
P&O Cruises vs MSC Cruises – Onboard Schedule
Guests who like to be entertained constantly with many activities to do throughout the day may prefer an MSC cruise. Guests who want to relax and recharge may prefer a P&O cruise.
MSC Cruises have a LOT of technology on their ships. They have an app that has many functions and a wristband technology called MSC for Me.
P&O don’t have any form of app or wearable technology.
In my opinion, this is a MASSIVE shame and I hope that P&O creates one soon. P&O are the only cruise line that I can think of that doesn’t have an app. It’s bizarre!
Which is Better?
P&O Cruises offer a great option for cruisers looking to relax and sail from the UK. The cruises are tailored towards a British market so you’ll find the food and entertainment onboard is catered to British tastes.
Guests who want a busier cruise on a sparkly cruise ship with multiple languages spoken onboard would enjoy an MSC cruise. MSC cruises are usually cheaper and more relaxed with a younger passenger demographic than P&O cruises.
If you are from the UK and looking to book a cruise you can get a free quote through us here: Book a Cruise.
Still can’t make up your mind? Join me onboard the Britannia and MSC Meraviglia in the videos below.
Cruising with MSC:
Cruising with P&O:
Taking a Cruise: Recommendations and Resources
Book a Cruise
Get Travel Insurance
Shop Cruise Gifts and Merchandise
Free Insiders Cruise Line Guide
Ever wondered how the mainstream cruise lines compare? Cruise lines won’t tell you this, but I will.