(11:50 a.m. EDT) -- The biggest cruise ship to enter service this year has been officially handed over to MSC Cruises, in a delivery ceremony attended by French President Emmanuel Macron at Saint-Nazaire's STX Shipyard.
This is Macron's second visit to STX; he attended MSC Meraviglia's coin ceremony at the shipyard February 1, 2016, as France's Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Sector.
At Wednesday's ceremony, MSC Meraviglia, which has a passenger capacity of 5,714 (4,488 at double occupancy), received its official pennant and the French flag, as well as blessings for good fortune, before being delivered to the line's owner, Gianluigi Aponte. Ms. Zoe Africa Vago, daughter of MSC's executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago, cut the ribbon, signaling the traditional breaking of a Champagne bottle against the ship.
"MSC Meraviglia's coming into service marks a key milestone in the history and future of our Company," said Pierfrancesco Vago. "She represents the first realization of our long-term vision for further significant growth, which, in its first phase, culminated with MSC Cruises becoming two years ago the number one cruise brand across all of Europe, while on its way to further global growth."
Vago also gave a special shout-out to MSC crew members, STX France builders and more than 400 suppliers and subcontractors for their hard work during the ship's past three years of construction. The company also revealed that it would be investing 4.5 billion euros into STX shipyard.
Additionally, MSC signed a memorandum of understanding with the shipyard for the construction of four new LNG-powered cruise ships, which, as announced last year, will be dubbed the line's World Class.
From the shipyard, MSC Meraviglia will make its way to Le Havre, France, where it will be christened June 3. It will then sail its first passenger cruise June 5, which includes calls to Lisbon, Barcelona, Marseille and Genoa. The ship will continue sailing the Mediterranean until 2019, when it will reposition to Miami to offer Caribbean cruises.
MSC's other new cruise ship, MSC Seaside, will join the line's only other U.S.-based ship, MSC Divina, in Miami when it launches December 2017. MSC Seaside will have a total passenger capacity of 5,179.
Throughout this week, Cruise Critic, along with a small group of media and travel agents, will have exclusive access to the ship and a first look at some of its standout features, such as a massive water park with a "Himalayan Bridge" zip line, the line's first solo cabins and the first lounge at sea built specifically for Cirque du Soleil, which will host two acrobatic performances six nights a week. Follow our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages for live updates.
--By Gina Kramer, Editor