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Ruben Rodriguez MSC Cruises USA President (Credit: MSC Cruises)

Q&A With Ruben Rodriguez, President, MSC Cruises USA

Ruben Rodriguez MSC Cruises USA President (Credit: MSC Cruises)
U.K. Executive Editor
Adam Coulter

Apr 17, 2023

Read time
9 min read

Sponsored by MSC Cruises

MSC Cruises is placing MSC Meraviglia, one of its largest and most technologically advanced ships in New York City beginning April 22, 2023.

Cruise Critic caught up with Ruben Rodriguez, President of MSC Cruises USA, to talk about the line's rapidly growing presence in the U.S. -- five ships by the end of year; MSC Cruises' commitment to bringing large, new and innovative ships to the U.S.; its fleet of 21 ships -- with more on the way; and why MSC Meraviglia is the perfect fit for New York City.

The "Ship For All Seasons" is the Perfect Fit for the Big Apple

Galleria Meraviglia on MSC Cruises MSC Meraviglia (Credit: MSC Cruises)

Cruise Critic: What makes MSC Meraviglia such a good fit for New York City?

Ruben Rodriguez: We think of MSC Meraviglia as "the ship for all seasons", which is one of the key reasons we selected her for New York City. MSC Meraviglia is ideally suited for sailing out of New York year-round. In winter, for the first couple of days of sailing you end up spending a lot of time inside the ship, so we needed a ship with a lot of options and entertainment within the ship.

One example of that is the promenade [or Galleria Meraviglia], because the promenade on Meraviglia really is the heart of the ship. With a beautiful multi-story layout, it has this amazing dome that features LED projections and animations to make it feel like you're either outside under the sky or surrounded by stained glass, and it feels very ample.

MSC Meraviglia

It has multiple restaurants, bars, shops, boutiques, cafes, entertainment venues – it feels like you are in a European city walking outside. That is the unique feature of the Meraviglia class which guests love.

It also has a large pool with a magrodome that is covered, a sportplex, where you can play different sports, and it has a large entertainment area for kids and adults too with racing simulators, bowling and a lot of VR features.

So, in addition to the outdoor areas such as the water park and ropes course, which of course guests will enjoy once the ship is in the Caribbean, it has a lot of indoor features.

New York is the Largest Source Market for MSC Cruises' International Sailings

CTH | New York

CC: Why did you place MSC Meraviglia in New York City?

RR: We already have a lot of New Yorkers sailing on MSC Cruises. New York for Caribbean sailings is second only to Orlando and Miami as source markets, so a lot of New Yorkers are flying to Miami and Orlando to board our ships.

The largest source market for MSC Cruises’ international sailings among Americans is New York, so we already have a presence in New York. It's no accident we put a ship in New York. One of the reasons is it's already very popular and we believe that having a ship there, particularly considering the cost of air travel and the inconvenience of flying these days, having a ship right there in Brooklyn, where guests can board the ship will give them much greater access.

The Tri-State Area Has the Largest Number of "Cultured Cruisers" in the U.S.

New York City Port

And the second reason for New York is we have a very specific target, which we call "the cultured cruiser". There are about 30 million cultured cruisers in the US and they are either past cruisers or they are people who haven't cruised but are intending to cruise, and they are a wide age group. They may be millennials just starting with young kids, couples in their 50s who perhaps have grown kids, or couples in their 60s who are empty nesters.

Butcher's Cut on MSC Meraviglia (Credit: MSC Cruises)

They tend to be above average in household income, not wealthy, but above average. They tend to be more educated than average, but what's most interesting is not so much the demographics, but the psychographics. They love international travel, they love to immerse themselves in new cultures, they love exploring, they like to meet other people on their vacations and interact with people from new cultures. They also love to experience a variety of culinary options and appreciate different international cuisines. They love sustainability and they love sports – it's not a surprise that we partner with the New York Knicks.

And this is what differentiates our brand – our international culture, our European heritage, our global deployment, our focus on sustainability, the immersive experiences we offer – that population fits very well. And there is a very high population of cultured cruisers in the New York Tri-State area. So, besides our core guests that are New York MSC Cruises guests, there are a lot of cultured cruisers in New York who have never sailed, or who have never sailed with us, that fit that dynamic. So even before we decided to put a ship in New York we decided to market in New York and we have been doing that since 2021. We've been growing that market with great results and we figure we can accelerate that penetration by having a ship in New York.

MSC Meraviglia Offers Three Distinct Itineraries from New York City

MSC Meraviglia parked in Nassau, Bahamas (Credit: Rob Norman)

CC: Is the Tri-State Area the primary source market or does it stretch further?

RR: We think of it in three tiers and the first tier is what I would call "Tri-State Plus", because it also includes Pennsylvania, and it may even include Washington, DC. Our guests want to avoid the plane and they are either going to drive or they are going to take public transportation, the train, the subway etc, and we selected Brooklyn on a Sunday to make it very convenient.

We have other options such as an 8-day cruise from Saturday to Sunday in the winter to the Caribbean, 6-day sailings to Bermuda at the end of summer, and in the fall, we have longer itineraries to Canada and New England. But the main product is a seven-night cruise leaving on a Sunday to the Bahamas and the Caribbean, with a stop at our breath-taking private island destination – Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve.

The second tier is there are a lot of Americans who want to travel to New York and want to combine a few days in New York City with a cruise. There's just so much air lift, whether it's JFK or Newark or LaGuardia.

And the third tier is international. We source a lot of guests from Europe particularly Italy, France, Germany and Spain as well as the UK, we are the market leader in Brazil, in South Africa, and all those consumers are drawn to New York City, it's such a great destination. They can combine two or three nights before the cruise, so we are seeing a lot of bookings from Europeans and Brazilians and we expect to see more.

MSC Cruises is "European in Design and International in Character"

The interior Galleria Meraviglia promenade aboard MSC Meraviglia (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

CC: How does MSC Cruises differentiate itself from other cruise lines in the US?

RR: We don't want to be just another contemporary brand in the US, we want to be distinctive and we feel we are distinctive. What sets us apart is that we are a truly global cruise brand but we tailor our guest experience to the regions where we sail. We're very European in design on board the ship, we're very international in character, but frankly the most important aspect of the cruise is the people, the guests and the crew, and we have a lot of international guests that help to create a special experience on board.

So having that international mix is very important to us and we believe we will have that in New York.

New England (Photo: San Hoyano/Shutterstock)

CC: What will the passenger make up be like onboard MSC Meraviglia?

RR: Our ships in Miami tend to be 50/50 US and international, in Port Canaveral it's more 80/20, but we are excited that in New York it will be around 60/40 US/international guests and that's very important as that is what we are selling to American guests – an international experience.

In terms of life stage, it's very varied and very seasonal, so a lot of families for the summer; we're seeing a lot of bookings from couples in their 50s and 60s for the Canada/New England sailings in the fall.  We're also seeing that demographic for the longer Caribbean sailings in winter, so it's a wide variety depending on the season and the itinerary.

MSC Cruises Will Have Five Ships Based in the U.S. by Year-End

Port Canaveral MSC Cruises (Credit: Rob Norman)

CC: How does Meraviglia fit into your plans for five ships homeported in the US by year's end?

RR: We're very excited about this coming winter. We'll have five ships in the US which is the most we've ever had and with the three homeports we want to make our cruises as accessible as possible.

We will have three ships out of Miami offering a range of different itineraries and mini cruises through to longer cruises. Our flagship MSC Seascape, doing Eastern and Western Caribbean 7-night cruises, all of which include a call at Ocean Cay; we'll have MSC Divina, doing a variety of longer cruises, 10 and 11-night cruises, and then we'll have for the first time out of Miami, MSC Magnifica doing three- and four-night cruises to the Bahamas, including an overnight in Ocean Cay.

We'll have MSC Seashore in Port Canaveral offering alternating seven-night and three- and four-night cruises.

And then of course we'll have MSC Meraviglia in New York.

World America Will Be Based in the U.S. in Two Years' Time

MSC World Europa

CC: You do have a commitment to bring more modern hardware to the US and of course you have World America coming to the US, tell us about that.

RR: MSC World America is coming in April 2025, it's of course the second ship in the World Class, the first one was World Europa which just come into service in December. It's another step forward in our commitment to sustainability, that class of ship is powered by LNG, and it will be the third LNG-powered ship in the MSC fleet and the first one in North America.

That class of ship has several other very significant innovations around the shape of the hull and the trim optimisation, heat recovery systems, very advanced wastewater treatments, so a real step forward in our commitment to sustainability and net zero carbons by 2025.

Beyond that, when it comes to guest experience, Europa and America are the best of both worlds [i.e. Meraviglia class and Seascape class]. They have a very modern profile, with a Y-shaped aft, which opens out to a very large outdoor promenade this beautiful 11-deck high dry slide and a very open outdoor promenade with restaurants, cafes and bars. And if you continue from the outdoor World Promenade, then you enter the indoor World Galleria, with a beautiful kinetic and LED ceiling, and that will feel like MSC Meraviglia but on an even grander scale.

Updated April 17, 2023
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