Review of the MSC Virtuosa: Big ship with lower comfort and loads of hidden costs
I have sailed and reviewed several MSC ships in the past, such as the MSC Seaview, the MSC Seaside, the MSC Divina, the MSC Musica, and the MSC Meraviglia. The Newly launched MSC Virtuosa is actually built on the same framework as the Meravigla, so I knew more or less what to expect from my previous experience. There were a few changes here and there, but in general, the same formula was used. The newly launched Virtuosa appears to be more of a coldwater mega-ship that can sail to any corner of the world (more interior installations), with a big focus on upselling their clients as many “extras” as possible. The strategy seems a little scammy at first, and if not careful, it will make for a hefty surprise on one’s credit card at the end of their cruise. So read on to discover what type of experience the MSC Virtuosa provides…
Special Note on the rating System: The rating system on my Cruise Reviews is based out of comparison to what many consider the best cruise line over the board: Royal Carribbean. In fact, Royal Caribbean has become so good at the game that they currently have a steady 25% of the clientele of cruise ships over the world, a very considerable amount. I must agree that Royal Caribbean is the best experience one can have on a cruise, and this is due to the fact that they are excellent in absolutely all the categories I list in my Rating articles. When I say excellent, this means they pretty much rank a 8/10 without exception. Some cruise lines may have one or two categories with higher ratings than RCCL, but may lack in other categories. So in my rating system, for comparison purposes, if a category ranks 7/10, it means it is lesser than the RCCL’s average, while a 9/10 means an Exceptional rating, better than the RCCL Average.
A Bigger ship with less comfort
My experience on the MSC Meraviglia a few years ago was not the greatest. In fact, prior to this sailing, it was my worst experience on any MSC cruise ship out of the half-dozen I have experienced so far. I had found the ship’s design to be a little awkward, with its massive promenade and extra restaurant that takes so much space that there are much fewer open areas for passengers to sit and enjoy their time. I always found that older ships of MSC were designed in a way that was more comfortable for fewer amounts of guests. Now it seems like the mentality with their newer ships is to pack as many people as possible, with much less livable space for them.
Entertainment onboard “Fun Factor”
The entertainment onboard was absolutely mediocre… at best! As stated before, the architecture of the ship provided very few rooms to sit and enjoy one of the many live bands most cruises provide. In fact, for being such a massive ship, (one of the biggest in the industry) and with the number of guests it can accommodate, there was an abnormally low amount of live musical events! The usual Latin music band that most ships have, was not onboard… There was a band playing in one of the rooms of the promenade, but the space was so small only a handful of passengers could sit to assist. The same applies to the pianist in the lobby; only 4 tables were available to sit at! Four tables, for over 6000 passengers? who thought about that?
Then there was the band on the 18th-floor lounge, which only started playing at 21:00 when it was time for passengers to go to the show! In a week’s cruise, we only managed to assist to a live performance once (and we spent most of our time in this lounge). They were playing jazz and seemed nice! But why play so little, and at awkward times?
Then there was the animation team, which was almost completely absent! We would see them only when performing a quick dance on the promenade, but never would they entertain the guests like it is common practice on most cruise ships, even on other MSC ships. There would have been no Animation team on the boat, and nobody would have noticed.
The nightclub was also the smallest I have ever seen on any size ship… A disappointment considering how many passengers were onboard.
The Main Lobby
Entertainment onboard: 2/10
I have named MSC the “Ryanair of cruiseships” in the past, and this is a great example for it. It feels cheaper, rough on the edges, much less amenities and they are trying to upsell us so many extras that it can feel suffocating, and difficult to navigate through the hoops. I can easily see how someone starting in the world of cruise ships, can get his bill bumped by a factor of 5, over the initial cost of the cruise. This was a big negative point for me. For example, no longer are they providing incredible shows as they used to do. With their new ships, the theater is actually almost half the size of their older ships like the MSC Musica, which is less than half the size of the ship!
When the cruise started, we were initially really disappointed. The male singers seem to be very average at most, with strong foreign accents, trying to sing in English which made it feel awkward at times when it was barely understandable. The female singers were much better though. But still, as a whole, the singer’s team was much less talented than on other MSC ships. The dancer’s team was also much less skilled.
But what was shocking, was how one could see MSC’s strategy of providing fewer quality shows, to promote their “paying shows” in their Carousell lounges. It was easy to see how they decreased their “free show”, with smaller and more crowded theaters and less quality shows. On the two first nights, the show was deliberately deprived of dancers! For example, on the Italian night, which has usually nice and colorful costumes on the dancer’s choreography, we were instead given their 4 male singers, singing in front of the audience, on an empty stage for almost the whole show! The dancers entered the stage for 2 quick moments and just stayed backstage. Why just leave the dancers behind? Why not include them in the show like on every Italian show night they have on other ships? Maybe to sell more tickets for their paying show? Could it be?
The shows were also way too short, at about 30 minutes. On most cruise ships, the shows area at least 45 minutes every night.
It got better on the Paris show and the NY Show, but still, the shows were of less quality, and much shorter. I had to give the smallest score I have ever given to MSC, a mere 4/10. This is shocking as MSC was previously known as “the king of Theater shows at sea”. But not anymore.
However, I have given an extra point considering the excellent trio of opera signers and the great opera they gave during the sea-day; a 1h version of the Traviata, with a great interpretation with the dancing team. This also counted as their best show out of all of them provided on the ship.
Result Theater Shows: 5/10
The usual night where only 2 signers were on stage, no dancers, no other artists
One of the few good shows in the Theater
The room we were assigned was a premium interior room. I actually enjoy interior rooms in general compared to ones with a terrace. They are usually comfortable and I do not see the need for a window, which are plenty-full throughout the ship. But as I had just come off of the MSC Musica 2 weeks prior, which had big rooms and much more room per persona than on the Virtuosa, I was quite disappointed with how small our Virtuosa room was! Peaking at other rooms from the hallway, they all seemed tiny! This is in line with the “Ryanair of the seas” mentality of “providing less” to “more people”! We could also easily hear the neighbors when they were talking at normal levels. The walls felt like paper…
Result Room Comfort: 5/10
The Tiny rooms of the MSc Virtuosa
The service onboard was average, compared to other Cruise ships. A large number of Filipino waiters helped in providing a better service experience, but it definitely felt understaffed and undertrained for most of the experience. On most nights in the restaurant, we would have to wait for over 2 hours and sometimes were literally kicked out by “turning the lights on” while most of the tables in our section were still not served the dessert after 2 1/2h sitting… This didn’t seem to be the case for every waiter, but for our section served by our waiter. So it seems there are still some adjustments to make to the team on the service, considering it is a new ship.
However, the one big event which made us disappointed with the ship’s service was the incompetence and arrogance of the Guest Service team, which mistakenly misplaced our passport and assigned it the wrong room number, which caused confusion at checkout because they had also forgotten to get the passport stamped by customs, resulting to being blocked from exiting the ship until it was sorted. This caused us to wait a few hours onboard and got us to miss our transport connections out of Hamburg. I can understand that they can make some mistakes here and there, but we were shocked at the arrogance of a certain Mr. Cabrera (the manager of the guest service at the time of our sailing on 26/11/2022), who unapologetically dealt with the situation. Being 3 hours late, and having already missed out flight, we still needed to get out to the city as fast as possible and had requested if we could, at least, be compensated for their mistake by being able to join their shuttle bus to the center, which they undeniably denied… They literally caused us to miss our flight, and they can’t even help in the tiniest manner, to compensate for their mistake… This was shocking, as it showed us MSC has absolutely no intention to even help or compensate and accommodate their own clients (even to a gold member of their MSC club…). A small gesture that would have proven fair to apologize for their mistake.
That said, don’t expect MSC staff on the Virtuosis to help you out, in case you have a problem, or in case they create a problem that affects your travel plans.
Result Service Quality: 5/10
The Robot Barman was a nice addition to their staff
Overall, the ship was clean and kept clean, to the standards of other cruise lines. There was gel provided to clients to clean their hands, and it was kept full most of the time. They even provided masks at the entrance of the Theater for those who wished to protect themselves. So in general, it was ok. But still, it would have been advisable to clean the surfaces of the buffet a little more.
Result Cleanliness: 6/10
The Promenade in the mid-ship
The food in the buffet was on the weak side. This was the big downside of the food on the whole ship. Food was repetitive throughout the 7-day cruise, and the choice was much less than on other cruise lines. The Salade bar was extremely small, probably 3 times smaller than on the MSC Musica which is one of the smallest ships of MSC! The breakfast also had less choice than on other MSC boats (which already has less choice than most cruise lines) so this was not a positive aspect of the ship.
The food in the restaurant was not too bad, many choices and every night provided interesting meals. Sometimes the food was a little on the edge, but overall, we enjoyed mostly every meal. If the service had been a little quicker it would have helped us enjoy the food a little more (sometimes taking over 2 1/2 hours per dinner).
Result Food: 5/10
Buffet from the MSC Virtuosa
Overall, The MSC Virtuosa was a big disappointment for me, a very comparable experience to the MSC Meraviglia a few years back. I had promised not to board the Meraviglia ever again but actually managed to do so through another version of the same boat, with a different name, having almost the same experience. The new cruise model of MSC is not the one that got me to like cruising at the beginning, then with much more comfortable installation and less crowd than on the newer ships like the virtuosa. This is something that first-time cruisers won’t see as they have nothing to compare it to. They will either love cruising or hate it all together because of the style of the Virtuosa. Another factor I didn’t enjoy about the style of the Virtuosa is that its destinations, just like the Meraviglia, are mostly designed to be like a bus, where people are boarding and descending every day in different ports. This creates a more individualistic mood for passengers and does not provide an opportunity to share the experience with other guests, on other ships that pick up and disembark passengers only in one port.
Overall, a 4/10 is the best overall score the MSC Virtuosa can score, as it ranks in the lower tier of most cruises I have done. I am not sure there is much room for improvement, as the design of the ships limits its room for improvement. So the damage has been done at the planning level of the design, where MSC chose to provide less to its customers on its newest ships!
My final recommendation would be to book yourself on older ships, where you will definitely see the higher quality of sailing that you can get, for usually less money. A win-win, if you ask me 🙂
Overall satisfaction: 4/10
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