Royal Caribbean International (RCL) Carnival Cruise Line (CCA) and Norwegian Cruise Line (NCLH) dominate the mid-range family cruise market. waltz disney (SAY) sure, has made its mark in this space, but it’s generally a higher price tag and a relatively small cruise line.
In the Florida market, sailing primarily to the Caribbean, Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian are the major players, with Royal Caribbean – especially its larger Oasis-class ships – being my favorite. MSC, an Italy-based cruise line that has made its mark in Europe, has stepped up its offerings from Florida.
MSC has been sailing in the United States since the 1990s and now uses Miami and Port Canaveral as home ports. He sails the MSC Divina, a mid-size vessel that can accommodate just over 4,300 passengers at full capacity, on Caribbean itineraries from Port Canaveral.
Essentially, Divina compares in size/passenger count to Royal Caribbean Voyager and Freedom class ships sailing Caribbean itineraries from multiple Florida ports. In fact, MSC Divina is often moored near Mariner of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean ship that sails similar routes.
MSC vs. Royal Caribbean: boarding
Royal Caribbean has a more refined pre-cruise system than MSC. Divina passengers, for example, cannot attach a credit card to their account until they are on board. The MSC website, however, doesn’t say so and features a sport where you seem to be able to add a card, but you can’t.
This creates a bit of blockage at onboard kiosks where you can link a card to your account. Other than that, however, the MSC onboarding process is going very smoothly with a nearby army of people ready to check you in and make sure you have either a vaccine card or a negative covid test.
Other than that, both cruise lines have people who sell and offer technical support for their internet packages. There are also plenty of opportunities to buy a drink pass (and plenty of open bars where you can use said pass).
MSC vs. Royal Caribbean: The Ships
Divina has more of a closed-in feel without a large open central area like the Royal Promenade (a series of shops, bars, and restaurants on the fifth-floor deck of Voyager and Freedom-class ships). Instead, Divina has a central area with spiral staircases spanning multiple floors as its central area, a design similar to some older Royal Caribbean ships.
Instead of an open thoroughfare dotted with locations, Divina often requires you to walk through one location to get to another. In some ways, this makes the MSC ship more intimate than many of Royal’s larger ships, and it creates a more relaxed atmosphere.
Divina’s kind of closed nature, however, was an advantage when it came to making friends on board. Since you pass through locations on your way to other locations, you’re more likely to meet friends than if you’re in a crowded, wide-open area like Royal Caribbean’s boardwalk.
Divina shines on her upper decks where she offers an indoor swimming pool with a retractable roof, the main pool and a hidden gem of an adults-only pool tucked away at the stern of the ship (with stunning views of her wake). The main pool has the requisite movie screen (although no movie was shown on my sailing) and hot tubs are dotted seemingly all over the three upper decks.
There is no shortage of pool chairs although the main pool can get very crowded on both lines. Divina has a fourth pool for its Yacht Club (suites) passengers, a feature that Royal Caribbean only offers on its latest and greatest ships.
Royal Caribbean’s pool decks tend to have brighter designs, and the all-ages areas often have lots of kids. MSC seems to attract fewer families (but I sailed Sunday-Thursday during the school year so this may not be entirely representative.
MSC vs. Royal Caribbean: food
Royal Caribbean offers a wider variety of free dining options, a buffet with more choices, and significantly larger dinner menus. It also offers more specialty restaurants (enough that you could skip the main dining area entirely on a 4-night cruise).
Dinners in Divina’s main dining room were decent, but really just that, while Royal Caribbean ranges from decent to quite good. The best choices seemed to be the menu items (salmon, chicken, steak) offered nightly and, for an Italian-based cruise line, the pasta was borderline average.
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This is not to say that MSC failed in all of its restoration choices. Its free pizza buffet is much better than Royal Caribbean’s “Sorrento’s” pizzeria. And, the slightly paid pizza was quite good while the two ice cream shops on board offered some interesting flavors for just a few dollars. Divina also had premium coffee and pastries (additional cost) which beat the comparable Royal Caribbean offering.
Divina also has a paid steakhouse and a Japanese restaurant that were perhaps a bit below their Royal Caribbean counterparts.
MSC vs. Royal Caribbean: The Onboard Experience
A cabin on Divina was very similar to a cabin on a Royal Caribbean Freedom or Voyager class ship. The design touches were a bit different, and aside from offering tiny TVs (with very few channels), on Divina the cabin experience was very similar.
The MSC ship and its similarly sized Royal Caribbean counterparts make getting a drink super easy. However, Divina’s various bars generally lacked the distinct concepts offered by Royal Caribbean’s bars. The Schooner Bar on Mariner of the Seas offers a different menu and range of entertainment (a piano bar versus an acoustic guitarist).
Mariner, and its sister ships, typically have nearly every bar being a concept with a unique menu and theme. On Divina, every bar has the same selection (more or less) and although the venue may have a name or a theme, there is a similarity between all the venues except the “Sports Bar”, which had lots of TVs and a small bowling alley.
Royal Caribbean’s “Playmakers” sports bar tends to be in more central locations (it varies by ship) and has a more distinct drinks menu, but both cruise lines offer a good way to watch whatever the match.
Both cruise lines offer fairly similar casinos with a mix of slots and table games. Royal Caribbean seems to run more promotions each night, but the differences are minimal. MSC and Royal Caribbean also offer fairly similar theater shows on this sizable ship with a mix of musical revues, comedians, singers and variety acts.
Divina rotates a pianist and an acoustic guitarist in its central area (essentially where customer service is). Both were competent but more of a background music than the often bustling and packed crowds for the pianists of Royal Caribbean’s Schooner Bar and the devoted audience for the guitarists of the British Pub that tends to form on most crossings.
Royal Caribbean ships are all being upgraded, Starlink Internet. Currently, Freedom and Voyager class ships offer internet service that ranges from decent to barely adequate. MSC Divina has similar packages and prices to its rival, but onboard internet ranges from barely working to not working even in areas where the helpdesk says it has the best signal.
Divina had a clear advantage in booze packages, however. Royal Caribbean sells a one-price, all-inclusive package that can often exceed $75 per day. MSC offers three tiers based on beverage prices that allowed passengers to decide whether they wanted liquor, fine, mid-tier or premium, and expanded beer and wine options on higher tiers.
MSC vs. Royal Caribbean: The Private Island
Royal Caribbean’s “Perfect Day at CocoCay” offers a bit of everything as it has quiet beaches, a huge pool that starts out quiet and turns into a party atmosphere, an additional water park, and a paid Beach Club. It’s basically a choose-your-own island.
MSC’s Ocean Cay offers a more serene beach experience with a huge, quiet beach, and not much else. It’s not a party scene (although the booze is flowing), but if you want relaxation, clear water, and lots of sunshine, Ocean Cay offers a wonderful experience.
Plus, some MSC Divina cruises do a night on Ocean Cay with a nighttime party and laser show. The rain scuttled those plans (mostly) on my trip, but spending the night on the island was a bonus.
Both companies offer similar free barbecue options on the islands, with Royal Caribbean offering a few free “Snack Shacks” offering burgers and mozzarella sticks, while Ocean Cay has paid food trucks offering higher rates.
MSC vs. Royal Caribbean: Loyalty
As a Diamond-plus member of Royal Caribbean, I get a number of significant benefits. First of all, I have access to a dedicated lounge which has a fancy coffee maker, a concierge who can make dinner/show reservations, a light breakfast in the morning and an offer of appetizers in early evening. And, instead of the old “happy hour,” which offered unlimited drinks in the lounge for a few hours each night, Diamond members now receive four drink “tickets” per day that can be used anytime during the day. day, anywhere. on board, while Diamond+ members get five.
MSC matched my status to their equivalent, so I was “Gold” in their system. That’s a positive, on paper, but having Gold status seemed to mean very little. Also, MSC doesn’t seem to have a formal casino loyalty program whereas Royal Caribbean would give me free casino drinks and a variety of freebies sent to my room most nights.