After the clocks went back we began to feel a little wintry, so it was a pleasant surprise to be invited by MSC to join them on Fantasia for their All Stars of the Seas celebration, an annual event rewarding travel agents from Europe and beyond.
Fantasia was on her last Mediterranean cruise before heading out to Dubai for the winter (if only we could all do that) and the event took place on the last three days of her European season.
We had an early Sunday morning flight from Gatwick to MSC’s home port of Genoa so we were grateful for the efficient Gatwick valet parking organised by Holiday Extras, especially as an unexpected closure of the M25 meant we arrived later than planned. Less than two hours flying took us to Genoa and from there it was only a short transfer to the port; we were soon on board.
MSC is the world’s largest independent cruise line and this makes it a little different from the others. Fantasia’s Swarovski crystal staircases epitomise the Italian flair that we saw all around the ship; the staircase in the Yacht Club, a ship within a ship, is a golden version of the ones in the main atrium.
For those not familiar with the Yacht Club, it is an exclusive part of the ship with its own cabins, bar, lounge and restaurant accessed by a private lift. Guests are greeted on shore by one of the tail-coated butlers who provide an extraordinary level of service to Yacht Club guests throughout their stay on board. Drinks are included in the price, as well as their famous tins of delicious and varied nuts! Whilst a few other cruise lines offer some form of small luxury section in larger ships, none come anywhere near the Yacht Club experience. Guests have all the benefits of a small luxury cruiser but with the added advantage of being able to dip into the wider range of services offered in a larger ship as and when they wish.
However, life is not exactly uncomfortable for ordinary passengers either. Our balcony cabin was spacious with ample storage room, the bathroom had a tub rather than just a shower, and the balcony was larger than some of the ships we have been on recently. The ship has all the usual facilities including pools and jacuzzis, a spa, library, sports facilities and great kids clubs. The striking central atrium houses guest services, shops, bars and the excursions office.
After the compulsory muster drill we changed and headed for one of the elegant bars for pre-dinner drinks and service was noticeably courteous and efficient. As you might expect from an Italian cruise line, dinner is an event. Expect a menu offering a minimum of starter, salad, soup, pasta, main course and pudding. Of course you don’t have to order them all but, as they say, “when in Rome …” If you fancy something different then there’s El Sombrero, a Tex Mex restaurant, complete with Texan beers to complement the spicy food.
There is a lovely theatre of course complete with seats whose backs are of alternating height, making the stage easier to see for all. The entertainment was of good standard and as Fantasia has two main sittings for dinner there are two shorter shows rather than the one longer show that’s offered by ships that don’t have set dining times. Evening entertainment continued until the early hours and included a disco, relaxing piano bar, sports bar and a peaceful coffee bar.
We had the Allegrissimo drinks package, possibly the best cruise line ‘all inclusive’ packages at around £20 per passenger per day. When you consider that this includes alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks at any time, tea, coffee and ice-creams (Italians are good at ice cream) and more, then it’s well worth considering.
Our short cruise initially took us overnight from Genoa to Barcelona. It’s a delightful and popular Spanish city with much history and the famous Sagrada Familia cathedral, designed by the renowned architect Gaudi. Although still to be completed it is already one of the most popular architectural visitor destinations in Spain. Barcelona is also a great place for retail therapy and the Camp Nou football stadium is a must see for soccer fans.
After this brief visit to Spain we headed north overnight along the coast to France and its second city Marseille, complete with Hollywood-style sign. The old port is lovely and the many bars and restaurants reflect the flavour of the Mediterranean. If you want to taste delicious Bouillabaisse, originally a stew made by fishermen from the bits they couldn’t sell, then this is the best place to try it.
We left Marseille in the late evening and arrived back in Genoa the following morning. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, there was no direct flight back to Gatwick that day so MSC organised a coach to drive us to Nice, a wonderful journey on a road clinging to the hillside via Menton and Monte Carlo. From there it took just ninety minutes to fly back to Gatwick where our car was waiting for us at the terminal. In the meantime, Fanatasia was getting ready to sail to Dubai for her winter season.
Until now, sailing with MSC often has meant flying to the departure point. However, MSC Magnifica will be based in Southampton for the 2018 season and bookings can already be made. Antonio Paradiso, CEO for the UK and ROI, told me that in preparation for hosting UK guests, he had already sourced kettles for the cabins and was researching the best tea to go with them! With an Italian father and British mother, it seems he is ideally qualified to ensure that Magnifica offers UK guests the best of both worlds. It looks like MSC is everyone’s cup of tea!
MSC Cruises offers cruises with an Italian style and flair covering destinations such as the Med, Nothern Europe, the Caribbean, Cuba, South America, the Middle East and South Africa. For more information go to www.msccruises.co.uk or call 020 3856 3166.
Holiday Extras offers trusted Meet and Greet airport parking services and more at all major UK airports. To book, visit www.HolidayExtras.com or call 0800 1313 777.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Holiday Extras.