The Meraviglia class is well-suited for families. // © 2016 MSC Cruises
Feature image (above): Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve in the Bahamas, a 95-acre private island, is set to open at the end of 2017. // © 2016 MSC Cruises
MSC Cruises has been a phenomenon, with an exceptionally fast-growing fleet that has zoomed up to become the fourth-largest cruise line in the world. Now, it is becoming an important player for North American travel agents with a significant investment in its deployment and port development in the Caribbean, as it is poised to double its size again.
MSC has expanded operations from Europe and South America to China and Cuba and is now placing two dedicated vessels in North America. The company’s fleet is currently made up of 12 ships, with 11 more launching between 2017 and 2026 in three classes being developed simultaneously: the Meraviglia Class, Seaside Class and World Class.
The 12 current ships also represent three classes — Lirica, Musica and Fantasia — each one adding features from a 4-D theater to the exclusive Yacht Club for suite guests. The Lirica Class ships were stretched in 2014-15 in the $227 million, two-year Project Renaissance that added almost 80 feet and 200 staterooms to each. Guest capacity on Lirica’s ships now ranges from 1,952 to 2,150.
In 2014, MSC announced that the new Meraviglia class, designed with special attention to families, would debut next year in the Mediterranean. The 4,500-passenger Meraviglia, second only in size to Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis Class, will have a two-story amusement park and outdoor waterpark, new family accommodations, duplex suites and additional exclusive features for Yacht Club guests, including a private restaurant and a solarium. In October 2019 and September 2020, two new, larger Meraviglia-Plus ships will come into service, carrying 4,888 passengers each.
In addition, MSC will build the two biggest ships ever constructed by a European-based cruise line with the 5,400-passenger World Class ships, slated for delivery between 2022 and 2026.
But the newbuild that will have the most impact on North Americans is the first of three Seaside-class vessels, debuting late next year to join MSC Divina in the Caribbean. The 4,140-guest Seaside will be christened in Miami and dedicated to the North American market, with features that bring the water close, including a promenade at sea level.
Richard Sasso, president and CEO of MSC Cruises USA, says the new Seaside will take over weeklong cruises while MSC Divina moves over to longer itineraries.
MSC’s North American investment extends to ports: Last year, it announced the plan for the Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve in the Bahamas, a 95-acre private island port of call with an environmental focus, slated to open at the end of next year. A pier will allow guests to come and go freely without tendering to enjoy restaurants, bars and live music and entertainment at a 2,000-seat amphitheater. They’ll also be able to partake in a variety of watersports, lounge on a family beach with a kids’ restaurant and play areas and indulge in an exclusive spa section for Yacht Club passengers.
Sasso notes that the company is seeing an increase in new travel partners and new customers coming in from Western states.
“We have seen significant changes in our posture in the West,” he said. ”The awareness level is up and will continue to rise as we put more investment into North America, and people on the West Coast will be seeing more of our advertising in the next few years. MSC is a great match for this market with our very strong attention to health and wellness and Mediterranean dining.”