| We've had maiden voyages that are not quite as "maiden" as they should be; now along comes a float-out ceremony without water.|
Of course it shouldn't have been like that. When Italian line MSC Cruises organised the float out of its giant ship MSC Fantasia for February 6, the idea was that they would open the sluice gates and let the water in.
However, with work still to be done on the underside of the ship, it had to be postponed for about a week. But as journalist and travel agents from all over Europe were already invited (and were able to get a last glimpse of the line's other new ship this year, MSC Poesia, before it is named in April), the "official" float out went ahead.
As darkness settled over Aker Yard in St. Nazaire, France, MSC Cruises' chief executive officer Pierfrancesco Vago cut the ribbon, signalling the start of a mini-fireworks show -- in green, white and red, symbolising the Italian flag -- at the base of the MSC Fantasia.
A band struck up beneath the giant propellers and rudders, and guests were able to wander and wonder at the size of this beast.
MSC Fantasia is the biggest ship to be built by a European line. It weighs 133,500 tons and will carry 3,959 passengers (max capacity) in 1,637 cabins and suites when it is named in Naples on December 18.
It is also, according to Vago, MSC's first "destination ship," which means it will attract cruisers for its facilities and features as much as for the itinerary.
The facilities are not revolutionary -- a two-deck water slide and Formula 1 simulator (already on arch-rival Costa Cruises' new ships), an Aqua Park (on Royal Caribbean's Freedom-class ships) and five restaurants, which is in no way exceptional these days.
But this is big news for MSC, which until now has made do with the cruising basics of a spa, swimming pools, kids' clubs, bars and lounges, and speciality restaurants -- but only on the newest ships.
MSC Fantasia will also have a Yacht Club VIP area on the top deck with 99 suites offering round-the-clock butler service, a private pool, and an observation lounge and bar with concierge.
The 3,013-passenger MSC Poesia, which starts sea trials next week, is to be named in Dover by Italian actress Sophia Loren on April 5 in a major celebration that will feature Andrea Bocelli. MSC Poesia will then begin an inaugural season of cruises from Venice.
Incidentally, when asked why Sophia Loren again -- this will be her fifth MSC ship -- Vago said she was a great ambassador for Italy, a true diva, so it's a good bet she will be godmother to MSC Fantasia in Naples.
This year's crop of new MSC vessels will be followed by another two.
MSC Splendida, a sister to MSC Fantasia, launches in spring 2009, with MSC Magnifica, a sister to MSC Poesia, due out in 2010. Between them, the four ships will give the cruise line 5,824 cabins with capacity for 14,000 passengers.
--by Jane Archer, Cruise Critic contributor