The sound was so soft you might’ve thought you were imagining it: a faint, unsettling hum behind the booming voice over the speakers. I turned my head and saw them — not a swarm of locusts, as I thought for a split second, but 600 drones taking off into the inky night sky.
They’d go on to put on a dazzling display of firework sea creatures for a crowd of hundreds who had gathered at the new cruise port in Doha, Qatar in November 2022, to celebrate the naming of the MSC World Europa, the 20th ship in the Italian cruise line’s fleet. (MSC Seascape was christened shortly thereafter and is now sailing the Caribbean.)
The drones were just one part of the two-hour show; There was also a digital animation projected onto the bow of the ship and performances by opera singer Matteo Bocelli (the son of Andrea Bocelli), a Qatari children’s choir, and the ship’s in-house talent. It was nothing short of a spectacle, which was appropriate for a ship that’s nothing short of spectacular.
MSC World Europa is the largest ship in MSC’s fleet, at nearly 1,100 feet in length, capable of carrying nearly 7,000 passengers and weighing 215,863 gross tons. It’s also a new class of ship — World Class — for MSC; the first of four on order. Interestingly, MSC didn’t set out to break any in-house records when designing this ship.
“It’s not that we decided to build a big ship, and then we put everything on. It’s the other way around,” MSC CEO Gianni Onorato told Travel + Leisure at the naming event. “Our strategy and our mission is not so much to have a theme park on board the ship. We try to reach the healthy balance between entertainment amenities, but also amenities for people to feel relaxed.”
Here’s a look inside the new luxurious cruise ship
The list of onboard amenities is, as you might imagine, quite long. To name a few: 33 restaurants, bars, and lounges; the world’s first at-sea brewery that uses seawater in its beer; three performance venues; six pools, including two adults-only “Zen” pools; 14 hot tubs; the largest dry slide at sea; a water park; a Formula 1 simulator; a luxurious ship-within-a-ship concept, which MSC has on multiple vessels, called the Yacht Club; and a 10,000-square-foot Balinese-style spa with an outrageously impressive thermal area, including a Himalayan rock salt room and a snow room. (As a fan of colder climes, I spent a good amount of time in that snow room to escape the oppressive desert heat.)
But it’s not necessarily these highlights that make MSC World Europa stand out among the competition. The ship’s real claim to fame, at least in my opinion, is that World Europa is the first ship in MSC’s fleet — and one of the largest ships in the world — to be powered by liquified natural gas, or LNG. Of all the fossil fuels out there, LNG is the least polluting, and it’s one way the shipping industry is working to reduce emissions.
“LNG is a step forward, but it is not the ultimate goal,” Onorato told T+L. While LNG allows the ship to have a 25% reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and a 98% reduction of sulfur oxide emissions, it is still a fossil fuel. But, as Onorato pointed out, the ship is only able to use what fuels are available — currently, there is not a feasible fossil-fuel alternative for cruise ships. But as fuel technology advances, LNG-powered ships like MSC World Europa will already be capable of using those new fuels, whereas gas- or diesel-powered ships will need to be retrofitted.
MSC is also using MSC World Europa to test a new type of fuel cell powered not by internal combustion, like normal power sources on most cruise ships, but by an electrochemical reaction. Ultimately, that fuel cell may be able to create the electricity and heat for the ship in a manner that’s 25% to 30% more efficient than combustion engines. The solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) on MSC World Europa is just a small pilot project to test the technology, but if all goes well, the SOFC can be scaled up and used to power the whole ship.
The combination of these and other sustainable technologies, from wastewater management to noise pollution reduction, makes MSC World Europa the cruise ship with the lowest emissions per passenger in the cruise industry, according to the company.
Overall, I found it easy to be overwhelmed by everything MSC World Europa has to offer, both in terms of amenities and its sustainability features. So, to keep myself grounded during my four-night preview of the ship in Doha, I looked for quiet nooks on the ship where I could unwind. That snow room, for instance, was a blissful sanctuary for me. I also loved the tiny details in a “secret passage” off the main promenade that connected the gin bar with the tea room; The hallway is home to a cabinet of curiosities related to the tea trade and educational exhibitions about tea traditions around the world.
But perhaps my favourite part of the entire ship was the almond cake served at the Chef’s Garden Kitchen. The speciality dining venue is run by Swedish chef Niklas Ekstedt, whose eponymous restaurant in Stockholm has a Michelin star — in it, advanced hydroponic gardens provide microgreens for the menu.
And while every dish is a delight, it’s the almond cake — Ekstedt’s mother’s recipe, as he told us after dinner — that took my breath away. In this delectably moist cake, the delicate flavour of almond is beautifully contrasted by a dusting of dehydrated mint sorbet that provides the perfect tang. Served on the side is birch ice cream, another subtle flavour that blends in well with the profile of the dessert. It’s moments like these that make mega-ships like MSC World Europa feel intimate despite their large scale.
For the past five weeks, MSC World Europa has been moored in Doha as a floating hotel for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The ship departs today, Dec. 20, 220, on its inaugural voyage — a special four-night sailing from Doha to Dubai — after which it will spend the season sailing seven-night itineraries around the Persian Gulf.
Rates from USD 409 (INR 33,830) per person for an interior cabin on the seven-night sailings from Doha; you can book your cruise here.
This story first appeared on www.travelandleisure.com
Main and Feature Image Credit: Anthony Devlin/Getty Images for MSC Cruises
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