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A balmy tropical night, international sophistication and eye-popping style—it doesn’t get any more Miami than at December’s naming ceremony and maiden Florida voyage for the new MSC Seaside. 

Media, industry insiders and dedicated MSC cruisers were among the dressed-up guests at Port Miami. A parade of company execs, white-suited ship officers and local officials took to the stage to celebrate the new 4,000-passenger mega-ship. The MSC Seaside is modeled on iconic Miami Beach condos, with the industry’s widest waterfront boardwalk and most outdoor spaces per passenger, including glass elevators and catwalks and a 131-foot-high “Bridge of Sighs.” The energetic ceremony included entertainment by Andrea Bocelli and Ricky Martin and culminated in the official naming of the ship by MSC “godmother” Sophia Loren, looking as glamorous as ever in sequins and oversize eyeglasses. 

Fireworks lit up the sky as we boarded the ship, where many guests had been invited to spend several nights and enjoy a brief venture into international waters. The festive mood continued after dinner, as a disco band played in the atrium, a sensational, multilevel party space where six spark-ling Swarovski-encrusted staircases are the crowning glory of the razzle-dazzle décor. We ended the night drinking a final glass of champagne on our stateroom’s private balcony.

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We got an insider’s view of MSC cruises the next day, since our fellow passengers included travel agents from all over the country, invited to assess the ship and—the company hoped—sell bookings to their clients. Over breakfast, several agents explained that MSC, which stands for Mediterranean Shipping Company, was founded by an Italian family in 1970 that made its fortune in container ships before branching into cruises. MSC is now the largest privately owned shipping and cruise company in the world and the biggest cruise operator in Europe and South America, but it only recently became a year-round player in the U.S. market. It encountered some initial bumps—some American passengers complained that the food was bland and “too European” and missed amenities, like washcloths, not found in European ships. 

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But the company, which is determined to become a dominant U.S. player, was quick to adjust. It hired celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi to oversee the Asian Market Kitchen, one of MSC Seaside’s eight restaurants. We sampled excellent sushi there and later walked into a room where Yamaguchi himself was instructing intent-looking crew members. MSC has also partnered with Joe Bastianich, TV chef and owner of New York City’s Babbo. Overall, the food was good, if not sensational, during our stay, and our stateroom was comfortable and well-equipped.

Where MSC excels, the travel agents told us, is pricing. The company is currently offering a week-long Caribbean journey with a balcony stateroom on the MSC Seaside for as little as $539 per passenger. The cruises are also a great option for families. Children under 11 travel for free (and those under 17 often get discounts), and the ship has cabins that can accommodate up to 10 family members, with well-run children’s programs that allow parents to enjoy free time. The kids’ spaces on the ship are great, especially the jungle-themed pool with a hanging rope bridge, enclosed water slides that swoop out over the water and two zip lines. Families can also enjoy bowling, arcade games, a race car simulator, a special children’s theater and play areas for ages from infants through teens—including two LEGO rooms for different ages.

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At the end of our first full day aboard, the ship headed out of Port Miami, and we stood on deck under a sliver of golden moon, watching downtown Miami’s multicolored buildings slide by. We walked along all the outdoor areas that night, enjoying cool sea breezes and marveling at how many different bars, pools and lounging areas we encountered. With only 1,500 people aboard for our cruise, the enormous ship felt lightly populated. With its full complement of passengers, it turns into a small town. Those seeking grand seclusion and low-key diversions might prefer another ship. But if you want an all-out Miami vibe, complete with glitz, glamour and an eclectic, all-ages crowd, the dazzling new MSC Seaside and its family-friendly deals could be the perfect choice for you.

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