When you’re trying to decide which cruise line to travel with it can be very hard as there’s so much to consider! Which ships are the most family friendly? Which have the best spa facilities? Which travel to the most exotic destinations?
There are also cruise lines that all seem to tick the same boxes… For example ,MSC & NCL! Both claim to be family friendly, food orientated and promise you the holiday of a lifetime. But which one is truly the best?
To combat these mixed messages we’ve put MSC and NCL up against each other and only you can decide which cruise line you prefer! Read on to decide which you’ll prefer to travel on as a solo, in a family or as a West End show lover…
We all love a ship with a variety of entertainment; whether it be the evening shows, some arts and crafts to get involved in or something that actually involves you doing nothing (luxury spa treatment!) But which ship has the better choice of shops to spend all our money in, productions to sit back and watch and sport facilities that keep things family friendly?
Although you might expect everything on MSC to be Italian, fortunately you’re wrong! All of the shows on-board are all-language-friendly and a lot tend to focus on visuals like Cirque de Soleil, acrobats, mimes, magicians…etc. There’s lots of family friendly activities to get involved in too like a bowling alley, 4D cinema, a formula 1 simulator and all sorts of sports: table tennis, volleyball, mini golf, basketball…
Our specialist cruise consultant Lisa told us: ‘The evening entertainment was fantastic and just wow! The ship had a really nice feel to her and the staff were so pleasant and friendly.’ You can read more of Lisa’s blog here.
There’s also ways for the adults to get away with the adult-only solarium with retractable roof, five different pools, jazz bar, cigar room and the Aurea spa where you can have various spa treatments and massages.
You’ll find a large choice of high end shops like Prada, Ralph Lauren and other boutiques, plus the on-board casino has card-playing lessons and there’s even a Superchef cookery challenge where you have the chance to whip up a dish and receive some expert chef’s verdict!
NCL also give a list of West End and Broadway shows and Las Vegas style productions to go and watch after dinner. Although there is even a Cirque dinner show where acts whiz over your head as you dine in a circus tent! Families have plenty of water-based fun to get involved in with AquaParks where you’ll find the fastest waterslide at sea, Freefall (you’ll travel up to 25 mph on it!) Norwegian Breakaway has a 3 storey waterslide too with a 200 ft plunge pool.
Our specialist cruise consultant Hannah told us: ‘NCL offer such a selection it’s hard to experience them all in one evening: there’s Headliners for those looking for audience participation and the nightclub was a great place to be later on!’ You can read more of Hannah’s thoughts here.
The thrill seekers won’t be short of things to get their heart racing with a rock climbing wall that towers 15 metres over the ship in the air, state of the art fitness facilities and the rope course (a three storey course along ropes and planks or you can try walking the plank).
Or if you’re feeling a little more mellow why not head to the mini golf course, ten pin bowling, yoga classes or The Haven: the ultimate private world of luxury with hot tub, pools and 24 hour butler service.
Your main shopping areas are 678 Ocean Place: three decks of entertaining, dining and shopping, and The Waterfront where you’ll find a quarter mile open air boardwalk with ocean front restaurants, shops, bars and the casino. So head here to spend all your money!
If you’re a lover of cruises you might be familiar with all of the things to think about when choosing when and where to dine. It can be frustrating when you’re limited to a time slot and disappointing when your favourite type of cuisine isn’t offered, but much more exciting when there’s variety, choice and maybe even things you’ve never tried before…
MSC supplies its passengers with undeniable variety: Mexican fajitas to French foie gras to Asian dim sum! They put emphasis on their fresh produce as well as flavour; pizza dough is freshly made on-board and most ingredients are sourced in Europe. All of the ships cater for special dietary requirements and you can even purchase drinks packages before you cruise.
Our specialist cruise consultant Edward told us: ‘With MSC the menu is HUGE so you never have any problem finding something you like. This also means you can eat quite a bit: I had 7 courses!’ You can read more of Edward’s thoughts here.
You’ll find a fairly traditional style of set eating times with a choice of two evening sittings and a buffet for those of you who value choice! The main dining rooms include Italian and International cuisine and you can also choose from Japanese, sushi and Tex Mex. Not to mention you can dine al fresco, and who doesn’t love the view of the ocean as you devour your cultural meals!
NCL’s main focus is their freestyle dining where you can choose whenever you want to eat between 5:30 and 10pm out of 28 dining options that include a buffet restaurant, kid’s café, tapas bar and coffee bar. You won’t be assigned a permanent table and you won’t be tied to the main dining room; there’s no restrictions and you come and go as you please.
Our speciality cruise consultant Barbara told us: ‘You’ll never be short of somewhere to eat with 170 dining options in 678 Ocean Place; you can even dine outside for front row seats at the sunset‘ You can read more of Barbara’s blog here.
You can choose from culinary delights in the French restaurant, Brazilian steakhouse, Japanese restaurant and sushi bar and you’ll find a wide range of cuisine such as braised lamb shank from the Manhattan room, chocolate raspberry truffle cake from the Summer Palace and they even boast the first ever ice bar at sea: The Svedka and Iniskillin ice bar can be found on several ships in the fleet and you’ll even be provided with fur coats as you sip out of cups carved from ice.
Sometimes it can be tricky finding a holiday that suits the whole family and it’s inevitable that the kids won’t be too happy being dragged along to the evening cabaret shows (and the adults will eventually get fed up of ‘five more minutes’ in the ball pit). So read on to decide which cruise line will keep everybody happy…
MSC are known to have the cheapest family rates and often kids under the age of 18 go completely free! They recognize that all areas aren’t always suitable for both kids and adults so there’s a specialized kids pool and outdoor spray park with water jets, musical fountains and slides.
For the times the parents want a guilt-free getaway there are a number of kids club for all ages from Baby Time for children 0-3 to Juniors Club for kids aged 7-11, all the way up to MSC generation teen club (for 15-17 year olds). Each club has games and activities suited for the age group like a baby disco (that’s right- they exist!), Virtual World arcade and dedicated areas for games and tournaments!
Our specialist cruise consultant Julia told us: ‘The MSC Babycare service is available fleetwide and lets parents drop their kids off with trained carers between 1 and 2pm then again during dinner time between 6 and 7pm. I love this idea!’ You can read more of Julia’s blog here.
MSC give you the option of a pre-pay ‘Teen card’ so your teenagers can go off and buy ice cream and drinks at their own leisure (this sense of freedom might make them favour cruises just a little bit more!)
And when the younger ones finish their dinner and you’re still on your starter you can opt for Happy Diners where the entertainment staff can take them off to the Mini club and leave you in peace (maybe they’ll get an appearance from MSC’s kid’s club mascot: the musical and magical Doremi).
NCL also offer youth and teen programmes where the children are grouped into age ranges to suit their needs and interests e.g Guppies is for 6 month-2 years old where they can enjoy sensory and interactive play, whereas Dolphins is for 10-12 year old’s where they can attend circus school and play sports and films.
Our specialist cruise consultant Harry told us: ‘The Splash Academy was the largest space I’ve ever seen and there was a lounge for the teenagers with super fun and friendly staff!’ You can read more of Harry’s blog here.
They were the first cruise line to launch kid’s activity programmes in 1980 and they also highly encourage teen programmes where teenagers have their own clubhouse with workshops and parties. There’s a waterpark for all ages, a bowling alley, football, board games and even Nintendo Wii stations with two storey screens for an extra interactive experience!
There’s a specific kids café and all places around the ship carry a non-formal dress code so children can dine comfortably, plus the lack of strict dinnertimes means they won’t be getting restless waiting for a late sitting. Even the staterooms are family friendly as you can opt for interconnecting rooms with sofa beds and they’re all located near to the kids clubs so they don’t have to go too far for their new favourite activites and games!
Staff, Dress Codes and Gratuities
Both dress codes and gratuities are tricky subjects when planning your cruise, packing for it and when you’re on-board. How posh does your posh frock need to be? How many suits do you actually need to pack? How much are gratuities? Will you have the option to remove them? Read on for the answers to these questions for MSC and NCL…
Some of you might be pleased to know that MSC have a more relaxed dress code than other cruise lines but it’s all about being prepared. Don’t forget that this cruise line sails to the North Pole so it’s important to check what the weather will be like during your excursions and pack the right clothes.
Informal clothing is fine for dining so a summery dress is fine for the ladies to wear whilst the men can wear a lightweight jacket. Check before you sail if there are any themed nights in case you need a cocktail dress and suit for a gala night or evening party.
NCL also have a purposefully relaxed dress code because your comfort when dining is the priority. The dress code is officially called ‘resort casual’ so you can essentially wear what you want and on the evenings it’s your choice how much you want to dress up. Although each itinerary usually has one night that allows you to dress up e.g. NCL’s White Night where all guests dress in white and the staff dress as angels (but you don’t have to attend, the choice is yours!)
With MSC the gratuities vary depending on each cruise but they’re usually between $6-$12 per day, per adult. There’s a 15% bar service charge added to all purchases you make and this applies to spa services too. Your tips are given to the staff that serve you and everyone behind the scenes too so no one’s hard work is forgotten; you have the option to pre-pay gratuities, pay at the end of your cruise or remove them completely if you just ask a member of staff.
Our specialist cruise consultant Collette told us: ‘The service in the restaurants was really good, all staff I encountered had a cheery smile and friendly greeting!’ You can read more of Collette’s blog here.
For NCL gratuities stand at $13.50 per day, per person and you’ll have to pay 18% gratuities on drinks and dining too. Suite passengers have to pay slightly more at $15.50 per day, per person, and again, it is your option whether you want to remove or keep these charges in place.
We all know it’s the little things that make your cruise that extra bit special, whether it’s a chocolate on your pillow, free Wi-Fi or that feeling of exclusivity that you know you don’t get with other cruises. Both MSC and NCL have a list of amenities on-board that will surely please everyone, from the solo traveller to the most environment-friendly passenger…
MSC think of the little everyday things that you might miss from home like your daily news fix so you can order your favourite newspaper from the ship and have it on-board in the same format you’d find it in at home. There’s even film packages that you can subscribe to so you can watch films from your cabin in your pj’s!
Every room has a safe and access to laundry service so you can feel secure and homely on the ship (even with a post office if you feel like sending a postcard from the sea!)
There’s an on-board photo service too where professional photographers capture your trip’s highlights and give you the perfect souvenir to take away with you. MSC were also the first company to be awarded the 7 Golden Peals for environmental care! This was due to their energy saving air conditioning and recycling procedure on-board so they’re even helping the environment as they sail you away to an exotic destination.
NCL feature the Haven Garden Villas where suites consist of 622 square metres of space, three bedrooms (each with a bathroom), private sundeck, whirlpool and garden area. The rooms even come with your entitlement to priority embarkation and disembarkation (and a butler and concierge service!)
Any passengers with special requirements needn’t worry as there’s wider doors for wheelchairs, adjustable bed height, braille stateroom numbers and close captioned TV’s for visually impaired guests. And in all rooms the TV system is interactive so that you can book meals from it, look at your bill and see where you are as you sail: all from this very system!
This cruise line truly cater for solo travellers too with exclusive studio rooms with access to the studio lounge where there’s a TV and sofas for all solo travellers wanting to meet fellow singles.
Our specialist cruise consultant Collette told us: ‘Every ship has the Mandara spa where you can escape the hustle and bustle and for a fee have a hot stone massage!‘ You can read more of Collette’s blog here.
Did you know? Both cruise lines have private islands! NCL have the amazing Great Stirrup Cay which has recently announced renovation to include zip lines, an underwater sculpture garden and boardwalk. MSC have recently purchased two private islands which will host guests in the very near future…
That was the ultimate MSC and NCL comparison guide! Have you decided who your favourite is yet? Are you a fan of MSC’s unique Formula 1 simulator and the Cirque de Soleil show? Or are you headed to NCL’s Haven Garden Villas instead? Let us know in your comments below!
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