MSC Cruises

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MSC Cruises fleet

Review of MSC Cruises

MSC Cruises is a global cruise company based in Switzerland, with headquarters in Geneva and Naples. MSC is the largest privately-owned cruise company in the world, with offices in 45 countries and 15,500 employees worldwide. MSC Crociere S.p.A. (Italian) is part of the Mediterranean Shipping Company S.A. (MSC), which is the 2nd biggest container shipping operator in the world. MSC Cruises is the world's 4th largest cruise company, after Carnival Corp. & plc, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines with 5.2% share of all cruise passengers carried in 2015.

MSC Cruises logo

Originally founded by Achille Lauro as Lauro Lines, the company entered cruise business in the 1960s. Initially, MSC operated two ships, ms Achille Lauro and Angelina Lauro, both of which had fiery ends. After Angelina Lauro burnt in Saint Thomas in 1979,  Flotta Lauro (Lauro Lines), met with bad times, operating only Achille Lauro. In 1985, ms Achille Lauro was hijacked by Palestine Liberation Front's members, and the much-publicised event led to dropped passenger numbers. Mediterranean Shipping Company purchased Flotta Lauro in 1989, and renamed it StarLauro Cruises. Achille Lauro caught fire and sank in 1994. In 1995, the company changed its name to MSC Cruises.

In 2014 MSC Cruises announced that its four Lirica class ships were scheduled for renovation under the line's "Renaissance Programme" (USD 273 million investment). Four ships (Armonia, Lirica, Opera, Sinfonia) were stretched / elongated by 25 m (80 ft).

MSC cruise ship stretching (Armonia, Lirica, Opera, Sinfonia)

All ship-reconstruction works were done during drydock refits done at Fincantieri shipyard Palermo Sicily (between 2014 August 31 and 2015 November 17).

MSC cruise ship stretching (Armonia, Lirica, Opera, Sinfonia)

In 2015, the company offered four new ships from STX France and Fincantieri Italy, with an option for three more. The first two vessels are due to be delivered in 2017 - MSC Meraviglia in May and MSC Seaside in November.

MSC Meraviglia-class cruise ship

On February 1, 2016 MSC announced it would build two new mega ships, able to carry up to 6,300 cruise passengers at full capacity. The two newbuilds, called “Meraviglia Plus” class, will have 200 additional cabins and be 16 meters longer compared to the Meraviglia class ships, with a total of 2,444 staterooms.

MSC Seaside-class cruise ship

Meraviglia Plus vessels will be due for delivery in November 2019 and April 2020. It's not confirmed where the two will be based. According to CEO Gianni Onorato, "despite their size, they can fit into any port around the world". 

MSC also announced new features on the two ships, including the first at sea fine art museum, featuring original artworks. The additional space would allow for a bigger, 111-meter long indoor promenade, and a huge LED screen, now 95 meters by 6 meters. The extra space will shelter an extra two restaurants. 

The line has already confirmed partnership with both Samsung, which will provide the technology, and Cirque du Soleil, which will perform a show onboard. 

Whether new ship or old, the company of MSC Cruises emphasizes an Italian-influenced ambience. Its ships, for the most part, traverse the Mediterranean during winter and summer months, and are geared to European cruisers. The line has made a commitment to not only travel elsewhere (Canada/New England, South America, the Caribbean, the Gulf, South Africa), but also to expand passenger base by including English-speaking vacationers. In fact, MSC Cruises is committed to expansion, and deployed one of its newest cruise ships, MSC Divina, to sail from Miami year-round, which began in November 2013. However, after years basing a ship, MSC Opera in the United Kingdom, the line pulled out completely in 2015 and concentrated on its core business of Mediterranean fly-cruise sailings. 

Because of the line's international passenger base, onboard announcements are generally read in Italian, Spanish, French, German and English. Mealtimes follow a more traditional cruise schedule with set dining times and seatmates. A handful of optional eateries include a buffet, sushi and an Italian restaurant. 

MSC Cruises ships offer standout evening entertainment, from classical concerts and jazz to contemporary dance music and Cirque du Soleil-esque aerobatic shows. MSC sailings are typically priced at value-oriented levels, but the ships offer an unprecedented range of amenities and services that cost extra, such as fees for port shuttles, a la carte menus, and more.

MSC cruise ship virtual reality tours

Samsung and MSC Cruises developed a cutting-edge virtual reality tool for touring MSC ships. The new technology was announced during at Expo Milano 2015 (May 1 through October 31, 2015).

  • With this innovative technology, MSC made available to the company's top European sellers (travel agencies) a powerful tool for introducing the MSC travel experience to potential customers.
  • The technology is based on Samsung's "Gear VR" headsets (powered by Oculus) plus a custom-built software app. Potential MSC passengers can walk through any cruise ship in the fleet without setting foot on board. The tool allows "walking" through 6 key onboard areas (including staterooms, restaurants, pools, theatre / also watching a show). The 360-degree sensory experience even brings aromas in the air (when observing an onboard restaurant) - such as fresh-baked bread, fresh fruits, chocolate.
  • The virtual cruise ship tour technology uses software and hardware by AxedGroup. The virtual ship tour app runs on Samsung Galaxy Note phones.
  • Other experiences include tours of new (prototype) MSC ships *currently under construction).

MSC Cruises private islands - Sir Bani Yas, Ocean Cay

In the end of 2015, MSC Cruises unveiled plans to develop an "unprecedented exclusive marine reserve island experience in the Bahamas." The project was launched in Nassau, where Perry Christie, Prime Minister and Pierfrancesco Vago, MSC Cruises Executive Chairman signed a 100-year lease agreement, enabling MSC Cruises to occupy and develop the island, to be called Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve.

MSC Cruises Ocean Cay Island port

The 2-year project will come at $200 million. At 95-acres in size, as well as being the only marine reserve island experience, with 11,400 feet of beach front spread across 6 beaches, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve will become the biggest island development by any cruise company in the Caribbean. Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve will open to guests in December 2017.

In June 2016, MSC Cruises announced it had created an exclusive "beach oasis" for vacationers on Abu Dhabi and Dubai cruises from 2016-2017 winter. The 1.5-mile stretch of land on the natural Sir Bani Yas island, off the southwest coast of Abu Dhabi, features shaded cabanas, hundreds of palm trees and over 2,000 sunbeds across 387,500 sq.feet of beaches.

Sir Bani Yas island

  • Starting from December 2016, MSC Fantasia adds the destination, available exclusively to MSC Cruises passengers when the cruise ship calls at the island, to Emirates itineraries. The development is on a smaller isle connected to the main island by wooden boardwalk allowing exclusive access to MSC Cruises' passengers.
  • Other facilities include: food, refreshments, MSC Aurea Spa area with a menu of massages, sports facilities (beach volleyball, tennis), family and kids-dedicated area with parents’ pergola, Bedouin tent offering arts & crafts created by local communities, lounge space with live music and a bar. The MSC Cruises company has been working closely with ecologists and Abu Dhabi Port Authorities for more than 2 years to develop the project and support the ongoing preservation work.
  • The isle is one of the largest wildlife reserves in the region due to decades of conservation work and ecological investment to maintain its biodiversity. The Arabian Wildlife Park on the Sir Bani Yas main island is home to over 13,000 endangered and indigenous animals, as well as millions of plants and trees. The first sailing of the winter season departs on December 3, 2016 and calls at the isle on December 5. Prices start at US$719 per person for a 7-night voyage this winter on MSC Fantasia.
  • In July 2016, Costa Cruises announced the Sir Bani Yas Island will be added as 1-day stopover (port of call) on UAE Cruises' (season 2016-2017) on the Costa neoRiviera ship. Costa passengers will have access to a private (Costa exclusive) beach with VIP areas with cabanas. Other shore excursion options are jeep safaris in the wildlife park, sea kayaking, diving and snorkelling.

Itinerary of MSC Cruises

In Europe, from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, MSC ships attract a strong European crowd with U.K.- and Ireland-based travelers becoming increasingly well-represented. The Caribbean sailings of the line are geared more strongly to vacationers from North America.

With its new-builds, MSC Cruises attracts a large number of retirees during the winter, while its efforts to appeal to families during the summer and school holidays end with lots of children at those times. The more classic vessels of the line which offer longer, more exotic itineraries and lack state-of-the-art kids' facilities, are tailored to older cruisers.

In the end of 2015 MSC Cruises announced that MSC Seaside, which will sail from Port Miami, is open for booking. The cruise ship will sail year-round from Miami with 7-night Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries. Passengers who sail to the Eastern Caribbean will visit Saint Thomas, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas, while those who head to the Western Caribbean will explore the Bahamas, Cozumel, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. The first sailing will be the December 21, 2017 Christmas cruise.

Docking at a newly expanded and renovated dedicated berth and terminal at Port Miami, MSC Seaside joins the ultramodern MSC Divina in servicing North American market.

MSC Cruises is also examining the idea of offering more regular 2018 sailings from the United Kingdom. MSC chief executive, Gianni Onorato, announced it would make sense to return to regular UK sailings when the line adds more ships to the fleet.

MSC returned to the United Kingdom with a series of short cruises from Southampton UK, with MSC Splendida offering six departures. Onorato didn't specify on which cruise ship or which class would be based in UK waters, but previously stated he would prefer it to be one of the newer ships of the line.

These comments came as MSC Cruises held a coin ceremony for its Meraviglia in Saint Nazaire shipyard in France. The ship launches in 2017 and will be christened on June 1 in La Harve, before spending her inaugural season offering sailings from Marseille. MSC Meraviglia will be based in Hamburg for 2018 summer season. Thus, the vessel will become the largest cruise ship ever to be homeported there. Meraviglia will operate along with MSC Magnifica. In 2018 MSC Cruises will also return to the United Kingdom with MSC Magnifica sailing her first full season ex-UK program. The ship, launched in 2009, will make Southampton home for 8 months, from April until November.

In September 2016, MSC Cruises announced it will deploy a 2nd ship to China in order to meet growing demand. From May 2018 MSC Splendida will serve the Chinese market following dry dock refurbishment planned for 2017. The 4,363-passenger ship, built in 2009, will call at popular cruise destinations in Japan, Korea and China.

MSC Cruises will boast its first cruise from Dubai to Japan. The spectacular 28-night voyage will bring passengers to various major cities in 2018. MSC Splendida will embark on this cruise from March 31, 2018 for this holiday through Asia. The new cruise from Dubai to Japan will visit the UAE, Oman, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Hong Kong, China and Japan.

The move follows opening of an MSC office in Shanghai with new management and operations team. According to the line, at 137,936 GT, MSC Splendida will be one of the biggest, most modern vessels operating in the region. The ship will join MSC Lirica, operating from China since May. Lirica recently moved its homeport to Tianjin, to serve north China market during winter months.

The new MSC Seaview heads to Santos, Brazil for winter 2018-2019 following her debut season in the Mediterranean. Prior to that, the ship will spends an inaugural season homeporting in Genoa, with week-long cruises with calls in Malta, Spain, France and Italy.

MSC Splendida will not re-position to China, and will sail back from Shanghai for 2018-2019 winter season in the Middle East, to sail from Dubai on week-long cruises.

MSC Meraviglia will sail in Northern Europe 2018, with Hamburg as a turn-around port during summer. The MSC Divina will also leave her year-round post in Miami to offer the 2018 summer season via seven-day cruises from Genoa, with alternative embarkation in Rome, Valencia and Marseille. The Seaside will stay in Miami for 2018, and the Divina will be back in the Caribbean for the 2018-2019 winter.

In November 2016, MSC Cruises announced its first-ever world cruise, departing on MSC Magnifica from Genoa on January 5, 2019, and sailing for 119 days, with calls at 49 ports in 32 different countries. The line has arranged extended stays in ports that no other cruise companies offer, including 4 full days in Polynesia, 3 full days in both San Francisco and Hawaii, and 2 full days in Los Angeles.

In February 2017, MSC officially announced that In 2019, a small fleet of 3 MSC ships will offer Caribbean roundtrips from Miami FloridaSeasideMeraviglia and Divina.

In March 2017 MSC Cruises revealed its North American expansion that will bring 3 ships to the United States by 2019. While MSC Divina now sails from Miami, MSC Seaside will start year-round sailing out of Miami from December 2017. Starting fall 2019, MSC Meraviglia, debuting in Europe in summer 2017, will join the two vessels sailing the winter season in Caribbean from Miami. Meraviglia and Seaside will sail year-round while MSC Divina will return to Mediterranean in 2020.

Asia cruises 2018

In late April 2017, MSC Cruises announced its plans to deploy one of the fleet's largest vessels (tba) to Japan - starting operations in May 2018. MSC will operate itineraries roundtrip from homeport Yokohama to Kanazawa and Kagoshima.

Free cruises 2017

In 2017, MSC Cruises started offering a super deal for the company's potential customers celebrating a birthday. The deal is a complimentary (free) cruise if your birthday is during selected itineraries.

The itineraries are in destinations in Europe (Mediterranean, Baltic) and Caribbean. Birthday passengers can extend their complimentary voyage with combined (B2B) itineraries with length 14 to 22 nights.

However, the cruise booking must have at least 1 paying passenger and max 1 birthday passenger. His/her birthday must fall on one of the itinerary days, excluding the arrival/departure days. The special offer is subject to selected availability. Bookings must be made prior to Match 10, 2017.

MSC Cuba cruises from Havana

In December 2015 MSC Cruises announced the company will further strengthen its presence in Cuba by homeporting a 2nd ship in Havana from Winter 2016-2017 season, due to rising demand. From November 2016, MSC Armonia joined MSC Opera for the entire season.

In January 2016 MSC became the 1st global cruise line to homeport in Havana, with MSC Opera sailing to Jamaica, Mexico and the Cayman Islands. MSC Armonia operates on 8-day (7-night) itineraries, visiting ports in Central America and the Caribbean:

 

Cuban itineraries on MSC Opera are leaving roundtrip from Havana. The current list of passenger shipping lines offering cruises to Cuba includes:

  • Carnival Paradise leaving from Tampa Florida - cheapest prices (from USD 480 pp)
  • Royal Caribbean (ship Empress of the Seas, leaving from Miami Florida)
  • Holland America (ship Veendam) leaving from Fort Lauderdale since December 2017
  • Oceania Cruises (ships Marina and Regatta) starting in 2017, Cuba circumnavigation, stops in Cienfuegos and Havana, also part of some Panama Canal transition itineraries.
  • NCL (ship Norwegian Sky, 4-day itineraries with Havana overnights - starting May 2017.
  • Azamara Cruises (ship on Azamara Quest from Miami)
  • Thomson Cruises (ship Thomson Dream) 7-day, leaving roundtrip from Jamaica (Montego Bay) to Havana
  • Compagnie du Ponant (yacht ship Le Ponant, leaving from Miami Florida)
  • Pearl Seas Cruises (ship Pearl Mist, leaving from Fort Lauderdale Florida)
  • Lindblad Expeditions (chartered sailing ship MS Panorama II, leaving from Havana)
  • Celestyal Cruises (ship Celestyal Crystal, leaving from Havana and Montego Bay Jamaica)
  • Grand Circle Cruise Line (ship MV Clio / ex Tere Moana) one-way from Miami to Havana, or the reverse from Havana to Miami (embarkation/disembarkation in port Cienfuegos).
  • International Expeditions (leaving from Havana, charter flights out of Miami)
  • Victory Cruise Lines - MS  Victory I (former MS Saint Laurent) - fly-cruises from Miami to Havana (home-port Cienfuegos /departures)
  • Note: According to the current Cuban law, US citizens of Cuban origin (born in Cuba) are not allowed to visit the island country (including on cruise ships). Regardless of their US citizenship status, Cuban-born Americans were denied booking on cruise itineraries visiting ports in Cuba. However, the situation changed in April 2016, after Carnival Corporation negotiated with the Cuban government for allowing ships with Cuban-born passengers, as such US citizens are allowed to visit the country on USA-Cuba charter flights. The Carnival-fathom line started Miami to Cuba cruises in May 2016.
  • Alaska Airlines offers regular nonstop flights to Havana from Los Angeles (California USA). An 80-min ling JetBlue flight from Fort  Lauderdale (Florida) to Havana costs less than USD 100. Previously, air travel from USA to Cuba was thought charter flights only.

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