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It became clear that MSC Cruises is taking dead aim at the North American market when company CEO Gianni Onorato described it as “no longer a potential market, but a priority market” during the inauguration of the new 4,134-passenger MSC Seaside in Miami on Dec. 21.
More than 1,000 travel agents, media and dignitaries — including executives from other cruise lines — attended the naming celebration.
Seaside’s inaugural ceremony was heartfelt, moving, exciting and, above all, familial. Family-owned MSC has some spectacular relationships with celebrities, including Sophia Loren — who has served as godmother to the company’s new vessels since 2003 and christened Seaside — as well as world-renowned tenor Andrea Bocelli.
During the ceremony, Bocelli performed with Voices of Haiti, a children’s associated with the work of the Andrea Bocelli Foundation, which is establishing schools and programs to bring hope and change to some of the poorest, most remote areas of Haiti. MSC is now accepting onboard donations that will go toward education and healthcare assistance in Haiti.
Television personality Mario Lopez served as master of ceremonies, and Latin superstar Ricky Martin brought the audience to its feet with one hit song after another. There were also appearances by Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins football team; celebrity chefs Joe Bastianich and Roy Yamaguchi; and Carlos Gimenez, mayor of Miami-Dade County, Fla. After Loren cut the ribbon, which released a bottle of champagne to christen the ship, fireworks blossomed overhead.
"This has been an incredible journey," said Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman for MSC. "We are here to celebrate the naming of a ship that has been designed for this city. It has taken a lot of effort and vision to get where we are tonight."
Executives also hailed travel agents, who raised a cheer when told, “We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.”
MSC had announced earlier that its MSC Academy will be expanding next year and encouraged agents to contact business development managers for fam opportunities on North American departures so that they can better sell the product.
The ships departing from Miami have altered their service style; added new menus with larger meal portions and different dining times; and adapted entertainment by providing new shows and featuring musical groups that have U.S. appeal. MSC currently carries 40 to 50 percent of North Americans on MSC Divina’s itineraries, but the line is shooting for 80 percent on North American departures, and 80 percent of Europeans and 20 percent of North Americans in Europe.
The company’s investment in North America is impressive: It has a brand-new terminal in Miami, and the 4,345-passenger Divina is already in service year-round from the port. Seaside brings combined capacity up to roughly 8,500 guests. The 4,488-passenger MSC Meraviglia, which was launched earlier this year, will sail an inaugural season in North America in 2019, calling first in New York at the beginning of October for two 10-night roundtrip sailings, then cruising a 13-night itinerary that sails into the Caribbean before arriving in Miami. Then, Meraviglia and Seaside will both sail year-round from Miami, while Divina will move to Europe for summer cruises and cruise in Miami in winter.
In addition, MSC, which plans to expand its fleet by 12 new ships by 2026, just signed firm orders for two 4,560-passenger Seaside EVO (evolution) ships in 2021 and 2023. These have been designated for North America, raising capacity to the point where it is possible that the company will able to sail in Alaska “sooner rather than later,” according to executives from a New York event in late 2017.
Meanwhile, in 2018, Seaside will sail weeklong alternating Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises, calling on St. Thomas, the U.S. Virgin Islands; Antigua; and Nassau, Bahamas; or Ocho Rios, Jamaica; Grand Cayman, the Cayman Islands; Cozumel, Mexico; and Nassau.