Don’t judge a ship by its size. That’s the message from MSC Cruises’ newest cruise ship, the 6,774-passenger MSC World Europa, which at nearly 1,100 feet long, 21 decks high, and 205,7000 gross tons, is currently the sixth-largest cruise ship in the world.
It’s also a significant part of the cruise line’s plan to reach net zero emissions across the brand by 2050.
Historically, cruise ships haven’t been model citizens for sustainable travel, so it’s fair for people to raise an eyebrow when they hear a mega ship is striving to be more sustainable. MSC World Europa, however, is the first of four ships in MSC’s newest generation of vessels, which will run on greener, alternative forms of fuel.
The MSC World Europa’s inaugural voyage kicked off in Doha in December 2022, shortly after the FIFA World Cup in Qatar (the ship served as a floating hotel for fans during the games). By April 2023, it will be circling the Mediterranean, where it will remain for the rest of the year. AFAR was able to get a first look at the ship in November—and these were our main takeaways.
Where to find the best cuisine, cocktails, and brews on board
The MSC World Europa has a whopping 13 restaurants and buffets, so it’s easy to get a bit overwhelmed by choice. The most memorable meal our group had during the inaugural celebration was at the Chef’s Garden Kitchen, where many of the herbs and vegetables used in the dishes are grown in a hydroponic garden in the middle of the dining room. It’s helmed by Niklas Ekstedt, a Swedish chef (whose restaurant Ekstedt garnered a Michelin star), TV personality, and author. He told us that the menu is meant to bridge traditional Nordic cuisine and modern techniques. If you go, do yourself a favor and get the scallop ceviche and the almond cake (the latter of which, Ekstedt said, is his mother’s recipe).
Another concept new to MSC is the seafood restaurant La Pescaderia, which evokes a Mediterranean fish market. Whole fish are on display, and guests can choose which they’d like to have prepared for them.
There are also 20 bars and lounges on the ship, including the Coffee Emporium, which offers cups of java made with different brewing styles (like Italian, Turkish, or Moroccan—I went with Turkish, because the barista said it would be the strongest). The Rajo Polo Tea House offers high tea (a great way to relax and unwind in the afternoon), while the Fizz-Champagne Bar has an extensive bottle selection. The Gin Project boasts more than 70 craft gins from around the world (served straight, with one of its myriad craft tonic waters, or as inventive cocktails such as tropical take on a Gin Fizz); and at the Elixir-Mixology Bar, you can order off the menu or give the bartender some flavor components (like “floral” or “fruity”) and they’ll craft something unique for you.
MSC World Europa is also home to the first brewery at sea where the beers are made with desalinated water. Brewmaster Teo Musso (who opened Baladin Farm Brewery in Italy in 1996) created three signature craft beers, which will be exclusively sold on the ship. They include a pilsner, a bitter, and a wheat beer. As a certified beer judge, I personally thought the pilsner was crisp, with delicate herbal notes and that it excelled above the others.
A mix of fun and relaxation
When planning the vessel, it was important to have a healthy balance of entertainment options as well amenities to help people relax, MSC CEO Gianni Onorato told AFAR during the maiden sailing.
With that in mind, MSC World Europa features different neighborhoods where similar amenities are grouped.
Most of the specialty restaurants, bars, and boutiques are found in an interior promenade called the World Galleria on decks six through eight. The ceiling is covered with a LED “sky screen,” which changes throughout the day—some displays show humpback whales swimming or the stars above. The aft of deck eight is home to an open-air quarter centered around the longest dry slide at sea—a corkscrewing, enclosed descent that travels down eleven decks—called Venom Drop @ The Spiral. (I didn’t have the chance to try it, as there was always a line, but my travel companions did and said it was surprisingly fun.)
There’s the Family Zone, which houses all kids facilities (with special areas for each age group), as well as bumper cars, a roller skating rink, an arcade, a Formula 1 simulator (a racecar game with hardware that mimics the movements of an F1 car with impressive realism), and a Lego Room (literally filled with million of Legos and sets).
On the top decks are six pools (including two that are adults only), 14 hot tubs (yes, 14—highly recommended are those by the Zen Pool with swapping views off the aft), and the kid-focused Aurora Borealis Aquapark, which includes a dedicated pool for toddlers.
For those looking for a bit of quiet, the ship’s 10,000-square-foot Balinese-style Aurea Spa is a zen-inducing retreat. Its treatment list includes all the essentials, like massages and facials. It also boasts a thermal area with a hydrotherapy circuit that includes saunas, steam rooms, cold plunges, hot tubs, and even a room where guests can sit in snow (which feels like being inside an igloo).
A wide range of staterooms and suites
MSC World Europa has 17 classes of staterooms and suites. The most basic is an interior stateroom, which measures 160 square feet, contains a wardrobe and bathroom with shower, a double bed that can be converted into two singles, and a mini bar. The most opulent is the MSC Yacht Club Owner’s Suite, which is just over 1,076 square feet, has a balcony with a seating area and a private hot tub, dining and living room areas, a walk-in closet, a bathroom with a separate shower and tub, a bar, and an espresso maker.
How “MSC World Europa” practices sustainability
When experiencing a ship of this size and scope, one has to wonder—how is this a greener vessel than its predecessors? First off, MSC World Europa is MSC’s first vessel powered by liquified natural gas (LNG).
Using LNG instead of diesel will help to reduce the ship’s total emissions by 25 percent, according to Linden Coppell, MSC’s vice president of sustainability and environmental social governance.
“LNG is a step forward; it is not the ultimate goal,” MSC CEO Onorato told AFAR. “It allows us to greatly reduce the consumption of fossil fuels and consequently the emissions.”
As a whole, the cruise industry is pushing for net zero emissions by 2050, though it’ll take significant advancements in technology and supply to meet that goal. MSC considers LNG a transitional fuel, Coppell said in a press briefing. It’s not going to get them to net zero alone. But it will “future-proof” MSC World Europa and her sister ships by enabling them to start using new fuels, like biofuel or synthetic fuel, as soon as they become readily available. Because MSC World Europa is already equipped with the appropriate infrastructure for alternative fuels, it will be able to switch more seamlessly—whereas ships that run on diesel would need to be retrofitted to accommodate greener fuels.
Another element on MSC’s road to emissions neutrality is the use of solid oxide fuel cells. It’s a technology that creates electricity to power and heat the ship not by combustion (how energy is typically created on cruise vessels) but by an electrochemical reaction, which Coppell said is somewhere between 25 and 30 percent more efficient.
Together, these and other sustainable technologies, like using shore power where possible (meaning the ship is able to plug into the local power grid at ports, allowing the vessel to turn off its engines), advanced wastewater treatment protocols, and an underwater radiated noise management system to minimize the sound impact on marine life, make World Europa MSC’s greenest ship.
Coppell said her team believes World Europa has the “lowest emissions per passenger of any ship currently sailing.”
Sailing the Middle East and the Mediterranean
From January through late March, World Europa is sailing around the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. At the end of March, it will start its repositioning sailing to the Mediterranean, making stops in Doha in Qatar, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai in the UAE, Muscat in Oman, and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, before sailing through the Suez Canal and later arriving in Naples, Italy, on April 10. (Guests can get on the ship at any point in the itinerary.) For the rest of the year, it will run constant loops between ports in Malta (Valletta), Spain (Barcelona), France (Provence), and Italy (Genoa, Naples, and Taormina). Itineraries for 2024 and beyond haven’t been finalized. Pricing starts at $179 per person for a two-night cruise.
Bailey Berg Bailey Berg is the associate travel news editor at AFAR, where she covers breaking news, trends, tips, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. When not interviewing sources or writing articles, she can be found exploring art galleries, visiting craft breweries, hiking with her dogs, and planning her next adventure (at present, she’s been to 75+ countries and hopes to spend time in every one someday).