MSC World Europa is the largest cruise ship ever built for MSC Cruises and the largest ever to homeport in the Middle East, so we went onboard to find out what cruising out of Dubai aboard this mammoth ship was like during the 2022/23 cruise season.
MSC World Europa is a huge ship at 205,700-gross tons, almost as large as the Oasis-class of Royal Caribbean, representing a huge step change for MSC Cruises, and a seminal moment for the Middle East cruise industry as Dubai takes its place as a major cruise destination.
MSC World Europa spent the winter months in Dubai cruising in the Arabian Gulf to Doha in Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Sir Bani Yas Island in the UAE, and Dammam in Saudi Arabia. Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha were offered as homeports for the season (a system known as inter-porting), but we chose to start and end the cruise in Dubai.
The boarding process was fast and efficient, with the Dubai Cruise Terminal in Port Rashid seeming to handle the extra number of guests well. MSC World Europa carries upwards of 6,000 passengers at full capacity, around 1,500 more than MSC Bellissima, which previously home-ported in Dubai for the winter season.
However, we boarded in the early afternoon, and were able to choose when we arrived at the port, as we live in Dubai, and according to other passengers we spoke with, those arriving on a fly-cruise package faced a fairly long wait for check-in and boarding formalities. At the various ports of call, MSC World Europa’s staff handled passenger logistics well, and getting off and on the ship was easy.
At Sir Bani Yas Island we were especially pleased that the ship was able to use the new pier. Although going ashore by tender at Sir Bani Yas was a nice novelty during cruise seasons past, I think being among 6,000 people waiting for a tend from or to the ship might have ruined the experience. A full write up on the destinations on offer on this itinerary is available here: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sir Bani Yas Island, Doha.
First thoughts on MSC World Europa
From the moment you set eyes on MSC World Europa towering over the Dubai Cruise Terminal you realise that a week isn’t going to be enough to discover and experience all that the ship has to offer.
She has 413,000 sqft of public space, 16 passenger decks, 13 dining venues (including 6 speciality restaurants), 20 bars and lounges (with 7 brand new bar and café concepts), 7 pools, 13 whirlpools and hot tubs, and the longest dry slide at sea. There are even separate kids facilities for babies, toddlers, children and teens, an F1 Simulator, dodgem cars, and an aquapark.
That slide is located at the aft of the ship where the ship’s World Promenade can also be found between the split superstructure, which is a clear riff on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class vessels. A key difference from the Oasis class ships however is World Europa’s atmosphere, which is a result of her design: her public rooms are cozy and plentiful, holding a few hundred rather than thousands, which prevents the ship feeling overly crowded.
There was always space to grab a bite to eat or a coffee, although the pool area, as on most cruise ships, was the only area that regularly became very crowded and noisy, especially on sea days. Similarly, the Mercato Buffet up on the top deck near the pool area could feel jam-packed at peak meal times (if you’re an early riser this is less of a problem at breakfast). The buffet is actually a huge restaurant, seating more than 800 people, but while there were always plenty of tables available, the food stations themselves were teeming. It may sound obvious, but if you go up to the La Brasserie sister location on the deck above, its often quieter.
The inconsistent spread of people was also apparent in some of the bars in the evening. Some venues, like The Gin Project and Fizz Champagne Bar were absolutely humming between the two evening dinner services, while others like the Malt Lounge and Surfers Bar were far more quiet.
Masters of the Sea, MSC Cruises’ signature English pub, was always busy in the evening, but rarely to the extent that getting a table or service was difficult. It’s a quirk of the ship’s design as well that some spaces are hidden gems for relaxation and solitude, if peace and quiet is what you’re looking for after a few days sharing a floating resort with more than 6,000 other people.
The Fizz Champagne Bar, Raj Polo Tea House, Elixir Mixology Bar, and the Malt Lounge (the ship’s designated smoking lounge) have hidden outdoor seating areas that are inaccessible unless you enter the bar, because they’re sequestered away between the ship’s lifeboats. They overlook MSC World Europa’s wrap-around promenade deck, but unlike Norwegian with its Breakaway class ships, MSC has not integrated this with the ship’s bars and cafes, so the space is kept free for sea view strolling. Near the stern on Deck 7, the Panorama Lounge also has a nice little terrace for outdoor drinks.
MSC Cruises has also segmented the main dining rooms aboard World Europa (Esagona, Hexagon, and Bubbles on Deck 6, and La Foglia on Deck 5) into four distinct areas with their own unique décor, making dining in each feel like a unique experience, while also preventing the main dining rooms from feeling like a huge, well-appointed food hall. It also makes the service feel more personalised.
In terms of contact between staff and guests, MSC Cruises has also finally digitised shore excursion bookings and other guest relations services through the MSC for Me app, so that the atrium lobby isn’t constantly full of fed-up passengers in queues, as can so often be the case on the first few days of a cruise.
This three-deck atrium space sits at the start of a three-story promenade that runs aft, where the vast majority of the ship’s bars, cafes, restaurants, and lounges are found, much like the Galleria space aboard the Meraviglia class MSC ships. Aboard MSC World Europa, however, it is naturally larger and as it seamlessly transitions into the outdoor promenade at the stern of the ship, between the split superstructure, its definitely more of a wow factor.
At the very end of the promenade, at the very stern of the ship, a gleaming silver slide twists from Deck 20. That’s 11 decks up from the promenade. Venom Drop is in fact that longest dry slide at sea, taking the title from Ultimate Abyss, the pair of slides found at the aft end of Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class ships.
More to MSC World Europa than Venom Drop
While the longest dry slide at sea is certainly a major wow factor aboard MSC World Europa, this entire promenade area takes the MSC Cruises brand in an exciting new direction. We mentioned that the pool area and the buffet could feel crowded at times, but this space somehow manages to feel lively without the sense of being in a human traffic jam. There are a plethora of bars and cafes, as well as intriguing boutiques, so that there’s always something to do, eat or drink. This is the social heart of the ship, and because its several hundred metres long, it takes a few days to explore properly, and also provides plenty of floorspace for MSC World Europa’s 6,000 passengers.
The comparison with Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class is easy, because of the stern slide, the split superstructures and the mix of outdoor/indoor dining and entertainment, but unlike the bells and whistles aboard Royal Caribbean (Central Park, carousels, the AquaTheatre and so on), aboard MSC World Europa the space is calmer. There are aft-facing seating options overlooking the ship’s wake, with two panoramic glass elevators that are fun to ride, and several bars, lounges and specialty restaurants. Because the bars and lounges offer indoor and outdoor seating, this is a nice space from which to enjoy sailaway because you can enjoy the Dubai skyline views and a meal.
We enjoyed an early morning coffee on the Malt Lounge terrace during the approach to Muscat, and it was definitely worth the early start. Watching the Hajar Mountain range emerge from the darkness, with the white-washed shoreline of the ancient Omani capital beneath it was spectacular. Having a snack at Sweet Temptations off the coast of Sir Bani Yas Island, after a day of fun at the beach, was equally enjoyable. Moments quite like this aren’t available on other ships in the MSC fleet, which don’t have the same Boardwalk-style ocean-front dining options on offer.
A word on the spa
Dry slides, bars, busy pools and attentive dining are all well and good, but we cant discuss cruising aboard MSC World Europa without mentioning the spa, which aboard this ship is in a class of its own. The MSC Aurea Spa is top-notch across the fleet, but aboard MSC World Europa it’s been expanded to an extent that cant be fully captured in pictures.
Located on Deck 8 all the way forward, it has a thermal suite complex with a hydrotherapy pool, heated ceramic loungers, several sauna and steam room combinations, and even a Kniepp walk (a room where you step between hot and cold basins of water to improve blood flow and immune system strength).
This all comes at an added cost, of course, as do the impressive range of treatments in the elegant massage rooms. Just outside the spa there’s a juice bar with healthy fruit smoothies and detox drinks that are included as part of the premium drink package.
MSC World Europa Specialty Dining
There are 13 dining venues aboard MSC World Europa, several dozen cafes and bars, and six specialty restaurants, four of which are signature outlets aboard the larger ships in the MSC fleet: Kaito Sushi, Kaito Teppanyaki, the Butcher’s Cut steakhouse, and the Mexican-inspired Hola! Tacos and Cantina. The other two are new to the line, and are extremely impressive: La Pescaderia and The Chef’s Garden Kitchen.
The American steakhouse-style Butcher’s Cut, and the Mexican-inspired Hola! Tacos and Cantina are as good aboard MSC World Europa as they are across the fleet. While opinions on steak quality and what constitutes rare versus medium can be divisive, we found that if you’re very clear with the staff on what you want, the service is consistently good.
Kaito Sushi and Kaito Teppanyaki are firm favourites for Asian cuisine like sushi and fusion teppanyaki. At the latter, everything from the rice (with vegetables, egg and spices) to the meat and fish dishes are cooked right in front of you. You can take your pick of lobster, prawns, tuna, lamb, duck, or beef, all it all comes with excellent grilled vegetables. Kaito Sushi similarly offers food prepared right in front of you (if you dine at the bar), and offers a wide selection of sushi and sashimi.
La Pescaderia is MSC World Europa’s dedicated seafood restaurant and sits adjacent the World Promenade, with indoor and outdoor seating. It also offers fish and chips takeaway, but when dining in there is a selection of à la carte options picked fresh from the ice and served directly from the grill. The starts, such as Greek Salad, Fritto Misto, and Moussaka, are also uniformly excellent. The Fritto Misto in particular is a generous enough portion to serve as a main if you’re wanting to take it slow after a day of eating big.
The Chef’s Garden Kitchen is another unique dining experience, with micro-greens grown onboard to create fresh and delicious dishes. At 68 Euros per person, it’s the most expensive specialty dining option onboard, but is well worth it at least once on the voyage. The menu is meat-heavy, with beef tartar, roast lamb, duck and so on, but you dine surrounded by the hydroponic garden, with views of the sea and the open kitchen where chefs bring to life the menu created by Niklas Ekstedt.
Complimentary dining also holds its own
While the main dining rooms aboard any cruise ship will never be quite the same standard as specialty dining, most of the complimentary options aboard MSC World Europa held their own against the six premium options.
The main dining rooms all serve the same menu, and there’s a wide enough selection each evening to tempt one into over-eating. Although the food stations in the Mercato Buffet could be busy, the actual food on offer was always to a good standard.
For those wanting something even more casual than the buffet, there’s also Pizza & Burger on Deck 6, decorated in the style of an American 80s fast food dive. The chicken and beef burgers, and range of hotdogs, are all very good.
What we didn’t like
We’ve already griped about the busy pool area and buffet, but there are two other things about MSC World Europa of which potential guests should be aware. Finding a public washroom in the ship’s common areas is easy, but finding one that’s free can be a challenge on busy sea days as they’re very small.
And because of the size of the ship, and some of the design compromises made to accommodate her various public rooms, getting between decks can be difficult. There are only stairwells and elevator banks amidships and forward for example, and while there are plenty of them so that you never have to wait too long for a lift, if you’re all the way aft at Sweet Temptations and want to go up to the Deck 17 Zen Pool, for instance, it’s a hike.
This might have been more apparent to us because we were staying in one of the Promenade-view cabins looking inward on the split superstructure at the stern, and the closest stairwell was the one between the panoramic elevators amidships. On a more positive note, because MSC World Europa’s promenade is not as boisterous as the ones aboard the Oasis-class Royal Caribbean ships, there was very rarely any issue of noise disturbance.
MSC World Europa marks a new era for MSC Cruises and Middle East cruising. She is the largest ship to ever sail from Dubai, she was named in Doha in Qatar, where she served as a floating hotel during the FIFA World Cup, and she is the latest in a handful of brand-new cruise ships to be deployed in the Arabian Gulf cruise market. The vessel therefore bodes well for the future direction of MSC Cruises, as well as the wider Middle East cruise market, in which the cruise line is the market leader.