ALISTAIR BURNETT, HOTEL DIRECTOR ON MSC VIRTUOSA GIVES AN INSIDE LOOK ON WHAT’S LIKE TO BE BACK AT SEA.
Tell us a little bit about your cruise line experience that got you to where you are today as the Hotel Director for our flagship MSC Virtuosa.
I started working as a Hotel Director in 1998 on expedition cruise ships with just 100 guests onboard sailing in remote corners of the world such as Antarctica and the Amazon. Since then I have sailed on vessels of ever-increasing size all over the world and worked for a number of the major cruise lines.
I was very pleased to join MSC Cruises four years ago and I am particularly pleased to be sailing on our flagship in the UK, my home country.
What are the main day-to-day duties of a Hotel Director?
They are very varied and reflect the operation that I manage. Hotel operations onboard include all dining and bar outlets, cabins, entertainment, guest services, finance and administration, plus revenue centres such as the spa, shops and the casino.
No day is ever the same. I meet each morning with my core team of department heads to discuss any matters that might have arisen overnight, or from the previous day. Our prime focus is on any issues which might impact guests and to ensure that we give our guests the very best possible experience onboard. If guests have experienced any problems we discuss as a team how we can quickly resolve the matter.
From there, how the day progresses depends on whether we are in port or not, or if we have guest embarkation. I spend a lot of my time moving around the ship to check operations are as they should be, but also I like to engage with our guests and crew.
What starts as a short walk to check one particular area can end up taking quite a while once I have stopped to chat to a number of guests and greet our crewmembers.
You’ve been back on board for a few weeks now, so what’s it like to be back at sea?
It is very hard to describe the feeling of being back in operation after such a long time, but the word that springs to mind is ‘joy’.
I was fortunate to work on our ships during the last year, but more as a caretaker with a skeleton crew on vessels that were laid up. Cruise ships feel very different when there are no guests onboard and it is not their natural state.
You could really sense the excitement of the team here as we prepared to welcome our first guests in May and when they stepped onboard at Southampton it was like welcoming back long-lost friends.
I still catch myself, when we have an event or I see guests in a dining room having a good time, smiling to myself and thinking, “I have so missed this”.
What’s it like having an all British guest profile for the summer?
It’s really special, and a first for MSC Cruises. We are an international company with a Mediterranean heritage and that is usually reflected in the broad spectrum of guests we have onboard, so MSC Virtuosa has a different feel.
What is key to our success with our British guests is that we make them feel comfortable, with enough familiar items and activities to allow them to relax and then enjoy the full range of the MSC Cruises’ experiences. There are certain things which are important particularly to British guests and it is crucial that we get those things right.
I have spoken to many of our guests in the last weeks since we started sailing around the UK and they are loving MSC Virtuosa. For many of them it is their first time with MSC Cruises and they weren’t sure what to expect. I am pleased to say, we have a lot of converts!
What have shown to be the most popular features on board MSC Virtuosa from the perspective of our guests?
It is quite difficult to single out particular features as our guests are enjoying so many different aspects of what they find onboard. The first thing which is certainly appreciated is how beautiful MSC Virtuosa is.
Whether it’s the central promenade with the LED dome, our atrium with its Swarovski staircases or the open deck with it azure pools and fountains – our guests are stunned with how gorgeous the ship is. For families there is so much to do and enjoy with our extensive kids’ clubs and Sportsplex with all the activities available, not to mention the Aquapark and Himalayan Bridge.
But if that’s not your scene there are plenty of quiet corners to sit quietly or listen so some relaxing live music.
And, of course, one of our most popular new features is Rob the robotic bartender – he is hugely popular, not only because he is the first humanoid robotic bartender at sea, but also because he makes great cocktails!
What kind of feedback have you heard from guests, especially families with children?
The feedback from our guests has been great – really positive! Not only are they enjoying all the features of the ship but they are loving the service being provided by our crew.
“Everyone is so friendly, they just can’t do enough for us”, is something I hear a lot. Families are perhaps the happiest of all. First of all, just to be able to cruise as a family right now is something very special.
With our great facilities and a dedicated team onboard for keeping the kids entertained it is a perfect family holiday. And we’re extremely proud that we were able to welcome them as the first cruise line to restart deep sea cruising in British waters after a very long pause of some 15 months.
In simple terms who do have on board? Experienced cruisers, new-to-cruise, those that just want to travel after a long lockdown?
We have had a real mixture of guests onboard in the weeks since we have been sailing. First time cruisers, experienced cruisers but first time with MSC Cruises, and of course regular and loyal MSC Cruises guests who are excited to sail with us again. We have some guests who are giving us a try just to get away after a long time in lockdown.
Others have been curious about MSC Cruises previously but haven’t got around to trying us and the timing of our UK sailings has provided the perfect opportunity to give us a go.
We are seeing guests right across the age range, families, couples, singles – a complete mix – it’s wonderful!
Anything else you’d like to add?
I am personally very excited and proud to be here on MSC Virtuosa in the UK on her inaugural season. I believe there is such potential for MSC Cruises in the UK and I look forward to future seasons welcoming new and returning British guests in numbers we have not seen previously.