Southampton’s status as one of the world’s key cruise ports has been underlined by news the last of the industry’s Big Three is to start major operations here next year.
The Daily Echo can exclusively reveal MSC Cruises is to base the 60,000-ton ship MSC Opera in the city– the first time it has ever operated here.
The Italian firm will run 13 cruises from Southampton during May to September 2011 as it competes headto- head with Carnival UK and Royal Caribbean International, already well established in the city.
And in an added boost for Southampton’s coffers, MSC will bring thousands of visiting passengers to the city for day trips.
Senior port insiders said it was now urgent the city developed a plan for persuading the visitors to stay in Southampton rather than “disappearing off on a bus”.
Giulio Libutti, MSC Cruises’ UK and Ireland managing director said: “Cruising from a UK port is becoming ever more desirable and popular and we are delighted to be working with Southampton in 2011.
“Southampton is well suited to our new planned itineraries cruising to the north of France, Spain and Portugal. The infrastructure and amenities at the port and in the city make Southampton a desirable and attractive port for us, with great transport links offered by road, rail and air,which will better service our passengers.’’ However, MSC Cruises will make its presence felt in Southampton as early as next month when it brings the brand new, MSC Magnifica to the city for a series of inaugural events.
Then later in the year, MSC Poseia is scheduled to begin a one-off trans- Atlantic voyage to New York from Southampton.
MSC Cruises, the third biggest operator with 11 vessels in service, will rival Carnival UK, parent company of Cunard, P&O Cruises and Princess Cruises, and Royal Caribbean International, with its Celebrity Cruises division, in Southampton.
Doug Morrison, Southampton port director said, “We are absolutely delighted to be welcoming MSC Cruises to the port in February to showcase their new vessel MSC Magnifica.
“This, together with the exciting announcement of their decision to sail from Southampton in 2011, is wonderful news for the city and the surrounding area.
“In recent years we have invested more than £41 million in our cruise terminals to ensure all passengers using the port experience a high quality and efficient service. MSC passengers will benefit from our bespoke facilities, and we hope will also enjoy the wide range of attractions in the region.”
A senior cruise industry figure, who did not want to be named, said Southampton had to compete to win a slice of the tourist pound.
“MSC will be dropping off 2,000 passengers to spend the day in the region. What an opportunity that is for the city,” he said. “We have to get our act together and draw up a plan or they will all just disappear out of the city on a bus somewhere.
“We should be putting together an attractive package with a free bus to WestQuay or something to try and entice them to stay.”
Built in 2003, the medium sized, 60,000 ton, MSC Opera has a total of 878 staterooms, many offering private balconies, two swimming pools, library, theatre, gymnasium and a health spa.
Next month more than 2,000 representatives of the shipping and travel industries are expected in Southampton over the weekend of Saturday, February 27 and Sunday, February 28, to take part in a series of inaugural celebrations to mark MSC Magnifica’s entry into service.
MSC Cruises can trace its roots back to the 1960s when it was originally founded as Lauro Lines before eventually taking its present name in 1994.