MSC Cruises, which launched year-round sailing from Miami last fall with floating Fiats and other fanfare, announced recently it is cutting back on its presence in the United States.
But the privately held European cruise company says it will still serve the North American market next summer — from the Mediterranean, where MSC Divina will be redeployed.
Ken Muskat, executive vice president of sales, public relations and guest services for MSC Cruises USA, said the ship will leave Miami in late April of 2015 for its summer season in the Mediterranean.
Before November of last year, MSC sent ships to South Florida only for the winter season. The company had stationed older vessels in Port Everglades but decided to bring Divina, which launched in 2012, to Miami.
The 3,502-passenger Divina was customized to better attract North Americans last year after other ships left some passengers and travel agents unhappy with the MSC experience. The company limited smoking to a couple of small areas; changed menus; offered free water with meals; emphasized customer service and made announcements in English. Those tweaks will stay in place for the European sailings next summer, MSC said.
Even itineraries are being planned for travelers coming from the United States, with late stays in some ports so passengers can experience the destinations more fully.
In an interview Monday, Muskat said the plan is to “continue the north Americanization in Europe.”
Miami will have some time to get accustomed to the ship’s absence before next summer: Divina will depart in late May for an 18-night voyage to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, where it will be chartered for use as a floating hotel during the World Cup. The ship leaves Rio on July 14 for a 19-night voyage that brings it back to Miami in early August.
After spending next summer in the Mediterranean, Divina will undergo dry dock renovations in Europe, getting some undisclosed enhancements to further appeal to North Americans before heading back to Miami for Caribbean cruising in November of 2015.
MSC made the announcement as they and competitors fight to command stronger prices in the Caribbean. The company’s website offers a seven-night Caribbean voyage departing Saturday at fares as low as $299 per person — less than $43 a night.
“The Caribbean this summer is a bloodbath,” Muskat said. “Prices are very, very low. We don’t see that changing much next summer.”
No other ship will fill in for Divina in Miami during the summer of 2015, Muskat said, adding that he hopes the absence will be “a short-term situation.”
“Hopefully in the near future we’ll be able to commit year-round with multiple ships and we’ll have the demand and established brand to support it,” Muskat said.
Muskat said the company’s U.S. operations, based in Fort Lauderdale, has more than doubled its staff as part of a long-term strategic plan.
“We are by no means giving up on the market,” he said.
Miami-based cruise expert Stewart Chiron, CEO of CruiseGuy.com, said that while the original year-round cruising plan hasn’t worked out for MSC, Divina “made terrific inroads” for the company. He said taking the improved product to Europe, where pricing has been improving, could pay off for the company.
“It’s a smart business decision because they’re going to get higher fares,” he said.