If you plan to book a cruise vacation on a tight budget, you have probably come across MSC Cruises. While prices vary between cruise lines occasionally, you can almost guarantee that fares through MSC Cruises will be among the cheapest you find during your online search. 

While finding a budget-friendly cruise package is intriguing, such an obvious pricing pattern usually has most people wondering why this particular cruise line is so cheap. Most assume that low prices translate to a low-quality cruising experience or that you will travel with a cruise line that cuts all the corners.

Luckily for you, we have all the answers! This guide will explain why MSC Cruises are so cheap. Not only will we explain their rock-bottom pricing, but we will also determine whether or not they represent great value or the type of experience that you are better off avoiding.

Let’s get to the bottom of it!

Before we look into their pricing, it is worth explaining who MSC Cruises are and where they fit within the cruise industry. 

While many assume that a budget-friendly cruise line would need to be a subsidiary of one of the major cruise lines, MSC Cruises is not owned by any major brands. They are one of the largest independent cruise lines in the world, and they are still a family-owned company!

While the company was founded as a shipping and logistics company in 1960, ten years later, in 1970, they purchased and began operating two large-scale cruise ships. In fact, the name MSC Cruises is actually an acronym for Mediterranean Shipping Company

Since then, the company has expanded into one of the world’s largest cruise lines. Currently, they have over 180,000 full-time members of staff and 760 ships of varying sizes. The cruising side of the company operates in 100 countries with 22 full-size cruise ships. This number includes one of the most impressive cruise ships in the world – the enormous MSC World America

Now that you have some background about the company, we can get into their unique pricing. 

As you will find from any basic pricing search, MSC Cruises tend to be roughly 25% cheaper than prices offered for similar itineraries through other cruise lines. As you might expect, this is not an accident. MSC Cruises intentionally tries to beat other cruise lines on price, especially as they try to break into the competitive United States market.

Passengers board MSC Seaview Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: Alexandre Rotenberg)

To achieve this strategy, MSC Cruises enacted a series of cost-cutting measures on cruise ships departing from the United States. Being the number one budget-friendly option is a massive component of the cruise line’s marketing strategy. 

I did some research to see just how MSC Cruises compares to some of the most popular cruise lines. I chose the cheapest option at each cruise line for each itinerary. (Note that the itineraries vary slightly from one cruise line to the next, but I tried to keep them as similar as possible to get a fair comparison.) 

First, let’s look at a seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruise leaving from Miami, Florida. Aboard the MSC Seascape, you’ll head from Miami to Nassau, Bahamas; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic; Ocean Cay, MSC Marine Reserve, Bahamas, and back to Miami with one day at sea.

This cruise costs $549 per person for the cruise-only fare, with an additional $150 in taxes, fees, and port expenses. MSC also offers a “best value” package that’s $899 per person (with an additional $150 in taxes, fees, and port expenses) and includes an Easy Plus drinks package, a Browse Wi-Fi package, and up to $100 in onboard credit. 

Let’s compare that to a similar cruise from Royal Caribbean. This seven-night cruise also leaves from Miami. It also visits Basseterre at St Kitts and Nevis; Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas; Coco Bay, Bahamas, and back to Miami.

MSC Seascape Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: Dennis MacDonald)

This cruise has three days at sea with one less stop than the comparable MSC cruise mentioned above and is $1,746 per person, but Royal Caribbean was running a 30% off special when I did this research. It listed the full price as $2,570 per person for an interior room. Additional taxes, fees, and port expenses were listed as $162.33. 

So, for a cruise leaving the same port for seven nights in the same region, there is a huge difference in what you will pay between MSC Cruises and Royal Caribbean. Using the figures above, the cheapest you can sail with MSC Cruises is $699; with the upgraded “best value” package, you’d pay $1,049.

With the Royal Caribbean cruise, if you booked during the 30% off special, you’d pay $1,908.33; the full price without the discount would be $2,732.33! If you compare the “best value” option at MSC Cruises to the 30%-off rate at Royal Caribbean, you’d save nearly $860.

seven-night Caribbean cruise leaving from Port Canaveral, Florida, and visiting Nassau, Bahamas; Puerta Plata, Dominican Republic; and San Juan, Puerto Rico, with three days at sea, is $399 per person with the best rate on MSC Cruises.

The “best value” rate for this cruise, which, again, includes an Easy Plus drinks package, a Browse WiFi package, and up to $100 in onboard credit, is $619 per person. The fees for this one are $140, totaling $539 for the lowest price and $759 for the “best value.”

Photo Credit: Solarisys / Shutterstock

Compare this to a similar cruise from Norwegian Cruise Line, also leaving from Port Canaveral, Florida. This cruise stops at Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas; San Juan, Puerto Rico; St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; and Amber Cove, Dominican Republic, with two days at sea.

When I did this research, Norwegian Cruise Line was running a big 50% off sale. The sale price was listed as $579 per person, with taxes, fees, and port expenses of $230.23. The regular price was listed as $1,058. So, the cheapest price if you book during the sale would be $809.23; the regular price would be $1,288.23. 

If you compare the cheapest MSC Cruise for this trip to the 50% off price at Norwegian Cruise Line, you’ll save $270.23. If you don’t manage to get the 50% special price at Norwegian Cruise Lines, you’ll save $749.23 with the cheapest MSC Cruise rate or $529.23 with the “best value” package.

This kind of pricing analysis gives you some idea of how much you’ll save booking with MSC Cruises, but there are some other things to consider. The best rate on MSC Cruise Lines is, in most cases, extremely affordable; it is designated as “cruise only,” which means that nothing else is included. You can pay for everything as you go, including meals and drinks, but some packages are available.

MSC Cruises has multiple drinks packages, including the Easy Package, Easy Plus Package, Premium Extra Package, Alcohol-Free Package, and Minors Package. The company doesn’t reveal the exact price of these packages until you add them to your cruise, but other research suggests these may cost anywhere from around $60 to $100 a day. 

MSC Yacht Club Restaurant

As for Wi-Fi, there are two packages available. These include a Browse package with unlimited data and 24-hour access to browse the web, send and receive emails, and chat on messenger apps. With the Browse and Stream package, you can also participate in video chats, stream music and video, and live stream on social media.

If you want to travel with MSC Cruises and experience as much luxury as possible, the cruise line also offers the MSC Yacht Club, which includes upgraded rooms, 24/7 butler service, high-speed internet, a premium beverage package, thermal spa access, and more.

The price varies per cruise, but to give you an idea, for the cruise from Miami we covered above (though at a different time of year), the MSC Yacht Club is priced at $2,469 with taxes, fees, and port expenses, making the highest luxury option on MSC Cruises comparable to the lowest price on Royal Caribbean.

While this all makes sense as a strategy to gain a larger market share, it still does not explain how they can remain so cheap. 

While the cruise line uses a variety of cost-cutting strategies, most are designed to be unnoticeable for passengers. 

Amongst the various strategies they use to keep prices low while maintaining profitability, is to maximize passenger capacity on board their ships. Simply put, having more people on each ship allows them to keep pricing low.

While they still have to abide by domestic and international safety standards when it comes to allowing passengers onboard their cruise ships, the ratio of staff to passengers is unique. They also reduce cabin sizes to accommodate more passengers on each ship.

Cutting payroll costs is one of the most important ways they can slash ticket prices. Where the more luxurious cruise lines have a high ratio of staff to passengers, MSC Cruises reduces this ratio. As mentioned, cabins are also significantly smaller than you would get with a more expensive cruise line.

MSC Seaside Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: FabioMitidieri / Shutterstock)

It is also important to note that not all of the ships that MSC Cruises operates are noticeably cheap. Typically, they reduce prices on their older cruise ships while remaining in line with industry pricing standards on their newest and most impressive vessels

Finally, the other major component of MSC Cruise’s unique financial strategy is to upsell passengers as much as possible once they are on the ship. Where many other ships include a wide variety of amenities and dining options in the price of passenger tickets, MSC Cruises keeps things fairly bare bones.

This drops the upfront cost of booking a cruise through MSC Cruises, but it can mean passengers have to spend a significant amount of money while on board an MSC Cruises ship, whether it’s the MSC Meraviglia, MSC Seashore, or the MSC Virtuosa.

Yes, the cheaper cruise packages through MSC Cruises will be less luxurious than you might expect if you paid for a pricier option through another cruise line. That said, there are plenty of opportunities to upgrade your experience when traveling with MSC Cruises. 

For starters, passengers can choose which package they would like to book. MSC Cruises ranks its passenger packages across various tiers known as MSC Experiences. The lowest tier is where you will find the most budget-friendly options.

These cabins are small and very basic, but prices are low, as you’d expect. The fifth and highest tier is more expensive, but you get a far more impressive cabin, various dining upgrades and included amenities, like Wi-Fi.

Long Island Pool

If you are looking to travel on a low budget, keeping prices to a minimum by taking a smaller cabin and only paying for the dining experiences and amenities you value is a great option. 

While it is true that the reduced staff-to-passenger ratio can impact the level of service you receive while you are on an MSC Cruises ship, it is still of a more than acceptable standard when considering the financial savings.

Read Also: What Are the Most Affordable Cheapest Cruise Lines?

For passengers traveling with MSC Cruises, onboard spending is incredibly flexible, meaning you have countless options. For example, most of their ships offer passengers eight unique Wi-Fi packages, each with their own per-day pricing.

If you want to keep things as cheap as possible, choose the lowest tier of most things. If you want to save money but still enjoy a reasonably luxurious experience, upgrade the things that matter most to you. 

Whether or not you book with MSC Cruises will depend almost entirely upon your budget and preferences. 

The cruise packages are relatively inexpensive, especially compared to the more luxurious cruise lines; however, these lower prices also mean that you will not get some of the same perks as other cruise lines.

MSC Preziosa Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: StudioPortoSabbia)

The ultra-low fares you can get with some of their cheapest packages are great cruise deals for those on a tight budget but expect to pay for add-ons once you are on the ship. You should also anticipate a relatively crowded cruise ship and a small, reasonably basic cabin, whether you’re on the MSC World Europa, MSC Grandiosa, MSC Preziosa, or the MSC Lirica.

One of the best ways to control your onboard spending is to purchase a package when you book your cruise vacation onboard the MSC Fantasia, MSC Magnifica, MSC Seascape, or MSC Musica, or any MSC ship. Everything from Wi-Fi to drinks packages will be cheaper if you pay for them before you are on the ship. MSC Cruises does this intentionally, as having guests agree to spend more money during the booking process helps them stay profitable.

While you can still expect many of the same classic cruise ship dining options you would get with any other cruise line, the low-cost cruise ships operated by MSC Cruises have fewer options. Again, this is part of their cost-cutting strategy so they can attract new passengers with rock-bottom cruise fare prices. 

By offering less variety, supplying the ship is less expensive. Less variety means less waste and a reduced need for a high number of cooks and specialized chefs. Basically, they try only to offer food items that most passengers will enjoy rather than providing unique and gourmet options. 

How the interior and exterior of a cruise ship operated by MSC Cruises looks will depend on the type of vessel. As mentioned, some cruise ships they use are state-of-the-art and feature lavish interiors, while those catering to the budget traveler are far less impressive. 

When traveling on one of MSC Cruises’ low-cost ships, you may even notice some of the interior décor looks slightly outdated. This is because they refurbish these ships less frequently than, say, Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, or Norwegian Cruise Line. Again, this is another cost-cutting strategy. Where a typical high-end cruise ship will get refurbished every 3 to 4 years, these low-cost vessels only get refurbished once every seven years! 

While many people associate MSC Cruises with low prices and poor quality, the truth is much more nuanced. MSC Cruises did not become one of the largest cruise lines in the world by offering a bad passenger experience.

Instead, they cut costs in the least noticeable ways possible so those on tighter budgets can still experience the same thrill of traversing open water on a modern cruise ship. 

The cruise line also operates some of the most sophisticated and impressive vessels in the world; they just don’t appear at the bottom of any pricing list.

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