Having just returned from a week on the MSC Fantasia, I have no hesitation in saying that this is quite simply one of the most stunningly appointed vessels that I have ever sailed on in three and a half decades of cruise and ocean liner travel.
She’s a big girl- 133,000 tons, and capable of carrying more than 4300 passengers. But the interior design and lofty ceilings combine to create a sense of casual, spectacular luxury and space that makes such numbers seem impossible.
Fixtures, fitting and furnishings are of a quality and scale that would enhance any old style, luxury ‘grand hotel’ from history. It would be so easy to imagine Audrey Hepburn strolling down the magnificent, Swarovski crystal studded staircases that link the various levels of the stunning atrium. And it would not be overly fanciful to imagine the dapper little Hercule Poirot hunched delicately over an early morning espresso in Il Cappucino, the bar overlooking the lobby.
Of course, MSC is a very European product, and this is reflected in the scale, style and entertainment on the ship everywhere. But the real entertainment is actually the ship itself- from any angle, she is a true superstar.
Whether you’re enjoying piano music in a lounge themed after the classic Atlantic liners of the thirties, or partying in a sixteen story high glass disco that looks as if lifted intact from the Death Star, the whole vibe of the ship is very multi national. The currency on board is the euro; the ice cream truly, magnificent Italian, and impossible to resist.
MSC Fantasia is as much multi generational as multi national. Large, extended families come on board and party until the small hours. On deck dancing and participation games are the norm. Some find it cheesy, but many more love it. And the participation was enthusiastic and, ultimately, contagious.
Food is geared across this base range of clientele, from English to Italian, to German and French. Mexican and oriental offerings proved a welcome surprise to even this crowd, but the room service menu- like continental breakfast- incurs a small service charge, just as in any European main land hotel.
Similarly, the extra tariff restaurants are priced per menu item, a la carte, rather than on the one blanket price so typical of other mainstream lines. Never for one moment can you forget the essential, pan European nature of the MSC product.
At times, the noise seems inescapable. It’s an exuberant, bubbling torrent of excitement, enjoyment and indulgence that can be just as marvellous as it can sometimes be maddening, depending upon your mood. And yet…..
Sitting on the breeze kissed terrace of the Lido di Catalano at sunset. listening to a solitary, live sax player as the flaring red ball of the sun falls into what resembles a sea of blazing straw, you just know that there is absolutely nowhere else you would rather be right at that moment. My week aboard this extraordinary floating resort- where the indolence of the Riviera meets the elegance of the Ritz- was full of just such stunning little vignettes.
The soul and spirit of la dolce vita is very much alive and well. It’s all at sea.