(8:59 p.m. EST) -- Legendary Italian actress Sophia Loren has officially named MSC Cruises' newest ship, MSC Seaside, in a ceremony that included fireworks, a heavenly performance from Andrea Bocelli, backed by the Voices of Haiti choir, and an energetic performance by Ricky Martin.
The ceremony, which took place beneath a large tent at PortMiami, was attended by travel agents, media, loyal MSC cruisers, and even included executives from Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line. Miami will be the year-round home for the 4,134-passenger ship as it sails alternating weeklong Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises. It is the first vessel MSC Cruises has designed specifically for the North American market, and is also the first of two ships in its class. (The second, MSC Seaview, is under construction at Fincantieri and is slated to launch in 2018.)
"Three years ago we announced the construction of this beautiful ship, a cruise ship like no other," Gianni Onorato, CEO of MSC Cruises, told the crowd. "A ship inspired by Miami's iconic lifestyle and architecture … a ship that would make heads turn."
"This has been an incredible journey," Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC Cruises said. "We are here to celebrate the naming of a ship that has been designed for this city. It has taken a lot of effort and vision to get where we are tonight."
Also on hand was Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez, who just two weeks ago officially opened the port's new Terminal F, the home of both MSC Divina and MSC Seaside. He thanked MSC Cruises for continuing to choose Miami as its base of operations in the United States.
Both Vago and Onorato emphasized that Seaside's presence in Miami marks a new chapter in the cruise line's presence in North America. No longer just a potential market for the company, North America is now a top priority. (MSC announced this past spring it would base a third ship, MSC Meraviglia in the city in 2019, as well as operate three cruises out of New York City.)
Famed tenor Andrea Bocelli took to the stage after Mayor Gimenez's comments, singing "Ave Maria" and "Amazing Grace." Ricky Martin followed soon after for a longer set, getting the crowd on its feet dancing and clapping.
Bocelli returned to the stage to sing "Time to Say Goodbye," ushering in the parade of MSC Seaside's officers in their crisp dress whites. They were joined on stage by all of MSC's executives, the event special guests and Sophia Loren in a sparkling dress, escorted by the ship's captain Pier Paolo Scala.
Loren, who arrived on stage to a standing ovation, has maintained close ties with MSC Cruises since she served as godmother of LSC Lirica in 2003. She has named each new ship since. Loren made a brief speech, then cut the ribbon, triggering the release of a bottle of Champagne, which smashed against the hull, officially naming MSC Seaside.
The successful smash was followed by a fireworks display.
MSC took delivery of Seaside on November 29 at a ceremony at the Fincantieri shipyard in Monfalcone, Italy. It arrived in Miami earlier today and after a two-night inaugural journey, Seaside will sail weekly Caribbean cruises. It joins MSC Divina, which already sails part of the year from Miami. In 2019, the two ships will be joined by MSC's largest ship, Meraviglia.
--By Dori Saltzman, Senior Editor