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The return of cruising was met, in the UK at least, with an avalanche of headlines and euphoria that you’d expect from the Second Coming. All of which must have made it a very good May day for MSC Cruises, whose Virtuosa sailed out of Southampton for a fourday jaunt over to France – without stopping – and a quick port call on the south coast for a very British afternoon tea. For those who like to linger at sea it was all a bit disappointing, but an important point was being made – the cruise market was back in business. It also provided a taste of what to expect as Europeans prepare to board an armada of cruise ships from the Baltic to the Med. WORDS DAVID WISHART PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF THE FEATURED CRUISELINES

MSC’S VIRTUOSA The brand new Virtuosa, capacity 6,300, did not hold back on social distancing with just 1,000 on board, meaning crew outnumbered passengers. And although it did not insist on two vaccinations, as many other cruise lines are now doing, a negative Covid test was required just to enter the terminal.

Once on board, all passengers were given what looks like a Fitbit watch but is a contact tracker, which in an outbreak can help find other infected persons. However, at that point MSC had been cruising the Med since August with 50,000 passengers and there had been no outbreaks on board. Same


for Sea Dream Yacht Club during its Norwegian coastal cruises. On Virtuosa, meanwhile, passengers had face masks delivered to their cabins every day and were expected to wear them in public spaces, which they did. Mind you these passengers were presumably very conscious of their relatively novel experience; it could be different with 6,300 on board. Even so, Virtuosa is a big ship and it should be easy to avoid

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Essential Magazine August 2021  

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