Interview: Gianluigi Aponte, Owner MSC Cruises
2009 will forever be remembered as the year European cruising arrived. This is the first year that European cruise ships are sailing at a higher capacity than US-based ships. While all cruise ships in the CLIA fleets are sailing at roughly 100% capacity, if you add in the extra beds, ships in Europe are sailing at over 100% capacity. And they are filled with Europeans, not Americans.
I am just now returning from my first cruise an pan-European cruise line MSC Cruises. This cruise line, which caters to Italian, Spanish, French, English and German guests, has a remarkable story. The owner of the privately held company, Gianluigi Aponte of Sorrento, already owned the second largest cargo business in the world, but he got into the cruise business out of love, not for financial reasons. Now he is the singular owner of the fastest growing and most modern cruise fleet in the world, with 11 ships and about 1,000,000 passengers per year!
I sat down for a brief interview with Mr Aponte last Sunday, just before the newest MSC ship, Splendida was scheduled to be christened in Barcelona. I can tell you the ceremony was spectacular, with world infamous personalities like tenor Jose Carrera and Sophia Loren. The party started at 9:00 pm and lasted untl 12:25 am, and then we ate dinner. They call that being "on Spanish time."
My Interview with Carlo Aponte - President of MSC Cruises
(Me) Mr. Aponte, I represent an American cruise guide where our readers are all very knowledgeable and experienced cruise enthusiasts. What would you like to tell them?
(Aponte) "I would say to come and try our ships, experience the European lifestyle as far as food, life and style are concerned, come to appreciate the European difference in cruising."
(Me) You jumped into cruising with both feet with a lot of money in a very short period of time, did you do it for love or money?
(Aponte) "I did it for a friend of mine, Achille Lauro, another great mariner from Sorrento, who had a cruise line in the late 1980s that obviously fell on some hard times and difficulties. I bought his cruise line, not because I wanted a cruise line but because I have great respect for the man. This was in 1988."
"We got by for many years as a small operation, but then in 2003 when I saw how popular cruising was becoming in Europe, I decided we should go into the business in a serious manner."
"Since 2003 we have built MSC into the fastest growing cruise line in the world, now with eleven ships including the largest ships built specifically for the European market to date; the Fantasia and Splendida, at over 133,000 tons and almost 4000 passengers total."
(me) You must have been very confident you would succeed?
(Aponte)"I am always confident in whatever I do and I am always successful. The reason is that I have a fantastic team."
He said this with a big smile, although not as big as Rick Sasso's smile (president of MSC Cruises-America and a well-known personality in the cruise industry) when he said it.
(Me) Where do you see the cruise industry headed?
(Aponte) "Naturally, the economy is a problem. When one starts any endeavor one never knows what the future might bring. We are in the same boat as everyone else, however, but fortunately European cruising is growing."
"We are a privately held company. Personally, I think a lot of the problem has been the wild speculation in the markets. It has made everything too expensive. Look at the price of food commodities, and oil! What we need is lower and stable prices and predictability in those areas."
I will have much more to write about MSC Cruises in the coming week. The ships are lovely, the food is excellent and the staff is gracious. What is the MSC difference? Surprisingly casual guests, kids ALWAYS sails free (and they were having a ball), and great prices in different destinations. MSC sails in Europe year-round, and off-season can even be some of their best deals.
To see my daily cruise log complete with fantastic pictures, visit my MSC Cruises Virtual Cruise.
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