Aboard MSC Meraviglia: A sneak peek of the largest cruise ship to dock in Belfast
THIS week saw the arrival of the largest cruise ship ever to visit Belfast Harbour. The MSC Meraviglia (which means 'wonder'), is 315m long, 43m wide and carries more than 6,500 guests and crew.
It's majestic to look at – but what's it like inside? As over 5,300 guests from more than 32 countries disembarked to explore Belfast, I was fortunate to be invited on board for a peek.
After passing security, the first thing to hit you is the stunning Swarovski crystal staircases leading to the 'promenade' and restaurants. Each step reportedly cost €30,000. Overall, the ship's décor is very elegant.
The central promenade features an 87m-long LED 'sky screen', its images changing according to the time of day and year. Airy, open design alleviates any claustrophobic feel you might expect from being on a ship, with lounges and even the gym affording panoramic views.
The vessel is owned by MSC Cruises, the world's largest privately owned cruise line. Having come into service in 2017, it has spent the summer sailing northern Europe from the German port of Kiel and is visiting Belfast as part of a 17-night transatlantic cruise to New York, other ports of call including Copenhagen, Reykjavik and Halifax.
All tastes are catered for on board, with 20 bars and lounges and 12 dining venues, their cosmopolitan flavours hinted at by titles including Kaito Teppanyaki Restaurant & Sushi Bar and Hola Tapas.
I got a chance to sample the delights of the Jean-Philippe Chocolate Bar, whose wares are freshly made and whose hot chocolate was the most delicious I've tasted. In the Marketplace visible kitchens and a 'mozzarella-making area' allow guests to watch chefs preparing fresh food.
When it comes to entertainment there are lots of options – from three on-board pools to a casino and 10-pin bowling. You can catch a live Broadway-style show or even Cirque du Soleil at Sea, with two shows specially designed solely for MSC Meraviglia.
Younger visitors get an aquapark, rope bridge, F1 simulator, 4D cinema, games arcade, sports pitch and kids clubs, decked out with Lego products and games.
Last year MSC welcomed a record number of passengers from Northern Ireland on their ships to destinations including the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, and while holidaymakers can't currently embark in Ireland, this is among the company's future plans.
:: More info on all ships and cruises at Msccruises.co.uk