There is an old adage about the poor quality of food to be expected on anything that flies, floats or revolves. But just as airlines are lifting the quality of their meals, so too are cruise companies. MSC Cruises has made the quality of its culinary offerings one of the main selling points aboard its newly launched MSC Preziosa.
Words: Winsor Dobbin
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s befits a company that boasts of true “Mediterranean hospitality”, MSC Cruises makes eating and drinking a key element of each cruise.
The two main restaurants, the two-deck Golden Lobster and L’Arabesque, offer a melange of Mediterranean flavours —and a choice of more than 100 different wines. Here, dishes may include courgette flowers stuffed with Robiola cheese mousse, or turbot with aromatic Riviera herbs.
But there is so much more on offer, with two buffets open 20 hours a day and venues such as Eataly and Ristorante Italia, the first floating outposts of a popular Turin-based restaurant chain that promotes Italian ‘slow food’.
The focus in the ultra-modern 80-seater Eataly restaurant is on using local, artisanal produce that’s sustainable and healthy: think dishes like salami platters, smoked trout carpaccio or gragnano spaghetti with authentic Genovese pasta sauce. The 24-seat dinner-only Ristorante Italia, meanwhile, features a slow food table d’hôte menu each night also focusing on small producers—and each dish can be paired with a different glass of wine.
Other options include La Locanda, a wine bar and pizzeria that hosts sommelier-led tastings; the supper club-style Galaxy Lounge restaurant that serves Mediterranean fusion cuisine; and the American-style Sports & Bowling Diner, where sports are played continuously on the big-screen TVs. There is also the Gelateria and Pasticceria for those with sweet tooths—it comes with its own chocolate fountain.
Guests in the 69 Yacht Club cabins—effectively first class afloat—can choose from the Moroccan-themed La Palmeraie restaurant with its Italian-accented menu, finger food in the Top Sail Lounge with panoramic ocean views, or casual dishes throughout the day at The One bar and buffet.
MSC Preziosa was launched by MSC Cruises’ godmother, Sophia Loren, in the line’s home port of Genoa, Italy, in late March. It was a glittering black-tie affair attended by a who’s who of Italian society, who enjoyed music from an orchestra conducted by acclaimed composer Ennio Morricone.
And while the launch was glamorous, the ship, with its iridescent glass mosaics, white marble, aquamarine cobblestones, oak panelling, leather and Murano glass, is equally so.
One of the main features is the Aurea Spa, complete with Balinese therapists, that offers a wide range of sophisticated treatments (20 types of massage, 19 body treatments, 19 facials and six hair rituals among them).
The launch of Preziosa marked MSC Cruises becoming the third-largest cruise line in the world— a remarkable achievement for a family-owned company. MSC is now ranked only behind Carnival Cruises and Royal Caribbean International, with a capacity of 1.6 million guests across its 12 ships in 2013.
MSC launched its first cruise ship in 1997 and Preziosa is the fourth member of the cruise line’s Fantasia class.
The company has more than 50 per cent of its capacity in the Mediterranean, 14 per cent in South America, 12.5 percent in Northern Europe, and the remainder in Africa, the Caribbean, Canary Islands and Red Sea. Australia is on the radar, says CEO Pierfrancesco Vago.
Preziosa’s first itineraries will take her to Naples, Messina, the Tunisian coast, Barcelona and Marseilles. Her crew hail from 48 different nations, and service levels are exceptionally high.
The ship, originally ordered and designed by deposed Libyan dictator Muammar Gadaffi and his son Hannibal, was under construction in St Nazaire in Brittany, France, when Gaddafi was toppled in 2011.
Italian billionaire Gianluigi Aponte, owner of MSC, stepped in and snapped up the half-constructed vessel and had it finished to MSC specifications. Out went Gaddafi’s plans for a massive shark tank to dominate the fifth-floor atrium; in went a glittering staircase and a Hyatt-style glass elevator.
At 330 metres long, more than the length of three football pitches, Preziosa has a top speed of 24 knots. All 18 of her decks are named after precious stones.
Preziosa, whichcost around $720 million to build, has three swimming pools, 26 lifts, a mini bowling alley and 20 bars, cafés and restaurants over 18 decks. It feels less like a ship than like a city afloat. The fit-out is undeniable flashy but never over the top.
For the young at heart, there is Vertigo, a 13-metre high, 120-metre long waterslide (the longest single-body slide afloat); if you’re after a more serene experience, try the infinity-style Garden Pool, identical to the one on sister ship MSC Divina. For those who fancy chancing their luck, the Millennium Star Casino offers blackjack, poker, roulette, dice games and slot machines; and there are nightly shows in the 1,600-seat Platinum Theatre.
The ship’s smaller guests are catered for at the Doremi Castle Aqua Park and Doremiland, and in an onboard kids’ clubs tailored to children of different age groups. And there are 36 shore excursions to choose among at the various ports of call.
If you’re looking for a little peace and quiet, the upmarket MSC Yacht Club suites, with complimentary minibar facilities and private decks, sit to the fore of the ship. Yacht Club guests get 24-hour butler and concierge service; and exclusive use of the private La Palmeraie eatery, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (with free seating and choose-your-own dining times). They can also enjoy complimentary cocktails at the Top Sail Lounge while enjoying uninterrupted views.
My gripes were few. Walking through a couple of bars where smoking is allowed was unpleasant and the lifts seemed inordinately slow. Shuttle-bus prices also seemed extortionate. That aside, this is a thoroughly enjoyable experience and the Mediterranean was like a millpond throughout our early spring maiden voyage.