When MSC Cruises named its latest ship, it opted for the Italian word for wonder.
After spending 20 hours on a swelteringly hot bus travelling between London and Le Havre to get 14 hours onboard the ship, the experience made me wonder whether it was worth it.
It was if only to discover this is not the revolutionary ship I expected to tour. Instead, MSC Meraviglia, the newest, biggest, and best ship in the fleet, feels remarkably like a supped-up version of MSC Preziosa. Less groundbreaking revolution and instead more progressive evolution.
MSC Meraviglia review
The statistics are impressive. The 171,598 gross tonne ship is 315 metre long, 65 metres tall, and carries up to 5,714 guests at a time. MSC Meraviglia is one of the largest family-friendly vessels afloat.
Huge lobbies, extra deep lifts, and pockets of redundant space that perhaps should have become new cabins, give an air of spaciousness, complimented by the aroma of the ‘Med by MSC’ signature fragrance (available to purchase in the boutiques onboard) that envelops both public spaces and cabins.
The ship divides into two levels. The upper decks are home to the pools, the amphitheatre space with its resident DJ, the polar-themed water splash park and trio of slides (one of which is semi-transparent and hangs over the side of the ship), and the open decks for sunbathing by day and partying by night. Sportplex is a versatile space that was a sports court one minute, and a party venue the next. Adjacent is the bowling alley, F1 racing car simulators, and 4D cinema.
Hunkered downstairs is the two-tier indoor promenade with its LED domed roof. I was sceptical at first but having watched the transitions and an impromptu show, I am sold. The vivid pictures are impressive, but the animations are less so. Hollywood-style cinematography would take this technology to the next level, but the proof of concept here is a success.
Galleria Meraviglia and its LED dome will likely become the most photographed spot on the ship, aside, of course, from the stylish LED-illuminated Swarovski crystal staircase in the Infinity atrium, ensuring dazzling photos.
The main restaurants nestle together beyond the promenade, while paid-for speciality restaurants line the strip itself. The buffet, an exception to the rule on Deck 15, is smart and elegant, as is the rest of the ship. Be sure to watch the mozzarella and pizza making as you enter.
Sadly the lack of a piazza-style area, as on MSC Preziosa for example, eliminates the enjoyment of a quiet coffee away from the hubbub. There is, however, a delightful chocolate shop (sans the promised chocolate fountain, which may now appear on a future ship instead) and ice cream counter, spearheaded by pâtissier Jean-Philippe Maury.
The Carousel Lounge is surprisingly intimate. Rehearsals were ongoing during my night aboard, but if the soundtrack and lighting tests are to go by, guests of the paid-for shows by Cirque du Soleil will be in for a treat. Dinner show guests get the best views of the stage, although seating for cocktail guests encroach some of the tables for two and four. The traditional fee-free theatre shows still run alongside, with a flamenco-themed show my entertainment for the evening. Expect loud music, even louder singers, and an easy to follow timeline ideal for multilingual audiences.
MSC Yacht Club cabins span four decks, but the private areas for exclusive use by guests in these cabins are considerably less glamorous than on other ships – no spacious lobby with a golden Swarovski crystal staircase here. The Yacht Club restaurant, lounge, and private deck space are all grouped together in this part of the ship. If you book a Yacht Club suite, you will love the peace in these secluded areas.
The kids club facilities are a remarkable step change for MSC Cruises. The LEGO and Chicco partnership ramps up on MSC Meraviglia, and the 9 am to 11 pm opening hours is a significant improvement for the cruise line, taking it in line with its competitors. The multicultural mix of passengers poses little problem for the multilingual staff, and the colourful Chicco toys and LEGO bricks are universally adored by children worldwide.
Cabins are plain and straightforward, although I found mine to be quite dark. Given the high-tech nature of the ship, installing just a single USB socket seems a curious decision – expect kids to squabble over who gets to use it first. This ship introduces a variety of interconnecting cabins (known as SuperFamily cabins) to accommodate groups of up to 10 people. Duplex suites are also a first for the cruise line, although the stylishness of furnishings is lower than I would have liked to see.
MSC Meraviglia is undoubtedly a modern ship built for modern times. It introduces wristbands and an app for those that wish to plan their holiday in this way, has NFC cabin locks, digital way-finders, and, of course, that LED domed ceiling. Cabins have limited USB sockets, and switches to replace the housekeeping/do not disturb cards. The cruise line also offers a variety of WiFi Internet packages on board, and the speed is reasonable too.
Besides sharing Sophia Loren as Godmother, MSC Meraviglia shares a lot of the same DNA as MSC Preziosa. Both ships are glamorously detailed, characteristically Italian with a certain elegance, although MSC Meraviglia undoubtedly boasts more mirrored surfaces.
Strip out the two storey Galleria with its LED dome and the paid-for Cirque du Soleil shows, and you have a ship that is remarkably similar to MSC Preziosa, just bigger, and newer. That is certainly not a bad thing, but the Meraviglia-class of ship does not represent the bold seismic shift in direction I hoped, and expected, to see. I had hoped to see even more that would entice sailors back, and more to encourage a new generation of cruisers to experience the Italian cruise line.
Looking forward, I am now interested to see whether MSC Seaside will effectively be the all-weather MSC Meraviglia in a different skin built specifically for hot climates, or whether it will be drastically different. I suspect I might need to wait until 2022 when the first 7,000-passenger World-class ship rolls off the production line for the revolution.
Should you book a cruise on MSC Meraviglia?
There is a handful of standout features that make this ship unique but if you have sailed on MSC Meraviglia‘s Fantasia-class sister ships, you will find many similarities in terms of style, amenities, and overall experience.
MSC Meraviglia has taken the flagship crown away from MSC Preziosa, and if you are looking to sail on MSC Cruises’ best ship, this is it. Also bear in mind that for the first six months at least, the ship is staffed by the best of the best, all of which I spoke to were incredibly proud to be working on the biggest ship in the fleet. Expect the best hospitality MSC Cruises has to offer here.
If the size of ship concerns you, or you are not excited about the LED ceiling or the opportunity to pay to watch Cirque du Soleil, try MSC Fantasia, MSC Splendida, MSC Divina, or MSC Preziosa instead. The experience will not be the same, but it will be quite similar.
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Disclosure: MSC Cruises supplied a one-night full-board stay on MSC Meraviglia with return transport from London. I paid for my transport to and from London, plus overnight hotels. My opinions are my own.