|It's been no secret, of late, that Switzerland-based MSC Cruises is on an expansion tear.|
The company, which operates ships such as MSC Lirica and the just-launched MSC Opera, has not only just completed its first ever new-build spree but has also been aggressively gobbling up other vessels on the market.
Credit some of MSC's progress to the faulty economics of some of its competitors in the European marketplace. Royal Olympia Cruises had, for all intents and purposes, disappeared from North American radar screens when, suffering massive financial difficulties, it was forced to divest itself of its own new-builds. And when Festival Cruises/First European suddenly shut down, MSC snapped up a couple of that company's new ships. The 58,600-ton Armonia, formerly known as European Vision, is already sailing under the MSC flag while sister ship Sinfonia, the one-time European Stars, will join MSC's fleet in March 2005.
Topping that off, the fast-growing fleet will expand again; just a few weeks ago, the company finalized the agreement to build two more substantially larger ships. The 90,000-gross-ton and 2,550-passenger ships will be delivered in Spring 2006 and 2007, respectively.
But for this company, which in prior years really did focus on attracting a more Europe-based passenger, the news that will probably make the biggest impact on these shores is the appointment of one-time Celebrity Cruises honcho Rick Sasso to helm its North American division.
In a recent interview with Cruise Critic, Sasso told us that MSC is definitely tweaking some onboard features on MSC Lirica and MSC Opera -- both of which will sail Caribbean itineraries this winter -- to make them more American-friendly. Room service, which in Europe generally incurs a fee, will be complimentary on those sailings. Dining room menus have been expanded and will offer more daily choices, including those for vegetarians. Baseball, America's pastime, has been introduced as a theme on at least one December sailing.
Both ships will offer a range of seven-, 10- and 11-night itineraries from their seasonal homeport in Ft. Lauderdale's Port Everglades.