Cruising in the UK is back!
It’s very exciting in the UK as we start to welcome a number of cruise ships for the summer that will do a variety of UK-based itineraries. One of the first is MSC Cruises’ newest ship. MSC Virtuosa, who will sail the summer season from their brand-new terminal in Southampton. It’s great to see ships sailing again, but given Covid-19, what can we expect the experience to be like, including Health & Safety?
I will be sailing on Virtuosa later this month and I personally cannot wait to get back to sea. But we have to be honest that at least for now, things will be different. Let’s take a look at what to expect. You can read a full look at Health & Safety on board here
Pre-cruise and embarkation
All guests who are unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated must present a negative covid-19 PCR or antigen (lateral flow) test within 72-hours of the ships’ departure (fully vaccinated guests do not have to do this). In terms of the lateral flow test, these can be the NHS ones you can order for free online in the UK. Once you have undertaken the test, enter the results in this website and you will be provided a certificate for use in the terminal, as proof will be requested. Guests on MSC are not required to be fully vaccinated. Boarding will be denied upon screening of results or if during the past 14-days you have been experiencing Covid-19 symptoms or been in contact with someone who has tested positive. In addition to this, and something I’d stress when cruising anytime, is to ensure you have the right travel insurance that covers cruising and now Covid-19.
You will be assigned a specific one-hour slot to come to the terminal and board the ship. Do not arrive early. Boarding will finish 2-hours before departure.
In line with UK guidance, all guests will be required to wear face masks while inside the cruise terminal (unless you have an exception). As normal, attach your luggage tag to your suitcase and leave it to be delivered to your cabin.
You will be asked to hand in your completed embarkation form, health certificates and mandatory health questionnaire. At this time, a health and Covid-19 swab test will also be conducted.
Once this has been completed and you have a negative result, you will be allowed to proceed to security control as per normal within your embarkation time frame above. And you’re on the ship!
Once on board, go to your cabin and collect your cruise card and MSC for me Wristband (see below). As with all MSC cruises, make sure you activate your cruise card for purchases, by registering a bank card. This can be done at Guest Services or at one of the many self-service stations.
Your health & safety briefing (or Mustering) will be conducted differently. Prior to departure on embarkation day a compulsory safety emergency demonstration will take place. In accordance with the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea(SOLAS), all Guests are required to participate by watching the safety video on the in-cabin TV and by checking-in to their assigned Assembly Station.
On Board Measures
The big question I’ve been asked is, ‘what will the on-board experience be like with the various health & safety requirements by the UK Government?’ and it is a very good question. Let’s take a look at the various interventions on board.
Luckily, we have quite a good idea what to expect as MSC have been cruising from the Mediterranean through the pandemic since Summer last year. Dario Cremona from Cruise Experience has a whole series of vlogs from his time on board MSC Grandiosa, take a look below:
As highlighted above, when board you will be given a MSC for Me Wristband. All guests and crew will have these and they allow for test and trace on board. You will be expected to wear this for the duration of the cruise.
In the UK, ships will in the short term at least have to sail with a maximum number of 1,000 passengers or up to half of their passenger capacity, meaning there will actually be a quite a bit of space on board. When you consider that Virtuosa is one of the largest ships in the world and can carry over 6,000 guests at maximum capacity, it will mean there’s plenty of space for everyone to spread out and maintain social distancing.
All guests will be asked to take a daily temperature check upon disembarkation and embarkation in port of calls, and on-board on dedicated stations for who will not disembark. To further monitor the health of everyone on board, all Guests will undergo an additional swab test during the cruise whilst on board. The test is mandatory.
Again, mirroring what’s expected on land, Guests will be asked to frequently wash their hands with soap and water, or hand sanitizer, and to avoid touching their nose, eyes and mouth without first washing their hands.
In addition to maintaining social distancing, unless otherwise stated in onboard signage, Guests shall be required to always wear face masks in the indoor public areas, except when seated in bars and restaurants. When outdoor, face mask is mandatory only when a safe distance cannot be maintained, unless onboard signage states differently.
Guests will be able to access restaurant and bar menus from their personal device by scanning a QR code. Please be sure to have a QR code reader option on your mobile device.
In terms of shore excursions, guests will only be allowed to disembark the ship through a shore excursions organised through the cruise line. If guests choose to disembark the ship, they will not be allowed back on.
Importantly, Guests who develop flu like symptoms or a fever, are asked to immediately call the ship Medical personnel from their cabin. Guests will be asked to share previous travel history and may be isolated following consultations. A medical assessment will be conducted, and it will be determined if Guests will be disembarked and moved to a local shoreside facility for quarantine, or if they can remain onboard until arrival at the final destination. The same actions will apply to close contacts staying in the same cabin and family members, as well as any crew member who may have served these Guests.
On board experience
Health & Safety aside, what can you expect in terms of the offering on board Virtuosa. Well, exactly what you would expect from a MSC Cruise with entertainment, 5 unique pools and aqua park, kids club, MSC Aurea Spa and of course the full MSC Yacht club experience.
This includes world-class dining in the 10 dining venues found on board. MSC Virtuosa will feature two new speciality restaurants on board, Indochine and HOLA! Tacos & Cantina. Indochine combines two culinary heritages as it brings together savoury Vietnamese classics and gives them a contemporary French twist, resulting in unique fusion dishes including Green Papaya Salad and Vietnamese spring rolls. I’m very excited about both of these!
All 21 bars on board will be open, including the brand new MSC Starship Club. This is an immersive, futuristic experience centred round Rob, a robotic bar tender who is capable of making an assortment of galactic cocktails.
So, what do you think of the measure MSC are taking in terms of Health & Safety on board MSC Virtuosa? I will be joining her at the end of May, see you on board!