Look Out North America, Here Comes MSC

Bruce Parkinson, Open Jaw

You likely know that Geneva-based, Italian-founded MSC is in the midst of an unprecedented, multi-billion-dollar cruise ship building spree. Currently operating 14 ships, there are 10 more coming by 2026, including some of the biggest cruise vessels every built.

But here in North America, the headline story is MSCs major push to challenge the big three lines of Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian.

To date, MSC has only had one ship in the North American market at a time, but that changes when MSC Seaside joins MSC Divina in Miami on 21DEC. The 4,138-passenger Seaside is the first MSC ship to have an English name, and the first new-build to head straight to North America from the shipyard.

In fall 2019, the pair will be joined by a seasonal deployment of the MSC Meraviglia, giving MSC three ships in Miami for winter 2019-20 with a weekly combined capacity of over 12,000 pax. Meraviglia will also make a high-profile visit to New York City that fall, with a maiden call 7OCT, 2019 followed by three sailings departing from the Big Apple.

More evidence of the lines determination to join the big players is the 95-acre private island under development near Bimini, which will serve all of those vessels. The island has six different beaches and will feature a private island-first in the form of a 2,000 seat amphitheatre.

As CruiseCritic and other cruise publications point out, MSC Cruises has historically received low marks from North Americans in the areas of food, service and entertainment. Yet Europeans and other nationalities love the product, including entertainment that has traditionally been mostly nonverbal in order to communicate with a wide range of groups.

MSC says it is proud of its Mediterranean roots and wants them to be part of the cruise experience, but CEO Gianni Onorato believes the line can do that while delivering a product desirable to North Americans. "North America is huge, and we want a piece of the cake," he said.

Theyre definitely pulling out all the stops. MSC has a dedicated team for North America covering everything from marketing, public relations and human resources to hotel operations and sales. The U.S.-based ships will give Americans the bigger steaks they want and keep the whole fish for the Europeans. And entertainment will include comedy shows, live concerts and Broadway-style performances.

Early reviews suggest Seaside will turn some North American heads. CruiseCritic Editor Ashley Kosciolek wrote:

There's a lot to love about MSC Seaside, from its classy, modern decor and creative, flexible entertainment to its three-part Asian restaurant experience, spectacular kids club and plethora of outdoor spaces, including a water park with four slides.

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