MSC Divina – Ready for America
Welcome to America and welcome to American cruisers
The brand new MSC Divina, the 139,400-ton ship just completed last June in the STX shipyard in St. Nazaire, France, just arrived in Miami on Monday (11-19-13), ready to take U.S. passengers aboard for a trial run up to its first regular Caribbean cruise season. The ship is making a three-day cruise between Miami, Port Canaveral (today) and Great Stirrup Cay (the private island of NCL) for press and travel agents before the regular season begins.
What d you need to know? MSC Cruises was not created for the American cruise market – it was conceived and built for the European “continental” market. But I can tell you, as I currently type this from my stateroom aboard the ship, that it certainly appears for “cruising, American-style.”
It is important to explain “pan-European” cruise lines first. There are two of them; MSC Cruises and Costa Cruises – both of them based in Italy, but only one of them (MSC) owned by Italians. Costa Crociere was originally started by an Italian family as an ocean liner serving the Italy to U.S. transatlantic market, but once cruising became a bigger business; it was soon acquired by Miami-based Carnival Corp., which also owns Carnival Cruise Line, Cunard, Holland America, Princess and Seabourn.
Competing in Europe
English is now the international language of the world (much to the benefit of Americans who rarely speak a second language), but most Americans probably never realized there are two types of consumers in Europe, those who speak English and those who only speak their native tongues. Both MSC and Costa present everything on board (announcements, entertainment, tours, menus, etc.) in five languages; Italian, French, German, Spanish and also English as the default language of the EU. But the real idea is to sell cruises to the people in Europe who are not well versed in English – when the ships are in Europe.
But MSC Divina is here to sell American-style cruising, in English, to US customers, a fairly rare but not unprecedented departure. What is different is the degree to which Divina is committing to the American market – vowing to make the cruises the same as regular American cruise lines – not made to cater to the “pan-European” market. What is the difference? Language, food, customs such as gratuities, dining times, for example.
MSC Divina is a big, diverse, modern, lovely and fun cruise ship – just like any mainstream American cruise ship. MSC Cruises was created as a subsidiary of the very successful and competitive Italian shipping conglomerate, Mediterranean Shipping Company, to compete in Europe for the native speaking populations. Today MSC Cruises is a fleet of 12 cruise ships.
These European nationals who do not speak English tend to come from smaller towns that don’t need English to do business. These are the same people that Costa attracts. But Costa ships are almost identical to the ships of Carnival, especially in terms of superstructure; staterooms, and layout of the public rooms and the pool decks. So, if you have sailed on Carnival you will not see anything much different by taking a Costa cruise. But MSC Cruises’ ships are in a class of their own. Many people think they are quite beautiful - and there are no U.S.-based ships that are exactly like them.
Coming to America
Both Costa and MSC Cruises have sent ships to sail in the Caribbean before, but in the past they have also continued to market those ships to Europeans (who want to see the Caribbean), and so the standard European format of presenting all onboard activities in five languages continued.
But this time MSC is trying to do the Caribbean differently. They only want to market to U.S. cruisers, and so they are transforming the onboard “product” in many various ways that will appeal to American cruisers and compete with Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and other lines. How is it working out? I have just arrived, but so far it looks pretty good.
The European/American Differences
My first American experience with MS Cruises was in St. Nazaire, France, the site of the infamous French shipyard, Chantiers D’ L’Antique; the same shipyard that built the Queen Mary 2 and Norwegian Epic. I was there to sail on the very first sailing of MSC Splendida, a sister ship to this ship.
Just like this ship, that ship was also christened by Sophia Loren (she does all of the MSC ships), but the difference was that ship was full of mostly French cruisers, plus a number of Italian, German and some British. There were almost no Americans onboard at all and I heard very little English.
This ship – with the same superstructure but a different color scheme and décor, is already full of American passengers. Furthermore, all of the public signs have been changed to English, and the crew speaks to everyone, even to each other, only in English. It is like a regular American cruise ship, a very nice one as a matter of fact. In fact, when I was on MSC Splendida in Europe I got used to the crew addressing me as “signore” and greeting me with “boun journo” in the mornings.
Today, on Divina I was watching some crewmembers putting up decorations in a closed public room and when one of them started to speak Italian, he was immediately told by the others, “speak English, as of today we were told everything must be said in English only.”
And so, over the next two days I will have a chance to assess how well MSC can do “American-style cruising.” That is the plan that MSC has for this ship for the entire 2013/14 winter Caribbean cruise season, to sell it to Americans as an alternative cruise line – procedurally no different from any other Miami-based cruise ship.