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Why this cruise line you've barely heard of is ordering 6 giant new ships

Jan. 20, 2020
6 min read
MSC Bellissima at Southampton_20190301_0052_hires
Why this cruise line you've barely heard of is ordering 6 giant new ships
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The rapid expansion of MSC Cruises will continue through at least 2030.

The Europe-based megaship operator announced on Monday a trio of shipyard deals that will bring it at least six more vessels over the next few years — on top of six already on order.

The deals, with the giant Chantiers de l'Atlantique shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, France, included a firm contract for the construction of a third and fourth ship in the line's World Class series, to be delivered in 2025 and 2027, respectively.

At 205,700 tons, the World Class vessels will be among the biggest cruise ships ever built and have room for up to 6,761 passengers a piece. The first ship in the series already is under construction at the shipyard and due for delivery in 2022. A second vessel in the series has been on order for delivery in 2024.

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The trio of deals announced Monday also included a so-called Memorandum of Understanding between MSC Cruises and Chantiers de l'Atlantique to develop yet another new class of vessels.

MSC Cruises offered few details of the ships in the new series other than to say there would be four of them, and the total cost of the series would come to around $4.4 billion. Such a price tag suggests the ships in the new series will be quite large.

At 205,700 tons, the new World Class ships on order for MSC Cruises will be among the biggest cruise vessels ever built. Image courtesy of MSC Cruises.
The new World Class ships will be among the biggest cruise vessels ever built. Image courtesy of MSC Cruises.

The third deal announced Monday was a Memorandum of Understanding to develop a second new class of vessels that MSC Cruises said would be innovative in its design. The line offered almost no details about the project other than to say the line and shipyard would "explore opportunities that wind power and other advanced technologies could bring to passenger shipping."

MSC Cruises also didn't say when the ships in the two new series would arrive. But, in a statement accompanying the announcement, MSC Cruises executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago suggested the vessels would be in service by 2030.

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“The three agreements signed today extend our investment plan up to 2030," Vago said. "They stem from an exceptional partnership, with Chantiers de l’Atlantique, that has already delivered 15 highly-innovative cruise ships over the past two decades and will see many more vessels come to life at Saint-Nazaire’s docks in the next 10 years."

MSC Cruises currently has 17 ships in its fleet.

The agreements extend what has been one of the fastest-growing expansions of a cruise line in years. As recently as early 2017, MSC Cruises had just 12 ships in operation. At the time, the line promised to triple its capacity within a decade.

While it's well known to Europeans, MSC Cruises has far less name recognition among Americans than such big U.S.-based lines as Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line. But the line has been moving aggressively to change that.

As part of its expansion, MSC Cruises has been rapidly building its footprint in North America in an effort to woo more Americans. In 2017, MSC Cruises only had a single vessel based in North America. It now has two vessels based year-round in Miami and two more sailing out of the port on a seasonal basis. Later this year, it'll begin its first sailings from Tampa. It has scheduled voyages from the New York City-area for later this year and in 2021, too.

All of the North America-based ships are marketed heavily to Americans.

Founded in 1989 in Naples, Italy, and now based in Switzerland, MSC Cruises in recent years has been building big, resort-like vessels that compete with the biggest ships from the likes of Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line. It currently operates three of the 10 biggest cruise ships in the world.

With the addition of five major new vessels since early 2017, MSC Cruises is now the world's fourth-largest cruise line by number of passengers carried, behind only Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian. It's bigger than such well-known U.S.-based brands as Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruises and Holland America Line.

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The new World Class vessels that MSC Cruises has in the works will be the biggest vessels ever operated by a Europe-based cruise line, but not quite the biggest ships in the world. Royal Caribbean's record-breaking Oasis Class vessels, including the recently unveiled Symphony of the Seas, still will be a tad bigger.

MSC Cruises is a division of privately owned MSC Group, one of the world's biggest shipping companies. In addition to expanding its MSC Cruises brand, the MSC Group is investing an additional $2.2 billion into an as-yet-unnamed new luxury cruise brand. The new brand, which will operate yacht-like vessels, is scheduled to debut in 2023. Four ships for the brand are on order.

The Chantiers de l'Atlantique shipyard has built some of the world's most famous cruise ships, including Symphony of the Seas and Cunard's Queen Mary 2. It's one of the few shipyards in the world capable of building today's biggest cruise ships.

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Featured image by MSC Bellissima. (Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises)