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MSC Meraviglia (image © Seatrade Cruise News)

It’s time to talk about MSC which over recent years has been steadily growing and growing. Last week their latest and largest ship, MSC Meraviglia, was christened at the STX France shipyard in St. Nazaire and handed over to MSC. With a tonnage of nearly 172,000 and with capacity for 4,500 passengers, she definitely counts as a big ship – she’s the ninth-largest in the world at the moment, I gather.

This is all a long way from MSC’s beginnings in the 90s and early 00s when they had a fleet of small, disparate ships. They gave an indication that they were serious about this cruising business when they ordered two new builds, the Lirica class (MSC Lirica and MSC Opera), at just under 60,000 tons, for delivery in 2003 and 2004. When two very-near sister ships became available following the collapse of Festival Cruises, MSC snaffled them as well – these were MSC Sinfonia and MSC Armonia so at that point (2005) they had four smaller but new ships.

Then they started building like there was no tomorrow. First came the Musica class: these were Panamax ships with a tonnage just over 92,000 and a standard passenger capacity of 2500 or so. Eventually there were four in this class – Musica, Orchestra, Magnifica and Poesia, and they were delivered between 2006 and 2010. They also ordered four ships in the significantly-larger Fantasia class – about 137,000 tons and almost 4000 passengers in standard capacity. These were the Fantasia, Splendida, Divina and Preziosa. MSC Divina managed to get herself caught up in all the arguments about Venice – she was at the time the largest ship regularly sailing in and out of Venice. These four ships were delivered between 2008 and 2013, so they overlapped with the Musica class.

Now the first of the Meraviglia class, MSC Meraviglia herself, has been delivered, and she’s MSC’s biggest ship yet. She’ll be followed by a sister ship, MSC Bellissima, in 2019. At least I believe she’s a sister ship but the quoted tonnage figure is a little lower at 167,000. There are options for two further Meraviglia-plus ships in 2019 and 2020.

Even that’s not all. Currently being built, and due for delivery this November is MSC Seaside, the lead ship in a new class, the Seaside class. She’ll have a tonnage of just under 155,000 and a capacity of 5,400 passengers. There’s a sister ship, MSC Seaview, due in 2018 and an option for a third ship in 2021. Finally – well, as far as we know – there will be two monster ships in a new ‘World’ class. They’ll be about 200,000 tons and carry over 6000 passengers and will be delivered in 2022 and 2024, and there are options for two more in 2025 and 2026. These ships will all be LNG-fuelled.

Oh – I should have mentioned that the first four ships, the Lirica class, were all stretched between 2013 and 2016, which increased their tonnage to 65,000.

So currently – June 2017 – MSC has a fleet of 13 ships, more than half of which are less than 10 years old. Indeed, the oldest ship, MSC Armonia, is only 16 years old and in any case was stretched just a 4 years ago. Assuming they keep all their present ships, by 2025 they’ll have an additional 6 ships, or perhaps 7 if they take up the option for the third Seaside-class ship. Call it 20 ships, mostly very new, and mostly humungously big. That’s a huge gamble that the cruise market will continue to grow. One the one hand I can’t help admiring the drive that’s taken them from where they started to their present position, but on the other hand I look at those passenger numbers and think the ships must be very crowded.

Our first cruise was a 7-night fly cruise out of Genoa on MSC Sinfonia in 2005. Although we’ve never been back to MSC it must have been at least OK, given that we’ve cruised at least once a year ever since. That said, I think we were aware even then that the ship was pretty crowded; there wasn’t a lot of space. In Europe MSC’s passengers are from a variety of countries – on our cruise there were Italians, Germans, French, Spanish, plus a scattering of Brits, Irish and Scandinavians. I remember that announcements were made in five languages, one after the other. There weren’t a lot of frills, and the cruise itself was very much a repeated circle – Genoa, Naples, Messina, Tunis, Palma, Barcelona, Marseilles and back to Genoa. Some of the stops were only for half a day, and the itinerary was repeated week after week. This meant that MSC could do ‘interporting’ – the practice whereby the same 7-night cruise was sold with different starting points. We joined at Genoa which to be honest was where most people embarked, but for a couple of nights we ate with some Scandinavians who had joined at Barcelona for 7 nights (i.e. their cruise was from Barcelona back to Barcelona), and I also saw people joining at Palma. MSC also provide cruises in the Caribbean and I’m not familiar with the arrangements for those.

3 Responses to “MSC”

  1. Malcolm Oliver says:

    Hi Tom, I believe MSC are now the number three cruise line (or will be shortly) in terms of berths. They have/will push NCL into fourth place.

    It’s an impressive expansion!

    • Tom Burke says:

      Thanks for that point, Malcolm – I hadn’t realised that MSC had grown that much.

      However, NCL have some new tonnage coming, don’t they? I imagine that over the next few years they might each be able to claim the title of “3rd biggest cruise line”, at various times. And of course MSC might decide to divest themselves of some or all of their smaller ships; that would alter the picture a bit.

  2. Malcolm Oliver says:

    HI Tom, you are probably right that NCL may well spar with MSC for the 3rd place.

    It’s all a bit complex!

    NCL’s next class of ship, Project Leonardo (4 ships) will actually be slightly smaller that their ‘Breakaway+’ class and will carry up to 600 passenger less, I believe. So NCL’s next ships are NOT increasing in size, they are shrinking a little, although they will still be big!

    MSC Meraviglia carries more passengers NCL’s ‘Breakaway+’ class

    In addition MSC’s ‘World Class’, although 25,000 gt less that than the world’s biggest, RCI’s Oasis class ships, will hold a world record number of passengers, said to be up to 6,850.

    For the record NCL’s Project ‘Leonardo’ ships are actually based on MSC’s (STX) ‘Seaside’ design.


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