MSC partnerships emphasize Italian identity

By Tom Stieghorst

Bartender Vikram Sonawane prepares coffee drinks at Segafredos Cafe Italia, aboard the MSC Divina.MSC Cruises has forged branded partnerships with a half-dozen Italian products to maintain and enhance its Italian flair as it expands beyond its European base.

The partnerships play an especially important role on the MSC Divina, which just made its debut in Miami, where it is scheduled to cruise year-round through November.

On the Divina, MSC has made a conscious effort to play down some of the European aspects of its standard cruise to accommodate the tastes of the U.S. passenger. So smoking is much more limited, American dishes like pancakes are on the menu, the multilingual announcements are minimized and there are fewer European passengers.

To keep the Italian flair, MSC has partnered with food and drink purveyors ranging from the Nutella hazelnut spread, originated in Alba, to Disaronno, an almond-flavored amaretto liqueur, produced in Saronno.

A big hit on a recent preview cruise was the pool-deck gelateria, which rotates through 14 cream and 17 sorbet flavors. MSC partnered with Vinchi, based in Turin, to run the gelateria.

"We've gone out of our way to create these unique branded partnerships," said Rick Sasso, president of MSC Cruises USA. "These are a number of unique, very high-quality Italian brands, and that's going to help us showcase the quality we're going after."

One purveyor with a reputation for quality is Eataly, the emporium that debuted in Turin in 2007. It now has an outlet in Manhattan and is scheduled to open Dec. 2 in Chicago.

Eataly's 10-point "Manifesto" calls quality products "the secret to quality of life." On the Divina, it operates a small marketplace filled with artisanal Italian goods and two restaurants. One is a 115-seat, a la carte steakhouse, with entrees priced in the $20-to-$30 range. The other, Ristorante Italia, is a 24-seat, dinner-only hideaway with a four-course prix fixe menu.

Elsewhere on the ship, Segafredo Zanetti coffee is served at several bars and cafes and showcased in Caffe Italia, where it is an ingredient in cappuccinos and chocolate specialty drinks. The Disaronno liqueur is featured in its own bar next to Divina's infinity pool.

Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly. 

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