Carnival vs MSC: Which Cruise Line Should You Choose?

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click one, I may earn a commission at no cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Are you trying to decide whether to go on a cruise with Carnival or MSC? Both have earned a place in the hearts of cruisers around the world and are giants in the cruise industry. However, if you’re trying to decide which one to go on, it’s worth taking the time to compare the differences and see which one suits you best.

Comparative image featuring two cruise ships: 'Carnival' on the left with a blue and white hull cutting through the ocean, and 'MSC' on the right with a white hull and distinctive blue MSC logo, both sailing under a clear sky.

Both Carnival and MSC Cruises have their unique selling points. While Carnival is highly rated for its vibrant culture, MSC Cruises is known for its low fares and good value for money. Deciding between Carnival and MSC comes down to personal preference and what you want on a cruise. So, in this blog post, I’ll break down the details you need to help you decide which cruise line is for you.

When it comes to the fleet, both Carnival and MSC boast impressive ships with unique features. Carnival is known for its fun-filled atmosphere and vast array of entertainment options.

On the other hand, MSC, with its European charm, offers a more sophisticated experience. There’s a lot to consider, from their new ships to the range of cabin options. Let’s start by exploring Carnival’s fleet.

Carnival’s Fleet

Carnival boasts a fleet of 26 ships. Each ship presents a unique blend of entertainment and relaxation, promising a fun-filled cruise vacation. Carnival’s ships feature a festive atmosphere, ensuring you have a great time from the moment you step onboard.

However, one of the standout features of Carnival’s fleet is the variety of entertainment options. There’s something for everyone, from live shows, rollercoasters and parties to wellness activities and sports facilities. So, whether you’re looking for a high-energy vacation or a relaxed getaway, Carnival has got you covered.

Recommended reading: Which is the best Carnival Cruise Ship?

Passengers enjoy a thrilling ride on the BOLT Sea Coaster aboard Carnival Mardi Gras, with a sweeping ocean view in the background and the ship's colorful deck below.
BOLT Sea Coaster on Mardi Gras

MSC’s Fleet

MSC’s fleet stands out with 23 ships that sail across the globe. Each cruise, designed with a modern touch, offers a blend of Mediterranean style and a tinge of international sophistication. This European charm is evident in each MSC ship’s architecture and decor, setting it apart from Carnival.

Aside from the aesthetic appeal, MSC’s fleet boasts a range of entertainment options. From Broadway-style shows to room service that rivals the best on land, their ships are designed to provide a great cruising experience.

The Broadway Theatre on MSC Meraviglia, an expansive and modern auditorium with rows of plush red seats facing a large stage, ready for a performance, with intricate lighting overhead.
Broadway Theatre on MSC Meraviglia

Key Takeaway:

Carnival’s fleet, known for its festive atmosphere and diverse entertainment options, offers a fun and energetic cruise experience across its 25 ships, while MSC’s fleet of 23 ships, characterised by European elegance and modern sophistication, provides a more refined experience with a variety of entertainment and high-quality services.

When it comes to itineraries, both Carnival and MSC have plenty to offer. However, the distinction lies in the destinations they cover and the number of itineraries they provide.

Carnival’s Destinations

Carnival Cruise Line offers a variety of cruise durations, ranging from two to 31 days, departing from numerous major cities across the globe, including key locations in the United States and Sydney, Australia.

Carnival’s forte lies in their Caribbean cruises, which often start in Miami and have become synonymous with the brand. However, they offer cruises from the breathtaking beauty of Alaska to the exotic locales of Mexico and The Bahamas, Carnival covers an impressive array of destinations. Moreover, Carnival Cruise Line Australia, with its two ships, offers cruises from Sydney and Brisbane to New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

The Carnival Sunrise cruise ship docked at Grand Turk, with the island's stunning turquoise waters and lush landscapes in the background, embodying tropical travel and leisure.
Carnival Sunrise docked at Grand Turk

MSC’s Destinations

MSC Cruises offers a diverse range of destinations that cater to a variety of interests. Their itineraries include the Mediterranean, covering the Adriatic, Eastern, and Western regions, and extend to Spain, the Canary Islands, Portugal, and Corsica. Beyond Europe, MSC Cruises features routes to Egypt, the Red Sea, and Saudi Arabia, as well as South America, the Emirates, and North America.

Additional destinations include the Nordics, Greenland, the Caribbean with the Bahamas and Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, Asia, South Africa, and the Seychelles, providing a comprehensive selection for travellers.

Scenic view of Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve with visitors enjoying the pristine sandy beach, crystal-clear turquoise waters, and abundant palm trees under a sunny sky with soft clouds.
Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve

Key Takeaway:

While Carnival excels with its varied duration cruises and a focus on Caribbean destinations, also offering routes from Alaska to the Pacific Islands, MSC distinguishes itself with a wide-ranging selection of destinations, including the Mediterranean, the Middle East and South America.

If you’re like me and you’re not just concerned with the destination, but the activities available on the ship are just as important. Here’s what Carnival and MSC ships have to offer:

Carnival’s Activities

On Carnival ships, endless entertainment options and activities are designed to keep everyone from older kids to adults engaged. For the adventurous at heart, there’s the thrill of a surf simulator, and for movie buffs, there are IMAX movie theatres. The Fun Ship 2.0 upgrades have brought about many new features, including the first rollercoaster at sea and waterparks, making the experience truly one-of-a-kind.

For example, aboard Carnival’s Mardi Gras, guests can indulge in a range of activities: The Ultimate Playground boasts the first roller coaster at sea, Bolt, alongside a ropes course, zip line, and waterslides. Evening entertainment thrives with unique offerings like the Family Feud game show in the Mardi Gras Theater and a variety of live music and performances in the Grand Atrium.

For relaxation and rejuvenation, the Cloud 9 spa complex features a vast array of treatments, a Thalassotherapy pool, and a serene Thermal Suite, ensuring a balance of excitement and tranquillity during the cruise.

During the cruise, you can also expect to see some game shows hosted by the crew. You can even participate in Carnival’s version of Deal or No Deal and win prizes. There are also parties held in some of the upper decks, so if you’re looking for a dance partner, you’re sure to find one there.

You can also visit the spa to unwind after all the fun or head up to the Serenity Adults-Only Deck to get some peace, sun, and relaxation. Whatever mood you’re in, there’s always something to accommodate you on a Carnival Cruise.

Related reading: Which is the best carnival ship for kids?

Serenity Adult-Only Retreat on Carnival's Mardi Gras ship featuring a tranquil hot tub, comfortable loungers, and a shaded seating area with ocean views in the background.
Serenity Adult-Only Retreat on Mardi Gras

MSC’s Activities

MSC’s activities are strictly divided into packages. These packages are called “Experiences.” In ascending order, the three packages are the Bella Experience, the Fantastica Experience, and the Aurea Experience. As you may imagine, all experiences have different access levels and various benefits, with Bella having the least and Aurea the most.

Regardless of the experience you choose, you’ll still have access to the pool deck where families can enjoy quality time together. There’s also a dedicated area for the little ones to splash around while the adults can relax and soak up the sun. The kids also have lots to do with clubs, video games, and family-friendly activities available.

You can also go bowling or mini-bowling, depending on what ship you’re on. Bowling is available on the MSC Grandiosa, MSC Seaview, MSC Meraviglia, MSC Bellissima, and MSC Seaside. Mini bowling is available on the MSC Magnifica, MSC Splendida, MSC Divina, and MSC Preziosa and more. You can also escape into the 4D cinema on all the above ships except for the MSC Grandiose and MSC Bellissima.

However, higher packages like Fantastica and Aurea give you access to more areas like the thermal area, the Top Exclusive Solarium, and discounts on the spa.

Modern and stylish Top Exclusive Solarium bar on MSC World Europa, featuring a sleek white counter, teal bar stools, and comfortable lounge seating in a tranquil, well-lit setting with views of the deck
Top Exclusive Solarium bar on MSC World Europa

Key Takeaway:

Carnival Cruises offers a dynamic range of activities for all ages, from the first roller coaster at sea and waterparks to IMAX theatres and live entertainment, ensuring a vibrant and fun-filled experience on board.

In contrast, MSC Cruises categorizes its activities into distinct ‘Experiences’ packages, each offering varying levels of access and benefits, with options ranging from family-friendly activities and clubs to exclusive areas like the thermal spa and solarium.

When it comes to cabins, both Carnival and MSC have a lot to offer. However, there are some differences worth mentioning:

Carnival Cabins

One of the most striking features of Carnival’s cabins is their generous size. Even the most basic rooms offer plenty of space for passengers to relax and unwind. This is a huge advantage for families or groups, as it allows everyone to have personal space.

Another noteworthy feature is the Family Harbor rooms. These unique rooms are designed with families in mind, offering more beds and extra amenities to make the cruise more comfortable and enjoyable. From comfy bedding to well-appointed bathrooms, the Family Harbor rooms elevate the overall living experience on a Carnival cruise.

Recommended reading: Carnival Suite vs Balcony Staterooms.

Cozy Family Harbor Suite on Carnival Vista, featuring a queen-size bed with a colorful geometric-patterned bedspread, a porthole with ocean view, and warm interior tones that create a welcoming atmosphere for families at sea.
Family Harbor Suite on Carnival Vista

MSC Cabins

Regarding MSC’s cabins, there are plenty of options, depending on your preferences. Each cabin is designed with comfort and relaxation, ensuring you have everything you need for your voyage. From comfortable beds to spacious bathrooms, each MSC cabin is equipped to make your cruise experience enjoyable.

One of the standout features of MSC cabins is the attention to detail. The crew works tirelessly to maintain the cleanliness and luxury of each cabin. Another notable aspect of MSC cabins is using the latest onboard technology.

In-cabin virtual assistants can provide you with the latest news or weather reports. Plus, with the help of apps and digital signage, you can easily navigate the ship and make reservations for dinner and shows.

A deluxe balcony cabin on MSC Virtuosa, featuring two twin beds with geometric-patterned covers, a cozy blue sofa, contemporary artwork on the wall, and a large window offering ocean views.
Deluxe Balcony on MSC Virtuosa

Key Takeaways:

Carnival cabins stand out for their generous size and family-focused amenities, particularly in the Family Harbor rooms, making them ideal for families and groups seeking comfort and personal space. MSC cabins, on the other hand, are noted for their attention to detail and technological integration, offering a blend of comfort, luxury, and convenience with features like in-cabin virtual assistants and easy digital navigation, appealing to those who value a modern and seamless cruise experience.

Along with the destination, activities, and cabins are the food and drink. This is definitely one of my top things to consider:

Carnival’s Dining Experience

Carnival is known for its flexible dining options catering to all foodies. The main onboard dining room is notable for its quality and diversity of choices, even for a mass-market ship.

Carnival will also accommodate your dietary needs, whether you prefer vegetarian options or have a gluten-free diet. All restaurants also offer a kid’s menu with great choices for younger members.

Servers at Carnival are known for their efficiency and friendliness. But what sets the dining experience apart is the assistance provided to guests with food allergies. The dining room manager is accommodating and periodically checks in to meet your dietary needs. This attention to detail and care makes the dining experience aboard Carnival exceptional.

A lively dining scene in the main dining room on Carnival Vista, where a waiter serves dishes to a family at a table, with children looking excited, a wine bottle being poured, and a backdrop of a well-stocked bar.

MSC’s Dining Experience

MSC offers a diverse range of dining venues aboard their ships. The MSC Seaside, for example, has nine places to eat, four of which are complimentary. With two main dining rooms and two buffets in the cruise fare, there’s plenty of choice for every palate.

However, to experience MSC’s specialty restaurants, you should purchase their dining experience packages. You can buy up to five specialty dining experiences, which will help you save money on expensive menu items. I recommend starting with just one experience until you’ve tried the food at the buffet section.

Chef's Garden Kitchen on MSC World Europa, featuring an elegant dining area with white tablecloths, wooden chairs, and a unique vertical garden with lit circular shelves, all alongside floor-to-ceiling windows offering ocean views.
Chef’s Garden Kitchen on MSC World Europa

Key Takeaways:

Carnival’s dining experience is marked by its flexible and diverse options, catering to various dietary needs with a focus on quality, even in its main dining areas. MSC, meanwhile, offers a variety of dining venues, including complimentary and specialty options, with packages available for those wishing to explore their more exclusive culinary experiences.

Comparing Carnival vs MSC

Carnival and MSC are two major lines to consider when planning a cruise. They both have their good reputations and offer something for a wide range of customers. Carnival is known for its lively party atmosphere, while MSC offers a more budget-friendly yet good option.

Both lines have newer ships, like the Carnival Vista and the MSC Seascape, with lots of amenities and entertainment options. But, the choice between the two often comes down to individual preferences and the cruise experience you seek.

One thing worth mentioning is the MSC Status Match Program, which is a unique feature belonging to MSC. This stands out because Carnival doesn’t have an official counterpart. What this program does is worth understanding.

In essence, MSC is willing to “match” the benefits guests may get by being a loyalty program member on any other cruise line. The program promises to give guests similar or greater benefits derived from the loyalty program you’re already in. You get to attain the “status” you had with another cruise line with MSC on MSC’s Voyager Club loyalty program.

However, choosing between Carnival Cruise Line or MSC Cruises ultimately boils down to personal preference. Consider what you prioritise most during a cruise? Affordability? Luxury? Activities? Diverse dining options? Choose your highest priority first, then this should make your decision a little easier.

You May Also Be Interested In…

If you’re comparing Carnival to other cruise lines, you may also be interested in these articles: Carnival vs Royal Caribbean, Norwegian vs Carnival, Carnival vs Princess or Disney Cruise vs Carnival.

Today’s Top 20 Cruise Deals

See today’s best deals from ALL travel agents.


If you enjoyed this article please share!


Thanks for reading!

I'm Hannah and I've been cruising for as long as I can remember.

If you enjoy my cruise tips, be sure to follow me on social media for more...

Leave a Comment