Carnival Vs MSC Cruises: Which Is Best?



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If you’re looking for a fun-packed cruise on a mid-to-large ship, but you don’t want to pay top dollar, then you’re probably going to land on either Carnival or MSC Cruises as your cruise line of choice.

A side-by-side comparison of two cruise ships at sea with 'vs' in the middle, depicting a Carnival cruise ship on the left with its distinctive red funnel and an MSC cruise ship on the right with its classic navy blue and white color scheme, both cutting through the ocean waters.

Both of these cruise giants offer exciting destinations, modern ships, and a wide range of dining options, and usually at a great value price.

But is there one which is cheaper? Which has better facilities? Which is the best option for your cruise?

That’s what we’re going to answer in this guide, where I compare both cruise lines side-by-side across all the factors that matter…

The Carnival and MSC fleets are very similar in size – both in number and the actual size of the ships.

Carnival’s fleet is marginally bigger – it has 26 ships, with one more to be added in 2024.

MSC has 22 ships currently sailing for the fleet, and another three being built, so it is closing the gap.

Carnival Ships

Carnival Jubilee cruise ship, with its distinctive red and blue funnel, cruises on a calm blue ocean under a partly cloudy sky, showcasing its multiple decks and the iconic water slide on the top deck.

Carnival has nine different classes of cruise ships:

  • Excel Class – three ships that can carry around 5,300 guests
  • Venice Class – two ships accommodating 4,200 guests
  • Vista Class – three ships accommodating 4,000 guests
  • Dream Class – three ships accommodating 3,700 guests
  • Splendor Class – one ship accommodating 3,000 guests
  • Conquest Class – five ships accommodating 3,000 guests
  • Spirit Class – five ships accommodating around 2,200 guests
  • Sunshine Class – three ships accommodating 3,000 guests
  • Fantasy Class – two ships accommodating 2,100 guests

The oldest ship in the Carnival fleet is the Carnival Sunshine, which first launched in 1996 as the Carnival Destiny before a rebrand in 2013.

The newest ship is the Carnival Jubilee, which is part of the Excel Class and launched at the very end of 2023.

Read more: Carnival Cruise Ships by Size

MSC Ships

The MSC Euribia cruise ship adorned with #savethesea artwork floats on a calm blue sea under a clear sky, symbolizing maritime leisure and environmental awareness.

MSC Cruises has eight classes of ships:

  • World Class – the biggest ships in the fleet, capable of accommodating almost 6,800 passengers
  • Meraviglia Plus Class – three ships accommodating 6,300 passengers
  • Seaside EVO Class – two ships accommodating 5,900 guests
  • Meraviglia Class – two ships accommodating 5,600 guests
  • Seaside Class – two ships accommodating 5,200 guests
  • Fantasia Class – four ships accommodating 3,900 guests
  • Musica Class – four ships accommodating 3,200 guests
  • Lirica Class – four ships accommodating 2,700 guests

The oldest ship in the MSC fleet is MSC Armonia, which first launched in 2001 – so not quite as old as the eldest in the Carnival fleet.

The newest ship is the MSC Euribia, which is part of the Meraviglia Plus Class. She launched in 2023 also, though a little earlier than Carnival Jubilee.

Read more: MSC Cruises Ships by Size, Age and Class

Which to Choose?

Honestly, there’s not a lot of difference between the ship sizes or ages when comparing the two cruise lines.

MSC does have the bigger ships with the World Class, but the difference between that and the Excel Class for Carnival isn’t going to be noticeable once you’re onboard – still expect loads of dining options and activities, and plenty of busy poolsides too. 

Neither fleet has small cruise ships, but they do have smaller options if you want something more relaxing.

Carnival and MSC are global cruise lines – rather than focusing on just one or two regions, you’ll find the ships sailing to destinations all over the world.

There are some differences between the destinations offered though, so this could have an impact when deciding which cruise line you prefer.

CarnivalMSC Cruises
Alaska190
Africa08
Australia & New Zealand360
Bermuda75
Canada & New England15
Caribbean & Bahamas254122
East Asia119
Europe24342
Hawaii90
Mexico & Latin America400
Middle East & South Asia012
Panama Canal240
South America042
South Pacific240
Transatlantic90
Transpacific50
World Cruise/Grand Voyages077

Carnival Destinations

Elevated view of a Carnival cruise ship docked near Princess Cays, featuring the bustling tropical port with colorful cabanas, palm trees, clear turquoise waters, and guests enjoying the beachfront amenities.

Carnival has a relatively small choice of embarkation ports, with 21 options, though that’s still plenty of variety. Most of these are situated in the United States, with the Florida ports proving popular, but there are also plenty of options in Texas, New Orleans, Washington and California.

Carnival doesn’t have a ship homeporting in the UK for extended periods. While some cruises depart from the UK, there aren’t many to pick from, so your options are limited.

Carnival’s private islands and resorts, Princess Cays and Half Moon Cay, offer plenty of fun experiences for guests to enjoy. You’ll typically visit one or the other on a Bahamas cruise.

MSC Destinations

Aerial view of the MSC Seashore cruise ship making its inaugural visit to Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, showcasing the vessel's grand scale beside the picturesque tropical island with lush greenery, pristine beaches, and the iconic lighthouse.

MSC has more departure ports than Carnival, with a whopping 66 to choose from. Unlike Carnival, MSC’s cruises don’t stick to one starting and ending point. Instead, they run longer trips, and you can pick most ports from the route to begin and finish your cruise. 

For example, a ship doing a 21-day tour of the Med might let you hop on for a 7-day stretch from Southampton to Barcelona, but someone else might join the ship halfway through that for a Lisbon to Rome cruise.

While this gives you lots of choices, it means the ship is always buzzing with people getting on and off.

MSC’s got a private island in the Caribbean too, called Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve. They’re putting a bunch of money into it in 2024, making it a serious rival to the best spots offered by Carnival, and it has a conservation centre too if you want your trip to feel educational.

MSC also offers a wider selection of cruises from the UK than Carnival, though not all of them are round-trip sailings and you may need to fly home afterwards.

Which to Choose?

Destination choice is actually one of the areas where Carnival and MSC differ most. Carnival has much more of a presence in the Caribbean, while MSC is one of the best cruise lines if you want to explore European cities.

There are other regions that you may wish to cruise to that could limit your options as well. Carnival doesn’t offer cruises to Africa, the Middle East and South America, while MSC isn’t the cruise line for you if you want to try Alaska, Australia and New Zealand, Hawaii or Mexico.

MSC is a good choice if you want longer cruises, though. The vast majority of Carnival sailings are limited to 7 nights at most, whereas MSC has Grand Voyages that cover multiple regions of the world. If you’re looking for an extended cruise, MSC would be the better option.

For most guests, the accommodation options on each respective cruise line are unlikely to make you sway one way or another between them.

That’s because most guests will choose between a regular inside, ocean view or balcony stateroom, or perhaps splash out on a suite. And the differences between those on each cruise line are minimal – it’s not like one has significantly larger rooms than the other.

But each cruise line does have particular themed rooms, or quirks when it comes to choosing accommodation, that could influence your decision.

It’s worth pointing out that both cruise lines only offer limited solo cabins. If you’re travelling alone, you may end up paying for two people anyway, if you can’t get a single room. And be careful with MSC, as some solo cabins don’t even have a proper bed!

Read more: MSC Cabins to Avoid

Carnival Staterooms

There are several themed cabin options available across the Carnival fleet.

Cloud 9 Spa Rooms

The Cloud 9 Cove Balcony stateroom on Carnival Mardi Gras is a haven of modern comfort and style, featuring twin beds, a cozy sitting area with a sofa and colorful pillows, and a private balcony offering expansive ocean views. The room's design is complemented by soft lighting and a tranquil color scheme that echoes the serene maritime surroundings.

Most Carnival ships have Cloud 9 Spa staterooms. These rooms are all situated close to the spa itself and have a spa theme, extra relaxation perks, and a calming decor style.

Booking one comes with other useful benefits too, like exclusive spa packages and free access to the Thermal Suite.

Read more: Carnival Cloud 9 Spa Room Perks

Family Harbor Rooms

Interior view of a Family Harbor stateroom on a Carnival cruise ship, featuring a cozy bed with a nautical theme, a bench with vibrant patterns, a curved work desk with a mirror, and a wall adorned with colorful maritime-themed artwork.

Designed for families, Family Harbor staterooms have classic nautical decor that makes the room feel just a bit more fun. They’re conveniently located near the Family Harbor Lounge, perfect for breakfast or snacks, and offer board games for family enjoyment.

Havana Rooms

Bright and airy Havana stateroom on a Carnival cruise ship, showcasing a queen-size bed with orange and teal accents, a window offering a view of the sea, striped curtains, and tropical-inspired decor with a wall-mounted TV and framed artwork.

Choosing a Havana stateroom or suite gives you access to the peaceful Havana area with its own pool and bar. Consider Havana Cabana rooms for an extra private cabana space in the Havana area, if you want to really splash out.

MSC Staterooms

With MSC Cruises, there aren’t as many ‘specialist’ options, but you do have to make a key decision when booking your cruise.

Bella, Fantastica, or Aurea

Close-up of MSC cruise ship highlighting Bella Balcony and Fantastica Balcony cabins, marked by red arrows, showcasing the ship's multi-tiered accommodation options.

When booking an MSC cruise, you can choose from three fare options: Bella, Fantastica, or Aurea.

These fares determine your cabin class. Opt for the budget-friendly Bella fares, and you might end up with a cabin in less prime areas, including balconies with metal railings that limit your view unless you’re standing. You also won’t get to choose your cabin yourself.

If you go for Fantastica, you’ll have more choices, but the top-notch cabins and suites are reserved for Aurea fares. Keep this in mind as you decide on your cruise.

Read more: MSC Bella Vs Fantastica Vs Aurea

MSC Yacht Club

Inside the MSC Yacht Club Duplex Suite, showcasing a modern bedroom with a king-size bed, plush grey bedding, and floor-to-ceiling windows leading to a private balcony overlooking the ocean, offering luxury and comfort at sea.

At the pinnacle of MSC accommodations is the MSC Yacht Club, which is called a “ship-within-a-ship” concept. Exclusive areas, such as private lounges and restaurants, are accessible only to MSC Yacht Club guests.

With the Yacht Club, you enjoy a host of perks, including butler service and complimentary drinks in both your suite and the Yacht Club venues. However, you’ll need to consider whether these extras are worth the added cost because these rooms are not cheap.

Which to Choose?

If you’re planning on booking a regular inside, ocean view or balcony cabin, then there really isn’t much to choose between the two cruise lines – there are more differences within their own respective fleets than there are comparing Carnival to MSC.

But Carnival does have some nice options for themed rooms if that interests you. MSC’s Yacht Club is also special, and while Carnival offers many similar perks with its own suites, it doesn’t quite have the luxury feel of that ship-within-a-ship region. Of course, you’ll need a hefty budget to enjoy it.

Food will undoubtedly play a big part in your cruise holiday, and both cruise lines have plenty of options for you to enjoy.

Carnival Food

Carnival has a lot of choices when it comes to picking your venue for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

As with pretty much any major cruise line, you can dine in the main dining room or opt for a trip to the free buffet, while there are several speciality restaurants such as a steakhouse, an Italian restaurant, and Asian cuisine venues too.

Evening ambiance at Cucina del Capitano on Carnival Mardi Gras, featuring an outdoor dining area with red checkered tablecloths, wooden chairs, and a serene ocean view framed by large windows under a dusky sky.

Carnival really stands out with its more casual options though, although several of them are not included in your fare. The burgers at Guy’s, and the fried chicken options at Shaq’s, are particularly popular.

MSC Food

MSC doesn’t have quite the same range of options as Carnival, but you still won’t feel limited, especially on the bigger ships – you can still enjoy plenty of casual and formal dining venues, including the main dining rooms and buffet.

Cruise Mummy raises a glass of amber-colored beverage in the Main Dining Room on an MSC cruise ship, with elegant décor and attentive staff in the background, capturing a moment of joy and fine dining on a luxury voyage.

There is definitely more of a Mediterranean vibe running through the restaurants, though you’ll still find American-style burgers, Japanese cuisine and more too.

One great dining feature is the option for kids to enjoy their own buffet as part of the kids’ club, with the crew taking them there while you go and enjoy your own dinner. This lets them have a bit of independence with their new friends, while you can try restaurants that their picky tastes may not enjoy.

Which to Choose?

Both Carnival and MSC have a great range of free and paid-for restaurants that you can enjoy.

Carnival’s casual venues are more American in style, and have better theming, but MSC offers some delicious Mediterranean cuisine too. Carnival has the edge in variety overall, but in terms of quality, I’d say both cruise lines are similar.

One thing to note is the vegan menus on both ships. I’ve cruised with MSC a few times previously and sometimes had issues getting vegan options that were particularly good, but my most recent cruise on MSC Euribia was a completely different experience – the food was varied and delicious.

And while Carnival hasn’t always been the best for vegans, it did introduce a new vegan menu across the fleet in the latter half of 2023 – so options are getting better.

Both MSC and Carnival have some really fun onboard activities for guests to enjoy, including features unique to each cruise line.

Carnival Activities

On a Carnival ship, you’ll find all the typical cruise activities you’d find on many big cruise lines – bingo, quizzes, video game arcades, a casino, art auctions and more. But there are plenty of other exciting activities to try too.

Vibrant casino floor on the Carnival Horizon, featuring an array of colorful slot machines and gaming tables, with dynamic lighting overhead and a bold, patterned carpet adding to the lively atmosphere.

Some of these are only available on the bigger Carnival ships, but they’re very exciting. The SkyRide is a pedal-powered ride that gives you amazing views out to sea, while Carnival also has the only roller coaster at sea with Bolt.

SkyRide on a Carnival cruise ship

MSC Activities

MSC doesn’t have full roller coasters, but it has a roller coaster simulator on a couple of ships with Robotron – a robotic arm that moves your seats in a similar thrilling ride, whilst still giving you fantastic sea views (if your stomach is up for the challenge!)

Passengers experiencing the thrilling Robotron ride on the MSC Seascape cruise ship, a robotic arm lifting a secured roller coaster-style seat high above the deck with a dynamic LED screen display in the background.

There are other activities that you’ll find on MSC that aren’t on Carnival ships too, including:

  • Formula One simulators (with full-size car to sit in)
  • Flight simulators
  • MasterChef competitions (for adults and kids)
  • The longest dry-slide at sea on MSC World Europa
The 'Venom Drop' on MSC World Europa at twilight, an enthralling cruise ship waterslide that winds between LED-lit balconies, juxtaposing modern design with the thrill of an at-sea adventure, captured against a backdrop of a fading sunset.

Which to Choose?

MSC and Carnival have a similar style of fun onboard, so the activities will likely only be a deciding factor if you have something specific you want to try. 

If you really want to experience Bolt, or you love the idea of sitting in a real Formula One car for a simulator drive, then choose Carnival or MSC respectively. Otherwise, you’ll likely have a great time regardless of which cruise line you pick.

Let’s look at the entertainment on board both fleets and what you can expect to be filling your evenings with.

Carnival Entertainment

Carnival’s entertainment is excellent, with a lot of big shows in the theatre that incorporate many well-known songs as well as thrilling dance acts and incredible staging. Throughout the ships, you’ll find lots of entertainers too in the many bars where you can unwind.

Warm and inviting Havana Bar on the Carnival Jubilee, featuring teal window shutters, ornate ceiling patterns, high stools at the bar tables, and refreshing tropical drinks, all contributing to a relaxed Cuban-inspired ambiance.

Carnival also has great comedians offering family-friendly shows (as well as some just for the grown-ups), and there are licensed game shows you can take part in such as Family Feud and Deal or No Deal – yes, you can get up on stage and potentially win some big prizes!

MSC Entertainment

MSC’s entertainment options include a lot of great singers and dancers, with slick and professional shows that will wow you. There are a lot of circus-style performers too, which are a great fit for the cruise line since it’s often filled with guests who don’t all speak the same language.

Passengers are seated in the contemporary theater on MSC Virtuosa, waiting for a performance to begin. The theater features modern lighting and a muted color palette, creating an inviting atmosphere for entertainment.

On that – don’t expect to find many comedy performances on an MSC ship due to the language differences. As much of the entertainment as possible is visual, so that all guests can enjoy it.

Which to Choose?

I loved the entertainment on my most recent MSC cruise, while Carnival’s is big and bold, including those well-loved game shows. If you like familiarity then Carnival could be preferred, but MSC really won’t disappoint if you are happy to try new experiences.

Carnival and MSC are great cruise lines for families, and both have partnered with established brands to enhance the facilities they can offer.

Carnival Kids’ Facilities

Carnival has a working partnership with Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which means guests at the kids’ clubs onboard can enjoy meet and greets with renowned characters like The Cat in the Hat. There are also Green Eggs and Ham character breakfasts that you can book for the family.

Seuss-a-Palooza Storytime and Parade on the Carnival Dream, featuring performers dressed as classic Dr. Seuss characters, including the Cat in the Hat and Thing 1 and Thing 2, entertaining guests against a whimsical Seuss-themed backdrop.

There’s plenty for teens to enjoy too – Circle C offers a fun space for 12 to 14-year-olds, while Club O2 is a relaxed space for older teens with karaoke parties, video games and even a Carnival Prom on selected sailings.

MSC Kids’ Facilities

MSC has several different clubs for kids too, with teens getting VR gaming, karaoke and other fun activities to enjoy. Younger children will love the partnership with Lego, and the various toys and games that can be enjoyed alongside crafts and educational activities.

Two joyful children hold colorful paper crafts and a 'Captain' certificate in the MSC Cruises Kids Club, with a backdrop of a LEGO-style pirate captain, capturing the fun and creative spirit of the ship's youth activities.

MSC excels when it comes to young babies, with a dedicated club just for those under 3. The cruise line has a partnership with Chicco, so babies can enjoy lots of sensory toys and activities, and babysitting services are available.

Which to Choose?

A lot of the differences in the kids’ facilities between Carnival and MSC will come down to the demographics. MSC’s kids’ clubs are multilingual, especially on European cruises, so your children will be mingling with others that may not speak their language – my kids enjoyed it, but it may vary depending on how confident your children are.

Both cruise lines have plenty of exciting activities though, so boredom will never be a factor.

The passenger demographics can play a part in your cruise experience, so let’s look at the guests you will likely find onboard.

Carnival Demographics

The makeup of passengers on a Carnival ship can shift based on factors like the season, specific ship, and chosen itinerary. 

Guests enjoying a hot tub on the deck of a Carnival cruise ship, with ocean views and umbrellas in the background.

While it typically exudes a family-friendly vibe, particularly during the peak summer periods, some younger adults and single travellers see it as a go-to for a lively party experience, especially during Spring Break.

Be prepared for a lively ambience either way – it’s unlikely to be quiet on a Carnival ship.

MSC Cruises Demographics

MSC tends to have similar age groups to Carnival, though the young adults who are cruising are typically less party-minded – mainly because MSC doesn’t offer as many short weekend cruises to tropical destinations.

You’ll find lots of families onboard, as well as groups of friends and couples, including some older guests.

A family of four smiling for a photo on an MSC cruise ship, with the ocean visible in the background, capturing a happy moment during their vacation.

Cruises in the Caribbean will have mainly English-speaking guests, but in Europe expect a real mix of cultures onboard, which can make for a fun atmosphere as everyone mingles.

Most people will base their decision for a cruise booking on the price, so is there one cruise line that’s always cheaper?

Carnival Prices

Carnival has a reputation for being a cheap cruise line, and that’s definitely true with older ships.

Newer, bigger ships aren’t extremely cheap, but they do offer good value. Just make sure you don’t base your decision on the advertised prices on the Carnival website, since they won’t include port fees and taxes until you’ve started filling in your details and you see the final price.

On a typical 7-night Caribbean cruise on one of the newer ships like Carnival Celebration, you should expect to pay between £85/$105 and £105/$135 per person, per night for an inside stateroom. You can find cruises on smaller ships that are cheaper than this.

MSC Prices

MSC’s prices are similar to Carnival’s, with the newer ships costing a little more than the older, smaller ships for a cruise. 

As a guide, a 7-night cruise on one of the Seaside EVO Class ships in the Caribbean will cost somewhere between £80/$100 and £120/$153 per person, per night for an inside cabin – so marginally cheaper than Carnival, but not by much. Again, you can often find cruises much cheaper, sometimes as low as £30/$40 per night.

One other thing to consider is that MSC’s European cruises don’t have additional gratuities to pay – the daily gratuity only applies on cruises from US ports of embarkation. That’s not true of Carnival, where every cruise requires guests to pay daily tips.

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The Verdict

Carnival and MSC are great choices for a value cruise, but there are some clear differences between them.

Choose Carnival if you want more of a party cruise vibe as a young adult, since you’ll find a lot of shorter itineraries and plenty of others onboard looking for the same kind of experience. They’re also a good choice if you want themed accommodations, more American-style themed casual dining options, or you like game shows, comedians or big theatre productions.

MSC is better if you want to cruise around Europe or enjoy longer itineraries, and it’s great if you prefer a slightly more relaxed vibe. With passengers from all over the continent, the ships have a pleasant multicultural atmosphere, and the prices can be really cheap too, with more options for a cruise from the UK than you’d get with Carnival.

Both are great choices – but hopefully, now you’ve narrowed down your preferences a little.

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Cruise Mummy

Jenni Fielding is the founder of Cruise Mummy. She has worked in the cruise industry since 2015 and has taken over 30 cruises. Now, she helps over 1 million people per month to plan their perfect cruise holidays.

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