That boxy new ship you’ve seen as you drive across the McArthur Causeway between Miami and Miami Beach? It’s the 5,119-passenger MSC Seaside, the newest vessel from the European cruise line MSC. It joins 3,502-passenger Divina, which arrived in 2013, and a half-dozen others that MSC will bring to North America by 2020. (Three of those will be in Miami year ‘round.) The 10 ships now on order amount to a $12 billion investment.
We toured the ship just after it arrived.Along with a few first-at-sea features, we found others executed in interesting ways. (We didn’t sail, so we can’t comment on service or food.) These notable features have brought it to the top of this year’s awards lists for new ships.
Nautical classicists may decry the decidely boxy shape that makes Seaside look more like a condo-set-asea than a cruise liner. Once you’re on board, you’ll appreciate the endless views and wide range of spaces (19 bars, four pools, four slides and three specialty restaurants) made possible by the change.
Everybody has it these days. MSC keeps up with the trend, with digital wristbands and touch-screen displays around the ship where you can book appointments. The multi-level atrium features a massive series of LED screens that transport you from under the sea (think corals and jellyfish) to far away places.
Flexible modular staterooms
Connected staterooms finally are becoming more available at sea. On Seaside, those cabins are modular too, meaning they can be reconfigured to fit your group’s specific needs, with up to 10 people in a single lodging configuration.
Most modern cruise liners have their engine room aft. Seaside’s engines are located mid-ship, which increases stability and puts its outdoor boardwalk closer to the sea (on deck 8) rather than higher. Other view-ready design elements include windows flanking bars, restaurants and the ship’s atrium; plus balconies on 76 percent of the staterooms. And for those who love a safe thrill, the clear Bridge of Sighs atop the ship lets you “walk” on water as you peer down 131 feet.
The idea of a hotel-within-a-hotel — or in this case, a ship-within-a-ship — isn’t new. Concierge decks and spa cabins are found on many liners, and Norwegian Cruise Line has a private cabin-and-lounge area with its own pool, called The Haven. MSC’s Yacht Club goes further, incorporating a bright airy lounge, 86 suites, private sundeck and pool, and a private restaurant. The successful formula is found on a half-dozen MSC ships, including Seaside.
Nobody does water features like Carnival. And nobody does high-octane adventures (think surfing and skydiving simulators) like Royal Caribbean. MSC follows the trend but adds a few twists, stretching its zip line to the longest at sea (394 feet) and adding a jungle theme to its waterpark, complete with a giant dumping buckets. Bonus: The waterslide features “slideboarding” technology that makes the experience a competitive interactive game.
Low-tech kid spaces
Europeans have a knack for creating children’s spaces that are both sophisticated and low tech. On Seaside, you’ll find a play area with fiberglass islands, logs and palm trees begging to be climbed. A nearby bench is set up for selfies surrounded by a group of colorful kids made of Legos.
Baby boomers can relive their youth at the 50s themed lounge and playroom, complete with two full-length bowling lanes, air hockey and the driving compartment of a ‘56 Chevy Bellaire convertable that’s been transformed into a DJ booth. In turquoise, of course.
Yes, that really is chocolate flowing down the recirculating wall fountain at the counter of Venchi, the Italian chocolatier. If that’s not enough to rev your endorphins, the scent of freshly made jimmies, nonpariels, squares, liquor-filled bon bons, hot cocoa and sorbets may put you into a stupor.
On land brunch is a Sunday staple, but at sea it’s a meal rarely served. Seaside is one of the places where that’s starting to change. At the Butcher’s Cut specialty restaurant, you can order a Mediterranean omelets, carnitas with tater-tot hash, country chicken and biscuits, wild blueberry pancakes and made-to-order bloody mary’s for a modest fee. Brunch is served on selected days throughout the cruise — not just on the weekend.
There are plenty of bubbly bars on the oceans. Seaside’s curvey bar offers wide views to the sea, fresh oysters ($29 per dozen) and caviar with the usual trimmings ($42 for 1 ounce). You can buy Dom, Roederer, Moët & Chandon or Veuvre Clicquot by the bottle, or sip a glass of bubbly for $20.
The first shipboard restaurant of Roy Yamaguchi, the award-winning chef behind Roy’s Restaurants in Hawaii and elsewhere, is in a wow of a space, with low tables set into the wood floor set with red leather benches (instead of those tricky tatami mats). The Asian Market Kitchen menu comes with an extra fee and features braised pork bao buns, watermleon poke, Roy’s famous ribs in Mongolian marinade, fried whole snapper in Thai coconut curry sauce, and a wide array of sushi and sashimi dishes. Wash it all down with Japanese whisky, hot sake or a citrus basil punch.
Every big cruise ship has a sports bar -- or two. Along with memorabilia (including a Dan Marino-signed helmet) and a dozen beers on tap, Seaside’s bar has curved leather booths big enough for a gang to watch the game on the screen inside. You choose the channel.
Size: 153,000 gross tons
Length: 1060 feet
Beam: 135 feet
Capacity: 4,132 passengers, double occupancy
Decks: 15 passenger decks, 20 total
Amenities: four pools, three specialty restaurants, 10 bars and lounges, spa, zipline, bowling alley, water slides and park, casino, age-specific children’s areas