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After its maiden voyage in the Mediterranean last summer, the
Opera was repositioned to Fort Lauderdale in early December. A gala
welcome-to-Florida dinner attended by the ship’s godmother, Sophia
Loren, initiated the Opera’s Caribbean sailings.
My 10-day cruise last Christmas featured a partial Panama Canal
crossing along with calls at Ocho Rios, Jamaica; Cartagena,
Columbia; Puerto Limon, Costa Rica; and Cozumel, Mexico. Four days
at sea gave me plenty of time to get to know the ship’s staff,
sample onboard activities and enjoy the Opera’s amenities.
The ship exudes a quiet elegance without a hint of flash,
reminiscent of the chic cruise liners of an earlier era. I found
the Opera’s glitz-free, low-key ambience and minimalist European
design a refreshing change from the kaleidoscopic colors, sizzling
neon and high-energy atmosphere typical of many contemporary cruise
ships. Instead, the Opera’s tastefully appointed public areas
feature marble, brass, polished hardwoods and fashionable Italian
furnishings. The ship’s layout is comfortable, roomy and well
planned, ensuring a smooth passenger flow through public areas day
Though the public areas are spacious, some of the staterooms are
confining; inside cabins measure just 140 square feet. Fortunately,
I had one of 172 outside staterooms with a balcony, allowing me to
stretch out and experience the delightful Caribbean climate. There
are another 487 outside staterooms without a balcony, while the
largest accommodations are the 28 suites measuring 280 square
I was heartened to learn that MSC believes in keeping public
address announcements to a minimum. The Opera’s passengers are not
constantly harangued by perky cruise directors telling passengers
where to go and what to do next over the PA system. Instead, MSC
has made an obvious effort to maintain a quieter onboard
atmosphere. To my pleasant surprise, the ship was also free of
other onboard distractions such as boisterous art auctions, pushy
photographers and waiters hawking drinks at every turn.
While many passengers were content to curl up with a book on a
deck chair or just enjoy the balmy Caribbean breeze, those who
craved more action could choose from an agenda of activities
organized by the ship’s Animation Team, a group of 12 energetic 20-
and 30-somethings who led poolside games, dance classes, bingo and
trivia contests. The liveliest area of the ship during the day was
the top deck, which has two swimming pools and two Jacuzzis and
attracts a large contingent of sun worshippers along with those who
want to join in the fun and games.
The Opera is a great ship for clients who like to dance or want
to learn a variety of steps. During my cruise, enthusiasts learned
the samba, bossa nova, merengue, cha cha and tango. Every night,
live bands drew crowds in the ship’s various lounges. My favorites
were Los Reyes Paraguayos, a South American trio that performed
folk tunes, and the live Latin music during afternoon tea in the
Piazza di Spagna Lounge.
The Opera’s spa featured everything from manicures to massages,
but it booked up early in the cruise. The health club, in the front
of the ship up high on deck 11, offered panoramic views and a daily
class schedule that included Pilates, yoga and stretching. On sea
days, the club was rather packed, with treadmill time at a
I’ve never been too fond of cruise ship entertainment, but the
nightly performances in the 713-seat Teatro dell’Opera were among
the most creative I’ve ever enjoyed at sea. I even occasionally
joined my fellow passengers in standing ovations following several
quality shows. My personal favorite, “Fantasy,” was a surreal
variety show featuring acrobatics, dance, lasers and music.
After the theater performances, the Byblos disco attracted a
young crowd that gyrated until morning. During the day, the disco
was an ideal place to read and write in virtual privacy; it was
usually empty and offered magnificent views of sea and sky.
While most new ships have increased the number of dining
alternatives by adding specialty restaurants and offering flexible
dining hours and open seating, the MSC Opera has not followed this
trend. Evening dining is limited to two main restaurants La
Caravalla and L’Approdo with assigned early (6 p.m.) and late (8:30
p.m.) seatings. The dinner menu’s impressive selection sometimes
featured disappointing and bland offerings, but the Italian
specialties, such as pasta and risotto, were always superb.
An additional dining option is available for breakfast and lunch
in Le Vele, the ship’s open seating, informal buffet adjacent to
the pool deck. The vast majority of passengers opted to take both
breakfast and lunch in this attractive, airy space with its
panoramic sea views. For caffeine lovers, the Aroma Coffee Bar,
situated midship on deck 6, provided a perfect place to enjoy a
As would be expected, several of the kinks that accompany the
debut of a new-build especially one on its initial venture into the
U.S. market have not been ironed out to everyone’s satisfaction.
Some passengers complained that staff at the reception and shore
excursion desks were abrupt and unhelpful, while others were upset
with the size of their inside cabins or slow room service. I,
however, found the staff made every effort to please, and most
performed their duties with diligence while maintaining an upbeat,
All in all, it’s definitely a line I’ll try line again.
Ship: MSC Opera
Size: 58,600 tons
Capacity: 1,756 passengers
Year Built: 2004
Plugging In: 120 and 220 volt current in
Hits: Superb entertainment in main showroom,
classy interior design, minimal public address announcements.
Misses: Limited dining options, cramped inside
Itinerary: Seven-day eastern Caribbean stopping
in San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Croix and Nassau. Seven-day western
Caribbean stopping in Key West, Cozumel, Grand Cayman and
After March 26, the ship will make a transatlantic voyage, then
sail the Mediterranean before returning to the Caribbean at the end
of the year.
Owned by Italian-based Mediterranean Shipping Company, the
world’s second largest container shipping company, MSC Cruises has
moved aggressively into the leisure cruise market with an ambitious
$3 billion expansion.
The Opera’s sister ship, the MSC Lirica, is also currently in
the Caribbean. Both ships will sail out of Fort Lauderdale on
Caribbean itineraries through March before heading back to the
Mediterranean in April.
The MSC fleet comprises seven ships, and plans are in the works
for the construction of two giant 3,000 passenger mega-ships, the
MSC Musica, due in 2006, and another, due in 2007. Both will have
1,275 cabins, 80 percent of which will be outside, and 65 percent
of which will have a balcony.
ONLINE BOOKING TOOLS AND COMMISSION INFO
MSC cruises has rolled out online booking tools for agents, at
www.msccruisesagent.com. The Web site allows agents to request
cruise-only staterooms, enter credit card payments, complete
embarkation forms and request agent rates. Additionally, a new
reservations system will be in place by spring 2005. The system
will feature new enhancements for agents, including online booking
and the ability to print confirmation forms.
“MSC Cruises continues to support travel agents with one of the
most progressive and profitable commission programs in the
industry,” said Rick Sasso, president and CEO of MSC Cruises
In addition to the generous commission structure already in
place (which pays commissions on port and service charges), MSC
Cruises has added more ways for agents to profit, such as
additional commissions for air add-ons, special group benefits and
a soon-to-be-announced loyalty program designed to create benefits
for agents and customers alike.