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MSC Fantasia in the Mediterranean
About the Virtual Cruise
MSC Fantasia in the Mediterranean MSC Cruises is known in North America for its hybrid Italian-American-style cruises to the Caribbean, but the cruise line is actually better known for its Eurocentric ships and trips. One of the few privately owned cruise lines in the world, the Italy-based line, whose chief rival is Carnival Corp.'s Costa Cruises, offers a breadth and depth of voyages throughout Europe -- all year long.

Join Cruise Critic Editor in Chief Carolyn Spencer Brown as she embarks on MSC Fantasia, MSC's newest and biggest ship ever, for a winter trip from Genoa to Malaga, including stops in the Canary Islands and Madeira. Along the way, this MSC virgin discovers the bliss of visiting the Southern Mediterranean in the off-season and experiences her first "real" Europe cruise. She'll explain the latter later.

Day 1: Introducing … Genoa!
Day 2: Navigating a New Ship; Winter in Barcelona
Day 3: Multinational Sea Day; Aurea Spa Experience
Day 4: Madeira and a Bit of Italy on Fantasia
Day 5: Tenerife, Canary Islands
Day 6: Lanzarote, Canary Islands
Day 7: MSC Yacht Club, Family Cruising
Day 8: The Cruise Is Over, Reflections
Related Links
MSC Fantasia ship review
MSC Fantasia Member reviews
Western Mediterranean Cruises
Western Mediterranean Messages
MSC Cruises Messages
Day 1: Friday, Introducing … Genoa!
Introducing … Genoa!What appeals most about a cruise in the Mediterranean in January isn't so much the tropical weather. Early weather reports predict that temperatures in ports on our itinerary, including Barcelona, Lanzarote, Tenerife, Madeira, Rome and Malaga, won't get much higher than 16 to 20 degrees Celsius (about 60 - 70 degrees Fahrenheit) -- if we're lucky. Sunshine, too, may be hard to come by; cloudy days seem to dominate the predictions.

What's most intriguing about this cruise on MSC Cruises' new MSC Fantasia is that it represents a change of pace and a change of place. Already winter weary, I'll go anywhere that's heading south at this point. And yet, this cruise is as much about the ship as it is the trip. Some of the ports are familiar. MSC Cruises, on the other hand, is new to me. The largest cruise line owned by a European company, it's quite well-known to travelers from Italy, Spain, Germany, France and beyond, but it's not so well-entrenched with English-speaking passengers. (It was interesting that the first people I met onboard were from Sydney.)

The idea of cruising through Europe on a ship that genuinely represents Europeans is intriguing.

This cruise, taking place in what's considered "low season," is nearly full, and since we're talking about 3,300 passengers -- in a troubled economic climate -- that's saying something.

Genoa, Italy Genoa surprised me. The northern Italian city is an important homeport for MSC Cruises (as it also is for Costa Cruises, a rival Italian cruise line that calls the nearby town of Savona home for some of its ships), but it's not necessarily a major Italian tourist destination.

And yet, it's full of charm. Even on a quick overnight here -- too little time to really sample Genoa's pleasures -- the town was captivating. It's got the recently redesigned harborfront, Porto Antico, where you can find everything from video arcades to Bigo, a panoramic lift that offers citywide views. There's a maritime museum, the Genoa Aquarium and whale-watching expedition boats, headed out on daytrips.

During winter, there's an ice-skating arena, packed with skaters of all ages; in summer, an outdoor theater hosts performances of varied styles. This vibrant "square on the Mediterranean," as the city bills it, is a bit of magic and is particularly suited to families.

A couple of travel notes: Genoa's not the easiest city to reach from North America; at least it's not a non-stop flight from anywhere. Lufthansa, British Airways, Air France and Alitalia all offer options that connect through Munich, London, Paris and Rome, respectively. Conversely, you can take a non-stop to Milan, as we did, and spend a few nights there exploring that marvelous Northern Italian city. Genoa's about a two-hour train ride.

Finding a hotel for our pre-cruise stay in Genoa was a challenge, as we had no feel for it. After spending way too much time on TripAdvisor trying to decide where to stay, we narrowed our hotel choices down to two places. The three-star NH Marina is, as the name suggests, right on the harborfront, in the middle of the Porto Antico action. The Bentley, a relatively new hotel in a refurbished 1930's building, is one of Genoa's few five-star digs and is located in a more genteel part of the city. Both charged about the same rate (Marina's pull is its water-based location). Traveling without kids, we went with the Bentley, and it was marvelous -- hip ambience, lovely (but small) pool and fitness complex, terrific bar scene and a relatively easy walk to the main tourist points.

Families, though, would be better off at the Marina hotel because it's more kid-friendly.

MSC Fantasia's Aurea Spa MSC Fantasia is so new that its christening ceremony (starring Sophia Loren, a serial godmother for MSC Cruises) took place just a few weeks prior to our sailing. That's good news if you like really new ships -- the new ship smell is still quite intoxicating on Fantasia! First impressions? So far, I'm loving this cruise! Sure, it's a mass-market ship, and it's crowded. Just when you think that no one else can cram into an elevator, a family of three shows up ... and pushes on. Chaos occasionally rules.

The ship is beautiful. Cruise lines throw that "beauty" thing around a bit too liberally, but Fantasia is special. The atrium area is lofty and towers five decks. I love the colors in the public rooms and cabins -- vibrant, but not gaudy.

The Aurea spa is huge! It's got a gym, a room dedicated to yoga, a spa bar, a whole range of treatment rooms, areas for relaxation, and steam and sauna rooms. The adults-only Gaudi whirlpool complex, located aft and decorated in a colorful, nutty scheme that evokes the famed Spanish artist, is totally tempting (or will be tempting in the balmier weather I hope we experience very soon).

And, though the chilly, cloudy day in Genoa meant that most of us weren't hanging out outside, Fantasia offers one of the industry's highest ratios of staterooms with private balconies (they'll come in handy once we get past Barcelona, our first call). Cabins are sleek and contemporary with an earth-tone color scheme that's brightened with lots of yellows.

The buffet food was satisfying; there were plenty of open tables and not too many queues. Kids were splashing in the indoor pool. Even now, in what most definitely is not a school-holiday time anywhere, there are lots of them. The bars, from Il Transatlantico (a pub-like place) to the jazz-focused Manhattan, all featured live music.

Dinner in Il Cerchio d'Oro, one of two main dining venues, was outstanding. Each night, the menu is focused on a particular region of Italy; this evening's was Emilia Romagna. The lasagna was basically the best ever; the soup, featuring tortellini in broth, was delicious, and the prosciutto with melon starter was as good as anything I've had in restaurants onshore.

After setting off from Genoa at 5:30 p.m., we're heading to Barcelona for an afternoon visit, spending the morning at sea.
  Day 2: Navigating a New Ship; Winter in Barcelona

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