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      11.05.2009 19:23
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      Italian cruise ships.

      Cruising to Alaska was such a wonderful experience that my husband decided he would like to cruise to the Northern cape of Norway, and after surfing the net he discovered we could sail from England and avoid the problem of the weight of luggage, especially as this was an 12 day cruise. The ship was called the MSC Lirica.

      I have to admit I hadn't heard of MSC cruises but whilst cruising we noticed several MSC container ships. But after having booked I soon learned a lot more as we get at least one email a week! There are 11 cruise ships that I now know of and they cruise to Northern Europe, Mediterranean, Ocean voyages, North and South America, Caribbean and South Africa. Through one of these emails offering pay only £1 for the 2nd passenger we booked a Mediterranean cruise on MSC Fantasia, the newest ship in their fleet and this will be the ship I review.

      What MSC say about their cruises.

      " MSC Cruises welcomes you onboard to a wonderfully exclusive vacation in the best all Italian style tradition. Let our warm, Mediterranean hospitality coax you into relaxation and enjoyment; you will find yourself falling in love with this cruise experience, as thousands of guests have found, year after year.
      People are what make our MSC Cruises so successful and memorable. Our highly qualified staff are dedicated to providing you great service; this, and our well-known Italian hospitality and charm, makes your holiday onboard our ship a truly memorable one. Discover our special brand of hospitality, come and join the world of MSC Cruises: a beautiful world centred around you! Each crew member is fluent in English, French, German and Spanish, to put guests at ease."

      Do I agree?

      We were collected at the airport and didn't have to worry about our luggage once it was stored on the coach, the check in was fairly quick and there were lots of staff to answer questions and sell you packages for drinks and excursions. We were called by letter groups to go on board so didn't have to queue but could sit in the lounge area.
      The welcome on board was quite amazing there were literally rows of staff, the girls in black dresses, white collar and cuffs and gloves and the men in white jackets. They escorted us to our room and explained how the air conditioning worked etc, in such a huge ship it was good to be taken the first time. Although the staff were meant to speak English, they didn't always respond well we found, and appeared to misunderstand. Their special brand of hospitality didn't match what we had found on the Royal Caribbean ship. Perhaps a lot had to do with the other guests who being mostly Italian were loud, and we discovered don't believe in queuing, they push you out of the way and don't appear to notice you , literally knocking people over in their haste to get into lifts. The two men who looked after our cabin were excellent and couldn't be faulted but staff in some of the bars ignored us when we wanted to order drinks, and service for drinks in the cafeteria was poor too. The Fantasia was a new ship, and a beautiful one but I feel more training was needed to get the staff good at their jobs, and better supervision of staff. It didn't spoil our holiday too much but it could have made it a lot better if the staff went the extra mile. If we hadn't already booked our next cruise I don't think we would use MSC again, I only hope as this ship is older that the staff will be better.

      The Ship

      The Fantasia is a huge ship with a length of 333metres and tonnage of 133,500tonnes. There are 1,637 cabins and of these 1,151 are external cabins with balconies. So when full there could be 3,274 passengers and the crew number 1,325. There are 18 decks and 13 of these are for passengers.

      Restaurants and bars

      There are two main restaurants for evening dining which have two sittings, one on two floors called the Red Velvet and the other Il Cerchio d'Oro, their names give a clue to the colours namely red and gold. There are also other restaurants you can book and pay extra if you want a change from the busy restaurants L'Etoile, a French restaurant and El Sombrero a Tex Mex restaurant. Breakfast and lunch is served in the two cafeterias called L'Africana and Zanzibar, and the Midnight buffet is served here too. Breakfast is available in the Red Velvet restaurant too and is waiter service, but it took a long time to be served and although I had ordered a fresh fruit plate, I was brought it at the end after my pancakes and pastries, so preferred helping myself and eating in the order I am used to!
      Breakfast in the self service restaurants had the usual large selection of fruits, cereals, cooked food, cheeses, breads, muffins, pastries and cakes. Waiters came round with fruit juices and tea and coffee. Lunch in the self service restaurant was a huge choice, plenty of salads, soup, fast food like burgers or hot dogs, pasta dishes, fish and meat, sweets, fresh fruit and coffee. Cold drinks were paid for separately, and sometimes the bar staff were slow to serve you so your meal was nearly finished before your drinks arrived. The ordinary waiters even if they were standing idle would not or could not serve drinks. The food was good and plentiful, but sometimes you walked a long way from getting served to finding a table as it could be very busy. There was a hand sanitiser as you entered the restaurants but use wasn't enforced as it was on the Royal Caribbean ship.
      In the Red velvet restaurant each night was a Regional menu from different areas of Italy. These items were also on the main menu so people could choose to have some of them if they wanted and other choices too. There was always a choice of appetisers, soup, salad, pasta or rice course, main dish with meat or fish and a choice of sweets. I found it was too much to select from them all and ended up only eating 3 or 4 things. There were water and wine packages or you could order something to drink when you ordered your meal. If there was nothing you liked on the menu you could order grilled chicken or steak, but I always found something I liked. The food was well cooked and was presented well too. The waiters unfortunately seemed to often muddle up our food so we ended passing plates to the other guests on our table.
      We didn't try every bar as there were so many, 19 in total but we did have a look at them as we walked around the ship. In the centre of the ship you could walk down stairs made of Swarovski crystals connecting two floors with different bars. The Gaudi bar was on the open deck in a sunbathing area near a small pool. The Il Transilantico Piano bar, the Manhattan bar and the Il cappuccino bar are all on the same floor and near the one level of the theatre. On the same floor but nearer the Tex Mex restaurant is la Cantina Toscana, where snacks can be served as well as drinks and also L'Insolito lounge. On the same floor as the Casino is the Vele bar and a lovely Italian square setting called the Piazza san Georgio, and also comfortable seated areas where you can sit and watch the world go by. There is also a Cigar Lounge off the square where people are allowed to smoke. The lounges were brightly coloured, unusual designs and we enjoyed using them.
      Water cost 1.60Euro a litre, 3.95Euro for 20cl of beer, Cola 2.60Euro and wine was 3.50Euro a 15cl glass. Coffee was about 2.60Euro prices depended on what type of coffee you ordered.
      Midnight feasts were held in the self service buffet, sometimes everything was fruit based, or snacks with ice sculptures and unusual decorations.

      Cabins

      We had a cabin with a balcony and it was very comfortable and more than adequate for our week on board ship. Our cabin was very red and I mean RED! It was a good size with a double wardrobe for hanging and a single wardrobe of drawers, plus spare pillows, a safe and the necessary life jackets. The carpet was a mixture of red and burgundy, the curtains also were burgundy with a circular pattern in gold and navy. The settee was - can you guess? Burgundy and navy and also cushions to match and a pouffe, plus a padded velvet headboard in deep rose. The bed cover and huge bolster cushions were also burgundy with a navy pattern. It was very red, but did grow on you after a few days. The bed was two 3 foot beds fastened together and was very comfortable, with room underneath for storing our cases.
      There were plenty of lights, a fridge/mini bar, hairdryer in the drawer in front of the large mirror, rather than in the bathroom which you get so often in hotels abroad and I detest. There was a selection of plugs for both Italian and American plugs, so fortunately we had taken adaptors for both. There was a small occasional table in black glass, bed side tables and a phone and clock. The walls were in cream leather look material, which would wipe clean and stay looking good. The television was on a high shelf and there were modern pictures on the walls. We even received a bowl of fruit on our first day, and this was topped up as we ate it. Ice was available if requested and so was breakfast in your cabin if ordered the night before.
      The bathroom was very cosy, it's amazing how much can be fitted into a small space. The toilet, shower and wash basin were all very good quality, my only grumble was that there was a shower curtain, but it did work and kept the floor dry, but if you were on the big size I could imagine the curtain would stick to you as it was rather "bijou!" The shower was equipped with large containers with shower gel and shampoo, and there was plenty of storage space for your toiletries. The towels were white and fluffy and changed twice a day, even though there was a sign about saving the planet. Towelling dressing gowns were supplied and used by most people when they went swimming, so that they were well covered and dry whilst using the lifts.
      Some cabins had bath tubs and there were some floors all in green colours.

      Entertainment

      We went to the first show as we had an earlier meal, and this was at 9.15, the second show was at 11.00pm, the dancers, singers and acrobats were fantastic, especially as some nights there was a bit of a roll on the ship! The costumes and lighting was all very professional, the only annoying thing was the introduction and finish was in about 6 languages so took a long time.
      There wasn't a lot of entertainment through the day although we went to a cookery demonstration one morning when we didn't dock until lunch time. There were some sports tournaments arranged. There was the occasional dance lesson but it usually clashed with the time we were getting ready for dinner.
      There were several groups of people that played instruments or sang different styles of music, who went around the bars in an evening, so you could follow them around or listen to something different whichever you wanted.
      There were 5 swimming pools, one had a sliding roof, one for Yacht club members only and one for children, plus 12 Spa baths. Pool towels were available and plenty of sunbeds which could not be reserved. Staff removed towels unless there were personal belongings left as well. The aqua park has 150 fountains, sprays and water features illuminated by night with the magic of a thousand colours and all to the rhythm of music.
      Children had their own play area which looked fun and a special area for teenagers too plus discos. There were times that children could be left giving parents' time to themselves.
      The Library had books in several languages and playing cards and some board games were available too.

      Smoking

      Smoking was not permitted on balconies and discouraged in cabins, it was allowed on open deck or in the Cigar lounge.

      Aurea Beauty Salon and Fitness Centre

      I didn't go and indulge but there were Balinese massages, reflexology, hot stone therapy and body and face treatments. Also a hairdressers, and steam baths and saunas. The gym had weights, aerobic conditioning equipment and complimentary classes such as Yoga, Pilates and stretching classes. There was a Jogging circuit of 235 metres for those who felt like being energetic!

      Casino

      The casino had lots of tables and machines but is only allowed to be open whilst sailing.

      Shopping

      Tax free shops were around the Piazza area, and tables were opened up in the area at night selling jewellery and handbags. One evening there was a fashion show modelling some of the clothes available.
      International newspapers could be purchased daily, they were printed off on board, although I'm not sure what they cost.

      Medical centre

      Fortunately I don't have any experience with this, but it did say in the information that sea sickness tablets were available if required.

      Internet

      There were hot spots for Wi-fi if you bought a pre-paid card at 12Euro for 30 minutes or an Internet café costing 40Euro for the first 10 minutes and 0.40Euro per minute after.

      Celebrations

      Birthdays, anniversaries can be celebrated and my husband arranged for a bottle of bubbly and a Birthday cake to be brought to our table one night after dinner. The waiters arrived with the candles lit and singing Happy Birthday!
      Symbolic weddings can be celebrated too, but not actual official wedding ceremonies.

      Photo gallery

      The photo shop opened after dinner for people to purchase the many photographs taken throughout the trip. The photographers were kept busy, but hundreds of photographs were thrown away, many people objecting to the price!

      Laundry service

      I didn't use this service but on a longer trip it perhaps is more necessary. I really can't see me paying 1Euro for washing and pressing a hankie or 4.50Euro for a shirt.

      Tips and Gratuities

      6Euro per guest per day are automatically added to your account for tips, unless you go to the desk and say you wish to pay separately. Staff seemed to expect a separate tip, especially the cabin staff who worked hard and bent over backwards to make things as you wanted it. Our male staff made a towel swan arrangement for my birthday and came to wish me happy Birthday too! I can see it is fair that all staff get a tip but prefer to tip those whose service was good.

      MSC Club

      There are 3 cards, the Classic up to 21 points, Silver 22-42 and Gold 43 or more. This enables people to get a discount on excursions and purchases on board on later cruises. You earn 1 point per night on board and for each 200Euro spent on board excluding the Casino.

      Cost

      There is a difference in what is shown in the brochure and what you pay and often offers are available so it is worth checking it out. Currently for June an inside cabin is about £930 brochure price and £620 Prima price on the website and an outside with balcony depending on which deck could cost £1,330 or £830 Prima price. This includes flights from London and there is a £50 supplement for regional flights. The Royal Suite costs £2,310 and has no reductions!
      We left from Genoa and visited Naples, Palermo, Tunis, Palma, Barcelona and Marseilles. Irish flights connected with Barcelona and people boarded later in the week.

      Disembarkation

      All good things come to an end, there were talks for all of the main language groups held in the theatre the day prior to leaving. Labels were provided and cases had to be outside your cabin by 3.00am and then after breakfast everyone gathered in the theatre and were called depending on your colour tag. This wasn't as bad as expected as people had joined the ship at different ports, but Genoa was the most popular place. Cases were collected before customs, but it was all organised well and went through quite efficiently, until someone had left their sea pass in their room and so couldn't get off the ship!

      And in Conclusion?

      I can't agree with MSC statement that Fantasia is the most beautiful ship in the world but it is a beautiful ship. Italian hospitality and charm leaves a lot to be desired, and some work on improving staff training is necessary, although some staff were very helpful.
      The cabin we had was excellent and we did enjoy our holiday, but it could have been better if the few problems are ironed out. We'll need to go back to see if it gets better in time! I will update this when we return from our trip on the MSC Lirica.

      Also on Ciao under my name jo145 with some photographs.

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