The retirement of MSC Melody underscores one of the most remarkable transformations in the cruise business.
Starting at the back of the field, MSC Cruises has become a competitive force by spending massively on new ships.
When the Melody began sailing for the line in 1995, it was state-of-the-art for MSC, even though it was already 13 years old. The Melody’s main virtue was that it was newer than MSC’s other ships, the Rhapsody (1977) and the Monterey (1952).
With a small pool, no balconies and cramped public spaces, it arrived at Port Everglades about the time that Princess Cruises was designing the 3,100-passenger Caribbean Princess.
MSC's parent company, Mediterranean Shipping Co., is huge in the container shipping business but was just a tiny player in the cruise sector. It recognized it would have to either commit in a big way to cruising or get out.
In 2003, it began planning for the $275 million Lyrica, and in 2004 it moved its U.S. headquarters from New Jersey to Fort Lauderdale to be closer to the pulse of the industry.
The 1,580-passenger Lyrica was MSC’s first new-out-of the-box ship. It wasn’t the biggest ship in the Caribbean, but it was big enough and, more importantly, new enough, to command a decent price. At the same time, an 11-night cruise at $999 was enough of a bargain to fill easily.
From there, it went on to build the Opera, and to acquire the Armonia and Sinfonia from the now-defunct Festival Cruises. MSC now has 11 ships, with an average age of a little over five years, going from perhaps the oldest fleet in the industry to the youngest in two decades.
The 30-year-old Melody has reached the end of its useful life at MSC. In a few months MSC will take delivery of Preziosa, which at 139,400 gross tons is at the upper end of the size spectrum for any cruise company. The exit of one and the entrance of the other shows how far MSC has come.
It will be interesting to see what the next 20 years hold.