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MSC vs Royal Caribbean – I Cruised on The Biggest Ships: (Differences)

If you are taking a cruise on a big cruise ship from either Royal Caribbean or MSC you might be wondering how they compare.

I spent a week on MSC World Europa and Symphony of the Seas, both cruising the Mediterranean from Barcelona.

In this post, we will explore the differences in ship design and onboard experience.

emma cruises msc world europa outside
Emma and Symphony of the Seas

Difference #1 – Central Park

Both ships have a large central shopping street that stretches almost the entire length of the ship. They vary in design but their function is similar.

Both ships also have an open area at the back with cabins that look inwards but in addition, Symphony of the Seas has a central park in the middle of the ship.

There is no central park area onboard MSC World Europa and this is a space that I missed.

symphony of the seas central park

Difference #2 – Ice Skating and Aqua Theatre

Symphony of The Seas has an ice skating rink and aqua theatre where they do shows, I watched performances in both and they were fantastic.

MSC World Europa doesn’t have either of these but both ships have a theatre where they do shows in the evenings.

On Royal Caribbean the theatre shows were longer, including the full Hairspray musical.

I personally prefer Royal Caribbean’s theatre entertainment but this is of course personal preference.

MSC World Europa does have a second venue for shows at the back called the Panorama lounge, we would usually watch either a show in the theatre or one here each day and the acrobatics were very impressive.

Royal Caribbean's Symphony of The Seas - Aqua Theatrea

Difference #3 – Secret Bar

There is a secret bar onboard MSC World Europa but not one on Symphony of The Seas, well not one that I found anyway!

The secret bar is Speakeasy themed and located in the crew areas.

There is no visable entrance to the bar and it’s by invite only. I was lucky enough to visit and you can check out how that went in this post:

I Went To A Secret Bar On A Cruise Ship That Isn’t On The Deck Plans

msc world europa secret speakeasy bar

Difference #3 – Smoking

On MSC World Europa there are more smoking areas than on Symphony of the Seas and there is a smoking lounge.

MSC are an Italian cruise line and particularly on sailings in Europe the passengers will be made up of Italians, Spaniards and other nationalities who do smoke more than Americans or Brits.

Smoking is not allowed on balconies on both lines.

The casino on Symphony of the Seas is non-smoking but there is a smoking section on World Europa which you do have to walk through to get to the panorama lounge at the back.

Difference #4 – Inward Focus/Scenery

I felt as though Symphony of the Seas was much more inward-facing than MSC World Europa.

I had a fantastic and very busy time on Symphony but it would be totally possible to forget that we were travelling at all.

We often sailed away when I would be in a place like Central Park and I’d have no idea that we were moving.

On MSC World Europa it felt as though I saw more of the scenery from places like the buffet which had big windows.

This may have been helped by the fact that I could see the ocean from my inside facing balcony because there wasn’t an Aqua Theatre blocking the view.

msc world europa

Difference #5 – Buffet and Casual Dining

MSC World Europa has two buffets on two different decks and Symphony of the Seas has one.
Symphony also has:

  • El Loco Fresh: Serving Mexican fare such as tacos and burritos.
  • Park Café: Offers sandwiches, salads, and light bites.
  • Sorrento’s Pizza: Known for its New York-style pizza.
  • Dog House: The place to go for a variety of hot dogs and sausages.

MSC World Europa also has:

  • Burger and Pizza: Serving grab-and-go hot food and snacks.

We enjoyed both buffets and ate differently in each. On MSC we mostly ate pizza, pasta and vegetables which are what MSC do best – whereas on Royal Caribbean I ate things like chicken tenders and cookies!

Both were great, just different. To find out which of the buffets you’d prefer, check out these posts:

Everything I Ate on my MSC Cruise (Photos and Menus) – Food Review

Royal Caribbean Food Review – EVERYTHING I Ate During my Cruise: (Photos and Menus)

Difference #6 – Soda Packages

Royal Caribbean offer a drinks package which is just soda which is great for me. MSC doesn’t have a soda package and instead offers a higher-priced non-alcoholic package.

On Symphony of the Seas, there are self-service soda machines and we were given a cup that we could use anytime.

royal caribbean soda package

Although they do have some self-service machines on MSC World Europa, these were operated by the crew – which seemed to defeat the point to me!

On MSC World Europa the alcoholic packages was included as part of my booking promotion so I did have that for a change. On Royal Caribbean, I bought the soda package.

Difference #7 – Price

Usually, when I take an MSC cruise it’s because I’ve found a bargain and paid half the price of the other mainstream cruise lines. I’ve taken week-long MSC cruises from as little as £350!

Usually Royal Caribbean are more expensive than MSC.

MSC World Europa is more expensive than the other cruise ships in the fleet though, and after cruising on the ship I understand why, it felt like a real step up for MSC and it is now my favourite MSC ship.

My Royal Caribbean cruise cost me £1375 ($1,752.35)

This price is based on two sharing an inside-facing balcony cabin, including gratuities but no drinks.

My MSC cruise cost me £1034 ($1,318)

This price is based on two sharing an inside facing balcony cabin, including gratuities and an alcoholic drinks package.

Difference #8 – Adult Movies!

Both cruise lines have TVs in the cabins where you can watch movies.

The movies are available to rent and they do cost money (they are free on other cruise lines).

One difference that I’ve noticed is that MSC have an adult movies section, I’ve never seen that on any other cruise line.

You do have to pay to watch these movies, but they are just alongside the other movies in the regular menu. It always makes me laugh.

MSC Adult Movies on TV

Difference #9 – Languages, Nationalities and More

Royal Caribbean are an American cruise line that focus entirely on the English-speaking market.

MSC are an Italian cruise line that focuses on on multiple nationalities. It’s very normal to hear people on MSC cruises speaking 5 or more languages.

The cruise director will often introduce the shows in multiple languages which always amazes me. On Royal Caribbean cruises only English is used.

This difference shows in differences in food, entertainment, onboard schedule and more.

  • MSC’s food is more Mediterranean-focused
  • Their entertainment is less reliant on language so is generally more abstract, always entertaining but sometimes very weird!

Before You Go

To learn how Royal Caribbean are different from MSC, including why the cruises offered by both lines to the same places are different, check out this post next:

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

Find out below how Royal Caribbean’s cruises differ if you sail with them in Asia – there are differences in drinks, food entertainment and more:

Cruising in Asia With an American Cruise Line (Differences in Food, Entertainment and More)

Taking a Cruise: Recommendations and Resources

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