It's not often that a cruise line launches two new ships in one year -- let alone two different classes of ship -- but that's exactly what MSC Cruises is doing in 2017.
June saw the launch of 4,475-passenger MSC Meraviglia, which as well as marking a new class of ship for the line, also became the fourth biggest ship in the world by tonnage (173,000 gross tons).
In December, MSC will launch another megaship: MSC Seaside.
MSC Cruises describes Meraviglia as "the ship for all seasons," while Seaside is "the ship that follows the sun" -- and therein lies the key differences. While Meraviglia looks in, with a dazzling inside central promenade, Seaside looks out with an outdoor walkway with shops, restaurants and bars.
Which is why the newer ship will head straight to Miami, where it will be christened on December 22. (Meraviglia will not be far behind, however, joining its sister in in Miami in 2019.)
Both ships offer an enormous number of things to divert you, whether that means water slides, games, arcades, parades, kids' programming, restaurants and shows, so how do you know which ship to choose?
We pit MSC Meraviglia vs. MSC Seaside against each other, comparing dining, bars, cabins, activities, outdoor fun, entertainment, family offerings and itineraries to help you decide which mega-ship is the best choice for you.
Meraviglia is larger than Seaside: 173,000 tons vs. 160,000 tons (though worth noting: Meraviglia was slated to be 160,000 tons and the actual tonnage was revised upward when it launched -- pushing it to the No. 4 slot in our The Biggest Cruise Ships in the World chart, so the same could happen with Seaside).
Meraviglia also carries more passengers -- 4,475 at double occupancy compared to Seaside's 4,134. And as for the passenger-to-crew ratio? Despite Meraviglia's larger size and higher passenger capacity, they offer identical ratios of 2.9 passengers for every one crew member.
Meraviglia has 14 dining venues; Seaside has just nine. Six on Meraviglia are included in the cruise price, four are included on Seaside. Dining venues without a surcharge on both ships include two main dining rooms on Seaside -- four on Meraviglia; two buffets on Seaside and one on Meraviglia; and several quick-bite, order-at-the-counter spots on both ships.
Both ships offer traditional, set-seating main dining rooms (with early and late dining times), as well as a flexible option that allows passengers to choose when they want to eat.
Suite passengers on both ships have extra dining perks: a suites-only restaurant called the Yacht Club Dining Room, as well as casual Solarium Grill. Both restaurants are in lovely spots at the top of their respective ships and offer lunch and dinner with a menu that changes daily.
There are also buffets on both ships: Marketplace Buffet on both, and on Seaside only, the Deck 16 family-friendly Biscayne Bay Buffet & Pizzeria.
All other included-in-price eateries on both ships are casual spots, where you order food at the counter (or browse buffet-style) and either take the food to go (like at Atmosphere Bar South on Meraviglia), or sit at tables inside the venue or located nearby.
There is, in addition, a dining room in the Yacht Club on both ships -- but note, this is for Yacht Club passengers only.
When it comes to restaurants that carry an extra charge, Meraviglia has five a la carte restaurants, and one with a cover charge (not a restaurant, but Chef's Table).
Two are brand-new to MSC, making their debut on Meraviglia: Butcher's Cut, an American-style steakhouse offering prime cuts of steak, lamb and even buffalo. And Kaito Teppanyaki, which is a 32-seat venue with a sushi bar out front.
On Seaside, you'll find four brand-new-to-MSC eateries -- Asian Market Kitchen by Roy Yamaguchi, with a sushi bar and Teppanyaki by Roy Yamaguchi (though we expect these will be very similar to Kaito Teppanyaki and Kaito Sushi on Meraviglia, just with the famous name attached); Ocean Cay Restaurant and Bistrot-La Boheme. There is also a Butcher's Cut onboard.
The other for-fee spots carry small charges -- on Meraviglia snacks in the Brass Anchor pub and crepes at the Jean-Philippe (Maury, a French chocolatier) Creperie; on Seaside, it's the Venchi Cioccogelateria & Coffee Bar, created in partnership with chocolatier Venchi, which features an open kitchen so cruisers can watch confections being made (as they also can on Meraviglia).
Meraviglia has 17 drinking establishments, Seaside will have 20. The bars on Meraviglia are hopping at night with live music in many of the venues, promenade parties and salsa dancing in the many lounges; no doubt it will be the same on Seaside but with more of a Miami vibe.
Highlights on the newer ship will be the Atmospheric Comedy Club. Other bars to check out will include the Champagne Bar, Sports Bar and South Beach Bar.
Meraviglia has a fancy Champagne bar, a Sports Bar and a Cocktail Bar, plus Brass Anchor, a "traditional" English pub with 45 different bottled beers; and a sophisticated lounge bar with live music, Sky Lounge.
Both ships share basic cabin types -- standard inside (no window), ocean-view (porthole or window views) and balcony cabins.
Both ships will also share a new-to-MSC cabin type -- Family cluster cabins -- that are made up of two to three connecting cabins, which consist of two balcony cabins with twin beds that can convert to a queen, a bathroom and small sitting area with sofa; the third is an interior cabin with sofa bed and shower room. Depending on configuration, these cabins can accommodate up to 10 people.
Meraviglia debuted a number of cabin firsts for the line, including Duplex Suites, which are double-height, with a living room on the lower level leading out onto a balcony with a hot tub; the sleeping area, complete with walk-in wardrobe and separate bathroom, is above, looking out onto the living area. This cabin type will not be on Seaside. Meraviglia also debuts 15 inside studio cabins, which again, Seaside will not have.
Meraviglia debuted the biggest Yacht Club -- the line's suites-only, key-card access "ship-within-a-ship" complex -- in the fleet, boasting 94 cabins across five decks, and including a restaurant, lounge bar and sundeck. Although Seaside will have a Yacht Club, it won't be as big. Yacht Club perks are extensive. As well as the aforementioned access to exclusive venues, Yacht Club passengers also get priority boarding, unlimited free drinks, dedicated priority check-in and checkout, butler service available 24 hours, dedicated concierge 24 hours a day, free Thermal Suite and direct private lift to the MSC Aurea Spa and 24-hour (free) room service.
The Yacht Club is where the majority of suites are located, including the "standard" Yacht Club Deluxe Suites (301 square feet on Meraviglia; 270-square-feet on Seaside). Despite the size difference, both include a living area with sofa, coffee table, two chairs and a desk, and a double bed as well as a double-sized balcony.
Both ships also boast two Royal Suites apiece. These top suites come in at a hefty 699 square feet and include a bedroom, walk-in wardrobe, a bathroom with tub and a living room. The configuration is different on each ship; on Meraviglia the bedroom has its own separate balcony; on Seaside both the bedroom and the living room lead out onto a 430-square-foot balcony with a dining area and a whirlpool tub.
Activities and Outdoor Fun
There is no shortage of fun on both of these mega-ships, whether that's indoor or outdoor, adult- or kid-oriented.
There's always a party going on, on Meraviglia it's usually on the Pool Deck. By day it's pool games, trivia and various water sports tournaments to the accompaniment of very loud music; by night it's the White Party and an open-air themed disco.
On Seaside, it's all about the outdoors with an alfresco spa and outdoor fitness facilities, which include spaces for open-air spa treatments. The ship will also offer the longest (426-foot/130-meter) zipline at sea.
Both ships boast water slides -- on Meraviglia you've got the Polar Aqua Park, which includes a kids' splash area and three slides, one called the Champagne glass, which deposits you at high speed, into a bowl-like structure where you spin round and round; on Seaside you can expect
The Forest Aquaventure and Adventure Park, which includes five water slides: an interactive Slideboarding tube, which combines video games, lights, music and a 367-foot water slide; two high-speed racing slides with clear loops that extend over one side of the ship; the Aquatube, an innertube slide; and a family flume-type slide. Other water park offerings include an AquaPlay and AquaSpray park for the youngest cruisers. Along with the water park, passengers can climb high on the Adventure Trail, a ropes course that will have cruisers ducking spray cannons.
Both ships have an Amusement Arcade, which includes a flight simulator, Formula One simulators and a 4D movie theatre -- 5D on Seaside!
Both have multiple pools: four on both. On Meraviglia, the Bamboo Pool has a retractable roof; on Seaside a magrodome roof covers the Jungle Pool on Deck 18. Both also share a Horizon pool at the aft of the ship; Seaside also has a hip South Beach Pool on Deck 7 and the Miami Beach Pool on Deck 16.
Both also have a basketball court that can convert into a volleyball court or occasional soccer pitch.
Where the ships differ significantly is design. On Seaside, the outdoor theme means there is a unique seafront promenade lined with places to drink, shop and sunbathe on Deck 8. There will be two glass walkways, called Infinity Bridges, on either side of Deck 8 that extend over the side of the ship.
Meraviglia has an indoor promenade, lined with shops, bars and restaurants, and which turns into a spot for parades and parties at night. An 80-meter-long LED ceiling projects stunning images day and night.
Day and Nighttime Entertainment
The big ticket shows for Meraviglia come from Cirque du Soleil, which has created two productions exclusively for the ship (and will be rolling out more on future ships). Sonor and Viaggio are classic Cirque -- extraordinary acrobatics, wonderful visuals, booming sound and fairly plot light. Meraviglia also offers a number of more "standard" revue-type shows in the main theater.
Scant details have been released on what we can expect on Seaside, only that the shows will be "Broadway-style." Watch this space!
Children's and Teen Programming
Both score very high marks for their kid offerings, with a dedicated space at the top of the ship: the Doremi Club. Both ships also have dedicated rooms for specific age groups; Meraviglia even has a couple of extra rooms: a science lab and a family/performance room.
They also cater well for babies; MSC has partnerships with both Chicco (an Italian babywear specialist), and LEGO, which means all the kids' rooms are LEGO-themed. Both ships also have a teen hangout room, the Teen Club.
The big difference on Seaside is there is direct access to the Aquapark, whereas on Meraviglia it is on the deck directly above.
Meraviglia is Mediterranean-based and offers seven-night sailings calling in at Genoa, Rome, Naples, Sicily, Malta, Barcelona and Marseille. It will reposition to the Caribbean in 2019, but no itinerary information has yet been released for its Caribbean sailings. MSC Seaside will be Miami-based and sail alternating Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises. Weeklong Eastern Caribbean itineraries will include stops in Philipsburg, St. Maarten; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Nassau, the Bahamas. Weeklong Western Caribbean cruises will stop in the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Mexico and the Bahamas.