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MSC's logo on the funnel of MSC Magnifica (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

MSC Cruises vs. Carnival Cruise Line in the Caribbean

MSC's logo on the funnel of MSC Magnifica (Photo: Aaron Saunders)
Jason Leppert

Last updated
Jun 3, 2024

Read time
7 min read

When it comes to value-priced cruises, two lines -- Carnival Cruise Line and European-based MSC Cruises -- offer feature-laden cruises at unbeatable prices. Both lines cater to families, and both lines sail out of some of the most popular departure ports, including Miami, Port Canaveral (Orlando) and Galveston, Texas.

Cruise Critic delves into the distinctions between Carnival Cruise Line and MSC Cruises in the Caribbean. Since pricing remains fairly consistent between the two, we compare fleet size and age, cabins, dining, entertainment, family experience and more.

Go ahead and check out which of these two cruise lines is best geared towards your vacation style.

On This Page

MSC Cruises vs. Carnival: In a Nutshell

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Jubilee sits docked at Montego Bay. (Photo: Colleen McDaniel)

Casual, family-friendly brand, most recognized for its signature “Fun Ships,” for those seeking a laid back cruise among like-minded travelers.

MSC Cruises

MSC Seashore alongside in Cozumel, Mexico (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Elegant Mediterranean cruising comes to the North American market, making it good for those who appreciate an international vibe, even while navigating the Caribbean.

MSC Cruises vs. Carnival: Fleet Size, Ships and Age

MSC Magnifica alongside in Key West, Forida (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Carnival Cruise Line

MSC Cruises

  • 8 ships in the Caribbean by 2025, all built after 2000

  • Smallest ship in the Caribbean: MSC Magnifica (3,223 passengers)

  • Largest ship in the Caribbean: MSC World America (6,762 passengers, coming 2025)

  • Oldest ships in the Caribbean: MSC Magnifica (2010), MSC Divina (2012)

MSC Cruises vs. Carnival: Demographics

Passengers by the pool aboard Carnival Conquest (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Carnival Cruise Line

  • A wide variety of families, friends, couples and singles in their 20s to 60s

MSC Cruises

  • A wide variety of families, friends, couples and singles in their 20s to 60s

MSC Cruises vs. Carnival: Homeports

MSC Meraviglia in Ocean Cay (Credit: Rob Norman)

Carnival Cruise Line

  • Heading to the Caribbean, Carnival departs from the homeports of Baltimore, MD; Charleston, SC; Galveston, TX; New York City, NY; Mobile, AL; New Orleans, LA; Norfolk, VA; and Miami, Jacksonville, Port Canaveral and Tampa, FL

  • Carnival will soon visit the line’s first private island, Celebration Key. Stops are sometimes made at Holland America Line's private island, Half Moon Cay.

MSC Cruises

  • Heading to the Caribbean, MSC departs from Galveston, TX; New York City, NY; and Miami and Port Canaveral, FL

  • Only MSC guests can dock at the line’s Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve private island in the Bahamas.

MSC Cruises vs. Carnival: Cabins and Suites

Carnival Cruise Line

Balcony cabin on Carnival Firenze (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)

Both lines offer a mix of inside (no window), outside (window but no veranda) and balcony staterooms, as well as larger suite and enhanced spa categories

Specific to Carnival are Family Harbor, Havana (or Terrazza) and Excel Suite accommodations that come with exclusive access to private lounges, sun and pool decks and/or other perks onboard, depending on the cabin category booked.

MSC Cruises

MSC World Europa Yacht Club Suite (Photo: Aaron Saunders)
  • Both lines offer a mix of inside (no window), outside (window but no veranda) and balcony staterooms, as well as larger suite and enhanced spa categories

  • Specific to MSC are MSC Yacht Club accommodations that provide private access to the line’s signature ship-within-a-ship complex of an exclusive lounge, restaurant, sun and pool deck, concierge and more.

MSC Cruises vs. Carnival: Dining

Carnival Cruise Line

The Monet Dining Room aboard Carnival Conquest (Photo: Aaron Saunders)
  • Included venues are the likes of the main dining rooms, the buffet, Guy’s Burger Joint and the BlueIguana Cantina

  • Extra are venues include premium specialty dining experiences like Emeril’s Bistro, Rudi’s Seagrill and Carnival's signature Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse

MSC Cruises

One of two buffet areas aboard MSC World Europa (Photo: Aaron Saunders)
  • Included venues are the likes of the main dining rooms, buffet, kid-friendly food and ice cream stations and casual burger-and-hotdog eateries found on some ships like MSC World Europa.

  • Extra-charge venues include the Ocean Cay Seafood Restaurant, Hola! Tacos & Cantina and Butcher’s Cut steakhouse.

MSC Cruises vs. Carnival: Pool Deck Fun

Carnival Cruise Line

The PowerDrencher bucket tips over on Carnival Celebration's Splash Park (Photo: Aaron Saunders)
  • A combination of family pools, adult-only pools, multiple whirlpools and several waterslides and splash areas dubbed WaterWorks

  • Poolside film screenings throughout the day and night are common at the Seaside Theater

  • Carnival is also well known for its tranquil Serenity decks for those aged 18 and above (more crowded under the Caribbean sun)

MSC Cruises

Pool deck aboard MSC Meraviglia (Photo: Aaron Saunders)
  • A combo of all-ages pools, adult-only pools, several hot tubs and many waterslides and themed splash zones

  • MSC more frequently offers an all-weather magrodome-covered (though usually opened in the heat of the Caribbean, save for an occasional rain storm) pool as well

  • Poolside activities are heavy on trivia sessions in addition to other interactive game shows

MSC Cruises vs. Carnival: Sports Deck Fun

Carnival Cruise Line

BOLT racetrack on Carnival Jubilee. (Photo: Colleen McDaniel)

Besides most common ropes and mini golf courses, traditional sports courts and jogging tracks:

  • Carnival touts a full-fledged Bolt roller coaster on its Excel-class ships (Mardi Gras, Carnival Celebration, Carnival Jubilee)

  • Carnival Vista, Carnival Horizon and Carnival Panorama offer the tamer self-propelled suspended SkyRide cycling attraction that circles the ship around its funnel.

MSC Cruises

Robotron ride onboard MSC Seascape (Photo Courtesy MSC Cruises)
  • MSC adds a Robotron swift-swinging robotic ride aboard MSC Seascape.

  • MSC has the longest zip-lines at sea above the aft pool on MSC Seaside

  • Like MSC World Europa, MSC World America will include a fast dry slide that will spiral downwards from its upper decks

MSC Cruises vs. Carnival: Indoor Fun

Carnival Cruise Line

Atrium on Carnival Firenze (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)

Always more exciting and playful thanks in large part to its jovial crew, Carnival elevates the likes of trivia and bingo sessions, cooking demos, dance classes, cocktail mixing and tastings to the next level while also offering other fun diversions, including:

  • The interactive “Deal or No Deal” game show, as well as “Family Feud Live”

  • On Vista-class ships, for a surcharge, 3D Thrill Theaters, plus an IMAX Theatre (not available on Carnival Panorama)

  • On Excel-class ships like Mardi Gras, Carnival Celebration and Carnival Jubilee, the Grand Central serves as a scenic atrium turned stage for live performances and other game shows

MSC Cruises

MSC World Europa sports onboard bumper cars (Photo: MSC Cruises)
  • Formula 1 race simulators, interactive dark rides (motion base with laser tag elements), bowling alleys and other arcade offerings

  • MSC Meraviglia and MSC Virtuosa have an expansive LED screen-crowned shopping mall that colorfully animates overhead

  • MSC World America will boast its multipurpose Luna Park Arena and bumper cars

MSC Cruises vs. Carnival: Nightlife & Entertainment

Carnival Cruise Line

Punchliner Comedy Club (Photo: Carnival Cruise Line)
  • The Punchliner Comedy Club series of rotating standup comedians (two on each ship) for family-friendly and adult-only sets

  • “Dive-In" movies at the aforementioned Seaside Theater

  • Live music throughout including Piano Bar 88

  • Nightclub DJ action as well as theme parties (expect more on deck in the Caribbean)

MSC Cruises

Enjoying a show in the Panorama Lounge aboard MSC World Europa (Photo: Aaron Saunders)
  • Themed deck parties are particularly popular on MSC (think White Party, etc. all al fresco in the Caribbean)

  • “MasterChef at Sea” cooking competition

  • “The MSC Factor” guest talent show

  • Casino gambling, billiard room, beer festival and more

  • Live music throughout the ship

  • MSC World Europa even has a secret Speakeasy bar onboard

MSC Cruises vs. Carnival: Family Focus

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Cruise Line has an enduring partnership with Dr. Seuss Enterprises (Photo: Aaron Saunders)
  • Dr. Seuss Bookville and Seuss at Sea activities (varies by ship)

  • Build-A-Bear Workshop At Sea

  • Towel Animal Theater

  • ZSpa for teen girls

  • Family Harbor Lounge (for those in Family Harbor staterooms and suites)

MSC Cruises

Baby Club Cicco aboard MSC Euribia (Photo: MSC Cruises)

And family-friendly collaborations and other events aboard MSC extend to:

  • LEGO Experience On Board and LEGO activities

  • Special Chicco partnership

  • "Cabin 12006” web series

  • Dance Crew Competition

Publish date June 03, 2024
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