New way to travel: Cruise ship that looks like condo

BY JANE WOOLDRIDGE MIAMI HERALD/TNS

Cruise ship

The MSC Seaside keeps up with the trend, with digital wristbands and touch-screen displays around the ship where you can book appointments.

That boxy new ship one sees while driving across the McArthur Causeway between Miami and Miami Beach? It’s the 5,119-passenger MSC Seaside, the newest vessel from the European Cruise line MSC.

It joins 3,502-passenger Divina, which arrived in 2013, and a half-dozen others that MSC will bring to North America by 2020. (Three of those will be in Miami year-round.) The 10 ships now on order amount to a $12 billion investment.

We toured the ship just after it arrived.Along with a few first-at-sea features, we found others executed in interesting ways. (We didn’t sail, so we can’t comment on service or food.) These notable features have brought it to the top of this year’s awards lists for new ships.

Squared shape 

Nautical classicists may decry the decidely boxy shape that makes Seaside look more like a condo-set-asea than a cruise liner. Once you’re on board, you’ll appreciate the endless views and wide range of spaces (19 bars, four pools, four slides and three specialty restaurants) made possible by the change.

Onboard tech

Everybody has it these days. MSC keeps up with the trend, with digital wristbands and touch-screen displays around the ship where you can book appointments. The multi-level atrium features a massive series of LED screens that transport you from under the sea (think corals and jellyfish) to far away places.

Flexible modular staterooms 

Connected staterooms finally are becoming more available at sea. On Seaside, those cabins are modular too, meaning they can be reconfigured to fit your group’s specific needs, with up to 10 people in a single lodging configuration.

The views

Most modern cruise liners have their engine room aft. Seaside’s engines are located
mid-ship, which increases stability and puts its outdoor boardwalk closer to the sea (on deck 8) rather than higher.

Other view-ready design elements include windows flanking bars, restaurants and the ship’s atrium; plus balconies on 76 percent of the staterooms. And for those who love a safe thrill, the clear Bridge of Sighs atop the ship lets you “walk” on water as you peer down 131 feet.

Boutique “hotel”

The idea of a hotel-within-a-hotel — or in this case, a ship-within-a-ship isn’t new. Concierge decks and spa cabins are found on many liners, and Norwegian Cruise Line has a private cabin-andlounge area with its own pool, called The Haven.

MSC’s Yacht Club goes further, incorporating a bright airy lounge, 86 suites, private sundeck and pool, and a private restaurant. The successful formula is found on a halfdozen MSC ships, including Seaside.

Adventure park

Nobody does water features like Carnival. And nobody does high-octane adventures (think surfing and skydiving simulators) like Royal Caribbean. MSC follows the trend but adds a few twists, stretching its zip line to the longest at sea (394 feet) and adding a jungle theme to its waterpark, complete with a giant dumping buckets.

Bonus: The waterslide features “slideboarding” technology that makes the experience a competitive interactive game.

Low-tech kid spaces

Europeans have a knack for creating children’s spaces that are sophisticated and low tech. On Seaside, you’ll find a play area with fiberglass islands, logs and palm trees begging to be climbed. A nearby bench is set up for selfies surrounded by a group of colorful kids made of Legos.

Retro zone

Baby boomers can relive their youth at the ’50s themed lounge and playroom, complete with two full-length bowling lanes, air hockey and the driving compartment of a ’56 Chevy Bellaire convertable that’s been transformed into a DJ booth. In turquoise, of course.

Chocolate wall

Yes, that really is chocolate flowing down the recirculating wall fountain at the counter of Venchi, the Italian chocolatier. If that’s not enough to rev your endorphins, the scent of freshly made jimmies, nonpariels, squares, liquor-filled bon bons, hot cocoa and sorbets may put you into a stupor.

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