Well, after reading many damning reviews about MSC Fantasia, my husband & I approached this cruise with a little trepidation. No need though - the whole experience was great!
On arrival at the cruise terminal in Barcelona, & having registered online, we were ushered to the desks, where we waited for maybe ten minutes before being attended to. All passengers who had not registered online were given a coloured ticket & told to wait to be called to the desks. Within half an hour of arrival at the terminal we were in our cabin (a delight), where our bags were already waiting for us.
After reading reviews regarding hefty drinks prices on board, we had pre-booked a drinks package, which gave us unlimited beer, wine, water & soft drinks at lunch & dinner. These various packages are not widely broadcast by MSC, & you also need to book your package ideally when you book your cruise, as they are not available to purchase on board. We also purchased a bottle of duty free tipple in the terminal, having already had our hand baggage go through the scanners, & they were not scanned again, nor were we asked if we were carrying alcohol as we boarded the ship. Result! Any duty free alcohol purchased on board is held & delivered to your cabin the night before disembarkation.
First impressions on boarding: - fantastic ship, fabulous cabin, and very helpful staff. We had only been in our cabin (with a bathtub!) for about ten minutes when our cabin girl knocked to introduce herself. My husband asked her if it was possible to have some ice for our ice bucket, & she fetched it, saying that anything was possible. It was then supplied automatically every evening thereafter. We had also requested a table for two at dinner when we booked, but on checking at the registration desk, we were told that we were on a table for six in the Cerchio D Oro, & we were advised to go to the Red Velvet restaurant & speak to the Maitre d'Hotel to see if we could swap. This we did without delay, & the very helpful & accommodating manager had no problem changing our table to a double.
Another nice touch was being able to order your usual newspaper from reception to be delivered to your cabin for a very reasonable price of 2 Euros.
The food was very good, with a wide variety of dishes, none of which were on the menu twice in our eleven days. Breakfast has all you could imagine on offer, & more! Again, better in the restaurants, but if you fancy a less formal affair, the buffet is still good, & you can walk it off finding a table! You could also order a continental breakfast to be delivered to your cabin (no charge), which we did many times, sometimes just ordering coffee & juice, & it was always delivered bang on time! Lunch & dinner - yes obviously there was an Italian influence to the menus (very delicious too!!), but dishes from all over the world appear as well, such as curry, chinese, terayaki, mousaka & even roast lamb & fish & chips! If you still don't fancy anything on the menu you can always order burgers, hot dogs & pasta at lunchtime, & chicken, steak, salmon & pasta in the evening. We ate all our lunches & dinners in the restaurants, as the buffet can be a bit of a nightmare - full of people piling up huge plates & then leaving them. If you prefer to eat a peaceful lunch on a table for two, you have more of a chance in the Cerchio D Oro, as they just lump you all together in the Red Velvet, rather like on a production line. It also seems more laid back & relaxed (in the Cerchio D Oro), & all the staff are great. Our waiter had our drinks order waiting for us on our table every evening, & bent over backwards to make sure we had everything we could possibly need. There were several other restaurants around the ship, but there was an extra charge for these. Also, no menus were displayed there to give an idea of cost etc. There were always menus on display outside the main restaurants.
The ship had many bars to choose from, & yes there was smoking in several, but it was not really intrusive. My only real criticism was that although there were loads of places to sit, the chairs & sofas whilst very stylish, weren't what I would call 'cosy'. The best seating was in the library, or unfortunately in the cigar lounge... Also you very rarely saw people sat with drinks, no doubt due to the high prices - around 16-17 Euros for two gin & tonics, once you add on the 15% service charge.
We only went to one show in the theatre, as we don't need to be entertained constantly, & although we were battling force 9 gales, it was very professional & watchable. Also the language used in the show was English.
There were three formal evenings during our eleven nights, & my husband felt comfortable in his dark suit, rather than trussed up in his DJ. There were some tuxedos about, but most men wore a step down from this.
There was a comprehensive selection of shore excursions available, but we always prefer to do our own thing - which was just as well because the weather at several of the ports was evil, so we stayed on & enjoyed the ship.
Being a Mediterranean cruise, & with passengers embarking & disembarking at every port, I was surprised to hear most announcements were made in English first, or second at the very least, so there was no need to listen through the other 4 or 5 languages.
Disembarkation was smooth, if a little delayed, due to a violent storm before we arrived in Barcelona. On the whole, we had a really great, relaxing holiday with Fantasia, & would have no hesitation booking with MSC again.