(0800 GMT) — In a new commitment to the UK cruise market, MSC Cruises is extending its UK season of MSC Virtuosa through November, while also extending MSC Bellissima’s stay in Dubai through June.
MSC Virtuosa – Cruise Critic’s 2021 Ship of the Year – will offer 23 cruises over the summer, between April 29 and November 4, 2022 – the line’s longest season in the UK. The ship will be based in Southampton.
The ship was was originally to be based at in the UK until early October, but an increase in demand led the line to extend it for a month and add three more cruises, including a cruise to the Canary Islands during mid-October.
Meanwhile, sister ship MSC Bellissima will extend its Dubai season until June, offering 12 additional seven-night Gulf crossings, also due to increased demand.
MSC Virtuosa will offer mini-cruises, crossings to the Baltic, the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands
All crossings on MSC Virtuosa will depart from Southampton and include two-night mini-cruises to St Peter Port, Guernsey, becoming one of the very first ships to return to the Channel Island since the pandemic began in spring 2020.
The 6,000+ passenger ship will also make 12- and 14-night crossings to the Baltic, including St. Petersburg; 14-night cruises to the Western Mediterranean and the Canary Islands.
The MSC Virtuosa was the first ship to resume cruising in the UK last year on May 20but has been confined to cruises around Britain due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“Ex-UK cruises have proven to be by far the best-selling product for 2022,” Antonio Paradiso, managing director of MSC Cruises UK & Ireland, told Cruise Critic.
“Gliding to Dubai [to MSC Bellissima] and to the Mediterranean are popular, but so far this year it is the former UK that has proven to be the most popular.”
Paradiso said part of the reason for the extension was that passengers had asked the line to include the October semester.
The ship proved very popular in the UK and introduced a number of new features including the Spaceship Bar and Rob the Robotic Barman.
He added that a large number of bookings came from new cruise passengers – almost a third in total.
“The share is currently 30%, which is still higher than pre-pandemic levels. Let it reach [last year’s record high of] 50%, we will know in the next few months.”
He attributed the high first-time cruise figure to cruises around Britain last year, which showcased the country and was a first for many passengers.
The three additional cruises will include a two-week Mediterranean cruise, a seven-night cruise to northwest Spain, France and Portugal, and the Canary Islands cruise covering the half term.
None of MSC Virtuosa’s itineraries this year will include port calls in the UK, but an as-yet-unconfirmed Northern Europe-based ship will include stops in Liverpool, Belfast and Greenock, which will be mainly for Germans and to the Italians.
The line has yet to confirm safety protocols on board MSC Virtuosa
Last year MSC Cruises implemented a strict set of protocols, following UK guidelines and sailed at the start of the season at less than halfway.
Paradiso said protocols such as deep cleaning and reduced capacity would remain, but it was too early to say which others such as mask-wearing and social distancing would go:
“My feeling is that we are going to be in a much better scenario [than last year] by April, May, June, so I expect some of these measures to be removed,” he said.
He added: “There will be some sort of cap on capacity, but it’s more about what we want to do than what the government is asking for. The aim is not to fill the ship to 100%, but at the right level that suits us.”
It set this cap between 80 and 85% of full capacity.
“Everything else, like social distancing and masks, depends on the rules at the time of browsing,” he added.
Paradiso added that independent exploration would also depend on the rules of each country.
“I have better vibes than this time last year, let’s put it that way. I feel much more confident that things will get better and better,” he added.
MSC Bellissima will offer 12 additional Arabian Gulf cruises from Dubai
MSC Bellissima will operate 12 additional seven-night cruises calling at Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sir Bani Yas Island in the United Arab Emirates and Doha in Qatar from April 2 to June 25.
The ship will complete its scheduled Red Sea itineraries with its homeport of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on March 26, then move to the Persian Gulf taking over from MSC Virtuosa from April 2.
Gulf itineraries have proven popular with extended stays in port and two nights in Dubai.
Gianni Onorato, CEO of MSC Cruises, said: “We have found the itineraries in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to be very popular with our customers. To meet this demand, we have decided to expand our presence in the region. “.
Reservations for newly created routes are now open for booking.
All 19 ships in the MSC fleet will be deployed in the summer of 2022. This number will increase to 21 ships by the end of the year, as the line adds MSC Seascape, sailing in the Caribbean; and MSC World Europa which will initially be deployed in the Middle East.