But this is much more than a floating United Nations – from the moment you step aboard you are made to feel special by the cheerful and friendly crew.
We sailed from Genoa in northern Italy for a seven-day Mediterranean cruise on this 18-deck ship with 3,272 other passengers.
If you think that sounds too crowded and busy for comfort, you’d be wrong. This massive ship has acres of sunbathing space around five pools, including one with a sliding roof and an impressive 12 spa baths.
Under the command of Captain Mario Stiffa and his fellow Italian officers, the 1,325 crew – all on a personal mission to make sure you have a good time – help the Fantasia to glide effortlessly around the Med.
And all those Italians with white uniforms and epaulettes mean you can expect pasta to die for – of course, they wouldn’t stand for anything less than how their mamas made it.
There is plenty to do on board and ashore, while the itinerary takes in some of the most popular destinations in the Mediterranean as part of a “classic” western Med cruise of places you will never tire of visiting.
Our first stop was over the border in France, at Marseille, then Barcelona in Spain, over to north Africa for Tunis, into the grand harbour of Valletta in Malta and back to Italy for Messina and Civitavecchia – the port where ships line up to disgorge their passengers for the dash to Rome.
All of these are places where you can enjoy a short visit or return for a long weekend.
But you might have seen some destinations so often that you want to stay on board and enjoy a lazy day by the pool while the ship is quiet.
The ship tailors excursions to suit all tastes and pockets – culture vultures as well as adventure-seekers – or you can just walk down the gangplank and explore by yourself.
Then it was back to Genoa, a much underrated port city, which once rivalled Venice for wealth and prestige. Visit some of the spectacular museums and art galleries in the grand palaces.
Once a grimy place bypassed by those dashing to cruise ships and ferries to Sardinia, it has transformed itself since becoming European Capital of Culture in 2004 and opening dozens of wonderful historic buildings.
It is a treat, as they are less crowded than the better-known hotspots of Italy and everything is cheaper than the bigger names on the tourist map.
The ship has all the usual attractions plus much more, such as a 4D cinema, F1 simulator and wine tasting bar as well as the expected casino, disco, theatre, art gallery, shops and a very relaxing spa.
There’s a different pasta dish for every lunch and dinner on the ship, but you will also find everything from Tex-Mex to more traditional dishes, as well as a very popular pizzeria.
One day we found an excellent buffet selection of Indian food with chicken korma and a fiery madras… you will not will go hungry, with virtually non-stop food – and that cheeky midnight buffet for the night owls.
Forget the corny jibes about cruise ship crooners, too, as there are excellent musicians to entertain you from a classical quartet to jazz and swing bands at various bars around the ship before and after dinner.
And there are dance classes, shows, discos or karaoke to keep you busy late in to the night.
But for the ultimate in luxury cruising, MSC has a trump card for those wanting that extra wow factor.
Seasoned cruisers will tell you that the shipping lines are trying various ways to make holidays extra special with restaurants under the names of celebrity chefs and reserved areas for sunbeds and pampering.
However, they can add a substantial sum to the final cost of your holiday.
So, MSC has come up with a radical solution called The Yacht Club, which is basically a ship within a ship. It’s an exclusive haven around the bridge deck area, with a pool and sundeck, a luxury lounge and bar and even has its own French-themed restaurant.
It is all swipe card entry to 99 suites with spacious balconies, butler service and its own 24-hour reception desk where nothing is too much trouble.
Ask where you can get online and they lend you a laptop. If you want lobster or fillet steak, it’s yours.
The only thing they can’t conjure up is a win in the casino, but you can’t have everything.
Of course, it comes at a premium price, but regulars on the cruise scene think it represents excellent value for money for a big birthday, anniversary or honeymoon.
Everything, literally everything, is included – even tipping, so that old “should I, or shouldn’t I give extra” dilemma on ships is solved.
There is no charge if you dive into your minibar and drinks on deck or with meals are free, too, so no having to sign slips of paper while you are enjoying yourself.
Finally, they ask you if you’d like your favourite newspaper delivered. Free, of course. My Daily Mirror arrived in full colour, courtesy of satellite and laser printing, and was lovingly glued together.
At the end of the day, this is the nearest us mere mortals will get to a taste of life on board a private superyacht. So, if you ever get the chance, splash out and live like a billionaire – well, for a week anyway.
A seven-night Med cruise on the MSC Fantasia staying in The Yacht Club costs from £1,579pp , including 24-hour butler service, complimentary drinks, exclusive suites, pool, spa, restaurant and private lift. A non-Yacht Club cruise costs from £499pp. Flights extra. Call 0844 561 7412.
For a cheaper option, Teletext Holidays has 8 nights aboard the MSC Opera from £619pp - based on 2 sharing.
By Mark Ellis
Courtesy Mirror UK
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