MIAMI BEACH — MSC Cruises is putting more of its growing capacity in North America starting in 2017 by sending a newbuild directly from the shipyard to Miami to sail the Caribbean year-round.
At 154,000 gross tons and 4,140 passengers, double capacity, the MSC Seaside will be in the same league as the largest vessels sailed by any cruise line, with the exception of Royal Caribbean International's Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas.
When the Seaside arrives, it will give MSC, a Mediterranean-focused line with world headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, two large ships in Miami during the winter months, with the MSC Divina sailing seasonally.
Ken Muskat, executive vice president of sales, public relations and guest services for MSC Cruises USA, said the line's marketing, sales force and public relations will all be amped up correspondingly.
"When Seaside goes on sale, we will have much more travel agent support, much more brand awareness and much more consumer marketing" than is currently the case, Muskat said. "We will have exposed many more people to the product."
That should encourage better pricing for the Seaside, Muskat said, a crucial factor for agents.
In 2013, when MSC brought the Divina to Miami, it coincided with a large buildup in Caribbean capacity by all the major brands.
"We stuck it out in a very competitive environment," Muskat said.
With the Divina moving to the Mediterranean this summer, MSC will be out of the Caribbean until the ship returns in November, a pattern that will repeat in 2016 and 2017 under current schedules.
Then in November 2017, the Seaside will arrive as the largest ship to be delivered by the Italian shipyard Fincantieri. It will be christened in Miami, a first for an MSC ship, and will sail from a renovated and dedicated terminal at Port Miami under a long-term berthing agreement.
All those factors underscore the elevated priority that MSC has assigned to North America, Muskat said.
"We're going to be much better positioned as a brand to succeed as a year-round product," he said.
A signature feature of the Seaside will be an elaborate water park with five distinct slides and water features, including a 367-foot raft slide with an interactive gaming feature built into the raft.
A second ship in the Seaside class is scheduled for delivery in 2018, and MSC has an option with Fincantieri for a third. Its fleet consists of 12 ships, which spend the bulk of their time in Europe, but it has firm orders for four ships, including the two Seaside-class vessels, for delivery by 2020.