March 16, 2004 – St. Croix may have a cruise ship season after all next year, according to Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards, who says the Opera, a brand-new vessel of MSC Italian Cruises, has requested berthing in Frederiksted for seven visits between Dec. 8 of this year and March 3, 2005.
Richards announced in an e-mail sent out Friday with "some good news" in the subject line that the MSC Opera asked for the berthing confirmation at the Ann E. Abramson Marine Facility. "This certainly is wonderful news for St. Croix," the commissioner said. "We look forward to welcoming the 2,200 passengers and crew of this vessel."
She said she understands that the ship "will be in port from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., when it will depart for Nassau."
So far, MSC Cruises has not announced its Caribbean itinerary for the Opera; the company's Web site and those of numerous tour organizations list only week-long Mediterranean cruises from June 27 through Nov. 7 out of Genoa, Italy.
There also is no indication of whether the Opera will be calling as well at St. Thomas and/or St. John.
The MSC Opera, scheduled for launch this spring, is 824 feet in length, accommodates 2,200 passengers and carries a crew of 750, according to the cruise line's Web site. It's being constructed at the prestigious Chantiers de l'Atlantique in France, as was the MSC Lirica, its sister ship, which was launched last year and made its inaugural cruise in January 2003. The Lirica has been cruising in the Caribbean, although not calling regularly in the Virgin Islands.
Actually, the Lirica is scheduled to call at St. Croix — once — before the Opera, according to the MSC Web site. Concluding its current winter season in the Caribbean, it will be making a 17-day eastbound trans-Atlantic cruise departing Port Everglades, Fla., on May 15 that is scheduled to call at San Juan, St. Croix, St. Lucia, Barbados, Funchal, Malaga, Barcelona and Genoa.
The cruise line describes the Opera as "Classic. Grand. Opulent. Just like an opera should be," and says it will offer "an atmosphere and service comparable to the best of Italian hotels." According to promotional information, "Public areas feature a sweeping marble reception area and airy open spaces with walls of windows overlooking sprawling decks."
Amenities include a gym, a jogging track, tennis and volleyball courts, two swimming pools, a children's mini-club, a Virtual Reality Center and an Internet café with 16 computer terminals for passengers to browse, check their e-mail or chat. The dining facilities include a grill and a pizzeria specializing in Italian cuisine.
MSC Italian Cruises is a subsidiary of Mediterranean Shipping Co. a privately owned company founded in 1987 and based in Geneva, Switzerland, which is the second-largest container shipping operation in the world.
On Monday, one public official in the territory reacted to the news. Sen. Luther Renee said word of the Opera coming to Frederiksted in December "is a clear indication the economy of St. Croix could begin to turn on an upswing."
"While I have always maintained the need for diversification through agro-based tourism, event tourism, health tourism, etc., as economic boosters, cruise ship tourism has been and will always be welcomed as a means of boosting the economy," Renee said in a release.
Renee, who represents the St. Croix district, said that taxi operators, vendors and tour operators "must begin to make all the necessary preparations to welcome this new flagship and prove to everyone that St. Croix is, indeed, a tourism destination." The goal, he said, should be for passengers to "not only want to return but spread the word of the great time they had on St. Croix."
He also extended congratulations to Richards "and all those who played an intricate part in confirming the visit" of the ship.
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