After over 12 months it was great to be back on board a cruise ship and enjoy the Masterpiece at Sea, the brand new MSC Virtuosa.
This is the largest, and latest addition to the MSC Cruises fleet. She was originally due to enter service in the Mediterranean in 2020, but due to the pandemic that never happened and instead she launched to UK guests on 20th May 2021.
MSC Cruises are operating MSC Virtuosa from May to September 2021 around the British Isles, with regional departure points including Southampton, Liverpool & Greenock (for Glasgow). She starts with 4 night sailings from Southampton to Portland and back to Southampton again and then from June offers longer 7 night itineraries.
MSC Cruises are welcoming everyone onboard this summer – both vaccinated (received both jabs) and unvaccinated guests plus children are welcome too. Any unvaccinated guest will need to provide proof of a negative Covid test, which must be taken 72 hours before departure, evidence will need to be shown at the terminal to get onboard. All guests need to ensure that have relevant travel insurance, with cruise and Covid cover too.
My check in time was 12:20pm, I arrived at City Cruise terminal around 12:30pm and proceeded through to check in. The first ‘check’ was the proof of vaccinations or negative Covid test, plus a check on insurance. After this I proceeded to give my luggage to the porters to check in and then went through security. The next stage of the process was a swab test, this is done to all guests (vaccinated and unvaccinated) and is a nasal swab. Once complete I then proceeded to check in & receive my boarding pass, cruise card and wristwatch. Once checked in I sat down in the waiting area. After a short while my boarding card number was called and then I walked along the gangway and was onboard for 1:15pm – just 45 minutes after arriving at the port… impressive!
My first port of call is my cabin. On this cruise I had an inside cabin on deck 11. The wristwatch allows you to open your cabin door meaning less contact. I was surprised by the space in the cabin, plenty of wardrobe space and a large bathroom, everything I would need for a few nights away. My cabin had tea and coffee making facilities – including Yorkshire Tea, for that British feel! After unpacking, I headed to the buffet to enjoy a spot of lunch and a drink in the bar.
All cruises sold this summer season with MSC Cruises onboard MSC Virtuosa are All Inclusive, this is great and means that any drink up to £10 is included so there is no worrying about having that extra drink or not!
I had previously downloaded the MSC for Me App – you can actually check-in online, this will also speed up some of the process too. The MSC for Me App can also be used onboard (you don’t need to buy an internet package to use it) and you can keep track of your daily spend, plus book speciality dining, check out the daily activities plus chat to your fellow friends onboard 24/7! I would recommend downloading this before you go, it quickens the process up!
The muster drill has slightly changed now, instead you watch the safety briefing in your cabin, call the number displayed on the screen to confirm you have watched it and then proceed to your muster assembly point to have you cruise card scanned to confirm that you have attended. This speeds up the process and avoids congregating indoors with others.
I must say I felt completely safe onboard – MSC Cruises have enhanced sanitisation points, daily temperature checks, distance markings, restricted seating/tables in certain venues all to aid social distancing. If for any reason you lose, or break your face mask, there are new ones provided in your cabin. Regarding face masks, you are required to wear one when walking around all indoor areas of the ship (apart from your cabin) and when you are seated in a bar, restaurant or lounge you can take them off. You are not required to wear them on open decks either.
In the afternoon I visited once of the handy cruise card activation points to register my bank card, this was self service and was easy to do. I returned to my cabin to unpack in the afternoon, I had previously received a letter in my cabin advising that due to increased sanitisation, luggage maybe delayed, however there was no issue with my luggage being delivered.
When it comes to dining there is a varied choice on offer. All guests are allocated seating in the main dining room, on my cruise it was open seating between 6pm and 8:30pm each evening, which allowed for that flexibility. There were five speciality restaurants onboard: Indochine Restaurant (an amazing beautifully designed French/Vietnamese restaurant), HOLA! Tacos & Catina, Kaito Sushi Bar, Kaito Teppanyaki & Butchers Cut. Sadly I only had time to visit Indochine, however I am back onboard in a few weeks and will certainly be trying the others. The meal in Indochine was superb and the staff take you on a journey to Vietnam during the meal. I would recommend pre-booking the dining options, as some nights they were busier than others, so best to book to avoid being disappointed. Due to health and safety restrictions, all bar and restaurant menus can be viewed on a smart phone, you just have to scan the QR code and the menu opens on your phone (no need to purchase an internet package), if you still like a hard copy menu, you can request one. In addition, there is the Marketplace Buffet which is open around 20 hours a day. In total, there are over 10 restaurants and 21 bars (including a British pub with a daily quiz!) – so its hard to go hungry & thirsty!
I did visit the gym and spa onboard – the Gym was on Deck 16 overlooking the top deck whilst the Spa was on Deck 7. The gym was well equipped and for first time visitors the instructors gave a short health and safety briefing for cleaning down equipment, plus every other piece of equipment was closed off to aid social distancing. In the spa, some areas like the sauna and steam rooms were closed, but there seemed to be plenty of people booking in and making use of the onboard salon and barbers!
Deck 6 is where the hub of activity is on the ship with its 100+ meter promenade indoors, here you can find the longest LED sky screen at sea plus a choice of bars, speciality restaurants and shops. Talking of the shops there is everything from clothing to souvenirs and from watches to perfume, you will definitely be spoilt for choice!
Certainly, one great addition is Rob, the Robotic Bartender, this is new for MSC Cruises. Rob is a humanoid robot with a voice and the ability to move his body and make cocktails. I am told Rob could speak in 8 languages, but with just British guests onboard everytime I saw him making a cocktail it was in English. Cocktails were £18 each and Rob prepares each one in front of your eyes, served in a custom-designed glass which you can keep as a souvenir!
Around the ship you can find two bowling alleys and two F1 simulators (in the fantastic kids club!), plus five swimming pools, including a very nice indoor pool which is great if the British weather isn’t kind to you (although it was for me!). On the top deck, at the back of the ship, you can find a water park with an adventure ropes course which is 80 meters above the sea. And as the evening draws to a close, there is a well-appointed casino with over 160 slot machines and 12 tables to have a flutter.
There was a daily entertainment programme, on my cruise, there was a comedian and soul sisters performance, plus the DOME show on the LED sky screen too. The theatre was impressive, seating just under 1000 people.
We had one port of call on our cruise, which was to picturesque Portland in Dorset, it was sad to see so many other cruise ships empty at anchor off the coast, but it just makes you think how hard MSC Cruises have worked to get back to service, with their safe and secure environment onboard, well done to all at MSC Cruises. You can get off and do one of the organised shore excursions by MSC Cruises, staying in the cruise bubble. I opted to stay onboard, as I was returning to the same port later on this year, and enjoyed a relaxing day in the yacht club. From speaking with a couple of guests who opted to do the excursion, they told me it was a coach trip to some of the iconic landmarks in the area and was worth it for the 3 hour trip.
As mentioned previously, I chose to enjoy a relaxing day in the Yacht Club. MSC Cruises had kindly arranged for a Yacht Club pass for me. I was able to go and sit on deck 18 on the comfortable relaxing chairs and enjoy drinks being served to me by the attentive staff. On top deck there was a pool plus some private cabana type areas which Yacht Club guests can reserve. I had dinner one evening with Antonio Paradiso (Managing Director MSC Cruises UK & Ireland) and Claire Smith (Training and Business Development Manager MSC Cruises UK & Ireland) in the Top Sail Yacht Club restaurant. The menu was outstanding with so much choice and Antonio’s wine pairings were spot on! After dinner we retired to the Top Sail Yacht Club lounge to enjoy drinks, nibbles and live entertainment. The Yacht Club offers a premium ‘ship within a ship’ its somewhere that you can enjoy the luxury of a private club with its own private open deck, lounge and restaurants, along with a selection of stunning suites, including two Royal Suites spread over three upper decks, all linked with MSC Cruises signature Swarovski crystal staircases. The Yacht Club is really popular and I can see why. Most of us haven’t been able to have a holiday in the past couple of years, why not treat yourself this summer, you deserve it!
A few people always worry about the dress code onboard a cruise ship – on my sailing MSC Cruises had three different types of dress code (Casual, Elegant & White). You can be as ‘dressy’ as you want to be! The elegant night is when a number of people opt for tuxedos or cocktail dresses, although I would say only around 50% of people opted for this dress code, but either way you don’t feel out of place, and you aren’t excluded from any venues.
It was great to be back onboard a cruise ship again after well over a year. Onboard I felt totally safe with the protocols that MSC Cruises had brought in, plus I was reassured that everyone was either vaccinated, or had a negative Covid test 72 hours before departure, and everyone was swab tested at the port and the daily temperature checks. MSC Cruises had made changes to the ship with distancing signs and markers which everyone adhered too as it was great to be back at sea. 4 days is such a short time, and I could have happily stayed on for longer, indeed I do have a longer cruise booked with MSC Cruises onboard MSC Virtuosa, sailing from Liverpool this summer. If you are after a regional departure from either Southampton, Liverpool or Greenock and want to experience all-inclusive cruising, you can’t go wrong with MSC Virtuosa. Thanks again to all the crew and team at MSC Cruises for offering a safe environment and for being the first to get back to sea.
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