One of the newest big ships sailing this year comes from the Italian cruise line, MSC Cruises. Until now, our family has never sailed with the MSC cruise line. So, last June when they rolled out a fantastic sale for its upcoming new ship, MSC Seaside, it caught my eye. Great deal + new cool ship = sold! Although there were a few notable blips, overall this new ship provided a great cruise experience. And this could be a fantastic cruise vacation for many families. Read on to learn more about the most appealing highlights and a few words of caution.
1. MSC Seaside Offers Affordable Family Pricing.
If you are cruising with your kids, you can get an amazing deal with MSC Cruises. Although some of the major cruise lines will occasionally offer a limited “kids sail free” promotion, MSC basically offers that pricing year round. And, this approach carries over with its newest ship.
It is pretty standard on most cruise lines for the 3rd and 4th passengers in a cabin to get substantially reduced fares compared to the first two passengers, regardless of age. But, with MSC cruise line kids-sail-free pricing, children ages 11 and under, who are traveling with 2 adults in the same cabin, will only be charged for taxes and port fees. For our sailing, that worked out to about $280 for each child. Only a fraction of the cost of an adult passenger.
2. MSC Seaside Boasts Outstanding Water Park Facilities.
The Aquaventure Park
“Absolutely awesome!” That’s how my kids described the multi-story water park area – the Forest Aquaventure Park on deck 18. I am personally not much of a waterslide fan, but they did look quite spectacular to my untrained eye. The main waterslides dominated the waterpark area as well as much of the pre-sailing press coverage. The park features four different slides, two of which have see-through portions that extend out over the ocean. Surprisingly, there were no height restrictions, unlike some other cruise ships. My 5 year old was delighted. Although ultimately he decided not to do the REALLY HUGE slide because it looked to scary.
The Aquaventure Park offers much more than the main slides. The children’s splash park area and kiddie pool have much to offer as well, and they were well utilized. The splash area had lots going on including various sprayers, a climbing structure and a big dumping bucket. The area also hosted a couple of smaller water slides and a small pool.
One drawback however, is that there was some unwritten rule that adults weren’t allowed to frolic in the area. Rather, they were expected to largely observe from the sidelines. (Enforcement may vary depending on who was staffing.) This includes the small pool. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any actual seating on the ground level, so you had to make do with the decorative boulders. Hopefully, that will change in the future.
The Aquaventure Park is conveniently located near the regular kids’ club facilities. Only steps away. Overall, the water attractions and splash park were fantastic. Our family thoroughly enjoyed them.
Other Pools on MSC Seaside
MSC Seaside has multiple pools in addition to the water park. The Jungle Pool Lounge, also on deck 18, features a jungle-themed family pool and a whirlpool. This area is partially enclosed, so it gets a little muggy.
You can find the outdoor family pool (Miami Beach Pool) one deck down on 16. (Note, there is no deck 17 which is considered an unlucky number in Italy.) Another outdoor pool on deck 7, the South Beach Pool, does not permit children under the age of 16. Interestingly, the age rule only applied to the actual pool, not to the surrounding lounge area. Although many people may have assumed that it did. There weren’t that many kids around other than those stopping at the adjacent ice cream bar.
The MSC Yacht Club area also has its own pool, but we did not have access.
Each of the pools we visited had an abundance of lounge space and chairs, but the pools themselves were on the smaller side. They were all also over 5 feet in depth, so all of your little ones need a close eye. Also, we did not see that any swim vests were being offered, but luckily we had brought our own. (We always pack our own swim vests and goggles. It is cheaper and more reliable than trying to rent something at the beach; or trying to buy something on ship or in port.) [affiliate links-see disclosure policy]
3. You Will Find Top-Notch Kids’ Clubs on Seaside.
MSC Seaside has dedicated a large section of deck 18 to its kids’ clubs. There are three primary areas with separate entrances. On one end resides the Baby Club (for kids under 3). The large middle section hosts a suite of club rooms for the Mini Club/Sailors (ages 3 to 6) and the Junior Club/Pirates (ages 7 to 11). The far end contains rooms for the Young Club (ages 12-14) and the Teens club (ages 15-17).
Mini Club/Junior Club
The bright and festive rooms for the Mini Club and Junior Club have a Lego theme. In addition to the thousands of legos strategically placed throughout the facilities, there are also several gaming consoles, computers, arts and crafts areas and a small performance area. The area also contained tween friendly group play games like foosball.
Drop off care was not available on the first night, but the clubs were open for several hours for a very fun Lego Family Fun night.
On the first day of the cruise, the ship issued a schedule of daily activities for each of the kids’ clubs that covered the entire week of the cruise. This was quite handy and we referred to regularly. We found it to be much more convenient than getting a separate schedule for each day. Which we would not have received until the night before. This made it easier to plan the entire week. (Perhaps this approach will spread to the grown up’s schedule too!)
Activities in both the Mini and Juniors clubs include arts and crafts, group games, sports, gaming consoles, and dancing. And of course, lots of Legos. Every day, at least one 2 – hour window was designated as Lego Family Fun. Other theme activities over the course of the week included a mystery island night, a superhero night, and a scary night that included a haunted house and face painting.
Both the Mini and Juniors Clubs were open from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. The Youth and Teens Clubs were open from 10:00 a.m. to midnight. But on Sea Days, the clubs closed from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. for Mini and Juniors and from 1:00 to 3:00 for Youth and Teens.
High-Tech Child Tracking
Kids in the Juniors group are allowed to be self-signers with parental permission. This means that they can sign themselves into and out of the club without being accompanied by an adult.
All kids were issued a tracking chip that was inserted into their cruise bracelet. For a fee, you could sign up for an app that allowed you to track your kid all over the ship. Prices started at $18 for one child. The per child cost decreased with each additional child in your family.
But, even without the app and the fee, the kids’ club staff was still able to track kids because of the chip. This made it easy to keep up with who could or couldn’t sign out, and who had other restrictions that were logged into the computer – like food allergies and whether they were allowed to go to the pool unsupervised (that was an actual option on the registration form; I said no).
Overall, the club staff was great. Everyone was extremely enthusiastic, friendly and helpful. And everyone was multilingual. (It was impressive watching staff members seamlessly skip back and forth between 3 or 4 languages as different families came to pick up their kids.)
Young & Teens Club
The Young Club and Teens Club have alternating hours during the day. Supervised daily activities in the Young and Teens clubs included sports competitions and tournaments, dance contests, social network games, and Wii/Xbox/PS3 games and challenges. Evening activities include a variety of music and dance based activities. The Teens Club also hosted weekly events such as a White Party and a Lip Sync Battle.
4. MSC Seaside Welcomes Infants And Toddlers.
Only a handful of cruise lines offer actual drop-off care for infants at a meaningful level. MSC Seaside has now joined that list.
Related Post: These Cruises Have Childcare For Babies
Babies and toddlers have their own dedicated play space in the Kids’ club rooms on MSC Seaside. The use of the space alternates between “Baby Time” when parents or caregivers can bring babies and toddlers to play with the provided toys or participate in special organized activities. And “Baby Care” when drop-off care is offered, and parents are not permitted to stay.
MSC Seaside offers both Baby Time and Baby Care at alternating times in the mornings and afternoons. It offers only Baby Time in the evenings. On Port Days, Baby Time ran from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Baby Care ran from 10:30 a.m. to noon and 5:30 p.m to 8:30 p.m. On Sea Days, Baby Time ran 9:00 a.m to 11:00 a.m and 3:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Baby Care ran 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Baby Time also ran every evening from 8:30 to 9:30.
Notably, the MSC Seaside Baby Care hours represent a significant expansion from the standard Baby Care hours listed on the MSC website for other ships. No word on whether the expanded Seaside hours will be rolled out to other ships.
In addition to childcare and activities, MSC offers a variety of Chicco-branded amenities for families traveling with infants. These include on-board bottle warmers, strollers, bouncy chairs and “Caddy Knapsack child carriers.” I also noticed that the buffet area had an abundance of *really* nice high chairs.
5. MSC Seaside Offers Solid Family Programming.
Throughout the week, the ship offered a roster of activities targeting families. These included events such as a Talent Show in the main theater, family disco night, a family movie night, a family sports competition at the outdoor pool, and a Lego Family Fun Night.
Also, the ship presented a rotating selection of shows in the theater that were largely family friendly. Notably, the ship offered two different versions of the comedy show – one designated a “family show” and another designated “adults only.”
Furthermore, much fun could be had just walking through the ship. The heart of the ship centers around a large three story open atrium. The multilevel open atrium is visually striking both day and night. And, in the evenings, it became an entertainment hub.
On one end, in front of a giant multi-story screen, several tiered stages featured various performers. Typically, different styles of music and dancing peppered with some skits. This resulted in the Atrium and it’s various floors being filled with people every night for a fun and festive atmosphere.
6. MSC Seaside Showcases the Beauty of the Ocean.
MSC refers to Seaside as The Ship That Follows The Sun. They did a great job of embracing that theme throughout the ship. It seemed like almost every public space – except for the casino- was filled with floor to ceiling glass and panoramic ocean views. There was an abundance of glass everywhere, including the staircases in the multi-story atrium. It really does make the ship feel larger and closer to the ocean.
7. MSC Seaside Offers Some Awesome Premium Activities.
MSC Seaside offers several really fun activities for the entire family, but some of them come with substantial upcharges. For instance, there is a large indoor entertainment area on deck 7 that includes bowling, an interactive 5-D cinema, an F-1 race car simulator, and a virtual arcade. Notably, everything in this area came with a charge, even the air hockey. There were even charges for billiards (which was located in a different area on the same deck).
These fun activities can quickly run up a big bill. Bowling was $25 for 30 minutes. Time was strictly enforced. Our lane was shut down when time expired even though we weren’t quite finished with the game. The really cool interactive 5-D cinema cost $10 for adults and $8 for kids for about 10-15 minutes of entertainment. During our sailing, we were offered a selection of 5 different movies to engage. Clips like zombies, godzilla, robot cowbies. You could purchase a “fun pass” to get discounted use, but overall the area was still a little pricey.
Also, be forewarned that you will likely encounter wait times. We did it on a port day when our excursion was cancelled, but we still faced a small line and a waiting list. The racing simulator was very popular and always had a line.
We had so much fun in this area that my 5-year-old begged to go back almost every day. Fortunately for my pocket book, this area had some odd hours that limited our ability to visit. Both the 5-D cinema and the bowling lanes were closed from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. every day. And, on port days, they did not open until after the ship left port.
The Virtual Arcade
A word about the “virtual games arcade.” The actual number of games available was rather small. There was a pay-to-play air hockey table. One payment got you a game until someone scored 7 points. First come first served. This was not supervised or managed. No wait list or time limits. Just folks milling about waiting for a turn. It was up to guests to work out things that are fair.
There was also one claw game. Two of those games where you try to do something to get a prize like stick a pole through a hole or master some video puzzle. And two video racing games – one motorcycle and one car. That’s it. There is definitely space to fit in a few more games, so perhaps this will expand in the future.
Also, beware of your children’s cruise bracelets. These are used to access your cruise cabin, and adult bracelets can also be used to charge items to your cruise account. I was told when we checked in that the kids’ bracelets would not have charge features. While this was true for my oldest son, it turns out that my youngest son was able to use his bracelet for several whirls at the claw machine before we realized what was going on.
8. The MSC Seaside Buffet Earns Special Praise.
MSC Seaside has two buffets: the large Marketplace Buffet on deck 8, and a smaller buffet with a pizza bar on deck 16 (close to the pool area). The Marketplace Buffet was probably the best buffet that I have experienced on a cruise ship. And, we had a great experience with the pizza bar as well.
We ended up having many meals at the buffet. The primary reason that we got so up close and personal with the buffet offerings is because the food in the main dining room was disappointing. Room service also left much to be desired. For instance, we ordered something billed as “Tex-Mex Chips & Salsa” that included “chips” made from pita bread and a cup of tomato sauce for salsa. (Note: We did not try out the specialty restaurants on this sailing.)
But, even without our issues with the main dining room, the buffet food itself was objectively good. The several nights that we had dinner there we encountered a wide range of tasty foods. There was one section that always had default selection of burgers, chicken, mashed potatoes, etc. But there was another section that offered rotating menus from different parts of the world. The night they featured Indian food was particularly yummy.
In addition to the food, we also enjoyed the environment. Oddly, the tables were less close together in the buffet than in the main dining room. There was ample available seating even at breakfast. You know how on some ships you often scramble to secure a table and lock it down because of the crowds? We never had that. Not once.
Perhaps the abundance of outdoor seating alleviated the problem. And the outdoor seating was fantastic. The wide decks allowed for double rows of tables that were situated with one row in the shade and the opposite row in the sun. The walkway itself between the rows of tables was wide enough to allow people to pass by without feeling crowded or cramped. We thoroughly enjoyed eating outside on both deck 8 and deck 16.
Another convenient feature in the buffet was that every table had a silent buzzer that you could push to summon a beverage person to take drink orders. This was particularly convenient if you had a drink package.
9. You Can Add Value To Your Seaside Experience With Different Service Packages.
The MSC cruise line offers a unique array of “inclusive experiences” to better adapt your cruise to fit your needs or wants. When you choose your stateroom, you also choose from a selection of experience levels that come with different price tags and different perks and amenities. You can choose from 4 different “experiences” or choose a 5th option of the MSC Yacht Club.
At one end, you have the Bella experience which basically equates to your traditional cruise experience with all other amenities available a la carte. You can then move up to the Fantastica or the Wellness experience or the most inclusive Aurea experience. The Aurea experience includes free drink packages for everyone in your cabin including all non-alcoholic beverages and non-premium alcohol, a basic internet package, two massages per cabin, unlimited use of the thermal spa areas (e.g., sauna, steam room, whirlpool), free ice cream, and more.
We have had drink packages before, and I have often felt like we didnt’ get full value. Particularly when it came to the soda/juice packages for the kids. This was a completely different experience. Basically, every beverage that anyone in our family ever drinks throughout the day was available under the packages that came with the Aurea experience. And, it was so easy to get drinks everywhere on the ship. Plus, this package included free ice cream which we definitely took full advantage of daily.
The MSC Yacht Club comes with access to exclusive areas of the ship and other elements of heightened service and priority access.
10. Seaside May Have The Best Internet at Sea.
The internet service on this ship was quite impressive. We may have been lucky, but this was our best internet experience to date. It was extremely rare that we could not connect – even on sea days. This was convenient because we relied on WhatsApp to communicate among our travel party.
MSC offers two basic packages that come with a 20% discount if purchased online before boarding. The standard package allows up to 2 devices and 3 GB of data. The premium package allows up to 4 devices and 6 GB of data. One premium package was sufficient for us. We had data left over. Although we had more than enough data, you also have the option to purchase additional blocks of data if you run short.
Note that, unlike some other cruises, you cannot rotate usage among different devices. When you log into the plan with a specific device, that device becomes associated with that plan for your cruise and assumes 1 of your allotted spots. In other words, it is not that you can use whatever 4 devices you want at one time, but rather 4 devices are assigned to the plan for the duration of the plan.
Bonus Reason: Laundry packages
Most folks may not care about laundry, but I think the MSC Seaside approach deserves a shout out. Certainly not the sole basis for picking a cruise, but it is a nice bonus feature! You can purchase a laundry package either before boarding or on the ship. Basically, you pay a set fee which entitles you to a certain number of pieces (e.g., $40 for 25 pieces). Your charge is a fixed price regardless of the type of item. It doesn’t matter if you submit 10 pairs of long pants or 10 t-shirts. The package applies only to laundry, not dry cleaning.
And, you don’t have to use them all at once. You can spread it out over 2 or 3 days. The package that we ended up purchasing worked out to be $1.25 per piece which is a big savings over a la carte pricing. (Note: There were no self-serve laundry machines on board.)
Also, for families traveling with babies, MSC now offers a special baby laundry service. This service washes baby and toddler clothes separately from all other clothes in specialized machine with special detergents. (Read our related post for more tips on doing laundry on a cruise ship.)
MSC Seaside provides a great affordable option for a cruise vacation for families traveling with kids. It is a beautiful ship offers many fun activities for a wide variety of ages and interests. But, be mindful of upcharges and have modest expectations as to food.
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