Major cruises have resumed as MSC Virtuosa has left Southampton for its maiden voyage around the coast of the UK - ending 14 months of inactivity for the industry.

Virtuosa sailed from the city this afternoon for a four-night cruise, followed by three and four-night mini-cruises.

Antonio Paradiso, managing director of MSC Cruises UK & Ireland, said he was “excited and emotional” at the sailing.

“We have been working hard for 14 months to make this happen,” he said. “We are really excited to finally welcome customers on board.

“The travel industry is slowly coming back after a terrible 14 months.

“MSC Virtuosa is the latest, most-innovative and environmentally advanced to join the MSC Cruises fleet, and we couldn’t be more delighted to offer UK holidaymakers and their families the chance to discover her world-class facilities.

“We have all been waiting for something exciting to look forward to and this ship has lots of new features for our guests to experience, including new speciality restaurants and a brand-new immersive entertainment lounge with a humanoid robotic bartender and much more.”

MSC Virtuosa’s homeport for the summer will be ABP Southampton, with whom MSC Cruises recently announced a long-term partnership.

Andy Harmer, director of the Cruise Lines International Association, told the PA news agency the cruise industry was one of the first to suspend operations because of the pandemic over a year ago.

“The industry has been working with governments and public health officials, and we have created a set of UK protocols for the resumption of sailing.”

Mr Harmer said the industry is worth £10 billion to the UK economy every year and supports 88,000 jobs, adding that 18 ships are due to sail in domestic waters this summer.