With foreign travel still mired in a myriad of complex rules and staycation prices skyrocketing as a result, there’s no better time to consider a seacation break this year in the UK. Plenty of cruise companies have decided to grace the UK market this year and one of the best to consider is MSC cruises. They’ve pulled out all the stops by bringing in their newest cruise ship: MSC Virtuosa.
At a capacity of 6,300 passengers, this Meraviglia-Plus class ship is one of the largest around, but they have been sailing at reduced capacity, so you never feel crowded or unsafe. And if you’ve never sailed before and wondered about whether it’s suitable for all age groups, you just need to read on and discover the plethora of activities and dining options that will impress the most demanding of guests.
If you haven’t sailed before, it’s probably good to manage expectations as cabins are generally smaller than hotel rooms but that’s because they can instead offer more balcony rooms for you to enjoy the magnificent sea views from the comfort of your cabin. Their bed is more sumptuous than most cruise liners we’ve experienced, wardrobe space is abundant and helpfully they have USB ports as well as their standard European plug sockets. Thankfully, we also had a drinks package that covered the minibar in our room.
I would strongly recommend upgrading to suites in their MSC Yacht Club, which is like a ‘ship within a ship’. Apart from a more spacious cabin, you get a separate check-in, a private butler, access to the private Yacht Club pool and bar, and their exclusive restaurant.
There is an embarrassment of riches to keep those taste buds enthralled, they have ten exceptional restaurants including five speciality restaurants. The main focus is around either the Marketplace buffet or the formal dining rooms. The menus do change daily so the chances you will be forced to eat the same dish every day is zero. At the Marketplace, dishes like pasta are freshly prepared in front of your eyes, the pizzas are handmade in an open kitchen and they even have a live mozzarella station.
The specialty restaurants are about as diverse as you can get. The most popular being Butcher’s Cut, where you can experience the juiciest, tenderest steaks on the high seas. If you want to be entertained whilst you are dining, then check out Kaito Teppanyaki or their sushi bar for a casual yet eclectic lunch. Whether it’s the quality of the raw fish or the sirloin steak, it’s up there with the very best you can get from land-based Michelin-type restaurants.
They’ve gone for brave choices too by opening Indochine and HOLA! Tacos and Cantina. Expect unflinching authenticity so you can experience mezcal tasting or Vietnamese shaved iced desserts. Chocolate lovers will rejoice at the return of award-winning pastry chef and chocolatier, Jean-Philippe Maury and you can create your bespoke chocolate bar as well.
With 21 bars and lounges, you could quite conceivably go to a different bar three times a day but still not have visited all the bars by the end of your cruise. Their drinks packages are outrageously affordable especially if you compare it with other cruise liners. The smoked cocktails at the Sky lounge and bar are simply sensational. The real standout however is the MSC Starship Club, which is an immersive bar experience, where Rob, the humanoid robotic bartender will serve you 16 signature drinks or you can come up with your own concoction. Most of the other bars include live music performances throughout the evenings.
You might be surprised if I said window shopping is high on the list of activities to consider, but they do have over 240 luxury brands represented onboard and their iconic thoroughfare is an important focal point thanks to the impressive LCD on the ceilings with ever-changing settings. Or simply admire the 80,000 Swarovski crystals used in their sparkling staircases.
Swimming pools are a fundamental part of cruising and there are plenty on offer here with two outdoor pools and one indoor pool and four outdoor hot tubs and four indoor hot tubs. Even if the British weather isn’t quite Mediterranean, you can still lounge around in the pool with a refreshing cocktail in hand. They also have magnificent water slides on the top of the ship which is rarely seen on other large-scale cruise ships.
Whilst areas like saunas and steam rooms might still be closed, they are still offering an extensive array of personal treatments with signature offerings like a hot stone massage, which is particularly beneficial if you are suffering the after-effects of overindulging on their premium drinks packages.
One area, even adults will find surprisingly enjoyable is their gaming area. You can enjoy craft cocktails whilst bowling, go on a hyper-realistic F1 simulator or go on a shoot ’em up adventure in their interactive cinema.
The star of the show so to speak is the cruise’s theatrical productions (there are four full-scale theatrical productions). The seating, the choreography, and the stagecraft rival the very best from the West End. The shows are themed around classics like ‘The Big Apple’ musical and ‘Capriccio’ which has lively Italian operatic singers resembling the three tenors. There are also comedy nights and live music galore. There won’t be a moment where you will struggle to find entertainment on board this majestic cruise ship.
Cruises from the south of England run from Southampton City Cruise Terminal. The best way to get there is using the premium, yet affordable Blacklane private car services.
A seven night sailing onboard MSC Virtuosa departing from Southampton calling at Portland, Liverpool, Greenock and Belfast starts from £799 pp. Children under 12 years start from £199 and children 12-17 years starting from £299. All food and drink and gratuities included. MSC Virtuosa’s special range of British Isles sailings are all inclusive and include a premium drinks package.
Address: 101, Berth, Western Docks, Herbert Walker Ave, Southampton SO15 1HJ
Phone: 0203 4263010
Photography courtesy of MSC Cruises.