Two of MSC Cruises' under-construction new-builds took major steps forward today at Aker Yards in Saint-Nazaire, France.

Two gold coins -- one from the ship owner and one from the shipbuilder -- were welded into the keel of MSC Fantasia, which will be the line's biggest ship ever, measuring 133,500 tons and carrying over 3,000 passengers, when it launches next fall. It is maritime tradition to mark the first keel-laying with the placement of coins to ensure good luck for a ship's life at sea.

One of the coins welded into Fantasia belonged to Mrs. Rafaela Aponte, whose family owns MSC Cruises; Mrs. Aponte, a well-recognized pianist in Geneva, won the coin as a first prize for her piano playing from the Conservatory in Geneva.

Also, the first piece of steel was cut today for Fantasia's sister ship, MSC Serenata, due out in the spring of 2009. MSC hosted a similar ceremony last fall at Aker Yards France to spotlight the start of the construction phase for Fantasia.

Pierfrancesco Vago, MSC Cruises' CEO, and Jacques Hardelay, the director general for Aker Yards, were among those on hand for today's ceremonies.

Fantasia and Serenata will offer a a three-dimensional cinema, 16,146-square-ft. spa, interactive sports bar and Tex Mex restaurant open around the clock. Want to learn more about these ships and how they are built? Don't miss Shipyard Snapshots: Letter from ... Aker Yards France.

--by Melissa Baldwin, Senior Editor