It’s Different This Time; MSC’s Return to Year-Round Caribbean

Cruise Week

With the return to year-round Caribbean cruising and the recent announcement that it will develop a private Bahamian island, it’s a significant time for MSC, the world’s largest privately-held cruise line.

With Divina now homeporting in Miami and the line’s newest, biggest ship MSC Seaside arriving in late 2017, MSC is ramping up its efforts to court the North American cruise market.

The good news is that retail leaders say customers are responding more positively to the product than they did to the brand’s 1st go-round with year-round Caribbean cruising.

What’s different this time?

“They’ve improved the service,” says Michelle Fee, President & CEO of Cruise Planners. “Before, this ship travelled in and out of the U.S. Now every time you take staff on board, they are used to catering to the North American market.”
Fee says staff would previously cater to Europeans on one sailing, North Americans on another. “I think it mixed them up a little bit. Now, for the 1st time, they’ve been in this market for a while and service has improved, and that’s attracting repeats. Our sales are doing very well with them.”

Cruise Week’s Art Sbarsky recently sailed on Divina’s Eastern Caribbean itinerary.MSC Divina is like a floating Italian island in a region where such a thing doesn’t exist. There are islands of Dutch, French, English, Spanish and American orientation but nothing Italian. So the ship fulfills a niche for year-round Miami sailings,” Sbarsky says.

Sbarsky’s cruise carried 3,852 pax (max. cap. 4,345) with about 60% from the U.S. and Canada, the other 40% an even split between U.K., German and Spanish origin. Senior officers were mostly Italian, but crew are from 52 different nations.

”It’s a very lively ship, both inside and outside, with a positive, energetic vibe,” says Sbarsky. “The size plays a role here. Gross tonnage is at 139,400, with a space ratio at 40 and guest/crew at 2.5, both of which fit comfortably in the large ship range.
“The ship was never overwhelmed on the 3 days at sea, perhaps because activities ranging from dance classes to language lessons were all well attended. The pools do get crowded on sea days, but adjacent areas and the upper level seemed to have lounge chairs all day long.”

Sbarsky says signature elements of the MSC experience can be found in the areas of entertainment and dining.

“In chatting with vacationers on board, the 2 things mentioned most often as highlights were the entertainment and the buffets, especially those for lunch, dinner and late night, featuring lots of Italian items. Every show I went to was performed before a very large, enthusiastic audience with standing ovations at every show.”

MSC caters to its international crowd with largely non-verbal shows, held in the 1,600-seat Pantheon Theater, which the line says is the largest showroom at sea. “While most of the songs overall are sung in English, there’s an Italian night, a French show and loosely-themed Swing and Treasure Island shows. Plus, various acrobat/novelty acts appeal equally to all nationalities.”    

Sbarsky says that while the main dining room features a wide range of Italian dishes there are also plenty of non-Italian items.

Summing up, Sbarsky says MSC Divina may not be as feature-driven as some of the newer ships from Norwegian or Royal Caribbean. “But it’s got everything couples or families could need for an Italian-themed vacation. And from insides to the Yacht Club, prices are very competitive to boot.”

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