A two-day sailing from Southampton gave Cruise Expert Poppy Outram just enough time to put MSC Bellissima on trial. Safe to say the new MSC Cruises ship knocked her socks off – here’s why.
Waiting to board the brand-new MSC Bellissima in Southampton for her hotly anticipated naming ceremony and launch event, I could barely contain my excitement. This was to be my first experience of cruising with MSC and I was not going to be disappointed…
As soon as I stepped onboard, I was bedazzled by the glitz and glamour of my surroundings. I was expecting sparkle, having seen MSC Meraviglia on Cruising with Jane McDonald, and Bellissima was not to be outdone by her sister!
MSC Cruises Swarovski crystal staircases
I was immediately wowed by the incredible Swarovski crystal staircases that greet you as you arrive on the ship, cascading through the Infinity Atrium like a waterfall of sparkles. Costing a staggering £1.5million per staircase, MSC have spared no expense in creating the most beautiful entrance to a ship I have ever seen. Gliding up the glittering staircase while having a bit of a Cinderella moment, I arrived on the upper tier of the Galleria Bellissima. This is the social hub of the ship, an indoor promenade lined with boutiques, speciality restaurants and bars. The most exciting part of the Galleria is the spectacular 80-metre-long LED Sky Screen. It was a real joy to see the ceiling morphing from stunning floral displays to the Sistine Chapel, and at night a beautiful star-lit sky. There were endless images, each one a surprise and a delight, and this was one of my favourite features of Bellissima.
Speciality restaurants on MSC Bellissima
Strolling along the Galleria, I was in seventh heaven when I found Chocolat & Café, which is no ordinary café! MSC have partnered with acclaimed French chocolatier and pastry chef Jean-Philippe Maury and created their own chocolate store. I loved sitting and watching the chocolatiers at work while sipping on a delicious Italian coffee. My eye soon wandered though, and I headed over to the Crepe and Gelato stand and sampled a freshly made crepe, whilst ogling the huge range of ice cream flavours on offer.
After all that sweetness I was in need of something savoury, and luckily MSC Bellissima offers a vast array of speciality restaurants. It would have been rude not to sample some, so I made my way to the upper level of the Galleria, via the Swarovski staircase of course. First on my list was the Teppanyaki and Sushi bar, Kaito. I really enjoyed the inclusive experience of watching the chefs create dishes in traditional Japanese style on huge grills in the centre of the tables, and the end product was divine.
I then made my way over to the American-style steakhouse Butcher’s Cut, which serves specialty meats from around the world, and sampled some of the filet mignon cooked to perfection. Next it was time for some Quiche Lorraine, rustic breads and cheese in the French restaurant, Bistrot Atelier. With little room left but a determination to try it all, it was Tapas time in Hola!, the restaurant created by Spanish Michelin-starred chef, Ramon Freixa.
MSC Bellissima’s Bars and Lounges
After all that food, it was time for a drink, and with 20 bars to choose from it wasn’t long before I had my favourite cruise tipple – a Strawberry Daquiri – in hand. Wandering around the ship, it was soon apparent that there is a place for everyone on Bellissima. You can enjoy a glass of fizz in the classy Champagne Bar, a decadent venue glistening with white furnishings and just about every Champagne you could wish for, served with accompanying caviar, oysters and crab. If you are a cocktail lover, you can partake in your favourite at the Edge Bar, perfect for pre-dinner drinks. You may be pleased to know that there is a British style pub too, Masters of the Sea, serving beers and stouts including John Smith’s, Newcastle Brown Ale, Murphy’s and Guinness.
Personal cruise assistant, Zoe
Feeling suitably fed and watered I decided to go and have a look at my home for the stay, a lovely Aurea Balcony stateroom. Beautifully appointed, with lots of space and a generously sized balcony, I was really delighted with the room. The bathroom was absolutely stunning, all gleaming white and not a shower curtain in sight. The main feature of the stateroom was the personal cruise assistant, Zoe.
Powered by artificial intelligence (AI), Zoe can speak seven languages and answer over 800 of the most commonly asked questions – with thousands of different variants of each query – providing information about on-board services, suggestions for activities, and even help in booking a specific service. She’s easy to use too; all you need to do is say “OK Zoe” and she’s ready to help.
Having acquainted myself with my stateroom, I decided to go and have a look at the outdoor areas. The main place to be is the Atmosphere Pool, which has a staggering amount of poolside space, in-pool sunbeds and a huge outdoor screen. To the aft of the ship, I was thrilled to see the Arizona Aquapark, complete with four twisting and turning waterslides, a hot dog bar, range of pools and the Himalayan Bridge – an 82-metre-long suspension rope bridge course – not one for the faint hearted! I can imagine finding it hard to get my two children to leave this part of the ship!
One deck below the Aquapark is the Horizon Pool, which I think would quickly become my place of choice for a lazy day on a sun-soaked sailing. A spacious pool and sunbathing space by day, with views off the aft of the ship, this area also doubles as an amphitheatre for evening entertainment under the stars.
Entertainment on MSC Bellissima
Having got a taste for the pools, I decided to test the hot tubs out and made my way to the Grand Canyon Pool, an indoor space with retractable roof, comfy seating and of course, the obligatory poolside bar. Having blissfully bubbled away for a while, I went to take a look at the spa facilities.
The Aurea Spa is a Balinese-inspired relaxation zone, featuring an exotic design of natural stone and beautiful mosaics. I felt relaxed and serene from the moment I walked in. The quiet yet attentive staff provided an aura of calm and peace. After a wallow in the hydrotherapy pool, a ‘cold storm’ rain shower and a snooze-inducing lie down on a heated bed, my appetite had somehow started to return, and so it was back to the stateroom to ready myself for the evening’s activities and the Gala Dinner.
MSC Bellissima has a range of main dining rooms, and as is par for the course, you are allocated one upon arrival on the ship. I was allocated ‘Il Ciliegio’ on deck 6, a cosy intimate restaurant with stunning décor and art. Within minutes I was seated and presented with the Gala Night menu. The wine flowed, all cleverly matched to the evening’s meal, and the starters were served without delay. I had the most delicious Pumpkin Ravioli – not something I would usually choose, but I devoured every last morsel and nearly ordered another! After a tasty main course and chocolate pyramid desert, it was time to head to my favourite place to go on a ship in the evening (no not the bar!) It was show time!
MSC have perfected their entertainment on Bellissima to please all audiences, with exclusive shows by Cirque de Soleil performed in the purpose-built, technology-packed Carousel Lounge. This multi-functional lounge houses a rotating stage, 40-metre LED screen and aerial rigging, and features an exclusive table d’hôte menu, where specially-created dishes are served (along with a cheeky cocktail) before you sit down to enjoy the spectacular Cirque de Soleil show.
Next was a quick hop along to the London Theatre, where I enjoyed the exclusive-to-Bellissima show, Pink. An all-singing, all-dancing Broadway style cast decked out in some of the most incredible costumes I have ever seen, performed songs from a host of female superstars. I loved the range of different vocal styles, from an Italian opera singer to a booming gospel voice, they each gave me goose bumps. When they all combined for the grand finale it was breathtaking.
After a jam-packed day, I enjoyed a restful night in the supremely comfortable bed and woke the next morning eager to find out what else Bellissima had to offer….and there was so much more to see!
I decided to head to the Marketplace buffet for breakfast and was pleasantly surprised to find great British favourites available, among a plethora of cold meats and continental dishes, omelette station and a plentiful fruit bar. I enjoyed a hearty plateful, before making my way to the Sportplex to find out what family features were on offers. On my way out, something that grabbed my attention was the Mozzarella Station. Yes, you heard me right – Bellissima has her very own Mozzarella kitchen, where you can watch as the chefs create fresh delicious mozzarella ready for you to pile onto your plate with lashings of pesto, or alongside divine freshly-baked bread. I helped myself to plenty of that later that day.
With a content fullness once again, it was time to explore, and first on the agenda today was to see the family facilities. Upon entering the children’s zones, it is immediately apparent from the bright colours and the interactive brick boards that this part of the ship has been developed in partnership with Lego. Keen builders can lose themselves in a mass of Lego-themed activities and I’m quite sure my 6-year-old son would be unpacking his case here and waving a happy goodbye to me for the duration! The older children also have a dedicated area with computers, games consoles, comfy seating and access to their own chillout zone with late night disco’s.
In the Sportplex, MSC have gone all out to offer something unique to guests and we’re not just talking about for the kids either. This is somewhere for the whole family to have fun together. There is a bowling alley, games arcade and a full-size basketball court which doubles as a party venue at night. With MSC being at the forefront of technology, there is a lot of virtual fun to be found here too. I tried my hand at the Virtual Reality Maze, a surreal experience where you can choose from various ‘stories’ to play, before strapping myself into the driver’s seat of a Formula 1 racing car. Complete with wrap around screen and juddering effects, this was as close to the real thing as I will ever get! Lewis Hamilton doesn’t need to worry though – I spent more time in the gravel than on the track. I had more success in the Interactive XD Cinema experience, an immersive adventure where you are you are handed a laser gun and – thanks to moving seats, wind effects and 3D glasses – you are temporarily transported to another world. Having successfully beaten a tribe of zombies, it was time for something a little more sedate, and so I headed to the exclusive Yacht Club for a spot of lunch.
The Yacht Club
The Yacht Club is the ship-within-a-ship experience which offers guests exclusivity and privacy, whilst still having access to all the amenities that a ship like Bellissima provides. I had a peek into a Yacht Club suite and could see why they prove so popular; beautifully decorated and very spacious, these rooms would suit anyone wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life, enjoy a private pool deck and bar, while still having the facilities of the ship just around the corner.
Passing through the Top Sail Lounge, a private bar with panoramic views, I helped myself to a little hors d’oeuvre, before swooshing up another glorious Swarovski staircase into the Yacht Club restaurant, which serves sophisticated a la carte menu options for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
A more attentive service I have yet to find anywhere. With almost a waiter to everyone at the table I was so impressed with everything about this restaurant. Waiting staff pre-empted your every wish and whim, delivering impeccable dishes created with flair and refinement; I was left wanting more.
After a whirlwind two days exploring all that MSC Bellissima has to offer, I left with a heavy heart but a new understanding of what MSC has to offer their guests. There truly is something for everyone. And as for Bellissima, her slogan of ‘Beauty At Sea’ could not be more apt; she really does epitomise the translation of her name and oozes beauty from every angle.
Bellissima, ti amo!