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MSC Divina brings taste of Italian cruising west

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Shop for authentic Italian and artisan products while aboard the MSC Divina,  or take a spin class in the pool with Aqua Cycling by Hydrorider.

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Shop for authentic Italian and artisan products while aboard the MSC Divina, or take a spin class in the pool with Aqua Cycling by Hydrorider.

North American cruise lines had been on a building boom until new builds stabilized for this year and next. If it were the airline industry, you would be seeing major carriers parking their older models or selling them to emerging nations.

Not so in the cruise industry; for the most part, cruise lines keep their old ships. For them, it means the capacity to cash in on cruising's world growth, especially in Australia and Asia.

It's a strategic move, considering the volatile economy in Europe has prompted some North American lines to reduce fleets there. Carnival, for one, is not going back after this year. Royal Caribbean, which at one point last year had half its fleet summering in Europe, is reducing capacity next season.

When moving ships to other countries, cruise lines are jumping in with both feet. The Carnival Spirit is now based year-round in Australia and marketing is directed only at Australian or New Zealand consumers.

In Asia, you may see dual personalities: one catering solely to the Asian market; the other to a combination of Asian and North American tastes.

This brings me to MSC, the 12-ship Italian line and its one-year-old ship Divina. In November it will become the company's first ship to operate year-round from U.S. shores (based out of Miami). The Divina, which will cruise to the Western and Eastern Caribbean, has as its godmother one of Italy's most beautiful exports -- Sophia Loren.

So what is MSC bringing to North America? While it may make some changes to appeal to a clientele from this side of the Atlantic, the cruise line is exporting a lot of things Italian. Such as Italian days at sea, which will include Italian dinners, shows, music, language lessons and pizza-making.

Eataly, a Turin-based international food-emporium chain, which is partnered with celebrity chefs Mario Batali and Lidia Matticchio Bastianich -- familiar names to North Americans -- has launched two restaurants on the Divina, as well as a marketplace where passengers can stock up on authentic Italian and artisan products.

You'll also be able to take an Aqua Cycling by Hydrorider spin class (sounds complicated but basically you're riding a stabilized bike in water). I'm not sure it qualifies as Italian, even though Hydrorider products are made in Italy. Still, it's a good way to stay fit on -- and in -- the water.

New entertainment productions will have a cast of 30 (headliners to be named later). There will be more healthy choices at the buffet, including gluten-free products.

Top 18 will be an adult-only area offering a variety of services for a fee, and the MSC Yacht Club (the "ship within a ship") will feature suites, butler service, private restaurants and more. The difference is reflected in the fares: $799 per person for a balcony on a seven-day January cruise on Divina; $1,699 for the Yacht Club.

Families will probably appreciate that kids 11 years old and younger sail free when a stateroom is booked by two adults paying full fare.

We should know by fall 2014 if a 3,900-passenger European import focusing on the North American cruise market can be a success story.

Phil's Pick of the Week

I like this Royal Caribbean cruise because it gives you the opportunity to hang out in the New York area during the Christmas season. Departure is from Bayonne, N.J., on Explorer of the Seas for a 10-day Eastern Caribbean getaway.

The ship leaves Dec. 12 with stops in Philipsburg (St. Maarten), Basseterre (St. Kitts), San Juan (Puerto Rico), and Royal Caribbean's private port at Labadee, Haiti.

Starting price is just $709. See your cruise agent or go to royalcaribbean.com. Prices are per person and were available at time of writing.

-- Postmedia News

Visit portsandbows.com for daily updates on the latest cruise news, best deals and behind-the-scenes stories from the industry. You can also sign up for an email newsletter on the site for even more cruise information.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 13, 2013 ??65534

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