My first cruise of 2021! MSC Virtuosa Maiden Voyage Review

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I cruised on MSC Virtuosa on 24th May 2021. The cruise was the second of MSC Virtuosa’s four maiden voyages, and the second cruise to depart from the UK in 14 months since the global pause.

This was such an unusual cruise as there were barely any guests on board and a lot of new requirements were in place.

In this review of MSC Virtuosa, I’ll show you our cabin, the food, drinks, entertainment and onboard activities.

Whether you’re hoping to cruise with MSC Cruises in the future, or are interested to see what cruising is like since the restart, I hope that you’ll find this review to be informative.

Embarkation

MSC Virtuosa is one of the biggest cruise ships in the world, with a guest capacity of 6,300 passengers. However, the UK government had advised that for the first month or so, cruise ships would be allowed a maximum of 1,000 guests on board.

Cruising on a ship at less than 20% capacity was such a special experience and one that I will never forget!

Arrival time

Each guest was given an embarkation time between 11 and 4 pm and advised not to arrive at the port any earlier than your time slot. Our time was 3 pm.

As we were flying into Southampton, we landed at 12.30 pm and decided to head straight to the port to see if we could board any earlier. I expected that we’d have to wait outside, but when we arrived at 1 pm we were ushered straight inside the terminal to check-in as there were no queues.

Embarkation checks

The port staff were very thorough, checking that everybody had the correct travel insurance (which must cover both cruising and COVID-19), proof of a recent coronavirus test (or proof of vaccination) and a British passport.

Next, we had another coronavirus test which was quick and easy. The lady handed me the swab and watched as I swirled it around a single nostril.

We sat and waited for around 30 minutes for the results, then we were allowed to board. While we were waiting, we were each given a maiden voyage pin, which was a lovely touch.

As there were so few people boarding, check-in was much faster than normal, even with the extra checks.

Accommodation

We booked the cheapest cabin on MSC Virtuosa, which was a twin inside Bella cabin towards the front of Deck 12.

Suggested read: MSC Bella Vs Fantastica Vs Aurea: Which to choose?

MSC Virtuosa inside cabin

I took this cruise with my mum, but I have another booked on the same ship for August 2021, when I’ll be bringing my husband and kids in a four-berth balcony cabin.

I was excited to see that the room was the largest inside stateroom I’d ever seen! At 175 square feet, it was 20% bigger than the four-berth inside cabin we’d stayed in on MSC Preziosa previously.

Suggested read: MSC Virtuosa Inside Cabin Review

Cabins on MSC Virtuosa include the following amenities:

  • Huge LCD TV
  • Telephone
  • Electronic safe
  • Mini-bar
  • Hairdryer
  • ZOE virtual assistant
  • Shampoo, shower gel and hand soap
  • Bath towels and pool towels
  • Bathroom with shower
  • Wardrobe
  • Desk with chair
  • Four mirrors – Over the desk, full length, bathroom and magnifying

Minibar

On MSC Cruises, the minibar isn’t included in the standard drinks package, although you do get it for free if you upgrade to the Premium Plus package or stay in a Yacht Club stateroom. You can ask your stateroom attendant to empty the minibar if you wish.

MSC Cruises mini bar price list
Minibar price list

Sockets

Cabins on MSC Virtuosa have two European sockets, two US sockets and four USB sockets.

If your gadgets have UK plugs you’ll need to bring adaptors. If you forget, you can borrow some from guest services for a refundable £30 deposit.

Storage

There was plenty of storage for two people for a cruise of up to a week with a double wardrobe, two drawers, a desk drawer and small bedside tables.

For longer cruises or if you are cruising as a family, you may require a little more storage so it would be wise to bring an over door organiser. You can buy these on Amazon.

Food

MSC Cruises doesn’t necessarily have the best reputation for food, but I found the food on MSC Virtuosa to be fantastic, both in the Main Dining Room and in the Marketplace Buffet.

The ship also has five speciality restaurants which are available for an extra fee. We didn’t try those as we were more than happy with the included dining options.

MSC Virtuosa restaurants:

  • Main Dining Rooms (included)
  • Marketplace Buffet (included)
  • Indochine Restaurant – French-Vietnamese
  • Hola! – Latin American and Mexican
  • Kaito Teppanyaki – Asian show cooking
  • Kaito Sushi – Japanese
  • Butcher’s Cut – American steakhouse

The photo below shows the cost of the speciality dining packages. However, you could just choose one restaurant if that’s all you want, and some of them also had a la carte pricing.

MSC Virtuosa specialty dining packages

Being vegan, I only tried the vegan food. However, my mum tried many of the meat, fish and vegetarian options and was pleased with all of them.

Suggested read: Eating vegan on MSC Cruises

Menus

The main dining room menus and buffet menus change every day. There’s also a kids’ menu which is the same throughout the cruise and includes a section for baby food.

MSC Cruises breakfast menu
Typical breakfast menu
MSC Cruises main dining room lunch menu
Typical lunch menu
MSC Cruises main dining room dinner menu
Typical dinner menu
MSC Cruises kids' menu
MSC Cruises kids’ menu

In the Marketplace buffet, there was a fantastic selection of dishes from around the world. Breakfast was the same every day, but it was always different at lunch and dinner.

The buffet is open for 20 hours each day. Between meals, there are snacks available and you can almost always get freshly-baked pizza.

Health precautions in the restaurants

Before entering any restaurant, we had our temperature checked with a forehead thermometer. This was very quick and easy.

MSC Cruises temperature check

To prevent any transmission of viruses in the buffet restaurant, all of the food was behind perspex screens. You simply ask the server for what you would like and they hand it to you on a small plate.

This does mean that you end up with several small plates on your tray, but you can easily transfer the food to one plate when you sit down, or treat it like tapas if you prefer!

Some tables are to be kept empty for social distancing and these are labelled so you know where you can and can’t sit.

While MSC Cruises usually offers set dining times with an early and late sitting, on this cruise we could arrive at the restaurant at any time, which was great!

Instead of menus, you can use your phone to scan a QR code and read the menu online. If you’re not tech-savvy, don’t worry – you can request a disposable paper menu instead.

Drinks

Every passenger on our cruise received an all-inclusive drinks package which entitles you to unlimited drinks up to £10 each in value.

If you like certain drinks that aren’t included in the package such as Champagne or cocktails that cost more than £10, you can upgrade your drinks package.

Suggested read: MSC Drink Packages (2021 onwards)

Having a drinks package on your cruise is a great way to relax. Whenever I have one I like to try drinks that I would never usually order to see if I like them.

MSC Cruise cocktails
Jamaican Paradise and Ultimate Mai Tai

If you’re unsure as to whether the MSC drinks package is worth it, you can use my free calculator tool to work it out. You just enter how many drinks you would have on an average day and it will calculate your bar bill with and without the package.

The glasses of wine were very small at around 125ml. If I have paid £9 for that I would be very disappointed, but with the package, it didn’t matter as I could just order another.

Top tip: If you have a drinks package, as for freshly-squeezed orange juice and fancy coffees – they’re included and so much nicer than the standard ones.

For more information about drinks on MSC Cruises, take a look at my MSC drinks package guide and my photos of MSC drink menus from MSC Virtuosa.

MSC Cruises has a robot bartender called Rob who serves drinks in the Starship Club. These weren’t included in the drinks package and cost £18 each for alcoholic cocktails or £10 for non-alcoholic.

I thought was rather steep so I didn’t order one and I never saw anyone else order one either.

Me with Rob the Robot bartender

Activities

MSC Virtuosa has so many activities for families to enjoy. Some of these are included in your cruise fare and some cost extra.

While some people may not like the extra charges, I’m in favour of them. It makes the cruise cheaper for those who don’t wish to take part, and makes any queues smaller for those who do!

Free activities on MSC Virtuosa

  • Swimming pools (2 outdoors and 1 indoors)
  • Hot tubs (4 outdoors and 4 indoors)
  • Waterpark with slides
  • High ropes course
  • Kids’ clubs
  • Theatre shows
  • Sports courts

Paid activities on MSC Virtuosa

  • F1 simulators (£12)
  • Bowling (£25 for 30 mins or £35 for 60 mins +£2 for shoes)
  • Arcade games (£2)
  • Virtual reality games (£12 for 5 mins)
  • Interactive cinema (£10 adults, £8 kids)
  • Spa
  • Casino
The Himalayan Bridge High Ropes Course

If you want to try a few of the paid activities you can buy a Fun Pass which makes things a little cheaper. This can also be a good way to limit the amount that your teenage kids might spend in the arcades when you’re not looking.

MSC Cruises Fun Pass prices:

  • Spend £25 – Get £5 free (£30 value)
  • Spend £50 – Get £10 free (£60 value)
  • Spend £70 – Get £20 free (£90 value)
  • Spend £100 – Get £40 free (£140 value)
  • Spend £150 – Get £70 free (£220 value)

I didn’t get a Fun Pass, but Sanna from VeganCruiser.co.uk has advised me that if you book it in advance you get better value. If you pay £72 to buy a Fun Pass on the MSC Cruises Planner before your cruise you’ll get £140 to spend.

Some of the activities on MSC Virtuosa have height and age restrictions (see table below).

Children who are not toilet trained or are wearing nappies are not permitted to use any of the pools or hot tubs on MSC cruise ships. This includes entrance to the waterpark so they cannot cool off under the water sprays.

This is certainly something that parents of babies and toddlers need to be aware of on warm-weather cruises. If I were cruising with a toddler in the summer I’d probably prefer a ship like P&O Britannia or one of the Royal Caribbean ships where little ones can cool off in a splash area while wearing a swimming nappy.

Suggested read: Taking a baby on a cruise ship? Read this first!

ActivityMinimum Height
VR Arena90 cm
Aqua Tube & Constrictor Slides107 cm (7 years+)
Cinema110 cm
Space Bowl Slide122 cm (7 years+)
Himalayan Bridge Ropes Course122 cm
Formula Racer140 cm

My favourite thing to do was to swim in the pools and sit in the hot tubs. They were all lovely and warm and even on a cool day it was possible to swim outside as the water was heated to 28°C (82°F).

MSC Virtuosa pool
The main pool on MSC Virtuosa

Entertainment

There are two main entertainment venues on MSC Virtuosa – The Broadway Theatre and The Carousel Lounge.

In the theatre, there was a different musical show every night and they were all fantastic! Seats were left free for distancing and we didn’t have to wear masks when sitting down, although many people opted to keep them on.

MSC Virtuosa Theatre
The Broadway Theatre

In the Carousel Lounge, we saw a comedian called Rikki Jay and a trio called the Soul Sisters. They each had multiple shows throughout the cruise but we didn’t feel the need to return more than once!

MSC Virtuosa Carousel Lounge
The Carousel Lounge

As well as these venues, there was live music on in lots of different places around the ship.

On Deck 6 and 7 is the Galleria Virtuosa promenade with its 96-metre LED ceiling. The ceiling was different every time we visited and was truly a work of art. All along the promenade were shops, speciality restaurants and bars.

Galleria Virtuosa
Galleria Virtuosa

Itinerary

This cruise departed from Southampton and cruised around the English Channel for four nights. There was a stop at Portland in Dorset on day three.

As per government requirements, passengers were only allowed off the ship in Portland if they were booked onto an official cruise line excursion. I thought that these excursions were pretty expensive at around £50 per person for a coach trip, so we stayed on the ship, as did most people.

Our next MSC Virtuosa cruise departs from Liverpool in August and calls at Greenock, Belfast, Southampton and Portland. I’m hoping that by then, excursions won’t be required or may be cheaper.

Me on board MSC Virtuosa

If they’re not, we’ll gladly stay on the ship as there’s so much to enjoy on board.

Would I recommend MSC Cruises?

I would recommend MSC Cruises to anyone – families, groups of friends, couples and solo travellers.

MSC Cruises is currently the only major cruise line not to require adults to be fully vaccinated to be allowed to cruise. It’s also one of the cheapest options, especially when you consider that drinks and tips are included, where they may not be on other cruise ships.

Suggested read: How much does a cruise cost?

Our cruise cost less than £100 per person, per night and honestly, we could have spent more than that on just the drinks if we would have had to pay for them!

If you’d like to book your cruise at a discounted rate, you can request a free quote here.

While I like to cruise as cheaply as possible (so that I can cruise more often), I recognise that many people have the budget to enjoy a luxury experience. MSC Cruises is perfect for this too, as you can book a suite in the Yacht Club and enjoy perks such as butler service, access to the Top Sail Lounge, the exclusive One Pool Deck and dining in a dedicated restaurant.

To see more photos from MSC Virtuosa, be sure to follow me on Instagram and check out my Instagram Stories from the cruise.

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29 thoughts on “My first cruise of 2021! MSC Virtuosa Maiden Voyage Review”

  1. Hi thanks for this great review. I’m going on the ship next week and still wondering about the WiFi packages. Do you have any advice about this please. Thanks

    • Hi Audrey. You can see the various packages when you log in to manage your booking on the MSC website. It’s a little cheaper to book before you go. Jenni

  2. Thanks for the review! We will be sailing on the Virtuosa and I’m happy to see there’s a baby menu for my seven month old! Is this available for all sit down restaurants? And is there a way to request baby food if we eat at the buffet?

    • Hi Grace. The baby menu is in the main dining rooms for sure. You may need to check with speciality restaurants but I would expect so. In the buffet, there will be some good finger foods like vegetables and bread if you’re doing baby-led weaning at all. Otherwise, it’s a good idea to bring some jars or pouches for when you eat in the buffet. Jenni

  3. Hi – what age do you have to be to use the gym and also what age to use hot tub

    • Hi Mark. Kids aged 14 can use the gym with an adult, otherwise it’s 18 to use it alone. Any kids can use the hot tubs so long as they’re toilet trained. Jenni

  4. Great review and very helpful.

    I’m looking to book this for sept with my husband and 21 month old son, I was a bit concerned over the comment about kids in nappies not being able to go in pool, he would be in a swimming nappy, is there no where he could go in? I can see baby club is closed too so concerned there’ll be nothing to do with him on board? Is there any evening entertainment on board for kids?

    Also did you notice what the WiFi charge was?

    Last question, I’ve seen lots of comments that the virtuosa has been at 1000 capacity, which sounds perfect for my first cruise, do you know if this is still the case?

    Many thanks!!! 😊

    • Thanks, Sonya. That’s right, swim nappies aren’t allowed in the pool. There’s a sign on the ship that says that they’re also not allowed in the waterpark, but it may be worth asking on board jut in case. There’s some good family entertainment in the evenings such as the family disco which he might like. I believe the ship is sailing at 70% capacity currently. I can’t remember exactly how much wifi was, but it’s listed in the app once you log in with your booking reference. Jenni

  5. Hi, just wondering what the demarcation process is like? If we wanted to get breakfast before leaving, what time could we stay until?

    Thanks

    • Hi Paul. On the last night of your cruise, you’ll have a piece of paper in your cabin that tells you what time you have to be off the ship. There will always be time for breakfast before you leave 🙂 Jenni

  6. I am booked on the virtuosa for the around Britain cruise in August. Does anyone know what currency the machines in the casino take. Is it euros or sterling? I know I can use my onboard account but prefer to know how much I am losing.LOL

    • Hi Vanessa. The machines that I used in the casino on Virtuosa were all in £ sterling. When you win and cash out they give you the winnings in actual cash. Jenni

      • Thanks a lot. Msc couldn’t tell me, and I didn’t want to change to Euros and then have to change back.

  7. Was it £ on board everywhere?

    • Yes, it was on this cruise.

  8. We are booked to go in August with the grandkids.
    Was a bit concerned when I saw your comment about arriving at the port stating checking all passengers had British passport. My husband and myself have lived in the uk for years but don’t hold british passport.I have spoken to MSC and we just have to prove we are resident in the uk

    • Hi Kay. For us, they just checked passports, not proof of address. That’s good to know that they also accept proof of UK residence. Jenni

  9. Thank you for the review… we are looking to book for july 2022 and my 1st choice was Anthem of the seas RC, but I feel that I will get a longer holiday on this ship with the same amenities. The kids are going to LOVE this….. (shocked at the price of Rob the robot’s drinks- I wont be buying from him haha) this will be our 1st foreign holiday as a family and your review has made my mind up to go with MSC (who I’ve never heard of before)
    Thank you. X

  10. Was the casino open as we enjoy this part of our holiday

    • Yes, it was. As always, it can only open when the ship is at sea, so it was open a lot!

  11. Thanks. Selfish fools
    Are not welcome!

  12. I found your report extremely helpful, thank you.
    Since my husband died 2 years ago I am a solo traveller – not that I have been anywhere recently!!!
    Alan and i went cruising quite a bit – only small ships, to places in the Indian Ocean, Fiji and on a Gulet around Turkey.
    I have now booked two more ‘traditional’ cruises going to Barbados and the Carribean islands in November this year on the Seabourn Odyssey for a total of 10 nights, and in November 2022 a P&O Transatlantic crossing to the Carribean and back for 28 nights.
    I would love to go the the Pacific Islands at some stage so if you could offer me some advice on that one I’d be thrilled!

  13. Hi, i thoroughly enjoyed this review. We have only cruised once on the Azura. We have booked a 4 night on Britannia sailing round the UK in July. We also have a Caribbean cruise in Feb 22 on MSC Seaside so was especially interested as ive read so many negative comments about MSC. Enjoy your next UK cruise. Thanks Bev x

  14. Thanks for the review, very interesting and as you say it must be strange being on board with so few other passengers.

  15. Thank you Jenni,
    very informative as always.
    I will be on board Virtuosa next week (Saturday 5th June) so am now better prepared after your review.

    Kind regards,
    Robin

  16. Enjoyed reading your detailed review seemed very honest

  17. Hi have you cruised with p&o we have cruised with royal Caribbean and msc but wanted to know about the gratuities and if the drinks on board were expensive thanks marie cunningham

    • Drinks and gratuities were included in this cruise. Drinks would be expensive otherwise, I’ll post photos of the menus very soon and link it to this post. Jenni

  18. As long as the cruise lines require vaccination andTesting–I or my family will not cruise.!!!!!!

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