While most cruise lines have been sitting idle for the past 13 months, MSC Cruises has proven time and again that cruising can be safe during a pandemic. The cruise line restarted ships in the Mediterranean on board MSC Grandiosa and Magnifica last August and since then, thousands of cruisers have been back on board with no issues whatsoever.
MSC Cruises CEO Gianni Onorato joined Porthole Cruise Founder and Editor-in-Chief Bill Panoff to discuss the cruise line’s plan to restart full operations, the delivery of their new ship MSC Virtuosa and whether or not vaccines will be mandatory to cruise with MSC in the future.
When Will Cruising Resume in America?
Our first question for Gianni Onorato was one that our own readers ask us on a near daily basis; when will cruising return to America. Onorato explained that while they’d love to get going again from U.S. Ports, there are conditions out of their control that have to be met which make the restart challenging.
“There are certain conditions which need to be met as have been in Europe. The most important aspect is to have health and safety protocols properly approved by the authorities and also to have the availability of ports able to receive the ships and open to receiving our ships. That’s why we’ve been able to announce the 10 ships in Europe, because we’ve cautiously checked with every single port on reopening of business,” he said.
MSC Cruises plans to have 10 ships sailing by August 1, 2021, just about half the fleet. We asked Gianni Onorato when he expected to have the full fleet up and running, including the brand new MSC Virtuosa and upcoming MSC Seashore scheduled for delivery in August.
“We are very confident that after this gradual restart of a certain number of ships, we may have the ships by next winter season almost all of them fully operational in the various areas of operation like the Caribbean, like South America, like Middle Eastern and the Gulf, like South Africa, hopefully China will reopen as well by winter. We really hope that by winter 2022 we can have all our ships operational,” he said.
What to Expect on board MSC Virtuosa
One of the features of MSC Virtuosa we’re most excited about is Rob, the first-ever humanoid, robotic bartender at sea. Found at the The MSC Starship Club, a futuristic experience found only on MSC Virtuosa, Rob can not only make specialty cocktails, but also interact with guests in a very real way, he speaks eight languages after all! We asked Onorato about the technology found on board the new ship and what that will offer guests.
“On MSC Virtuosa, we really invested a lot in technology and so we will have the experience of a sort of humanoid experience that you can have with Rob our robotic bartender which is not just a place that can be defined as a bar, instead it’s an area where you can have an interactive experience with a full immersion into the future,” he said.
Guests will use specifically designed vertical digital cockpits to place their drink order. Rob will then use all of his custom robotic skills to prepare the cocktails — pouring spirits, juices and syrups; shaking, building or stirring the concoctions; and garnishing.
New Health and Safety Features
As the COVID-19 pandemic progressed, we learned more about the dangers of the virus like how it spread more easily via the air than it does on surfaces. As a result, many cruise lines including MSC made changes to their air filtration systems on board to help protect guests further. We asked Onorato to describe how MSC’s new system will improve air quality.
“First of all, there’s been a new technology providing [filtered air] to certain isolation cabins in case of close contact so we are providing special ventilation with the HEPA filters. 99.9% of the air circulating on the ship is new, fresh air,” he said.
Another feature is the MSC for Me app with wearable tech which not only offers easy access to what’s on board, but also can be used for close contact tracing should that be necessary. The cruise line has been using apps and other tech for years now, but the expanded versatility is something new and different.
Watch the whole interview with MSC Cruises CEO Gianni Onorato: