Having heard so much about MSC, and knowing they are the world’s fastest growing cruise line, we were eager to find out a little more about the company and their ship, Virtuosa, which sails from Southampton.
MSC offer short “Taster” cruises, where you can get a feel for cruising, understand what’s available, and enjoy the full cruise experience. They’re astonishing value for money, and can cost as little as £399 for a three night cruise.
We enjoyed one of these, departing from Southampton and visiting Rotterdam and Zeebrugge, before returning to the home port. Here’s our experience of MSC Virtuosa.
We elected to pay a little extra for a balcony cabin – the lead in price is for an inside cabin, and we also had the premium drinks package, but more on both later.
We checked in beforehand using the MSC app, and put our credit card details into it, so that any extras could be charged as we went along. In our confirmation email, we had received a PDF, which we were able to print for suitcase labels, which we put on before heading to the port.
We were given a specific time for our check in – 1PM – and we arrived at the Horizon Cruise terminal on time. We dropped our cases with the porters outside the terminal, then joined a fairly short queue. Because we’d done our check in via the app, the check in clerk only need to take a security photo, check our passports and issue our cruise cards, and in a few moments we were walking down the gangway towards the ship.
We arrived into the main atrium where guest services are located and it was really busy, so we headed up to our cabin on deck 8, to check it out.
The cabin was impressive – reasonably spacious, with a walk in shower in the bathroom and plenty of storage space. There was also a mini fridge, the Air conditioning was excellent, and the balcony, although quite small, gave us a brilliant view, and had two chairs and a table on it.
Inside there was an MSC “Zoe” speaker, which I didn’t manage to get working at all, although it promised to be something like Amazon’s Alexa. There was a pretty large TV, with most UK channels.
Overall, the cabin was really comfortable, with a good sized and a high quality double bed. There are a load of upgrade options available if you want more space, but we were more than happy.
MSC Virtuosa is huge, and it was good be located fairly close to a bank of elevators. On the 8th deck, we literally never heard the engines, there was no vibration at all, and the ship hardly seemed to move over the ocean – for large parts of the trip, we wouldn’t have known we were at sea.
Because we need to work while we are travelling, it was essential that we had good internet. We upgraded to the top level of coverage, which allowed for streaming level speeds on two devices each.
The coverage was excellent – we were able to work seamlessly, without any drop outs. In fact, we never thought about internet, which suggests it was really good.
However, it was far too expensive – we paid £120 to cover four devices for 3 days, which I think is excessive. You can pay a lot less by going for a basic, non streaming option.
Scroll down to read more, but here’s a gallery of photos, click any of them and open the gallery:
As mentioned, we had the premium drinks package. This basically covers you for all drinks that are €14 or less. In practice, that means almost everything. For example, we were able to drink Tanqueray Gin and Tonic or Jack Daniels and Coke with that cost, at no additional charge.
It also included a wide range of cocktails, decent wines and even Champagne by the glass, speciality coffees and a 25% discount on wines by the bottle. It was well worth it, and the only drinks we paid for on the whole trip were cocktails from the Robot Bartender.
There are various other packages available – a “standard” drinks package, an alcohol free one, or you can simply pay as you go.
MSC Virtuosa is incredible – it’s a huge ship, and that means the public areas are grand, open and very airy. The central promenade is literally like a street running through the centre of the ship, with balconies that look down and shops along the length selling an interesting array of both high end and more affordable goods.
There are, amazingly for a cruise ship, five swimming pools, including an indoor one, and a waterpark. There’s also a hotel sized spa area, and a fabulous gym and a sports centre where you can play football or basketball.
The Starship club is great fun, and has a robot bartender who serves cocktails, and the ships entertainment company put on shows in the grand theatre, which can seat 1,000 people and in outdoor sections as well.
There is a full casino aboard, as you would expect.
The bottom line is you could spend a lot of time aboard and not visit everywhere!
Restaurants and food
There’s a large buffet area, which is open most of the day, and at which you can enjoy breakfasts, lunches, diverse and snacks. The food is excellent, the choice vast, and you will never go hungry!
We used the buffet for our breakfast on two mornings, and on the third, we visited the main restaurant, for a proper sit down meal, served to the table. The service and the food was superb.
We didn’t get a chance to try any of the speciality restaurants while we were aboard, because we had pre booked meals with friends in one of the private restaurants, so I can give you a feel for what we enjoyed and list all the other options.
The service in “our” restaurant was exceptional a large team of staff looking after us, a decent choice of excellent food, and by the second evening, we felt really at home. There are several “main” restaurants aboard, and you’re generally allocated to one of them.
MSC Virtuosa also has these speciality restaurants:
- Hola! Tacos and Cantina
- Kaito Teppanyaki and Sushi Bar
- Butcher’s Cut steak restaurant
There are no fewer than seven bars aboard, and the variety is amazing, ranging from an English style pub to classy cool lounge bars and they all vary in size. Rest assured, you’re never far from somewhere to gran a drink on Virtuosa!
Sadly we were unable to enjoy any of the entertainment aboard, as we had functions to attend on each of the evenings.
There’s certainly a real variety of entertainment available, and we heard from other guests that they had really enjoyed the shows. We’ll update here when we cruise with MSC again.
The service was super throughout the ship – everyone from deck hands to quitting staff and the cabin cleaners were friendly, helpful and seemed to genuinely enjoy their work.
It’s quite “hands off,” which I actually like – the crew are there when you need them to be, discrete and ready to help, but never in your face.
The shops are located on the promenade Galeria and include:
- An MSC shop
- A high end jewellery shop
- A large duty free store
- A fashion boutique
- An accessory shop
- An art gallery
We didn’t sail in the Yacht Club, but a friend we spent time with did, and it’s worth sharing what we know about it.
It’s described as a “Ship within a ship,” and offers really high end butler service, bespoke restaurants, bars and pool, and luxurious suites. Yacht Club guests also get priority getting on or off the ship.
Our impression is that it’s worth considering – yes it’s more expensive, but it sounds impressive. You could spend the whole cruise in the Yacht Club areas, but of course, you also have access to the rest of the ship, too.
Our disembarkation process was really smooth. We were told to be in a certain area at 8AM, and we were called within a few moments to have our cruise card scanned out for the last time.
We were through immigration in no time at all, and away from the terminal.
The only irritant is that we were told we would have to leave our cases outside our cabin at 11PM if we wanted them to be taken ashore for us. That was too early, as we knew we’d still be partying! So we chose to keep them and take them off the ship ourselves the following morning.
With MSC, there are standard charges for crew gratuities, which vary according to what part of the world you are cruising in. You have the option to simply pay them as you go, on your cruise account, or pay them in advance as part of the cruise cost. To give you an idea, for a Med cruise, it’s about €12 per night.
We’d always known MSC were terrific value for money, but we didn’t understand just how good the cabins, service, facilities and food and drink were going to be. Cruising with MSC is like staying in a really good 4 star hotel, but one that moves you to a different port each day. It’s a great way to see if cruising suits you, without breaking the bank, but uniquely, MSC also offers Yacht Club to those who want much more and are prepared to pay for it.
Have we tempted you? Get in touch today and we’ll let you know what the latest MSC offers are:
Here’s general information about MSC Cruises.