While it may not yet have the consumer name recognition of its competitors like Carnival and Royal Caribbean, MSC Cruises has recently been making aggressive inroads into North America’s cruising market with low prices and European style. Although MSC doesn’t yet offer roller-coasters or go-karts on the high seas, you may be surprised at the wide array of attractions — ranging from bowling alleys and interactive 4D motion simulators to waterslides — that you can enjoy while onboard.
We took a four-day Halloween cruise from Port Canaveral on the MSC Meraviglia, and returned with this list of five experiences you simply must see while at sea with MSC.
Get Immersed in the Carousel Lounge
The MSC Meraviglia boasts a Broadway Theater hosting complimentary productions featuring skilled dancer and singers, but the ship’s second stage is an attraction unto itself. The Carousel Lounge was originally custom-built to host Cirque du Soleil, and while that company has disembarked the venue remains a marvel of modern technology.
High-definition LED screens wrap around the circular seating area, and a motorized rigging system in the ceiling not only allow aerialists to fly above the circular center stage — which conceals a turntable — but also sends them soaring over the audience.
Of the two productions currently rotating in the Carousel Lounge, we preferred “Rock Circus,” which combined updated renditions of 70s and 80s classics with impressive stunts, including an amazing synchronized jump-roping routine.
“House of Houdini” was also very well produced, but doesn’t feature as many magic tricks as the marketing implies. But both are well worth the nominal $15 fee for attending, which includes a pre-mixed cocktail.
Dance Beneath the Promenade Dome
Perhaps the most impressive stage of all is the Meraviglia’s signature Promenade Dome, which sits above the central two-story spine containing most of the ship’s shopping and dining options. Comprised of millions of brilliant LED pixels, the dome displays a continuously evolving series of images and environments using a system designed by 4DODO.
During the day, the ceiling transforms into everything from stained glass and a classical cathedral to a field of flowers, while at night scheduled 4-minute-long dome shows take passengers to Atlantis, or outer space.
Best of all, the dome gets in on the action during special events and seasonal celebrations, displaying spooky scenes during our Halloween voyage, and transforming into a disco floor during the popular silent dance party.
The MSC Meraviglia’s dome even displayed us on its screen during our final evening, and shared farewell messages from the crew as we departed, making for a memorable end to our trip.
Challenge Yourself on the Himalayan Bridge Ropes Course
If all that cruise food makes you want to burn off some calories, you can work up a sweat and conquer your fear of heights on the Himalayan Bridge ropes course, which surrounds the Arctic-themed waterpark on the MSC Meraviglia’s rear top deck. This SkyTrail creation was MSC’s first such shipboard attraction, and although this one is not as extreme as some seafaring ropes courses — there’s no sudden drops or excursions over the side of the boat — it does provide a exciting challenge with exceptional views from 195 feet above the ocean’s surface.
Braving the Himalayan Bridge is included at no extra cost for all MSC guests, but before clambering up, you’ll need to sign a waiver at the waterpark entrance, and be wearing dry clothes and closed-toed shoes. Then you’ll be suited up in a snug harness, which is securely tethered the an overhead track, allowing you to lose your balance without fear of a fatal fall. However, you’ll still need to step carefully because you’re not allowed to simply hang on the safety apparatus.
The course makes a complete circuit around the waterslides and splash pad, with two parallel obstacles — such as tightropes, balance beams, and wobbly bridges — accessible from each intersection. That allows you to choose the less-difficult path if you prefer, or bypass slower climbers, and lets you do two laps around without repeating any elements.
Compete in MasterChef at Sea
Game shows and poolside contests are a staple of every cruise director’s repertoire, but MasterChef at Sea on the MSC Meraviglia may be among the most unusual and amusing we’ve seen. Based on the internationally-popular cooking show, this audience-interactive experience stars with a trivia contest about global cuisine that’s trickier than I expected.
The top three respondents then get to compete in a miniature version of MasterChef’s “mystery box challenge” by decorating a dessert using a variety of toppings.
The competitors efforts are broadcast on a big screen with flashy graphics in the TV show’s style, and when the time limit expires their efforts are judged by a panel of MSC chefs and selected guests.
The prize for the lucky winner includes some exclusive MSC MasterChef branded apparel.
While MasterChef at Sea wasn’t quite as satisfying as some hands-on cooking classes we’ve experienced on other cruise lines, it’s definitely a must-see for fans of the franchise, and a most welcome break from watching belly-flop contests or bingo.
Catch the Ocean Cay Lighthouse Light Show
Perhaps the highlight of any MSC cruise from Florida is the stop at Ocean Cay, the company’s pristine private island in the Bahamas. In addition to being a haven for beach-lovers by day, the island comes alive after dark as ships often dock overnight during two-day visits, and the nightly light shows on the Ocean Cay lighthouse become the main attraction.
Twice each evening, the 115-foot-tall beacon sitting a short walk from the ship’s dock sparks to life, and speakers along the beach blare to life in sync with the animated images designed by The Department. The first show features local flora and fauna, while the second focuses on marine life.
While only a few minutes long and lacking fountains or fireworks, Ocean Cay’s lighthouse shows are likely the closest thing you’ll find to a theme park spectacular on a private island. Watching them from a beanbag chair on the beach, beside a burning bonfire, was easily one of the most memorable moments of our MSC experience. And if you can’t make it out to the island, a version is also presented indoors on the abovementioned dome.