Return to the waves and cruise on board the new flagship MSC Virtuosa

IT’S teeming down but there’s no way I am letting unpredictable weather rain on my parade as I step back on board a cruise ship for the first time in more than a year.

What a return to the waves. I’m sailing on MSC Cruises’ new flagship MSC Virtuosa.

Return to the waves and cruise on board the new flagship MSC Virtuosa


Return to the waves and cruise on board the new flagship MSC VirtuosaCredit: MSC Rights

The downpour doesn’t dampen spirits as we sail from South-ampton on a four-night “seacation” along the South Coast.

The luxury liner is trailblazing a start to this summer’s bumper bounty of UK voyages, with more than 15 cruise companies planning sailings from Britain.

While there’s only 1,000 of us on a ship big enough to take more than 6,000 passengers, there’s still a buzz in the air as we revel in the glamour that’s been missing from our lives during this last year.

With masses of gleaming marble, chrome and glass, this is one glitzy ship, with staircases of Swarovski crystals in the grand atrium that glitter like crushed diamonds and make me feel like a million dollars as I sashay down in my best film-star pose.

MSC’s Virtuosa’s first 'humanoid' robotic bartender Rob


MSC’s Virtuosa’s first ‘humanoid’ robotic bartender RobCredit: MSC Rights

At 19 decks, MSC Virtuosa is more floating resort than cruise ship, and even has a Mediterranean-style promenade, Galleria Virtuosa, running through its centre and acclaimed as the largest shopping spot at sea.

The street is the beating heart of the ship’s social whirl, with themed parties, plus bubbles galore in the Champagne Bar and the matey feel of the Masters Of The Sea pub where punters can sup more than 40 different beers — hopefully not all in one go.

I can’t tear my eyes away from Galleria Virtuosa’s crowning glory, a 116m-long LED ceiling screen that magically transforms from star-filled night skies and under-water fantasy seascapes (com-plete with swim-ming mermaids) to ancient worlds and city skylines.

It even morphs into a giant Union Jack as a salute to these floating staycations which can only be booked by British guests — wooed with homely touches of in-cabin kettles, Yorkshire Tea and traditional favourites on rest-aurant menus.

Staircases of Swarovski crystals in the grand atrium that glitter


Staircases of Swarovski crystals in the grand atrium that glitterCredit: MSC Rights

It’s the only line on this summer’s UK voyages that does not require guests to be vaccinated, thus opening the door to families with young children. But guests do need proof of a negative Covid test taken up to 72 hours before departure, and travel insurance with Covid-19 cover.

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I arrive at Southampton with these in hand, but feel apprehensive as I, and other guests, undergo another mandatory lateral flow test at the terminal and wait 15 minutes before getting the all-clear.

A positive result would have scuppered my cruise before it even started, as I would not have been allowed to board. But, instead, I step on to the ship, where I’m greeted by smiling crew offering welcome glasses of bubbly.

In some ways it feels like I’ve never been away, though there are distinct differences. As part of MSC’s strict health and safety procedures, face masks must be worn indoors, apart from when I’m drinking or dining — which I seem to do quite a lot of the time — and there’s strict social distancing, with seats marked out of bounds to space guests apart.

There are five complimentary dining restaurants


There are five complimentary dining restaurantsCredit: MSC Rights

I’m also wearing a hi-tech bracelet issued at check-in which, in addition to the key card, unlocks my cabin door, doubles as a pay-ment device and, most importantly, can be used for contact-tracing if anyone develops Covid-19.

Constant cleaning, increased hand-sanitising and temperature checks are other routines of Covid-secure cruising, along with a new take on buffet-dining where, instead of helping ourselves, crew serve food instead.

There are five complimentary dining restaurants and the same number of speciality spots, from Japanese teppanyaki and mouth-watering steaks in Butcher’s Cut to new venues — Indochine, serving spicy Vietnamese fare, and Mexican street food in Hola! Tacos & Cantina, where I call up menus by scanning QR codes on my phone.

With 21 bars and lounges, you won’t go thirsty — though with bottled beers and glasses of wine starting at £8, it’s a good thing most drinks are included in the cruise fare.


An exception is MSC’s Virtuosa’s first “humanoid” robotic bartender Rob, who has a fine line in amusing quips and even makes a decent cocktail, though at £18 his concoctions are definitely one for the road.

The five swimming pools and numerous hot tubs, along with an adrenaline-pumping aquapark of slides and a ropes course all operating as normal guarantee that families will have a ball.

Kids’ clubs are also open as usual, though social distancing means they are taking fewer children than normal.

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Spa fans can get their fill of pampering at the sumptuous Aurea Spa — but be prepared to stump up at least £100 for massages. Masks are kept on during body treat-ments, and the thermal suite is closed until restrictions ease.

There are five swimming pools and numerous hot tubs


There are five swimming pools and numerous hot tubsCredit: MSC Rights

Adjusting to the new routine doesn’t take long and, as the weather improves, sun-lovers flock out on deck, revelling in the extra room allowed by well-spaced sunbeds, which feels something of a luxury compared with pre-Covid cruising.

During our one stop, at Portland, Dorset, guests are allowed ashore only on an MSC “social bubble” excursion, with strict instructions not to wander off independently — or risk being barred from the ship.

Such a strict stance is under-standable in the circumstances but makes our tour of Weymouth rather bland.

Yet the same cannot be said of MSC’s Virtuosa’s night-time enter-tainment line-up, with live bands, a sparky soul trio and lavish song- and-dance extravaganzas in the main theatre that all fizz with life and energy.

Onboard there is constant cleaning, increased hand-sanitising and temperature checks


Onboard there is constant cleaning, increased hand-sanitising and temperature checksCredit: Editorial use only

The upbeat mood flows throughout the ship, and is the only thing that’s infectious on this sailing. But it’s one powerful feelgood vibe I really don’t mind catching.


GETTING/STAYING THERE: MSC Cruises’ one-week summer UK sailings include calls at Portland and Belfast.

Passengers can embark in either Southampton, Liverpool or Glasgow (Greenock).

Prices start at £799pp in an interior cabin, including drinks and gratuities.

See or call 020 3426 3010.

Still on course for a summer seacation

There are still plenty of ways you can enjoy a “seacation” in our waters this summer – with 15 cruise lines offering sailings throughout July, August and September.

The breaks are great value compared to holidays on land, with entertainment, food and more included in the price.

Some lines are accepting only fully vaccinated passengers


Some lines are accepting only fully vaccinated passengersCredit: Editorial use only

They are also a great way to test the waters if you have never been on a cruise before.

However, some lines are accepting only fully vaccinated passengers, so check before booking.

Travel Editor Lisa Minot has the pick of the sailings that still offer availability . . . 

JOIN John Torode and Michel Roux Jr on Sky Princess’s Culinary Stars cruise, departing Southampton for a three-night sailing on September 10. All-inclusive fares for balcony cabins start from £389pp including full board, premium drinks, unlimited wifi and Covid testing. Check out or phone 0344 338 8663.

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Kids’ clubs are also open as usual


Kids’ clubs are also open as usualCredit: MSC Rights

ENJOY stops at two scenic Scottish ports of call on Fred Olsen’s Touring Scenic Orkneys & Shetlands cruise. The five-night sailing on new ship Bolette departs Dover on August 24 and calls at Lerwick in the Shetlands and Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands.

Prices are from £749pp including full board and entertainment. For more details, see
BE among the very first to experience Virgin Cruises’ Scarlet Lady when she sails UK waters this August.

The brand-new, adults-only luxury liner aims to turn traditional cruising on its head, with 20 different places to eat, basic drinks, all tips, wifi and fitness classes included in the price. The four-night Summer WeekDaze cruise, departing Portsmouth, from August 9 to 13, costs from £599pp for a Sea Terrace balcony room. See

CELEBRITY Silhouette will be showing off its multimillion-pound makeover as it welcomes back guests from July 3, with redesigned rooms, bars and restaurants. A six-night cruise from Southampton departing July 31 is from £899pp. The ship will call at Inverness and Liverpool, also giving you three sea days to enjoy the transformed ship. Prices include full board and entertain-ment. To book, see

GET the family onboard Disney Magic as it embarks on a series of sailings from London Tilbury. A family of four can enjoy a two-night sailing departing September 27 from £524pp, based on two adults and two children age three to 12 sharing a Concierge Family Oceanview Stateroom with verandah. For details or to book, call the Walt Disney Travel Company on 0800 16 90 742.

STEP aboard P&O Cruises’ new flagship Iona on her inaugural cruise to sail past the island that inspired her name. A seven-night cruise departing Southampton on August 7 will see passengers enjoying the new ship while sailing past breathtaking Scottish islands. Prices are from £949pp and include full board as well as entertainment. See for details or call 03453 555 111.

Enjoy a tipple at the first Star Wars attraction for adults on Disney’s new cruise ship



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