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Cruise Line Review

MSC Cruises - Cruise Line Review provided by Cruise Critic

About

Mediterranean Shipping Company's MSC Italian Cruises may be a relatively new entrant in cruising's leisure travel niche - it was formed in 1987 - but the Geneva-based firm is one of the world's biggest players in international shipping (it currently ranks as the second largest container company).

Subsidiary MSC Italian Cruises, which is based in Naples, was conceived around the premise of offering Europeans an affordably-priced cruise vacation. That's a concept that, in 1990, was fairly revolutionary.

At its inception, MSC Italian Cruises was created when Gianlucci 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 Italian Cruises 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.

Beyond the Achille Lauro, the company has built its fleet by acquiring mid-sized "classic" cruise vessels whose launch dates range from the 1950s to the 1980s. In recent years, however, MSC Italian Cruises, in an effort to keep up with competitors like First European/Festival and Costa Cruises, has changed its strategy - embarking on a first-ever newbuild program in company history. MSC launched the 59,000-ton, 1,560-passenger MSC Lirica in 2003 and will premiere a sister ship, MSC Opera, in 2004.

The Fleet

The MSC Italian Cruises fleet can be divided into two categories: the very-value-priced refurbished "classic" ships and newbuilds. In the former category are the 35,000-ton, 1,064-passenger MSC Melody (built 1982; formerly known as Premier Cruise Lines' Starship Atlantic); the 20,000-ton, 566-passenger MSC Monterey (a former U.S. flagged liner built in 1952); and the 17,495-ton, 780-passenger MSC Rhapsody (formerly known as Cunard Princess and built in 1977).

MSC Italian Cruises first new ship, the aforementioned MSC Lirica, was launched in April 2003 - and built at France's Chantiers de l'Atlantique. Sister ship MSC Opera was unveiled in summer 2004.

Onboard Atmosphere

Whether new ship or old, MSC Italian Cruises emphasizes a very European - strongly influenced by its Italian roots - environment. Activities and entertainment, particularly on Mediterranean cruises, is geared to European travelers and passengers, whatever their language preference. Passengers should be prepared for announcements to be read in Italian, French, Spanish, German and English.

Life onboard, particularly when it comes to mealtime, follows a more traditional cruise schedule with scheduled dining times and seatmates.

On ships sailing in the Caribbean during winters, the environment is more geared to North American passengers.

Itineraries

MSC Italian Cruises' main playground is, of course, the Mediterranean, and itineraries include stops in Italy, Greece, Malta, Canary Islands, Croatia, Portugal, Morocco, Spain, Istanbul and even the Ukraine. MSC Italian Cruises began serving the Caribbean in 1997 and has since added cruises to South Africa and South America. Interestingly, one part of Europe the line does not serve - at least not yet - is the Baltic.

Fellow Passengers

In the Mediterranean and South Africa, expect a very European crowd though Caribbean sailings are geared very strongly to North American travelers. In all cases, MSC Italian Cruises' appeals to travelers interested in a moderately priced cruise experience.

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