Travel review: Cruising is back in spectacular style
- Credit: MSC
MSC is leading the way back to cruising - so my family and I hopped aboard the maiden voyage of MSC Virtuosa - a masterpiece on the water
What an absolute honour it was to be invited on the maiden voyage of MSC's latest cruise ship, Virtuosa, from Southampton. Cruising is back and it is back with style. This new cruise ship is one of the two largest in the MSC fleet, along with her sister ship MSC Grandiosa, and it has a whole host of new and impressive features, from a waterpark to a futuristic bar manned by a robot.
Family is clearly at the heart of what MSC does and nowhere could this be more obvious than onboard this latest addition to its fleet. It was the perfect place to take my husband and two-year-old for four fabulous nights on a 'staycation' cruise around the British Isles.
Step aboard this floating five-star resort and, like us, you will discover 10 dining venues, 21 bars, a stunning casino, waterpark, five pools and so much more.
What is the atmosphere like onboard?
The first thing that strikes you when you get onboard Virtuosa is the Galleria Virtuosa promenade on decks six and seven, with its eye-catching 116-metre LED ceiling - the longest LED screen at sea. This spectacular feature was different every time we passed and throughout the cruise there were special LED shows, which brought people to a standstill.
Along the promenade are a variety of shops, featuring more than 200 brands - the largest retail shopping experience at sea.
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Another feature that struck me immediately was the beautiful Swarovski crystal staircase in the main atrium - a truly stunning sight and a great spot in which to pose for photos.
When speaking of the onboard atmosphere I should also mention the excellent health and safety precautions MSC is taking when it comes to keeping the ship COVID safe. We needed to present proof of a negative coronavirus lateral flow test at the terminal (taken within the previous 72 hours) and we had to have another before boarding the ship. There was temperature checking and handwashing stations before entry into the main buffet restaurant and hand sanitiser points across the ship.
All passengers and crew were required to wear masks unless sitting down to eat or drink.
Speaking of the crew, from the moment we stepped aboard, they were absolutely wonderful with our daughter. They took time to speak to her and put us totally at ease. In fact, I'm pretty sure she thought she was a princess by the end of the cruise, as she had been treated like one for four days by everybody.
What are the cabins like?
Tastefully furnished with modern perks like a large flat-screen television and USB points, the balcony cabin was just about big enough for two adults and a two-year-old in a travel cot. If we were to travel on Virtuosa again (I can only hope), I would recommend the family cabins to give you a bit more space if there are more than two of you. They have been cleverly designed with bunks behind a blackout curtain too - very handy if you want to stay up later than the children
You can also book interconnecting cabins when travelling with multiple family members.
Where can you eat onboard Virtuosa?
MSC Virtuosa caters for all culinary tastes onboard. As well as the main dining rooms, where you can enjoy Freedom Dining (just turn up during opening hours), the ship has five speciality restaurants.
You can purchase a speciality dining package onboard, where you can try two of the speciality restaurants for £81 per person, three for £97 per person and four for £124 per person.
We tried Butcher's Cut, an American steakhouse, one evening and the steaks were phenomenal. With dimmed lighting, you'd imagine that this restaurant wouldn't be very child friendly - but you'd imagine wrong. Butcher's Cut has a special children's menu and the staff were really fabulous as always with our two-year-old.
We enjoyed the incredible entrecote - I've had a lot of steaks in my life, but this was certainly up there with the best. It was served with four different sauces and triple cooked chips and we ordered a mac and cheese too on the side. I can't tell you what the mac and cheese tasted like though, as my little girl polished it off, along with my onion rings!
One lunchtime we tried the Kaito Sushi Bar where sushi, sashimi and tempura is made fresh in front of guests’ eyes.
We found the a la carte menu suitable for children and my daughter polished off the chicken noodles, as well as tempura vegetables.
The sushi, I went for the chef's choice of toppings, was the best sushi I have ever had - incredibly fresh and featuring salmon, octopus and eel.
For main courses we enjoyed the tasty gyuniku (beef) teriyaki and chicken teriyaki. They were both served with sticky rice - again devoured by our two-year-old!
The waiter paired my food perfectly with two amazing wines - he was extremely knowledgeable and helpful on the subject.
The final speciality restaurant we tried was HOLA! Tacos & Cantina, a concept new to MSC and a great choice it was too. Latin American and Mexican inspired dishes are made to share alongside a top selection of tequilas and mezcals.
The highlight for me was creating my own guacamole at the table - all the tools and ingredients were delivered to us and we really enjoyed putting our culinary skills to the test as a family.
We also tried quesadillas, nachos and enchiladas and all the dishes were top quality and authentic.
This light, bright, colourful restaurant is a great choice for children - of all ages!
Also making its debut on Virtuosa is Indochine - we didn't get around to trying it but I took a sneak peek and the fine dining style decor makes for a really beautiful setting in which to eat. I heard some very positive reports about the quality of the food too.
Indochine combines two culinary heritages as it brings together savoury Vietnamese classics and gives them a contemporary French twist, resulting in unique fusion dishes.
Of course, there are the main restaurants, which are professionally run and exquisitely decorated. There are fish, meat, vegan and vegetarian dishes on the menu daily and a vast wine list.
For breakfast and some lunches, we opted for the Marketplace buffet restaurant, which suited us really well as a family. There was always plenty on offer - with fresh salads, meats, fish, cooked breakfasts, pastries and lots more - you can even watch the pizzas and the mozzarella being created through a glass screen.
And for those who need their daily sweet fix two-time World Champion in Pastry, Jean-Philippe Maury return on MSC Virtuosa with Chocolat & Café and Crêpes & Gelato.
The ice-cream selection is only equalled by the ones I saw once on a trip to Venice!
What is there to do as a family onboard MSC Virtuosa?
We absolutely loved the fact that one of the pools has a retractable roof - I've been on too many ships where inclement weather has put a stop to swimming and so this really is the way forward. A mezzanine level looks down on the pool, where you can play table football and you can pick up refreshments at the pool bar. Try the Ultimate Mai Thai - you won't regret it!
MSC Virtuosa has more than 98 hours of kids’ activities per week. With interactive games, live family game shows, a dedicated sports programme, themed days and more. We particularly loved a boogie at the family disco at 8.30pm every evening.
There are seven rooms at the kids club, each dedicated to a different age group of children, right up to age 17. It is worth noting that children need to be potty trained to use the mini club (three and over) and to use the pools onboard. But there is a Baby Club for accompanied children up to three too.
The games arcade is where we spent lots of time, with a bowling alley, interactive games and even two F1 simulators.
The fun literally never stops there. It is worth checking out the fun passes for added value. The prices depend on the length of the cruise.
After a long day of fun, kids can head up to the upper decks to cool down in Virtuosa's very own waterpark. Jump on one of three action-packed water slides, including the Champagne bowl slide, two racing tube slides and a spray area complete with a massive tipping bucket, water guns and multiple interactive water elements.
And after a long day, the adults can head to a very special bar, staffed by a very special member of the crew - Rob the robot! He is the first humanoid robotic bartender at sea and is in charge of the MSC Starship Club, a futuristic-style bar where you can enjoy a range of cocktails. Not only can Rob mix your drinks, but he also speaks eight languages and enjoys entertaining guests with jokes, riddles and space facts. My daughter insisted on saying 'hello' to him at least once a day.
Of course, MSC is also famed for its evening entertainment in the shape of professional shows and Virtuosa is no exception. Each night will feature multiple showings of one of MSC Cruises’ new theatre productions and the Carousel Lounge will also feature daily entertainment.
The Yacht Club
The best way to describe The Yacht Club is an exclusive hotel within the ship. With its own pool deck, restaurant and lounge and 24-hour butler service, it feels really special. The Yacht Club has 103 cabins and 'residents' even get their very own lift leading to the rest of the ship. And if you stay in one of the two Royal Suites, you even get your own poolside cabana.
I was lucky enough to enjoy a Balinese massage in the beautiful spa onboard. I went in feeling achy and came out feeling like I was walking on air.
My therapist, Heidi, used a deep realaxing body oil on me and relieved all the tension in my back, neck and calves. I highly recommend booking in for a treatment, if only to soak in the Roman-style atmosphere.
Virtuosa is doing a series of UK cruises this summer departing Southampton, Liverpool and Greenock. To find out more and explore other itineraries visit the MSC website here.
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