Subscribe today
Get Cruise Critic in your inbox
Luxury Deals Luxury Ship Reviews Luxury Itineraries Luxury Features Luxury Cruise Forum
Virtual Cruises
Home > Virtual Cruises > MSC Fantasia in the Mediterranean
MSC Fantasia in the Mediterranean
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 4: Wednesday, Madeira and a Bit of Italy on Fantasia
Madeira and a Bit of Italy on FantasiaIt's been said that viewing Madeira is most splendid in the dark -- and it's true. As we approached the Portuguese colony in the blackness of pre-dawn, lights glittered like the Swarovski crystals embedded in the staircases in MSC Fantasia's atrium. In the dark, the island -- built vertically, rising up on the surrounding mountains -- suddenly looms out of nowhere; it's almost like an illusion.

After spending two full days on the vast, flat Mediterranean, this new reality was welcomed.

Funchal, the isle's main city, is fairly pretty at daybreak, too, with its lush, green landscapes and pastel-colored houses with red roofs. But, if ancient and intricate lace (Madeira's is well-regarded), gorgeous gardens and Madeira's fortified wine are relics of the island's storied past, the building boom that's plainly obvious on a tour around the city and its suburban outskirts may be Funchal's less picturesque, yet more contemporary, legacy.

Our ship, along with Saga Holidays' Saga Rose and Fred. Olsen's Black Prince, was docked at the cruise ship pier that runs parallel to Funchal's harborfront. The walk to town is very pleasant and takes 15 minutes. (Taxis, which charge flat rates of 7.50 euros between the city center and port, are also readily available.)

But, before you go too far, note the presence of a bus stop, just outside the port's gates, where you can catch a ride on a "hop-on, hop-off" double-decker tour bus; for 10 euros, you can ride around and, as the name implies, "hop off" at points of interest. Convenience aside, it's also a terrific way to get your bearings. The major sights to see in and around the city are all stops. You are given a map (so you can follow along) and ear buds to insert into a console at your seat. These "tour guides" speak in an impressive array of languages, including Finnish and Russian, along with the more common Spanish, French, German and English.

I rode around Funchal, eyeing main sites that ranged from the Mercado market to the funicular station (for the ride up to El Monte), and from the scenic Pico dos Barcelos (a panoramic vantage point so high up that, frankly, I felt like I was sitting on the wings of an airplane) to numerous sprawling gardens and parks.

Because the city of Funchal itself is marvelous, I abandoned my list of "must sees" (taking a cable car to the peak of the Monte and tobagganing down, and having tea at the elegant Reid's Palace Hotel) and spent the rest of the day wandering aimlessly through its narrow, cobbled alleyways. These led to cafes, redolent with the smell of garlic; Portuguese boutiques; a handful of bookshops; and the fabulous Mercado, at which I stopped to admire the home-grown (and home-fished) foodstuffs. The flower market there is bountiful, as you'd expect from an island with a temperate clime. And, despite more unique blooms, it's always the geraniums that catch my eye for some reason. Perhaps it's the comfort of the familiar.

One day is way too short for Madeira. Check out more about the lovely island in our Madeira port profile.

MSC Fantasia Atrium Staircase While MSC Fantasia was being constructed at STX Europe's shipyard in France, the MSC Cruises publicity juggernaut made much fuss about the aforementioned atrium staircases with their crystal decor. I thought then that the idea of embedding sparkly, clear crystals into a clear, glass-like staircase was a bit silly. In reality? It's absolutely glamorous, transforming the banal act of walking up or down the stairs into a Cinderella-like experience.

The pair of staircases arch and curve, from Deck 5 to Deck 6 to Deck 7. I find myself going out of my way to walk the stairs. Last night, a formal evening, a photographer was even stationed at the base of the staircase to take photos.

One of the funnier moments during our day in Funchal was seeing my husband become completely tongue-tied over the language in town. Locals there speak Portuguese, of course; but, after cruising from Italy (on a ship on which Italian is the native language), visiting Spain, and then stopping in a colony of Portugal, Teijo's efforts to say "thank you" to a pleasant shop girl took numerous turns, starting with "grazie," then "gracias," then "danke schoen" -- we've spent some time with some fun German passengers we met onboard -- until finally managing to spit out the Portuguese "obrigada."

On a cruise ship, I've never quite experienced a restaurant like La Cantina Toscana, which is, come to think of it, a wine bar before anything else. Open at lunchtime and then again in the evenings (it's the ship's designated wee-hours eatery), the cantina has a terrific Italian wine list (plenty of reasonably priced bottles and a creative, by-the-glass selection). And, if you're in the mood for a change from more formal "cruise food" in the dining rooms, the menu is terrific, too, with choices that range from foie gras to a plate of Italian cold cuts and a range of tapas.

MSC Fantasia Restaurant Toscana The ambience could stand an improvement, though.

The same soundtrack of banal American pop tunes that you'll hear all over the ship plays incessantly here. One night, while I was sitting at the bar and sipping a delicious glass of Brunello (and wincing over the accompanying music), a Spanish guitarist, on a break from his gig in the atrium, stopped in for a glass of water and began strumming. The tune, a melodic instrumental that reminded me of other Mediterranean-influenced songs, was so perfect for the room! If only his break had lasted longer...

After Madeira, we spend the next two days in the Canary Islands; the mountainous, lush Tenerife; and the bizarrely moon-like Lanzarote.
Day 3: Multinational Sea Day; Aurea Spa Experience red arrow Day 5: Tenerife, Canary Islands

Luxury Cruise Lines
Cruise Lines: Abercrombie & Kent American Safari Aqua Expeditions Azamara Bora Bora Cruises Compagnie du Ponant Cruise Asia Ltd. Crystal Cunard French Country Waterways Go Barging Hapag-Lloyd Hebridean Heritage Line Lindblad Expeditions Oberoi Group Oceania Orion Expedition Cruises Paul Gauguin Cruises Regent Seven Seas Sea Cloud Cruises Seabourn SeaDream Silversea Star Clippers Travel Dynamics Uniworld Windstar

About UsAdvertisingPressPrivacySite MapStoreSubscribe
UK Cruises | Cruises

Thank You For Signing Up!

Please Note: To ensure delivery of your free e-letters, please add to your address book.

We're committed to protecting your privacy and will not rent or sell your e-mail address. By proceeding, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.