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ABOARD THE MSC DIVINA -- Why would an American book a Caribbean sailing with European line MSC Cruises instead of a North American brand such as Carnival or Royal Caribbean?

It's simple, says a top MSC executive: You get a lot more for your money.

"There is no better value in cruising right now than MSC," Rick Sasso, the head of the company's U.S. operations, declares flatly to USA TODAY. "People should be jumping over the fence to come to this brand."

Still relatively unknown in North America, the mass-market Italian line this week began its first year-round sailings from a U.S. port with the deployment of the one-year-old MSC Divina to Miami. The 3,502-passenger ship is primarily sailing seven-night voyages to the Caribbean, which start at just $499 per person. Even top suites are selling for under $1,250 a week.

RELATED: MSC adds year-round sailings to Caribbean
PHOTO TOUR: Inside the MSC Divina

Sasso says the trips, which are being heavily marketed to North Americans, are a steal.

"I don't want it to be that (low). I want us to charge more," Sasso tells USA TODAY, speaking during the vessel's first sailing out of Miami. But with the brand still establishing itself in the North American market, and the supply-and-demand equation being what it is, the bottom line is that the fares are relatively low, he says.

Based in Naples, Italy, MSC has grown rapidly over the past decade by offering cruises in Europe that cater mostly to Italians, Spaniards, Germans and other Europeans. It's also become a big player in South America, where it deploys several ships seasonally. But it's never had more than a toe-hold in North America, where until now it only has operated seasonally.

Why the new push to draw more North Americans with a year-round presence in Miami?

"If you believe yourself as a worldwide operator, you cannot ignore North America," Sasso says. North Americans still account for a large percentage of the globe's cruisers and North American itineraries remain a big part of the business, he notes.

Over time, the 12-ship line hopes to grab a bigger piece of the North American market just as it has in South America.

"We are probably the biggest brand in South America, but that didn't happen overnight," Sasso says. "It started with one ship (in South America) seven years ago, then two, then three, then four, then five ... we know we (can) capture markets."

RELATED: MSC tightens smoking rules

In addition to drawing more Americans to the line's Caribbean sailings, the presence of the MSC Divina year-round in Miami will help build awareness among North Americans of the brand's European trips, says Sasso. See photos of the ship's cabins, public areas

"It's like a billboard," Sasso says. "They can come and touch the (product in America), and then we'll sell a lot more (North Americans) going on our ships in the Mediterranean."

Sasso says the company is expecting that about 70% of the MSC Divina's passengers will come from North America -- a far higher percentage than is typical for the line's European sailings.

Given the focus on North Americans, MSC has made a number of changes to the MSC Divina to make it more friendly to an American crowd, including adding more American-style dishes to restaurant menus. Entertainment also has been revamped with the American market in mind, and smoking has been banned in most on-board areas. There also will be fewer public announcements on the ship in multiple languages than one would find on MSC's European sailings.

Still, like other MSC vessels, the MSC Divina retains a distinctly Italian feel in many areas, bolstered by such new additions as an Eataly restaurant serving Italian cuisine, an outdoor bar themed around Italian liqueur DiSaronno and an Italian-style Segafredo espresso bar.

'We said, 'let's give them what they've asked for, and let's give them what we think they'll enjoy," Sasso explains.

For a look inside the vessel, click through the carousel below.

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