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MSC Cruises vs Princess Cruises – Tried and Tested

If you are considering a cruise with either Princess 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. Both Princess and MSC are two of my personal favourite cruise lines. 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 Princess Cruises and MSC Cruises?

Cruises with Princess Cruises offer a more traditional cruise experience than MSC Cruises. MSC Cruises tend to have a younger passenger demographic than Princess Cruises with Princess Cruises placing a higher emphasis on dining and relaxation. On MSC Cruises multiple languages are usually spoken whereas on Princess Cruises English is the primary language.

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 CruisesPrincess Cruises
Dress CodesRelaxedEnforced
Formal NightsYesYes
PassengersMixedUS/UK/Australia/Canada Etc (Mostly English Speaking)
Daily ScheduleMid RangeMid Range
Price******
FoodPrimarily ItalianPrimarily American/British
MSC Cruises vs Princess Cruises

The below photo shows me standing on the Golden Princess during my all-time favourite cruise. I THINK this photo was taken when we docked in Taiwan. The Golden Princess has since left the Princess fleet.

golden princess emma cruises top deck

Cruise Ship Design

MSC Cruises and Princess Cruises have a similar number of ships. MSC currently has 19 ships to choose from and Princess Cruises 14.

Both cruise lines have very distinctive ship designs, if you’ve cruised with Princess cruises once you’ll recognise design elements across all of the ships in the fleet. The same goes with MSC cruise ships, all ships have a very similar style.

Both cruise lines have ships of similar ages.

Cruise LineNumber of ShipsShip DesignOnboard Activities
Princess Cruises14Traditional, ElegantMid Range
MSC Cruises19SparklyBusy
MSC Cruises vs Princess Cruises Ship Design
MSC Meraviglia
Me in front of the MSC Meraviglia

Princess Cruises – Cruise Ship Design

Princess Cruises have a variety of cruise ships that range in age and size. The smallest ships are from the late 90s and early 00s. Princess are continually building and launching new cruise ships.

ShipYear BuiltGross Tonnage
Aurora200076,000
Arcadia200584,000
Ventura2008116,000
Azura2010115,000
Britannia2015143,000
Iona2020184,000
Arvia2021184,000
P&O Cruises Ships by Age

Royal Princess

Princess’s ships are very elegant and most have central atriums that become the hub of the cruise ship. On the smallest Princess cruise ships these tend to be smaller circular atriums, on the larger ships they are big and square.

Princess Cruises call their atriums the Piazza and you’ll often find things happening here like games or Zumba.

On some Princess cruises Princess even have an event called Puppies in the Piazza where they bring puppies onboard.

One of my favourite things about the Princess cruise ships is just how many swimming pools they have. Many ships will have 4 or 5 swimming pools, some even more!

Princess cruise ships feel very spacious per person and I’ve never had a problem with crowded pool decks or bars in the way that I have on other cruise lines.

golden princess top deck swimming pools movies under the stars saving mr banks
The pool deck of the Golden Princess, Saving Mr Banks playing on the movie screen.

MSC Cruises – Ship Design

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.

ShipYear BuiltGross Tonnage
MSC Armonia 200165,000
MSC Sinfonia200265,000
MSC Lirica200365,000
MSC Opera200465,000
MSC Musica200692,000
MSC Orchestra200792,000
MSC Poesia200892,000
MSC Magnifica201095,000
MSC Fantastica2008137,000
MSC Splendida2009137,000
MSC Divina2021139,000
MSC Preziosa2013139,000
MSC Meraviglia2017171,000
MSC Bellissima2019171,000
MSC Grandiosa2019181,000
MSC Virtuosa2020181,000
MSC Seaside2017153,000
MSC Seaview2018153,000
MSC Cruises cruise ship fleet by size

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 meraviglia pub british bar drinks alcohol

MSC are bringing out new cruise ships every year and have very ambitious shipbuilding plans moving forward.

Princess Cruises vs MSC Cruises Ship Comparison

Princess Cruises and MSC Cruises both have a variety of ships available with distinctive styles.

The cruise ships for Princess Cruises are more traditional in design than MSC Cruises. The MSC Cruise ships are all very sparkly (Princess cruise ships are sparkly too but not EVERYTHING sparkles all the time)!

Lovers of activities like ropes courses and waterslides would be better suited to MSC’s cruise ships. Guests who prefer to sit by one of the many swimming pools enjoying a drink may prefer a Princess cruise.

Dress Codes and Dining

Princess Cruises do provide a traditional cruising experience for those who want to take part in formal nights. The dress codes aren’t as strict as on other cruise lines like Cunard or P&O but they are enforced.

MSC Cruises do have formal nights of sorts but they’re not as formal as the formal nights that you would find on a Princess cruise and many people choose to not take part.

Cruise LineEvening Dress CodesEnforced
Princess CruisesElegantYes
MSC CruisesRelaxedRarely
MSC Cruises vs Princess Dress Codes
Princess Cruises Main Dining Room

Princess Cruises – Dress Codes

The majority of guests who cruise with Princess Cruises enjoy the dressing-up element of formal nights. When it isn’t formal night guests can expect a ‘smart casual’ dress code in the main dining room.

  • On a 1-4 night Princess cruise guests can expect no formal nights.
  • On a Princess cruise of 5-6 nights, guests can expect 1 formal night.
  • Cruises of 7-13 nights in length usually have 2 formal nights.
  • Cruises longer than this may have more.

Princess cruises have both fixed and flexible dining options available.

To learn more about how dining works on a Princess cruise and what is included in the fare, check out this post:

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

MSC Cruises Formal Nights Gala Elegant Dress Code



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

MSC Formal Night Dress Code Examples Dinner Promenade Deck
MSC Formal Night Dress Code Examples

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.

Princess Cruises vs MSC Cruises – Dress Codes and Dining

Guests looking for a more traditional elegant cruise experience may prefer a Princess cruise. Guests who do not want to take part in formal nights, or want formal nights to be incredibly relaxed may prefer a MSC cruise.

It’s important to remember that formal nights can be avoided on all cruise lines, even the strictest cruise lines like Cunard have alternative options. To learn more about how you can skip a formal night, including where you can eat for free, check out this post: You Can Skip Formal Nights on a Cruise – Here’s How.

Passenger Demographics 

Princess Cruises tend to attract an older passenger demographic than MSC Cruises despite also being popular with families.

The majority of guests on Princess Cruises will be from English-speaking countries such as the US, Australia, and UK. On MSC Cruises you will find Italians, Spanish, French, American, British, and almost all nationalities on board.

Cruise LineTarget MarketNationalities
Princess CruisesAdults, Couples, FamiliesEnglish Speaking
MSC CruisesFamilies, Friendship Groups, Young Cruisers, AdultsVaried
MSC Cruises vs Princess Passenger Demographics

Princess Cruises – Passenger Demographics

The demographics of who you’ll find on a Princess cruise depends a lot on the location of the cruise.

I took a Princess cruise from Singapore to Tokyo and the majority of guests on board were from Australia or the US. When I cruised the British Isles with Princess the majority of guests were from the US or UK.

Princess Cruises do welcome families onboard but generally have quite an adult atmosphere. They do have kids clubs but don’t have things like waterslides on board any of their ships.

View From The Bridge of Royal Princess
View From The Bridge of The Royal Princess

Like with any cruise the passengers depend on the location, the Singapore to Tokyo cruise I took had an older demographic on average than the British Isles cruise because of the location and length of the cruise.

MSC Cruises – Passenger 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.

msc meraviglia ropes course and waterslides

You’ll find passengers from lots of countries onboard an MSC cruise regardless of where the cruise is sailing.

Princess Cruises vs MSC Cruises – Passenger Demographics

The Princess Cruises experience is tailored towards guests who speak English as their primary language whereas MSC cruises speak multiple languages onboard.

MSC tend to attract a younger passenger demographic than Princess cruises but both are loved by cruisers of all ages.

Guests who would like to be surrounded by people from a variety of languages speaking many languages may prefer an MSC cruise. Guests who would prefer a relaxing, romantic style of cruise where English is the primary language spoken would prefer a Princess cruise.

Onboard Included Food

The food found on a Princess cruise is quite different from that which is found on an MSC cruise. There are of course some similarities.

The majority of food on a Princess cruise is geared towards an American palate, whereas food on an MSC cruise is more ‘Mediterranean’. Think pasta, pizza, bread, and vegetables! Yum!

The quality of food on both cruise lines is, in my experience, high with a range of options available for every meal. The food on a Princess cruise is generally regarded as being some of the best and I’d agree with this.

Cruise LineFoodQuality
Princess CruisesPrimarily AmericanVery High
MSC CruisesPrimarily ItalianHigh
MSC Cruises vs Princess Food

Princess Cruises – Included Food

On a Princess cruise, you will find a range of food on the menu. The portion sizes are fairly large and the food is always hot and of good quality. There are a number of places where food is included free of charge.

Food is available (for free) in the following places, there are also many speciality restaurants available for those who want to pay extra:

  • Main Dining Room
  • Buffet
  • International Cafe
  • Poolside Grill
  • 24 Hour Room Service

It is unusual for a cruise line to offer free room service, there is usually a charge for this. There are a couple of items on the Princess Cruises room service menu that cost extra but generally speaking the room service is free to use. There is no charge for the room service and also no charge for the items ordered.

Princess Cruises will offer dishes from the US, UK, Australia and wherever the cruise is travelling to.

The buffet on a Princess Cruise is fantastic, they have the most amazing chocolate chip cookies that I’ve ever found on a cruise (and trust me I’ve tried a lot of cruise ship cookies)!

To learn more about the food available, watch the video below as I take you to lunch.

MSC Cruises – Included 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!

msc meraviglia food main dining room christmas dinner

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:

Princess Cruises vs MSC Cruises – Food

Guests preferring home comforts may prefer a Princess cruise and those preferring to try something a little different may prefer an MSC cruise. There are more included options on a Princess cruise and room service is free which it is not on an MSC cruise.

Both Princess Cruises and MSC Cruises do have specific menus for children and dishes can be adapted where necessary.

Pricing

MSC cruises are usually cheaper than Princess cruises.

Both Princess Cruises and MSC Cruises include taxes and fees when booked from the UK.

Gratuities are included as standard on all MSC Cruises booked from the UK whereas with Princess they are not automatically included.

Princess do have a variety of ‘all inclusive’ offers which allow guests to pay a fixed amount in return for included gratuities and other perks such as drinks.

Cruise LinePricingIncludes Gratuities?
Princess Cruises****Not as standard (In many promotions)
MSC Cruises**Yes
MSC Cruises vs Princess Pricing

Princess Cruises – Pricing

The Princess cruise fare includes gratuities and taxes/fees but does not include gratuities as standard.

Princess very often have promotions which will include gratuities so in reality the majority of Princess cruises passengers do not pay their gratuities separately after the cruise but instead in the initial price.

golden princess emma cruises

The only things that guests will have to pay extra for, if they want to is:

Princess Cruises pricing is mid-range, there are some bargains to be found if you know how to. I teach how to do this in our cruise course How to Cruise For Less.

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.

msc meraviglia hot tub

Princess Cruises vs MSC Cruises – Pricing

Generally speaking, MSC Cruises are cheaper than Princess Cruises. This is more to do with MSC Cruises being priced below the industry average rather than Princess Cruises being expensive.

Princess Cruises are mid range in terms of mainstream cruise pricing.

Technology

Both Princess Cruises and MSC Cruises excel when it comes to onboard technology. Compared to the other cruise lines in the Industry Princess and MSC are far ahead.

Onboard technology is now used to simplify the onboard safety drill, allowing guests to complete portions in their cabins/on their phones rather than all guests physically attending the muster station at the same time. The muster station must still be visited but guests are free to come and go as they please.

To learn more about why a muster drill is mandatory, including what happens if a guest misses the drill, check out this post: What is a Muster Drill on a Cruise? Everything You Need to Know

MSC Cruises – Technology

MSC has a technology called MSC for me, it’s a wearable wristband and app that allows the cruise line to track and trace the passengers through sensors located in each deck. Parents are able to locate their children through the same technology.

The MSC for me wristband allows guests to do things like pay for drinks without having to find and use their cruise card. This makes the experience of making purchases onboard hands-free and easy.

msc for me mobile phone app msc meraviglia

The app allows guests to book things like speciality restaurants and see the onboard schedule. The app also has some information about the itinerary and ports being visited.

Guests are able to check their onboard account directly on the app which is a great way to insure that there aren’t any mistakes and that you know how much you have spent.

The app also allows guests to chat through the app without the paying for WiFi.

Princess Cruises – Technology

Princess Cruises have technology onboard all of their ships called the Ocean Medallion.

The Ocean Medallion is a wearable piece of technology that allows guests to do things like making purchases and open their cabin door without using a cruise card.

princess cruises ocean medallion

Ocean Medallion keeps the cruise experience as hands-free as possible as is the most advanced cruise ship technology currently in the industry.

Ocean Medallions technology means that guests are able to order a drink or a snack to their location in real-time. This is something that no other cruise line is able to do. Guests can also locate their friends/family and message them through the app.

Which is Better?

Both cruise lines are brilliant and I personally enjoy cruising with both. Neither are ‘better’ than the other but both are better suited to a certain type of person.

Princess Cruises offer a great option for cruisers wanting to enjoy an elegant relaxing cruise with friends or family. When cruising with my family Princess are always a good option because we love the food, swimming in the pools, and onboard technology.

When cruising with friends I may choose a MSC cruise due to the lower price and more relaxed dress codes.

For guests wanting a cheaper cruise where multiple languages are spoken, an MSC cruise may be a better choice.

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 Sapphire Princess and MSC Meraviglia in the videos below.

Cruising with MSC:

Cruising with Princess:

Taking a Cruise: Recommendations and Resources

Not Sure What to Book?
Learn everything you need to know to find and book the perfect cruise in my How to Cruise For Less cruise course.

Don’t Forget Your Travel Insurance:
You could be stranded abroad, lose your entire cruise fare, or be hit with MASSIVE medical bills if you don’t have cruise travel insurance. I use comparison websites/ht to compare quotes: Compare Quotes Here.

Book a Cruise:
Have a specific cruise you want to book or just need some help and inspiration? Get a cruise quote through us: Cruise Quote Form.

Our full list of travel recommendations can be found here.

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