Inside MSC Virtuosa on her maiden voyage complete with robot bartenders and water slides

Inside MSC Virtuosa on her maiden voyage complete with robot bartenders and water slides

The blazing heat and shimmering futuristic skyline of Dubai certainly made a change from when I last boarded new cruise ship MSC Virtuosa on her maiden voyage from Southampton.

That was back in May when she was the first ship to restart sailing in British waters after lockdown.

The joy of passengers and crew to be back at sea as the port’s huge Ikea store slowly faded into the distance was tempered slightly by heading into typically English spring weather – alongside the sun loungers were not only towels but blankets.

That seemed a world away as I joined 800 guests, including United Arab Emirates royalty, for Virtuosa’s official christening on a balmy evening at Port Rashid.

Powerful light beams criss-crossed the darkening sky before Italian superstar Sophia Loren cut the ribbon to send a bottle of bubbly smashing against the hull to an explosion of fireworks.

As MSC Cruises’ regular godmother – this was her 17th ship – she’s kept very busy. Just a week before, Sophia had done the honours for MSC Seashore in the Bahamas.

Next year will see two more additions to the fleet and in 2023 the company’s new luxury brand called Explora Journeys will launch the first of four ships.

Rag’n’Bone Man performed at the ceremony

Virtuosa’s naming ceremony ended with a performance by Rag’n’Bone Man before guests streamed back on board for a celebration dinner.

So what did I make of my second visit to the ship? It was great to see it all again, although Rob the humanoid robot barman didn’t seem to remember me. Brain the size of a planet, and serves a decent cocktail, but needs to polish his people skills.

This time I finally got to try out the water slides as the weather in Dubai was much kinder than in the English Channel, though I didn’t have time during my short stay to take a dip in the five pools or plethora of hot tubs. I also skipped the fitness classes and ropes walk and instead decided to take it easy and have a deeply relaxing Balinese massage.

The Atmosphere Pool onboard MSC Virtuosa

Around the ship there are plenty of places to dine. Its 10 restaurants include a steakhouse, a new Mexican venue, teppanyaki/sushi and French-Vietnamese food, as well as five main dining rooms.

Having 21 bars and lounges to choose from is quite a challenge, too, but I headed for my favourite – a British-style pub where you can get a decent pint of Newcastle Brown or Guinness.

For entertainment, as well as colourful shows, there is the chance to shoot zombies in the 4D cinema, hit strikes in the bowling alley or drive a Formula 1 simulator.

A key feature of the ship is the 357ft-long shopping and dining promenade, topped by an LED dome that puts on a constant display of stunning images and video.

The 19 decks contain 2,444 cabins, making its normal capacity 4,888 passengers, though MSC likes to point out that if every single berth were used it could squeeze in 6,334 holidaymakers as well as the 1,704 crew.

To escape the crowds, there’s always the option of the Yacht Club – a “ship within a ship” with its own restaurant and pool for guests in the top suites.

One of the Balcony cabins on board MSC Virtuosa
MSC Rights)

As a family-owned company, based in Switzerland, MSC Cruises is very keen on multi-generational cruising with a distinctly pan-European vibe and there are clubs for children aged from toddlers to teenagers.

Next year, the line will introduce MSC World Europa, powered by liquefied natural gas, the cleanest fossil fuel. Bosses hope to eventually replace that with biogas made from rotting food and have pledged to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

Rob the robot bartender at the Starship Club
MSC Rights)

In April, MSC Virtuosa will return to Southampton for a series of cruises to Norway, the Baltics and the Med. Before then, she’s offering week-long sailings of the Persian Gulf. But as I prepared to leave my cabin in Dubai, I could see from my balcony the former Cunard ship QE2, now a stationary hotel.

Things have changed a lot in cruising since the grand queen stopped sailing in 2008. Some people look back on those days with nostalgia for the formal dress code and timed dinner sittings that have now largely been replaced with more casual arrangements.

But I, for one, welcome all the new ships, big and small, fun and luxury.

It makes the experience out of this world – just ask Rob the robot barman.

Book the holiday

MSC Cruises offer seven night cruise-only Persian Gulf sailing on MSC Virtuosa from £369 per person. Round trip from Dubai sails on January 8 for Sir Bani Yas Island, Abu Dhabi and Doha. Fly-cruise from £929 per person. Find out more and book on

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