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berlusconi's table

16 things we learned when the 'most beautiful ship in the world' came to Dublin

Jewel encrusted pianos, crew-members who’ll read you a bedtime story – and as much yoghurt as you could desire. It was a tough morning’s reporting.

74 Sasko Lazarov / Photocall Ireland Sasko Lazarov / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

IF YOU WERE anywhere near the docklands area of Dublin today – you’ll no doubt have caught a glimpse of the MSC Splendida.

You couldn’t help but spot it… If you were walking near the East Link, it would have blotted out the sun for a few hours…

Why was everyone making such a fuss over one cruise liner?

Two reasons, really…

  • It’s not just any old cruise liner, her owners have claimed the Splendida is the ‘most beautiful ship in the world’.
  • She’s also the largest ever vessel to dock at Dublin Port (the captain had to fly over in advance to try and work out if she’d fit in at all). 

Along with the great and good of the Irish news media, was fortunate enough to be invited on board for a gawk today.

Before you ask – yes, it was a tough few hours.

After battling our way past the slow-moving stampede of German pensioners (keen to board buses bound for the Guinness Storehouse) here’s what we learned…

1. We’re not going to need a bigger boat. 

Let’s get the stats out of the way first: Both the Splendida and her sister ship the MSC Fantasia are 333 metres long, and can carry over 4,000 passengers.

At 66.8 metres high – the ship is taller than Liberty Hall.

In fact…

2. There’s a deck missing…

The Splendida is owned and operated by the Italian-headquartered Mediterranean Shipping Company. As a result of that Italian influence, there’s no ‘Deck 17′ on board the 18-level vessel. Why? Well, quite simply because the Italians consider 17 to be an unlucky number (rearranging the letters, the Roman numerals can spell VIXI which means ‘I have lived’ – or, more literally, ‘I am dead’.)

3. It passes the Burlesconi test 

Former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi has been on board and was pretty impressed with what he saw, according to head butler Thierry, who looks after VIP guests in the opulent ‘ship-within-a-ship’ Yacht Club (we asked about ‘Bunga Bunga’ parties – but a broad laugh was the only response).

The ship was Christened by Sophia Loren back in 2009, by the way (we mentioned it’s Italian, right?) – and Jose Carreras performed at the launch party.

4. They get through THIS MUCH yoghurt

The ship’s on a 12 day cruise at the moment (it will be hitting Cobh in Co Cork tomorrow). Here’s a few stats on the volume of food and drink passengers will be getting through on the current trip…

35,692 pots of jam, 13,743 litres of milk, 41,440 fresh eggs, 33,310 kilos of fresh fruit, 27,308 kilos of fresh veg, 27,350 sachets of sugar and 19,000 pots of yoghurt.

5. Those are some expensive stairs 

Staircases in the main reception area and the VIP Yacht Club are covered in Swarovski crystal.

6. There are pianos everywhere 

But the ones that aren’t encrusted in crystals were covered up for today’s press visit – lest they offend our sensibilities.


7. So, Germany’s doing all right… 

Around 80 per cent of the passengers on board the current cruise are German, according to the ship’s (unfeasibly dapper) deputy purser, Michelle Valestra.

8. It’s a boon for city business 

Cruise passengers heading into the city centre spend an average of €100 per head, each day – according to Dublin Port Company CEO Eamonn O’Reilly. So if around 2,000 of the passengers on the Splendida head into town – well, you do the math(s)…

(Restaurants and cafes may not do as well as you’d imagine, however. According to the Deputy Purser, again “many people come back on board for lunch”. It’s all-inclusive – wouldn’t you?)

9. Fitting the Splendida into Dublin was quite an operation 

As we touched upon in the intro – Dublin Port’s normal operational limit for a ship is 300 metres… No-one was quite sure if they’d be able to fit the Splendida in at all. Today’s docking took quite a bit of planning – and the captain had to make a trip to Ireland in advance to make sure it could be be done safely.

Dublin Port CEO Eamonn O’Reilly takes up the story:

“You’re asking about the preparations to bring the ship in?

“The Splendida was down to call to Dublin Bay – to anchor in Dublin Bay and to tender in. MSC approached us to see is there any possibility to bring it right in to Dubin Port? She’s 333 metres long and that’s 33 metres longer than the biggest ship that we can bring in, and reverse in the river.

So that’s a big marine manoeuvre - you’ve seen the size of the ship – it’s huge. So, the master of the ship, Giuseppe Maresca, along with our harbour-master Dave Dignam, both went down to the simulator in the National Maritime College of Ireland [in Ringaskiddy] where you can simulate any port in the world, any ship, and drive it in real time.

“They were able to simulate the conditions in Dublin – both the physical conditions and the weather conditions. And that satisfied both the master of the ship and our harbour-master that this was a do-able manoeuvre.

In addition, Dublin Port pilot Mattie O’Connor flew out to board the ship yesterday. A second pilot joined the Splendida on her way in, as a belt-and-braces measure – to make sure the VIP visitor could make it all the way to her berth safely. (It’s a tight fit – she had to reverse in so she could sail out, bow-forward, this evening).

10. But in a few years time – it might be a little easier 

Dublin Port has applied to An Bord Pleanála to be allowed radically reconfigure its docks – meaning even larger cruise ships could sail right up to the East Link bridge and moor alongside the Point.

The plan was unveiled in October of last year – and interested parties (local residents associations, etc) have been making submissions to An Bord. According to Dublin Port Company:

The project, once complete, will mean that Dublin Port can handle the world’s top ten largest cruise liners, including the 360m long Allure of the Seas.

11. Yes, they’re paying their water charges 

We were having a chat with Leo McParland of Hamilton Shipping – who looks after all the daily needs of ships like the Splendida – when this subject happened to come up in conversation.

“€8.14 per cubic metre” is how much Dublin City Council charges – which is a little more than the going rate for households. The supply is metered as it enters the ship, according to McParland.

12. We haven’t finished telling you about all the STUFF on board yet

You’ve already heard about the the theatre, restaurants and VIP club. There’s also a squash court, 4D cinema (because that’s a thing, apparently) and F1 simulator.

13. Here’s why they need all that water

In addition to the four swimming pools – there are also saunas, a Turkish bath, a solarium, a relaxation room, thalassotherapy (us neither), a massage room and whirlpool baths.

14. Dublin, fine – Brazil, better 

The officers and crew say all the usual nice things about Dublin – but there’s no doubting they’d rather be somewhere a little sunnier.  After managing an impressive-enough answer about why passengers would want to visit Ireland – we ask Dep. Purser Valestra his favourite cruise destination…

“Rio,” he says, with a grin.

Similarly, up in the nightclub venue – we ask how late they stay open. “It depends on the passengers and the DJ,” says our helpful guide.

Then again, says the guide, the current clientele are all in that ‘older age profile’ so there’s not much call for all night disco parties. “In Rio, it would keep going until 4am.”

15. No request too odd 

We asked Thierry, the chief butler, about unusual requests from VIP passengers.

“One person wanted to have a book read to them” he says, smiling.

(Thierry didn’t read the book himself – but yes, that passenger request was fulfilled).

CruiseDotCo / YouTube

16. If you’re not back, they’re not waiting for you

Thousands of passengers head off to see their host town or city, where-ever the ship moors up. If they don’t make it back in time for the next sailing?

“We can wait five, maybe fifteen minutes” says Dep. Purser Valestra. If they’re not back within the appointed time, AWOL passengers have to make their way on to the next destination by land or air.

(So if you’re on the train to Cork tomorrow – and notice a group of slightly-worse-for-wear elderly Germans, they may well be hard-partying Splendida customers).

89 Sasko Lazarov / Photocall Ireland Sasko Lazarov / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

In pictures: How to overhaul an Irish tallship in 8 easy* steps

Read: From 1000 AD to Samuel Beckett: Dublin’s bridges in 10 fascinating facts…

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