How MSC Cruises brings European elegance to cruising

Mark Zeller believes good designs should also support efficient hotel operations
How MSC Cruises brings European elegance to cruising
MSC Cruises used panoramic windows, and modern furniture and lighting installations to create the ‘wow’ factor on MSC Seaside

By Guest |

This article was first published in the 2019 issue of Cruise & Ferry Interiors. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

MSC Cruises’ ships are known for their beautiful design and European elegance. When guests first enter the ship upon boarding, they are greeted with gorgeous colours, textures and venue spaces with unique touches such as our signature Swarovski staircases – the glitter and shine all around offers our guests great photo opportunities.

Great design in hospitality is meant to draw the guests into the space and create a visual narrative that they can remember long after leaving the ship. Having said that, one of the most important aspects of the design of a cruise ship is in the staterooms. Besides the look and feel, the most important elements are comfort and practicality. Spacious staterooms, comfortable bedding, quality linen, lighting, accessibility and storage are just a few of many features that guests will be looking at and experiencing. Beautiful public spaces receive that initial ‘wow factor’; however, a stateroom that is built with guest needs in mind, combined with amazing service, is what can make all the difference in the end.

Good design makes a significant difference in terms of hotel operations and can mean more efficient use of crew and ultimately, lead to savings to MSC Cruises’ bottom line. For instance, good design includes using the right materials in the building process so that less cleaning and maintenance is required and therefore, staff can spend more time enhancing the guest experience. Good design is also critical to back-of-house – the space allotted to support all front-of-house guest operations and services. Equipment, well-designed logistical routes and dozens of other operational needs must be considered to ensure the most efficient possible service to the guests and staff.

The best designs follow the Six Sigma principles: focus on customer requirements; use extensive measurement and statistical analysis to understand how work gets done and to identify the root cause of problems (variations); and be proactive in eliminating variation and continually improve the process. 

When I was working with Holland America Line, I was involved in the catering and initial conceptual design of Koningsdam together with master chef Rudi Sodamin. With MSC Cruises and specifically MSC Armonia, I helped our Food and Beverage (F&B) team and Bacardi to design the look, feel and product offering for the newly revamped Red Bar, which is now known as Rum Bar and provides a wide range of Mojito cocktails and other rum drinks. Also, the new 38-seat Surf & Turf speciality restaurant where diners can select an appetiser, main course and dessert from an assortment of gourmet options, was created in cooperation between myself and our architects in London and the F&B teams in the US, Geneva in Switzerland, and Genoa in Italy

Throughout those experiences I’ve found that designers are experts in look and feel, and when it comes to MSC Cruises’ ships they are absolutely stunning. The designer can create a look and ‘wow’ factor that is appealing, attractive and unique in ways that our guests enjoy and appreciate. Of course, when designing new ships, it’s critical that the designers work with the operations teams to ensure they are selecting appropriate materials and colours that can be easily maintained. For example, the operations team in a bar or restaurant would be able to advise designers on materials that easily absorb liquid stains to protect chairs and carpets in the event of red wine or cocktail spillages. It’s also critical that while guests don’t see the back-of-house, there is enough space allocated for the operations needed to support the front-of-house guests’ experience – galleys, bar pantries, housekeeping pantries and so on. 

Legendary cruise executive Hans Hesselberg had decades of experience in the industry, both shipboard and corporately, and he had a lot of great insights, experiences and lessons that he was able to share with me when he retired. Hesselberg had been part of this amazing evolution, but one thing that has not changed in his opinion: at all times we must ensure we provide the service and product we promised to our guests. For example, one of our containers missed the delivery to the ship in Europe due to unforeseen circumstances. Part of the contents was the Certified Angus Beef for our speciality Butcher’s Cut restaurant. Instead of using a lower quality beef that we had onboard or purchasing a lesser quality beef locally, Hesselberg arranged an airfreight delivery of Certified Angus Beef that arrived two days later to the ship. Of course, the cost was tremendous, but his motto was always to ensure that guests receive what they pay for and expect. That’s what we always endeavour to do at MSC Cruises. 

Mark Zeller is vice president of US Hotel Operations at MSC Cruises

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