Inside the $800 million 'MSC Virtuosa': Dubai’s largest cruise ship sets sail

Sheikh Mansoor, Hollywood actress Sophia Loren and Rag’n’Bone Man inaugurated the 6,500-passenger cruise liner on Saturday

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The Middle East’s largest passenger cruise ship has set sail from Dubai.

With a 1,400 strong crew, the MSC Virtuosa was officially named on Saturday in a ceremony at Port Rashid that took place under the shadow of the $800 million vessel.

Sheikh Mansoor bin Mohammed attended the naming ceremony, a long-standing maritime tradition for ships. Legendary Hollywood actor Sophia Loren joined Sheikh Mansoor and the Master of the vessel, Captain Francesco Veniero, to officially christen the MSC Virtuosa.

An impressive fireworks display lit up the night sky in Dubai as a bottle smashed on the ship's left-hand hull, a traditional way of bestowing good luck and safe travel on any new ship. The lavish ceremony was followed by an intimate performance by British soul singer Rag’n’Bone Man, fresh from a sold-out performance at the Coca-Cola Arena.

The MSC Virtuosa, which can accommodate about 6,500 passengers, sailed out of Dubai early on Sunday morning, bound for Bani Yas. It will then sail to Abu Dhabi on Monday before crossing the sea to Doha, as part of a new seven-day Arabian expedition.

During the cruise, travellers can disembark to take part in various excursions including day trips to Al Ain and visit sites such as The Dubai Mall, Burj Khalifa, Louvre Abu Dhabi and Doha’s Souq Waqif.

MSC Virtuosa's name is inspired by the word virtuoso, which means someone highly skilled. It was designed to pay homage to the expertise of the MSC Cruises architects and shipyard partners at Les Chantiers de l'Atlantique in France, which designed and built the vessel.

Spread across 19 levels – although noticeably missing Deck 17 because of Italian superstitions surrounding the number – the Meraviglia-Plus class cruise ship is the largest in MSC’s fleet and is also the largest to be named in the Middle East.

A Swarovski-crystal staircase and a robot bartender

Travellers embarking on the new Arabian cruise will have plenty to discover on the ship, which is owned and operated by the world’s third-largest cruise operator.

Featuring luxurious cabins, several restaurants and bars, luxury shopping and entertainment facilities, the MSC Virtuoso also has a glittering Swarovski-crystal staircase, the ocean's first robot drinks maker and a casino.

There is an on-board theatre that can accommodate nearly 1,000 guests at one time and where Broadway-style shows will take place on a daily basis. There will also be live musical performances at the grand piano on Deck 5.

The MSC Aurea Spa offers a space to unwind with massage treatments and therapies, a beauty salon and a traditional male barbershop. Up on Deck 15, the Tropical Pool has a retractable glass roof so it can be an open-air swimming pool, or a place for an indoor dip, depending on the weather. It also has several hot tubs.

The Savannah Aquapark is one of the biggest waterparks at sea, while the Horizon Pool offers amphitheatre-style seating and in-water loungers. A Himalayan Ropes course is where travellers can complete obstacles dangling about 80 metres above the ocean.

Comfortable cabins include interactive televisions, bathrooms with showers and, depending on the stateroom of choice, balconies overlooking the Arabian Gulf, terrace areas, connecting rooms or even a whirlpool in premium suites.

More than 30 restaurants, bars and lounges

The Piano Bar is located under a sparkling Swarovski staircase on the 'MSC Virtuosa', one of more than 30 restaurants, lounges and bars on the ship. Pawan Singh / The National

When it comes to dining, there are 10 restaurants and more than 20 bars and lounges to choose from. Speciality restaurants include Hola! Tacos & Cantina and Kaito Teppanyaki, and there are also five main dining areas plus the 24-hour, 1,336-seat Marketplace buffet.

Those craving some retail therapy can enjoy shopping on Deck Six at the luxury plaza with retail outlets, cafes and galleries. This is also where guests can walk under digitally projected ceiling art that changes throughout the day, depending on the ambiance or any special occasions.

Children are well looked after at Doremiland, where there are separate facilities for infants, toddlers, children and teens. From a Duplo room to a mini cinema, Nintendo switch consoles, football pitches and foosball tables, there’s something for all ages. There are also interactive sessions where children can learn new skills on the ship's Drone Academy workshops.

An F1 Simulator on the 'MSC Virtuosa'. Pawan Singh / The National

For more fun, the Amusement Area doesn't disappoint. Designed for adults and children, it's home to a two-lane bowling alley, F1 simulators, an interactive XD cinema and a VR Maze. And if you're looking to keep your fitness regime on track, there’s a well-equipped gym with views of the ocean, as well as al fresco running track.

MSC Virtuosa has introduced new health and safety measures in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. These include mandatory face masks, social distancing guidelines, hand washing stations outside restaurants and contact tracing electronic wrist bands. All payments on board the ship are also contactless and one-way systems are in place in high-traffic areas.

Dubai's rising cruise industry

The back deck of the 'MSC Virtuosa'. Pawan Singh / The National

The vessel's naming ceremony in Dubai followed the ship's debut in the UK earlier this year. The MSC Virtuosa cruised around Europe in the summer. It will now remain in the Arabian Gulf until March next year. Having the largest ship in the fleet of one of the world’s leading cruise operators named in the UAE reflects the rising global profile of the emirate's cruise industry.

During the ceremony, Sheikh Mansoor said: "Dubai’s glorious seafaring legacy, which is an integral part of its cultural heritage, has inspired its development as a major global maritime destination. The emirate’s status as a leading international maritime hub has significantly strengthened its position as a pivotal global trade and tourism centre."

The cruise industry suffered during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Diamond Princess ship captivated the world in February 2020 when cases of the virus were detected on board, forcing all 3,700 people on-board into a two-week quarantine off the coast of Japan.

The cruise industry suffered during the global pandemic with many countries banning cruises. Pawan Singh / The National

Since then, several countries banned cruise ships with some destinations – including Canada and Hawaii – having extended restrictions against the vessels until 2022.

All travellers booking a trip on the MSC Virtuosa must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19, have a negative Covid-19 test result and complete a pre-boarding health questionnaire before gaining access. The company advises guests over the age of 65 to consult a doctor for guidance before booking a trip.

The next seven-night MSC Virtousa Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha cruise sets sail from Dubai on Saturday, December 4, with rates starting from $519 per person;

Updated: November 29, 2021, 4:39 AM