Saturday, November 15, 2014

MSC Fantisia Cruise Review

  MSC Fantisia

Cruise Review 11/2/2014

Just the Facts:
Ship: MSC Fantasia
Captain:  Mattia Manzi
Cruise Director: Maddy Buccino
Ports: Venice, Italy - Bari, Italy - Dubrovnik, Croatia - Pireus, Greece - Heraklion, Crete - Marmaris, Turkey - Valletta, Malta - Messina, Italy - Civitavecchia, Italy - Genoa, Italy

This is my 3rd MSC cruise and 97th cruise overall.  I am cruising with my dear wife (DW) and two other couples who are regular cruise friends (Friends).  Although all seasoned cruisers this will be a very different set of cruise experiences sailing from Europe on an Italian cruise line. DW and I will have some experience having sailed last week on the Preziosa and the Fantasia is very similar being the same class of ship.

Sunday November 2  / Venice  /  Embarkation / Day 1
Meeting the FRIENDS in Venice
We met our friends the previous day and we are all staying in adjoining hotels, popular with cruisers, very near Piazzale Roma in Venice.  About 10:00 am we were off for the cruise terminal.  Thankfully we only have one canal bridge to cross to get to Piazzale Roma then cross the square to the People Mover train that takes you from Piazzale Roma to the Marritima port (€1.3).  You can then walk to your ships terminal or there may be a shuttle bus to the ships docked further away from the station.  We chose to walk.  It is level ground but a bit of an adventure pushing/pulling luggage, it was less than 15 minute walk to get to the Fantasia terminal.  Although we were early, there was already a short line to check luggage. Once we checked our luggage we proceeded upstairs into the terminal, received a boarding ticket (#10), then stood in line to check-in.  Once we received our boarding documents we still had to wait until our boarding number was called. Ship staff were selling excursions, wine packages, and drink packages while you waited or stood in line. We all bought the Allegrissimo beverage package.  After only a 15 minute wait primarily because security was at level 1, the highest level, we went though the X-ray machines and we were on our way onto the ship. The overall embark process was much smoother than the previous week when we boarded the Prezioza.   It was now about 11:30 am and we had to drop our passports at guest services so we did that strait away before it got busy. Now it was time to test the Allegrissimo package with our own Welcome Aboard cocktail party in the beautiful Lobby Bar…great to have friends on board.  After our happy hour we went up to our cabin to drop our bags then on to the L’Africana Buffet for lunch.  We were easily able to get a six top table in the aft area and all were off to discover all the various food stations in the Zanzibar and L’Africana Buffets.  After lunch we all took a little tour of the ship then returned to our cabins to settle.  We have a cabin basically identical to our cruise the week prior: an aft facing balcony cabin on deck twelve. Friends have the cabin next door so we have adjoining balconies.  DW & I took a short nap until the announcements for Safety Drill.  Very soon we were casting off in a slight fog and beginning our sail away around the Grand Canal of Venice.  We watched from our balcony as we passed the beautiful churches and palaces then past the iconic St. Marks Square.  Luggage now began to arrive so we needed to quickly unpack as we have early seating for dinner.   Dinner was at 6:00 in the Red Velvet Restaurant located midship deck six.  We had a unique table half banquette and chairs in a corner that at first seemed good, but soon realized that it was too difficult to maneuver and stuffy so decided we would attempt to change.  We all had wine (Allegrissimo) and for dinner tonight I ordered the Mussels, Neapolitan Soup, Spaghetti Carbonara, and the Turkey entree.  My dinner was better than last weeks first dinner, but DW’s vegetarian entree was cold.  After dinner we retired to the cabin and Friends had some casino time and explored the new bars.

Monday November 3 / Bari, Italy / Day 2
Sassi in Matera
Very smooth seas overnight. Fantastic sunny weather all day.  Our port call is in the afternoon so a casual morning. I slept very well and was up early.  I met friends in the Il Cappucino Coffee bar (hot chocolate for me) and we went to breakfast in the Il Cherchio D’ora Restaurant.  I had Eggs Benedict with a side of bacon and vegetables and all enjoyed breakfast.  Following breakfast we searched out the Matre’D in the Red Velvet where he changed our evening dining table assignment to the Il Cerchio D’ora Restaurant late seating.  DW ordered a room service continental breakfast about 8:30 am as is her usual cruise routine.  I prepared a laundry order and took advantage of a '20 for 25€' laundry special.  Seems like a perfect deal for those of us that have been traveling for a few weeks.  We saw a large pod of whales and several dolphins following in the wake of the ship as we sail south in the Adriatic Sea to Bari this morning.  We all booked The Sassi in Matera excursion.  This is a UNESCO cultural heritage site known for very ancient cave dwellings that becomes residences over the thousands of years.  We met our group at 12:15 pm in the Manhattan Bar and were soon off on our bus for about an hour drive to Matera, Italy.  Our guide met us at the bus and escorted us to the cave dwellings and rock houses.  It is really difficult to describe as it seems you have stepped back into ancient time, that is why so many Biblical period movies are filmed here.  People lived here from Neolithic times until 1952.  The last centuries it was basically a ghetto as there was no power, no water, no sewer and finally the Italian Government moved the people to the new town of Matera.  We visited a very old Church carved into the rock and a Sassi museum of an old cave home.  A very unique experience.  We returned to the ship about 5:00 and we have a 6:00 pm sail away.  Security was very thorough (level 1) but it was a short line to board.  We actually stopped for cocktails in the Le Vele Bar on deck six on our way to the cabins. After brief cabin time we attended the production show: Tribute featuring opera star Enrico Scotto at 7:15 pm in the beautiful L’Avanguardia Theater.  The opera singers and the dancers were absolutely amazing, a wonderful and enjoyable show even if you have never attended an opera.  We all met at our new dining room and table in lI Cherchio D’ora Restaurant at 8:30 and it is a much better table location and actually much better waiters.  Both wine service and Dinner was very good and all were pleased.  I ordered the Spanakopita, Soup, Rissoto, and the Chicken Cordon-blu entree.  After dinner the group visited the casino, bars, or retired.  A wonderful full day.

Tuesday November 4 / Dubrovnik Croatia / Day 3

From the Old City Walls in Dubrovnik
Smooth seas overnight and the forecast is for clouds and mixed rain and it started cloudy, but became sunny and warm in the afternoon.  We were lucky.  We arrived in port a little before our 9:00 am scheduled arrival.  Some met for the express breakfast in the MDR (Cherchio D’ora Restaurant) and we were all soon off the ship and in two taxi’s (€10) on our way to the old City of Dubrovnik.  We entered the old walled city at the Pilo Gate and the first thing we did was take the City Walls Walk ($100 Kuna) as that was the most common starting location.  The initial steps up is long and steep, but once on top it is easier.  The views of course are amazing.  Since I was just there a few days earlier I had a good reference of the major buildings below.  The walk completely around took almost two hours at our pace and of course stopping for photographs.  Once below we walked to Luza Square where we took a break and enjoyed a beer.  We set a two hour meet time and all where off to explore the city or look at the shops.  The 14th-15th century architecture is amazing, but what I’m most impressed with are the city streets. The main thoroughfares and plazas are made of old white marble. The wear over the years has made the marble smooth and looks so clean especially compared to pavement.  We met up about 2:00 for a beer and then made our way to Pile Square where we took taxi’s (€10) back to the MSC dock and again luckily had no line to board the ship.  This is Gala Night and we met for cocktails in the Il Transatlantico Piano Bar, their martini bar.  I had Cosmopolitans as usual, but they have a nice variety to sample.  At 7:00 pm we went to the L’Avanguardia Theater where the Fantasia Captain and Staff were introduced.  The production show was Parfum D’Orient and of course my favorite dance was the Cancan, a very entertaining and fun show.  We stopped on our way to dinner in the Sports Bar simply because it was slightly off the beaten track and fairly empty where we got immediate cocktail service.  The Gala Night Menu was very good.  I ordered all three appetizers and an entree with a nice Panna Cota for dessert.  It was a late night for some and a rest night for others.  Another great day on the Fantasia.

Wednesday November 5 / Day at Sea / Day 4

Itinerary Map of Cruise
Rocky seas overnight, but I slept very well. It is a cloudy mixed weather day, great for rest or sleeping...perfect for a sea day.  We turned our clocks forward to Eastern European Time during the night so we are now on Athens time. Most are sleeping in this morning and I had a light breakfast in the buffet. We have begun sailing off the coast of Greece and the Greek Islands this morning.  The route map on the TV and the binoculars and balcony make this fun for a geography major.  I went to the MDR  with some of the Friends for a very nice luncheon.  We shared a table with four very nice German world travelers so it was fun.  I ordered the breaded fish appetizer (very nice), Gazpacho, Gnocchi, and a Chicken Parmesan.  A very good lunch. DW had pizza for lunch then we went down to Piazza San Giorgio on deck 6 for ice creme and shopping.  The rest of the afternoon was spent just watch us sail through the Greek Islands and catching up on my blog notes.  We had cocktails before the production show Sogno Italiano in the L’avanguardia Theater.  The show was excellent with the biggest hits of Italian music.  My second favorite show after the Opera.  We all had a nice dinner in the lI Cherchio D’ora Restaurant.  An easy restful sea day on the Fantasia.

Thursday November 6 / Pireus for Athens, Greece / Day 5

Smoother seas overnight and a beautiful day all day.  We were docked early, but they didn’t allow people off until a bit after 8:00 am.  We were among the first off about 8:20 am.  We arranged a private tour for just our group with a guide, Dimitri, at the dock (€300+) in a Mercedes van for 5+ hours.  He drove us into Athens and first stop was the ruins of the Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch (Roman), our guide’s thinking was that here we could also purchase our Pantheon tickets avoiding long lines later.  Because of a student demonstration scheduled in the afternoon we did the sites opposite normal order.  Next stop was the Olympic Stadium built of white marble for the first modern olympics in 1896.  Then it was to the Presidential Palace (former Royal Palace) where we had photos taken with the Greek Guards.  Next stop was just in time for the Changing of the Guard ceremony in front of the National Parliament House and Monument to the Unknown Soldier.  This is one of the more famous guard ceremonies in the world due to the colorful uniforms and unique steps of the Greek Guard. We then drove by the National Library, The University Library, and stopped at the beautiful Academy of Athens all located next to each other in central Athens.  We then drove to the top of Mount Lycabettus for a wonderful view and photo opportunity of the city of Athens and the Acropolis below us. This was a bonus of using a private driver as buses are not allowed.  Driving down the mountain we passed by the American Embassy and Greek Opera House before taking a rest room/shopping break at a nice shoppe before heading to the busy Acropolis.  We arrived and parked as close as was allowed then began our walk up the Acropolis.  Of course the Parthenon is the highlight, but we also saw the Temple of Athena Nike, Erechtheum, and Propylaea. We walked all around taking in the views of the city and archeological sites below such as the Odeon of Herodes Atticus and Theater of Dionysus.  After our visit we walked back down to met Dimitri who then took us to his neighborhood taverna for lunch.  He guaranteed that if there were any tourists there he would buy lunch.  There were not, it was a genuine Greek taverna were we had a huge Greek luncheon.  We pretty much had it served family style or shared what we ordered.  We ordered or were served: Pita Bread, Greek Salad, Stuffed Green Peppers, Large Stuffed Tomato, Tomato Vegetarian Croquette, Okra with Tomatoes & Onion, Fried Cheese, Pork Gyros, and a mixed platter of barbecue meats including pork, beef, and lamb. They served dessert including a small panna cotta and Raki liquor.  We ordered too much and it was a banquet, but very very good.  After this great meal it was the drive back to Pireus.  I must comment on our guide Dimitrios Routsos.  He was a character himself, his signature phrase was “Do you understand?” that he used emphatically quite often and you must answer.  He drove where he wished that many times meant down the middle of the road taking two lanes, he parked where he wished including sidewalks, and basically did as he pleased on the road. Everyone must have known him as many many drivers would honk at him and make gestures…LOL.  He seems to have been chauffeur or driver to many important guests to Greece including: several Kennedy’s including Jacki, Hillary Clinton, and the Geo.W Bush’s daughters.  He showed us photos with many celebrities and has appeared in movies (The Greek Tycoon) as a driver.  Quite a character.  We settled up with Dimitri and boarded the Fantasia before our 4:00 on board time.  It was R&R for us in the cabin.  We met the group in the Manhattan Bar for cocktails, but we were too spent for the show or dinner in the MDR.  We did take a late dinner in the Zanzabar Buffet before settling into the cabin for much needed rest. 

Friday November 7  /  Heraklion, Crete  /  Day 6

Minoan Palace at Knossos
Calm seas overnight and another beautiful day all day.  We arrived before 7:30 am, but our tour didn’t meet until 9:15 so we had time for room service or a light breakfast this morning.  Our excursion today is an MSC ship excursion: Knossos & Shopping.  It’s only a short drive to Knossos and our guide was very good. The first Minoan palace (1900 B.C.) where the dynasty of Minos ruled was built.  It was destroyed in 1700 B.C and a new palace built in its place.  The palace covered an area of 22,000 sq.m, it had multiple levels and had an intricate plan. Due to this the Palace is connected with thrilling legends, such as the myth of the Labyrinth with the Minotaur.  The city of Knossos had 100,000 citizens and it continued to be an important city-state until the early Byzantine period.  A very old site and Heraklion is considered the oldest city in Europe. After the tour the bus dropped us in town for the balance of the day.  We found, with the help of a friendly local, a great restaurant specializing in local Crete food. We had a round of beers+ and between us a good selection of appetizers including:  Tomato Balls with Cheese, Beet Roots (pickled and very good), Fried Graviera Cheese, Meat Balls in Tomato Sauce, Fried Potatoes, Meat Pies, a Greek Salad, and more.  In the Greek tradition after we finished they then brought us two rounds of dessert and complementary Tsikoudia (Raki) liquor. An excellent lunch and just what we wanted to experience.  We then walked the streets of Heraklion looking at shoppes and DW liked it better than Athens.  The taxi driver who took two of us back to the pier (€5) had the same basic idea as DW, he said “everyone should do Athens once…go to the Parthenon and have a great meal in a Taverna, but Crete is much better over all”.  Of course that’s exactly what we did the day previous and I agree with him 100%.  I liked Crete very much although I wasn’t as impressed with Knossos as much as historical sites we have already visited.  Once back on the ship I visited the Gaudi Bar on deck 16 for the first time and had an Ouzo before sail away as that is the drink to do in Crete or southern Greece and we sailed on time at 4:00 pm.  It was R&R in the cabin following.  We met friends for cocktails then attended the production show: Zorro.  It primarily featured the acrobats, gymnasts, and trapeze acts.  Interesting show.  We went to dinner in the MDR this evening, it was good, but the Trifle dessert was best.  After dinner it was retire to prepare for another big day following for us, others did casino and more.

Saturday November 8 / Marmaris Turkey / Day 7

Lycian Tombs taken from our boat on Dalyan River
A little bit of rocky seas overnight.  Cloudy to sunny and very pleasant weather all day.  I was awake very early so had some internet time then watched us sail into Marmaris Bay.  It’s a narrow entry and very picturesque as is the town of Marmaris.  I went up to the Lido for a quick breakfast and DW had her usual room service as we prepared to meet our 8:00 am ship excursion for today: Dalyan and Kaunos with Lunch.  Our tour was the first called and we were soon on our bus and on the way to Dalyan.  This area of Southwest Turkey is very pretty with mountains, pine trees, and cultivated fields and orchards of vegetables and fruits.  After a 1:15 minute drive we stopped at a nice break area for restrooms & souvenirs just outside Dalyan then proceeded to a dock area where we boarded boats to sail on the River Dalyan.  This is already something new to experience and as we sailed around the first curve of the river on the sheer cliffs above we were within site of the famous weathered façades of Lycian Tombs cut from rock, circa 400 BC.  An absolutely amazing site and view.  The boat preceded to a basin with a good view of the tombs and the guide explained the history, as she spoke I saw one of the loggerhead turtles for which this area is also known.  After taking photos we proceeded just a short distance down river to the Kaunos river docking pier.  From here we walked a kilometer up to the archeological site of Kaunos. There are several large ruins within the site .  Originally a Lycian city dating to 500BC it came under the influence of Persians, Greeks, and Romans.  Most of the existing ruins are from the ancient Roman and Byzantine era city.  Major ruins are the Roman Baths, a Basilica with mosaics, and the Theater.  On the walk back down we stopped to buy fresh pomegranate juice from a local farmer, it was very good.  We boarded our river boat and proceeded upriver to our restaurant Denizkizi for lunch.  We had an appetizer plate of Turkish foods and an entree choice of fish, chicken or meatballs. We also ate a pomegranate given to our friend while they were harvesting them on our previous walk.  Interesting food and the Turkish beer, Efes, was very good.  DW did some power shopping here and the previous rest stop and got items for family back home.  We boarded our buses from here and had the 1:20 ride back to Marmaris and our cruise ship.  Marmaris has a very nice cruise terminal and is a beautiful and clean port city with cafes all along the harbor.  The winds became really strong and I was wondering if we would even be able to get off the pier, but we did so without problem.  We had a sail away party on the adjoining balconies with music and numerous cocktails as we sailed away from Marmaris and through the narrow bay passage.  It was beautiful and exciting with the wind.  The ship was really rocking and rolling until we got further away from the coast.  We had an invite to the past guest party held at 6:30 on this the second Gala evening.  We passed on attending, but I did inquire at the door and with the Allegrissimo package there is no real advantage to attend unless you want a photo with the Captain.  We met the Friends in the Wine Bar for cocktails. The Production show was Moments, some went and some stayed for cocktails.  Dinner was good, they served sirloin steak, but it was not what I would call a proper steak.  I did have two though as I was craving steak.  After such a busy  and long day we retired to the cabin after dinner.

Sunday November 9 / Day at Sea /  Day 8
Lobby area and Fantasia Bar
Fairly smooth seas overnight and a partly cloudy day.  We slept very well and as late as possible on this only our second and last sea day.  We turned back the clocks one hour to central European time so that helped as well with getting some rest.  DW and I went up to the Zanzabar buffet about 10:30 am thinking we would only get continental breakfast, but they still had a hot breakfast and it was very good.  I love that they have fried eggs on the buffet and that hot milk is available.  We met the Friends at the Gaudi Bar for cocktails then had a nice lunch in the lI Cherchio D’ora Restaurant.  It was balcony time and cabin time the rest of the day.  We met our friends for cocktails and had a looong pub crawl before finally heading to the Zanzibar and L’Africana Buffets for dinner.  Some of the wonderful lounges include:  The Manhatten Bar, La Cantina Toscana (wine),  L'Insolito Lounge, Top Sail Lounge, Fantasia Bar, Le Vele,  Il Transatlantic, the Gaudi, and actually several more.  It was casino for some and cabin time for others.  A much needed relaxing day on the beautiful Fantasia.

Monday November 10 / Valletta Malta / Day 9

Fair seas overnight and a great sleep. We ordered room service continental breakfast for both of us this morning. I was awake when we sailed into the beautiful harbor of Valletta, it is quite impressive.  Soon afterward our ship from last week, the MSC Preziosa, sailed in and docked next to us.  We have a full day private tour scheduled for the six of us today and we met our guide and driver about 9:00 am.  We drove out of Valletta along side a ten mile long Aqueduct built by the Knights in the 14th century.  Our first stop was the old walled medieval town of Mdina.  Although the city is much older the walls and moat were built 1100-1200.  Very narrow streets and smaller squares, most existing palaces were built from 14th -17th century.  A very beautiful place.  Our next stop is at the Ħaġar Qim Temples where we first experienced a 4-D informational film then visited the ruins themselves. The megalithic temple complex of Ħaġar Qim are among the most ancient religious sites on Earth, described by the World Heritage Sites committee as "unique architectural masterpieces. The main temple was built between 3600 and 3200 BC; however, the northern ruins are considerably older.  This is older than the Pyramids and Stonehenge that to me seem somewhat similar.  Driving along the coast we stopped at Malta’s Blue Grotto for a photo opportunity.  Our next stop is the Marsaxlokk Fishing Village where fisherman have very colorful boats and there is a nice boardwalk.  Here we stopped for lunch at La Nostra Padrona one of the highest rated restaurants in Marsaxlokk.  We began with a table outside on the harbor front, but with threatening clouds we moved inside before our food was presented. Smart move as it did rain and they filled up once it began to rain.  DW had a Mediterranean Salad (€8) and I had Fresh Fish with grilled vegetables.  I’m not generally a fish person, but this was excellent.  A bit dear by weight (€35), but worth the price.  After lunch we headed back to Valletta and the rain subsided once we arrived.  The guide took us to Barraka Gardens, along Republic / Merchants Streets & then the spectacular St. John's Co-Cathedral.  The church is beautiful and the most spectacular floor I have ever seen.  One highlight is the painting: The Beheading of Saint John, by Caravaggio.  The guide was able to drop us right in front of the ships gangway that saved a lot of steps and one security point and after the walking this day was most welcome.  We got a light snack and rested until sail away then watched as we sailed out of the old medieval harbor.  Since we had cocktails at sail away it was strait to dinner this evening.  I had some very nice pork chops, but the Mascarpone dish served tonight was the best dessert of the cruise.

Tuesday November 11 / Messina Italy / Day 10

Taormina's Greek Theater and Mt. Etna  (Italian photo-too overcast for me)
Calm seas overnight and a good nights sleep. It is overcast and threatening rain, but most of the day was just cloudy. We were up and about early as it’s another excursion day, room service delivered about 7:15 am.  I watched us sail into Messina harbor as I had my hot milk.  The MSC Splendida sailed in after and docked next to us. Four of us met in the theater for our excursion to Taormina.  This is a short port day so we thought it would be just as easy to take a ship excursion as we only had time for one site and Taormina is the most recommended.  We were off at 8:00 am and in 45+ minutes were in the city of Taormina.  We walked up the Corso Umberto and the guide pointed out sites along the way.  When we reached the Greek Amphitheater we received our admission tickets and were on our own for the rest of the short day.  The Greek Amphitheater was a bit disappointing to me, but it was an overcast day so only a limited view from the top.  The ruins themselves are impressive, but we have seen a lot of Roman/ Greek theater ruins in the past few weeks. The Gelato we purchased from a vendor near the ruins was excellent, I had cherry, limonchello, and the Mt. Edna (almond & pistachio) flavors.  The girls shopped and I enjoyed my leisurely stroll back down the Corso Umberto reading the historical markers along the way.  I saw or went into the Duomo (13th century), the Palazzo Corvaja (10th century), Baroque fountain (1635), Church of San Domenico and the Anglican Church of Saint George.  On the Piazza IX Aprile I also went into the Mocambo Bar, the hotspot of la Dolce Vita in the 1950’s-1970’s.  Too short a visit for such an interesting town.  We were back at the ship and eating at the buffet by 1:00 pm. and sailing away about 2:00 pm.  We had balcony and cabin time as we sailed through the straits of Messina and headed north.  We met for cocktails  in the Wine Bar then went to the final production show: Starwalker - a Michael Jackson tribute show.  It was a very good show .  This was a third Gala night although I did not dress very Gala.  Dinner was very good tonight, I had a great escargot appetizer, it was escargot inside a pastry, different and good.  The Duck a L’Orange and Baked Alaska was also very good.

Wednesday November 12 / Civitavecchia, Italy / Day 11

One of the thousands of Etruscan Necropolis
Calm seas overnight and a pleasant nights sleep.  It was raining when we arrived at the port of Civitavecchia.  We had a light continental room service breakfast this morning as four of us were renting a car for our own excursion today.  It’s a long port day as most excursions go to Rome as did two friends.  Due to unforeseen circumstances we did not get away until after 10:00 am but three of us took the shuttle to the port entry then a bus to the train station where we rented a car for the day.  First stop about an hour away was: Ostia Antica founded by the fourth king of Rome, Ancus Marcius approximately 7th century BC.  Most of the buildings that have been excavated were built in the first half of the 2nd century AD when such notable emperors such as Trajan and Hadrian ruled. Due to the addition of a harbor district, Ostia became rich and prosperous with a population of roughly 50,000 until the fall of the Roman Empire, and eventually fell into disrepair and ultimately abandoned by 9th century. It was through its abandonment that this ancient city became preserved beneath deep layers of time.  We spent about two+ hours here and by the time we left the weather was much improved with no rain and clearing sky. Very few tourists either, a nice change.  Then halfway back towards Civitavecchia we stopped in Cerveteri to see the Banditaccia Necropolis—The Romans were not the first "big" civilization in Italy; the first ones to start commerce and cities were the mysterious yet amazingly advanced Etruscans.  One of the most fascinating characteristics of this necropolis is that it spans over 6 centuries of the Etruscan civilization, making this the largest city of the dead in the Mediterranean area. You can see the progression of the early 9th Century BC rock-cut trenches containing urns, to the complex 3rd century BC city-like planning of tombs with roads for processions. From primitive pottery ossuaries to elaborate hut shaped tombs carved out of the living tuffa rock and rich in structural details.  We were basically the only people here which made it even more eerie among the 1000’s of tombs.  After a long hour we headed back to the port and were back on board  ship about 5:00 pm.  and we went immediately to the Zanzabar buffet pizza station as we had only had a light snack all day.  That homemade fresh pizza tasted soooo good especially the spicy pepperoni. We then went to the aft lounge to pick up our passports at our designated time then finally making it to the cabin for some R&R.  No show tonight so we met in the Wine Bar for our final cocktail gathering with our friends.  We had our final dinner with our excellent waiter Rene in the MDR then it was to the cabin to pack as we have to have our large bags out by 1:00 am tonight.  An interesting and busy last day on board the Fantasia.

Thursday November 13 / Genoa, Italy / Debarkation

A little bit of choppy seas overnight.  We were up early to finish packing and watched us arrive in Genoa.  I had a nice breakfast in the MDR this morning and stalled in the cabin up until our 9:50 am designated meet time in the theater.  Soon our color was called and we were off the ship.  We were able to get a taxi van for all six of us and we went to the Genoa train station.  Great statue of Christopher Columbus there.  Two were off to Rome and four of us to Milan to continue the European adventure.

Maiden Voyage: December 2008  I  Gross Tonnage: 137,986 tons
Passenger Capacity: 3900  |  Crew: 1313  I  Length: 333.33 meters
Max Cruising Speed: 22.7 knots  I  Avg Speed 21 knots
Power: Diesel-Electric (2@20,200kW)  I  Propulsion: Fixed pitch propellers

We have cabin 12238 an aft facing balcony located on deck 12 and there are aft elevators located nearby.  It is a well decorated and spacious cabin.  The cabin has a push button safe, twin/queen beds, large padded headboard, two night stands with lights, a large decorative mirror, a small refrigerator, small table, couch, seat at dresser, and TV with interactive features.

Our MDR waiters, especially Rene from Honduras, were very efficient as was our cabin steward Lala, and they were much more friendly than on the MSC Preziosa last week. The other crew, bar servers, bartenders, etc. were also friendlier than last week.  Laundry service is absolutely first class on this ship.

Dining / Food / Bars / Entertainment

Entertainment is the strong suit of MSC with very elaborate production shows and live music in most all venues. In addition to the production shows they have a ‘fun’ event scheduled every night night at 11:00 pm in the L’insolito Lounge (large  venue located far aft). I was a bit disappointed with the MDR dinners, they were not as good as when we sailed on the MSC Poesia.  The  Zanzibar and L’Africana Buffets were adequate, the deserts were best.  They had some very nice lounges and bars, we tried to visit most.  We did get the Allegrissimo package (~$30 per person per day) for unlimited liquor, cokes, water, etc. and it was very worthwhile.

This was a much better cruise than the week before on the MSC Prezioza.  There were few children compared to previous.  Also having friends on board made it much more fun. We had a party every day.  Crew was much better than the week before as well.  As mentioned I knew it will be very different than the usual American cruise lines and if your looking for the same experience you won't get it here.  You may like the differences or you may be very unhappy with the differences.  If you don’t like change or are not flexible you will probably NOT like sailing a European cruise line.  All that being said...This was a great cruise experience for us.

Highlights of the Cruise

Sailing with Friends
Dalyan and Kaunos
Athens highlights
Lunch in Athens
Malta especially Mdina and St. John's Co-Cathedral
MSC Production Shows
Aft facing Balcony Cabin
Allegrissimo package

MSC Preziosa Cruise Review

 MSC Preziosa

Cruise Review 10/25/2014

Just the Facts:
Ship: MSC Preziosa
Cruise Director:
Ports: Venice, Italy - Bari, Italy - Katakolon, Greece - Izmir, Turkey -
Istanbul, Turkey - Dubrovnik, Croatia - Venice, Italy

This is my 2nd MSC cruise and 96th cruise overall.  I am cruising with my dear wife (DW) and although a seasoned cruiser this will be a very different set of cruise experiences sailing from Europe on an Italian cruise line.  I know it will be very different than the standard American oriented cruise lines.

Saturday October 25  / Venice  /  Embarkation / Day 1

St. Marks Square - Venice
We have been on a European holiday so we are already in Europe and in Verona, Italy on the day of sailing.  We took the 1:00 pm train from Verona into Venice arriving about 2:10 pm.  We noticed that there are five cruise ships docked as we approached the island. There is a location in the train station where you can check your bags with MSC and they will be transferred to the ship and your cabin…well worth the fee (€5 per bag) for the convenience and service.  We were then off to the People Mover train that takes you from Piazzale Roma to the Marritima port (€1.3).  You can then walk to your ship pier or there may be a shuttle bus to the ships docked further away from the station.  We took the Preziosa shuttle bus to it’s pier and discovered a huge line to check luggage, fortunately since we had already checked ours at the train station, we proceeded directly into the building for embarkation.  I must say it was a very crowded, we had hoped we would be arriving after the ‘rush’ to board, but I think people arrive later since they can come from from half of Europe by train on the day of sailing.  It may be best to arrive early in this port.  We received a boarding ticket (#20) when we entered, then stood in line to check-in.  Once we received our boarding documents we still had to wait until our boarding number was called. Staff was selling excursions, wine packages, and drink packages while you waited or stood in line. We did purchase the Allegrissimo package. After a 15 minute wait primarily because security was at level 1, the highest level, we went though the X-ray machines we were finally on our way to the ship.   It was almost 4:00 pm by the time we got to the cabin and dropped my backpack so we headed to the Buffet as they were already making preliminary announcements for boat drill and we knew they may soon close.  We kind of ‘settled’ for what was readily available so I had Indian food & DW food from the children’s area that was perfect for her current restricted diet.  She loved her kiddie vege’s, but the highlight was the desserts…they were amazing.  Trying to make a good impression with a great selection and quality of desserts is my guess (it worked on us).  By the time we arrived back at the cabin our bags had arrived, but we headed up to pool deck to watch our sail away from beautiful Venice.  We were able to enjoy a few Bellini cocktails as we sailed past Harry’s Bar (home of the original Bellini) and then St. Marks Square.  It was so nice to relax after a very hectic day.  Following sail away we returned to the cabin to unpack and watch us sail through the Lido basin at sunset from our aft facing balcony…nice.  We had requested early dining, but were assigned late seating; however, since it was so late in the day when we had lunch we decided to try late dining tonight.  We explored the various lounges and decided on the El Dorado for aperitifs.  Dinner is at 8:45 in the L’Arabesque Restaurant located deck six aft.  We have a nice eight-top table with all English speakers: two couples from New Zealand and two nice ladies from Scotland.  For dinner I ordered the fresh Tomato Soup, Spaghetti Carbonara, and the Fish entree.  Not overly impressed with dinner, but it may have been my individual selections, and the Tart that I ordered for dessert was not as good as the ones from earlier in the day.  DW’s vegetarian entree was good.  After dinner we retired to the cabin and set back our clocks one hour for daylight savings time.

Sunday October 26 / Bari, Italy / Day 2
Trulli homes in Alberobello
Smooth seas overnight just enough movement for an enjoyable nights sleep. We  are scheduled for a 10:00 am arrival in port. We ordered a room service continental breakfast about 8:30 am. and watched us approach Bari from the balcony until time to meet our excursion at 9:50.  We booked a tour to Alberobello.  This is a UNESCO cultural heritage site known for unique dry stacked limestone conical style homes called Trulli.  These are commonly found in the countryside, but at Alberobello there is an entire village of them, very interesting and unique. We returned to the ship about 2:30 as we have a 3:00 pm sail away.  Security was very thorough (level 1) so there were long lines to board.  Once we boarded we went direct to the Lido buffet for some food and then explored the upper decks of the ship stopping to have a few Heinekin beers along the way.    After some cabin R&R we went to the El Dorado Piano bar for some Cosmopolitan cocktails then to the L’Arabesque for dinner. The NZ'ders changed to early dining so just us and the Scots at our table.  The Tiramisu dessert was good.  The production show was Sogno Italiano.  In addition to the production shows each night, they have a ‘fun’ style of entertainment at 11:00 in the Safari Lounge each night.  Since there are no comedians due to the language barriers, they have comedic skits, dance, or visual art.  The entertainment is very well organized and presented.

Monday October 27 / Katakolon, Greece / Day 3
Mt. Olympus, Greece
I slept very well although it was short having lost an hour of time and a very early arrival at Katakolon.  We booked the Taste of Ancient Greece excursion and met our tour group at 7:45 am for our trip to Mount Olympus and the site of the ancient Greek Olympics.  The site is of course in ruins but you can see the location and ruins of the Temple of Zeus, various athletic buildings, the original stadium, and more.  We saw where they have the lighting of the torch ceremony for the current Olympic Games tradition.  Following this we went to a very nice private club where we were served a sampling of Greek food and treated to great Greek folk dancing.  This was a fantastic excursion with history, food, and folk traditions.  We returned to the ship for a very early sail away at 1:00pm so an excursion is really the only way to go visiting this port.  We went to the buffet as well as ALL the other passengers so it was very busy, on reflection we should have gone to one of the ‘pay’ venues such as Eataly for premium pizza.  We enjoyed beer and the wonderful view from our balcony and decided to make this an afternoon and evening of rest.  We had an early dinner in the Maya buffet and there were just a few guests this evening, the opposite of lunch, with most enjoying the Gala dinner night in the MDR’s.  With twelve consecutive days of touring we needed and enjoyed a ‘night off’ this evening.  We didn’t attend, but the production show tonight was Wonderland and we later heard it was very good.

Tuesday October 28 / Izmir, Turkey / Day 4
Library of Celsus  -  Ephesus
Very smooth seas again overnight and I slept very well. It’s a beautiful sunny day and we are in the port of Izmir this morning, my first time in continental Asia. We ordered a room service continental breakfast as we have a 8:15 meet time this morning for our Ephesus & Mary’s House excursion.  We have now become veterans of the excursion process and were soon on our bus and on the hour drive to Ephesus. Mary’s House is located on the mountain beyond Ephesus and was the first stop.  This is now a shrine built over the ruins of the original house.  It is a beautiful site and we sampled some of the holy water as well.  Hopefully it will do us good.  Just a short drive down hill to the upper gates of Ephesus.  Our tour guide lead us through the various ruins explaining each on the way through.  Several sites were most impressive: the Temple of Hadrian, the Library of Celsus, and the Amphitheater.  We had some free time following to visit the Museum shop or vendors located at the main gate before boarding our bus.  Total time here was about two hours and we needed every minute of it, a very impressive and historical site.  The tour returned us to the port in Izmir for our 15:00 sail away.  After boarding I got a couple of beers for our balcony sail away party for two.  We had a great view of the City of Izmir, a much larger city than I had imagined and very impressive and modern.  DW restocked the beverages and it was soon a very relaxing sunset party as we left the bay and sailed north towards the Dardanelles.  We went to the production show: The Witches of Paris in the Platinum theater and I especially enjoyed the Cancan portion that not only included the dancers, but acrobats as well.  After the show we had cocktails in the Diamond Bar with new friends until dinner.  Dinner was actually the best so far, I ordered the Spanakopita, Green Salad, Seafood Pasta, and the Chicken Cordon-blu entree.  The vegetarian selections continue to be excellent.

Wednesday October 29 / Istanbul, Turkey / Day 5

Hagia Sophia Mosque
It was a cloudy day all day, but fortunately never rained.  It’s an early morning  for us and we can see the Mosques from our balcony early this morning.  We actually arrived earlier than our scheduled time of 7:30 so I wanted to be at our excursion meet point at the listed time of 7:15 for the Deluxe Istanbul Tour.  We boarded the bus about 7:30 and were off.  On all four of our English speaking excursions we have taken we have been the only Americans, although we say we are from Texas when asked.  We have had Canadians, Aussies, etc., but most are ‘other’ European or Asian.  Interesting.  It is a national holiday in Turkey today, their Independence Day of the Turkish Republic so there are some good and bad with that—there are Turkish flags everywhere and bunting hanging on many major streets, very festive; however, the Bazaar is closed today for the holiday.  We started out with a drive over the Bosphorus Bridge to the Asia side of Istanbul, just so that we could say we’ve been to Asia, but we were in Asia on Tuesday so that was moot.  IMHO we were actually ‘killing time’ until the Blue Mosque opened as that was our next stop.  We stood in a long queue until opening time then we had to remove our shoes and ladies had to cover their hair before entering the famous Mosque.  Our guide pointed out the major historical points while we were there.  It was very interesting for many reasons.  We left the Mosque and walked to the nearby Hagia Sophia Mosque, here we did not have to remove shoes as it’s now a historical site, not a religious site and the guide again pointed out the major historical points while there. This was originally a Christian Cathedral for a thousand years that was later converted to a muslim Mosque.  Fortunately not all the Christian frescos were covered, but many that were have been restored.  Of course the building had also been ‘sacked’ many times as well by various armies over the two thousand years as well.  Architecturally it’s really a good example of a combination of the two religions in one site.  We then went to the Sultanahmet Palace for a wonderful luncheon.  This was a former Ottoman Empire palace now administered by the Four Seasons Hotel next door.  They offered a varied selection of entrees, sides, wine, and desserts.  After lunch we left from the Sultanahmet Palace dock and were taken on a cruise on the Bosporus so we could see the sites and architecture from the water.  We were dropped at at a different location where our bus picked us up and took us to our final site the walled Topkapi Palace.  After an introduction from our guide we were on our own to visit the various museums and sites within the Topkapi Palace area.  We visited the Jewels & Treasures room and enjoyed the grounds until time to meet for our return to the ship.  It was a long tour and I was ready for some cabin time upon return.  We had cocktails and attended the production show: The Show Must Go On, a tribute to the rock group Queen.  We had dinner in the MDR then cabin time following on this long and busy day.

Thursday October 30 / Day at Sea / Day 6

Preziosa Lobby and Preziosa Bar
We are sailing through the Greek Islands all day as we make our way back to the Adriatic Sea. I had a very enjoyable nights sleep knowing we had a sea day today.  I was awake just after 8:00am and enjoyed lounging and catching up on internet news and mail.  DW ordered room service and I went to the L’Arabesque Dining Room for breakfast.  I shared a table with a couple from Germany that had a great aft view and I ordered Eggs Benedict (served on nice toast), bacon, and vegetables (potatoes, mushrooms, grilled tomato).  It was a very good breakfast.  When I returned to the cabin DW had begun a laundry day.  Those that read my cruise blog know I recommend magnets and they are very helpful on laundry day if you want to hang clothes or even a hanger in you cabin or on the balcony.  When not used for a special use such as laundry I use the magnets to hang hats on the cabin wall.  I worked on this review until lunch time and we then went to the L’Arabesque for a very nice lunch.  I ordered a Waldorf Salad, Penne Pasta with Bolognaise Sauce, and the Veal Tenderloin entree.  Very nice.  After lunch we explored the ship and went into all the shoppes, we even found the Muammar Gaddafi waterfall (this ship was originally ordered by the Libyan Government and he ordered a huge fish tank for this location) kind of hard to find. We received an invitation to a ‘private’ cocktail party that assume is a pasr guest party, but we passed. I spent the rest of the afternoon on our aft balcony watching the Greek Islands pass by, enjoying a few beers, and spending a bit of time on the internet.…isn’t life grand?  We went to the production show: Pandora in the Platinum Theater, they incorporated colorful costumes, dance, music, contortionists, trapeze, and more into an interesting show.  After the show we went for a cocktail in El Dorado, but due to faulty sound (thankfully) we went to the Galaxy Lounge for a very nice evening of cocktails and live jazz music. 

Friday October 31 / Dubrovnik Croatia / Day 7

A busy Luza Square - Dubrovnik
A little bit of rocky seas overnight.  Very sunny and pleasant weather all day.  We  don’t arrive in Dubrovnik until midday so we slept late and also turned back our clocks one hour to CET.  The Captain made an announcement that we would be arriving an hour early so that seemed to motivate everyone including us to go up to the Inca buffet for breakfast before debarking.  We arrived about 11:00 am and we were off soon afterward.  They ran out of taxis so we began walking, but soon took a bus to the Old Town.  We did get to walk by the new harbor and from what we could see on our own and from the ship, Dubrovnik is a beautiful clean city.  When we arrived at the old walled city we were amazed with the beauty and history.  We really enjoyed just walking around the old city.  We stopped at a cafe on Luza Square for a Coke and could see four ‘must see sites’ listed in my Dubrovnik guide from our table.  Dubrovnik rates just behind Prague and Ceske Krumlov as our favorite cities on our European tour.  We actually returned a little earlier than intended as we just happen upon a City Gate and thought we would go ahead and get a taxi while the getting was good.  That got us back to the ship before the crowds and there was no line to board, we decided to head direct to the Inca Buffet for a nice late lunch.  We had cabin and balcony time until we went to the Green Sax Jazz Lounge for cocktails prior to the Production Show: The Best of…, that was some of the highlights from previous shows.  We had cocktails with our Scottish friends in the Preziosa Lobby Piano Bar before our final dinner in the L’Arabesque dining room.  After dinner it was back to the cabin to pack and put our big bags out to be picked up.

Saturday November 1 / Debarkation /  Venice
Smooth seas overnight and a clear and sunny day, in fact, we saw the sunrise on the horizon.  We are scheduled to dock at 9:00 am and have a 9:50 am group time for departure.  We were up early and finished our packing then watched us sail into Venice from the balcony on this beautiful morning.  We then went up to the buffet for breakfast and finally to the Safari Lounge our designated debark area.  At 9:50 we went off the ship, I made the mistake of confusing the colors pink with lilac and went to the wrong luggage area so had to repeat some steps to get into the lilac color area.  It was not clear that there where two luggage areas, but we did learn some good intel that will help with embark tomorrow.  Once we had our luggage we found the shuttle bus to the People Mover and were on our way to Venice.  We had no real problems getting elevators at both ends of the People Mover and soon we were in Piazzale Roma.  You can actually see our hotel from there so we crossed the square and made our way across the single canal bridge to Hotel Arlecchino.  Our room was to be ready in only a few minutes so we went next door to see if our friends had arrived and very soon both were there.  We went back to place our luggage in the room and were away with our good friends for a great day in Venice.

Maiden Voyage: 2013  I  Gross Tonnage: 139,072 tons
Passenger Capacity: 3959  |  Crew: 1370  I  Length: 332.99 meters
Max Cruising Speed: 27 knots  I  Avg Speed 23.7 knots
Installed power: Diesel (40,000kW)  I  Propulsion: Twin propellers


We have cabin 12264 an aft facing balcony located on deck 12 and there are aft elevators located nearby.  It is a well decorated and spacious cabin.  The cabin has a push button safe, twin/queen beds, large padded headboard, two night stands with lights, a large decorative mirror, a small refrigerator, small table, couch, seat at dresser, and TV with interactive features.

Our MDR waiters were very efficient as were our cabin stewards, but overall the crew were not really very friendly, there were some exceptions, but it’s a very different environment from most cruise lines. We actually found this same attitude throughout Europe not just on the ship.

Dining / Food / Bars / Entertainment

Entertainment is the strong suit of MSC with very elaborate production shows and live music in most all venues. In addition to the production shows they have a ‘fun’ event scheduled every night night at 11:00 pm in the Safari Lounge (large  venue located far aft).  I was a bit disappointed with the MDR dinners, they were not as good as when we sailed on the MSC Poesia.  The Inca and Maya Buffet were adequate, it was different food and that is a good thing.  They had some very nice lounges and bars, we tried to visit most.  We did get the Allegrissimo package (~$30 per person per day) for unlimited liquor, cokes, water, etc. and it seemed to be worthwhile.

We did not know this would be a school holiday in Europe and there would be so many children and families.  Many children were well behaved, but many were not and there are always a few very bad apples.  As mentioned I knew it will be very different than the usual American cruise lines and if your looking for the same experience it will be much different.  You may like the differences or you may be very unhappy with the differences.  If you don’t like change or are not flexible you will probably NOT like sailing a European cruise line. We enjoyed ourselves and because we had the sanctuary of our own nice balcony we enjoyed the cruise and especially the excursions.

Highlights of the Cruise

Aft facing Balcony Cabin
Mount Olympus Excursion
Ephesus Excursion
Istanbul (not Constantinople) 
MSC Production Shows