MSC Cruises’ UK boss says the decision to add northern embarkation ports later in MSC Virtuosa’s debut season makes cruise “more accessible” to areas of the country outside Southampton.
The line’s flagship is currently on its maiden voyage from Southampton along the south coast but will call at northern ports later this summer.
It is the first sailing by any line in UK waters for 14 months after the coronavirus pandemic brought cruise operations to a standstill.
Speaking on board the vessel, UK & Ireland managing director Antonio Paradiso said the decision to allow passengers on longer seven-night sailings to embark in Greenock and Liverpool was one of the best he had made in his role at the line.
The line has never included multiple embarkation ports within a UK itinerary before this summer but has done so within Mediterranean voyages for the past 20 years. MSC offers up to 15 possible embarkation ports on sailings across the Mediterranean this year.
Paradiso said: “The response we have seen especially from Scotland and northern England is amazing. Bringing this ship to Liverpool and Scotland has made the whole experience more accessible.
“Rather than bringing thousands of customers to Southampton we are bringing this ship to their city.
“The response from Greenock and Liverpool has been overwhelming. It is one of the best things I’ve done as MSC Cruises MD. We have been doing this in the Mediterranean for two decades. I saw the opportunity to do something similar in the UK.”
Paradiso has pledged to host agents on board 6,334-passenger Virtuosa, the line’s second Meraviglia-plus ship, later in the summer – if coronavirus restrictions continue to be lifted.
Should the final stage of the nationwide lockdown be lifted on June 21, cruise ships will be able to operate in this country without any capacity restrictions.
Currently, the 19-deck Virtuosa ship is sailing with just 1,000 passengers during its maiden voyage. The vessel features a 112-metre promenade with a LED sky dome, an robotic bartender called Rob; an aquapark and clubs for children.
The Union Jack flag adorned the LED sky dome (pictured) for most of the opening day of Virtuosa’s debut sailing on Thursday.
Explaining his decision not to host agents on board until after June 21, Paradiso said: “For the time being I’ve not planned anything as you can imagine there are still some restrictions.
“Right now, we need to follow the guidelines and make sure that people are having a safe holiday on board MSC Virtuosa.
“It feels surreal but the message is we are slowly coming back. Fingers crossed more and more cruise lines will start cruising from the UK.”