Yesterday I disembarked the MSC Virtuosa. I was on board the first cruise to leave the UK in 14 months and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the entire world was looking at this cruise. There were TV crews on board, every newspaper was there and there was a lot of pressure on MSC to get this right.
If this cruise didn’t go right, it would set back the cruise industry months, possibly even years, so it had to go to plan.
Why Did I Book a Cruise on The MSC Virtuosa?
I knew as soon as this cruise itinerary was released that I wanted to book the cruise and that I wanted to book the first cruise from the UK. Despite that, I have never been more nervous about a cruise.
I didn’t know if I personally would feel safe on the ship and if I would still find cruising with social distancing and masks as fun.
I also thought the cruise ship may be a bit ghostly quiet, as it only had a thousand passengers on board and because everybody had all-inclusive drinks, I didn’t know if it might turn into a bit of a booze cruise.
|Capacity on This Sailing||Maximum Capacity|
MSC Cruises Don’t Require Covid Vaccinations
MSC are the only cruise line cruising from the UK this summer that don’t require everybody to be vaccinated.
If you’re not fully vaccinated, you have to do another covid test before you go to the cruise port. Everybody does one at the cruise port. This means that guests are either:
- Fully vaccinated + Take a test at the port
- Not vaccinated (or partially vaccinated) + A test taken at home + A test taken at the port
To learn more about the testing requirements, including how to complete the at-home test for free. Check out this post: Which COVID-19 Tests Do You Need For an MSC British Isles Cruise (2021)?
MSC Virtuosa 2021 – Embarkation Process
The embarkation took around an hour and a half, which I really don’t think is too bad. Sometimes it can take an hour to embark on a cruise anyway and considering all of these extra steps that they had to go through, I think MSC did a really good job with it.
Since I disembarked this cruise, many of my friends have also cruised on the Virtuosa. It seems as though the embarkation process has got faster, with some people embarking in under an hour.
When we got into the cruise port, the first thing we did was we went to a desk where they just checked that you had the right travel insurance. They also checked that you either had the proof of your vaccines or the proof of your tests.
They checked the basics too like that you were booked on this cruise and you had your passports.
Taking a Covid Test at The Cruise Port
Once we got through security, it was time for the covid test. Everybody who is two and older has to have a covid test. MSC pay for these at the port tests.
I thought it would be the throat swab and the nose swab, but only the nose swab was needed. I didn’t know this so when the lady doing the test came towards me, I opened my mouth. Oops!
When I do these tests at home, I feel like I know where the top of my nose is. It felt like they shoved this swab up into my brain, it made me cry. It seems to make everybody cry a little bit, but it was more than worth it to get on the cruise.
Once we had completed the test, we checked in, we sat down and we were given a boarding time. We were then allowed on the ship.
Our Cruise Itinerary Onboard The MSC Virtuosa
The cruise that I took was four nights long. It left Southampton in England, returned to Southampton in England and it had one port stop in, you guessed it, England.
We visited Portland in Dorset but even if this cruise didn’t go anywhere, I would have been on this cruise. For me it was more about seeing all of the procedures ,seeing my friends eating and drinking rather than the actual destinations.
One of the great things about taking the first cruise is that nobody else has just stayed in your cabin so it is ready as soon as you get on the cruise ship.
My Inside Cabin Was HUGE!
I had booked the cheapest inside cabin in true Emma fashion. I’m definitely a budget cruiser!
I teach a course about how to cruise on a budget and true to my name, I was cruising in the cheapest inside cabin right at the front of the ship. Click here to learn more about the course.
They could not have put me further from the buffet if they tried but in hindsight, I think that was probably a good thing.
The cabins on the MSC Virtuosa have lots of plug sockets. Our cabin had 3 USBs, 2 US, and 2 European sockets.
This design is one of my favourite cabin designs. When you think about cruise ship cabins being clean, this was a whole new level of cleanliness. Even our remote control for the tv had been cleaned and sanitized and it was in a little paper bag.
I did have a couple of friends on board and we did that thing where you run around and you have a look at everybody else’s cabins. They had a cabin that had bunk beds and a huge balcony, so thank you to them for letting me have a look at that. I’m always in an inside cabin, so to see something like that was a treat.
To learn more about the cabin options available onboard the MSC Virtuosa, check out this post:
How Did The Muster Drill Work?
One thing that’s different now and I think it is so much better, is the muster drill.
We’ve all been to muster drills on cruises where everybody has to take their life jackets and stand on the promenade deck, everyone’s shouting at each other, it’s overwhelming, it’s hot and you just want to sit down. That is a thing of the past.
On this cruise, what you have to do is watch the usual safety videos that you normally watch at the muster drill but in your cabin. Afterwards, you go to your muster station just so that you know where it is. They scan your cruise card just to say that you came.
The content of the muster drill is the same, but everyone just does it in their cabin, rather than all being together in one place.
Everybody did kind of leave their cabins and go to their muster drill at the same time. I’ve heard that on more recent cruises, they have split this up to avoid too many people being in one place at a time.
Did I Feel Safe Walking Around The Ship?
Interestingly, I never really bumped into anybody in the corridor on this cruise or really ever had any situations where I felt like people were too close to me.
On the stairs, people tended to stay away from each other, which I appreciated.
Knowing that everybody on that ship had had a negative coronavirus test just before they got on board, I felt really safe. I felt a lot safer than I would just walking down the street at home.
MSC Virtuosa, Sail Away From Southampton
We did go outside for the sail away. I did make the decision that I didn’t want to bring a coat and I didn’t want to bring an umbrella on this cruise, because I thought if it’s raining I’m just not going to get off the ship.
I thought, I’ve paid for this cruise. it’s been such a long time since we’ve been on the cruise. I will just stay inside.
I didn’t think about the fact that I had agreed to do some filming with a TV crew and that they wanted me to go up on the top deck for the sail away. The wind was blowing in my face but I did get my 15 or 10 seconds of fame. I’ve heard that everybody gets 15 minutes of fame so maybe I’ve got 14 minutes and 50 seconds of fame left!
What Was Mask Wearing on a Cruise Ship Like?
If you’re on the top deck and you’re away from other people, you don’t have to wear your mask but it was freezing on my cruise, so it was nice to have something to kind of keep you warm.
If you’re on the top deck and you’re sitting on a sun lounger or you’re walking around and you’re away from other people, you don’t have to wear a mask.
The only time you really have to wear a mask on the top deck, is when you’re coming down the stairs or you’re in a place where other people are going to be and you can’t social distance.
Mask Wearing Inside The Ship
You have to wear a mask when you’re walking around the ship. If you get up from the table and you want to go to the toilet, you have to put your mask on.
When you’re sat there with your friends and you’re having a drink and you’re in the restaurant, you don’t have to wear your mask.
It’s amazing just how used to that we are at the moment, it didn’t bother me at all and it took nothing away from the cruise experience.
The only thing that was slightly annoying, is when you’re in the buffet you get up just to go and get some more food and you just forget your mask. The crew will say to you ‘can you just get your mask please’.
This Was My Fourth MSC Cruise
I have cruised with MSC before and this was my fourth MSC cruise. I’ve cruised twice before on the MSC Meraviglia which is a smaller version of Virtuosa, so I felt very very at home on the ship.
One reason why I cruise with MSC quite a lot, is that the dress codes are very, very casual. It’s a very chilled out cruise and I’m quite a casual kind of person.
To learn more about MSC’s ‘formal nights’ check out this post: MSC Cruises Formal Nights – Everything You Need To Know.
MSC Virtuosa Dining
On the first night, we went to the main dining room for dinner. What they did in the main dining room is that they would just have certain tables that were cordoned off and they wouldn’t sit people at those tables.
They didn’t have all the main dining rooms open on this cruise, because we didn’t have enough passengers to fill all of the restaurants, so only a couple of the main dining rooms were open. All main dining rooms serve the same menu, so this didn’t matter.
They did anytime dining on this cruise which is a bit different for MSC.
Normally you have either early dining or late dining but I guess just because of reduced capacity numbers it was easy enough for everybody just to come and sit and eat whenever they wanted to. I did a lot of eating on this cruise.
I Viewed All Menus on My Phone
Another thing that we’ve seen a lot of in the last year is the idea of having menus on your phone, rather than physical menus. At no point on this cruise did I have my hands on a menu because I didn’t need to.
To view the menus I went on my phone and I scanned the QR code located on the table. This brings up the drinks and food menus.
You can see the menus before you even get to the restaurant if you download the MSC app. You can click on each restaurant and then you can click on every menu and you can decide where you’d like to go.
We would often be sat next to somebody who said ‘Oh I can’t get the menu on my phone’ or ‘It doesn’t work’ but it always worked fine for us.
You did have to connect to the ship’s Wi-Fi to see the menus but you don’t have to pay for the Wi-Fi. The ship just needs to know that you’re onboard to transmit the information. I feel as though some people missed this step.
I Bought a Wi-Fi Package
I did buy a Wi-Fi package because I wanted to keep all of my cruise accounts up to date.
If you’re somebody who just doesn’t want to look at menus on your phone, that’s fine you just say ‘Can I have a paper menu please’ and they will bring you a paper menu. They’ll throw it away at the end of the meal. Lots of people did this and it was no problem.
Personally, I really liked having the menus on my phone.
MSC Virtuosa Food Review
MSC do sometimes get quite a bad rap on the internet when it comes to their food. Maybe sometimes deserved maybe sometimes not deserved. I have to say on this cruise, I feel like MSC really upped their game.
This was my fourth MSC cruise and the food was the best I’ve had on an MSC cruise for sure.
There wasn’t a single thing that I found on this entire cruise that I would change. Everything was always the perfect temperature and the portion sizes were good. I can’t find anything bad to say about any item of food and I tested a lot of food on this cruise.
The food served is different from American or British cruise lines, check out this video which explains why:
Can You Still Socialise on a Cruise The Same Way?
One slight concern I had before this cruise, was that I knew so many other people on this cruise and I wanted to be able to sit with my friends and enjoy a drink together.
I did worry a little bit that it would be is that you must stay with your own cruise party but it was nothing like that.
If you want to sit down in a bar with a group of friends, that’s completely fine.
Whenever you went into a bar, there would be certain chairs that had the do not sit here stickers on them. Most of the actual bars would have do not sit here stickers on them, so you can’t hang out at the bar but it still was pretty easy to make friends with people.
I would bump into people all the time who sat behind me or I’d walk past the pub and I would see people sat outside. It was really quite easy to make friends with people, it didn’t feel as though you had to stay away from everybody.
I genuinely felt safer onboard than I would in any bar or restaurant on land. I talk more about that in the following video:
How do The Social Distanced Chairs Work?
When it came to the chairs that had do not sit here stickers on them, if you went to sit at a table and it had two chairs crossed off but you’re a group of four, that’s fine to sit on the chairs that have stickers on them. The idea of those stickers is that you keep space between your group and other groups.
If you’re in the theater they normally had two seats and then two seats that said don’t sit here. If you’re a group of three, you can sit there as long as you have the don’t sit here sticker next to you.
The idea is not to make you stay away from your cruise party, if you’re cruising with your children, you don’t have to make them sit away from you, you just want to keep space between your cruise party and other cruise parties. that’s the main thing
No crew member is going to come up to you and say get off that chair, as long as there’s still space between you and other people.
You can still sit with your friends and have drinks. For me that’s one of my favorite things about cruising is just sitting in a lounge and people watching.
The atmosphere is just as good, if not better, because everybody’s so happy to be back on a cruise.
What is The MSC Virtuosa Like?
The MSC Virtuosa has this amazing central street lined with shops and restaurants. It has huge water slides, it has a ropes course and everything on board was open as normal.
I will say that sometimes the timings were limited, the water slides might be open for say an hour, then they will be closed for cleaning and sanitizing and then they might be open again later.
If you’re somebody who really wants to go on something like the ropes course, it will be open as long as you make sure that you’re there at the right time. Keep an eye on the daily schedule as this may change without notice.
The limited opening times may also be to do with the fact that we had very limited passengers on board. It doesn’t really make sense to have the ropes course open all the time and nobody there.
The below video was filmed onboard the MSC Meraviglia, the ropes course is identical to that found on the MSC Virtuosa.
Anything you want to do you can still do. If you want to go to the gym, that is open. The spa was open too. It sounds as though the spa was kind of limited on this cruise but it was still open.
To learn more about cruise ship gyms, including who can use them, check out this post: Cruise Ship Gyms: Cost, Opening Times, and Other Things You NEED to Know
How Has The Buffet Changed?
I don’t know about you, but for me the buffet is one of my most important places when I cruise.
A year ago all of these news stories were released that said we’ll never have cruise ship buffets again and it was all very very dramatic.
I’m happy to report the buffet is still there. I think it’s a better process than it was before all of this happened.
How Does The Buffet on The MSC Virtuosa Work?
When you go into an MSC buffet there are lots of sinks lining the entrance. The crew will make sure you wash your hands and they’ll scan your temperature to check that you haven’t got a higher temperature.
You’ll walk to the start of the buffet and the crew will give you a tray, give you a knife and fork, and then you’ll go round. There’s one-way systems in place which people actually tended to follow.
I’ve seen other cruises before that have one-way systems where everybody just goes everywhere but happy to report people mostly did follow the one-way system.
When you actually get to the buffet everything is laid out in the same way as before.
At no point do you touch any of the food, you don’t touch the tongs, you don’t touch the spoons, you just request what you would like they put it on a plate and they hand it over to you.
Even when you went to get a drink, there is a crew member there and you say ‘can I have an orange juice and a water please’ they get it for you and they just hand it to you.
Because there were one-way systems in place you couldn’t go back out the way that you came in the buffet. They didn’t want people to kind of cross over but it worked really well. There were crew everywhere directing you in the right direction.
What Were The Crew Like?
The crew onboard the MSC Virtuosa were lovely. I had forgotten how nice cruise ship crew are but generally speaking I think they’re some of the nicest people in the world.
Every time you walk down the corridor, there’s a crew member who will say ‘good morning’, ‘hello how are you?’ ‘how’s your cruise’. I had forgotten about that part of cruising.
I had a couple of conversations with crew members who said how nice it was to be back on board and how nice it was to be on Virtuosa, such an exciting cruise ship.
I Visited The Yacht Club
During this cruise, I got to do something that I’ve never done before on any cruise. I got to go through the doors that say Yacht Club only. Normally I just peer through there, as I can never get through but MSC gave me a visitor’s pass.
The Yacht Club is basically a ship within a ship, it’s a more premium area on the MSC cruise ships and in there you have your own lounge, you have your own restaurant, you have your own pool deck, and your own pool.
For me, I’m very much a budget cruiser, so I don’t think that the yacht club really is for me but I totally understand why if you’re somebody who has the money, you’d pay extra for it.
We had the most amazing dinner in the Yacht Club. I think there were only eight of us eating dinner and there were probably eight or ten crew members, so we had brilliant service and amazing food.
It was really nice for me to be able to go through those secret doors that I’ve never been in before. I did feel like a kind of undercover spy.
MSC Virtuosa Theatre Shows
When I cruise, I normally go to the theater every single evening. The theatre shows on MSC are only around 35 minutes long, so you might as well go to the theater.
They’re very, very interesting shows, you definitely won’t be bored when you cruise on MSC and you go to the theater. Every single singer and dancer, we even had roller skaters and magic on this cruise, every single person was extremely talented.
I just don’t know that I understand the overall theme when it comes to MSC’s theater shows but I was definitely entertained. It’s somewhere nice to go and sit and chill out.
Note: There is no bar service in MSC theatres.
I was a bit confused and I think MSC could make it a bit clearer that you have to wear your mask when you’re sat down and you’re watching the show.
I would say quite a lot of people didn’t do that because probably they thought it was the same as being in a bar or a restaurant.
I thought that on the first night. I sat down and I took off my mask. Then it came on the overhead Tannoy and said please keep your masks on.
Everybody was social distanced. there were chairs that were closed off. We all had a lot of space per person.
Meeting Rob The Robot Bartender
Maybe one of the most exciting things and the biggest differences between the MSC Virtuosa and the other cruise ships in the class is that MSC Virtuosa has a robot bartender.
His name is Rob and he will make you a drink for £18 ($25).
I have to say I’m not the type of person who will spend £18 on having a robot make me a drink. I went for the free conversation with Rob instead and I did have some good conversations with him. He kind of chats away to himself.
He wiggles his arms, he winks, he scratches his head and he’s very very interesting to see.
I did see a lot of comments who said ‘who would pay to have a robot make you a drink, when you can get one for free’. We did have included all-inclusive drinks on this cruise but I have to say Rob was constantly working during our cruise.
He was making drinks all the time, you didn’t have to pay Rob to make you a drink to see Rob make a drink, because he was so busy.
When I was onboard, it did say that rob had made 1,800 drinks so he is a well-practiced bartender and it was really interesting to kind of just walk by him and see him wiggling his arms or winking at you.
It’s definitely an interesting addition from MSC, not something that I would spend my money on but plenty of other people do and it is good fun.
Extra Cost Activities
There are lots of things on the MSC Virtuosa that you can do for an extra cost. I didn’t do any because I was enjoying everything that was included in the cruise fare.
The MSC Virtuosa has F1 simulators, a 4D cinema, VR gaming and a bowling alley. These all cost a little bit extra and a lot of people did buy passes to try all of these activities.
I was just enjoying the free food and sitting and enjoying the free drinks with my friends most of the time, so I didn’t feel the need to be entertained. I was never bored, not for a second.
Included Drinks Package
On this cruise, we had all-inclusive drinks included up to the price of £10 per drink. At no point did I see anything over that that I wanted, to be honest, I just didn’t look if there were drinks that were more expensive than £10 I just wouldn’t even read it.
There were pages of cocktails for £10 beers, for £10 beertails in the pub, which is kind of a beer cider cocktail, they’re under £10 so I don’t really know that you would ever need to upgrade.
Tea and Coffee were included too.
Some people like a specific high-end drink or maybe they like champagne but for me personally, I had more than enough to drink just with the included drinks.
We All Had MSC For Me Track and Trace Wristbands
It was really nice to have the MSC wristband, because when you ordered a drink they would come around take the order and you would just give them your wrist and that’s how you pay.
You can still pay with your cruise card but the wristband was normally an easier option.
The wristband was tracking and tracing everybody who was on the cruise in case there was a coronavirus outbreak.
I pretty much just used the wristband to pay for cocktails throughout the cruise and it worked really well for that.
I Tried a Speciality Meal in Indochine
I spent a lot of time eating in the main dining room, in the buffet and the yacht club but I did have one speciality meal in a restaurant called Indochine. It was Indonesian food and my goodness there was so much food.
I went to Indochine on the last lunch of the cruise because I got to the end I realised I hadn’t been.
I matched my loyalty status from NCL with MSC, which means that I get a free speciality meal on each cruise. I’m not going to miss out on a free meal!
My goodness, every single course that came out could have been the main course. I feel like I had three main courses in that restaurant and then I actually skipped dessert. I was so unbelievably full.
If you do match your loyalty status with MSC and you get a free specialty meal, what you do is you get to eat from the dining menu which is a reduced menu. The cost should have been around £54.
Most people on the cruise who ate in specialty restaurants booked a specialty dining package before coming on the cruise. If you do want to eat in multiple restaurants, this can be a great way to save money.
Even though our cruise was only a four night long, we did have one port stop on our itinerary.
We went to Portland in Dorset. I stayed on board because I didn’t really want to get off the ship. The MSC Virtuosa is too much fun.
When you’re doing excursions with MSC this summer and almost every cruise line from the UK, you have to do organized excursions which meant I would have had to do an organized excursion in Portland.
If I could have just got off and wandered around I might have done that but for right now, you have to do a cruise line organised excursion and I thought I’d stay on the ship and save myself the money.
It was rainy it was drizzly I had all my food and my drink and this amazing ship to explore, so I stayed on board.
It was so nice to meet so many nice people on this cruise. We had a lovely cruise with really nice people and that that’s what makes the cruise, the people you’re on the cruise with.
The MSC Virtuosa is an incredible ship and I enjoyed 4 days of food, drinks and spending time with my friends.
The weather on this cruise was slightly rough when we started out, so we sailed down to France and we just looped around and around and around in this place that was protected from most of the wind.
This cruise may be over but it’s just the start for us returning to cruising. To see more, watch the video below: