Monday, January 6, 2014

Cruising 101 - American versus European Cruise Lines

We've cruised with both Carnival and Royal Caribbean,
but we're anxious to expand our horizons and try some other lines to see what they have to offer.
Matt has his eye on several interesting MSC itineraries.
So, I was thrilled to be invited aboard the MSC Splendida to get a taste for Europe's largest cruise line.  

We've read a lot about the differences between American and European based cruises
and I wanted to get a feel for the distinctions.  It seems to bring up some very interesting discussions.

MSC is a family owned cruise line that offers "Italian Service, Italian Style."
A shipping company founded in the 70's, they started really focusing on cruising in the late 90's
and they are now one of the most popular European cruise lines.

MSC offers a mainstream European cruise experience that I found very comparable to Royal Caribbean
but with some noticeable differences in style, food and language.
I also noticed a few more differences that have to do with cultural nuances. 

MSC Splendida Med Cruise


MSC caters to the European market offering a multi-lingual approach.  This means that you will hear everything in five languages, Italian, French, Spanish, German and lastly, English.  English speakers are the minority particularly on their European sailings.  My daily schedule was in English and everyone on the staff communicated with me in English so I didn't really find it a problem.  I just wasn't able to eavesdrop on many of the conversations going on around me.

This also means that you don't get regular announcements over the intercom.  On other cruises, we were fed details of the sailing from the captain or enticing reminders from a chatty cruise director.  I really missed the morning "Bing-Bong."  For some, it's cheesy and annoying but I consider it part of the novelty and excitement of cruising and I missed it on the MSC Splendida.  But, listening to each announcement in five languages would get old pretty quickly.


The MSC Splendida is one of their largest ships.  This Fantasia Class ship was launched in 2009 and it notable for it's beauty and elegance.   The modern style is different from some of the fantasy-themed interiors we've experienced on American based ships which can seem a bit garish in comparison (especially on some of the older ships.)

I also noticed a difference in the style of entertainment on offer. Again you have everything repeated in a variety of languages.  It featured jugglers, dancers and acrobats.  The European audience seemed to absolutely love it, but it just wasn't to my taste.  But, I love the cheesy, over-the-top Broadway type shows on the American lines and consider it part of the fun of cruising.  The shows on MSC seemed much more serious.  The overall feel on the ship was a bit more understated than we've experienced previously.


Two words.  Pasta.  Course.   The offerings were maybe a bit more interesting than I've experienced in the past and I loved the addition of the pasta course.  The food was good, but I really didn't note much of a difference in the food quality or service.  I found it very comparable to Royal Caribbean with MSC slightly ahead in the main dining room.  I didn't notice much of a difference in how people dressed for dinner or interacted while dining.   I was surprised by how crowded the buffet was each day that we were in port.  It seemed like more people came back on board to eat lunch or just didn't leave the ship at all.  

Cultural Comparisons

I've read a lot about the differences between a European based cruise and an American based cruise.  Some of the cruising forums have some pretty negative takes on European cruise lines. These comments (almost exclusively from American cruisers) usually focus on smoking, the rude behavior of fellow cruisers and poor customer service.  So, I was on the lookout for some of these things that can get people so riled up.  Here is what I noticed.

Smoking is one of those things that really drives me crazy.  I really hate having to breathe in second hand smoke.  I've noticed in the US, that smoking is really on the decline.  You can't smoke in public places or even in doorways.  It's much more common in the UK and Europe.  I've had to duck under clouds of smoke to get into a restaurant.  I often have to cover my mouth when walking through a crowd.  It drives me crazy.  Smoking has been allowed on every ship that I've cruised on.  It is usually allowed on the top decks restricted to one side of the ship, on balconies, in one side of the casino and in the Cigar Lounge.  I just avoid those areas.  I didn't notice that this was any worse on the MSC Splendida.  

I cringe when I read comments about "rude Europeans" as much as I cringe when I read about "obnoxious Americans."   I've found that people from every background can be rude and obnoxious, just like they can be friendly and gracious.  This is really a non-issue when it comes to comparing US vs European based cruising.  You'll always run into kids that want to push all of the elevator buttons, couples fighting in public, loud complainers, chatty families, obnoxious laughers and tipsy loud dingbats.  If you don't want to deal with people then you should probably just stay home.  I will admit that my newly tuned UK sensibilities about queuing/lining up are always challenged in Europe.  But, I didn't really experience this on board.

Customer service is definitely a big topic when comparing the two experiences and I did notice a distinct difference in this area.  The US is known for having really friendly customer service, enough that it can put Europeans off as being disingenuous and annoying.   Customer service aboard the MSC Splendida did feel very different.  The attitudes were much more low-key, lacking a broad smile and piercing eye contact.  You state your business, they do what they can to help you.  Most of the time it was very efficient and problems were addressed.  I may have waited for service at a bar longer than I'm used to and there wasn't much of the friendly chatter that I've experienced on other ships.  There were two occasions when I felt the service was just rude.

The nationalities of the staff on board a cruise ship is varied, the staff is from all over the world.  That is no different on the MSC Splendida.  It must be more about the corporate culture of the cruise line.  I'm sure there are a variety of reasons (i.e. tipping habits) that contribute to the differences, but customer service in Europe is very different from what you will experience in the US.  I also found this to be true on the MSC Splendida.

In my experience, there are differences between a US and a European based cruise.
I think it's important to be aware of them, but don't let them deter you.
It makes perfect sense that if you want to experience Europe and visit Italy, Spain and France
then why not experience it aboard a European cruise line.

Each time you travel, you should keep an open-mind and remember that different isn't bad.
It's just different.  We will definitely cruise with MSC again.

Tomorrow, I'll share with you more about the beautiful ship.

Have you noticed a difference in customer service in the US vs. Europe?


 *I was a guest of MSC Cruises for a three night #MSCBlogCruise for the purposes of review.
All photos, writing and opinions are my own.
As always, I promise to be open, honest and transparent with my readers.
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask.


  1. I somehow need a plan to get on a cruise, you've made them sound so wonderful. I almost do not want to read about them anymore and I am GREEN with envy. I want to take one now :)

  2. The customer service drives me up a wall sometimes in the UK, as someone who worked in customer service in the US. Especially in restaurants when you have several different people attending to your table which leads to no one attending to you at all and having to track people down to ask for things. I do think I'd kind of like being left to my own devices on a cruise ship unless I had an issue though.

  3. This was very interesting to read. I have always wondered how they differed because Josh and I have been considering a European based cruise line when we cruise in Europe! This was definitely very helpful!

  4. I am pretty sure that "tipsy loud dingbats" is the best phrase I have read in a long time!

  5. Ha! I might have played that part a few times in my own life. 

  6. So glad that you found it helpful, Jenn. It was pretty interesting to compare the two. Now I'm anxious to plan our next cruise. I'm really missing the Caribbean. 

  7. The thing that always trips me up is not getting the check automatically. I always just wait and wait and then remember, Oh yeah! I need to ask for it, or else I'll be sitting here all day. It is kind of nice to not be rushed out of a restaurant so they can fill your seat. I have to admit I'm really missing Chili's right about now.

  8. Be forewarned... they are addictive! You really should try it. 

  9. OMG chili's yuuuum. England needs to jump on that bandwagon.


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