MIAMI -- 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 honors 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
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
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, its 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
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-colored containers with the yellow MSC logo stamped
on the sides.