Travel agents have called MSC Cruises a “missed gem” in the trade after the star-studded launch of MSC Poesia.

The cruiseline’s latest ship MSC Poesia was christened at the weekend in Dover by the ship’s godmother, Hollywood icon Sophia Loren, who was joined on board by classical singer Andrea Bocelli, popstar KT Tunstall, Radio One DJ Annie Mac, and the Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.

Around 1,800 people – mostly UK travel agents – were invited along to see the ship.

Agents were taken on tours of the ship, which is the third in the cruiseline’s Musica class and has 1,275 cabins, of which 80% are outside cabins and 65% have a balcony. The ship has seven themed areas, two pools, four hot tubs and a spa.

Agents told Travel Weekly the ship had surpassed their expectations, with some admitting their perceptions of the cruiseline had been different to the reality.

TUI Travel commercial manager Manda Churchill said: “I have been on MSC ships before and I am not disappointed this time. MSC is a real missed gem and is not really known by agents and consumers. Claudia (Baino) has done a fantastic job as managing director in raising awareness.”

Gills Cruise Centre managing director Steve Philippou agreed: “MSC is cruising’s best kept secret; people need to be made aware of it.”

Meanwhile, Hayley Holder, manager of Thomson’s Waterlooville agency in Hampshire, said: “I have been blown away by it. It’s a lot bigger than I thought and more extravagent. I had imagined MSC to be at the cheaper end of cruising.”

Ian Gilder, managing director, Jetline Cruise, London, added; “It’s surpassed my expectations and has got a big wow factor. It’s also value for money and geared up for families and younger people.”

GoCruise consultant Tracey Holt added: “You can tell attention has been paid to the detail.”