Thirteen years and twelve ships since MSC Cruises started its quest to become a dominant force in the North American market, the cruise line is getting ready to make a splash with three ships set to sail out of Florida by the end of 2018.
“We are ready to make the further step to North America,” executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago told reporters at Seatrade Global Conference in Fort Lauderdale this week.
Of the 11 ships that MSC has on order, two will debut this year when Meraviglia hits the water in June and Seaside does the same in December.
Seaside, dubbed “the ship that follows the sun” for its Caribbean focus, will be the first of two new builds heading to the North American market. Meraviglia will then join Seaside in the fall 2018 and is “coming here to stay,” president of MSC North America Roberto Fusaro said. Those ships will join MSC Divina, which is already homeporting in Miami.
“Three ships, two of them year round, our three newest classes of ships [will show] the best of shipbuilding can offer,” he added.
Initially, MSC focused its growth the company’s “back garden”—Europe—and that’s reflected in its numbers. Of the 1.8 million guests that cruised with MSC last year, only 10%, or around 200,000, sailed in North America.
But, according to Vago, “supply drives demand” and the cruise lines believes that putting new additions and expanding in North America will inevitably drive those numbers up.
Part of the expansion was finding the right partners and MSC believes it did that when it signed agreements with Cirque du Soleil, Samsung and Hewlett Packard, all of which will have products onboard MSC ships.
“We want to ensure that we are able to elevate the guests experience with qualified partners,” chief executive officer Gianni Onorato said.
MSC invested $20 million to accommodate Cirque du Soleil at Sea onboard its ships, building an exclusive on-site dinner lounge for up to 100 guests booked for each show.
Executives told reporters that MSC for Me, the program that includes new wearable technology and a mobile device app, will not only debut on all new builds, but will be retrofitted to the rest of the cruise line’s fleet.
MSC for Me will have five basic functions for guests. The first, it will help them navigate ships with interactive maps and real-time monitoring of kids via the wearable technology. The second is a concierge service that gives guests access to online booking services for restaurants, excursions and more. Then, there’s an organizer function that will allow pre-cruise bookings and mobile check-ins to allow guests to make the most of their time.
New VR technology will also allow guests to see experiences in real time, including photo galleries showing an ongoing story of a sailing. And last, MSC for Me will allow personalized recommendations and face recognition to help staff take care of every need.
The team also said that while the focus on MSC’s move to North America has been the Caribbean, they have plans to bring the ships to many other North American destinations, including homeporting a ship in New York “sooner rather than later.”
“We will have lots of opportunity for our American guests,” Fusaro said. “We are certainly looking at all options.”