First order of business, I am not new to cruising. I have been on 9 cruises from 1992 - present. Not only was this my first MSC cruise, it was my first European cruise experience, and it was a little different than a typical Caribbean or Mexico cruise. Also, from what I understand, MSC cruises in the US are different than the ones in Europe, so this review is specific to the Fantasia itinerary starting at Barcelona.
Ship: The MSC Fantasia is stunning. Probably the most beautiful ship I have been on. I found it to be classy and elegant; stylish but not the Vegas style of a Carnival ship. Normally on a cruise I find I am always freezing. On this ship, I found the temp to be a little warm and stuffy, which was kind of a drag when dressed up. Granted it was Sept in the Mediterranean, but usually the air conditioning is pretty cold. I also understand that Europeans are environmentally focused, and noticed that air conditioning was lacking everywhere we went. No biggie.
Atmosphere: The most astonishing thing about this cruise was how quiet it was. I don't mean that I didn't hear other passengers, rather, I didn't hear announcements. While this could potentially make you feel a little disconnected from what is going on, I really loved that the announcements were kept to an absolute minimum. Since disembarkation happened at every port except Tunisia from what I understand, I never even heard the announcements to disembark except when I was waiting for it in the designated lounge. Somehow this cruise has the chaotic task of embarkation and disembarkation at every port (i.e. people starting and finishing on different islands) and still managed to run like a well oiled machine. The ship did feel a bit crowded, as some people were a little pushy and cut in lines etc. Probably true of anywhere, but we were particularly aware of it because we made an extra effort to be very quiet and polite, since we had heard that our reputations (as Americans) precede us in Europe.
Safety: For anyone who has been on a US cruise, you will remember that the ship doesn't move 2 feet until the muster drill is complete. Well apparently, the maritime laws dictate that this needs to happen once in a 7day cruise. Since most passengers get on this cruise in Genoa, Italy, we did not do the muster drill until the 3rd of our cruise. For those who got on in Naples, it seems they wouldn't do this until the last day of their cruise. No big deal, but a little odd to me.
Shows: These are musical in nature because so many languages are spoken by passengers. We only went to one show, and it was awful. People who went to more shows had nice things to say, but from the one that I saw, it was not up to the RCCL or CCL levels of talent I had seen.
Service: This was very different than a US cruise. Neither or waiter or stateroom attendant went out of their way to introduce themselves, and the amount of English spoken by our dining staff was minimal. In the past I felt that everyone got very chummy thru the week. This was not the case. The service was very, very good, but much less personal, and some might say intrusive than what I am used to. Stateroom attendant fixed our room up spotlessly and left us ice per request every day without being reminded. Dinner staff was efficient. Ordering drinks was difficult because of a language barrier or maybe no bar selections in the dining room...hard to tell. We just had a hard time getting anything besides wine. Even beer, they asked large or small, but not what kind. The servers in the lounges and poolside wait until you look as though you need something. It was not a constant barrage of servers trying to take orders.
Food: It was pretty good, not outstanding. Some was good, some was just okay. We at dinner every night in the dining room, so we didn't try all the other specialty restaurants. I would say do not eat in the sports bar, that food was weird. It was trying to be American themed (wings, sliders) and really missed the mark. The buffet food was good, but pretty heavy. I got sick of it by the end. Dinner was the best meal of the day. The dining room is a good bet if you are a foodie. Allow 2 hours for dinner in the dining room. The buffets don't run around the clock, and there is a bit of downtime between 5pm and 9:15 (for second seating) and that is when my husband started getting hungry. We either ordered room service for a snack or waited it out. Most people would not go hungry on this cruise, especially if you sample some food in port. There was a themed midnight buffet every night, including a CanapE night, Fruit Fiesta, Desserts, etc. Nothing too lavish, but many cruises have done away with this anyway.
Gym, Spa: Didn't use...we just ate ourselves silly on this cruise, and didn't do a darn thing about it!
Lounges, music: Very good, wide variety. Casino was also great. They had slots, poker, Blackjack, craps.
Stateroom: We booked an outside stateroom, and ended up with a balcony. As such, we were in the room more than we would have been. It was wonderful. The room was bigger than usual, very comfortable, and had a couch and large bed. Bathroom was comfortable, shower was small, but typical. Most rooms on the outside had balconies, so you could get upgraded. I loved having this. It made the room feel so open and large.
Cost: It is very important to note that the cost structure on this cruise is different than NCL, RCCL, etc. They charge for almost everything. Room service, water, coffee other than the HORRIBLE stuff served at breakfast. I am used to a specialty meal having a cost, but our bill was higher than what we were used to on a cruise. Add to the fact that US Dollars are low compared to Euros, the economy of this cruise shifted to being fairly costly. Just know that when you go in. If you are American, remember that a $6 drink is really a $9 drink, etc.
All in all, we loved the ship, and would do this again. This cruiseline may not be for everyone, but is very good and we think it will grow in popularity. People just need to know what they are booking and what they like. It's no Carnival, maybe just a refined version of RCCL, in my very humble opinion. Happy Cruising!