Once launched, the latest generation of cruise ships is remarkable for passengers to behold, but knowing exactly what it took to construct such vessels is particularly fascinating.
A select group of journalists was invited to visit the Fincantieri shipyard in Monfalcone, Italy in order to tour MSC Cruises' newest MSC Seaside under construction, and I was honored to be one of them to cover the ship's process and share the experience and images with TravelPulse.
Driving up to the shipyard, a moderate morning fog shrouded the gantry cranes and building basin where Seaside's MSC Seaview sister-ship is in its earliest stages of construction (pictured above). Beyond it is a finishing dock where the MSC Seaside appears nearly complete with its entire superstructure and a portion of its bulbous bow and hull rising above the waterline. In fact, the ship is still shrouded in scaffolding, and little of its weighty interiors have yet been completed, hence the vessel currently floating high.
Already impressive is the ship's exterior, already mostly painted in white and donning its name and MSC badges, but the most striking feature is its promenade deck which hangs out well over the side of the ship to wrap the exterior in the widest boardwalk I've ever seen at sea. Above it at the stern is the ship's signature condo-like tower of staterooms and suites (pictured below), designed to turn heads as an architecturally unusual shipboard element, and just below it, the promenade steps down to a lower deck with an aft pool.
Some of these features may sound familiar, especially the promenade (pictured below) which, with its al fresco dining and entertainment venues transitioning from the inside out, is not dissimilar to Norwegian Cruise Line's Waterfront on its Breakaway-class ships. There's even a glass-floored bridge-way kind of like the SeaWalk found on Princess Cruises' Royal-class vessels. For comparison, the new Majestic Princess was on the opposite side of the finishing dock as its construction is completed at the yard as well.
Where the MSC Seaside differs is in taking these concepts further with a completely unobstructed promenade with the lifeboats mounted entirely out of the way below, a much wider deck to sunbathe and take a stroll around on and a see-through walkway (pictured, covered for now, below) that practically connects two points and acts as a transparent extension of the glass-enclosed atrium behind.
The wild architecture is not all about looks either. As cars strive to achieve a 50/50 balance for optimum handling, the ship has cleverly positioned its engine room and smokestack in the center for better weight distribution and symmetry of mechanical systems.
Upon stepping onboard, it became clear that the interiors are not nearly as complete as the exteriors, but my father, who joined me and is a residential building contractor, trained me in construction as I grew up. So, we both were able to imagine the finishes that would soon emerge from the bare steel. A nearby warehouse had also masterfully mocked up a number of staterooms and a suite, as well as various full-size decor samples to better visualize the end-product (pictured below).
Our first stop once on the ship was the upper deck where we spied the beginnings of what will become the aqua park (pictured below), water slides, dual 120-meter-long zip-line runs, pools and a giant cinema screen. A basin was even cut out from the deck where one of the slides will dramatically descend.
For a ship dedicated to the sun nearly everywhere else, the aqua park looks to be located in a shaded cocoon, which should help children avoid sunburning, and only an elevated seating pad above one of the elevator motor housings appears to unfortunately block other sight lines to the screen, including those from the pool itself.
Otherwise, the circular and oval deck arrangement that cantilevers out over the sides of the ship provides ample space for plenty more chaise lounges than any other cruise ship before. In fact, 3.2 square meters of open deck space (pictured below) are available per person, said by MSC to be the highest ratio in the industry. The battle against onboard deck congestion may finally be over.
Deeper in the bowels of the ship, what will soon be bright public spaces are currently dark, but interior walls are starting to be delineated. Just as my dad and I might mark residential partitions with chalk lines and bottom plates before they are erected, here ship workers spot weld sheet metal strips to the floor to outline the curves and angles of eventual shops, bars, restaurants and more. So far, only the spa has begun to see the installation of treatment room walls (pictured below).
Most cabin decks were entirely empty save for their support pillars but will soon accept the slipping in of prefabricated modular staterooms, some of which were in place minus their corridor siding while electrical and plumbing systems were exposed before being placed behind access panels (pictured below). The largest spaces to take on their final shape already are the forward show lounge and midship atrium, but much of their grandeur is still hidden behind scaffolds as well.
Really, the bare ship structure provides an excellent context for what is to come as virtual renderings are soon realized but most importantly an appreciation for the swift craftsmanship that will transform these stark interiors and make them a beautiful ship in only several more months' time. After all, the breathtaking design that is the MSC Seaside will be introduced to the world when it is christened in its Miami, Florida homeport on December 21, 2017.
In the meantime, to see even more photos from the shipyard tour, visit my Popular Cruising Instagram account here.
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