I had planned this vacation for over four months after a week long research into various cruising options. The deal that just came to my mail one day just tilted the scale in favor of MSC Fantasia. To say that I chose well will be an understatement. In fact after my limited experience on-board other cruising ships, MSC Fantasia was indeed beyond expectations.
Here is why: I had read at least three dozen reviews and was a bit skeptic of the boarding process as it talked a lot about ques, language issues & the confiscated liquor and water bottle. I had checked in online so our embarkation process was a breeze. I am sure they looked at the two duty free single malt scotch bottles and some water but throughout the cruise my experience was that if you are taking water for your consumption (a bottle or so), they ignore it. If you want to make money out of it, well that may be a totally different matter.
We were escorted to our cabin from reception, it was towards the front on deck 13. The cabin was larger than my expectations and very clean and functional. The Indonesian housekeeper appeared promptly and explained everything and made sure that we were comfortable.
We were at Red Velvet and IInd seating for dinner. We had a very cheerful and smiling Pak (Bhasa Indonesia for Mr) Sindhu servicing us. Dinner was good, they can even prepare special dishes for you if you tell them in advance. We stuck to the chefs choice for our dinners. We took the wine and water package and soft drinks packages for the kids. We found it was good value for money. Wine selection is OK, not great but then I would go to a wine bar for drinking not to a cruise ship. There was enough variety in dinner everyday to sustain our interest and appetite.
You have several options for lunch and the daily schedule that you get in your cabin, includes all the options. We tried the buffet in Zanzibar and Il Cerchio d'Oro Restaurant, which has a great location and the view of the wake is mesmerizing. Once again enough variety to keep you interested. Red Velvet is definitely better in terms of service and variety.
Breakfast buffet is OK but crowded. You get table service in the restaurants and food is also better. Once again check the daily plan.
Now with food out of the way let us get to more interesting items: Excursions: The MSC excursions are pricey. We arranged our excursions on every port ourselves. The staff helps you with cabs, maps & directions so it is very easy. Beware of people trying to sell you stolen stuff like ipads and iphones specially in Palermo. In most places we bought cellphone sims and ipad sims to catch up on what was going on in the world!
Being on 2nd seating gave us enough time to enjoy the performances every evening. They are really good and very entertaining though a bit short. Look out for the "Daniela presents" in the daily information brochure. It has all the details about the programs. The performers put their heart into it and are very professional and that shows in the performances.
Fitness and Spa: The gym is OK, too heavy on strength machines and tread mills. But the location is excellent, right at the front with a great view . Just imagine getting into the port early in the morning while you are exercising. Once again very clean and well kept. The spa once again is pricey. They charge for Sauna too. This is the best location for viewing the docking but they do not allow children below 14.
Liquid disco and the bars are usually deserted after midnight. Though they have several dance lessons and stuff to keep your interest but somehow it did not seem to be working except on the captains party night on the pool deck when a lot of people were dancing and of course we joined in the fun.
They have aerobics and stretching lessons everyday but in fact it will make you sleep if you are not a first timer.
Pools and water decks: Plenty to do for the kids with the teen slide and other water area. However it was yucky to see infants in diapers in the pools. The policy clearly forbids it but then what to do with illiterates. I think the staff should do their job and intervene. Apart from that pools were clean and functional. It is great to see the pool staff working with apt dedication in the morning and till the time the pools closes at 700 pm.
We explored the whole ship. Unfortunately you can not go to the front and do a titanic as the area is out of bounds for passengers. The lifts are also slow but that maybe due to the people who are using them.
It was great to just sit in the balcony at night and watch the sea. We spotted some animals too. Couple of turtles, big fish , stingrays and few others. Overall it was like a perfect vacation on a great ship with a perfect hospitality. We will return!