The brand new 6,000-passenger MSC Grandiosa is a very mixed experience, and whether it makes sense for you depends a lot on what you value and what gets under your skin.
I will first describe the things on MSC Grandiosa that are first-rate. Then I will describe what I think is poorly done, and will represent deal-breakers for many. After that I will describe the ship's overall philosophy, and the type of person for whom that might work well, and what you'll want to be looking out for.
After that, we'll finish with 40+ high resolution photos to showcase different aspects of the ship.
There's not much difference between ships -- they all have main dining halls below, a buffet on top, swimming pools, specialty restaurants, a theater, and bars. But there are enough differences between ships, and even more differences in the ways standard features are operated, so that a different ship can result in a better journey.
Unlike most cruise lines, MSC lets you board anywhere along the route, and not just on Saturdays, which is convenient for planning, but has a downside.
We boarded in Genoa on Saturday January 11, 2020, for a trip to Rome, Sicily, Malta, Barcelona, Marseille, and back to Genoa. MSC told us to check in at 3pm, but when we did we were the only ones there; we could have boarded much earlier, and I wish we had.
Here's what the MSC Grandiosa is really GOOD at:
1. Beautiful Ship. The only thing about which everyone agrees is that the ship is beautiful. What people are reacting to is largely the lighting, which is carefully attended to everywhere. Also, there are a lot of mirrors, so you frequently find yourself in an infinity tunnel.
2. Solid Shows in the Main Theater. The stage shows were SO much better than on Princess or even Celebrity. The cast gets 35 minutes to perform as many songs as they can within that night's genre (Rock, Swing, Italian Love Songs, ABBA, etc.), so you get about 10-12 great songs well-performed, with no filler. I wish I had seen all six shows.
3. Amazing Bread. Nobody is talking about the bread, which is the same everywhere on the ship. I am expecting stale buns at the buffet, and instead every single type of bread is soft, delicate, fresh, and perfectly created. I can't stop eating those little date rolls.
4. Good Dining Hall Experience. The food is very good, the menu varies, the service is professional, and they have two no-sugar-added desserts every night. Everything we had was good. Our seating was at 6:30pm and we walked in and sat down at the same table-for-three each night without delay.
5. Many Affordable Add-Ons. The Gelato Bar, the Chocolate Shop, the Crepe Stand, the Fish-and-Chips Pub, and the Steak House Brunch are all very high quality, with no crowds, and priced like Starbucks, which is very affordable if you aren't angry about nothing being included.
6. Advertising Is Relatively Light. MSC wants to upsell you as much as anyone, but they are not nearly as aggressive as other cruise lines. For example, the daily flyer is not mostly ads, there is no art auction, and they are not hard-selling you on port-shopping.
Here is what MSC Grandiosa is really BAD at:
1. Crowds at the Buffet. The buffet area isn't much larger than on the 2,500-passenger Celebrity Summit, but there are twice as many people on board. That means a risk of severe crowding unless MSC does a LOT to spread out the crowds. Instead, MSC does the opposite, forcing people into unnecessarily small time windows. The inevitable result is enough pushing and table panic to really diminish the enjoyment of otherwise perfectly acceptable food (and great bread).
2. Nothing is Included. Food stands? extra fee. Beverage package? Doesn't work at specialty restaurants. Did you buy a Specialty Dining package? It only works on part of the menu; the rest isn't included. Juice at the buffet? Only at breakfast. Non-alcoholic beverage package including "hot chocolate concoctions"? The only hot chocolate concoctions on the ship are at the Chocolate Shop, and the Chocolate Shop isn't included. That's just fraud. We missed Princess's International Cafe.
3. Specialty Experiences Prohibitively Expensive. Bowling, Virtual Reality, Steak House Dinner, it's all too expensive, and you're not going to do it unless you're rich. We ate at the steak house. It was great. Brunch there is $5 for blueberry pancakes, $6 for strawberry french toast, and $7 for chicken and biscuit. But come back for dinner, and each entree is $30-$40, $55 for a T-Bone steak. The pre-fixe menu at $39 is better, but four people are going to pay $150+ and beverages when you could just eat for free in the Dining Hall.
4. Little Outdoor Space. If you want some fresh air, you have to go up to Deck 16. There's nothing like a promenade deck. You can't leave the big atrium or the galleria and get a whiff of sea air, or even a glimpse. This ship is largely an indoor experience, unless you go to the top decks.
Peculiarities On Board
1. Permanent Culture Clash. Unlike lines that cater more toward a particular nationality (Princess to Americans, P&O to Brits, AIDA to Germans), MSC caters to everyone, so there is a delightful international mix on board. Announcements from the Captain or before stage shows are rendered in English, then Italian, then French, then German, then Spanish, and sometimes Chinese. At first it's impressive, then it gets old. Your excursion will be in multiple languages, too, and you end up spending a lot of time waiting for another language to finish.
The biggest downside, though, is that all these cultures have different norms for things like when to eat and how to navigate lines. MSC brings to bear its Italian aesthetic of utter disconcern -- confused signage, for example, and rigid European meal times -- and pretty soon tempers fray. I'm used to Americans being really rude, but on this ship EVERY nationality took a turn demonstrating rudeness.
By disconcern, I mean that dinner at the buffet is from 7pm-10pm. The buffet is OPEN from 5pm-7pm, if that's your thing, but they only serve hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, and salads. The full buffet menu is for people who eat late. Meanwhile, you probably have a stage show reservation at 7:15pm , or Cirque de Soleil at 8pm, or an excursion starting early the next morning, so you REALLY NEED to the flexibility of the buffet. Hamburgers and pizza for you. And because thousands of starved people have just gotten back from their excursions, there is a huge rush at 5pm for those few burgers and pizzas.
MSC is capable of handling peak crowds, but they choose not to, and that makes everything unnecessarily difficult and unpleasant on board. Tempers flare, and pretty soon your party is not having a fun time on the ship.
2. Inverted Demand Curves
On most ships, people buy a cheap room, but you get quite a bit of value from upgrading to a drink package or a specialty dining package or an entertainment package. So the value shoppers go to the middle of the offering, and the poor values are the high-end experience (which is overpriced) and the bare-bones experience, which could be inexpensively embellished.
It's not like that on MSC Grandiosa; it's the opposite. Yacht Club is a great value because they rescue you from the crowds and give you all the best real estate on the ship. The cheap rooms with dining hall food and water-purchased-a-la-carte are also a great value. But in the middle, if you try to buy up to a beverage package, nothing is included. If you try to purchase a specialty dining package it's expensive and inflexible. The other upsell experiences are prohibitive. As a result, the specialty dining venues are mostly empty most of the time. That puts additional pressure on the dining halls and the buffet.
The end-result is that the ship has huge amounts of space that are underutilized (e.g., specialty experiences), or off-limits (e.g., Yacht Club), and that means all 6,000 passengers are crammed into what's left. That's a worse experience than you'll find on almost any other ship in the sea.
3. Contagion Incubation Factory
I didn't hear much coughing when we boarded in Genoa on January 11, but by the end of the trip the whole ship was a cough chorus. On a normal ship, they flush everybody and chlorox the ship once per week. But on MSC new people join every day. That is SUPER-convenient for planning your trip, but if the ship gets sick then the contagion just keeps getting passed forward week after week as healthy passengers join and sick passengers depart. People have faulted the MSC Grandiosa for not being serious about hand sanitzer, and that is correct. There are a few sanitizer stations, but not enough for 6,000 passengers, and they run out of sanitizer, or they break, and people get frustrated, and illness happens.
4. Wifi at Sea.
The Internet is somewhat affordable (about $10/day), and the speeds are mostly okay, although occasionally it slowed down or stopped. But most of the plans have data caps, and you have to be VERY careful that your phone or computer isn't storing a copy of every photo you take or every document you modify up in the cloud, or else you will blow past 2.5 GB's in a day or so. Look for "Low Data" mode and turn it on BEFORE you board the ship.
So Who is MSC Grandiosa For?
I would recommend MSC Grandiosa for rich people who can hide in the Yacht Club, and for poor people who can get a really good room rate and just want transport between cities and are content with buffet and dining hall food. Everybody else can probably find a ship that's better imagined than this one.
Tips & Tricks
Theater Shows. For the shows on the main stage, make a reservation a couple days in advance, then line up at LEAST a half-hour before the show starts. You'll get to sit in the middle section. Everyone without a reservation will flood in after you, and they sit on the sides.
Touch Screens. There are multi-language touch-screens throughout the ship which are well-designed and make it easy to reserve shows for your party.
Lanyards. You will need your cruise card for everything, so bring your lanyards.
Cirque at Sea. Cirque de Soleil gets mixed reviews. That's partly because the two shows are very different. Exentricks is disastrous and offensive -- a surreal freak show, complete with pole dancers. The audience does not clap. Cosmos is merely stupid. Both of them are "spectacle" in the circus sense. You get to see a juggler, acrobat, contortionist, and aerialist, but Cirque surrounds that basic experience with a bunch of gee-whiz-but-meaningless semiotics that will only impress the easily impressed. For example, Cosmos is not a show about "coming of age," and saying it doesn't make it so.
If you go to Cirque anyway, you don't get to choose your show time until you are on board. And the seats are assigned automatically. That means when you go on board, all the best seats and even show times are taken for the first few nights. But if you choose shows near the end of your cruise, you will get the best seats and your choice of show times because passengers who would compete with you haven't boarded the ship yet. If you choose a cocktail show, those are at a different time from the dinner show. You get to grab a cocktail from the counter on the way in -- there are a couple to choose from. They are watered down.
State Rooms. The cabins are a little tighter than on the Crown Princess or Celebrity Summit, but well-designed, well-appointed, well-lit, and highly functional.
Service Lights. Be careful not to accidentally leave the Do Not Disturb light on -- I think that's why people are complaining that their cabin doesn't get made up. The three lights over each door mean [RED] People are in the room; [BLUE] Do not disturb; [WHITE] Please make up the room.
Service Levels. The service levels on the ship are high. Electronic buttons on the buffet tables summon staff effectively. The cabin staff do first-rate work, as do the restaurant servers. However, whereas the Celebrity Summit assigns a permanent team of three to each dining room table, and the Crown Princess has a mixed staff, on the MSC Grandiosa it's just one guy handling all aspects of every table in his section, from serving wine to changing utensils, to scraping crumbs. That experience is a little harried, and makes the Dining Hall seem like a place to get into and out of fast.
Watch for Staff. The nice thing about MSC, unlike Princess or Celebrity, is that off-duty crew are allowed anywhere on the ship, they are not confined to the bottom decks, so you get to see them. However, the staff contracts are months-longer, and the ship staff may not have been home recently; they may not have seen their family. Some of this sadness seeps into their work. On the other hand, this is not an American ship, and super-cheerful American service is not what anybody is attempting. Just something to watch for.
Zoe. We used Zoe quite a bit, just for laughs. I even made video of Zoe being stupid. It knows one answer to every question: "Go look it up." The purpose of Zoe, obviously, is to take the pressure off MSC's overburdened customer service personnel. But MSC will have to learn the hard way that it's easier to make the ship less confusing than to try to answer everybody's questions. For example, what are the buffet hours? You might need a few days to figure out what is available when at the buffet. The schedule is inscrutable; the signage is unclear. After a week you've got most of the ship figured out, but mostly what you've got figured out is to get on a different ship without so much unnecessary confusion.
Our professional cruise ship reviews help regular people find the right experience for them.
Unlike most cruise reviews, we don't get hung up on whether they made the toast too crunchy, or the carpet had a fray.
Instead, we just focus on what makes ships or cruise lines different in ways that might impact whether you have a nice time.
PICTURED: MSC Grandiosa's Galleria is a small shopping mall with food running down the center of the ship on Decks 6 & 7. When the passengers have gone ashore, it can be nearly empty, as shown. However, it is quite crowded in the evening. The LED roof is at its best when displaying iconic ceilings, like the Sistine Chapel. It is at its worst when they show advertisements.
PICTURED: MSC Grandiosa at port in Barcelona, Terminal A. It is possible to walk to Barcelona from the ship. There is a bridge, and wide, walkable sidewalks. However, it is a 30-40 minute walk, and about 1.75 miles (2.8 km) to the closest Metro station, which is Drassanes. If you only have a day in Barcelona, don't spend an hour walking to and from the Metro. It's easy to grab a cab. Once you get to Drassanes, you can quickly, easily, and affordably get just about anywhere. A singe ride costs 2.4 Euros.
PICTURED: Swarovsky Crystal Stairs in the main atrium of the MSC Grandiosa. The stairways are beautiful and fun to walk on, and are the object of endless instagram photos. The band gets a crystal stage. The atrium itself is not as useful -- the bar areas are small, and if you are used to the International Cafe on Princess ships, then you will miss that.
PICTURED: Ambitious staging for this Bobby Darin song, "Beyond the Sea," in the MSC Grandiosa's main theater. The sharks, jellyfish, and octopus seem to result from a mistranslation of "Beyond" the sea to "Beneath" the sea. The singers, dancers, and live band are consistently excellent in the musical reviews, and there is no filler -- just 35 minutes of joyful virtuosity.
PICTURED: The Marketplace Buffet on the MSC Grandiosa, like most buffets on most cruise ships, is on the top floor, aft, and offers giant picture window views. Because the buffet on the Grandiosa is on Deck 15, it's really a long ways down to the water. Window tables are easy to get at off-hours, but not a sure thing during breakfast and dinner rushes.
PICTURED: A long line to re-board the MSC Grandiosa after excursions in Palermo, Sicily. We met long lines getting back on the ship no matter whether we were at the last moment before all-aboard, two hours before all-aboard, or four hours before all-aboard. There are simply so many passengers that there is usually a crowd. Yacht Club passengers are escorted past the mob. The time only takes 5-10 minutes, but it feels like yet another unpleasant crowd.
PICTURED: Cirque de Soleil at Sea -- Exentricks. If you choose a Cirque show time that is soon after you board then you will be automatically assigned one of the worst seats in the house, in the back, as you can see above. But if you see Exentricks, that's a good thing, because it is a horrible and offensive recreation of freak show with surreal aesthetics.
PICTURED: Cirque de Soleil at Sea -- Exentricks. The aerialists are the least impressive performers in Exentricks. The bicycle balancer and the contortionist do things that are extremely difficult, although still perhaps not worth doing.
PICTURED: Cirque de Soleil at Sea -- Cosmos -- tells the story of a young astronaut who leaves his parents, and is alone in space, then encounters a juggler, an aerialist, and some acrobats, and finally realizes that he is himself an acrobat in space. Probably worth a pass, although the juggler has extraordinary talent.
PICTURED: Cirque de Soleil at Sea -- Cosmos -- one acrobat watches another jump through a hoop. You get assigned much better seats if you choose a show performed toward the end of your cruise, but nothing will rescue the watered-down cocktail.
PICTURED: Comedy Theater on the MSC Grandiosa, Deck 6 bow, is similar to theaters on other ships, but the shows are better produced than what I saw on either the Crown Princess or the Celebrity Summit. Reserve your time a day or so in advance at the touch-screen kiosks, and then line up before the doors open, and you will get to sit in the middle section. Those without reservations take what's left.
PICTURED: The crepe stand in the MSC Grandiosa, which is next to the gelato stand in the Galleria, offers fancy crepes for 5-6 Euros. However, I never saw anybody buying the crepes. It appears that most passengers on the Grandiosa avoid the upsell opportunities. That's means there's never a line if you to buy crepes, gelato, or chocolate.
PICTURED: Fitness equipment -- treadmills and bicycles -- on the MSC Grandiosa. Other ships put the fitness room at the front of the ship overlooking the bow, so you feel like you are pedaling the ship forward. That's not possible on the Grandiosa, because the Yacht Club has monopolized the best space. So instead, the fitness equipment overlooks the main outdoor swimming pool.
PICTURED: Balcony stateroom 9202, mid-ship, couch and queen bed.
PICTURED: Balcony stateroom 9202, looking back toward closet, storage, desk, and bathroom.
PICTURED: Balcony stateroom 9202, thermostat, lighting, service lights, and restroom. Note, there is no tissue paper in the bathroom. Perhaps if you request it.
PICTURED: Balcony stateroom 9202, balcony is tight. There is just enough room for two chairs and a small table. In the background, Genoa/Genova.
PICTURED: The hours of availability for all the restaurants, bars, and entertainment. Although the buffet is technically not open from 17:00-19:00, if you look carefully you'll see that there is "Extra Available Food" during these hours. This is a very confusing way to describe the buffet's hours of availability.
PICTURED: They actually make chocolate at the Jean Philippe Chocolat & Cafe on the MSC Grandiosa.
PICTURED: Chocolate sculptures at the Jean Philippe Chocolatery.
PICTURED: Chocolate sculptures at the Jean Philippe Chocolate Shop.
PICTURED: Chocolates for sale in the Jean Philippe Chocolate Cafe.
PICTURED: Hot Chocolate prices are around Starbucks-level in the Jean Philippe Chocolate Cafe. Although every beverage package includes "hot chocolate," not when you buy at Jean Philippe.
PICTURED: MSC Grandiosa delivers to each stateroom a Daily Planner announcing activities and events for the following day. It's all business, not stuffed with advertisements like on Princess Cruises.
PICTURED: Life-jacketed staff prepare to perform the Muster Drill under the forested canopy of the Galleria's LED dome on the MSC Grandiosa.
PICTURED: Wine prices on the MSC Grandiosa. When people complain that the wines cost just over 6 Euro and thus are excluded from the Easy Beverage package, this is what they are complaining about.
PICTURED: Infinity glass floor mirrors in the Casino on the MSC Grandiosa.
PICTURED: You must use an electronic kiosk like this to associate a credit card with your cruise card on the MSC Grandiosa. It only takes a moment.
PICTURED: This inscrutable shower fixture on the MSC Grandiosa allows you to control water flow (left) and water temperature (right). But to control water pressure, it won't do to turn or to push the button, but if you both turn AND push the button on the left, the pressure will increase.
PICTURED: There is a hair dryer in the top desk drawer on the MSC Grandiosa.
PICTURED: The bread is outstanding everywhere on the ship; this bread basket was served in the Butcher's Cut Steak House (Specialty Dining).
PICTURED: Brunch at the Butcher's Cut Steak House (Specialty Dining) on the MSC Grandiosa is a great deal. The pre-fixe menu is a steep. But wait until you see the a la carte menu, below...
PICTURED: The a la carte menu at the Butcher's Cut Steak House (Specialty Dining) on the MSC Grandiosa for dinner is prohibitive.
PICTURED: The mozzarella cheese making station on the MSC Grandiosa is in the Marketplace Buffet, on Deck 15.
PICTURED: One day's menu at the main dining hall (Gray Pearl) on the MSC Grandiosa.
PICTURED: A different day's menu at the main dining hall (Gray Pearl) on the MSC Grandiosa, so you can see the range. A single kitchen serves all the dining rooms.
PICTURED: The Bakery at the buffet on the MSC Grandiosa. All the bread is fresh and amazing, but what you REALLY want are those little things on the back row, second-from-the-left...
PICTURED: The Gelateria on MSC Grandiosa is first-rate. There is wider variety of flavors than I have seen elsewhere, and they sell two generous scoops for about 4 Euro. If you combine coconut with passion mango, or coconut with nutella, you're really in for a treat.
PICTURED: The "Piedmont" hot chocolate at the Jean Philippe hot chocolate cafe -- hazelnut praline and cinnamon. It has enough calories to split with someone else.
PICTURED: Each deck is named for an artist, with artwork representative the artist (with some cruise-themed liberties taken). You can learn something about art if you take time to read the placards on each floor. The artists from decks 5-19 are Caravaggio, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Monet, Van Gogh, Miro, Dali, Raffaello, Goya, Magritte, Cezanne, Velazquez, Gaughin, and Degas.
PICTURED: Embarcation in Genoa/Genova is in a beautiful old building. There were no crowds -- really nobody at all -- when we arrived at 2:45pm, so we were greeted with open arms.
PICTURED: The outdoor pool on the MSC Grandiosa doesn't get a lot of business in the winter, day or night. However, the hot tubs and the indoor pool were busy whenever they were open.
PICTURED: Every table in the MSC Grandiosa's Marketplace Buffet has a call button. If you push it, your table number will pop up on the tablet of a nearby server, who will come by to take your drink order. You can order two drinks on a card, but if you need a third drink it will require a second card. Typically the server appears pretty quickly.
PICTURED: MSC Grandiosa stern or aft view.
If you enjoyed this guide to the MSC Grandiosa, please also see our First Time Cruiser's Ultimate Guide to the Crown Princess,