MSC Cruises has confirmed its previously announced plans to deploy a ship year-round in North America, announcing this week that the Lirica will begin sailing from New York in April 2007.

According to MSC (USA) President and CEO Rick Sasso, the Lirica will offer longer cruises to the deep Caribbean and seven-day cruises to Bermuda and New England and Canada. Itinerary details have not been finalized yet, he said.

MSC has also named its two 135,500-ton ships ordered from STX France last month for nearly $1.2 billion. The first will be the MSC Fantasia for delivery in June 2008; the second will be the MSC Splendida for delivery in March 2009.

By 2009, MSC's passenger capacity will have grown to more than 900,000, Sasso said.

In addition to sailing in the Mediterranean, one of the two post-Panamax ships may winter in the Caribbean.

The Fantasia and Splendida will be 1,092 feet long, 124 feet wide and accommodate 3,300 passengers, double occupancy. The ships will have 1,650 staterooms of which 1,260 will have private balconies. With a crew of 1,313, the ships will boast a higher crew-to-passenger ratio and a more favorable space ratio than competitive European lines, according to press materials.

There will be a special two-deck section of VIP suites with butler service as well as an exclusive restaurant, pool and sun deck, and other amenities. The cruising speed will be 23 knots.

Also under construction at Chantiers de Atlantique are the 89,600-ton, 2,550-passenger Musica, which will be delivered next June, and her sister ship, the Orchestra, for delivery in 2007.

The 1,600-passenger Lirica and the 1,760- passenger Opera are sailing in the Caribbean this winter, while the 1,600-passenger Sinfonia sails seven day cruises in the Mediterranean, and the 1,500- passenger Armenia and 1, 180-passen Melody are in South America. The 600-passenger Monterey and the 940-passenger Rhapsody are laid up during the winter.

Next winter, MSC will have the Lirica and the Musica in Fort Lauderdale on Caribbean programs, thus increasing its winter capacity with the bigger Musica, and possibly a third ship - the Opera. But that decision has not been made yet, Sasso said.

Moving to New York also does not exclude MSC from going to other markets such as Alaska and the Panama Canal, according to Sasso.

''North America will play a significant role in MSC's growth," Sasso said, adding that he expects to carry 90,000 North American passengers by 2007, and that eventually the U.S. will be the cruise line's second home market.

Sasso also confirmed MSC's agreement with Sophia Loren who, he said, will feature prominently in the line's advertising and promotion.

As for New York, Sasso said there are 70 million people living in the Northeast who would have the convenience of driving to the port and saving by not having to pay for airfare. In addition, New York draws tourists from around the world, he added.

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