We recently cruised on the MSC Fantasia and honestly enjoyed it... after 6 cruise lines and 13 cruises on various ships and with various crews around the world (we like trying new things), we believed that a more objective write up was necessary because we read a lot of negative review on the WEB. To cut to the chase here is a quick comparison synopsis of our 13 cruises over a 15 yr period:
information and accuracy on MSC web: below average
life on board: below average
ship appearance: above average
ship cleanliness: above average
timeliness (leaving/arriving ports): above average
food quality: average
food variety: below average
crew helpfulness on generic questions/issues: average
show quality: above average
show variety: above average
usefulness/content of daily "information flyer": well below average
entertainment on board: below average
port of call support: well below average
value for money: well above average
I must go into more details for you to fully understand the rating and our overall comment... we have lived for a few years in Europe at some point and therefore we were not surprised by the multi-lingual approach to things on board (announcements, shows, activities...etc) We were also familiar with the European food and meals. We still thought that there were too many fish items, and that the rare meat dishes were without tastes (bland). Portions were OK except for antipasto where they were too big. For an Italian ship, we were amazed to have the worst pizza ever... good thing we had some good one in Italy to reassure us that the art wasn't fully lost.
Communication with our dinner staff (Honduras) was limited but with the cabin staff was great (Madagascar). I had better experience (getting answers to questions/solving small problems) dealing with the guess services on the phone than face to face and cannot fully understand why.
The ship has a few annoying features where it appears that the designers got the upper end on the engineers/human factors specialists: inlaid lights and trips in carpet cause tripping, mirrors and frame on elevator prevent noticing that they are available (you have to experience it). Also the elevator programming is mind boggling as you see elevator pass your deck in both direction without stopping more than once!
Although by 'luck', we had the best cabin ever (suite with bath and walk in closet) and the cheapest cruise ever (prices too low to be advertised to such a large readership). It was a full ship and the complementary upgrade was unexpected but most appreciated. I must say, that MSC has reduced the amount of Yacht Club Suites and turned some in cat 13 suite without the Yacht Club perks and the price that comes with it. this fact is still not well known and although this took place last October 2011, their web site is still not explaining the change and even filling this review, the Cruise Critic site was not updated and I couldn't select my cat 13 cabin from the roll down menu. We also receive a complimentary access to the SPA with massages and some services after making a request, a nice gesture from the responsible director but others who asked were turned down. The mystery remains... was it miscommunication or were we the "chosen" ones? In any case our party of four enjoyed the services at no charge. We also received a complimentary book of coupons for mineral water bottles during dinner/lunch which was appreciated because water is not provided free like on other cruise lines.
To us, the biggest disappointments were the lack of information and support for the port visits (none of the usual maps, briefs were offered nor available) We had to rely on information kiosks on shore. The programs and the entertainments on boards did not vary much and you were only informed about the ones in the language of your daily brochure. Some travel agencies and groups organized their own events by booking areas and posting information across the ship in their respective languages. Although the shows were good, the purists would easily pick on the fact that there is a lot of "lip synching" during the show and that the sound track is overly employed to replace orchestra and singers, something we haven't seen on other ships.
Minor annoyances: one cannot get a desert tea/coffee in the main dinning room! you have to go to a bar. You cannot buy a drink in the theatre before/during the shows... this is almost a positive because it prevents the annoying circulation of drinks and cards back and forth we are used to (the theatre chairs do not have the small folding tables to put glasses on anyways). The theatre seats are also slightly uncomfortable because of a slight downward angle that makes you slip forward... again, the designer won over human factor. The smoking area control was adequate on the top deck and inside the selected area of the ship but often the non-smoking side of the ship was not readily accessible (cleaning mainly) and we had to transit through the smoking area to get where we wanted to be.
Given the price, the ship appearance, the quality theatre entertainment and the nice ports of call, I would recommend MSC Fantasia. But the price would definitely play a role in justifying it... we got a lot more that we paid for and expecting the worst we were pleasantly surprised. This is not the cruise to take if you are after fine cuisine, education, constant entertainment or a party-cruise.