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The 5 types of MSC Cruises ships, explained

June 27, 2022
14 min read
MSC Grandiosa cruise ship at sea
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The MSC Cruises fleet has grown enormously in recent years. As recently as early 2017, the line had just 12 ships in operation. But it's been adding new cruise vessels at a blistering pace, and it now operates 19 ships, with two more on the way this year.

As a result of the growth, MSC Cruises recently passed Norwegian Cruise Line to become the world's third-biggest cruise brand when measured by passenger capacity. Only Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line are bigger.

Like Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Carnival, MSC Cruises operates a wide range of ship styles and designs. The line's newest ships are among the largest ever built by any line. Five MSC Cruises vessels rank among the world's 20 biggest cruise vessels. But not all MSC Cruises ships are supersized. MSC Cruises also operates quite a few relatively smaller, intimate vessels.

Indeed, four MSC Cruises ships are less than half the size of its biggest ships and rank among the smallest of cruise ships operated by the major mass-market lines. That means you have a lot of choices when it comes to picking the perfect MSC Cruises ship for you.

The good news for those of you trying to get a handle on all the options is that the 19 ships in the MSC Cruises fleet can easily be bunched into just five groups of vessels that have similar amenities. If you know one member of the group, you know them all.

These five groups, made up of ships constructed around the same time to the same basic design, are known in cruise industry lingo as “classes,” and each has its own look and feel.

An introduction to MSC Cruises ships

As noted above, MSC Cruises is now the world's third largest cruise line. Not including pulldown bunks and pullout sofas, MSC Cruises' 19 ships have 62,262 berths — about 13,000 more than Norwegian's fleet. By the end of the year, with the addition of two more vessels, that number will grow to 71,901. At its current pace of growth, MSC Cruises soon could pass Carnival to become the world's second-biggest line.

The grand dames of the MSC Cruises fleet are its recently unveiled Meraviglia Class vessels: MSC Meraviglia, MSC Bellissima, MSC Grandiosa and MSC Virtuosa. Similar in design, these four ships aren't quite as big as Royal Caribbean's giant Oasis-class vessels (the world's biggest cruise ships), but they're right up there when it comes to size, amenities and passenger capacity.

Related: The best credit cards for booking cruises

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MSC Meraviglia is the world's 14th largest cruise ship. (Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises)

MSC Grandiosa and MSC Virtuosa, which debuted in 2019 and 2021, respectively, are a tad longer than MSC Bellissima and MSC Meraviglia and are considered a subset of the class known as Meraviglia Plus. They each can hold 4,842 passengers at double occupancy — 6,334 passengers if every last pulldown bunk and pullout sofa is filled.

The other two Meraviglia Class ships, which date to 2019 and 2017, respectively, can carry more than 5,600 passengers with every berth filled.

In addition to these four giants, MSC Cruises also operates three large Seaside-class ships that each have a total capacity of 5,336 to 5,632 passengers.

Add those in, and MSC Cruises operates seven of the world’s 30 biggest cruise ships.

The line also operates four somewhat smaller Fantasia Class vessels that can each hold around 4,400 passengers at maximum occupancy.

Together, the 11 Meraviglia-, Seaside- and Fantasia-class vessels make up MSC Cruises' big-ship fleet. The line’s remaining eight vessels, split among two classes, are considerably smaller, with maximum occupancy topping out at around 2,700 to 3,200 passengers.

The eight smaller ships, which in general are the line’s older ships, allow MSC Cruises to offer itineraries to places that aren’t as easy for big ships to visit. Not all ports in the world can handle a ship the size of the Meraviglia-class vessels, although even the biggest MSC Cruises ships are still designed to be able to call at most ports around the world.

MSC Cruises is known for large waterparks on its bigger ships. (Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises)

The smaller ships also appeal to a subset of MSC Cruises fans who are willing to give up some onboard amenities in exchange for intimacy. They're also usually less expensive on a per-day basis.

MSC Cruises is in the midst of an unprecedented expansion focused on its fleet of big ships. The line has ordered a new series of four massive megaships that'll be its biggest ever at around 200,000 tons. They'll each carry up to 6,761 passengers. Dubbed the World class, the series is due to begin debuting late this year with the arrival of the class prototype MSC World Europa.

One more Meraviglia ship and one more Seaside-class vessel also are on order for the line (both to be stretched versions of the initial ships in the class).

In addition, MSC Group — the line's parent company — has announced plans for yet another class of big ships to start arriving later this decade, though there have been few details released. MSC Group also is developing a series of small luxury vessels that'll operate under a separate brand to be called Explora Journeys.

Seaside Class

Ships in class: MSC Seaside (2017); MSC Seaview (2018); MSC Seashore (2021); MSC Seascape (2022).

Size: 153,516 to 170,412 tons.

MSC Seaside. (Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises)

Looking for a megaship specifically designed for cruising in warm-weather locales such as the Caribbean? The ships in this class could be the answer.

The three (soon to be four) vessels in MSC Cruises' Seaside class feature layouts with lots of outdoor spaces for sunning, strolling and bar-hopping.

Notably, each of the Seaside-class ships boasts an unusually broad, uncovered, outdoor promenade on Deck 8 that offers close contact with the ocean and a Miami Beach-like pool area at the back of the same deck that’s surrounded by loungers. Another pool and lounge area at the top of each ship is connected to the lower pool area by glass-enclosed elevators.

The latter pool area at the top of each of the ships is, notably, topped by dual zip lines that run from funnel to stern — at 345 feet the longest at sea. A third pool area is located at the top of the ship toward its center (this one with a closable roof), and there's a fourth pool area in the ship's exclusive suite area, the MSC Yacht Club.

Put it all together, and the Seaside-class vessels have the highest ratio of outdoor space per passenger of any of the MSC Cruises ships, according to the line.

As is typical for the biggest megaships, Seaside vessels also have a wide range of restaurants, bars and lounges. Among nine distinct eateries are two main dining rooms, two buffet eateries, a pan-Asian restaurant, sushi bar, Teppanyaki eatery, American steakhouse and seafood restaurant. There are more than a dozen bars.

All of the ships also have a water park with waterslides and a hanging bridge feature; a sports court; Formula 1 race car simulators; virtual arcade games and bowling; and an XD cinema (featuring 3D movies plus immersive special effects, such as moving seats).

In addition, each of the vessels has a large spa, casino, disco, theater and library with a pool table.

Measuring 153,516 to 170,412 tons, the Seaside-class ships are a tad smaller than the biggest MSC Cruises ships (see the Meraviglia class, below). MSC Seaside and MSC Seaview can carry 4,132 passengers at double occupancy (5,336 passengers with every berth filled).

MSC Seashore and MSC Seascape are slightly bigger versions of the first two ships in the series that are part of a subclass called Seaside EVO (EVO stands for "evolution"). They each can hold 4,540 passengers at double occupancy (5,877 with every berth filled).

Meraviglia Class

Ships in class: MSC Meraviglia (2017); MSC Bellissima (2019); MSC Grandiosa (2019); MSC Virtuosa (2021); MSC Euribia (coming in 2023).

Size: 171,598 to 181,541 tons.

MSC Grandiosa. (Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises)

If you’re the kind of person who loves nothing better than a big, bustling resort with every sort of amusement known to humans, this is the MSC Cruises ship class for you.

While not quite as big as Royal Caribbean's giant Oasis-class vessels (the world's largest floating megaresorts), the Meraviglia-class ships are not far behind in grandeur and amenities. They are, notably, bigger and more amenity-filled than any vessel you'll find at such rival big-ship lines as Norwegian and Princess. Cruise giant Carnival only has a single ship at the moment (Mardi Gras) that is in the same ballpark as the Meraviglia-class ships in terms of size and amenities.

Nineteen decks high and 1,036 feet long, the first two ships in the Meraviglia class — MSC Meraviglia and MSC Bellissima — are chock full of 30 bars, lounges, eateries and snack outlets (so many there's little chance you'll get to them all on a single sailing). The second two ships in the series — MSC Grandiosa and MSC Virtuosa — offer even more outlets. They are slightly stretched versions of the first two ships, a subclass of the series known as Meraviglia Plus.

All four of the vessels are built around a grand interior promenade that’s home to restaurants, bars and shops. The promenade is covered in an innovative “digital sky” made with LED screens.

All of the ships also have a giant pool deck, a water park and a sprawling amusement area with race car simulators, a flight simulator and an XD cinema.

What you won’t find on the Meraviglia-class ships is intimacy. These are vessels that can carry as many as 6,334 passengers when every berth is filled. They each operate with up to 1,704 crew members. That means you could be sharing your vacation with more than 8,000 people.

A fifth vessel in the series, another stretched version of the initial ships to be called MSC Euribia, currently is under construction and scheduled to debut in 2023.

Fantasia Class

Ships in class: MSC Fantasia (2008); MSC Splendida (2009); MSC Divina (2012); MSC Preziosa (2013).

Size: 137,936 to 139,400 tons.

Back in 2008, when the ships in this series began debuting, they were among the biggest cruise vessels in the world, and they still are relatively large by cruise ship standards — if not quite as big as the latest MSC Cruises ships.

While no longer on the list of the top 20 biggest cruise vessels — indeed, they barely crack the top 50 these days, thanks to a flood of bigger ships in recent years — they offer a classic big-ship experience with lots of restaurants, bars, showrooms and deck-top attractions.

On each of the Fantasia-class ships, you'll find five separate pools (including one with a retractable roof that is perfect for rainy days), 12 whirlpools, a waterslide, XD cinema, sports court, squash court, Formula 1 race car simulator and extensive children's program areas.

In addition, each of the vessels has a large spa; casino; disco; outdoor cinema; and multiple showrooms, lounges and bars.

One notable difference between the Fantasia-class ships and the new Meraviglia-class and Seaside-class ships is that they have fewer dining options. You'll find two main restaurants on each of these vessels, a main buffet, a separate self-service food area with pizza and an American-style steakhouse.

At 137,936 to 139,400 tons, the Fantasia-class ships are about 23% smaller than the line's biggest Meraviglia-class ships, a significant step down in size. They’re about 18% smaller than the Seaside-class ships.

They also carry significantly fewer passengers than the Meraviglia-class ships. MSC Fantasia and MSC Splendida carry 3,274 passengers at double occupancy (4,363 with every berth filled). The slightly bigger MSC Divina and MSC Preziosa carry 3,502 passengers at double occupancy.

Musica Class

Ships in class: MSC Musica (2006); MSC Orchestra (2007); MSC Poesia (2008); MSC Magnifica (2010).

Size: 92,409 to 95,128 tons.

MSC Poesia. (Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises)

Not sure that you want to sail on a megaship with 6,000 people but still want a vessel with a good amount of features and activities? The Musica-class ships may be the perfect solution.

At 92,409 to 95,128 tons, the four vessels in the series are barely half the size of MSC Cruises' massive Meraviglia-class ships but still big enough that they have a lot to offer.

Each of the vessels has at least four places to eat including two main restaurants, a casual buffet and a sushi bar.

You’ll also find two pool areas on each of the ships, whirlpools, a miniature golf course and a sports court. Each of the ships also has a theater, spa, casino, and multiple bars and lounges.

What you won’t find on the ships, because of their smaller size, are the truly over-the-top family attractions that you'll find on bigger MSC Cruises ships such as giant waterparks with multiple slides and sprawling amusement areas with race car and flight simulators. If you can’t live without those sorts of features on a cruise ship, the Musica class probably isn’t for you.

You'll also find a far less diverse array of restaurants.

Each of the Musica-class ships holds a bit over 2,500 passengers at double occupancy (around 3,200 with every berth filled). That’s less than half the number of passengers you’ll find on the biggest MSC Cruises ships.

That makes them perfect for cruisers who want to get away from the sort of crowds that are on the biggest megaships without giving up too many of the amenities that big ships have to offer.

Lirica Class

Ships in class: MSC Armonia (2001); MSC Sinfonia (2002); MSC Lirica (2003); MSC Opera (2004).

Size: 65,542 to 65,591 tons.

MSC Armonia. (Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises)

Dating to the early 2000s, the Lirica-class ships are the smallest at MSC Cruises, and they offer fewer onboard attractions and amenities than is typical for the line’s vessels.

In general, they appeal to cruisers looking for a more intimate experience on a cruise ship than what you’ll find on the big MSC Cruises ships. They also draw cruisers who care more about the destinations that they visit on a cruise than onboard attractions.

Along those lines, MSC Cruises often sends some of its Lirica-class ships to South America, South Africa and the Middle East to operate destination-intensive itineraries with abundant port calls. The vessels also often sail voyages in the Mediterranean that are longer than the seven-night trips that are the norm at MSC Cruises. In both cases, the allure of the cruises has more to do with the ports the ships visit than the onboard experience.

The Lirica-class ships don't have the big water parks that are common on newer MSC Cruises ships. For the most part, their top decks are lined with pools, whirlpools and sunning areas, as is typical for ships built in the early 2000s. All of them have at least two pools and two whirlpools.

Related: Is cruising right for you? Start by asking yourself these 7 questions

In addition to a main dining room and a casual buffet, each of the ships has an outdoor grill and pizza stand near its main pool area, as well as a sushi bar.

Each of the Lirica-class ships holds about 2,000 passengers at double occupancy (around 2,700 with every berth filled). That’s less than a third of the passengers you’ll find on the biggest MSC Cruises ships.

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Featured image by ActionDrone
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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