By 2010, MSC Cruises is expected to have 11 ships, nearly 25,000 berths, and carry close to one million passengers annually. Rick Sasso, president and CEO of MSC Cruises North America, insists that the company's goal is "not to be the biggest, but the most respected cruise line."

Sasso described MSC's Europe strategy as "bullish." And as the market continues to grow, he said the line will continue "to capitalize on what has been an under-penetrated marketplace."

"We have two of our big ships doing winter cruising (in Europe)," Sasso pointed out. "The season isn't just from May through October anymore." He added that the line's winter programs have been selling out at "great'' per diems.

In the winter, the Orchestra and Musica are sailing out of Genoa doing Eastern/Westem Mediterranean and Canary Islands cruises.

This summer, MSC has five ships in the Mediterranean. The Armonia, Melody, Musica, Orchestra, and Sinfonia are sailing from Barcelona, Genoa, and Civitavecchia, doing Western Mediterranean cruises - in addition to Greek Isles and Turkey sailings out of Venice.

The Armonia sails out of Venice on Eastern Mediterranean and Greek Islands cruises; the Sinfonia will sail out of Civitavecchia on W stem Mediterranean cruises through November 11. after which she will reposition to South America; the Lirica sails out of Genoa; the Rhapsody will sail out of Genoa in the Eastern Mediterranean until November, and is expected to sail from South Africa afterward; the Opera sails out of Trieste on Eastern Mediterranean sailings; and the Melody will sail out of Barcelona in the Western Mediterranean, which Sasso said "will help our Spanish market grow."

Sasso added that MSC will only have one ship in the Caribbean this winter, "for the first time in the past three years, because the demand for Europe - as well as South America - is so strong."

Typically, Sasso said, when ships sail from European ports, the majority of passengers (80 percent) are from Europe, while the remainder are American. Sasso would not get into specific details about MSC's passenger sourcing.

However, in 2005, MSC reported that roughly 45 percent of its European passengers were from Italy, followed by 18 percent from Germany and Austria; 7 percent from France; 5 percent from Spain; 5 percent from North and Central America; and 4 percent from the U.K. The remaining percentage was from "other European countries," according to the line.

"In 10 years. I see MSC ships sailing year-round in North America," Sasso pointed out. "I also see us exploring markets such as Alaska."