I name this ship…

I name this ship…

Alison Hamilton joins a star-studded cast at the naming ceremony for the fabulous new MSC Bellissima.

When I try to choose some stunning little detail to illustrate the sense of style that permeates the new MSC Bellissima I have to admit I’m stumped. There are so many wonderful facets to this ship, that I just don’t know where to start.

So, as Julie Andrews would say, let’s start at the very beginning …

Anyone with a passion for cruising will already know about the near-legendary elegance of MSC Cruises. This is the world’s largest privately-owned cruise line and brand market leader in Europe, South America, South Africa and the Gulf, annually offering 2.4 million ship-board guests access to 212 fabulous cruise itineraries in 83 countries around the world. Much of MSC’s success lies in its unique combination of on-board style, attention to detail … and amazingly competitive pricing policies.

When MSC introduces a new cruise ship into service, all of us in the travel business sit up and take notice. This month I was amongst the Oasis Travel guests privileged to attend its star-studded naming ceremony for the new flagship MSC Bellissima, watching the magic unfold. (That’s me in the middle, with colleague Brian Gillespie, Oasis Travel MD, Sandra Corkin … overlooked by a Creature From The Deep!).

Every cruise ship has its own ‘godmother’, a woman selected to bring good luck and protection to the vessel, attending the ship’s launch and naming ceremony, where they bless and officially name the ship. The woman who has embraced the role for all the MSC ships is the stunning Sophia Loren so she was centre-stage at the event, holding court with breath-taking charm, a captivating smile and oozing that celebrated star quality.

The all-star line-up for MSC Bellissima’s naming ceremony in Southampton featured TV presenter Holly Willoughby, three-time Grammy award-winner Nile Rodgers and DJ Craig David. As if all that wasn’t enough to wow the guests, we were also treated to an exclusive Cirque du Soleil At Sea performance; a taster of two new shows, Varélia and Syma which will be showcased on the ship.

The razzamatazz around the naming of this superb ship is a reflection of the ethos which underpins everything at MSC; if a thing is worth doing, then do it well. My tour of MSC Bellissima convinced me that, yet again, MSC has got perfection in its sights.

MSC Bellissima prides itself on offering ‘a sophisticated blend of state-of-the-art technology and a love of passion for the sea, innovation, comfort and of course elegant design’. Accommodation is stylishly provided in 2217 cabins, 75% of which come with ocean views; 1250 cabins have balconies and, if you are really in the market for luxury, there are 48 suites, each of which boasts a whirlpool bath amongst its considerable attractions. The ship provides for a vast range of accommodation styles and price points and each offering is special in its own way, but all are well equipped and the décor throughout is refined and contemporary in style.

Anyone who follows MSC Cruises on social media will be familiar with the famous ‘Swarovski staircase’, a constant selfie spot for thousands of MSC guests every day. This spectacular tradition continues on board MSC Bellissima, where among the hustle and bustle of the atrium lie a dazzling set of six Swarovski staircases … 640 crystals adding sparkle to each step!

The ship’s huge Mediterranean-style indoor promenade, Galleria Bellissima, acts as the central social hub of the ship, linking many of the bars and speciality restaurants, and is home to an 80 metre LED sky that creates an awe-inspiring atmosphere 24 hours a day. With mesmerising shows three times a day, the promenade also hosts many of the ship’s themed parties, including White Night and Flower Glory.

Food, of course, plays an important role in shop-board life and here it is nothing short of outstanding. Guests can choose from 12 different dining venues, with a dazzling selection of complimentary, casual and specialty restaurants, showcasing something to suit every occasion and everyone’s palate. I was particularly impressed to see that menus cleverly offered wonderful fresh and simple options to suit what we in Northern Ireland tend to call ‘plain eaters’, as well as sophisticated choices to tempt the dedicated foodies amongst us!

For the first time, renowned German chef Harald Wohlfahrt (voted one of the Top 10 Chefs in the World and the only German chef to hold a 3* Michelin rating for 25 years in a row) has developed an exclusive menu for MSC Yacht Club guests, as well as two different main courses for Elegant Night in the ship’s main restaurants.

Two-time World Champion in Pastry, Jean-Philippe Maury, has also brought his internationally-acclaimed skills to bear, catering to everyone’s sweet tooth with two fabulous venues: Chocolat & Café which includes an open chocolaterie for guests to observe creations and show pieces being made live, and Crêpes & Gelato for on-the-go delights.

Add 20 different bars, all with their unique atmosphere and specialities, into the mix and you will genuinely be spoilt for gastronomic choice.

A family-owned company, MSC Cruises prides itself on the excellence of its family offering. The cruise line was voted ‘Best Cruise Line for Families’ by Cruise Critic in their Editors’ Picks Awards in 2017 and ‘Best Family Cruise Line’ in the 2018 Wave Awards. On board MSC Bellissima there is a brilliant range of events, attractions and entertainments that will keep kids of all ages amused, both with and without parents’ involvement (mums and dads need a break too!).

Those who prefer an adults-only ambience will be pleased to discover that the kids’ attractions are so well planned that there is no intrusion into the ‘grown up’ life of the ship.

On-board entertainment includes not only those wonderful Cirque du Soleil spectaculars, but also six different shows playing in the ship’s 985-seat West End style theatre and a guaranteed 300 hours of live music to enliven each and every cruise. There 210 activities scheduled each week for adults – and that’s before you look at the great shore excursions – so boredom is simply not an option!

My favourite? That would be strolling along the 96 metre promenade under a sparkling dome of twinkling LED lights!

To my mind, this ship really is the last word, as the choice of name indicates: Bellissima |bel’lis.si.ma| adjective – Possessing intense beauty; delighting the senses