Zoom forward a month to May 7, and MSC chiefs and European press are gathered down at Aker Yards in sunny St. Nazaire, France, to sneak a peek at the next-to-launch MSC Fantasia (more on that later) -- and to mark a milestone in the construction of its fourth 93,300-ton, 3,779-passenger Musica-class vessel, MSC Magnifica. The event in question? A coin-laying ceremony -- an old maritime tradition thought to ensure a life of good luck at sea.
In true dramatic style, traditional Italian music was played as MSC's CEO Pierfrancesco Vago motioned for a huge mid-section of the ship to be moved into place. Pipers appeared on a section of the hull to perform "Amazing Grace" as the section hovered overhead, blocking the sun like the massive spaceships in "Independence Day."
Finally, the ceremony's "godmothers" -- Lidia Aversa, a promotion manager for MSC, and Ann Hardeley from Aker Yards -- placed two coins into the central block of the ship before it was welded firmly in (by another lady welder).
Ceremonies such as this mark milestones in the construction of a ship -- but did we learn anything about MSC Magnifica by being there? Because Magnifica will technically be a carbon-copy of its three sister ships, there's not that much new to report, but Vago did say that MSC is changing a few things on the inside to cater better to the needs of cruise passengers.
Here is what we know:
One of the big changes will be that Magnifica will have a covered pool area at the aft of the ship. It will also be widened to allow for water games.
A large panoramic terrace will be added on Deck 13.
Deck 16 will get a VIP sun deck, bar and hot tub.
The number of suites will rise too -- there will be 44, compared to 18 on Poesia.
More than anything, today's ceremony goes to show that MSC is dedicated to churning out new ships. The fleet now stands at nine and Magnifica is due to be delivered to the line in December 2009 -- but there is "bigger" excitement coming even sooner.
MSC's largest vessel -- and in fact the largest ship built for a European ship owner -- is on its way in the shape of the 133,500-ton, 3,959-passenger MSC Fantasia, which will grace the shores of Naples in December of this year. Its sister ship, Splendida, which is already under construction at Aker Yards, is due in the spring of 2009.
We already know that these ships will usher in a new era for MSC -- with more bars and entertainment options, and also another covered pool (this will help as Fantasia will sail year-round in the Mediterranean) -- but what else is there going to be, you may ask?
We got to sneak a peek at Fantasia in dock at the shipyard, and can report that the construction process is well underway (furnishings will start in the next month, or so we are told). Here are just a few details to whet your appetite:
Along with a Formula One simulator there will also be a golf simulator where guests can practice their swing -- and a 4-D cinema.
Expect a total of five restaurants, including Tex Mex (with an open kitchen) and a panoramic eatery.
Kids are definitely a key focus for this ship -- they'll get a special poolside disco aptly called the Liquid Disco.
Execs promise the sports bar and Manhattan Bar will be top-rate in design and style.
For more on MSC Fantasia, check out our First Glimpse. Also, see how things are progressing in the yard with our photos and report in Shipyard Snapshots.
--by Kelly Ranson, Associate Editor