Wednesday, October 12, 2016

MSC Fantasia Cruise Review October 12, 2016

 MSC Fantasia Cruise Review 12 October 2016

Just the Facts:
Ship: MSC Fantasia
Captain:  Raffaele Pontecorvo
Cruise Director: Daniela DiNicola
Ports: Barcelona Spain - Ajaccio Corsica France - Naples Italy - La Spezia Italy - Genoa Italy - Canne, France - Palma de Mallorca, Spain - Barcelona Spain

This is my 2nd cruise on the MSC Fantasia, 6th MSC cruise, and 119th cruise overall.  I am cruising with my dear wife (DW) and one other couple who are regular cruise friends (Friends).  Although all seasoned cruisers this will be a unique set of cruise experiences sailing from Europe on an Italian cruise line.

Monday-Tuesday- October 10-11  /  Travel 
Beautiful view from our suite
We began our journey with a 6:30 afternoon AA flight from Waco, Texas to DFW airport. There we boarded the 10:20 pm AA overnight 8+ hour flight to London Heathrow airport arriving at 1:15 pm local time.  We had a 2:30 pm British Airways flight we (and bags) were able to make for the flight to Barcelona Spain arriving about 5:30 pm local time.  A long and tiring process.  We then took a taxi (€30) to our hotel, the Catalonia Barcelona Plaza located on Plaza España.  We were very fortunate to be upgraded to the ‘Clock Suite’ on the forth floor. The suite had a beautiful view of Plaza España and the Montjuïc hill area through two sets of large picture windows (once we figured out how to raise the auto-power blinds), so we decided to enjoy the suite, enjoy the view, rest, and order room service.  We really appreciated amenities of the huge suite and as the sun set our view was perhaps even better with the lighted fountains and buildings.  I ordered the Angus beef entree and a Cheese plate from room service and it was a perfect way to enjoy the evening.  We are a long way from the ranch in Texas to this suite and view in Barcelona.

Wednesday October 12  / Barcelona, Spain  /  Embarkation / Day 1
Lobby area on Fantasia deck 3
We slept late as was the plan as we have a noon check out time from the hotel.  I took a walk next door to the old Plaza de Toros (the old bull fighting arena) that is now a modern shopping center with a viewing area around the top.  We wouldn’t be in Europe if we didn’t have a protest or strike so soon there was a very colorful march through the Plaza España of various Catalonian groups representing independence among other things.  The flags were nice and it was well organized as most are in Europe.  We checked out at noon and took a taxi (€15) to the port and our home for seven days the MSC Fantasia.  There was a short line to check luggage then we proceeded into the terminal for security check then to check-in.  I soon discovered that I was wearing the right shirt, a Honduran football jersey that I purchased just last month in Roatan.  I had forgotten that there are a lot of crew from Honduras on the Fantasia and although  I had ‘Black Card’ priority the Honduran mafia took over..they escorted me from station to station all the way onto the ship.  Amazing.  No wait or problems anywhere.  Thank you amigos.  Since Genoa is the home port and primary embark location most guests were off the ship site-seeing and that made it very easy to navigate our way to deck 14 Zanzibar and L’Africana Buffets until our cabins open at 1:30.  After a light lunch of salad and pasta we went to our aft facing cabin on deck nine.  BTW-as a part of the new check-in procedure our Sail & Sign cards were waiting for us inside the cabin.  The cabin is very nice similar to the aft-facing we had previously on Fantasia, but this one has shorter balcony and longer cabin with full couch.  Soon I went down to deck seven and registered our credit cards (this is normal with MSC) on the kiosk and picked up our drink vouchers while the ship wasn’t busy.  I sat in the lobby and did some people watching and enjoyed a diet Pepsi, unfortunately they have switched from Coke.  DW took a nap and as we are now getting an afternoon rain it is good sleeping weather.  I attended Safety Drill…an easy indoor painless process and they scanned both my card and DW’s as well.  Very soon we were casting off in a light rain and beginning our sail away.  The friends and I met for cocktails…woo hoo a proper Hugo Spritz.  Since we are on early dining this cruise it was already time for dinner.  We are in the lI Cherchio D’ora Restaurant located aft on deck six and our favorite of the two on the ship.  It was Italian night tonight and I ordered the Tricolor Salad, Lasagne with Bolognese sauce, the Roasted Piglet entree, and the Tiramisu for dessert.  The feature show in the theater was Sogno Italiano the best of Italian music stating at 9:30 pm.  It is different, for me, having early dinner and late shows, but I will adapt once the jet-lag has worn off…although tonight I retired to the cabin.  I also wanted to check on DW who has a bug and I went up to the buffet to get her some food.  The Black Card party was held this evening and although I didn’t attend, I enjoyed the Champagne & Fruit Basket that they sent to the cabin. We sailed through an evening thunderstorm with nice lightening then had a great view of it as we sailed beyond the storm from the aft balcony.  It was a very nice day in Barcelona and first day on the MSC Fantasia.

Thursday October 13 / Ajaccio Corsica France / Day 2
Sign outside Napoleon's home
Some rock and roll in the seas overnight. I awoke during the night for several hours so worked on this review before nodding off and sleeping until after 10:30 am. I’m still having a difficult time adjusting to the 7-hour difference from Texas time. I had fruit from our fruit basket for breakfast as we were sailing into our port in Corsica.  I had a front row seat as we backed into our pier in the town of Ajaccio, a lovey town with most sites all within walking distance of the ship location.  DW is staying onboard so the friends and I debarked about 12:30 pm and headed into town.  We walked along the waterfront to the public market in a beautiful park that featured a statue of Napoleon as a Cesar.  We reached the historic center and found Napoleon's residence and birthplace now known as Maison Bonaparte and took the first tour of the day at 1:15 pm.  We stopped at a sidewalk cafe for refreshments then walked along the old High Street until we reached the Fesch Museum, I went into the museum and friends continued their walk.  The Fesch was good, but I enjoyed he Napoleon home much better.  After looking at a few shoppes I found some meds for the DW and returned to the ship.  I went straight to deck 14 and the buffet upon boarding and had some of MSC’s famous Pizza.  There is now a Vegetarian Station, but unfortunately it replaced our favorite Taco Station (think Guacamole), but I took some vegetarian to the cabin for DW.  Just enough time to clean up for the Past Guest reception held in the L’Insolito lounge.  The Captain and officers drank a salute to the return guests and they had a nice four-piece band and nice music.  It was now time for early dinner in the lI Cherchio D’ora Restaurant, I ordered the Capriccio with light mustard sauce, the Mushroom Risoto, the Sliced Prime Beef entree, and Rum Raison ice creme for dessert.  Very kindly the Maitre’D sent the Vegetarian selection from tonights menu to the cabin for the DW.  After dinner I had cocktails in the Il Transatlantico Bar, my favorite on the ship and listened to some Jazz while waiting for showtime in the beautiful L’Avanguardia Theater.  Tonights production show was TinTin featuring acrobatics, magic, music, and more.  MSC is rated as having the top entertainment on cruise ships by PortHole Magazine and this new show (to me) has to be one of the best ones.  After the show I retired to the cabin.  It was a great day getting to visit a new port and historic location today.

Friday October 14 / Naples Italy / Day 3
The Marina & our boat (Capt standing) near center.
Rolling seas overnight and the forecast is for partly cloudy skies.  I slept very well and through the night for the first time.  We docked about 10:00 a.m. and again we had a great view as we backed into the port of Naples.  The new Harmony of the Seas is docked opposite us. I had a light breakfast from the buffet and met the friends for our planned trip to the Island of Capri.  We located the ferry office next to the cruise terminal and took the 11:10 ferry to the island…a bit worried as it rained during the 50 minute trip.  We docked in Capri and soon discovered that the Blue Grotto was closed due to high and rough seas, but a local, Alfonso Tizzano, offered to take the three of us in his private boat to the area and beyond for a coast line tour.  It was a nice boat and we caught an some occasional spray on the open deck but it was an very enjoyable and times exciting ride. We saw several small grottos, the red coral, and other sites, Viewing the Blue Grotto entry itself I could see that it was a basically a tourist trap.  May be beautiful inside once they illuminate it with artificial light but not worth the effort IMHO.  I’m checking it off my personal todo list.  We arrived back to the harbor village and by now the town was full of tourists. We got tickets for the funicular and while there we got our tickets for the return ferry with the later ones being sold out it was the 15:25 return for us.  That will limit our time.  We took the funicular up to get to the main/upper town to look for a recommended restaurant, but decided we didn’t really have the time so just viewed the small town and headed back to the funicular to get to harbor area…the crowds really effected us here with so many it was a wait to ride down.  We got a light snack before boarding the 15:25 ferry for the 45 minute ride to Naples.  We were back on the ship by 4:30. DW was feeling much better and joined us for aperitifs and dinner. I ordered a Salad, a very good Tomato Risoto, and the Grilled Pork entree.  After dinner we enjoyed cocktails in the Il Transatlantico Piano/Jazz Bar, (the Fantisia’s martini bar) and enjoyed the music.  I had Cosmopolitans as usual, but they have a nice variety to sample.  At 9:30 pm we went to the Teatro L’Avanguardia theater where the production show was Masquerade starting tenor Enrico Scotto,  pianist Mauro Bertolino, and the Fantasia International Dancers.  We loved Enrico’s other opera productions on our previous Mediterranean MSC cruises.  A great show and another great day on the MSC Fantasia.

Saturday October 15 / La Spezia / Day 4
When you enjoy a beer...location, location, location
Rolling seas overnight, but I slept well and late.  I awoke when the Fantasia’s engines began maneuvering into the port of La Spezia at 11:00 am so only a pear from the fruit basket for breakfast.  We are very near Cinque Terre and most guests will be going there today as are the friends, but we’ve been so our plan is Pisa and something new.  We made our way off the ship, then to the shuttles from the industrial area to the Cruise Terminal.  We went for a taxi to go to the train station (€15) but agreed to hire the cab for a private tour for set day fee (€200+).  Disadvantage: we’ll be traveling at a faster pace, but Advantage: getting to specific locations with very little walking.  The rate was a fair price.  Soon we were off to Lucca the beautiful Tuscan city and our something 'new'.  The Lucca old historic area is completely walled with limited traffic. Our driver had a pass.  There were many shoppes on narrow streets yet many typical Italian piazza’s especially around the churches or public buildings.  My favorite was the Church of San Michelle, first mentioned historically in 795 AD and it’s current 14th century facade…that’s old.  We had a fantastic pizza in a local pizzeria then gelato’s from a confectionary.  Perfect.  After walking around old Lucca we were off to Pisa.  Not sure how our driver does it but he parked just a block from a somewhat ‘secret’ entry next to the actual Tower…super.  We spent time here in the Piazza dei Miracoli taking photos of the Baptistry, Cathedral, and of course the famous leaning Bell Tower. We did some people watching then I had a beer in the closest cafe at the closest table to the Leaning Tower. Super.  DW shopped and I enjoyed view and tourist watching.  We made it back to the ship much earlier than originally planned…I even made it (a little late) to dinner.  I ordered: the Vesuvius Salad, Rissoto alla Toscana, Spaghetti with Bolognese sauce, and the Pork Escalopes with Artichokes entree.  No dessert tonight nor cocktails…I worked on this review and had internet time.  The production show was Skywalker, but we have both seen it previously so relaxed this evening.  It was a wonderful day in Italy today.

Sunday October 16 / Genoa Italy / Day 5
Dessert at Ziffirino's
Smoother seas overnight and a beautiful day all day.  We were docked early as this is the Fantasia’s homeport and most guests will debark and a new group embark today.  I went to the buffet and had a light breakfast about 9:00 am and brought items back for DW.  All (friends & DW) were off about 10:00 for our day in Genoa.  We debarked here two years ago, but did not see the city so this is our chance to see it as a port on this itinerary.  We took a taxi to Via Garibaldi the old Strada Maggiore, a narrow street with many 15th-16th century Palazzos built by the wealthy merchant class.  Many are still private with some serving as Consulates, Museums, Public buildings, Art galleries, and more.  Many are open on Sunday for free so it was already busy with locals, but great for us as tourists as well.  The street is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.  We made our way to the Piazza de Ferrari and the Piazza Ducale and a view of the Cathedral of San Lorenzo.  We were fortunate to be able to eat at the most famous restaurants in Liguria and one of the best in all of Italy: Zeffirino. It’s a fine restaurant with great table settings and atmosphere.  I ordered a set menu: Capaccio di Manzo alla Moda, Trofie al Pesto, Medaglioni di Filetto alla Zeffrino, and Milefoglie for dessert.  DW had Frank Sinatra's favorite: the Vegetable stuffed Ravioli with Pesto, All were beyond excellent.  We met and had our photo taken with the Owner and chef Luciano Belloni Zeffirino who has many awards and titles.  He has feed every Pope and many celebrities since they opened in 1939.  After our great meal we walked over to the Christopher Columbus house, it was very stark compared to the palazzos built by the wealthy merchants we saw earlier.  We then walked down to the old port area, but soon took a taxi to return to the ship.  The four of us went up to Gaudí's outdoor bar on deck 15 aft for cocktails this evening as we sailed away from Genoa.  It was nice.  Dinner came too soon…having had a large meal at lunch I only ordered the Vegetarian Stew as a starter, the Cod Fish Ligurian style entree, and Vanilla Ice Creme.  The production show tonight was Totem, but we settled into the cabin to rest.  My goal for Genoa day was to visit the Palazzos and have a great meal and that goal was met…a great day in Genoa.

Monday October 17  /  Cannes  /  Day 6
Hotel deVille - Cannes
Calm seas overnight and another beautiful day.  We arrived before 8:00 am and this will be a tender port for the MSC Fantasia.  We received priority tender tickets, but will not be in a rush to go ashore as the plan is just to go ashore for lunch and a short walk.  The four of us went ashore about 11:00 am., the good thing about being tendered is that we are dropped much more closer to the center of the town so less walking.  I was able to find the  La Creperie that we enjoyed last visit, but it was closed for the day so we walked around and looked at the interesting shoppes. We did come across another promising eatery: Creperie Bigoudene.  I had a nice crepe with crab meat and artichokes, DW a cheese only, and we shared a sweet crepe for dessert.  The proper diet Cokes in a bottle were nice as well.  We continued walking the Shoppes, Sidewalk cafes, and the Harbor with all the beautiful Yachts docked along side.  Our goal accomplished we headed back towards the tender pier as the ship does leave early today.  We were back on board by 3:00 for a 4:00 sail away.  We watched us sail from Cannes from the aft facing balcony and soon MSC delivered a bottle of Procecco and petit-fours to our cabin for Gala night.  Very convenient and thank you.  We all went down to the Lobby Bar about 6:00 to participate in the Gala night activities. MSC is one of few cruise lines still offering complementary cocktails on the Captains Gala night and they do a very good job of doing so with white glove and silver tray service.  We also ordered cocktails as we have a lot of drink coupons remaining and we are running out of time.  We had reservations in the new El Sombrero Tex-Mex premium restaurant.  This is a huge improvement to the Eataly space they previously had on the Fantasia.  They serve both Tex-Mex and it serves as their steak house.  We had a complementary dinner through our booking AND from our ‘Black Card’ so we were able to get something nice for everyone.  I ordered the Quesadillas, NY Strip Steak, and Mango Creme dessert…DW ordered Quesadillas, Chicken Nachos, and Flan.  They do have nice Margaritas…we both ordered the Mango Margaritas.  As a Texan that eats a lot of Tex-Mex it was OK, as a restaurant on a cruise ship…it was Very Good.  Our waiter was Melvin from Honduras who assisted me on embarkation day.  After dinner we rushed to the Production show: Wonderland in the Teatro L’Avanguardia theater.  It was the typical MSC show combining various arts: music, dance, aerobatics, juggling, and more all with an Alice in Wonderland loose theme.  A late and busy evening for me so we retired.  It was a fun and busy day.

Tuesday October 18 / Palma de Mallorca, Spain / Day 7
Gaudi designed Canopy in Cathedral
Calm seas overnight and partly cloudy skies.  I was awake very early so updated my review and surfed the internet until falling back asleep.  I got around about 10:00 and we can see the west side of Palma de Mallorca's islands so I went up to the buffet about 10:30 for a light breakfast.  I have enjoyed the hot milk that is readily available on MSC cruises in the mornings.  We don’t dock until 2:00 pm so it will be a casual morning.  In the Steakhouse last night I met a nice lady that works for MSC Corporate offices and who I sailed with back in 2008.  She recognized me and even had a photo of us from the Majesty of the Seas.  Small world.  Although I didn't get to meet with her today, she send a bottle of Moscato and canopies...thank you.  I never had an opportunity to eat breakfast or lunch in the MDR this cruise so today I went to the Red Velvet Restaurant for lunch.  I had a salad, pasta and chicken entree…very nice.  We docked about 2:00 pm in Palma and there are six cruise ships in harbor today.  The four of us went off ship about 2:30 and took a taxi (€12) to the old town.  We walked around the shoppes and DW and I went into the Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma. Construction began in 13th century but it actually opened in 1601.  Due to damage by an earthquake Antoni Gaudí worked on interior design from 1904-14.  Although I had visited the exterior twice before I had never gone inside (admission to museum+ €7 pp) and it was amazing and the Gaudi touches were easy to determine.  We returned to the ship about 5:00 then met for cocktails prior to our 7:15 pm meet time for our big evening excursion this evening.  We booked the Son Amar Dinner and Show: Fusion.  Mallorca's world-famous show entertains you with Spanish flamingo, visual comedy, dancing horses, breathtaking acrobatics, and and more … an amazing show, but perhaps too long.  We arrived back at the ship at midnight then quickly packed to have our bags out before 2:00 am.  It was a very busy day in Palma de Mallorca.

Wednesday October 19 / Barcelonia, Spain / Debarkation
Tapas Restaurant - Barcelona
I was up by 7:00 am as I needed to collect some remaining OBC, but when I got to Guest Services they said it was not refundable (that is norm for some types of OBC).  Of course on Tuesday I made a specific query and was told that it was...and to come between 7:00 - 11:00 this morning to get it. I even made a confirmation trip to GS to confirm this, but by chance got the same girl who I had spoke to on the phone.  I even asked if I needed to get OBC out through the casino (a cruise travelers trick) and was told it was not necessary.  After some heated discussion the manager of the gift shop opened just for me at 8:00 am and allowed me to spend my OBC.  Very nice that he did that, but I should not have been told by an (under trained?) GS person that I would be receiving it...he bailed out the GS dept. IMHO.  After final packing we were off about 9:40 to debark when I was stopped at the final debark security station to return to GS...not going to do it...they sent someone to me...turns out they say I owe €3 on my account. I thought that was all worked out plus I have a credit card registered.  After a few phone calls they actually gave me €5 and said I was cleared...what a mess this created at debark.  Once off the ship our bags where ready for us to pick up and we got a Taxi van (€24)  to carry (southern US expression) the four of us and our bags to our hotel.  We made it to the wonderful Hotel 1898 about 11:00 am and checked in although rooms were not ready.  We went up to the 1898 Rooftop Bar to enjoy the wonderful view, drink some soft drinks, and go online on the hotel wifi.  It was relaxing after a bit of a stressful morning.  In fact they called and our hotel rooms were ready before we could make plans for lunch.  After getting to our room and getting our bags we were off to our favorite casual Basque Tapa's Restaurant: Txapela.

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 had cabin 9248 an aft facing balcony located on deck 9 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, two large decorative mirrors, a small refrigerator, small table, full couch, seat at dresser, and TV with interactive features.

The crew was noticeably more friendly than when we sailed the Fantasia two years ago.  Only one rude bar server in Gaudi.  All other bar servers were nice and interacted well with us.  Our MDR waiters were very efficient and very friendly.  Our cabin steward Anthony did a good job. Still a little different on MSC as far as overall customer service is concerned, but much improved. 

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). The food overall is above average compared to other large cruise companies.  The Zanzibar and L’Africana Buffets (think Lido deck) were adequate, the deserts were best.  The El Sombrero Tex-Mex is a great improvement.  They had some very beautiful lounges and bars with entertainment, we tried to visit most.  Basically the Entertainment is the best at sea…Food could use some improvement.

Children sail for free on MSC so children will be on the ship…sometimes too many…this sailing was probably average.  This is very different than the large cruise lines in non summer months…there will be more children.  Sailing with friends on board makes it much more fun especially when you are a small minority on the ship…we never saw any other Americans on board.   We had fun every day.  Sailing MSC is very different than the usual American cruise lines and if your looking for the that experience it will be much different.  You may like the differences or you may be unhappy with the differences.  If you don’t like change or are not flexible you will probably not like sailing a European cruise line.  If your open about NEW experiences and travel you will love MSC.  This was a great cruise experience for us.

Highlights of the Cruise

Sailing with Friends
MSC Production Shows
Genoa on our own…especially the gourmet meal at Zeffirino's
Aft facing Balcony Cabin

Thank you for reading.  As an older/experienced cruiser my activities will be much different from a newer cruiser as I will be doing fewer things on board simply because of the 'been there done that' factor and frankly I don't have the energy as I once did...Priorities do change over time. I do love to cruise!!

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