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Woman who went on cruise for first time reveals the one thing she wasn't expecting

Woman who went on cruise for first time reveals the one thing she wasn't expecting

Cruises have been having a bit of a renaissance. But are they worth all the fuss?

When we think of the go-to holiday with the group chat, it’s fair to say cruises probably don’t come to mind.

People tend to go for the classics like Ibiza and Portugal, some branch out a little further and stop by Greece and more often than not, someone you follow will be lighting up the 'Gram with pics of their trip to Dubai.

As a 20-something-year-old, cruises have always been peddled as out-of-budget moving hotels for the retired, or that married couple who always seem to be celebrating an anniversary, or families with kids who love a good waterslide.

Every advert for cruises growing up didn’t exactly scream ‘young, wild and free’, but over the last few years - not unlike Beyoncé - cruises have been having a bit of a renaissance.

MSC Virtuosa was absolutely massive and included so much on board. (MSC)
MSC Virtuosa was absolutely massive and included so much on board. (MSC)

Nude cruises, spicy cruises, completely giving up your life on land to live on a ship cruises… all we’ve heard is that life at sea seems to be attracting more people than ever before.

Taking one for the team and popping my cruise ship cherry – you’re welcome - I was invited onboard the MSC Virtuosa, travelling along the Iberian Coast, to see exactly what all the fuss was about, and there was one thing about them I really didn't expect.

So, let’s get into all the dos, don'ts, yaas and naas of life on the high seas for an eight-day cruise.

All aboard

The MSC Virtuosa travels along the Iberian Coast, stopping off at La Rochelle, Bilbao, La Corũna and Cherbourg. Leaving from Southampton means you get to skip the hassle of flying - which you don’t need me to tell you already gets your trip off to a better start.

Everyone has an allotted check-in time which makes getting through security and checking in your luggage a breezy experience.

As Aurea members, we were greeted with a complimentary bottle of Prosecco. (Tyla)
As Aurea members, we were greeted with a complimentary bottle of Prosecco. (Tyla)

As an Aurea passenger, we had priority check-in and getting through security took about 10 minutes – Heathrow could never.

When you get onto the cruise and head to your cabin, there’ll be a cruise card attached to your door, which is how the ship will keep track of all your purchases. Activate your cruise card at one of the terminals where you’ll be expected to drop a £250 deposit – it's a bit steep I know, but whatever you don’t spend, you get back.

Your bags are also delivered to your room, so you don’t have to try and navigate the small halls with your giant suitcase.

What’s on the ship?

I knew cruise ships were big - obviously - but absolutely nothing could have prepared me for the inside of the Virtuosa. A gorgeous ship that’s entranceway brings you to the stunning Galleria, lined with shops, restaurants, an interactive ceiling display and the most gorgeous Swarovski-made staircase – which yes, is terrifying to walk down at first, but it looks amazing.

The first time down is a little trippy, but you get used to it after a while and it's the perfect place for a photo. (MSC)
The first time down is a little trippy, but you get used to it after a while and it's the perfect place for a photo. (MSC)

MSC Virtuosa was complete with a mixture of complimentary and speciality restaurants, it has a casino, a divine thermal spa, designer jewellery stores, pools and whirlpools with gorgeous views, enough bars to make sure you don’t have to walk more than 20 feet without being in reach of a strong bevvy, a theatre, a bowling alley and a mixture of quaint and clean cabins. I could go on, but I think you get the gist.

When travelling between ports, there was nothing better than sitting poolside on the top deck with your third margarita of the day, enjoying the motion of the ocean with the sun beating down on you. I think I like this little life, indeed.

Port days

While some passengers might prefer to stay on board and enjoy the ship's amenities, many opt for a quick whizz around the quaint European cities you have about eight hours to enjoy.

If, like me, you follow a load of travel influencers on Instagram, you know there’s a lot you can see and do in a city, even if time isn’t on your side. And as long as you’re not late back boarding – because the ship will NOT wait for you – then the world is your oyster.

Of course I had to match the building when I was walking through La Corũna. (tyla)
Of course I had to match the building when I was walking through La Corũna. (tyla)

The seven nights/eight days MSC Virtuosa cruise docks at La Rochelle, Bilbao, La Corũna and Cherbourg. La Rochelle and Bilbao were my personal favourites, with the former exhibiting white stone buildings (perfect for photo ops), historic churches and a botanical garden, whereas Bilbao has palm trees, immaculate sandy beaches looking out at the Bay of Biscay and a backdrop of villas in the hilltops.

The longer the cruise, the more ports you’ll stop at. So, if taking in as much culture in as many different places is what you’re after, opt for a 12- or 14-night cruise instead.

Each city provided free-of-charge shuttle buses that leave about every 15 minutes. The queues for the buses on the way back were a thing of nightmares, but they at least get you back to the ship on time.

The biggest surprise

I don’t know why, but I didn’t have much hope for food on the high seas and it's this that surprised me the most. Like any kind of all-inclusive deal, when it comes to food and drink you expect the alcohol to be watered down and the food to be, well, basic.

I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong, and I was wrong about this. Not only does MSC Virtuosa have several speciality restaurants – Hola! Taco was without a doubt the best one – it also has a few complimentary restaurants serving world cuisine depending on the type of package you booked.

The Market Place buffet, open for breakfast, lunch, afternoon snacks, dinner and midnight snacks – closing at 2am – boasts food from all over the world with a menu that changes every day. It has panoramic views, bar service direct to your table and the most extensive vegan section I’ve ever seen.

The Market Place Buffet serves food from all over the world. (MSC)
The Market Place Buffet serves food from all over the world. (MSC)

If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you might be disappointed by the dessert section, but luckily, the on-board gelato shop has an amazing selection.

When it comes to drinks, holidaymakers don’t mess around, and neither does the ship. With a bar on literally every floor – even one where a robot makes your drinks – you’re hard pressed not to be drunk by noon, especially on sea days.

The ship offers several drink packages that are a little pricey, but are worth spending on for the days you feel like it.

The drinks package we were on was the premium drinks package and will set you back £87 a day.

Jean Philppe Gelato. (Tyla)
Jean Philppe Gelato. (Tyla)

What’s the verdict?

In case it wasn’t glaringly obvious, the recent hype behind cruises is not to be slept on. Although I probably wouldn’t go on two or three a year like some of the other passengers, I can definitely see the appeal.

If you were booking this trip for you and the group chat, it would cost you about £2,000pp which, in this climate is pretty steep for a week’s holiday.

However, there are other packages on offer and some cruises are as cheap as £249pp, depending on the location and number of nights.

MSC Virtuosa certainly has more on offer than you could ask for and with so many destinations to choose from, they are certainly a cruise line that deserves your attention.

Featured Image Credit: Tyla

Topics: Cruise, Cruise Ship, Travel, Advice, Money, Food and Drink