I was a first time cruiser from the USA that lives in Spain. I will start off by stating that overall, this cruise and MSC exceeded my expectations. However, I did a lot of research before I booked, as I do with anything. Now, it is importantly to realize that everyone is different, and with a ship this size that is catering to 3900+ passengers, you can’t realistically expect that you won’t find yourself in a situation where you get a little miffed at something or someone. I read reviews about how the food was awful and cold, and that service was horrible, and that there are kids running amuck everywhere. I have come to the conclusion that those people are blockheads. There are people who walk amongst others, that don’t take the time beforehand to figure out what it is they are getting into, much less know how to work around an unpleasant situation to make the best of it. They are probably also people who don’t like being out of their comfort zone or have never experienced different cultures.
You need to know that many different cultures of people cruise this route. You will find very polite and queue (line) respecting Australians and British. And you will also find all for one, cut in front, didn’t see you there or care much less Spanish and Italians. These are cultures and ways of life. So this is what you will run in to. I have lived in southern Spain for over a year now, after having been raised in the Midwest of the USA, where being helpful, polite and respectful is a way of life. I had already been conditioned to the stepping in front of you thing from Spain, and therefore it didn’t bother me. However, if you find extremely large crowds, quarters full of people moving about, and line cutting or going in front of you to catch the elevator might ruin your day, then don’t take this cruise. Just find something else with much less people that will agree with you.
Restaurants. The food in the dining rooms (table service) for breakfast and lunch are very good. The speed of service is reasonably timed; however it’s a little overkill on the offering of bread. Most people would prefer to be offered beverage service 5 times per meal instead of breads and croissants. But eventually you will be able to make your beverage order. Again, the food is very good, but the comfort of seating isn’t very relaxing. The food in the dining room for dinner is fantastic. The service is very slow and it is very loud in the dining room. However, if you take a look at the number of people being served, and the number of service personnel that are using the system MSC wants them to use, it is quite acceptable. I read reviews that stated the food was horrible and cold. The food just isn’t going to arrive piping hot when they are trying to serve a thousand. And I think people who haven’t experienced many different cultures will be turned off by unfamiliar tastes. You get about 6 courses for dinner at the restaurant and the seating is comfortable. The buffet on deck 14 is a bit of a madhouse free-for-all. If you do go to the buffet, take the time to walk the entire oval shape of serving lines first. This will let you know where there are plenty of seats, and what you will find at the ethnic food corner. I read reviews where there wasn’t a place to sit. Again, pure numbskulls who don’t take the time to explore their options. They think they should be able to walk into very good quality for the masses cruise line, and have everything fall into their lap. Most of the time there are plenty of open seats at the back of the buffet restaurant, where it is much quieter.
Allegrissimo Premium Package. I saved about 60 euro ($82). Both my wife and I would have some of the 4 euro coffees a few times a day, and my daughter would have the milkshakes as well. I also enjoy Scottish Whisky, so at 7-10 euro per shot, that adds up considerably. Even the 21 year portwood Balvenie was included. When you add in the tropical drinks during the day if you’re at the pools, the wine per glass for lunch or dinner, sodas and other beverages, then it starts to become of value. But that was buying for us only since we didn’t go with any friends or buy any drinks for other people. If you feel the urge to buy other people drinks, then you will definitely save a lot of money with the premium package. Plus, I took advantage of room service, the coffee/cappuccino bar, the dessert bar, the spa bar, the mini bar, and beverages at meals. It’s a pretty weak mini bar of about 6 different sodas, 3 cheap liquors, 2 fruit drinks, and some peanuts and Pringles for snacks. The room service food was pretty good, but the amount available on the menu was lacking. Also, the dessert station is very good. There are about 12-16 flavors of gelato and some very good cakes, pralines, macaroons, and other tiny sweets at the dessert bar. Just as advertised in the package, it included all items here, so I literally took home a bunch of pralines. The smoothie concoctions at the Spa bar are pretty good. They are available with or without the sugary syrup that enhances the flavor. Without it, the drinks literally taste like liquefied fruits and vegetables. The coffee bar has 4 interesting coffee concoctions (with or without liqueurs), along with regular coffee and cappuccino. And there is a gelato station on the pool deck with the 12 or so flavors.
Bars. When it’s busy, the service is very slow, except in the cigar bar where most people won’t go due to smokers. There just aren’t enough service personnel to match the number of passengers in both the bars and the restaurants. However, if you do it right, then you can stay satisfied. You can order a drink and take it anywhere except to the theater. So, if you’re going to have an alcoholic beverage, go get one at the bar and then take it back to your room while you are getting ready. That way when you show up to slow service, at least you’ve already started. Most of the cocktails I ordered were pretty good. Also, there are entertainers throughout the ship and in most large bars and lounges. Some are not very good, and some are okay. They do help a little with the ambiance, especially around the main lounge. Back to the cigar bar; they have some Domincan, some Cuban, and some Italian cigars to choose from. I was surprised that the Italian cigars were that good and they were the cheapest.
Pools and hot tubs. There are plenty of children on this ship, and they are in full force at the pools. If you were a kid, isn’t this where you’d be? So if you are thinking you are going to soak up the sun in peace and quite, take a dip in a hot tub solo, and have a drink delivered to your lounger, then this isn’t the place. Find an all inclusive resort somewhere else that has a reputation for no children. There is an adult’s only deck, but it is located very close to the kid’s water slide. No Einstein award for that one.
Evening shows. They are very good, but also a bit random. From acrobatic maneuvers, to singing to dancing all mixed into a show. My opinions consider the fact that it is part of the cruise package, and not a high priced ticket I paid for independently. So, the talent for this value was better than I expected. Although we only went to 4 of the 7 shows, I only felt that 1of them was not worth sitting through. The Pirate show was best, followed by the Michael Jackson tribute because I am an American. I noticed the older Europeans were none too impressed with that show. The Michael impersonator didn’t have the flair that Michael did, but my wife explained to me that if he tried to do that with the wig he was wearing, it wouldn’t stay on very long. Also, Michael grabs his crotch a lot, much like the original Michael, so if you don’t want your kids to see that, then don’t take them.
Ports and excursions. I didn’t get off the ship for Bari or Dubrovnik. We were pier side for all ports except Santorini and Dubrovnik. I had excursions booked for English, which meant English along with another language such as Italian or Spanish, or both. Meaning the guide would talk in one language and then the other, much like the announcements on the ship. I like excursions because all I have to do is show up on time and they take me where I want to go on an air conditioned bus, and they get me back to ship. The ship won’t leave while an excursion is still out. Yes, you might experience a crying and bored 3 year old on the coach. For the people that just want to set foot on the soil to say they have been there, then there are usually the little portside shops and restaurants. For me, that is no way to experience a city. You would only be experiencing a port. And when the ship is at anchor, rather than pier side, a tender boat fare to get you ashore will cost you around 10-12 euro roundtrip. If you take a cab then you won’t have a great view as you are driven around, and there won’t be any explanation of the history or culture. And then you’ll also wind up paying close to what an excursion would have cost anyways. You are only in port for 4-7 hours depending on where you stop.
Problems and customer service. I experienced a carpet soaked cabin room upon my return from before dinner drinks on the second evening. This was due to driving the ship into a heavy storm and a balcony drain that was blocked from being painted over. The storm was severe enough that the water level rose so high so quickly, that it seeped in through the door jam at the bottom. The customer service I received to mitigate the problem was satisfactory. The Chief Housekeeper visited my room and asked me if I wanted a different room. I would have accepted, however they didn’t have another cabin like 11010 that was available. Having personally dealt with situations like this, I mentioned it should be fine if they use a wetvac to suck up the water and then leave the doors open to help ventilate. So we left for dinner and didn’t return for 6 hours or so. Unfortunately they didn’t have a wetvac, but rather a carpet steam cleaner on wheels that couldn’t suck up the water like a wetvac would have. Over the next few days the odor became close to unbearable. However, they were already booked full, so we had no choice but to stay in our room. By the last 2 days, the odor was gone, and the carpet was dry. Also, the reviews that mentioned trouble having charges removed at customer service are true. I spoke to someone about removing a few charges that shouldn’t have been on my bill and they said they would speak to the person who can remove it and then it would be taken care of. But my last night’s bill included those extra charges, so the next morning before leaving the ship I had to go down to customer service and speak to them again. They were eventually removed, but the conditioned attitude from the personnel at the customer service desk is to say why they can’t until you keep pressing for your request. However, anywhere else you go on the ship, they do not like to say no to your requests and will do their best to accommodate you!!
Cabins. I am very particular, so I knew that if I didn’t have a room with plenty of space and a fantastic view, then I wouldn’t have been comfortable. So I chose cabin 11010 (Aurea Balcony Suite) and would recommend if you are booking for that class of cabin, choose a cruise date where you will get either 11010 or 11009. I could literally lie on my bed, and look out 2 huge panoramic windows and see wherever we were. It was more relaxing to look at the views of a port with my head on my pillow, than from the pool deck. Also, the balcony for this cabin wraps around to the end of the first panoramic window to where there is an access door for the rest of the balcony. It was left open when I arrived and I didn’t want to upset the folks with the panoramic view windows without balcony access, so I didn’t walk in from of their windows. I would have guessed the cabin suite to be about 450 square feet with 100 square feet of accessible curved balcony. I could see from the back of my side of the ship to about the 10 o’clock position when walking the entire balcony, so about a 240 degree view. However, it is very windy when sailing above 10 or so knots. Plus the location of the cabin is far away from where you would find kids doing any nighttime tomfoolery, and there is no one above your bed. The bath room had a tub with a shower nozzle. I am 5’11 and I had to duck a good bit to wet my hair. Your cabin steward will visit you twice each day, and will restock all towels, clean the entire cabin, make up the bed, and restock the mini bar on each visit.
Spa!!! If you pre-booked massages online, hopefully you can cancel before your cruise so you can save 30% on 6 massages plus cruise access to the spa or 20% on 4 massages with 4 spa visits. A spa visit could also be a visit to the adult only solarium on deck 18 rather than a visit to the saunas or steam rooms. That is the offer as you are checking in pier side at their building and the next day. And if you wait until the Athens port day, then the reflexology massage will be 50% off. On the last day, all massages are 50% off. And there are plenty of appointments available. Now, the massages themselves are not that great. I have enjoyed massages for over 20 years, and so I think I have had enough to provide an accurate rating. I give them a 5 out of a 10. Oh, and if you have seen a picture of a hot tub in the Spa, then that is on some other ship. The Spa manager confirmed this when I asked where it was. The FANTASIA only has 2 steam baths (Turkish baths), 5 or so saunas, a yoga room, and a relaxation room where you might get some sun through the glass windows if the ship is sailing in the right direction. The gym is really nice. The weights and equipment are Technogym. If I were to ever buy weight equipment again, it would be Technogym. And you can run or walk on the treadmills and have a fantastic view beyond the front of the ship.
Photographers. There are several photographers trying to earn a living onboard, so they are a bit aggressive. I’m sure they have to be to make a decent living. They will be all over deck 7 around 6-10pm, and they will visit you at your dinner table for gala night. Also, it is quite entertaining to watch the photographer who cuckoos at people to get their attention so that they won’t photo bomb his shots of other people. Then he will also do a hedgehog noise as he is shooting the photo. Just find a spot where the crystal staircases are and sit down to enjoy a few drinks and you might see him.
Other. I didn’t buy the wifi service, but my daughter used the internet café for 10 minutes of internet time for 26 euro. She was not impressed with the value. The whole thing where people put their bags in the passage way the last night did lead to seeing some people in their underwear. But if you are going to see people in their swimwear, what’s the difference? Smoking is allowed in the Casino and the Cigar bar and you can smell it if you walk through the casino or get near the doors of the cigar bar. People will also smoke on their balcony on the last morning as they are less worried about being kicked off of the ship since it is arriving for their disembarkation. It was so strong it woke me up before my alarm did.
Places I didn’t visit: Sport’s Bar, El sombrero TexMex Restaurant, Le Etoille French Restaurant, the 4D cinema, the Virtual World, the Cyber library, Toscana Wine Bar.
Embarkation. You will get in line outside of the building adjacent to the ship and turnover any baggage you would like delivered to your room. After that they direct you up to the next level for check-in. This is the only point where I was a bit of a jerk. When you’re dealing with masses of people together in groups, it’s hard to determine what is going on, and sometimes it’s just the group trying to figure out what they need to do. So I literally walked around the line where everyone was forming to have their picture taken. MSC is directing everyone to a line for that picture so they can sell it to them later. I went to the priority check-in line because I booked what used to be known as the Aurea Balcony Suite, and they had signs that still stated Aurea Suite. I don’t think MSC has updated their signs to reflect the new deck plan. There I was given my cruise card, which is the room key, charge card, and boarding pass all in one that you will use throughout the ship, anywhere you go. Then I was directed to another line that was forming, and saw another sign that had priority boarding on it with no one standing in line there. So I walked up to the entry point and a representative asked me for my priority boarding pass. I told him the lady at the Aurea Suite desk didn’t give me one. He gave the look that I should have had one, but then he let me pass. Again, they don’t like to say no on this ship. After that you just walk through the gangway (jet bridge) to the brow, and walk on board. You can then go wherever you want where most things are open. The buffet will be open, and even the dining room will be open until 2pm. Some bars are open at that time, and you room will be ready too. The time for boarding on my ticket voucher stated 13:00 (1 pm). However, they were boarding as early as 10:30am, but just didn’t send me an email to inform me. The German couple I spoke with in Venice as we were headed to the port told me there was early boarding for their cruise as well.
Disembarkation. If you have an early flight, then show the personnel at the customer service desk your booking to verify your flight time, and they will give you the bag tags for an early departure (08:35 walking off the ship). Finding my bag was very easy since they group all luggage according to the bag tag color and place it in a building just off of the gangway. Just outside the building are taxis. A taxi fare to Marco Polo Airport is a flat 45 euro ($61) and is a 25 minute ride. Warning: the departure procedure at Marco Polo airport is ridiculous. They will check in 2-3 airlines with the same departing flight time at counters that are 3-4 side by side. There is no counter for Iberia only or counter for American Airlines only. They combine the airliners for check-in at several counters which you will stand in one line to approach. Then you will go through the security check point, which took 20 minutes. Then at the gate, they will board 2 planes at the same time. Another 15 minutes of standing in line.
Summary. If you are taking this cruise, you are signing up for maximum value and service for the money spent. The FANTASIA is beautiful, and even though it is starting to show very subtle signs of wear, most people won’t recognize it. I found this cruise to be well worth the money we spent. I would choose MSC again, but only after I experience another cruise liner before doing so.