The line’s newest ship, the MSC Seaside, was conceived 12 years ago by a visionary Fincantieri engineer, but it languished because no cruise line wanted it, according to MSC Cruises CEO Gianni Onorato.
To start with, the ship’s funnel was in the middle, not the back. That alone spooked buyers worried that soot would rain down on sunbathers gathered around the Deck 16 swimming pool behind it.
The design had an oddly narrowed tower of cabins in the back, opening space for a broad, uncovered promenade on Deck 8 and an expansive platform at the very aft where another pool was placed. A pair of glass-walled elevators connected the two pool decks.
When Onorato saw the plans, he knew he’d found something that wouldn’t be mistaken for any other cruise ship afloat.
“This is what we wanted,” Onorato said.
I had a chance to experience the nearly completed Seaside on a short cruise from Fincantieri’s yard in Monfalcone, Italy, to Trieste, about 20 minutes away. I came away thinking that passengers are going to want to try this ship, which is just the response MSC is seeking in its ongoing bid for recognition in North America.
Start with that rear profile, which MSC likens to a Miami Beach condo. It wastes space extravagantly, but it looks very cool. And from my cabin on Deck 15, I could descend to poolside in about 30 seconds.
MSC intends to sail the Seaside in the Caribbean from Miami year-round starting on Dec. 23. The ship has what seems like acres of open space on the top deck, ideal for sun-searchers from cold climates.
Onorato said new exhaust scrubber technologies solve the soot problem. There’s a giant LED screen for videos. And the pool on Deck 16 can be covered at night, creating a dance space beneath the tropical stars.
The midship funnel on the Seaside is the starting point for one of the ship’s neatest features, a 344-foot zip line that threads riders through two sets of giant hoops before ending on an aft platform.
Several waterslides also start on the funnel structure, including one in which passengers ride a board that transmits electronic data, turning it into an interactive video game.
Inside, the design of the Seaside carries on some of the themes of MSC’s first year-round North American ship, the MSC Divina. The Seaside has lots of shiny, sparkly metallic surfaces and an assertively neutral colour palette consisting mainly of white, black, grey and beige, with maroon in the carpets.
The levels of a four-story open atrium are linked by stairs that feature transparent steps embedded with tiny white lights and Swarovski crystals. Large LED screens with changing displays adorn the main wall of the atrium.
But the Seaside differs from the Divina, too.
The Seaside’s MSC Yacht Club luxury enclave is larger and, unlike on Divina, it includes a restaurant. The two-story Top Sail Lounge has magnificent forward views. (If you’re not staying in the Yacht Club, the Seaside has no public views from the bow).
There’s a trio of speciality restaurants (seafood, steak and Asian) on Deck 16, which creates a foodie destination, according to Onorato. The theatre is smaller, but there will be more frequent shows, giving diners the flexibility to eat when they want and still catch the entertainment.
And then there’s that promenade, which brings cruisers as close to the water as they’re likely to get on a 4,138-passenger vessel.
Inside the ship, one sure-to-be-talked-about feature is the wall of liquid chocolate in the Venchi 1878 Chocolate Bar, which sends a sweet fragrance of chocolate wafting through several decks around it.
Although it is not entirely original, I liked the two-lane, full-size bowling alley in the arcade on Deck 7. I also enjoyed the Garage Club, a ’50s car-themed room that is a teen club by day and a bar at night.
One thing yet to be determined on the Seaside is whether MSC has tailored the food and service to American sensibilities. Onorato said it has. He said past perceptions of indifferent service and Euro-centric foods are the legacy of a time when the North American market was an afterthought for Geneva-based MSC.
That changed several years ago, Onorato said, and the Seaside will reflect all that MSC has learned about appealing to North American passengers. The reality, he said, is that improvements have been made and should be evident onboard the Seaside.
“Obviously, it takes time for those improvements to be fully acknowledged by everyone,” he said.