Richard Tribou, Orlando Sentinel
1:20 PM EST, November 7, 2013
Florida cruising's menu is about to get a permanent taste of Italy as the MSC Divina is making its way from Europe to its new home at PortMiami to begin eastern and western Caribbean cruises 365 days a year.
Previously, MSC Cruises had sailed seasonally out of Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale on the Poesia, which has left the U.S. for service back in Europe.
"PortMiami offers more opportunities to grow our international base and offers more opportunity for the Latin market," said Ken Muskat, senior vice president of sales and marketing for MSC Cruises. "It's amazing how close Fort Lauderdale and Miami are yet nobody crosses over that border. So Miami with the amount of Brazilians and South Americans that we've got in that area, we think that it opens it up to a whole new market."
MSC Cruises has 12 cruise ships and sails primarily in the European market. The Divina, currently on an 18-day transatlantic voyage from Venice, is the line's second newest ship having entered service in 2012. It's also the largest ship the line has sent stateside. A Fantasia-class vessel, the Divina is 1,094 feet long, 139,4000 tons and has a passenger capacity of 4,345 although will normally sail with around 3,600.
The ship features 1,751 staterooms, a casino, seven restaurants, 18 bars and lounges, five swimming pools including an infinity pool, a bowling alley, theater, gym, spa, Internet cafe, conference center, children and teen areas as well as the MSC Yacht Club VIP area.
"First time year-round Caribbean, first time with the Yacht Club and I think first time out of Miami is a perfect fit," Muskat said. "We feel this is a perfect place for the MSC brand amongst the comeptition that's doing the Caribbean."
The ship is expect to arrive at PortMiami on Nov. 19 and begin sailing on Nov. 20.
The line is quite proud of its Italian flair and hopes to attract passengers from the U.S. market looking for something a little different than its main competitors: Princess, Celebrity, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean.
"This is going to truly be a Mediterranean cruise experience with a North American flair," Muskat said. "It's going to be the best of what MSC stand for: Very heavy on the culinary aspects, the enrichments, the fine wines, the home-made pastas, the relaxed atmosphere as if you're in the Mediterranean. But if you chose to go to the sports bar and you wanted to watch the football game and have some chicken wings, you'll be able to."
With its background being primarily in foreign markets, MSC has made efforts to address the needs of a North American clientele, Muskat explained.
"We're looking at everything from languages on board, to the staff, the language that the staff speaks, the smoking policy, the menus, the food offerings, the TV channels, the entertainment, activities, virtually everything we've looked at to say, 'OK. How do we maintain what is in our DNA, but how do we appeal more to the North American audience?'"
The smoking policy, for instance, will be decidedly different than Europe, which is much more accepting of the habit, Muskat said. The ship will be primarily nonsmoking, except for certain decks, parts of the casino and the cigar bar.
The European appeal of the line, though, will be felt throughout the ship.
"A portion of the entertainment will be very Italian or Mediterranean influenced," Muskat said. "Whether it's singers, piano players, the types of music that's in the production shows. We're also going to have an Italian day on board where people can learn the language, people can take activities such as pizza making, can learn all about fine wines -- that part of the enrichment aspect of Italy."
The line has been one of the fastest growing and youngest fleets in the industry.
"We basically built 10 ships in 10 years for the most part. Now is the first time that the company does not have any new ships coming out so the focus now is understand how to continue to perform, how to generate new business," Muskat said. "So we're making tremendous efforts on Divina out of North America, efforts like we've never done before."
So while current plans have only one ship based this side of the Atlantic, Muskat didn't rule out expansion in the future.
"Hopefully long term plan is to make it so successful out of North America that we can add another seasonal ship and we can continue to grow."
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