MSC Cruises will muscle its way into luxury cruising, using its deep pockets to order four new 64,000-ton cruise ships that for the first time will move it beyond the large-ship contemporary segment.
At 1,000-passengers each, the ships will be on the large end of the luxury continuum. MSC said it signed a memorandum of understanding with the Italian shipyard Fincantieri that it said was worth more than $2 billion.
Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC, said the step is a natural evolution of the MSC Yacht Club, the line's luxury enclave on its big ships.
"These ships will be able to offer unique itineraries, thanks to their size, and the guest services will be taken to another level, including our personalized MSC Yacht Club butler service, available 24/7," Vago said.
The first of the four ships would arrive in 2023, joining an increasingly crowded field. Three ships of a similar size, although 20% smaller passenger capacity, are scheduled to be built for luxury operator Crystal Cruises starting in 2022.
Silversea Cruises just ordered two new luxury ships of unspecified size for delivery starting in 2022. Even before that, Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas Cruises have newbuilds coming in 2019 and 2020.
All of the large cruise holding companies that have both contemporary ships and luxury vessels operate them as independent brands. MSC would be distinct in operating a mono-brand with different levels of exclusivity.
"We are now introducing another new class, which will establish a new standard of ultra-luxury at sea with ships that will showcase the quality and highest standards that are associated with Made in Italy," a statement from Vago said.
After the prototype is delivered in the spring of 2023, the remaining three ships will come into service one per year over the following three years, MSC said.
While not offering many specifics, MSC said the ships will feature the latest environmental technology and other cutting-edge maritime solutions at sea. They will also showcase "highly-innovative design as well as introduce ground-breaking options for guest comfort and relaxation," it said.
The key-card access MSC Yacht Club section on many of MSC's large ships such as the MSC Divina, features priority boarding, butler service, a private restaurant, pool and lounge, larger suites with walk-in closets, and a curving staircase between levels in the Yacht Club lobby embedded with Swarovski crystals.