(4 a.m. EDT) — The newly refurbished MSC Lirica will homeport in Shanghai from May 1, 2016, initially for two years.
MSC Cruises will operate a joint partnership with the Chinese company CAISSA Touristic, which has been running domestic cruises for many years.
Speaking exclusively to Cruise Critic, MSC’s CEO Gianni Onorato said: “The most common question I have been asked in the past two years is: ‘When are you going to China?’
“We wanted to find the right partner to work with, and that is CAISSA Touristic.” The company also partners with Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Costa Cruises, he said.
Onorato said that MSC had learned a lot from its initial foray into North America, and would be adjusting its practices. One of the criticisms leveled at MSC Divina — which homeported in Miami this year and will return again in 2016 — was that the crew and the ambiance were ‘too Italian’, meaning they did not have the same service standards that North Americans expect and many did not speak fluent English.
For Lirica, “we will be recruiting 30 percent Chinese-speaking crew and opening a training center in the Philippines,” Onorato said.
Front: (L) CAISSA Touristic President Chen Xiaobing (R) MSC Cruises CEO Gianni Onorato
Back: (L) CAISSA Senior Vice President, Wang Zhu Li (R) MSC Executive Director, Emerging Markets, Antonio Paradiso
MSC Lirica is currently being lengthened and refurbished as part of MSC’s ongoing €200 million (more than $225 million) Renaissance Programme. The extra length will increase its capacity from 1,445 passengers to 2,600 passengers.
It will also have a host of features specifically for the Chinese market including upmarket shops, signage in Mandarin, a different color scheme, Chinese food and Chinese entertainment.
MSC Lirica will arrive in China in May next year after a 60-day Grand Voyage, with passengers able to embark in Rio de Janeiro, Genoa or Dubai.
Asked whether MSC Lirica will be the first of many MSC ships to be based in China, Onorato said: “I would be bullish to say yes to that question, but I would not be honest if I said no. The first is always followed by more.”
The announcement is the latest in a series from MSC regarding international expansion, including further growth in the U.S., and basing a ship in Cuba for the first time from this December.
MSC Cruises is one of a number of lines which has announced expansion into China in recent months, including Carnival, Princess and most recently Norwegian Cruise Line, which will return to Asia for the first time in 13 years.