MSC’s new flagship Meraviglia – launched in June after being christened by Sophia Loren – heralds a new era for the Italian, family-owned line. Jeannine Williamson takes a closer look at the ship that offers more choice than ever before and might just be the perfect entry point for new-to-cruise customers
Many cruise ships match a specific demographic, be it fans of tradition that enjoy dressing for dinner, luxe-lovers wanting to push the boat out in butler service staterooms, laid-back younger passengers or families with children to entertain.
There’s never been one ship with something for everyone, especially new to cruisers who are unsure about giving up land-based holidays to experience life on the ocean wave. MSC’s eagerly awaited Meraviglia comes as close as it gets, with a raft of innovations and amenities to attract all kinds of clients.
The line’s 5,714-passenger flagship, the 13th in the fleet, was launched in June after being christened by legendary Italian screen icon Sophia Loren at a glittering ceremony in Le Havre. It heralds the latest chapter in the meteoric growth of the Italian, family-owned company that began life as a container shipping operation in 1970 before entering the cruise industry in 1988. MSC is now the world’s fourth biggest cruise line and the largest that is privately owned.
With 2,244 cabins, including 75 per cent with balconies, Meraviglia – which means ‘wonder’ in Italian – showcases a number of MSC firsts. These include ten stateroom categories, four more than before, with new single studio accommodation and ‘modular’ cabins sleeping up to ten, the largest number of dining options, an extended two-deck indoor promenade and original Cirque de Soleil productions in a purpose-built venue.
There have been significant changes to MSC’s exclusive “ship-within-a-ship” Yacht Club, where passenger perks include 24-hour butler service, priority boarding and disembarkation and a private lounge, restaurant and sun deck. Meraviglia’s enlarged 94-suite Yacht Club is spread over three decks and includes two 56-square-metre Royal Suites. For the first time the restaurant is part of the Yacht Club complex, rather than in a separate area.
Elsewhere, the ship is big on the wow factor, from the trademark sweeping Swarovski crystal-studded staircases in the atrium to the interactive 4D cinema, F1 racing car and flight simulators. The promenade, lined with shops and cafés, is covered by a vast LED screen ceiling that illuminates the whole area with an ever-changing panorama of classical architecture, skyscapes and underwater scenery.
Steve Williams, MSC’s director of sales UK and Ireland, described Meraviglia as game-changer with a huge potential to attract first-time cruisers, adding that high street agents will play a key role in switch-selling new-to-cruise clients. MSC has always been a trade focused business, and the latest initiatives include a new e-learning programme, MSC Masters.
“We’re offering an unprecedented number of choices on Meraviglia such as 12 dining venues,” Williams continued. “People on land-based holidays now expect different restaurants at resorts so we’ve moved away from the main dining room concept to offer multiple venues. Similarly, there are three types of nightclubs and different pool areas.”
Antonio Paradiso, MSC’s managing director UK and Ireland, said cruises offered the same amenities as resort-based holidays – more in Meraviglia’s case – with the added bonus of visiting exciting destinations.
A highlight is the partnership with Cirque de Soleil where the cast will perform two different shows created for MSC on each cruise.
At the christening event MSC’s executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago said Meraviglia epitomises the future of cruising and will help overcome dated preconceptions.
“First timers still think of it like The Love Boat,” he admitted. “Boring, expensive and only for old people. But cruising has evolved and has huge potential for growth.”
With a firm eye on that market, he also announced an ongoing €9 billion investment between 2017 and 2026 with the potential to build a total of up to 11 next-generation ships with environmentally-friendly LNG propulsion technology.
In the meantime Meraviglia will spend a maiden season in the Mediterranean. If your new to cruise clients are wondering which ship is for them, the one that MSC has dubbed “the eighth wonder of the world” could prove just the ticket.