Could MSC Cruises soon pass Carnival to become the world’s second biggest cruise line?
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
There was a time when Carnival Cruise Line was the biggest cruise line in the world, when measured by the passenger capacity of its ships. But in recent years, it has lost that title to rival Royal Caribbean, as the latter line has added ever more and bigger ships.
Now Carnival is in danger of slipping to the No. 3 spot among the world’s biggest cruise lines.
In an unexpected development being driven in part by coronavirus-related downsizing at Carnival, fast-growing MSC Cruises, which took delivery of yet another giant new vessel on Monday, increasingly appears on track to surpass the “fun ship” line as the world’s second biggest cruise brand within the next three years.
For more cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG’s new cruise newsletter
With 24 ships that have the capacity for 71,434 passengers, based on double occupancy, Carnival still is significantly larger than MSC Cruises. But its downsizing in recent months has significantly shortened its lead over MSC Cruises when it comes to passenger capacity — and made its fall from the No. 2 spot among cruise lines almost inevitable.
In an effort to cut costs during the coronavirus-caused industry shutdown, Carnival has shed four older ships since July 2020, while adding one new ship, the 5,250-passenger Mardi Gras.
MSC Cruises, by contrast, hasn’t shed a single ship and is adding two new vessels this year.
With the addition of the 4,842-passenger MSC Virtuosa on Monday, MSC Cruises now has 18 ships with a capacity for 58,722 passengers, based on double occupancy. A second new MSC Cruises ship arriving in July, the 4,540-passenger MSC Seashore, will bring the line’s passenger capacity to around 63,000, based on double occupancy.
While that’s still roughly 8,000 fewer berths than Carnival’s current total, an aggressive expansion plan already underway at MSC Cruises makes it likely that the line now will close that gap by the end of 2023.
MSC Cruises has four more ships on order for delivery from 2022 to 2025 that will collectively add around 20,000 more berths to its fleet. Carnival, by contrast, has just one more ship on order, the 5,250-passenger Carnival Celebration, due in 2022.
Given current delivery schedules for the ships, the crossing point where MSC Cruises passes Carnival as the world’s second biggest cruise line by passenger capacity now is likely to occur in 2023.
There are several factors that could affect such projections. For starters, MSC Cruises could remove some older ships from its fleet in the coming years, reducing its capacity. MSC Cruises also could ask its shipbuilder to slow or stop the construction of the new ships.
Alternately, Carnival could add additional ships to its fleet over the next few years.
But MSC Cruises has shown no desire to slow its capacity growth. In a press release Monday announcing the arrival of MSC Virtuosa, the line reiterated its plans to add all of the abovementioned ships by 2025.
Related: The ultimate guide to MSC Cruises
Carnival, meanwhile, appears to be entering a period where new ship orders are unlikely. In a recent conference call with Wall Street analysts, the CEO of Carnival’s parent company, Carnival Corp., suggested that the company would focus in coming years on paying down debt instead of adding more vessels. The company has taken on a large amount of debt to stay afloat during the coronavirus crisis.
“We’ve stretched out the delivery schedule (of new ships), pushing out new build capital, and more importantly, we have just one ship for delivery in fiscal 2024 and just one ship for delivery in fiscal 2025,” Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald said, referring to two vessels that are on order not for the Carnival brand but for sister lines. “That will significantly reduce capital expenditures during those years, enabling us to pay down debt.”
The growth at MSC Cruises, which is privately owned, is at a pace rarely seen in the industry. As recently as early 2017, the line had just 12 ships in operation. But it has added six giant new vessels in the past four years and now is on track to have 23 ships by 2025 with more than 80,000 berths, based on double occupancy.
As a result of the growth, MSC Cruises already has shot well ahead of such other major lines as Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Aida Cruises, Costa Cruises and Celebrity Cruises when it comes to passenger capacity.
It should be noted that even if Carnival, the line, falls in the ranks of biggest cruise brands, its parent company — Carnival Corp. — will remain the world’s biggest cruise company. That’s because Carnival Corp. owns not just Carnival but eight more major cruise brands including Princess, Costa, Holland America, Seabourn, Cunard and P&O Cruises.
Collectively, the nine Carnival Corp. brands have more than 230,000 berths and account for nearly 40% of the entire cruise business.
Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:
- The 5 most desirable cabin locations on any cruise ship
- The 8 worst cabin locations on any cruise ship
- A quick guide to the most popular cruise lines
- 21 tips and tricks that will make your cruise go smoothly
- 15 ways cruisers waste money
- 12 best cruises for people who never want to grow up
- What to pack for your first cruise
Featured image of courtesy of MSC Cruises
Welcome to The Points Guy!
WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases.
- 2X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.
- With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
- Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
- Earn 2x total points on up to $1,000 in grocery store purchases per month from November 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021. Includes eligible pick-up and delivery services.