Best of all, Sophia Loren -- the legendary actress who grew up in Naples -- served as Fantasia's godmother (her sixth stint as such).
Other featured artists who performed during the two and a half hour show (held in a purpose-built, tent-like structure on a night when temperatures were a chilly 50 degrees) included Renzo Arbore, a true Italian renaissance man, who sang haunting Neapolitan tunes, accompanied by his 15-piece orchestra. The Italian musician Pino Daniele -- whose musical style blends Italy's favourites with influences from Anglo-American rock, blues, jazz and soul -- also was featured. Aeros, a prestigious gymnastics troupe, performed in a manner that reminded one audience member of the Beijing Olympics' gymnastics competition.
The most moving moment of the evening occurred when Fantasia Captain Giuliano Bossi escorted Miss Loren across the stage, while singer Lucio Dalla performed "O Sole Mio," the evocative song that many think is Italy's national anthem. (It's not.) Members of the 2,500-strong crowd, an invitation-only throng, "were running to take pictures of her and the whole place, and you could feel the electricity of the affection that Italians -- especially Neapolitans -- have for Loren," an onlooker commented.
The selection of Sophia Loren as a godmother for MSC's latest new-build was traditional, but Fantasia itself is the most innovative design ever created for the cruise line. Fantasia is more than 40 percent larger than Musica-class ships in the MSC fleet. Entirely new features include:
MSC Fantasia is the first in MSC's fleet to create a "ship in a ship" facility. Called the Yacht Club (and similar in concept, if not in execution, to NCL's Courtyard Villa complex), it features 99 suites, all clustered forward. "Members" have special access to a private pool and a special spa entry, along with round-the-clock butler and concierge services and daily happy-hour events.
Because Fantasia is designed to operate year-round in the Mediterranean, it's the first ship in the fleet to offer a pool area under a sliding-glass roof. As well, its outdoor pool, called Aqua Park, is not only the largest onboard but also features an outdoor movie screen and colourfully illuminated water fountains. Another key sun deck feature is the adults-only Zen area.
Many new activities onboard Fantasia are firsts for MSC. Passengers can enjoy a 4-D cinema and a Formula One simulator (similar to of those found on Costa's Concordia and Serena). One highlight of our preview visit to MSC Fantasia was the opening lap in "Monte Carlo Grand Prix," performed by Jarno Trulli -- a professional Formula One driver; in real life, he drives for Toyota's team.
In addition to the ship's two main restaurants (the two-deck Red Velvet and Il Cerchio d'Oro) and a pair of buffet venues -- Zanzibar and L'Africana -- Fantasia features two specialty restaurants. El Sombrero is an uber-casual Tex-Mex-themed restaurant, complete with such decor touches as fake cacti and a half-cut Cadillac. L'Etoile, on Deck 15, serves fine French cuisine in an elegant red and white atmosphere; its menu is, unusually, priced on an a' la carte basis. For smaller appetites, La Cantina Toscana serves antipasto, and kebabs are served at the Sports Bar, which -- true to the cruise line's Italian roots -- focuses on football (which Americans would know as soccer) and motorcycling.
Fantasia will spend the winter cruising the Southern Mediterranean and Canary Islands from homeports in Genoa and Barcelona.
--by Teijo Niemela, Cruise Critic contributor and publisher and editor of Cruise Business Review, an industry business-to-business magazine.
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