It was Hannibal Gaddafi’s plan to establish Libya’s own cruise line that led to the construction of the ship which yesterday became MSC Preziosa.
Little remains of the designs which would have ended up as Phoenicia if his father’s regime had not been overthrown in 2010. Certainly not the aquarium which was planned to hold 120 tons of seawater and six live sharks.
When MSC paid €550 million to pick up the part-completed vessel – being built to the same hull design as their ships Fantasia, Splendida and Divina - they did so in time for builders STX Europe to change most of the outrageous interior concepts.
Chief executive Pierfrancesco Vago said he planned to sweep away a lot of the gilt that Hannibal had in mind for the decoration. I don’t know how much there would have been without his intervention, but there’s plenty of it still in the Yacht Club, the ship-within-a-ship gated community of expensive suites.
The area, forward on Decks 15 and 16, has a sweeping staircase glistening with golden Swarovski crystals, unlike those in the ship’s main atrium, which are clear.
The Top Sail lounge has gold onyx-topped tables and is adorned with gilt-encrusted palm fronds and driftwood artworks; heavy gilt picture frames surround windows elsewhere on the ship.
The major surviving legacy of the original plans is the Phoenician Plaza (top), with its ice-cream parlour at the centre of Preziosa’s extensive shopping mall, selling perfumes, jewellery and watches as well as cruise-wear, T-shirts and souvenirs.
Marco de Jorio, whose company has been involved in the design of 10 of MSC’s 12 ships, said the area – inspired by the architecture of Libya’s Roman heritage – was “fun to work on.”
“The plaza is the meeting of Roman architecture inspired by Leptis Magna and Sabratha with its warm colours and materials, and the beautiful, simple yet elegant architecture of an oasis town,” he explained.
Elsewhere on the ship, the exclusive 30-seat Ristorante Italia and adjoining 115-seat Eataly Restaurant are models of clinical simplicity. The first two Eataly restaurants at sea, and with their own delicatessen selling pasta, pesto and olive oils, they reminded me of an up-market Carluccio’s from the UK.
Décor in the Maya and Inca buffet restaurants has a vaguely South American feel, although with the exception of a small “ethnic food” counter, it serves mainly Mediterranean fare.
There are extended children’s facilities, including the Do Re Mi Castle water park and Vertigo, the longest single-rider waterslide at sea (beaten only by the Aqua Duck water coaster on Disney Dream and Fantasy which carries riders on tandem rubber rings).
The 1,600-seat Platinum Theatre looks stunning – although I was unsure about the rows of seats which have alternating high and low backs in a castellated appearance. It might look interesting, but what happens when both husband and wife want a high back?
MSC PREZIOSA IN NUMBERS