Redefining the concept of cruising at MSC Cruises

Rebecca Gibson asks Gianni Onorato how putting guests at the centre of its rapid fleet expansion project will help MSC Cruises to guarantee long-term success

Redefining the concept of cruising at MSC Cruises
MSC Seashore is the first of the Seaside EVO ships, which will feature more amenities than their predecessors

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

Family-owned cruise operator MSC Cruises is in the midst of an ambitious project to redefine the concept of cruising. The company added four new vessels to its fleet between 2017 and 2019 and plans to debut another nine belonging to four different classes by 2027. Together, the vessels will triple capacity and allow the line to welcome more than five million guests annually.

Although challenging, it’s a project that should be achievable for a company that has already successfully launched 16 cruise ships and recorded more than 800% growth since joining the industry.

“The sector has gone through a huge revolution since MSC Cruises started operating purpose-built cruise ships back in 2003, with vessels more than doubling in size and passenger capacity,” says Gianni Onorato, the line’s CEO. “Now, we’re building ships with a range of amenities and onboard venues that make them destinations in their own right and we’re now offering a 360-degree cruise experience that starts from the moment our guests book their holiday and ends when they get back home. We’re aiming to further transform the cruise product with these newbuilds.”

To achieve this, MSC Cruises has taken a guest-centric approach to designing its latest additions. “Although it’s challenging, we need to plan today for the needs and expectations of our future guests because each ship will be operational for more than 30 years,” says Onorato. “We’ve launched five ship classes since 2003 and each time, we’ve started afresh on the drawing board to create vessels that fit our changing operational needs and offer distinct guest experiences.”

This approach to innovation ensures that every ship in MSC Cruises’ fleet is unique. For example, the ships currently launching in the Meraviglia and Seaside classes have been built to serve different purposes. “Our Meraviglia vessels are very rich in features and they have a compact design to enable them to access most of the world’s cruise ports regardless of the weather and sea conditions, giving us a great deal of operational flexibility and scope for new itineraries,” says Onotaro. “Meanwhile, our Seaside ships – MSC Seaside and MSC Seaview – have been designed to operate in warmer climates and connect guests to the sea, so they offer the industry’s highest ratio of outdoor space per guest. For example, they have our first-ever wraparound promenade deck, which is called The Waterfront Boardwalk and is lined with restaurants, bars and other places to relax.”

Representing a design evolution of the two Seaside-class vessels are the duo of Seaside EVO ships, which will be delivered by Fincantieri in 2021 and 2022. At 16 metres longer than their predecessors, they will have 200 extra guest cabins (for a total guest capacity of 5,632), an additional aft lounge, an enhanced MSC Yacht Club covering three forward decks, speciality restaurants on the wraparound promenade, a greater number of whirlpools and more spacious public spaces.

Prompted by the success of its luxury ship-within-a-ship enclave named MSC Yacht Club, MSC Cruises has also ordered its first four ultra-luxury cruise ships. To be built by Fincantieri, the 64,000gt vessels will enter service on a one-per-year basis between 2023 and 2026 and have 500 guest cabins, a “highly innovative” design and “groundbreaking options” for guest comfort and relaxation.

MSC Cruises’ four World-class mega cruise ships will take the cruise line’s quest for innovation even further. Not only will the ships have the highest passenger capacity in the global cruise fleet (7,000), but they will also have a ‘Y’ shaped structure to enable guests to get panoramic sea views and to increase the proportion of balcony cabins. The vessels’ G bows will be vertically positioned at a 90-degree angle to improve stability, hydrodynamics and guest comfort. Other game-changing guest-centric innovations will include family-friendly villages, a panoramic aft and a glass pool lounge.

The World-class vessels will also be some of the first in the fleet (and world) to be powered by LNG fuel at sea and in port. “These prototypes will help take MSC Cruises towards the next evolution of ship design future,” says Onorato. “They will be some of the cleanest and greenest cruise ships in the world because, compared to standard marine diesel, LNG largely eliminates particulate matter and significantly reduces sulphur and nitrogen oxide emissions. We have also ordered a fifth Meraviglia-class vessel with LNG engines.”

Moving to LNG power is a pivotal part of MSC Cruises’ environmental stewardship programme. “Our cruise ships are equipped with some of the latest and most efficient environmental technologies to minimise their carbon footprint, such as hybrid exhaust gas cleaning systems and solutions for advanced wastewater treatment, ballast water treatment and preventing oil discharge from machinery spaces,” Onorato explains. “We also aim to add extra green technologies to each newbuild that joins the fleet. MSC Grandiosa, for example, will be our first ship to have a selective catalytic reduction system to significantly decrease her nitrogen oxide emissions.”

MSC Cruises’ initiatives to surpass the highest international industry and regulatory standards are attracting more eco-conscious travellers, particularly because its sustainability efforts are extending into the destinations it visits.

“We always take local sensitivities into account to offer the perfect product for our guests and local communities onshore,” says Onorato. “We’ve also created the Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, a unique private island destination that is founded on ecological principles to protect and preserve the ocean.” New and loyal guests are also attracted to MSC Cruises’ European and Mediterranean heritage. “We’ve created an international cruise offering that appeals to travellers of more than 170 nationalities and allows them to discover different destinations and cultures, which greatly enriches their cruise experience,” says Onorato.

He adds that the new MSC for Me digital innovation programme and artificial intelligence-powered personal assistant Zoe are also key to attracting guests who want a stress-free cruise experience.

“We’re passionate about constantly enriching our cruise product to provide guests with unique experiences, world-class entertainment, the very best international dining and an award-winning family offering,” says Onorato. “This, combined with our multiple new and beautifully designed modern cruise ships and our ever-growing portfolio of incredible itineraries to destinations worldwide, means that our brand will continue to truly stand out long into the future.”

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Rebecca Gibson
By Rebecca Gibson
31 October 2019

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