MSC Seaside christened in all-star affair

From left, MSC Seaside Capt. Pier Paolo Scala, godmother Sophia Loren and MSC executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago. Photo Credit: Ivan SarfattiMIAMI — MSC Cruises on Thursday held its first christening in North America for the MSC Seaside, a ship MSC hopes will crack open the doors to further growth for the largely European brand.

The 4,138-passenger ship will anchor MSC’s Caribbean itineraries with seven-day cruises from Miami, starting Jan 6.

MSC executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago said that the MSC Divina, offering weekly departures from Miami, sources only 40% to 50% of passengers from North America. With the arrival of the Seaside, MSC hopes to boost that number to 80%.

Geneva-based MSC has 12 ships, with deployment ranging from South America to the Middle East to South Africa to China. The bulk of its business, however, comes from Europe with the Mediterranean countries of Italy, Spain and France being particularly important.

The Seaside christening was a star-studded affair with Italian actress Sophia Loren serving as godmother for the ship on a balmy Miami evening. Loren christened the first new ship for MSC in 2003, the MSC Lirica, and has done the honours ever since.

“It’s an evening we’ve been waiting many months for,” said Roberto Fusaro, president of MSC Cruises USA.

Ricky Martin at the MSC Seaside christening. Photo Credit: Aaron Davidson/Getty Images
Ricky Martin at the MSC Seaside christening. Photo Credit: Aaron Davidson/Getty Images

Prior to the christening, an audience of more than 2,500 dignitaries, travel agents, journalists and vendors was entertained by operatic tenor Andrea Bocelli and Latin pop singer Ricky Martin.

Bocelli sang “Ave Maria,” solo at first and then with Voices of Haiti, a children’s choir of 60 Haitian kids that sang this summer at the Teatro del Silenzio concert in Bocelli’s hometown of Lajatico in Italy’s Tuscany region. They also sang “Amazing Grace” together in English.

The emcee of the evening was TV personality, Mario Lopez. Also on hand was Hall of Fame Miami Dolphin quarterback Dan Marino, underscoring MSC’s marketing partnership as the official cruise line of the Dolphins.

MSC announced a charitable partnership with the Andrea Bocelli Foundation to help the impoverished island of Haiti with health, education, environmental help and economic development.

The Seaside is a new class of ship for MSC, it’s fifth since it began building cruise ships for its own fleet in 2003. The ship has an unusually broad, uncovered promenade on Deck 8 that gives a sense of closeness to the ocean.

A pool on the aft of Deck 8 deck is surrounded by loungers and is connected by glass-enclosed elevators to another pool and sun area on Deck 16. Over that pool is a zipline, running from funnel to stern, the longest at sea at 400 feet.

Dan Marino gives a Miami Dolphins helmet to MSC Cruises USA President Roberto Fusaro. Photo Credit: Ivan Sarfatti
Dan Marino gives a Miami Dolphins helmet to MSC Cruises USA President Roberto Fusaro. Photo Credit: Ivan Sarfatti

The ship’s inaugural 14-night cruise departing Dec. 23 will visit Antigua and Barbuda; the U.S. Virgin Islands; Nassau, Bahamas; Jamaica; the Cayman Islands; and Cozumel, Mexico.

MSC is spending $12 billion to triple its capacity by 2026. “This is what has allowed us to have the tonnage to finally serve the North American market,” Vago said.

Mediterranean Shipping Co., the parent company of MSC, was founded in 1970 by a former ship captain, Gianluigi Aponte, and grew into a global power in the container shipping sector. It entered the cruise business in 1989 by acquiring Naples-based Lauro Lines, with its flagship the Achille Lauro.

At the christening, MSC Seaside was docked at Port Miami’s Terminal B, one terminal away from a massive MSC cargo ship, its decks stacked 10 deep with 2,500 maroon-coloured containers with the yellow MSC logo stamped on the sides.

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MSC Cruises Anticipates American and Chinese Expansions

MSC Cruises Anticipates American and Chinese Expansions
MSC Seaside, soon to home port in Miami; Florida

For a company like MSC Cruises with eleven new ships set to come online between 2017 and 2026 – contributing to a total $10.2 billion growth investment – it’s important to establish the firmest foundation possible in which to deploy in new markets, and both North America and China are still relatively new to the European line.

MSC Cruises has dedicated the MSC Divina to sailings roundtrip from Miami, Florida, but the line has vacillated on its year-round commitment – establishing it in 2013, leaving it temporarily and then returning again in 2015.

As it is, the Divina was an existing ship that was retrofitted for the U.S. market, and its success was questionable at the start. Initially, service and dining were particularly not up to standards, but the ship has much improved since then, making the Divina a wonderful Mediterranean experience in the Caribbean.

Now, the line is anticipating the launch of its MSC Seaside (rendered above) which, come December 2017, will be the line’s first ship to be exclusively based in the States from the very start, and with the ship’s launch will also coincide the opening of the line’s new Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve in the Bahamas.

With the island destination alone costing $200 million, there is a lot at stake for MSC Cruises in the Caribbean next year.

READ MORE: MSC Cruises Appoints President, Chairman to Lead North American Growth 

So, the line is making a fresh start with its North American leadership team. It is bolstering it up by effectively putting two in the driver’s seat: 12-year-veteran Rick Sasso becomes Chairman of MSC North America, and executive Roberto Fusaro takes the role of President of MSC North America after his success in South America on behalf of the cruise line.

“With the ultra-modern and beautiful MSC Divina home-porting in Miami, the revolutionary MSC Seaside to be christened in Miami in December 2017 and to also home-port there, as well as the development of Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve – the most exciting new private destination ever built by a cruise line – it is clear that MSC Cruises is committed to the North American market,” said Fusaro.

“I am honored to have the opportunity to take on this new challenge and excited to work with Rick and the rest of the North American team as we look to further grow our business in the region and deliver a unique vacation experience to guests on board one of the most modern and elegant fleets at sea.”

 Similarly in China, MSC Cruises has meanwhile opened up an office for the line in Shanghai, where its MSC Lirica has been recently deployed, and appointed Helen Huang as President of MSC Greater China. She comes to MSC after regional endeavors with Costa Asia and Costa China. As more and more cruise lines enter Asian markets, competition rapidly grows, and MSC Cruises’ new developments in China show that the company means business.

“I look forward to a new journey to contribute to making MSC Cruises – in the footsteps of what the company has already accomplished in China – the most attractive brand to Chinese vacationers,” added Huang.

Former Costa president named MSC Cruises boss

Former Costa president named MSC Cruises boss

Former Costa president named MSC Cruises bossFormer Costa Cruises president Gianni Onorato is moving to Italian rival MSC Cruises as chief executive.

He takes up the new role on September 2, with current chief executive Pierfrancesco Vago stepping up to become executive chairman.

Vago will continue to lead the privately-owned cruise company, while scaling up the scope of his duties, MSC said.

“From his new position, he will also oversee all the other companies of the MSC group that have strategic relevance to the tourism sector,” the company said.

Onorato, who stood down from Costa in June after more than nine years as president, has almost 30 years experience in the cruise industry.

He said: “I am thrilled to have been appointed to this exciting role and I am also particularly excited to move to Geneva, where the MSC Cruises headquarters is based.”

“I will do everything I can to add value to the company and help MSC Cruises maximise its industry-leading position. I look forward to starting work with the management team in this significant moment of the company’s growth.”

MSC Cruises runs a fleet of 12 ships and confirmed in July that former Carnival UK sales and customer delivery director Giles Hawke was joining as UK managing director on November 13.