MSC Cruises eyes Northeast port for winter 2006

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FORT LAUDERDALE -- MSC Cruises plans to base a ship in the Northeast when it returns in fall 2006 for the winter season, broadening its itineraries and its market reach beyond the berths of Port Everglades here. 

Theres definitely going to be three ships here in 2006 and 2007, one of which will be sailing from the Northeast, and year-round service, starting in fall 2006, said Rick Sasso, MSCs North America CEO.

The line, which caters primarily to European clientele during its summer Mediterranean cruises, has been steadily building a base in the U.S.

Sasso said its two Fort Lauderdale-based ships, the Lirica and the Opera, have posted strong bookings with the exception of one or two sailings.

Were way ahead of last year, Sasso said. Last year was the first year, so we were getting our feet on the ground. Weve had a year to sign up preferred accounts and work with travel agents. So were probably more than double ahead of last year.

Sassos Fort Lauderdale-based team also is preparing for the arrival next year of the Musica, which is slated to sail in the Caribbean in the fall.

The Musica marks another chapter in the MSC Cruises saga. The line has been growing aggressively, but its newest vessels are still in the mid-size range. The Musica will bring MSC Cruises in line with competitors tonnage.

At 2,550 passengers, the Musica will carry nearly 1,000 more people than the Lirica or the Opera. About 65% of the cabins will have balconies. On MSCs current ships, only the suites have balconies.

The Musica will also have more dining options, such as a sushi bar with a Zen garden.

Consistent with its name, the Musica will have plenty of venues for music. MSC promises that its three-deck theater will double as a concert venue. There will be a music hall dedicated to orchestral, cabaret and dance performances. A panoramic disco will occupy the Musicas stern.

And, MSC said, there will be locations throughout the ship for piano performances, small jam sessions, classical duets, small orchestras and karaoke.

Sasso said MSC Cruises was to launch a new reservations system on Sept. 21 that would give agents the ability to connect to MSCs inventory and get real-time pricing and booking capabilities.

MSC also will provide a Web portal for agents who want to manage their business online.

The line still pays commission on the noncommissionable portion of the cruise fare, although Sasso said MSC would  probably not continue that forever.

Whether we keep going with the NCFs -- its just one of those things, he said.

To contact Rebecca Tobin, managing editor of the print edition of Travel Weekly, send e-mail to [email protected].

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