We are a very quiet, mid 40's UK couple and this was our first cruise; our children are grown-up, so we were on our own. We were nervous of what to expect, especially after we read some of the negative reviews on here. We boarded the MSC Fantasia in Barcelona on 13th April 2012 and disembarked 20th April back in Barcelona. Here is what we thought:
EMBARKATION: Was reasonably smooth and straight forward, although it wasn't immediately clear which way to go to board. We were approached straight away by ship's staff handing out flyers advertising their restaurants and wine packages. Also grabbed for a photograph!
SHIP: We couldn't fault it. It was massive, extremely clean and everywhere there appeared to be someone cleaning, sweeping, polishing or brushing. It really was immaculate. The decor was luxurious and the glitzy, sparkly staircase was stunning. S
STAFF: We found all staff friendly and polite, particularly the room cleaning staff. They all said "hello" or "Good morning" as we passed in the corridor, or at the very least - smiled. The reception staff were helpful. DO CHECK YOUR ACCOUNT AS WE WERE GIVEN 'Â£100 ON BOARD SPEND BY VIRGIN, BUT IT DIDNT APPEAR ON OUR BILL. We are phoning them to claim it back.
SAFETY: We were asked to attend a safety demonstration in the Theatre, but we noted that they told us about the excursions first before they showed us how to put on a life jacket (in about 7 different languages!!)
CABIN: We had a balcony cabin on deck 13. It was very clean, and well maintained. The bed was made for us every morning and turned down for us at night. The towels were fluffy and changed every day. We also had a bath robe each; a hairdryer, a TV, minibar (you have to pay for any drink you have). Our particular cabin had an interconnecting door and we could hear the guests in the next room quite clearly; it was two middle aged Italian women and one of them had a very shrill voice, but because we couldn't understand them, it wasn't that intrusive. We didn't hear a peep from the room the other side. The safe was VERY useful and easy to use.
FOOD: The Zanzibar catered for the buffet style dining. There was plenty of varied food, tea, coffee and water. The food wasn't boiling hot, but it was perfectly acceptable. We didn't see that much pushing and shoving that has been described in other reviews, but we did comment on the amount people put on their plates! We always found a seat. There was always plenty of waiters but occasionally we felt a little uncomfortable as they did tend to "hang around" a bit waiting to snatch your empty plate! A number of times the hand sanitizers were empty, but that wasn't a big problem to us as we took our own. The restaurant was great, we had the 1st seating at 6:30pm. The food was faultless and our waiter perfectly friendly and charming. We were seated with two UK couples, a lovely couple on their own and a couple with two immaculately behaved daughters. Be aware that you have to pay extra for your drinks, including bottled water.
SMOKING: We are both non-smokers and people did appear to smoke where they wanted, but there wasn't too much of it and we can't say that it was too bothersome. To get to the Theatre, you do have to walk through the casino which was very smoky. We did see a few people smoking on their balconies. SHOWS: The shows lasted about 40 minutes each and were well done. The girl singers were great and the costumes gorgeous. The Michael Jackson tribute was very good.
EXCURSIONS: As with most other Cruise Lines, they were over priced, but we did the open top bus tour of Genoa (lasted 20 mins and people kept talking) then to the Aquarium, which was fab. We also did the Pompeii trip in Naples and that was FANTASTIC and we loved it. Beware if you stop in Marseille and you have small children; the roads and pavements seem to blend into one, so watch the traffic! In all of the ports the drivers pay no attention to the traffic lights, so don't assume they're going to stop.
DISEMBARKATION: We were asked to leave suitcases (they gave us coloured labels to attach) outside our room by 1am the previous night and to vacate our room by 8am and meet in designated lounges at around 9am (we were a bit late docking). We were then led outside to meet our transfer driver to take us to the airport.
IN SUMMARY: We enjoyed ourselves on the whole, but as this was our first cruise, we have nothing to compare it to. I daresay once we try Royal Caribbean, we'll change our tune.