My free 10-night MSC European cruise experience


It only cost me $513 for my family for four to get 10 nights of food, lodging, and transportation to visit Marseille, France; Málaga, Spain; Cádiz, Spain; Lisbon, Portugal; Alicante, Spain; Mahon, Spain; and Olbia, Italy. That is of course only half the story of my recent “free” MSC cruise around Europe in a balcony cabin that I got thanks to the magic of gaming casino status matching, but it’s pretty amazing on the surface. Perhaps it strikes you as “not free” when I say that it cost me $513, though the truth is that entire cost was essentially service charges for the staff (I’d likely be tipping at restaurants anyway) and a small fee to choose my cabins (yes, we had two for that price). Truthfully, the port stops would make this cruise worth that cost even if everything else about it was awful. Thankfully, the entertainment on board excellent (meanwhile, the food was so bad that on the one day we decided not to disembark at a planned port stop, the hardest part of that decision was accepting that there would be no relief from the ship’s food that day). I think it is well worth doing this match so long as you set expectations properly.

a man taking a selfie in front of a large blue and white sign

Background: How did I get a free cruise?

a man on a boat catching a net
I went fishing for free cruises in Atlantic City and caught a big one.

I got a free cruise because I’m a high roller….on paper.

What I mean by that of course is that my free cruise came courtesy of casino status matching. The exact match that I did is no longer available, but the match to Ocean Prime (which is still available) keeps the path open to get the same type of deal. In short, it is possible to start with having the Wyndham Earner Business card and match around to Ocean Prime (requires a trip to Atlantic City, NJ). One of the benefits of Ocean Prime status is a complimentary cruise on MSC of up to 10 nights anywhere in the world. You can read more about how anyone can do this in the post How to get free cruises by gaming casino status matches.

Not all free cruise offers are truly free, but in the case of MSC it’s pretty close: you don’t even pay the port taxes. You do need to pay a $400 deposit, but you get that back as an onboard credit. Since it’s easy to get that money back, you’re really only on the hook for service charges (what most cruise lines call “gratuities”). MSC services charges are 12 Euro per night for adults and 6 Euro per night for children on their European itineraries. For our 10-night cruise, that came to 120 Euro per adult and 60 Euro per child. Note that if you choose a Caribbean cruise, services charges are a little higher.

I should note that both my wife and I had matched around for this free cruise, so we were able to book two free cabins. If we had booked all four of us in a single cabin, the kids would have cost 350 Euro each plus the 6 Euro per day in services charges. Instead, we booked two separate cabins; we each booked a cabin for one adult and one child and paid a total of 180 Euro per cabin for a grand total of 360 Euro for all four of us spread over two cabins — about $395 in USD at the time. At the time of booking, we each paid a $59 fee to be able to choose our exact cabin — together with that fee for each cabin, the cruise cost us $513 in total. I previously wrote about our booking experience and how it would have cost more than $5,000 for us to have booked all four of us in a single balcony cabin on this cruise if we were paying the cash rate at the time of booking (or about $7400 if we had booked the two cabins we got), so this was a very steep discount.

MSC has cruises in a number of different regions around the world, including in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. We settled on a European itinerary with stops in a number of cities we’ve never seen. In fact, the only of these cities we’d ever visited before was Lisbon. We’d been to all of the included countries before and close to some of these stops, but not in these specific cities, so that made this cruise very appealing. Even if we hated the cruise, we figured we’d get to see a bunch of places we’d never seen before.

a map of the mediterranean sea

My wife and I also both took advantage of a status match to MSC Diamond. I matched my Hyatt Globalist status to MSC Diamond and she matched her Hilton Diamond status to MSC Diamond (both of us before booking the cruise). That provided a few onboard benefits, but not much. We each got a bottle of sparkling wine and some chocolate and macarons on the second day of our cruise (left in our room), two robes for use in the room, and we got invited to a free cocktail reception with opera singers and the lounge band. We actually got invited to two Diamond cocktail receptions because of the way MSC operates the cruise, but we only went to one. It was certainly a nice little benefit and my kids were in awe of the opera singers. A host made conversation with us for quite a while. It wasn’t thrilling, but they were very generous with the free drinks (at many tables, guests had multiple drinks per person and staff was still coming around with trays to offer more).

MSC Orchestra balcony and ocean view cabins

two beds in a room

The rooms were more or less what you would expect on a cruise ship at this price point: basic and functional. Shown above is the balcony cabin I booked. We moved things around and put the two twin beds together, with the night stand on the other side of the bed on the far side in the picture. You can see a sofa in the background that pulled out into another bed, and above it was a top bunk, so this room could certainly accommodate four people.


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The bathroom was also very basic, but functional. We requested more towels and were only able to get one more towel for a total of 3. The picture below kind of makes it look dirty, but I think that was mostly the lighting — the cabin seemed worn but clean enough.

a bathroom with a sink and toilet

As noted above, my wife and I both booked rooms on this cruise. She booked an ocean view and I booked a balcony room, so we got to see both room types. The ship was supposedly renovated in 2017. Interestingly, my wife’s ocean view looked newer and fresher. If you told me that one of the two rooms had been renovated, I would have said it was clearly her ocean view room. If my balcony cabin had also been renovated in 2017, I’d find it kind of surprising to have worn so much in that time frame.

Her ocean view room had an identical bathroom, but the room itself actually felt more spacious to me and seemed fresher. However, what looked like a sofa on the left side of this picture was (as you can easily tell from this pic) actually two chairs put together. That was nice because it meant having a chair with a back when working at the desk, but it wouldn’t have worked if you wanted to have more than two people int his room.

a room with a bed and a chair

Still, both rooms were a solid fine. They definitely weren’t nicer than the cabins we’ve had on Carnival and Royal Caribbean over the past year, but they were solidly fine in the way that a clean Comfort Inn can be a solid fine — it was a very obvious departure from our week at the Grand Hotel Victoria on Lake Como, but given that they charge per night far more than we paid for this 10-night cruise, we weren’t expecting a comparable level in terms of the room.

The boarding process (early arrival)

One thing I didn’t know about MSC before this cruise is that on at least some of their European cruises (maybe this is true in other areas?), they sold tickets for people to embark at all of the stops. In other words, every day that the ship stopped, some people ended their cruise and others began. That’s a lot different than most cruises, where everybody gets on board at once and gets off the boat on the same day.

There are probably pluses and minuses to both MSC’s approach and the more typical approach to cruises, but one thing that stood out to me is that there are probably some interesting opportunities to get a better deal on a cruise with MSC. I actually didn’t check this, but if I were a betting man, I’d bet that the price of a cruise varies by embarkation point. And we all know I got this free cruise by looking like a bettin’ man.

Anyway, one nice benefit of the way it worked is that we had no trouble at all getting on the ship hours before our official boarding time. I think our tickets said our boarding time was 4pm and we would be turned away if we showed up earlier, but we got there around 1pm and we didn’t have to wait at all — we basically just waltzed through check-in and walked on the ship. Since the cruise is just continuously in progress, we passed people who were leaving the ship to go into port. I think that probably made things easier because there wasn’t a need to make everyone wait to board until the ship was ready and it also meant that we didn’t have to deal with a line that was a mile long.

One thing I found surprising was that there was no priority embarkation line for Diamond members. Like I said, that didn’t matter at all since we didn’t have to wait. Maybe they set up a line later in the day? I don’t know.

My final note here is that you can check in online to save some time at the port, but you can no longer access online check-in within 24 hours of boarding. I think I accidentally didn’t check in my wife for her booking. I called the night before and the agent with whom I spoke assured me that we’d have no problem checking in at the port. We had no issues — though I recommend checking in if you can because multiple people, starting with a port security agent at the entrance to the port, asked to see our tickets. Since I had checked in online, I had a ticket to show each person who asked and could explain that I didn’t have my wife’s printed. I don’t know if it would have been more of an issue if I didn’t have at least one set of tickets in hand.

MSC Onboard service

I had low expectations for MSC’s onboard service. I had both read reviews and watched Youtube videos that led me to expect that employees may not go out of their way to be helpful. I was mostly pleasantly surprised. That’s not to say that service was excellent (I wouldn’t go that far). But I had read about an attitude of indifference that just wasn’t present.

For the most part, staff were friendly. Our room steward seemed overworked and constantly in a rush but also like he really wanted to do whatever he could to make our stay as pleasant as possible.

If service was lacking, it was in the quantity of staff cleaning in the buffet restaurant. The buffet got really busy at peak times. We had to stand around waiting for people to get up numerous times in order to have a seat — and it often took quite a while to find someone to clean the table. It wasn’t that the people cleaning weren’t making an effort, they just didn’t have enough cleaning staff to keep up with the demand.

Otherwise, we interacted with a range of staff members and they were perfectly pleasant. As has been the case on every cruise we’ve taken, staff came from many different countries and all staff members I met spoke perfectly fluent English (and many of them seemed to understand and be able to use enough Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese to help guests with questions).

On the flip side of the coin, I only saw one badly-behaved guest during the cruise. I gathered from the conversation that he had been mistakenly double-charged for an excursion and he was demanding a cash refund of the overcharged amount. The guest services agent was explaining that they didn’t have access to cash to refund guests but was explaining that the money was already refunded to the guest’s onboard account and would be refunded at checkout if he had a positive balance. The guest really wanted cash on the spot from Guest Services and the agent even explained that the guest could get cash in the casino – the agent stopped short of recommending that the guest load a slot machine by charging it to the room and then cashing out, but he certainly implied that it was easy enough to cash out that credit balance. MSC also allowed people at table games to charge to their rooms with no fee to get chips – perhaps he was saying that you could do the same thing at the cage. Anyway, the guest wasn’t having it and was pretty loud about it. I didn’t end up at the desk long enough to see the resolution.

I will say that I didn’t have any especially complex customer service requests, so I don’t feel like I made any real test of the limits of onboard service.

One complaint I had seen in a Youtube video was about how there are tons of announcements and that the announcements were repeated in numerous languages and as such they took forever. This wasn’t really a problem at all on my cruise. Most ship announcements weren’t audible in the rooms at all (almost to a fault — there were a few times when I kind of wish they’d been piped into the room so I could hear them). At the theater shows, the cruise director introduced the show in English, Italian, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. That obviously did make the announcement take longer, but he split it into chunks so that you weren’t waiting forever for him to get back to your preferred language — and I actually enjoyed hearing his enthusiasm in multiple languages (and hearing different sections of the crowd cheer when he switched into their language).

Onboard entertainment and ship features

a group of people on a stage

MSC really shined in onboard entertainment.

This cruise certainly operated on a European schedule. The early seating for dinner started at 7pm (the late seating started at 9:30pm). As such, the evening show started at 8pm most nights. My kids are usually asleep by 7:30, so that made the evening shows seem somewhere between unappealing and impossible. We didn’t even try to catch them the first several nights.

And then I caught the tail end of a show one night after the kids were in bed….and it was so good that we didn’t miss another show after that. My biggest regret is that we missed those first several nights. The shows were really entertaining. I don’t want to oversell them — they weren’t on the caliber of Cirque du Soleil, but they were far better than the shows we’ve seen on Carnival and Royal Caribbean. They didn’t just hire people who could dance or sing, they hired dancers and singers. Anyone who has seen both understands the difference.

I was extra impressed by the variety of performers: there were acrobats and a juggler and a unicyclist and a pair of ballroom dancers and flamenco dancers and a woman who shot a bow and arrow with her legs curled behind her like a scorpion. Our last night on this cruise was like a “greatest hits” of the cruise performers, with everyone getting in on the act for a bit and it was entertaining enough that I said I would buy a ticket to see it again. After we got the kids to bed, I really did sneak out to catch the end of it a second time. This reel captures a few snippets (if you see the highlight reel on my Instagram profile, it has a bit more).


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And that’s just the main theater shows. There were so many music venues around the ship — one room often had a band playing pop hits or Latin hits, another room most often hosted a pianist and singer doing a lot of singer-songwriter hits or a jazz musician, another room often had a lounge band with a female singer who had a deep, raspy voice that you could imagine playing in a small night club with a cigarette hanging from the end of a Cruella DeVille-like holder. They sang a mixture of Italian and English hits. There was a classical pianist and violinist in the main atrium each night. The variety was fun.

a large restaurant with tables and chairs
The Amber Room hosted jazz musicians and a piano player and singer that did a lot of more mellow singer-songwriter hits.
a bar with a leopard statue
The stage in the Savannah Bar hosted bands that played either pop or Latin music each night I visited.

I should add here that based on things I’d read before the cruise, I expected the entertainment to be good. A lot of things I’d read suggested that this was a focus area for MSC. I not only was not disappointed, but it was still better than I’d expected.

Other than the entertainment, the ship didn’t have a ton going on. It had the usual pools (though the kiddie pool was quite small and there was no splash pad). I couldn’t decide whether to be disappointed by how much the arcade stunk or thankful for how much money I saved because the arcade stunk. This picture isn’t missing any of it: two racing games, an air hockey table, and the stuffed animal claw game were it.

a boy sitting in a game room

They did have some fun activities planned. My kids participated in an MSC MasterChef activity one day where they decorated apply slices and everybody got a certificate. Oddly, they didn’t eat what they made — though given all of the little hands in the sprinkles, that was probably a masterful move.

a group of kids eating desserts

There was a basketball court where people mostly played soccer.

two boys playing basketball on a court

And there was a small playground where my kids made fast friends with kids from Italy and France.

a children playing on a playground

MSC has a partnership with Lego, so they had a play room with a bunch of Legos (and even a Lego set to build your own MSC ship). There was even a Lego Master Builder event of some sort, so there were plenty of things for kids to do. Even though our younger son wasn’t quite old enough for the kids club (it started at age 3), they let him stay and play for a bit a couple of times.

One complaint I had about the cruise (and I shared this in the feedback) was that I found it particularly difficult to know what activities were happening. On other cruise lines, I feel like there were announcements throughout the day alerting people to what was happening where, MSC seemed to have far fewer such announcements. And one day at sea, we experienced a time change. Somehow, the time on our phones and watch adjusted in the morning (we made it to the MasterChef event shown above), but adjusted backward again later and that’s how we missed the Lego Builder event (my kids were very disappointed). We never heard an announcement about a time change nor was there anything alerting us to the start of activities.

Along the same lines, I couldn’t get the MSC app to work at all, so I had to rely on the paper schedule from the cabin attendant each night. Eventually, I got smart enough to take a picture of it with my phone so that I’d have the full schedule on me at all times, but the first couple of days we just often didn’t know what was happening (if anything).


a pan with pasta in it
This pasta dish on the buffet is fairly representative: it had some sort of cream sauce that was very watery (bordering on flavorless) and if there was another ingredient I’m not sure what it was. Food was largely pretty bland and not very high on quality.

I have to be blunt here: The food was awful. I don’t just mean that it wasn’t good — it was pretty objectively bad (mostly flavorless and most things tasted pre-packaged rather than freshly made). We even talked about it with an Italian family whose son became friends with ours — they mentioned how bad the food was before we did. Despite what might get played up about my pickiness now and then, my family overall eats a range of stuff. Except we didn’t on this cruise. We ate pizza. A lot of pizza. And pears.

When I was a bachelor, I used to have pizza 5 days a week. That training served me well on MSC.

We only ate in the main dining room once during this cruise, though that was more of a function of timing. Main dining room service is always a bit slower than is practical with very young kids. In fairness, MSC’s dining room service wasn’t slower than main dining room service on Carnival or Royal Caribbean, but when the early seating starts at 7pm and we’ve got a 5yr old and 2yr old that are usually in bed at 7:30, we just don’t have time to have one person welcome us and another person drop off the menu and a third person take our drink order and a fourth person bring our drinks before a fifth person finally takes our order (I’m probably exaggerating there, but that’s what it felt like).

In my experience on cruises thus far, I’ve learned that whatever is being served in the dining room is usually mostly on the buffet and there wasn’t a night where whatever was on the buffet seemed like it would have been more enjoyable in the dining room. Unlike the dining room, the buffet gave us the option for pizza and pears.

The only free drinks on MSC were regular coffee (not specialty coffees of course) and water (which wasn’t cold, though there was ice). There was no lemonade or iced tea for free.

I drink 3-4 cups of coffee a day at home. I like strong coffee, but I’m not a coffee snob. While I like brands like Lavazza and Illy, and I enjoy espresso, I don’t really discriminate when it comes to a cup of coffee. I’ll drink Dunkin’ or Panera or McDonald’s or Burger King or I’m even fine with gas station / convenience store coffee. I don’t know as though I’d ever met the cup of coffee I couldn’t drink…until this trip. In 10 days on the MSC Orchestra, I did not completely finish a single cup of the regular coffee. I can’t even describe it except to say that I knew full well that their ruse was to get me to pay for a cappuccino…and I surrendered early and often.

a hand holding a cup of coffee
Their barista clearly had a lot of practice making cappuccinos and I do not wonder why.

All of the above said, we adjusted accordingly. We got off the ship and made it a point to load up on deliciousness while in port and relied on a slice of pizza to work for an evening snack on board. I probably ate at least $50 worth of pizza and pears in 8 days and we all ate some bread or pancakes at breakfast that wasn’t great but it ensured that nobody left the ship hangry. The food was certainly the main drawback.

Port stops

For as much as I didn’t enjoy the food, let me present the other end of the spectrum: the port stops were awesome. We loved this trip and the stops made all the difference. Apart from a quick trip to see Seville, the Alhambra, and Valencia years ago, we had never spent much time in Southern Spain. It was hot, but we really enjoyed it. If I were pressed to pick a favorite, it was Cádiz, Spain — but it wouldn’t be easy to pick. In years past, when we were not cruising, I never enjoyed being in a cruise port at a time when a cruise ship was in town, but I didn’t find that to be the case in these places. We didn’t find them to feel overwhelmed with tourists, perhaps because we didn’t do any excursions but rather just got off the boat and explored.

One of my favorite things about this cruise was that we could get off and walk in most of the port cities — we didn’t need any sort of excursion to check out the town.

I’ll let the videos mostly speak for themselves. Note that we did not get off the ship at one stop (Mahon, Spain — on the island of Menorca). That was the only tender port on this trip and the seas were rough that day. The 20-25 boat ride to shore just didn’t seem appealing, so we stayed on board and missed that stop.

Marseille, France

We were supposed to meet up with a friend who had moved to Marseille days before we arrived, but her son got sick and instead we took a tourist train up to a scenic viewpoint and strolled the port-side cafes. It was lovely.


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Málaga, Spain

The Alcazaba in Malaga was very reminiscent of the Alhambra (on a smaller scale). After some tapas, we hit the beach.


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Cádiz, Spain

Cádiz was our favorite stop on this cruise. We started out at a free puppet museum and stopped for a ride on an old-looking carousel before hitting the central market. We loved the market in Cádiz — everything looked delicious and it was very inexpensive. We would strongly consider a return trip here. Most people use this as a jumping off point to visit Seville, but we’ve been there before so we stayed in Cádiz and were glad we did.


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Lisbon, Portugal

We’ve been to Lisbon before (and very much enjoyed it), so we didn’t feel pressure to see any specific tourist things here. Instead, we went to the Time Out market to load up on delicious stuff to eat. On the way back to the ship, we stumbled on a little coffee kiosk just across from the ship where we had a few espressos for 0.75 each.


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Alicante, Spain

Alicante was so hot the day we were there that I felt myself melting as we disembarked the ship, but I love that kind of heat and so this stop was the point where I decided that I really, really need to spend some more time in Southern Spain someday. We really only did laundry (drop off service near the beach!) and went to the beach in Alicante, but the Esplanade was very pretty (we got brunch upon arrival).


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Olbia, Sardinia

We visited Sardinia years ago and loved it then and we loved it once again on this trip. We enjoyed some great pizzas and time spent on a lovely beach not very far away from the port (we took a taxi about 15 minutes away to visit the beach and took a bus on the way back, which was far cheaper FYI). The beach was really, really nice — but I wish I had another half a day to stroll the old town area and maybe a few days to try more of the restaurants. We got arancini that were about the size of my fist and ate them on the beach — I later went back and bought two more to bring back to the ship for dinner.


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Would I cruise with MSC again?

Despite what I’ve said above about the food, yes, I would absolutely cruise with MSC again. I wouldn’t be in a hurry to get back on board the MSC Orchestra mostly because the ship didn’t have much of interest and the food was obviously disappointing, but given the entertainment onboard and either a set of port stops that drew my interest or a newer ship, I would absolutely give MSC another shot.

And in fact, we will give MSC another shot. As noted near the beginning of this post, we got this cruise from a match that is no longer available (at Rivers Casino in Philadelphia). My wife and I both also have Ocean Prime status, so we fully intend to take advantage of the free cruise offered for Ocean Prime members as well. On this trip, we prioritize the port stops. On the next trip, we’ll prioritize the ship — so if any readers can recommend their favorite MSC ship, we’ll be curious to check out the best they have to offer and compare.

Again, for the cost of these free cruise offers, it is hard to lose. We had a great time in Europe and if the true cost of that was a trip to Atlantic City and a little time and effort to match around, I’d say it was well worth it.

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Nick. I owe you an apology. I genuinely thought maybe you were just a picky eater. But here I am on the MSC Poesia and the food is practically inedible. How can a waffle be so stale and crunchy and gross? I’m so glad we bought the nonalcoholic package because at least the protein shakes at the gym are tasty and made with fresh fruit. This might be only time I lose weight on a cruise!


They are for sale individually for 8 euros. They have been a convenient and tasty morning option for us. We found them inside the spa by he gym.

[…] Free 10-night MSC European cruise expertise […]

[…] Free 10-night MSC European cruise expertise […]


Great review Nick! Looks like a nice itinerary. I haven’t cruised with MSC, but I chuckled when you described your Carnival dining room experience. We had the same experience every night so we stuck to the buffet most nights. It was almost comical.

I found the free coffee on the Carnival Pride to be decent but on the Celebration it was awful.

[…] Free 10-night MSC European cruise experience […]


Thanks for the review. We sailed on the Virtuosa from Dubai. We had a Future Cruise Credit, from a cancelled cruise in March 2020. I knew going in that MSC would be a huge let down from my other 50 cruises. In the end, we were just glad to get off the ship. Our food was not as bad as what you described in your review. But, there was this incredible pushing of dining packages that, after 4 nights into the cruise, that pushing ended. After that the Main Dining Room, MDR, food increased dramatically in quality. I guessed that MSC realized that they needed to provide something for passengers to want to come back for…

For what you paid, you received a good value. But don’t be deceived, MSC sells 7 night Caribbean cruises for $400 or less, many times in balcony cabins. Something has to give, when the company discounts their cruise fares so much. As you found out, it was the food.


The MSC Opera is a much older ship, launched 2004, I don’t remember there being an extra charge restaurant on her. MSC ships introduced after 2017 have the extra charge restaurants. Be prepared, is all I say.


We did board our canceled cruise on the Grandiosa, Actually spent 4 hours aboard the ship. Our cabin was dirty. Behind every piece of furniture, there were piles of dust and debris. The Virtuosa was cleaner, but we had a handicap cabin and the shower drains were not cleaned. My SO took the first shower of the cruise and the water flooded into the cabin. More reasons for us to never consider MSC.


nothing is free friend, you need to leave a certain amount of money in the casino so that they give you a cruise only that you have to pay taxes, I am not a player, I have 59 cruises with Royal Caribbean and I know perfectly well that for the casinos to give you a “Free” cruise you have to have left twice the cost of a real cruise, if they (the casinos) did not have that offer the guesses would not play as much, enjoy you “free” Cruise.


Can you be more specific with what you didn’t enjoy with the food? I have been on 3 cruises myself and a family member has done an additional 4 on top of that (yay for 5-10% single supplements). While I agree they have hands down the absolute best entertainment of any cruise line (and 3 shows a night too!), I have to vehemently disagree with you on the quality of the food. On many cruise lines the coffee is almost undrinkable (Carnival, RCL, Princess, etc) whereas it was actually very reasonable being Italian. The only cruise lines that have comparable food were Celebrity, Pullmantur (RIP), and Windstar (fantastic food but limited selection). I found many American foods to be so-so (chicken and waffles), but the Italian food was fantastic. Homemade mozzarella balls at every meal, better fresh fruit than I could ever get at home including unique fruits I have never had. Certain fruits I normally won’t touch were so tasty I ate them daily (pears!). The desserts on Princess, RCL, and Carnival are very pretty but very bland. On MSC they were actually delicious. Tasty mini eclairs every day. Italian chocolate at the bar in the evening. Fresh baked soft pretzels every afternoon. The best pizza at sea. Malaga ice cream. On other cruiselines the Indian was amazing and here it was just okay.

I don’t know if our tastes are different or if you hit a bad ship, but even some of the non-Italian food was good too (French-Vietnamese fusion).

I hope you get a chance to try some of the newer ships such as the Meraviglia or Virtuosa. The atrium-style area with the live screens is enjoyable and the ships overall are very beautiful indoors compared to other lines. Robot bartenders are just gimmicks IMHO.


Interesting. I know that the mozzarella was homemade because on the entrance to the buffet, you could actually watch them making it! I was on an MSC from Southhampton to Lisbon. And I did a couple NA Caribbean cruises. And a transatlantic from Mediterranean to SA on an older ship. I would definitely try again!

PS I finally thought of the name of the fruit I had for the first time there. It was a Loquat.


I have been on 2 MSC ships. Grandiosa and Virtuosa, one for 4 hours and one meal, the other for 7 nights of meals. We had not one memorable meal. We ate in the MDR every night. MSC’s pizza is pretty good. But that is it. I have taken over 50 cruises and never experienced such mediocre food constantly night after night. Also, we are foodies. We have travelled all over the world. All over Italy! We know what dishes should taste like.

The food should be good every where on any ship. It is one of major reasons people cruise. Our experience after 2 ships, is big no to MSC.


Nick, excellent review as always. I don’t even like cruises but thoroughly enjoyed reading it!

I was curious about your approach to shore excursions. Like you I tend to avoid areas around where cruise ships dock, not only because of the potential for crowds but also because the businesses tend to be too tourist oriented for my tastes. It sounds like you might have found techniques for skipping past all that and finding the local experiences.


If you just avoid booking a shore excursion and plan your days however you normally would in a foreign city…


Thanks! Great insights. You should do a post on this.

I don’t cruise (or haven’t in a long time) but I do occasionally find myself in similar situations where I am at a hotel in a heavy tourist area with a limited time to try to find local experiences. Nothing is quite as deflating as arriving in a new city ready to experience local culture only to find a Hard Rock Cafe staring back it you outside the hotel room.

I find scoping out a few things online ahead of time to be crucial. Usually I look for local recommendations for restaurants or off-the-beaten-path experiences and figure out logistics before I arrive. I don’t always stick to my plans, but at least I have one thing in mind I figure I will enjoy. It sounds like your approach is somewhat similar.

I like your tip of walking a bit before getting a taxi. I bet that might work at some big city hotels too, at least in some cities.


Thanks super helpful
Any chance you can share points of interest you mapped to at ports?


Food is really important to us so I doubt an MSC cruise is in the horizon so thanks for the heads up.


If you need American food to enjoy your cruise avoid it. If you like Italian, I find MSC to be great. Some of the best food at sea. So far Pullmantur was best. Then Celebrity (which is somewhat higher end). Then Windstar which was great for what they served but limited in selection because there are less than 300 passengers. Then MSC! Then RCL for the Indian menu, then Carnival, then RCL for non – Indian. Then Princess although Princess gets a special mention for their soups. I have an upcoming cruise on Virgin and many people say their food is the best so I am anxiously awaiting that one.


Hey Nick, followed your treasure hunt right from Atlantic City to the same cruise ship and itinerary next week. Many many thanks

Phillip B

How long do you have to use the offer? In other words, what date do you have to sail by? Thanks

Joe R

Those AC status matches (Caesar’s Diamond to Hard Rock Unity/Hard Rock Unity to Ocean Prime are only for NEW members correct?

Joe R

Oh so 18 months since last activity, not last match? No bueno for me. I am localish to AC and did a match a couple years ago, but have visited within last few months. Thank you for listening to my life story.


Thanks for sharing your experience with MSC. Glad to know that the entertainment was great and the food was terrible. Do you have any other cruises booked for the rest of this year?

I have a Holland America cruise from Boston to Quebec in August and a Carnival cruise from Jacksonville to Bahamas in October. I’m asking Royal Caribbean about free cruises after October 2023.


Very cool, I hope you have a great time. What area are you sailing?


That’s awesome, enjoy Alaska. That is the only cruise I’ve been on in my life (probably 20 years ago at this point), so I am trying to make up for lost time with 2-3 cruises this year 🙂


Nick, when is/was your Alaska cruise on Holland America? My wife and I cruised Vancouver to Whittier 8/27 to 9/3 on the Nieuw Amsterdam. That was our first of three recently scheduled cruises from our Vegas casino matches. We had a very nice time; definitely a more mature crowd. Were you on that cruise, by any chance?


Will cruise lines stop or diminish cruise offerings after a time if you are not doing their level of gambling to qualify?


Have you learned what level of gambling you need to do on ships to keep the deals coming? I’ll guess that you are visiting the casino after the kids go to bed. Thanks for your info on ports and the merry go round