MSC FANTASIA Inaugural and Christening

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Thursday, December 18, 2008


“Please, mister, you must now shut off and put away your camera,” admonished the Alitalia flight attendant as our plane descended over Naples. Quite frustratingly, through a break in the clouds that had recently flooded much of Italy, MSC Cruises’ massive new FANTASIA was just entering the historic harbor. Vesuvius, distant Capri — it was all magnificently laid out and begging for one quick, clandestine click but the attendant lingered. Even from 7,000 feet, photographing ships can be a challenge.

Stazione FANTASIA.

REX immortalis.

Two hours later, I was with a small cluster of American media in a long queue at the glorious Stazione Marittima, former terminus of Italia’s gallant REX, CONTE DI SAVOIA, RAFFAELLO, MICHELANGELO and dozens of other lamented floating legends. Now bedecked in blue banners welcoming “The Most Beautiful Ship In The World”, the terminal was dwarfed by the 133,500 gt MSC FANTASIA (actually nearly the combined size of MICHELANGELO, RAFFAELLO and REX) tethered to its inner berth.

Flying jellyfish.

Fortunately, the terminal was an aesthetic diversion. My friend Christopher Kyte remarked that Mussolini was famously described descending its grand staircase as “an overstuffed tomato in a white napkin”.

Billowing magenta and violet chenille Man O’Wars hovered in the ceiling recesses along with more blue banners and “coral” clusters fashioned out of enameled branches. I would soon learn that the coral motif has been chosen to represent “MSC Cruises’ love of the sea and respect for the environment”.

Line up at Le Vele.

FANTASIA Category 10 outside cabin 12119 facing port.

FANTASIA Zanzibar Cafeteria, facing aft from port.

Finally, we were given our boarding cards and directed to the gangway. A line up of stewards and stewardesses greeted us in the lobby. One may have offered to take us to our room but we found it easily on our own. We left our luggage in comfortable, pleasantly hued cabin 12119, a Category 10 outside double with verandah on port Incanto Deck (12).

Our next stop was the Cafe Zanzibar on aft Miraggio Deck (14) for some food and a cappuccino to fuel a marathon documenting spree.

FANTASIA facing forward from aft Sun Deck (18).

FANTASIA funnel from starboard aft Sun Deck (18).

FANTASIA aft port Sun Deck (18), facing aft.

FANTASIA Le Privé, facing aft.

FANTASIA Formula One Simulator.

FANTASIA Il Polo Nord, facing south.

Aft Aurora Deck (16), facing forward from starboard.

FANTASIA Restaurant L’Etoile, facing port.

The rest of the afternoon would enable me to photograph a significant portion of the ship.

Initial descriptive adjectives: brass, huge, more brass, gold, razzle dazzle, swirls, semicircles, circles, fiberoptic, Farcusian. Milan-based Studio de Jorio, the FANTASIA’s design team, seems to have been inspired or influenced by the Carnival, RCCL and NCL megaships. There are conceptual spaces (African-inspired cafe, a graffiti-on-sheet-metal paneled teen center, faux palm trees in the pool area, and even a Tex Mex cafe with a Cadillac popping through the faux brick bulkhead), a casino with enough glitz to outshine Vegas and a showroom flanked with Gehry-esque metal panels. In joining the megaship ranks, MSC may have decided the days of quiet, understated Italian elegance are over and they may be on to something. Remember the near panic purists had when Carnival’s “wild and crazy” Joseph Farcus was given decorative control of the since hugely successful Costa newbuilds?

Swooning at the sublime sweep of the generously-proportioned funnel, I began on aft Sun Deck (18), worked my way down through the crown-shaped/space ship structure housing the Disco, F1 Simulator, Playroom, Teen Center, Sports Arena and then aft to L’Etoile (French a la carte restaurant) and Lido Catalano on Splendido Deck (15).

FANTASIA midships Miragio Deck (14), facing forward.

Aurea Spa.

FANTASIA Yacht Club staircase lobby “swirl” facing starboard from Aurora Deck (16).

FANTASIA Yacht Club staircase lobby “swirl” facing port from Aurora Deck (16).

FANTASIA Yacht Club Top Sail Lounge, facing port.

FANTASIA Yacht Club Royal Suite 16007 sitting area, facing port/forward.

FANTASIA Yacht Club standard suite 16009 facing port.

From there, it was forward, past the open midships Miraggio Deck (14) Acqua Park pool and whirlpools to the enclosed I Tropici Piscina Coperta (magrodome-enclosed pool) to the MSC Aurea Spa and then up to the exclusive “ship within a ship” Yacht Club area with its forwad-facing Top Sail lounge, concierge area and cabins.

By twilight, the top decks of the ship were checked off my list.

We were assigned to the limited open seating dinner in the L’Africana/Zanzibar Restaurant (basically with the same buffet offerings we had at lunch) and after our long commutes, decided to call it an early day.

A full tour is forthcoming on Decked!.

Friday, December 19, 2008


Christening magnum.

Thanks to jet lag and the usual insomnia, I was up and at it with the cameras at 6:30 AM. Outside our balcony, the ever fascinating port of Naples was host to a variety of ferries and ro/ros. In the distance, fog was beginning to clear from the lower slopes of a partially obscured, snow-capped Vesuvius.


Cadillac ahoy in El Sombrero Tex Mex!

Swirl of gold detail.

Stairtower swirls.

FANTASIA Reception Lobby, facing port from Magnifico Deck (6).

FANTASIA Reception Lobby, facing aft from Magnifico Deck (6).

FANTASIA Reception Lobby, facing up from Fantasia Deck (5).

Swarovski steps.

FANTASIA Il Cappuccino, facing port.

FANTASIA Le Vele, facing aft.

FANTASIA Blue Vestibule.

I would tackle most of the ship’s public rooms on Sublime (7), Magnifico (6) and Fantasia (5) Decks before joining friends at 1:00 PM in the aft-situated Il Cerchio d’Oro Restaurant.

MSC Cruises President, Pierfrancesco Vago (l) and Domenico Pellegrino (r).

At 2:00 PM, Formula One driver Jarno Trulli officially opened the ship’s F1 simulator but I decided it was more important to secure a good seat in the L’Insolito Lounge for the press conference with MSC’s top executives. The conference began late and went well overtime.

La Loren.

By 4:00, the room was mobbed with paparazzi and an SRO crowd, anticipating a Q and A with Lucio Dalla (the Elton John of Italy), famed Renzo Arbore (leader of Orchestra Italiana) and silver screen legend and FANTASIA’s godmother Sophia Loren. Troops of Armani model type security guards sternly demanded the camera-clad clusters cleared the area in front of the stage. It took almost 30 minutes to make enough space for the Oscar-winning icon and her entourage to enter the room. Loren has just wrapped shooting on the film version of the musical “9”, co starring Nicole Kidman and Judi Dench.

River Plate fashion plate addresses la Loren.

The questions were mainly in Italian but one interesting moment came when a fashion editor from Buenos Aires (accompanied by a leggy blonde aspiring model) asked Ms. Loren to divulge her secret for eternal beauty. The throaty, shrugging response, “If I told you, it would no longer be a secret. Some people have it and some people don’t.” Applause.

Under “press”-ure!

An Irish reporter, apparently a fan of soccer, asked her if she would be going to Ireland to support the Neapolitan team’s scheduled matches next summer. Loren looked incredulously at one of the famous musicians in her midst, mumbled something in Italian and replied, “I know nothing about such things. I love cinema, art and music.” More applause.

I squeezed out of the mob at 5:00 PM, raced to the cabin, showered, and donned the tux. There was no time for a nibble in the cafe, nor a chance to work out at the Aurea Spa tonight.

Inaugural crowd gathers.

At 6:00 or so, our small American contingent of press and top-producing travel agents followed genial MSC Cruises USA’s president, Rick Sasso, off the ship and along the mylar-covered terminal walkway to the large temporary pavilion on the outer edge of Stazione Marittima. Heavy winds and rain had wreaked havoc with the pavilion, itself, apparently ripping open portions of the roof. It was a bit chilly and damp as we settled in on some seats near the back of the huge arena. Each chair was topped with a lovely program describing the events:

Acrobatic dance performance by Aeros, including members of the Romanian Artistic Gymnastic Federation

Curtains part on the stage to reveal the towering bow of the MSC FANTASIA, floodlit in an evolving spectrum of colors

(eight song) Concert by Pino Danielle, renowned Neapolitan Rock, Blues and Jazz artist

Renzo Arbore and his magical Orchestra Italiana.

(Another long but delightfully exuberant) Concert by Renzo Arbore’s Orchestra Italiana (think Italian Gypsy Kings meets Xavier Cugat), joined by Lucio Dalla

Short speeches by MSC President Pierfrancesco Vago and MSC’s CEO Gianluigi Aponte

Left to right: MSC FANTASIA Captain Giuliano Bossi, Sophia Loren, MSC CEO Gianluigi Aponte, MSC President Pierfrancesco Vago.

Captain Giuliano Bossi, Sophia Loren and Gianluigi Aponte. Photo and copyright Oliver Mueller 2008.

The ribbon is cut. Photo and copyright Oliver Mueller 2008.

Entrance of Sophia Loren (who, after accepting a bouquet from a little girl, waved and proceeded to stage right) for the ceremonial ribbon cutting to release the bottle of Veuve Clicquot into the ship’s bow flanks.

MSC christening confetti blizzard.

Eruption over the Bay of Naples.

Blizzards of confetti and blasting of MSC FANTASIA’s whistle followed with a magnificent fireworks display over the Bay of Naples.

Stazione Marittima in lights.

Facets of FANTASIA.

Although long (at nearly three hours, it was more like a night out on the town), the christening was one of the most elaborate and truly spectacular I have witnessed. It has also left
me craving more of Renzo Arbore’s amazing Orchestra Italiana music!

It was 9:30 when we finally made it to dinner in Il Cerchio d’Oro for a fixed menu of surf and veal (a vegetarian substitute was provided upon request).

FANTASIA L’Avangardia, facing forward from Sublime Deck (7).

After dinner, I barely made it to the L’Avangardia Theater for the show, “Odyssey”. It was a jaw-dropping feast of lasers, toned bodies, Medieval costumes and sets, and eery music. Quite stunning, even following the grand spectacle of the christening.

I had planned to sleep in the following day and then maybe see some of Naples, depending on what time the FANTASIA was to sail, which was still a mystery.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Neapolitan FANTASIA.

Up at 10:00 after a restless night, I tried to finish the documenting, which would include the Sports Bar, Red Velvet Restaurant, Internet Center, and L’imolito Lounge. After a cappuccino in the aptly-named Il Cappuccino overlooking the atrium, I joined Christopher on a walk through the streets of Naples. We found a pizzeria and lingered over a couple pizza margheritas and a penne arrabiata, then scaled the cobblestone streets overlooking the bay before returning to the ship just prior to her 6:00 PM departure.

FANTASIA MSC Aurea Spa gym, facing starboard.

I almost fell asleep on the floor of the MSC Aurea Spa gym during my first and only workout of the week as the FANTASIA sailed out of Naples, then joined Christopher for a low key, full service dinner in the Red Velvet. The food was not so memorable (to be fair, on inaugurals it rarely is) but the service and Lachryma Christi wine were wonderful.

FANTASIA Manhattan Bar, facing aft.

FANTASIA Piazza San Giorgio, facing starboard.

FANTASIA aft from forward Aurora Deck (16).

FANTASIA Il Transatlantico Piano Bar, facing aft/starboard.

Still hungry, we ordered a plate of cheese and bread in La Cantina Toscana, stopping in the Manhattan Bar for a freshly made chocolate and Grand Marnier crepe, then headed to the show, “Fantasie”, which, like “Odyssey”, was also a grand spectacle. Afterwards, there was time for some very nice gelato in Piazza San Giorgio, a walk around the upper decks, a visit to the disco and a glass of water in the Il Transatlantico piano bar.

Although the ship was not due to arrive in Genoa until noon, we were a bit horrified to return to 12119 and a notice telling us to vacate the cabin by 8:00 AM.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

After the overseas flights, non-stop events and challenges of documenting a 133,500 get ship in just two days, it was a tall order to get up at 7:00 AM and then carry our hand luggage around the ship until noon. We did our best to sleep in, but the banging of vacuum cleaners and cabinets in the cabins above, below and around us put an end to that.

As a compromise, I left my hand luggage on the sofa and decided to spend the morning on deck and in the public spaces as we neared Genova. The restaurants had all closed at 9:00 AM, so I made do with some peanuts from the mini-bar.

MSC FANTASIA nears the coast of Liguria.

FANTASIA flottante.

Don’t pose for me, Argentina!

On deck, it was a brilliant, sunny day. As we rounded the Portofino peninsula, FANTASIA blew her whistle, presumably in salute to the town of Camogli, home to many ex-sea captains. I secured a spot on forward starboard Aurora Deck (16) and was soon surrounded by a throng of German pho
tographers edging for their share of accessible railing. Meanwhile, over my shoulder, with Liguria and the FANTASIA’s backlit pool area as a backdrop, the aspiring Argentinian model was flipping her hair and pouting her lips as her friend clicked away.


FANTASIA, facing aft from midships Aurora Deck (16).

F DIAMOND, very much in the rough, at Genova.

Genoa looked magnificent with its pastel stucco facades bathed in the morning light. In the Mariotti shipyard, an interesting line up included Seabourn’s newbuilding SEABOURN ODYSSEY and the 1975-built former TOR BRITANNIA and 1976-built TOR SCANDINAVIA in Moby’s cartoon livery. The original Love Boat PACIFIC (ex PACIFIC PRINCESS) was in dry dock in between two ferries. Across the way, a cluster of Moby ferries lingered in winter layup. The remarkable 1967-built F DIAMOND, originally the TOR HOLLANDIA, lay at the end of Molo Vecchio, looking like an accident about to happen. We maneuvered past Comanav’s 1974-built OUZOUD (originally the PETER PAN) and eventually berthed stern-in at the Ponte dei Mille terminal.


Most of us were pretty jittery by the time the ship finally cleared and we disembarked for the coach to the marvelous, recently-restored Grand Hotel Savoia, across from the Stazione Principe train station. From there, it was off to eat before walking down to the Molo Vecchio for a photo of the MSC FANTASIA. An amazing line up of yachts and the disturbingly black, rusting F DIAMOND were encountered along the way.

Lele Luzzati!

In adjoining Portico Antico, we visited the Museo Luzzati, which is currently offering an exhibit called “La Cantata dei Pastori”. A flyer has announced a display of the late, prolific Emanuele Luzzati’s shipboard artworks in the near future but my inability to speak Italian prevented me from getting any further information.

View from Genova’s Grand Hotel Savoia, including Stazione Principe and the MSC FANTASIA.

By the time we returned to the hotel at a relatively early 7:00 PM, we were both so exhausted, we missed the scheduled dinner. Meanwhile, MSC FANTASIA towered over the harbor, aglow in lights, preparing to sail at 11:00 PM for her official maiden voyage.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Genoa and the Ligurian hamlets of Rapallo and Camogli (all within an hour’s scenic train ride) enchanted with their boundless charm and always available cappuccinos. It was nice to not have to rush immediately home, although there is never, ever quite enough time to enjoy Genoa.

Special thanks: Martin Cox, Charlie Doherty/CRUISE TRAVEL Magazine, Richard Farnsworth (camera rescuer extraordinaire!), Christopher Kyte, Oliver Mueller, Rick Sasso

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea.  With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications.  Knego also runs the website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India.  He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."
Peter Knego

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