Aptly described by MSC Cruises as the “ship that follows the sun,” the new, 4,140-passenger MSC Seaside began home porting at PortMiami this week. The 160,000-grt vessel -- representing MSC's commitment to expanding in the North American market -- will sail year-round to the Caribbean.
Built as a "warm weather" ship by Fincantieri’s shipyard in Monfalcone, Italy, the ship represents a new ship class (Seaside-class) with a revolutionary design; its aft section resembles a condominium tower, symbolic of its home port.
MSC Seaside is the first MSC Cruises' ship to sail directly to the U.S. and the the first MSC ship christened in the U.S. Actress Sophia Loren officially named the ship Thursday evening in a VIP ceremony at PortMiami with world-class entertainment that reflected the line's European roots and Miami's Latin influences.
"It was a star-studded event with Ricky Martin, Andrea Bocelli, Mario Lopez and, of course, godmother Sophia Loren," said Vicky Garcia, COO and co-owner, Cruise Planners, who also noted that "Miami’s new F terminal is impressive."
Certainly the weather cooperated for the ship's Miami debut with temperatures in the low 80s as travel agents, travel industry executives and media boarded the ship for a short preview cruise. Travel Agent was also onboard to see some of the spaces and talk with agents.
"MSC Seaside is 'South Beach at sea' with its modern design," said Steve Hirshan, senior vice president of sales support, Avoya Travel, who emphasized that with this new ship, MSC Cruises will differentiate its brand and onboard experience to gain the attention of North American cruisers.
Miami Vibe, European Feel
From another trade perspective, "the Seaside seems to be a game changer for MSC in the U.S.," believes Steven Hattem, managing director, Dreamlines USA, which is a new travel agency in Boca Raton, FL. After exploring the ship, he said it has "a subtle elegance and a unique and cool vibe which will appeal to both our international and experienced U.S. customer base."
Inside, MSC Seaside has a two-deck glass walled atrium and panoramic exterior elevators. Hattem noted that "as we work to grow our base of youthful or Millennial cruisers, this product provides value and style," which he said are "both important to this market segment."
Outside on Deck 8, a seafront promenade encircles the entire ship, so guests can stroll along and then pop into indoor and outdoor shops and restaurants. We liked that this space offers a full buffet area and pool, which are features traditionally found on higher decks on other industry ships.
Two unique outdoor catwalks extend beyond the edge of the ship, with all glass railings and a glass floor, giving guests the feeling that they are walking on water.
Walking across the 16th deck "Bridge of Sighs" (see our slide show above for a photo of this catwalk), clearly a reference to the famous Venetian bridge, is not for the faint of heart. It features glass flooring and a soaring walkway that hangs in the sky.
A crew member smiled as this reporter crossed gingerly, hanging onto the railing, while looking down to the pool multiple decks below and off to the skyline of Miami. "I was scared too the first time I walked across," he told Travel Agent with a grin.
Certainly, MSC Seaside has extensive facilities and activities that beach, spa and waterpark lovers will likely enjoy. We particularly liked the combination of water with the "forest space," officially known as the Forest Aquaventure Park (see several photos of the creative seating and the water slide area in the slide show above).
One highlight of the waterpark is interactive slideboarding technology, combining a water slide with an interactive video game.
As for the interior, our first impression was that it delivered a European chic look, featuring tones of maroon/dark red and grey/white/black in elevator lobbies, some public spaces and staterooms. Glass, metal and shiny elements, combined with creative furniture and art, deliver a pretty cool look, from this reporter's perspective.
We liked the contrast from the very light color palette found on many other Caribbean ships, as the look was more upscale, the tones bolder, yet still inviting. See the photo of one nook off the Grand Piazza above.
Travel Agent encountered Debbie Fiorino, senior vice president, CruiseOne, Dreams Vacations and Human Resources, World Travel Holdings, and Drew Daly, general manager, network engagement and performance, CruiseOne, Dream Vacations and Cruises Inc. in that atrium Thursday afternoon.
"The ship shows very well and it is easy to navigate for sure," Daly told us later in the evening after touring the facilities. "I definitely think the product is a great fit for multi generational groups and families." He said the MSC Yacht Club facilities will appeal to his agents' upmarket customers.
In addition, "it is almost surprising how kid friendly the ship is," he stressed. "The children’s arcade and activities area was extremely impressive with the bowling options along with the Formula 1 race car experience. The 4D gaming options appeal to both young and old which does have an appeal for any large group."
(Shown left to right in the photo above are Drew Daly, Susan Young, Travel Agent's senior contributing editor, cruise, and Debbie Fiorino)
Based on the options Daly saw for both outdoor and indoor activities, the ship will likely appeal to a wide audience.but, "for sure, it is prime for families with MSC’s already successful promotion of Kids Sail Free," he added.
Travel Agent toured the kids' facilities with dedicated Lego and Chicco designed play areas, more extensive than we expected -- everything from a Baby Club (for those 1 to 3 and under) to a Teen Club (ages 15-17), plus MSC Seaside also has a dedicated kids’ only restaurant.
Hirshan also said that families will appreciate the large, new connected staterooms, interactive aqua park, and the promenade.
Families also can spread out with two decks of fun and activities, including an adventure trail and four different water slides (one indoor and one outdoor) as well as multiple public pools. The main pool is 27,500 square feet. The aft pool offers sea views.
And for inside fun, the new ship has an interactive 5D Cinema with moving seats and special effects. It also allows guests to interact with the movie, an attraction unto itself. Officials participating in the christening emphasized that the ship has multiple full production shows as well.
Sleeping and Dining
Accommodations-wise, new open modular connected staterooms offer space for large families or groups of up to 10 people. The enhanced MSC Yacht Club, the line’s ship-within-a-ship concept, has 86 suites, including two Royal Suites.
Benefits for yacht club guests include priority check-in and check-out, butler service, a dedicated 24-hour concierge, exclusive private solarium, lounge and pool; 24/7 complimentary beverages within the MSC Yacht Club area; and a private MSC Yacht Club restaurant.
In terms of balconies, some terraced balcony staterooms have a portion that’s uncovered, allowing guests to relax in the sunshine on their own private terrace.Seventy-three percent of all staterooms have a private balcony.
Guests onboard MSC Seaside will have a wide choice of indoor/outdoor dining in 11 distinct dining venues. These include a pan-Asian specialty restaurant in partnership with Celebrity Chef Roy Yamaguchi; a signature seafood restaurant; and a Butcher’s Cut American steakhouse where guests can choose their favorite steak from glass-fronted meat aging refrigerators.
Dining options will also include two buffets open 20 hours a day, including a dedicated family buffet.
MSC Seaside provides boarding via colored wrist bands from PortMiami's new Terminal F. Once onboard, smart ship technology allows guests to use a cruise card, bracelet or smartphone to locate their children onboard, open their stateroom door, make onboard payments, and make reservations/orders for excursions, the theater or restaurants, and much more.
"We are glad MSC has further invested in the North American market with the new MSC Seaside and for the projected growth for the brand in the next decade," Garcia told us, adding that she looks forward to "continuing to strengthen the relationship and more agents selling MSC."