An Instant Classic

MSC’s new Lirica rekindles the golden age of cruising

By: Shawn J. Dake

In the parade of new mega-ships that arrived last year, the brand new MSC Lirica got lost in the crowd.

Literally built in the shadow of the Queen Mary 2 at France’s Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard, the Lirica emerged eight months ahead of that well-publicized ocean liner.

Fortunately for its parent company, Mediterranean Shipping Company, a growing number of American travelers are discovering this gem of a ship. They’re finding it combines up-to-date amenities with a classic atmosphere of elegant service that reminds passengers of what they once enjoyed in a cruise experience, before all the glitz, neon and hairy legs contests took over.

MSC, which is the second largest cargo shipping line in the world with over 200 vessels, calls its five-ship cruise line MSC Italian Cruises. The Lirica is its first newly built ship.

What sets this ship apart is perhaps best exemplified in what you won’t find aboard, rather than what you will. You won’t find flashing lights and bright colors to jar the senses. You won’t find waiters pushing high-priced drinks at every turn. You will not hear an endless stream of announcements over the public address system.

In fact, all of the things you won’t find add up to the best thing you will, which is a relaxing, stress-free cruise vacation.

So, while there may not be off-key, singing waiters in the dining room, there is a gracious Italian staff, well-trained in professional service but also able to show passengers a very good time. For those who fondly remember such great Italian cruise lines as Sitmar Cruises or Home Lines, that environment is recaptured here.

At 58,600 gross tons, the Lirica is considered a midsize ship. The 1,580 passengers may come from a large variety of countries. On a recent Caribbean sailing, 22 different nationalities were represented, with the vast majority being from the U.S. followed by Great Britain, France and Germany.

The cruise director would introduce shows in five languages in rapid-fire succession, which in itself was quite entertaining.

Each year, the ship spends the summer and fall seasons in Europe cruising the Mediterranean from Italy. Winter sailings are from Ft. Lauderdale on alternating 11-night Caribbean itineraries.

The quality and look of the ship is firmly aimed at the premium cruise passenger but with pricing comparable to mass-market companies. Most of the American passengers were experienced cruisers, primarily couples, however quite a few of the European guests were first-time cruisers, who tended to be younger and single. Families would also feel at home here because the ship has excellent children’s facilities.

The Lirica’s main foyer is decorated with marble flooring and brass railings, giving passengers a very high-class first impression as they board the ship. The ship is decorated in soft colors primarily pink and peach tones or blue and green for a soothing environment. Indirect lighting adds to the effect. For a ship of its size, there is a huge amount of space devoted to public areas for the passengers; the equivalent of four full decks. The majority of the public rooms are situated below on the two lowest passenger decks, 5 and 6. The Broadway Theatre actually spans both levels and is the main show lounge. The entertainment was outstanding and, unlike most ships, there was a full production show nearly every evening featuring the large cast of dancers, singers, magicians, jugglers even a weight lifter and a contortionist. I’ll go out on a limb and say this was overall the best entertainment I have ever seen on a ship.

Another thing you won’t find on the Lirica is a restaurant with an extra service fee like those found on most mass-market and premium ships these days. As might be expected, the Italian cuisine is outstanding but nearly every meal in the main dining room arrived beautifully prepared. Seafood in particular was exceptional.

There are three types of staterooms 272 standard insides, 387 outsides and 132 suites with balcony. All have twin beds that convert to queen size.

At first glance, cabins may seem a little basic; however, they are very cleverly designed and comfortable. Bathrooms have showers except the balcony rooms that include bathtubs. Suites with balconies, while very nice, are more the size of mini-suites on other lines. Besides the bedroom area, they have a small sitting room next to the floor-to-ceiling windows.

One of the great pleasures for both travel agents and their clients is the way MSC Italian Cruises prices its cruise vacations. The rate quoted is the total price. There is no nonsense regarding non-commissionable fees or port charges or any other taxes for that matter. The client pays the price quoted and the agent receives commission on the total amount. It is simple, straightforward and, for the agent, results in a higher overall commission.

The same system can be found onboard in the ship’s bars. While most companies add a 15 percent gratuity, MSC quotes the price on the bar list, including a 10 percent gratuity in the already reasonable drink prices. There is never the feeling that the company is trying to squeeze every last penny out of the passenger in onboard revenue.

Cruising on the Lirica is like a breath of fresh air. It is so different from your typical cruise in so many ways, all of them good. The Lirica proves that a contemporary cruise ship can be an instant classic.