Gianluigi Aponte, owner of Mediterranean Shipping Company, acquired Starlauro, a one-ship cruise line whose fleet consisted of the Achille Lauro (which had been hijacked by Palestinian terrorists in 1986). This first ship continued its troubled history, even while under the MSC flag. In 1996, the Achille Lauro, while sailing a passenger cruise, caught fire off the coast of Africa and, ultimately, sank. All passengers were safely rescued.
Other ships in MSC’s early fleet included MSC Melody and MSC Rhapsody. (Both were existing ships that were acquired by the line; both have since retired.)
The turn of the millennium was a massive breakthrough for MSC, when huge container ship operator Mediterranean Shipping Company, the line’s parent, decided it was time to expand its presence in the cruise market. The result was an order for a pair of brand-new 58,000-ton ships — the very first new-builds in the company’s history. Three years later, in 2003, the company took delivery of their first-born, MSC Lirica, setting off an epic expansion that would catapult MSC to the number four spot worldwide — and number two in Europe — in a matter of years.
MSC Opera debuted in June 2004, carrying 1,756 passengers. The line then bought several vessels from the defunct First European/Festival: MSC Armonia and MSC Sinfonia; both ships measured 58,625 tons and carried 1,566 passengers. The ships in the Lirica Class were stretched and expanded through the line’s Renaissance program, adding additional staterooms to each vessel.
The introduction of a new class of ships — larger, more amenity-laden and featuring an even higher ratio of private verandahs — emerged with MSC Musica. Measuring 89,600 tons and accommodating 2,550 passengers, that class “master” was launched in June 2006; siblings include MSC Orchestra (debuted in spring of 2007) and MSC Poesia (spring 2008). MSC Magnifica, the fourth ship in the Musica class, launched in 2010.
The Fantasia Class of ships followed in 2008. MSC Fantasia (137,936 tons, 3,274 passengers), which debuted in December 2008, was the first of four Fantasia-class vessels. Sister ship MSC Splendida (137,936 tons, 3,274 passengers) debuted in 2009, and MSC Divina (139,072 tons, 3,502 passengers) arrived in May 2012. MSC Preziosa (139,072 tons, 3,502 passengers) joined the fleet in 2013. These two post-Panamax-sized vessels are based on a unique protoype that incorporates first-ever features, such as the ship-within-a-ship Yacht Club concept for suite holders, a pool with a magrodome for all-seasons swimming and an interactive center with a 4D theater and a Formula One simulator.
In 2014, MSC announced four new ships, the first of which — MSC Meraviglia — will debut in June 2017. Carrying 4,500-passengers, it will be second only to Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class in terms of passenger capacity. MSC Meraviglia is being built in the same shipyard as the Oasis-class ships — STX France — and will be the biggest ship ever built by a European-based cruise line. Meraviglia — the name means “wonder” in Italian — will spend its first summer sailing the western Mediterranean with three homeports: Genoa, Marseille and Barcelona.
Hot on its heels will be the launch in November 2017 of MSC Seaside, heralding another new class of ship — Seaside. It will be smaller than Meraviglia at 160,000 gross tons, and it will have 2,067 cabins holding 4,134 passengers in double occupancy. It will launch in Miami, be christened there and homeport there year-round, in a further bid for the line to break into the U.S. market. A second Seaside class ship will follow in May 2018.
The line has also set its sights on China: MSC Lirica made its homeport in Shanghai in May 2016, initially for two years. It also ventured into Cuba, basing MSC Opera there in 2015 and MSC Armonia in November 2016.
Uniquely, in an era in which cruise lines choose a different celebrity godmother for each ship in the fleet, the Mediterranean-influenced MSC has remained loyal to legendary actress Sophia Loren. She’s served as godmother for every new ship since MSC Lirica.
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