A ship of 'exploration and discovery'

MSC Seaside's distinctive stern and, from top, the atrium with six Swarovski crystal staircases, Ocean Cay seafood restaurant and the longest zip line on a ship MSC Seaside's distinctive stern and, from top, the atrium with six Swarovski crystal staircases, Ocean Cay seafood restaurant and the longest zip line on a ship

MSC Seaside entered service from PortMiami with a head-turning look and a bevy of new features. The design, which sprang from the imagination of Fincantieri's Maurizio Cergol, is one of a kind.

'It's a really exciting ship,' said Trevor Young, VP newbuilding, MSC Cruises, who particularly likes the aft area.

'I love the flow, and all the curves,' he continued. 'I call it a ship of exploration and discovery. Everywhere you go you discover something new.'

The distinctive aft superstructure resembles condominium towers soaring above a sun deck with pool. There, glass elevators link the main pool areas on Decks 7 and 16. Plus, like many travel agents and media who sampled MSC Seaside on a couple preview overnights, Young singled out the gelateria at the Deck 7 pool as a favorite.

'The outside decks and the water park are amazing, with all the levels,' he added.

Young credited the 'amazing vision' of MSC Cruises executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago and Raphaela Aponte, the wife of MSC founder Gianluigi Aponte, for the realization of MSC Seaside. Young's project team sailed from its delivery at the shipyard all the way to Miami to 'fine-tune everything.'

Madame Aponte, who's deeply involved in each MSC ship's interior design, lived on board for three weeks, making sure everything met her exacting standards.

'What other company does that?' Young marveled of the family-owned MSC. 'It rubs off on all the crew. They see her. They all know her.

'It's a completely different way of working than I've ever done,' he added. 'I love it.'

Young described the feedback from passengers on the crossing as 'very positive.'

MSC Seaside's gasp-inducing look is standing at the Deck 7 aft pool and gazing up at the 'condo' towers soaring into the sky. And, from up top, the Bridge of Sighs, a glass-bottom walkway, elicits more gasps than sighs.

Deck 8 is designed as a boardwalk, with outdoor seating for bars and restaurants, bringing passengers closer to the sea on this very large (153,516gt) ship.

Inside, the multi-deck atrium glitters with six Swarovski crystal staircases, and stages and LED screens at each level serve for performances such as an impromptu '70s late-night dance party.

'This is very sexy,' Vanessa Lee, president and CEO of Toronto-based Cruise Strategies Ltd. and publisher, Cruise & Travel Lifestyles, said of the atrium. 'It's got a good vibe. It brings a lot of energy to the space. I love it.'

Seven production shows—one for every night of the cruise—are staged in the 934-seat Metropolitan Theater, and MSC Seaside has the line's first improvisational comedy shows, in partnership with North America's BeerProv.

High on Deck 16, Asian Market Kitchen by Roy Yamaguchi is three restaurants in one. The pan-Asian gourmet venue, with sweeping sea views, features dishes like slow-braised pork belly bao, whole snapper, filet mignon and rack of lamb. There's a sushi bar, and a separate room of four teppanyaki grills. Yamaguchi, too, has been on board in recent days, overseeing the chefs.

Clustered in the same area are two other specialty restaurants: Butcher's Cut for steaks, featuring the signature tomahawk steak ($90 for two), and Ocean Cay, a seafood specialty spot with Miami's famous stone crabs among the menu items (12 oysters are $29, bouillabaisse for two, $50, and three soft shell crabs, $24; or there's a $50 fixed price menu with a choice of three items). A wine cellar located between the restaurants is ideal for small group tastings.

Off the atrium is La Boheme, an enticing French bistrot with choices like a charcuterie selection ($16), onion soup ($7), escargots ($10), salad Nicoise ($9), quiche Lorraine ($10) and croque madame ($9). Nearby is a swanky Champagne bar, one of more than half a dozen bars on board.

And besides the two main restaurants, Ipanema and Seashore, there are two buffets. The Marketplace Buffet offers food stations with a carvery, pizzeria, salad bar and more, and the Colonial Buffet & Pizzeria has tables designed for children.

Big hits on the inaugural sailings from Miami were the Italian chocolate maker Venchi's two spots. Tempting aromas waft from the chocolate bar, with its chocolate waterfall, and people flock to nibble on samples and watch the pastry chefs at work behind the glass-fronted counters. Beside the Deck 7 aft pool, a Venchi gelato and creperie outlet got rave reviews.

Four swimming pools, four water slides including the first slideboarding at sea, dual zip lines (at 345 feet, the longest at sea), bowling, billiards and an F1 simulator are among MSC Seaside's many diversions.

'My favorite experience was being on the top deck and watching the zip lines,' said Adam Snitzer, SVP guest services, MSC Cruises USA. 'The water slides are incredible. And then I turned around and there was a gelato bar with my two favorite flavors, nocciola and chocolate.'

MSC Seaside's colorful and meticulously planned youth area has six spaces, including Baby Club Chicco for children up to 3 and two LEGO-themed clubs for 'minis' (3-6) and 'juniors' (7-11). There are separate clubs for kids 12-14 and 15-17 and a family area, the Doremi Studio, is equipped with a green screen for talent shows.

The open-air Forest Adventure Park, a water park, is particularly appealing. 'My kid would go crazy in there,' a Florida man said. 'It's awesome.'

The park is located beside the exotic Jungle Pool, a balmy area of pools, waterfalls and greenery, all topped by a retractable glass roof.

The vast MSC Aurea Spa specializes in Balinese massage and other treatments (and many of the therapists are Balinese). Plus, it offers a snow room; light, scent and geyser showers; pools, relaxation rooms, heated loungers, steam baths and saunas, couples cabanas on deck ($350 per day, including a couple's massage) and medi-spa treatments (the $350 per shot fillers were so popular on the trans-Atlantic crossing, they ran out).

MSC Seaside, which carries up to 5,119 passengers, offers 10 types of accommodations. Most (73%, or 1,315) have balconies. And a number of those balcony rooms can be connected, ideal for families, with space for up to 10 people. Two accommodations are wellness staterooms with advanced kinesis equipment from Technogym.

The large MSC Yacht Club of 86 deluxe suites, with 24-hour concierge and butler service, has a restaurant above the forward-facing lounge, along with a private pool and sun deck with bar. There's also direct access to the MSC Aurea Spa, where two massage rooms are dedicated to Yacht Club residents.

With MSC Seaside joining MSC Divina year-round from Miami, Pierfrancesco Vago said MSC Cruises aims to carry 80% North Americans on the two ships. Currently about half of MSC Divina's passenger base consists of Europeans.

Posted 23 December 2017

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Anne Kalosh

Editor, Seatrade Cruise News & Senior Associate Editor Seatrade Cruise Review