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MSC vs Cunard – How do They Compare? (Dress Codes, Ships and Entertainment)

I went from cruising onboard Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 surrounded by formality and tradition to cruising on board the MSC Seaview surrounded by sparkles and waterslides within a week.

The formality of a cruise line affects more than just dining and dress codes.

I didn’t know if I would miss the cruising traditions of Cunard when sailing with MSC or if I would be grateful that I didn’t have to deal with the things that had annoyed me on my Cunard cruise. 

Cunard has very strict dress codes and multiple formal nights and I made every effort to make the most out of the experience as I could, and with Cunard, it meant formality and tradition.

There are some things I don’t like about cruising with Cunard but overall I was happy and very comfortable in these elegant surroundings.

msc and cunard emma cruises

A week after returning from this Cunard cruise I took a cruise with MSC. MSC are on the complete opposite end of the cruising scale and I didn’t know how I would react going from one extreme to the other so fast.

Everything on MSC cruise ships is sparkly, new and they are a very modern cruise line.

They have things on their ships like bowling alleys and zip lines which you definitely won’t find on the traditional Cunard cruise.

I Packed a Lot Less for my MSC Cruise Compared to my Cunard Cruise

My Cunard cruise was 4 nights long and because of the formal dress codes, I had to pack what for me, is a lot of clothes.

I usually travel pretty light but I took a size medium suitcase for 4 days and for me, that’s unheard of.

I needed it, however, as each evening dress I packed took up a lot of space and I needed a different outfit for each day and night, I had to pack multiple pairs of shoes and it was quite a lot, it didn’t matter as I was cruising from my home port and didn’t have to fly.

My MSC Cruise was sailing from Barbados and I knew that I didn’t want to pack a big suitcase.

I didn’t want to be dragging it through airports and on buses and in this way I was so happy that MSC didn’t have the same dress code requirements as Cunard.

One of my Cunard dresses would have taken up most of my MSC suitcase. I packed a size small suitcase for 7 nights and I came back with clothes that I hadn’t worn. 

The Difference In Ship Design Between Cunard and MSC

The feeling of walking into the atrium of the MSC Seaview was completely different from the Queen Mary 2 which I had boarded the week before. 

Cunard cruise ships are very traditional in their design, you’ll find a lot of wood, original artwork, and big bouquets of flowers.

commodore club cunards queen mary 2 seating and windows

To me, the Queen Mary 2 very much felt like a ship and the design hasn’t changed too much from the traditional ocean liners of 100 years ago.

On a Cunard cruise, you will find big wooden decks and lots of traditional uniforms. 

Stepping onto the MSC Seaview though, that was completely different. The MSC cruise ships are very shiny, very new and to me, they often don’t feel like cruise ships at all in some of the inside spaces.

It almost feels like being in a theme park at times, a shopping centre or a spaceship. The MSC Seaview has a huge waterpark area, multiple pools and crystals everywhere. 

msc atrium sparkles

Your weekly piece of cruise trivia is that MSC have roughly a 7% market share of all cruise passengers. This puts them at number 3 when it comes to cruise brand size behind only Royal Caribbean and Carnival. Cunard comes in a little under 1%. 

As much as I had enjoyed the elegant surroundings of the Cunard cruise I did feel more at home on the MSC ship.

On the Cunard cruise, I almost felt as though I was in a museum and that I shouldn’t touch things, apart from of course poking Homer Simpson when I found him in a piece of artwork. 

Is There a Daytime Dress Code Onboard?

One question I often get when talking about cruising with formal lines like Cunard is what do I have to wear in the daytime?

Most people think that if I was to select 10 people from the Cunard cruise in the middle of the day and mix them up with 10 people on an MSC cruise there would be some differences but there aren’t. 

I’m happy to say that there aren’t any strict daytime dress codes on any cruise lines and if you want to wear a dress or shorts or flip flops, that’s fine and most people do.

The Weather Affected What we Packed and Wore

Our Cunard cruise sailed from the UK to Germany and our MSC cruise sailed in the south Cariabbean.

We did, of course, have differences in what we were wearing for weather purposes but when the Queen Mary 2 docked alongside us in St Maarten there was no way to tell who had come from which cruise ship.

st maarten caribbean

I walked around to get a closer look at the Queen Mary 2, it was a big coincidence that she had followed me there, but it was nice to see her again.

I did wonder if I could sneak onboard using my cruise card from the last week, but that wouldn’t work as the cards all have your cruise dates on the front and are also electronically programmed.

As we headed towards our first dinner time onboard the MSC Seaview I still had it in my mind that I would have to get changed.

I Didn’t Get Told Off for What I Wore For Dinner

On most cruise lines I’ll usually wear a dress or something for dinner because it’s a nice chance to wear something different but on this MSC cruise we decided to go to dinner just as we were, wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

This would not be allowed on the Cunard cruise, even on the informal nights on Cunard you have to wear a suit or a long dress or something more formal than you’d wear on any other cruise line.

On a regular day on MSC, as long as you are dressed and not wearing anything terribly offensive like ‘Pepsi sucks’ that’s fine (Just kidding).

To learn more about the dress code on MSC cruises, including photo examples, check out this post: MSC Dress Code Photo Guide – 96% Agree The Dress Codes are Relaxed

Walking into the main restaurant wearing shorts I almost expected to be told off, I was just so used to having to dress formally for dinner on the Cunard cruise but nobody batted an eyelid, everybody was wearing tank tops and baseball hats, anything goes.

Where is The Dress Code Applied?

On Cunard cruises, the dress code applied to almost all public areas onboard the ship after 6 pm so you couldn’t just go to the theatre wearing jeans in the evening.

On my MSC cruise, jeans would have been formal wear, I didn’t wear jeans at any point during the cruise and it was brilliant.

Some days on the MSC cruise we wouldn’t go to dinner in the main dining room and we wouldn’t get changed at all from our day clothes, we could still go to the theatre and the bars and lounges onboard, that wasn’t something that we had to think about.

Was The Atmostphere Lost Without Dress Codes?

I wouldn’t say that the atmosphere was lost with the lack of dress codes, but it definitely was different.

On the Cunard cruise, I was used to seeing amazing outfits every single day, everybody sitting in the theatre and the restaurants looked amazing, it was really nice to see and to take part in for a little while. 

You’ll always find somebody who gets their knickers in a twist about having to follow the cruise lines rules, but every cruise line has their dress code rules on their websites.

On MSC the atmosphere was just more relaxed and comfortable.

Suggested Dress Code for the Formal Night

At this point, we were still expecting to have some sort of formal night on the cruise.

I have cruised with MSC in the past so I thought I knew what to expect. That there would be a very relaxed dress code that required a shirt or dress but I was surprised by what actually happened.

Most cruise lines even if they don’t have formal nights will have some sort of suggested dress code night, this is called a lot of things such as: ‘celebration night’, ‘gala night’, ‘dress to impress’ night.

Usually, the dress codes are enforced but only in the main dining rooms. The dress code will rarely apply elsewhere.

P&O do it sometimes on some of their older ships, but generally, if you want to avoid any kind of formal night or dress code you can just avoid the main dining rooms.

You can eat in the buffet, pub, or grab some food by the pool or order room service, there are lots of options. 

msc seaview top deck pool deck

When is The ‘Formal Night’ on a Cruise?

Usually, on a cruise the formal night or dress to impress night will be on the sea day.

This is usually because everybody has more time to get ready; they’ve not just got back on the ship from an excursion or something similar.

It was on our last sea day that we had our formal night on the MSC cruise. The daily schedule mentioned that it was gala night and there were more photographers in the atrium than usual but that really was the only difference.

To learn more about cruise ship formal nights, and how you can avoid the dress codes if you’d like to, check out this post: You Can Skip Formal Nights on a Cruise – Here’s How

The dress code was only suggested and I don’t know why but there wasn’t an actual dress code written down in the daily schedule.

It basically was a ‘if you want to dress up do it, if you don’t, don’t’.

The Formaility of a Cruise Line Can Vary Dramatically

Going to dinner on a formal night I didn’t expect to see many differences from the other nights of the cruise.

I did see a few long dresses and a couple of people wearing shirts but if you were wearing a shirt and jacket you were in the top 5% of dress code formality. 

If you were on my Cunard cruise and not wearing a bow tie on a formal night you’d be in the bottom 5% of formality.

My Conclusions on my MSC Vs Cunard Cruise

I loved both and that’s what’s great about cruising. If you’re a lover of getting dressed up for dinner everyday, or you never want to, there’s a cruise line that fits.

As much as I loved my Cunard cruise, I was glad that I was on the MSC cruise in the Caribbean. Our MSC cruise was quite an adventure and I still can’t believe how little we paid for it.

To see how the two ships compared side by side, check out this video next:

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