Planning a Mediterranean cruise is exciting. In fact, going on a Mediterranean cruise is regularly described as a “once in a lifetime” travel experience. Even if you’ve cruised before, this region offers so many different experiences from its popular Caribbean counterparts. The port cities and activities are different, the cultures are different, the food is different… even the required packing is different. If you’re wondering what to expect, this is the post for you! We are giving you the run down of everything we experienced on our first Mediterranean cruise which was also our first time sailing on MSC Cruise Lines.

We generally pick cruises based on itineraries, available dates, and pricing. Knowing we wanted to go on a Mediterranean cruise led us to our first experience on MSC Cruise Lines. Our selection allowed us to cruise on one of the company’s newer ships, the Meraviglia! We had an entirely different experience than ever before. Not only was the global region we were cruising different, but we also experienced a different ethnic population of passengers, along with different port offerings too. Like most things, this new experience offered both good and bad.

Keep reading to learn more about our first time experience cruising the Mediterranean on the MSC Meraviglia.

The Amenities and Entertainment

This ship was beautiful! While our Alaskan cruise on Celebrity Cruise Lines was also incredibly nice, this was the prettiest ship we have been on. We are lucky that it was a relatively new ship to the line. Everything the ship offered was beautiful and in pristine condition. Of particular interest is the famous Swarovski crystal staircases in the main lobby. Photos don’t do these justice!

Looking down the Swarovski crystal staircase.

Much like Celebrity, everything here seemed a bit higher class. While we don’t mind going on Carnival cruises, they are just different calibers. The interiors, décor, and design elements on the Meraviglia were much more luxurious. The quality is superior. Even the shows provided better entertainment and are put on by more highly skilled entertainers. Guests even have the opportunity to see a scaled-back Cirque du Soliel show while on board at an affordable price. They also have a ton of pretty amazing activities on the ship. There is a huge waterpark, as well as things like bowling, Formula-1 racing, and a flight simulator.

The solarium pool was a high-end hot spot. The area also had four hot tubs, ping pong tables, and lounge chairs.
The entertainment soars above that of other cruise lines.
Racing this bad boy was so much fun.

The Stateroom

A few years ago, we started booking interior rooms on our cruises. We realize that we are hardly ever in our room other than sleeping and getting ready, so it is an easy way to cut expenses. Our interior room on this ship was huge and so well appointed! Whoever did the layout of these spaces did an amazing job. We’ve seriously been in hotel rooms that are smaller. There was more storage space than we could actually use and the bathroom was also very nice.

The inside stateroom was well-appointed and sizeable.

The Port Cities

The ports offered an entirely new experience as opposed to ports in the Caribbean. These were great opportunities to take in a variety of cultures and history as well as amazing architecture and food. The excursions also center around these ideas. So, if you’re looking to spend your day jet-skiing on a tropical island, a Mediterranean cruise may not be the best choice for you. I’m not saying they don’t have these options, I’m just saying they aren’t prevalent. Ports in the Caribbean are definitely more about fun in the sun!

We visited the following ports during our cruise:

  • Civitavecchia, Italy (embarkation and debarkation port)
  • Palermo, Sicily (Italy)
  • Cagliari, Sardinia (Italy)
  • Palma, Mallorca (Spain)
  • Valenica, Spain
  • Marseille, France
  • Genoa, Italy

Transportation and Shuttles

Most of the ports on our itinerary required additional transportation to and from the ship. The historic city centers are several miles away. There were four we could walk to, but some of these walks were still a few miles. The others are at such a distance, it was necessary to take some form of transportation. For a couple, this can add about 100 euros or more to the cost of your trip. And, of course, they don’t tell you this in advance. So, when you’re planning your budget, be sure to factor this in.

In Cagliari, Sardinia, the port is about a 30-45 minute walk away.
The port in Genoa, Italy is about a 30 minute walk from the historic center.

Food, Drinks, and Service

We really didn’t care for the food on the ship. Initially, we were very excited about the Mediterranean cuisine offerings. However, we found that most of the food on the menus are not things we eat. Neither of us eat any sort of fish or seafood. And, for personal reasons I do not eat lamb or veal. We ate most meals in the buffet instead of the formal restaurant. The service of restaurant staff and room stewards was less friendly than we have experienced on other cruise lines. We also felt very unwelcomed by the fitness center attendant. Overall, the staff on this ship was not as friendly as staff on other lines.

The food on our cruise ship was my least favorite.

Our cruise package came with coupons for 12 onboard alcoholic or specialty coffee drinks each. Employees throughout the ship would accept or refuse these coupons in very different manners. This made it a little frustrating and difficult to know when you could or could not use them for a drink. We did not use them all regardless. We generally do most of our eating/drinking in port so we can experience the local fare. But still, all this was interesting to experience.

The MSC Meraviglia has a beautiful main pool.

Fellow MSC Guests

As mentioned earlier, the other passengers on this cruise were from a different cultural background than we have experienced on our other North American cruises. While we knew this would be the case, it was an eye-opening experience. We were pushed around and yelled at more than I care to admit. Really, I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced such poor treatment by fellow passengers on any of my other eight cruises.

It was also very interesting that people embarked and disembarked every day. On our embarkation day, we were pleasantly surprised to find very short lines and a very quick process!

The grande promenade on the ship was filled with shops, restaurants and bars.

Sustainable Insights

While some may argue this, cruises are not a very sustainable form of travel. We try to cruise in the most sustainable ways possible to lessen our impacts. As I’m working on incorporating more sustainable insights into my posts, I wanted to share a few observations on this aspect:

  1. While the MSC website indicated they use digital systems for all those photos they take, disappointingly this is not the case. They too have wall after wall of printed 8x10s.
  2. They provide some really nice in-shower pumps of shampoo and body wash in the staterooms. Reduce plastic waste by leaving yours at home.
  3. There was a ton of food waste in the buffets. I can’t even begin to describe the stacks and stacks of plates with half-eaten food. There might have been more food waste here than on US based cruises.

Overall, we really enjoyed our first Mediterranean cruise. It is a completely different experience from a typical tropical destination cruise. I really enjoyed the vast cultural differences and history in each port city. The MSC Meraviglia itself is a beautiful ship and I’m so glad we were able to experience it. Cruising the Mediterranean is something many people dream about, including us. Embarking on this adventure was well worth it!

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  1. I have always wanted to try a cruise but I must admit that the high prices and the huge dimensions of this ships haven’t convinced me yet. But the good side is that they are safe on water and I think this is a priority instead of having a more moderate size.

  2. I have cruised. I am not a big fan of them, but I have done so. Regardless, I have been curious to hear about MSC Cruises and how they compare to North American cruise ships. It didn’t seem very positive, except for a nice ship and well appointed rooms. It was kind of what I was expecting. Thanks for the info.

    1. Cruises certainly aren’t for everyone and they definitely have aspects that I really struggle with too!

  3. That boat looks amazing. Darcee & I have discussed taking a Mediterranean Cruise to explore the coastal cities of so many countries that are a little hard to get to while driving about. I love that Celebrity Cruise line. We haven’t cruised with them yet but it is definitely on the bucket list project!

    1. Both MSC and Celebrity are a step above! We really enjoyed both in their own individual ways. The Mediterranean ports were such a good experience!

  4. I keep trying to tell my parents that they would love to do a trip like this! The simplicity and ease of cruising while seeing new parts of the world!

  5. I have never been on a cruise like this, MSC Cruise Lines seems really luxurious. The itinerary of the cruise seems great as well, covering the port cities like Civitavecchia, Cagliari, Palma, Valenica, Marseille, and Genoa. That’s different countries on the same cruise itinerary. I loved the room, pool, and the food. You certainly had a great time there.

    1. Yes, the staircase is quite beautiful. It made for some great people watching to because everyone turned into royalty while coming down it!

  6. I haven’t done a Mediterranean cruise yet. I have cruised the carribean many times and Alaska once all with Princess. I like to stay with the same cruise line for royalty reasons. Mediterranean is next on my list

    1. My cruise line loyalty went out the door when all a particular cruise line did for my 5th cruise with them was give me a free bottle of water!

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post! Yes, the food was a bit disappointing. But, the food in the port cities made up for it!!

  7. Ive gone on a cruise with MSC around the canary islands a few years back. While it was great, more than two days of “at sea” was torture. I did enjoy the overall experience though – a floating hotel. Whats not to enjoy 😀

    1. Oh I am not sure I could handle two days at sea – that’s a bit too much sitting around for my taste! I’m sure the Canary Islands were a wonderful spot to visit though!

  8. It certainly is a beautiful ship. . . .and large. . . .very large! Sorry to hear some of the employees on the ship were less than stellar in their interactions with paying passengers, for crying out loud! Love all the pictures on this post.

    1. Some of behaviors were definitely surprising to me! Regardless of the way the people were, the port cities were wonderful to explore!

  9. I personally love cruising and have been on one Mediterranean itinerary. I’ve never cruise with MSC but have heard some mixed reviews. It’s unfortunate about the onboard drink vouchers… I prefer to just pay as I go or get the drink package if its reasonable. Would you cruise on MSC again?

    1. I have a love/hate relationship with cruises in general. Would I go on MSC again? Probably so but maybe in a different region just to compare the overall experience!

  10. The only reason I have not taken a Mediterranean cruise yet ( and not do not plan to) is because I want to cover all those countries individually, with more time than a cruise ship docks there for. Having said that, I do plan on taking a Caribbean cruise sometime. I’ve been on Princess Cruises before but not MSC and this particular one, the Celebrity Cruise looks gorgeous! The Swarovski staircase is so awe-inspiring!

    1. That is one downfall of cruises – you don’t get a lot of time in the places you are visiting! Enjoy your Caribbean cruise and let me know if you have any questions as we have done a few!

  11. Thanks for the review. We’ve been considering another Mediterranean cruise, and wondered about MSC. We sailed with Norwegian when the Epic first set sail, and thoroughly enjoyed it. While MSC looks even more upscale, not sure we could put up with rude staff or passengers. Although, that pool….very tempting! 🙂

    1. I may or may not have eventually thrown a few elbows!!😀. Hope you guys can do a mediterranean cruise one day soon!

  12. Oh my gosh, that Swarovski crystal staircase!! I’ve never seen anything like that. I would feel like a princess just climbing them. Can you believe I’ve never been on a cruise? I might have to start with this one…

    1. I loved people watching on the staircase – it was quite entertaining to see how everyone interacted with it! Cruises are a great way to travel but admittedly aren’t for everybody. If you ever go on one, I’ll be anxious to hear your review!

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