Mediterranean Cruise Vacation ex Barcelona on MSC Fantasia.
We have previously sailed with Celebrity, RCL, and Norwegian in The Caribbean, Alaska and on the Pacific coast, and this was our first European cruise and first with MSC. We are a married couple from Chicago who traveled with two single friends and we had adjoining cabins. We chose the Yacht Club package due to the all-inclusive feel, the price and the itinerary. This was a port-intensive trip with just two mornings at sea. One thing new to us was the idea of people embarking and disembarking at different ports throughout the cruise: on almost every cruise I can think we’ve been, we’ve had a complete passenger turnover on Day 1 of the cruise: not on MSC.
Embarkation/ Boarding: Very smooth operation. Yacht Club personnel came to meet us (they must have seen the luggage tags) We were offered canapes and beverages while waiting for check-in. We were escorted in on the same line as everyone else, bypassing them as the butler led us on. No later than 20 minutes after boarding, we had our key cards and were given a tour of the Yacht Club enclave by our butler Germain who also thoroughly explained the workings of items in the cabin. The safety drill was an entire joke; no one was paying attention, least of all the Italians on board.
The Cabin: 15001 is a large square room with an oversize balcony. The cabin was always perfectly maintained for the duration of the cruise, The TV screen was way too small for a cabin this size and was so far away from the bed that you could hardly enjoy anything on screen. We first always had to call for ice but after three evenings they got it and the ice bucket was always full when we got back. Europeans don’t use ice nearly as much as Americans; even our drinks had just a couple cubes compared to at home. Our friends next door had a regular size cabin; 15001 is really a nice cabin with extra space if that’s important to you. We had a large walk-in closet which had a lighting system operated by foot movement, so if you were in there not moving around you’d be left in the dark until you moved again! A bit disconcerting I suppose! We found it funny…. The bedding and bed linens/pillows were all amazingly comfortable and of a very high quality. A wide selection of toiletries was provided in the bathroom which had a bathtub/shower combination
The Dining: Meals at L’Etoile were good but not stand-out exceptional. We had dinner there every evening, a few lunches, and just one breakfast which was slow but good. Service was attentive but not overbearing. We appreciated having this option as the regular ship buffet was always crowded and loud with people not keeping in lines. We ate there just once to try the pizza which was excellent. As a Yacht Club member you get to enjoy complimentary gelato throughout the ship, health bar shakes at tbe spa and chocolate cocktails at the Venchi bar on 6. On “Elegant” night (MSC doesn’t have “Formal”), we saw only two tuxedoes in Yacht Club, and most people dressed in smart “business casual” attire. Many men wore blazers and khakis, few even wore ties. I have no experience of what it was like in the main dining room but no one seemed to bother much about keeping to any kind of dress code. One nice thing about the Yacht Club was the personalized attention we received at all times on The One Pool deck and at the Top Sail Lounge, including Afternoon Tea service.
The Entertainment: the Italian Operatic evening was enjoyable as was the French evening, but the others were just bad-mix combos of ballroom dancing, skipping-rope and street-dancing routines and I have seen better High School productions in theater. Elsewhere on the ship we had a pianist every evening at the Yacht Club Top Sail Lounge., and there were various bands and musical entertainments elsewhere that we heard about but didn’t experience. One thing I noticed on MSC is that there are many more smoking sections in some of their indoor spaces than seem to be the case of the American cruises we’ve been on. The casino, the indoor lounges all allowed smoking (sections of the lounges were non-smoking but the smell of Febreze next morning—it is used liberally to get rid of cigarette smoke stink--was quite nauseating). Personally, I would prefer a non-smoking cruise option and will look for that on our next cruise vacation.
The Spa: Yacht Club guests have access to the sauna and steam room areas at all times; there is a special elevator that takes Yacht Club guests directly into the area. Otherwise you have to enter the spa through the main doors on floor 14 which is like being attacked by mosquitoes, so aggressive are the spa staff at selling options and offers. A word to the wise: I tipped my service provider at the spa generously but realized after seeing my receipt that a 20% service charge is automatically added, so you do not need to tip unless you think your therapist deserves more than that. My therapist was exceptionally good at her job, professional and obviously well-trained.
The ship in general: Very clean and well appointed.
Shore excursions: Poor offerings from MSC so we did our own thing. Ajaccio: we walked off the ship and explored this French town on our own. Visited Napoleon’s birthplace and an art gallery and artisanal craft store. Typical French south-coast town. Nothing much to note except the main street closest to the harbor is exceptionally touristy and you have to go up the hill to the next level or two to get the real French town feeling.
Rome: picked up a rental car in port of Civitavecchia (near train station: took shuttle from ship to port entrance and port entrance to station about 4 Euro round trip) and drove to Odaleschi Castle on the shores of Lake Bracciano. Lovely day, The castle is home to an Italian Princess Orsini, and is famous for its celebrity weddings, such as Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. I can see why… views are stunning. On the drive back we stopped at an Etruscan Necropolis and overall had a great day and were back on ship in time for a very late lunch at L’Etoile.
La Spezia: took the public ferry from the port to Monterosso. We’ve been to the Cinque Terre before, and have actually hiked the trail, from Vernazza to Manarola but this time around were happy to see it from the water and to see Monterosso which is a lovely village. Took the train back and walked to the ship. We stopped at the hotel we had stayed at two years’ ago and the receptionist recognized us! It was amazing! Another exceptional and memorable day. So enjoyable!
Geooa: took a walking tour of the old town with a local guide organized on get your guide dot com. This was a great tour and included entrance to the Palazzo Rosso which is memorable for its rooftop views in addition to its art collection. Also we were back on the ship in time for lunch and then had the afternoon which some of us explored on our own and others used the ship as a vacation destination!
Cannes. Tendered here. Took a tour to Monaco and Eze with Viator dot com. Also highly recommend this company. Bring your passport: you can get a free souvenir passport stamp in the Monaco Tourist Office in Monte Carlo (opposite the Casino but uphill at other end of the garden). It’s a nice and colorful souvenir. Unlike most things in Monaco, it’s free. Saw the Changing of the Guard at the Grimaldi Palace, visited the small nearby Cathedral where Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier, and visited their crypt. Vita Brevis. Enjoyed delicious ice-cream. The views of Antibes and Cap Ferrat from Eze are truly memorable. Eze is a lovely hillside village and is home to both the Fragonard perfumery and the Chevre D’Or. Walt Disney once visited here and it is obvious it inspired some of his work. We were lucky to get there early before the hordes of tour busses, and climbed to the sculpture garden at the summit for some of the best photos of our trip.
Palma de Mallorca: MSC charging 14 Euro for a round trip bus transfer for what I consider a nice walk. Save money if the weather is not too hot and do it yourself. It’s less than a mile each way. We ended up taking the bus due to a travel companion’s foot problem and explored the Cathedral and Old Palma downtown. The ship was late in port this evening but we were back in time for dinner and wanted to enjoy our final evening on board.
Excursions: we really saved a lot by going independently and lots of these ports are worth exploration; we had heard poor reports about value of ship excursions but no complaints at all about get your guide dot com or viator dot com, botb of which offered exceptional value and well-organized tours.
MSC overall: Yes we really enjoyed this cruise but if we were not in Yacht Club we felt the ship had a crowded feel and a loud ambience. Once we entered the Yacht Club enclave everything became very quiet and peaceful and we loved spending time either on our balcony, in the Top Sail Lounge, or on the One Pool Deck. Nice touches included live piano music every evening, the free mini-bar in the suite and the daily newspaper that arrived with the morning coffee. I would choose MSC again but only in the Yacht Club. The wait staff and bartenders remembered our drinks, the concierge was exceptionally helpful and we were well looked-after.
Packages: I pre-paid and saved 40% on the basic or standard internet package which lasted for the duration of the cruise. I also pre-paid for one of two massages that I had. We did not bother with photograph packages as we take enough on our phones!
Our travel agent provided us a $250 shipboard credit per cabin which we applied towards things like laundry and spa services.
Overall this was an excellent vacation and very relaxing.
Disembark: we were first off the ship and our luggage was waiting, as was our driver; we had arranged a private full day tour of Barcelona and Montserrat and our luggage was stored securely on vehicle while we did this tour. It was an excellent introduction to our next four days in Barcelona before returning home.
Photos: where to begin; they are all on my Google drive and it will take all winter to go through them! otherwise I'd upload a few here but cannot seem to be able to link to Google photos?
A large square cabin with an oversize balcony; very nice and just a step away from the Top Sail lounge. Even so it was exceptionally quiet and loved spending time on the balcony.
We took a rental car and drove to Odaleschi Castle on Lake Bracciano
Took public ferry to Monterosso and train back to port. A cost-effective and lovely day out.