For MSC in North America, the future is finally here. For years, the Swiss-based company's messaging to the Canadian and U.S. trade has centered around its future growth plans.
But the 4,132-passenger MSC Seaside has been cruising from Miami since last December, and MSC Divina, with a capacity (doubles) of 3,502 passengers, is returning to Miami in October. Next comes the 1,952-pax MSC Armonia starting seven-day year-round cruises ex-Miami in December, meaning that MSC will have three different classes of ships operating at once from the Florida port this winter.
Hence, MSC has effectively arrived.
Make no mistake, Armonia, whose name means 'Harmony' in both Spanish and Italian, is not likely to be confused with MSC's newer ships.
For example, there's quite a difference between Armonia and MSC Meravigilia. Following three sailings from New York next year, the latter 4,488-pax ship, will begin homeporting from Miami in DEC 2019.
The 2017-built Meraviglia is 171,000 tons with a whopping 1,274 balconies. In contrast, the 2001-built Armonia is 65,542 tons and has 94 balconies.
But the fact that Armonia doesn't have as many balconies or other ballyhooed facilities found on MSC's newer ships may not matter in this instance. Due to berth size limitations, ships calling in Cuba can't be as big as Seaside, and a key feature of Armonia's program is an extended call in Havana, including an overnight.
Armonia's year-round service departs from Miami Mondays and heads to points west (Montego Bay, Georgetown, and Cozumel) before winding up in Havana for the weekend and then returning to Miami on Monday morning.
"The unique thing that we're offering [for a large ship line] is to have Saturday and Sunday in Havana with an overnight," says Bonnie Levengood, Senior VP Marketing for MSC USA. "The overnight is Saturday night, which is very key."
She elaborates: "There are quite a few things in Havana that are only open on the weekends. Also, some special locations, nightclubs, and restaurants that are open during the week are certainly more vibrant on the weekend."
Nicely, there won't be an early morning Sunday departure--MSC won't leave Havana until 5 p.m. Sunday.
"You can definitely go on a shore excursion on Sunday--there's quite a bit of time to enjoy on Sunday as well as on Saturday," points out Levengood.
Time of arrival in Havana on Saturday varies. Initial sailings (DEC 2018-APR 2019) are arriving at 1 p.m. Following that, MSC has multiple sailings arriving at 10 a.m.
That weekend schedule, not berth limitations in Cuba, is the reason why Armonia is departing from Miami on Monday. "We have more berthing rights than any other cruise line in Havana," says Levengood, "which enables us to choose the perfect itinerary. The idea for our passengers to experience the full weekend in Havana is why there's so much popularity for this particular itinerary."
As with Divina and Seaside, she said that the source market will primarily be North American pax.
Though it was built in 2001, Levengood points out that Armonia will be one of the younger ships going to Cuba in 2019. "The Armonia is a very elegant ship," she says. "Just to give a comparison, it's 11 years younger than the Empress of the Sea from Royal, so if you think about it in terms of age, it's definitely one of the best options to tour Cuba."
Plus, Levengood continues, the ship was extensively redone in 2014: "During that time, we put in 200 staterooms, built a fantastic pool for children that has water cannons and sprayers and all sorts of outdoor entertainment. Also, the coolest thing is Lego playrooms for kids. It's highly popular among our guests."
She sums up that the investment in North America is huge. "We have three ships at the end of this year, a fourth ship to be added next year, and we will also have our private destination, the Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, coming in."