UK. MSC Virtuosa yesterday undertook its maiden voyage from Southampton, her homeport for this Summer, as MSC Cruises launched the first cruise from the UK market since the market shut down 14 months ago. She is the third MSC Cruises ship to return to sailing.

MSC Virtuosa houses what the company said is “the largest shopping area at sea” with 1,168sq m of retail space across 11 boutiques featuring 250 brands.

Kickstarting UK cruising: MSC Virtuosa in Southampton, her homeport for the Summer; below, the onboard retail team celebrate a return to sailing (Photos: MSC Cruises)

MSC Cruises Head of Retail Adrian Pittaway said: “Opening 11 brand new shops on a brand new cruise ship, safely in a pandemic is truly not an easy task. So today, as we sail proudly as the first cruise retail team back in the UK, I would like to pay tribute to the amazing effort of our MSC Virtuosa retail team for a truly fantastic job in getting the ship prepared and all the shops looking fantastic.”

The MSC Cruises’ flagship has left for a four-night sailing, and is the first ocean liner to sail in British waters since the global cruise industry came to a halt in March 2020 as a result of the global pandemic.

The impressively colourful promenade inside MSC Virtuosa (Photo: Ivan Sarfatti)

MSC Cruises CEO Gianni Onorato said: “We are very proud that MSC Virtuosa’s first ever sailing marks the resumption of cruising from British ports after an enforced break of more than a year and effectively heralds the next phase of restart for our industry.

Our shipping prowess led the way last August with a health and safety protocol designed to protect our guests and crew, as well as the destinations that our ships visit. The data, knowledge and experience we have gleaned since our initial restart in the Mediterranean has helped us to drive forward with our plans to have nearly half of our fleet back at sea during this coming summer, with more to follow in other key markets around the world.

Since our restart last August in the Mediterranean thousands of guests have had a safe and enjoyable cruise holiday on board one of our ships and we look forward to many more having the same well-earned relaxing breaks with their friends and families in the weeks and months ahead as more of our ships return to water in the UK, across the Mediterranean and Northern Europe.”

MSC Virtuosa’s UK cruises add to current sailings in the Mediterranean of MSC Grandiosa and MSC Seaside as MSC Cruises finalises its preparations to restart five more ships across East and West Mediterranean and in Northern Europe in the coming weeks. Cruise lines are also waiting for authorities in the US to allow Caribbean voyages to resume.

The new MSC Virtuosa is available this Summer for UK residents only and for guests of all ages who are either waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine or who have already been vaccinated. All guests are tested before they embark the ship and non-vaccinated guests are required to also show proof of a negative test conducted up to 72 hours prior to embarkation.