The Delivery Ceremony of MSC Grandiosa may have been held on the scariest night of the year – Halloween, on 31 October 2019 – but the event was quite the opposite.

Of course, it was glamorous on board the slickly-designed cruise ship, but it was also reassuring, especially in light of the special report which had been released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stressing that global warming must be limited to the lowest level.

“Our ultimate goal is zero-emissions operations,” stressed Pierfrancesco Vago, Executive Chairman of MSC Cruises at the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard in St Nazaire. “MSC Grandiosa moves us another significant step forward in that genuine ambition.”

With Booking.com’s 2019 sustainable travel report stating that 55% of travellers are more determined to make sustainable travel choices than a year ago, MSC Cruises’ high level of environmentally conscious efforts and decarbonisation investments will appeal to its target consumers.

The average age of MSC Cruises’ passengers is around 45 (lower than the industry average of 55) and while many assume that gen X and millennials lead the way for environmental responsibility, a Schroders Global Investor Study 2019 found that climate change and sustainability factors were considered more strongly by Gen X (roughly 1965-1981) when it came to investments than by millennials (1981-1996) or gen Z (1996 +), suggesting that this demographic also finds environmental responsibility important when deciding where to invest in experiences too.

The First World Class steel cutting

On the same day that MSC Cruises’ most environmentally advanced ship in the fleet (and the first Meraviglia-Plus class vessel) was officially delivered to MSC Cruises, the steel-cutting ceremony of the first World Class ship, MSC Europa, also took place.

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All four World Class ships will be powered by liquid natural gas (LNG) fuel (as will the final ship in the Meraviglia-Plus class). MSC Cruises says this will produce 43% fewer carbon emissions compared with Musica class, which includes the first cruise ships in MSC Cruises’ fleet.

“MSC is developing a new fuel cell technology demonstrator that will be installed on all the company’s LNG-powered ships.”

MSC is also developing a new fuel cell technology demonstrator that will be installed on all the company’s LNG-powered ships. Having solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technology on a cruise ship will be a world first. It will reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) by around 30% compared with traditional LNG engines, with no emission of nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides or fine particles, and produce electricity and heat that can be used on board.

According to CLIA’s 2020 report, 44% of new-build ships will rely on LNG fuel and all new builds will have advanced wastewater treatment systems. Overall, there is an industry-wide $22bn investment in the development of new energy-efficient technology.

From using the latest generation of azipods (reducing fuel consumption) to EGCS (a hybrid exhaust gas cleaning system), which results in 98% less sulphur oxide (SOx) emissions via a closed loop that facilitates on-land removal, and trim optimisation software to reduce fuel consumption and increase efficiency, the 331m-long MSC Grandiosa is MSC Cruises’ most environmentally friendly ship yet.

Vago explained that last year the entire fleet’s carbon emissions were reduced by 29% and by 2030 that figure will be 40%. This is in line with CLIA’s projections in its 2020 report.

The company is also pushing forward on a plastics elimination programme cutting out all single-use plastic shopping bags, spoons, glasses and stirrers, where sustainable substitutes are available.

“There is no Planet B,” he concluded, stressing the company’s serious commitment to sustainability.

Cruise passengers of the future

To explore how passengers of the future would be cruising, MSC Cruises created a report, The Future Guest Experience, with The Future Laboratory. Personalisation, it states, will be essential, with people experiencing 4,800 device interactions every day (around one every 18 seconds). “Data ID Wallets” are another crucial factor, which will enable companies to learn more about passenger behaviour and their needs.

Offering capacity for 6,334 passengers, Grandiosa was built with 3,502 beacons on board – about 500 more than on MSC Bellissima – as the Meraviglia-Plus class is 16m longer than the standard Meraviglia ship class.

The planning of the beacons had to be completely reviewed and done from scratch again based on the new vessel design. “It’s just not that you have 16 metres more to cover,” says MSC Cruises chief business innovation officer Luca Pronzati. “You need to understand where to position what to optimise the propagation and triangulation.”

“80% of consumers believe that voice control will soon become part of daily life.”

MSC for Me, the company’s innovative multi-channel digital platform, facilitates blue-spot digital wayfinding onboard Grandiosa (on new-build ships since 2017), as well as a chat, a WhatsApp-like service and friends and family locators (with wearable bracelets). Digital planners and theatre reservations can be made through the MSC for Me app as usual.

The report also notes that “80% of consumers believe that voice control will soon become part of daily life” and that 66% believe “digital assistants save them time”. With ZOE, the world’s first voice assistant on a cruise ship, on Bellissima and now Grandiosa, MSC Cruises have already put an AI voice-enabled system in place. Communicating in seven different languages, recognising more than 30 accents and after analysing 2.2 million questions during development, ZOE is now able to answer 850 questions – 50 more than when it was launched on Bellissima.

Pronzati says that on the lead up to the launch of MSC Grandiosa the biggest challenge for his team has been working on Zoe.

“We have been working not only to improve the performances but also to consolidate and stabilise all the infrastructure related to Zoe,” explains Pronzati, adding that they can now check a speaker without needing to visit the stateroom. “We can see each status of the speaker and monitor if there is a problem,” he says.

Dining and retail improvements

Another area covered in the report places great importance on future dining trends. On MSC Grandiosa 15,000 meals are made each day and there are five main restaurants (Il Campo, La Perle Grise, La Perla Grigia, Purple Crab and La Loggia) as well as the vast 3,650m2 Marketplace Buffet, which offers a wide variety of high-quality food that also meets many food preference needs.

“On MSC Grandiosa, 15,000 meals are made each day and there are five main restaurants.”

During the pre-inaugural sailing to Le Havre, we dined at the Purple Crab restaurant and were genuinely impressed at how the staff were aware of food intolerances or allergies of a passenger, asking them directly about it just after they sat down at the table and before the passenger mentioned anything.

It is clear that MSC Cruises has upped its foodie game and partnerships with celebrity chefs have helped to support the company in this goal. They include two-starred Michelin Chef Ramón Freixa, three-starred Michelin chef Harald Wohlfahrt and Raymond Blanc, OBE and chef patron at restaurant Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire, UK.

The additional space of the Meraviglia-Plus class ship also facilitates a variety of retail stores on board. There are 12 boutiques spread across 1,200m2 of space, but for the first time on Grandiosa there is a shop on board, La Galleria, that sells not only luxury items, but also toiletries, snacks and headphones – a welcome and long-needed addition to MSC’s retail offering.

Entertainment options on board

As ships become holiday destinations in their own right, stand-out leisure features and activities are of the utmost importance. The 700m2 kids’ section includes partnerships with Lego and Chicco, and also offers a spacious sports centre where teens can be trained to operate drones in a “drone academy”.

“Entertainment incorporates technology and includes the XD cinema, which combines 3D viewing with physical sensations.”

The aqua park has three big water slides and a spacious fun water spray area for younger children that features slides and nooks that little ones will enjoy. The Himalayan Bridge rope course that hangs 80m above deck is another activity that families can participate in together.

Entertainment for adults also incorporates technology and includes the XD cinema, which combines 3D viewing with physical sensations in shoot-out games, as well as a VR maze (which was new on Bellissima) where players can fight an evil Minotaur. There is also the Formula One simulator, although the vehicle body has been shortened and redesigned to look more futuristic.