I always like to book a cruise to warmer climates in January or February every year just to get away from the cold rainy weather at home. I suspect that the majority of passengers on this cruise had the same thought in mind. I would be a solo cruiser on the Fantasia because my wife was not interested in a climate change.
Embarkation: I drove my car to the Civitavecchia port and by prior arrangement parked it in a guarded lot about 200 meters from the cruise terminal and the ship. The price was â‚¬90 for the period I would be on the ship which I thought was quite reasonable, plus I had done the same thing on another Civitavecchia cruise in 2010. I wheeled my bags into the terminal and was immediately met by a MSC rep who took my bags and tagged them while directing me to the check-in desk. Check-in was almost instantaneous, my tickets were checked, credit card swiped, and with cruise card in hand I boarded the ship. I was met by an officer who welcomed me and turned me over to a cabin steward who led me to my cabin. About 20 minutes had elapsed from when I parked the car.
The 133,500 ton Fantasia was built in 2008, first in the class of three MSC cruise ships which include the Splendida and the Divina. It has a total of 18 decks of which 13 are for passengers and has a capacity of about 4,000 in 1,680 cabins ranging from luxurious Yacht Club suites to economical insides. The crew numbers more than 1,300. The cabins are mostly found on decks numbered 8 through 13, the vast majority with balconies. The sea view cabins and insides are mostly on the 5th deck while the Yacht Club suites are toward the bow on decks 15 and 16. Deck 14 is a busy one with the self-service buffet , spa, pools and several bars. The Yacht Club is an exclusive class area that would resemble the old first class concept on the cruise ships of many years ago. Down on the lower decks 5, 6, and 7 are the two main restaurants, shops, lounges, bars, and offices. The promenade/jogging deck is number 15 but is crowded with sun beds on warm-weather cruises.
The Cabin: My cabin was number 12110 on Deck 12 named Incanto Deck. It was classed as a Category 10 superior balcony cabin and quite comfortable. It measured 23 square meters which included the bathroom and balcony, so about 18 meters of inside living space, fine for a couple and great for a solo passenger like me. It had a comfortable king-size bed with lovely new linens, a nice three-person couch with a small oval table, a desk with a hassock, huge mirrors, and a three door wardrobe, one section of which had shelves and drawers plus a safe. The desk had but two smallish drawers, one of which had the hair dryer, and a couple shelves for books and things with the TV on the top. Both European and American electrical outlets were at the desk and in the bathroom. I used my laptop on the desk. The cabin was in excellent condition and very clean. The only negative thing I found was the bedspread had a couple burn marks and should have been replaced.
The balcony was large enough and had two rattan chairs with a table/foot stool and was glass fronted.
The bathroom wasn't huge but was more than adequate and had the usual vacuum toilet. A small sink with shelves right and left and some storage underneath. The shower stall was large enough and had a non-attacking curtain. Bath gel and shampoo dispensers were on the wall. I was pleased with the bath linens throughout my cruise. Towels were white and fluffy, fairly new, and there were even face cloths.
My excellent cabin steward was a very friendly lady from Indonesia named Ita whose English and Italian were very, very good. She consistently provided me outstanding service. As an MSC Club member I always had a bowl of fresh fruit in the cabin which was replenished almost every day. Sometimes I found myself with three bowls on my table because I could only eat two or three pieces of fruit each day. Ita also ensured that I always had a fresh one-litre bottle of water in the cabin which with my MSC Club discount cost me â‚¬2 each. The cabin was quiet, no vibrations, and even when the sea was rough I noticed only minimal movement. I always book a mid-ship cabin with cabin decks above and below which usually ensures low noise levels and minimal ship movement. I was very satisfied with this cabin.
Service and Staff: I found the staff members in the Customer Service, Accounting, and Excursion offices to be professional, friendly, and very helpful whenever I had a question or had need of their services.
Passenger Mix: The ship had almost a full capacity of 4,000 on this cruise with half of the passengers from Germany. I neglected to ask specific numbers by nationality as I usually do on my cruises. There were quite a few young families with small children but most of the passengers were in the 55+ category.
Cleanliness: Like all MSC ships, the policy on the Fantasia was to continually clean and polish every surface and corner possible. There were hand sanitizers at the entrances to the restaurant and buffets, as well as at the boarding points. In the case of the restaurants a staff person was at the entrance asking everyone to use them.
Smoking: As is usually found on all ships of the MSC fleet, the smoking areas were on the port side and the two main lounges were divided as so with smoking on the left and non-smoking on the right. The various lounges had separate smoking and non-smoking areas. Smoking was permitted on the open decks and the casino while the rest of the ship seemed to be smoke-free. I did not notice any tobacco smell coming from the cabins when walking through the corridors. On MSC ships smoking is strongly discouraged in the cabins and prohibited on balconies. Naturally it was prohibited in the restaurants, theatre, corridors, and inside common areas.
Restaurants and Bars: The Fantasia had two main dining rooms (MDR), the two deck Red Velvet mid ship on the 5th and 6th decks, and the Cerchio d'Oro in the stern of the 6th, plus a huge self-service buffet restaurant up on the 14th . The Cerchio d'Oro was open for breakfast and lunch with open seating while both MDRs opened for dinner at with two seatings at 18.30 and 20.30 respectively. The beautiful L'Etoile Restaurant on deck 15 is now reserved exclusively for Yacht Club guests. The only other specialty restaurant was the underused El Sombrero tex-mex restaurant on Deck 7. There were numerous bars and lounges on decks 5, 6, and 7, and up on decks 14 and 15. The night-time disco was even higher, on deck 16.
As always, I ask for the second sitting in the MDR which I find more relaxing, quieter, and more to my normal style. I was assigned to table number 570 in the Red Velvet with a Serbian waiter named Sasa Pesic, very friendly and competent. My five table mates were all from Rome, one couple and three ladies, cruising solo like me. We enjoyed each other's company throughout the cruise. Other than for the three gala nights, the evening dinner menus were based on cuisine from various Italian cities. Each evening was different, Sorrento, Venice, Rome, Cagliari, etc. The food was generally good with only two or three so-so's during the entire cruise. My complaint is that the MSC menus have remained the same for years and I'm beginning to recognize all the dishes, i.e., tonight is the Bari menu so the pasta dishes will be these and the entrees thus. It's getting to be boring! The only exception was the menu for one evening called "Festa Italiana," celebrating the 150th year of Italian unity. It was a pleasure to find our maitre d' was and old acquaintance from another MSC cruise several years ago. I drink wine with my meals and found the wine list to be good with prices for Italian reds in the 17 to 28 euro range. One bottle would last me three evenings and the waiter would cork it and save it for the next time.
I generally used the buffet for breakfast and lunch. The Fantasia's buffet was huge and at lunch offered a vast variety of hot dishes, cold dishes, salads, pastas and soups, daily Italian specialties, desserts, fruit, and an ethnic area featuring mainly Oriental dishes. Breakfast appealed to most everyone and consisted of Italian pastries, eggs scrambled, fried, hard boiled and at least two types of omelets, pancakes, waffles, cereals, fruit, etc. I never had a problem finding a place to sit, especially in the stern area which always had free tables.
In keeping with the new MSC policy of appeasing other cultures, the water, coffee and tea dispensers were open all day long and in the evening. From 19.00 to 20.30 each evening a limited service buffet was open for those who didn't care to dress for the MDR.
As far as the bars went, I found the best espresso coffee to be had at the appropriately named Cappuccino Bar on deck 7. One of the nicest areas of the ship was the Piazza San Giorgio on deck 6 with luscious cakes and pastries and ice cream specialties. The bars and lounges were almost too numerous to count and most had activity throughout the afternoon and evening. Every afternoon there was tea and little pastries or sandwiches in the buffet and a midnight treat in the evening. The Buffet Magnifico on the next to the last evening was truly magnificent.
Library and Internet. The Library was open for an hour or two twice a day and had an excellent collection of English language books as well as sections for many other languages. It had a good number of computers for passenger use which were available even when the book lending was closed. I had my own laptop computer so I signed up for the internet package, 500 minutes for â‚¬60 (minus 20% for MSC Club members) and made good use of it in my cabin. It wasn't the fastest internet connection but considerably better that a few years ago when shipboard internet was really slow.
Laundry: MSC has a great laundry deal - up to 30 pieces per cabin per cruise for only â‚¬25, or reasonable per-piece prices which MSC Club members are entitled to discounts ranging from 20 to 30% depending on club category. I always use the ship's laundry when I cruise so I can pack less and keep the weight down in my suitcase. In any case the Fantasia's laundry provided excellent service.
Gym and Spa: The Fantasia had a very large gym with a vast number of machines available for use as well as more than adequate open areas for physical conditioning. The spa was huge and had its own bar along with saunas, massage rooms, and ladies beauty salon. I signed up for a massage package and enjoyed the expert care of a lovely young Balinese therapist named Suzi.
Entertainment: The Fantasia's animation team worked full time to keep passengers entertained with games and quizzes during the day and silly variety shows in the evening. Also in the evening were professional musical performances, classical singing, shows, and reviews by the beautiful ship's dancers and other groups which were embarked . Passenger participation appeared to be quite good. The ship's theatre occupied three decks in the bow. On the day we were at Tenerife there was a beautiful classical concert by the local symphony orchestra. During their one hour performance they entertained the passengers with the music of Rossini, Mozart, Greig, Beethoven and Strauss. It was truely an emotional experience.
Weather and Climatic Conditions: Aside from the freezing cold we found at Genoa, for the most part the weather we encountered was considerably warmer than that we left at home. The seas were reasonably calm or just choppy except toward the end when we had a very rough crossing between southern Spain and Sardinia.
Port Calls and Shore Excursions:
Day 1 - Civitavecchia embarkation. Weather good with an afternoon temperature around 14 degrees. At 17.00 the newly embarked passengers received a welcome from the Cruise Director and staff and the mandatory life jacket instruction at the muster stations. At 19.00 we pulled out of the harbour right on schedule and headed north.
Day 2 - Genoa. Slight sea during the night, morning partially sunny but very cold with a biting wind. The temperature never rose higher than 4?. The majority of the passengers ended their cruise here. I joined the Genoa Historical Centre tour with a local lady named Alessandra who spoke English like a native. Very interesting notwithstanding the cold. We were transferred from the cruise terminal to the Aquarium port in a small local ferry followed by a walking tour through the town centre. At the ducal palace we were treated to a snack of Ligurian specialties and white wine. A nice touch. Back on the ship we had our full muster drill along with all the new passengers who just embarked, and at 17.00 we set sail toward warmer lands.
Day 3 - At Sea until 12.00 when we arrived at Barcelona. Overcast morning, sea mildly choppy, and air still cold but it warmed to about 14? when we reached Barcelona. Here I went on the Montserrat Monastery excursion which took about an hour on a bus with English and German speakers. At 725 metres above sea level, the monastery was a bit chilly. We returned to the ship by 17.30 and departed at 18.00.
Day 4 - At Sea. Sky overcast, sea choppy, it was warming up. The Sierra Nevada mountains were readily visible as we cruised along the coast of southern Spain. First gala dinner in the MDR this evening. We passed by Gibraltar about 23.00.
Day 5 - Casablanca, Morocco. Sea choppy during the night and overcast morning. We tied up at 08.00 and at 08.30 I left with the Casablanca-Hassan II Mosque tour. After many visits to Casablanca this was the first time I was able to see the interior of this huge mosque. It was well worth waiting for because it was truly magnificent with even a full hamman and pool in the lower level. We also visited the Governor's palace and the outside plaza of the Casablanca Royal Palace, as well as a panoramic tour of several neighbourhoods. Unfortunately it was raining by the time we returned to the port. After the other excursions returned we departed Casablanca at 22.00.
Day 6 - At Sea. Overcast, coolish, and rough sea. Luckily the sun came out in the afternoon and the sun loungers started filling up. Festa Italiana this evening in the MDR with lots of related activities before and after.
Day 7 - Santa Cruz de Tenerife (Canary Islands). Sea choppy during the night. The day started out with an overcast sky but the temperature gradually increased to about 18?. This was my second visit to Tenerife so I had opted for the "Jeep Safari" excursion which turned out to be a good choice to see an area of the island somewhat off the beaten track so to speak. We went to the Las Teresitas beach and then across the island to the little village of Taganana, followed by a rest stop on the northwest coast at Bodegas Roque. Our route of return took us to the highest point of the north, Mirador Ingeles, and then through La Laguna and back to Santa Cruz and the ship in time for a late lunch. In the afternoon we were treated to a classical concert in the ship's theatre performed by the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra, truly a rare and moving experience on board a cruise ship.
Day 8 - Funchal, Madeira. Sea smooth, and finally a warm sunny day with hardly a cloud in the sky. The morning temperature was 14? but by midday it reached 20?. It was my second visit here also. At 10.00 I went on the Eira do Serrado tour which took us to a high mirador of 1026 metres surrounded by mountains and forests. From here we crossed over to Monte where we descended back down to Funchal on the cable car. A bit of shopping in Funchal and we were back on the ship by 14.00. Three hours later we left in a choppy sea bound for Gibraltar and the Mediterranean.
Day 9 - At Sea. Mildly rough during the night and slightly overcast in the morning. Sunny in the afternoon to allow sun lounging and swimming for the hearty North Europeans.
Day 10 - Malaga. Sea choppy, beautiful day with temperatures ranging from 14? in the morning to 21? in the afternoon. Malaga is another city that I've been many times, so I took the Marbella-Puerto Banus tour just to have something new to do. Marbella is a nice town but gets swamped with holiday makers in the summer and the port is just another expensive yacht basin. The port of Malaga on the other hand is becoming quite beautiful and functional with new terminals and shopping areas. Construction has been ongoing for several years. MSC Club member cocktail this evening with the final gala dinner.
Day 11 - At Sea. The sea had turned quite rough, high winds, with the weather overcast to rainy and cold. Finally by evening when we began our passage through the strait between Corsica and Sardinia the sea calmed down to allow us a pleasant final dinner and restful night.
Day 12 - Civitavecchia. Disembarkation. Weather sunny but rather cool after Malaga's warmth.
Disembarkation: After breakfast I made my goodbyes to my steward and left my cabin at 08.30. We docked at 09.10 and after a short wait in a lounge, by 10.30 I had my bags and proceeded to retrieve my car. The cruise was over.
Conclusions: Even though the Fantasia is a very large cruise ship, she was easy to navigate through and had just about every amenity one could ask for. I had already had a cruise on her sister ship, the Splendida so she was well known to me since everything was the same besides the names of the localities. The cruise itinerary was also a repeat for me so it was just a nice, relaxing, easy cruise to enjoy.