DUBAI has a new rival, floating in the sparkling seas of the Persian Gulf.
MSC Virtuosa had its long-awaited christening ceremony last month in its winter home port in Dubai, and The Sun was there for the ribbon cutting and robotic cocktails.
The cruise ship was due to launch in September 2020, with Med voyages a month later, but the pandemic has disrupted plans.
The British were able to take advantage of vacation cruises on the 1,087-foot-long ship last summer, but MSC Cruises has chosen to suspend its usual christening ceremony.
And it was worth the wait.
Port Rashid was illuminated in the signature blue of the operator as hundreds of guests gathered to witness the largest baptismal ceremony ever in the Middle East, underpinning Dubai’s ambition to become a hub international cruises.
Glamor was brought to life by Hollywood legend Sophia Loren, the fairy godmother of the ship, who was cutting her 17th ribbon for the company.
Virtuosa’s winter crossings on the Arabian Sea will leave Dubai for a host of sunny destinations including Abu Dhabi, Sir Bani Yas Island and Doha until March 2022.
Bosses hope the Emirates’ global accessibility, weather and attractions, such as Expo 2020 and the world’s tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa, will attract vacationers.
Tours include jeep safari to Sir Bani Yas Island, desert dune driving, and city tours in Abu Dhabi.
The Virtuosa is an impressive landmark in its own right – and there is plenty to do and see on its 19 bridges.
A Swarovski crystal central staircase is one of the first things that strikes the eye when you step aboard.
This leads to its long Mediterranean promenade of shops and an LED dome that impresses guests with light shows.
There are specialty ice cream, sushi, steak, and taco restaurants, offering a tasty alternative to buffet and formal dining.
A deck above, at the Starship Club – one of 21 bars onboard – I meet MSC’s hardest working staff member Rob The Robot, the first of its kind at sea.
It can brew a range of 16 cosmic cocktails, or you can order a bespoke one from 40 ingredients – plus you get your own souvenir mug.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to try them all. . .
Beyond eating – there are ten restaurants to choose from – drinking and listening to Rob’s automated banter in eight languages, guests can enjoy the ship’s five pools, including one indoor, a water park, and a tree climbing course.
I had a welcome break from the sun at the ship’s interior arcade, where you can go bowling, drive an F1 simulator, or battle zombies through virtual reality headsets.
The ship welcomes young and old. The kids’ club has Lego sets, table football and game consoles.
Passengers looking for a more premium experience may appreciate the Yacht Club area, which has its own dining area, panoramic sea views, and rooms with whirlpool tubs.
There is room for 6,000 passengers on board, which seems like a lot.
But there is so much space on the ship and so much going on, that I have never stood in line for an elevator or struggled for a sun lounger.
Remember to watch out for other landmarks as you navigate. . . because there is something to occupy you on this one.
GO: MSC Virtuosa
ACCESS / STAY: Full board for seven nights aboard the MSC Virtuosa from Dubai starts at £ 899 per person, including flights from UK, main meal, tea, coffee, water on board and service charges.
Stopover in Abu Dhabi, Sir Bani Yas and Doha in Qatar before spending the night in Dubai.
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