Most people boarding an MSC Cruise are faced with sales pitches immediately including staff selling drink packages, drink package upgrades, and dining packages. We’re going to go over exactly what meals are included on an MSC Cruise and how the specialty dining experience packages work. This is based on our real-world experiences so you know whether or not an MSC Cruises Dining package is right for you.

Why do some cruisers think the Dining Packages are a rip-off on MSC Cruises?

They do not tell you the limitations of the dining packages before you buy! READ THIS FULLY to understand how these packages aren’t really a great value for many passengers.

What are the Dining Packages / Dining Experiences on MSC Cruises?

The Dining “Experiences” as they call them, are a single meal at a specialty restaurant, usable during lunch or dinner.

MSC uses the term dining package and dining experience interchangeably, and it’s hard to say that the dining package is anything similar to any other cruise line.

For example, if you purchase a dining package on an MSC Cruise, you are limited in most restaurants to a set menu and are NOT entitled to the entire menu. While you can substitute items that aren’t included at half off the menu price, it falls short of what other cruise lines do for dining packages. So calling this a “dining experience” is a bit misleading, as your experience is pretty limited.

The biggest issue with the packages is not that there are limits but it’s that when you’re purchasing a Specialty Dining Package on MSC, they DO NOT TELL YOU ABOUT THE LIMITATIONS! During the sale process on board, you are not presented with menus that show the limited “Dining Experience Menu”.

It’s worth noting that if you purchase one of these dining packages and discover that what you were really craving isn’t on the menu or included in the package, there are NO refunds of any sort on any package.

When you purchase the dining package you are able to only get what is shown in this box, and everything else is for a fee:

MSC Dining Package Prices

It’s important to know that the packages are misleading in some regards. We’ve already mentioned the limited menu with the Dining Experience Packages but there’s another. If you purchase the “Unlimited Dining Package”, there is an important limit. You can only go to The Butcher’s Cut TWICE ONCE (Updated as of August 2023). So it’s not really UNLIMITED. These prices are PER PERSON and could vary slightly if you choose to wait to purchase on the ship versus purchasing the package before your cruise. Children get a 50% discount on the price.

Dining PackagePrice (Including Gratuity)
3 Specialty Dining Experiences$79
4 Specialty Dining Experiences$99
5 Specialty Dining Experiences$119
UNLIMITED Dining Experiences *$149
Other experiences are available for shows which include dinner and show entryVaries
Prices as of 2023 – which may be promotional. * Unlimited was priced for a 5-day cruise and is not available on all ships

Save money, and purchase these specialty dining packages in advance

MSC Cruises heavily discounts add-ons and packages if a purchase is made in advance of the cruise. It’s sometimes up to 40% less expensive to buy dining and drink packages in advance than it is to purchase while on the ship.

Do MSC Cruises include meals?

MSC Cruises include the Buffet and the Main Dining Room restaurant which you will be assigned for the duration of the cruise. So you certainly do NOT have to purchase any specialty dining package. The buffet is actually pretty good and the main dining room is adequate. For Pizza lovers, there are always tons of options and you’ll never go hungry! In general, however, the food is repetitive and not known to be the best in the cruise industry. This is why you might want to consider a Dining Package on your next MSC Cruise if you’re comfortable with the limitations.

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  1. Hi Phil – I appreciate your insights and thank you so much for taking the time to do this. My wife booked a cruise on-line and as of now from our personal portal app we don’t have the option to purchase any speciality dining, although pretty much everything else. The cruise is 48 days out. Do you think the specialty dining is sold out? Anyone we can contact prior to our cruise? We don’t have a travel agent. The ship is Seascape and leaves 6/15/24.

    1. Rob – I think speciality dining opens up about 30 days from the sail date. However, they only book a portion of the available space pre-cruise, with the rest saved for booking while on the ship. If you aren’t able to book early, make it a priority when you board by heading to the Ocean Cay restaurant (as I recall) – where they have a reservation desk. Enjoy your cruise!

  2. This was well explained and justified whilst also being straight to the point. I have been looking at MSC cruises and I must say the add-ons are annoying and not properly illustrated on the website. Thank you for putting your real life experience into this article. This would be very useful.

    1. Thanks Lizet, I’m glad this was helpful for you! I think if you know what you’re getting with MSC before booking, the experience will be much better. No surprises! 🙂

  3. My wife and I went on the Virtuoso last year on an 8 night cruise,only France and Spain. Anyway regarding dining,we obviously had the Buffet dining room and were also allocated a restaurant with a specific dining time which was a waiter service.
    My question is we’ve booked a lower package,the Bella,and I wondered if you know of course,do we still get an assigned restaurant aswell as the buffet dining ?? I just can’t get any clarity on this point ?
    Let’s hope you can clear the mist.👍
    Thanks, Alan.

    1. Hi Alan – you will be assigned a dining room and a time with the Bella experience, definitely. You might not be able to choose early or late dining during the booking process depending how close to the sailing date you are. And with Bella, it’s almost impossible to change that time once assigned. Some people get lucky and are able to change the time once with the host/hostess … just expect that once assigned your dining room and dining time that it’s what you will be stuck with for the whole cruise. If you plan on seeing the shows, I’d recommend the earlier dining as sometimes the late dining makes it hard to get to shows. Enjoy your cruise!

  4. Hi Phil, Thanks for the great advice. We have booked a back to back cruise to Iceland and then the UK in Sept 2024. These will be our second and third cruises ever, so we are still very new to this. On the first of our back2back we have booked a “2-Speciality Dining Experience.” On the second we have booked a “Two Distinct Experience.” I phoned MSC to find out the difference, however the person was not able to help me (he didn’t know…). I figure the difference is that with the Speciality Dining we can go to any restaurant or the same place twice and with the Distinct Dining with have to go to two different places. Can you give me some sage advice. Thanks

    1. Hi Pat – I believe that they are the same thing with different terminology. With a “dining package” or “experience” you can book whichever restaurants you want and are given a menu that unique to the “experience” – where it’s a more limited selection than the full menu. It’s still a good value, just be prepared to have a more limited menu. I am pretty sure the wording of “dining package” and “dining experience” is a more American marketing term where as “distinct experience” is used on European itineraries. So I think you’ll be getting the same thing by a different name. I have access to the travel agent portal on MSC, and if I find out anything different, I’ll let you know directly (and update this comment)

    1. Definitely! I agree. This is one of the reasons I did this article because it’s not clear buying a package limits the menu options. We didn’t really even realize it until we ended up in the restaurant!

  5. So if I want to choose from the full menu and not take a dining package, I just pay for my meal and gratuities the usual way? Can i use shipboard credit for that?

    1. Tom – If you just want to dine in one of the restaurants, you can order anything you want and pay the menu price + the gratuities.

      If you want to use your dining package, you can replace items on the “experience menu” with something from the full menu, usually at 50% off the menu price. We did this on a few things, and they never bothered to charge, but it was just appetizer items. I’d expect an Entree would be charged at the 50% off price.

  6. Getting ready for the Mereviglia! Two questions for you and your readers: First,
    is the gratuity charge additional fee if buy dining on-board (and included in multi-meal package)? That sure would increase the attractiveness of pre-paying for package. And, my second Q is about the $10 up charge for using package at Teppenyaki… is it per person? including kids? If an adult orders the vegetarian meal (least expensive) they also pay $10 above the package? Thanks!!! Great post

    1. Hi Hannah, thanks for commenting. If you wait and buy dining onboard, you will be charged a gratuity at the restaurant and this includes new Up-charge items in the main dining rooms. MSC has made some package & pricing changes recently and one of them (with the beverage package anyway) is including the gratuity in the price shown online. With the dining packages,the price did in fact include the gratuities. Pre-booking the package is the best option for sure! (Less expensive ahead of time!) If gratuities would be charged, it would be during checkout online (if you do this, I’d love to know if you get charged gratuities while booking online). But I do believe it’s included in the price. As for Teppanyaki, it’s PER PERSON. I didn’t travel with kids, but I believe they are 50% less expensive (they are for most dining packages). It doesn’t matter what you eat, it’s basically a cover charge in addition. For what it’s worth, on the Meraviglia, they had an unlimited dining package experience which was well worth it! It included lunch as well!

  7. are the prices of the speciality dining packages per person. It doesn’t mention that anywhere in the copy.

    1. Hi Stewart, Thanks for pointing that out! The price is PER PERSON. Also know that it could vary if you wait to purchase on the ship versus purchasing online before your cruise.

    1. Kellie- Not sure if you mean upper or lower age limit 😉 – We saw young children (no restriction on age) and older people (no restriction on age) – eating in all of the specialty restaurants! If you can chew and swallow, I think you’re safe to get in! I believe they discount children in some of the restaurants – worth checking!

  8. when you say they offer upgrades on boarding, is it worth buying the lowest level alcohol package, and then go with an offer onboard?

    also, we are doing a 26 day cruise, is it still 26 x $50 perday for the middle drinks package, cos that is one heavy drinker to drink for 26 days straight???!!!

    1. They are doing upgrades on the ship, but it looks like now the on-ship pricing is more than if you purchase pre-cruise. 🙁 – The only way it makes sense to upgrade (in my opinion) – is if you have a promotion for the “Easy Package” included in the cruise, then pay for the upgrade when you get on the ship.

  9. Hi Phil,

    Enjoyed this article as we are about to embark on MSC World Europa in May, but we have a question that, as yet, we cannot get a definitive answer and hope you can help.
    We purchased the 4 Dining Speciality package, our travel agent told us we could visit the same resturant twice, with the exception of Butchers Cut, however a passenger on the same ship posted you cannot visit any speciality more than once. We want to dine at Teppanyaki twice as we loved the experience on a recent Celebrity cruise. Can you clarify.
    Many thanks and best regards.
    John Leslie Stiles

    1. Hi John, I’m jealous of you getting to try a brand new ship! I hope you enjoy it! As for the dining, our experience was that we could book whatever we wanted, as many times as we wanted EXCEPT for Butcher’s Cut, which as you mentioned, was limited to 1 time. However, MSC is good about changing up the rules on a whim, which is quite frustrating. But we did in fact dine multiple times at a couple of restaurants during a voyage with no problem. Be sure to book when you get on the ship, as most of the best dining times book up fast!