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MSC Virtuosa, 3 Stars

Review by Richard Lambert, 3 Stars

Having cruised with P&O, Celebrity and MSC Opera this was my experience on MSC Virtuosa .

The Shows in their main space Grande Theatre
Oh dear. This is where MSC falls down. With an on-board resident performance cast of 15 who are brilliant, there are too few shows that use the cast. These shows have no story or sense of theatre and are purely a sequence of “songs with dance” based on a theme. See one, and you’ve seen them all. No live musicians, just backing tracks. Lacking any dialogue means they are suitable for an international audience which is probably the intention but also changes the productions into more of a cabaret.
The sound is great, the video is integral, but the lighting feels very dark. There are a lot of moving lights but most of these are beaming around the audience and filling “the space” while leaving the cast in darkness. This style of lighting works for a pop concert where there’s a solo singer in a follow-spot. Here the follow-spots are the main source of facial illumination, there are 2, and these are inadequate for a cast of 15. They’re not really operated very well either. The talented cast remain as silhouettes while the audience are very well lit.
As you can see in the video below, there is plenty of front light but it isn’t used. No side light – not even the wash lights turned to point across the dancers in lieu of pipe ends. All top light, no special focus pickups to match the blocking.


If not an MSC production show, the other main “shows” are all just solo-performance “headliners”. Comedians, illusionists, violinists and solo singers can’t fill a stage of this size. It’s a shame that they’re not brought on as late night cabarets or supported by live bands or members of the cast.
The house lights stay mainly on throughout, there are plenty of moving lights on edge of stage and 6 x rotating spinning blade lights rear of stage, all of which are over-used as blinders. I don’t want to be blinded and I don’t want to see the audience. I prefer a dark auditorium and the lights pointed at the performers.
Dark faces:
The control cabling is quite messy and many of the lights are over-used as blinders:

The exception to this was the matinee show LOVE ME which was beautiful and really well lit! It’s an abridged version of LA TRAVIATA with perfomers in style of Opera and Ballet. For the 1st time we got to see the Cast’s faces. On the way out, the TV screens even listed the cast names which was wonderful to see!

But then the blinding spinning lights were re-installed with messy cabling for the evening show, BIG APPLE which is a great show but with lighting that, in my opinion, doesn’t really work for musical theatre.

Other headliner performers brought on board were
Donna Ramsdale – sadly, not very exciting
Tucker, a comedian – brilliant!
Illusions – not very original and a little too casual in presentation
Mike McLean, Comedy Mind Reader – very funny and quick witted! A great show!
Christopher Watkins – a violonist – he did 2 shows and the 2nd “Brahms to Broaday” as a matinee was my favourite show on the ship. It was really well done! Great sound, video. Chris got a standing ovation! Sadly, yet again, not such great lighting. Would have looked much better with some front light and cutting the blinders.

Means “Chess” in spanish. This was one of the 2 pay-to-view shows and was fantastic! The story was a little loose and had something to do with a game of Chess but this show pulled out all the stops. The new musical compositions, musical arrangements of known songs and sound design effects all came together in a really tight knit formation. The staging and circus acts hit the musical accents. It was such a delight to see something that was so well stuctured. And the lighting rig with aerial revolved!
The main ringmaster for the show, Enrico, was very charismatic with terrific stage presence and a fabulous voice!
And the lighting rig revolves! What makes it go around? “Money”!!! ha ha
I shouldn’t have taken this video but only a few secs to show the revolve:

Incredible eh? If the shows were reviewed seperately this would get a 5 Star review!

The Gallery Video Ceiling
On Deck 6 is the Galleria ceiling is a long section of video screens. The content created is superb! This has been just brilliant to see! Huge shout-out to the designer and the on-board video engineer!
Also, further video screens are included as side legs and rear screen for the Grande Theatre, and wrapped around the upper levels of the Carousel Lounge. The video created and show integration has been really brilliant!

The cabaret spaces
Several cabaret spaces are around the ship – the L’attelier Cafe, Atrium, Galleria Loune, Sky Lounge – all have performance spaces and programme musicians. One of my favourite performers was the violinist.

Trivia Quizzes
These were fun! Concepts such as Dog Breeds and Vegetables.
The sea-day “Progressive Trivia” run by Neil the activities manager was a lot of fun!

Drinks Package
Yes, this was a bargain. Honoured pretty much everywhere. They don’t have a quantity limitation and include gratuities. Discounted price if booked before you board. Includes bottles of water which are essential on board. Beware that the exception with the drinks package is the concession venues such as Crepes & Gelato and Jean Philippe Chocolate where you’ll be charged additionally.

Included in cruise price and available in main restaurants and buffet from 06:30am. The main meals are really good and evening dinner service very efficient and professional. The tea in the buffet comprising sandwiches, wraps and cakes is incredibly good!
The breakfast restaurants are 7.30 to 9.00am but the service wasn’t great – waiting 30 minutes to get hot tea that by the time it’s served is no longer hot – tried this once and then not again.

Speciality Restaurants
Very expensive and not a great choice. Always empty restaurants – which says it all.

Embarkation process
All good! Very efficient and friendly. Boarded at Southampton and the time from luggage drop-off to getting on-ship took around 30 minutes total.
Not so good when returning to the ship from each port with only 2 gangways to get back on the ship and only 1 security checking cruise card and 1 scanning machine for all items at each gangway. There are 4000 passengers on board this cruise so you can imagine they can’t so easily get back on board. The time it takes to get back on board at visited ports ranged from 30 mins to 1 hour with rather unhappy security staff checking cruise cards. I think you can be informal without being sloppy – but this department don’t demonstrate that!

Staffing levels extremely inadequate at most outlets. Upto 30 mins to get an order in, either queuing or waiting, and generally a further 30 mins to get the drinks delivered to your table. Ended up not bothering to order drinks in the venues but going to buffet instead and ordering there to take out to carry elsewhere around the ship. Everything has long lines and all service takes far too long for delivery.

Additional costs
Everywhere on ship is the hard sell – having to walk past 5 photo booths to get from dinner to the theatre, each one has a photographer stop you and invite you in to pose in their booth, every day, does eventually get to be really annoying!
The more elaborate shows are over-sold as “never before seen on cruise ships” by the Cruise Director who clearly needs to get out more – and these aren’t included in your cruise price. An additional £15 per person per show is added to your cabin account, should you want to see these more technically competent shows. It does look as though the main Grande Theatre potentially has mid-stage elevators but the shows feel “dumbed down” maybe in order to promote the Carousel Lounge shows as more spectacular.
Previous MSC cruises have provided ice cream at machines at certain periods of each day but here you have to pay an additional fee per scoop. The ice cream counter staff are not very friendly and there is often a 30 min queue just to order, never mind to get ice cream served. And you can’t even get Vanilla flavoured ice cream!

The Waterpark
This was great fun! Sign a disclaimer and you’re let into the park. There are 2 slides on water rings and 1 body slide. Within the same area is a Hungarian Bridge which is an aerial assault course. Fabulous!

Guest Services
I spoke to Guest Services about the lack of hand soap in all 3 dispensers in the mens’ bathroom outside the Grande Theatre. In my opinion, it is not good enough that nothing was done to address this. I mentioned this Wednesday night and since nothing was done returned Friday night to mention it again and let them them know that this was my second attempt to tell them. Both times I was thanked for my feedback – yet nothing was fixed. Call me old-fashioned but I think this is important, especially in a ship’s environment which is a petri-dish for bacteria. Although thanked for my feedback, it was clearly ignored, not actioned and therefore not valued.
I also asked about the opening times for the outdoor hot tubs and was told they would be open 7 til 10. This was just a brush-off. They weren’t open at all that day. I looked the following day, saw they were open so got ready at 9.15pm but when I got there they’d been closed at 9pm. Guest Services provided inaccurate information.

MSC Foundation
You have to put down a credit card to activate your cruise card so everything extra can be charged to your cabin. Charging a £1 donation from each of you in the cabin, without asking you, just isn’t right!

Well, this is always going to be tricky on a cruise ship, but if the internet package says “connect and stream” then I don’t expect it to regularly disconnect when I’m in my cabin. Buying a package for 1 device that keeps disconnecting, and a trip to the internet support desk, was a complete waste of time. Basically told “yep, that’s as good as it gets”.
Then, 8 days into cruise, having only used 1 device at any one time by disconnecting between smart phone and laptop, and then one day my laptop wouldn’t connect. The “1 device” service had been bought before the cruise. I checked at the time of booking what this means and was told that it meant that it could be either my smart phone or my laptop but only 1 at a time. However, while this worked for 8 days on the ship swapping between devices, on the 9th day I couldn’t connect and a visit to the internet support desk I was told that I could only connect the “1 same device” to the wifi. I said that this wasn’t what I’d been told, wasn’t listed on the package description, wasn’t what I’d had on an MSC cruise the previous year, and wasn’t good enough. I was told “tough”. So I said I would complain to Guest Relations about the internet service and support. I was then asked to give my cruise card to the wifi counter. The wifi rep scurried away and next thing I could re-connect to the internet. Hmmm. Not impressed!

Ship safety
With the ship rolling in the ocean it was surprising how few hand-hold rails were available while moving around the theatres. Many older passengers struggled and I saw 2 older people actually fall over. The contrasting coloured edge we’re used to seeing in a British theatre is very thin on board.

For such a large ship it was surprising how much the ship rolled. Felt like the stabilisers were off and we were doing sea trials. Understandably, sometimes the outdoor jacuzzis had to be roped off when the water splashed out.

Dance Classes
Very popular and held in the Virtuosa Galleria Lounge and Bar – which wasn’t big enough for the quantity of people who wanted to attend.

The White Party was jam packed! You couldn’t move along the main galleria deck.

My favourite bar was the Sky Lounge and this was the perfect way to end the cruise with DUO MAESTRIA

The cruise ship and most of the staff on board are lovely. The food was excellent! I gave up ordering drinks in the cafe and bar spaces due to long waiting times and just fetched drinks myself from the buffet. The show lighting could easily be fixed – turn on the front light, throw the on-stage blinders overboard, add some side-light or at least use what’s there as pipe ends, limit the pan-arounds in the audience to segways and voice introductions, and turn off the house lights. The cruise director over-sells everything and the customer service isn’t great. But having said that, MSC Virtuosa was very reasonably priced. It’s probably fair to say that if the shows aren’t your priority then this is a great experience, and either way it’s certainly a lot of fun!

Further info

MSC Cruise Booking link: Click here

MSC Cruises is a Swiss global cruise line based in Geneva, with operations offices in Naples, Genoa and Venice. It was founded in 1989 in Naples, Italy, as part of the Mediterranean Shipping Company. Wikipedia