ONBOARD THE MSC SEASIDE --
The basic concept for 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
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.
MSC likens the aft design to a Miami Beach condo. The suites there overlook a broad pool area on Deck 8. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
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 zipline that threads riders
through two sets of giant hoops before ending on an aft platform.
The four-story atrium features stairs with transparent steps embedded with Swarovski crystals and tiny lights. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
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
color palette consisting mainly of white, black, gray and beige, with maroon in
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
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).
The Deck 16 pool can be covered at night to turn it into a dance floor. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
There's a trio of specialty restaurants (seafood, steak and
Asian) on Deck 16, which creates a foodie destination, according to Onorato.
The theater 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.