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MIAMI — MSC Cruises held its first christening in North America for the just-completed MSC Seaside, the vessel it hopes will crack open the doors to further growth for the largely European brand.

The 4,138-passenger ship will anchor MSC's Caribbean itineraries with seven-day cruises starting Jan. 6.

The christening was a star-studded affair, with Italian diva Sophia Loren serving as godmother for the ship on a balmy Miami evening.

More: Giant ships, new destinations: The biggest cruise stories of 2017

Loren christened the first new build for MSC in 2003, the MSC Lirica, and has done the honors ever since. 

Prior to the christening, an audience of more than a thousand dignitaries, travel agents, journalists and vendors was entertained by operatic tenor Andrea Bocelli and Latin pop singer Ricky Martin.

Bocelli sang Ave Maria, solo at first, then accompanied by the Voices of Haiti, a children’s choir of 60 Haitian kids.

Martin and his band electrified the audience with his hit Livin’ la Vida Loca.

The MC of the evening was TV personality Mario Lopez. Also on hand was Hall of Fame Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino. MSC is the official cruise line of the Dolphins.

The Seaside is a new class of ship for MSC, its fifth since it began building cruise ships for its own fleet in 2003. The ship has an unusually broad, uncovered promenade on Deck 8 that offers close contact with the ocean.

More: New cruise ships for 2017: MSC Seaside

A pool on the aft of Deck 8 deck is surrounded by loungers and is connected by glass-enclosed elevators to another pool and sun area on Deck 16. Over that pool is a zipline, running from funnel to stern, which at 400 meters is the longest at sea.

Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman at MSC, said that currently with just the MSC Divina offering weekly departures from Miami, that only 40% to 50% of passengers are sourced in North America.

With the arrival of Seaside, Vago said, MSC hopes to boost that number to 80%.

Geneva-based MSC has 12 ships, with deployment ranging from South America to the Middle East to South Africa to China, but mainly in the Mediterranean.

MSC is spending $12 billion to triple its capacity by 2026. “This is what has allowed us to have the tonnage to finally serve the North American market,” Vago said.

More: MSC Cruises boss: New ship for North America will turn heads

MSC President Gianni Onorato said U.S. cruise passengers no longer are an afterthought for the brand, but an essential market. “We know what North American guests are looking for, and we deliver,” Onorato said.

The inaugural 14-night Seaside cruise will visit Antigua and Barbuda; the U.S. Virgin Islands; Nassau, the Bahamas; Jamaica; the Cayman Islands and Cozumel, Mexico.

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Tom Stieghorst covers cruises for Travel Weekly.

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