As a prelude to our CIE eight-day bus tour around Great Britain, my wife and I recently decided to do a short Mediterranean cruise and booked what seemed like a good deal from Costa Cruise Lines. I generally like to arrive at least a day in advance to rest and recuperate from jet lag before embarking on a scheduled tour, and I thought a few days on an ocean liner would give us the perfect R&R to rejuvenate us for the trip to come. Unfortunately, the cruise was not nearly as relaxing as we'd hoped.
We flew into Nice from LAX, with a layover in JFK, totaling about 20 grueling hours of transit time from home to the hotel. We arrived about 11am, which would have given us barely enough time to make our scheduled 12:45pm Costa shuttle from Nice to Savona. If we missed the shuttle, we'd have to take a very expensive taxi ride to Savona, Italy, where our cruise was to begin. That connection was too close for comfort, so for our peace of mind, we chose to come a day early and just relax at our hotel for the night.
The next day we went back to the airport and boarded our Costa shuttle and took the two-hour ride to our ship, the Costa Luminosa. The porters took our bags from the shuttle and had put them in our room by the time we checked in. Very convenient, and about the best service we got on this particular voyage.
I’ve taken at least 15 cruises all around the world, and Costa’s check-in process was the strangest I’ve seen. We got a group number when we exited the bus and had to wait until our group was called before we could get in line to check in. As they got closer to our number, we sat by the entrance to the line and watched a bunch of people queue up that did not have the correct number. We they finally called our number, we fought our way into the line, and the desk clerks checked our tickets and passports before sending us to a table where they kept our passports. They offered us no room keys or literature on policies and provided no place to file our credit card information to pay for incidental expenses. At last, we made it to our room and found our keys waiting there for us along with our luggage.
By then, the crew was about to begin the emergency drill, so we took our life jackets and tried to find our assigned section. There were no employees to direct people, and passengers wandered around aimlessly trying to find out where to go. After a meandering search, we finally found our section, which was empty except for the crew. It took another 15 minutes or so for other passengers to locate the meeting area, and the protracted drill process began. There were long announcements in several languages, which killed a great deal of time before we were at last dismissed and able to head back to our room.
This disorganization worried us, given the deadly ordeal with the Costa Concordia, the liner that sank last year. I can now see why there were so many casualties. If one of these ships goes down again, the situation would be pretty much "every man for himself," since the crew offer little guidance or assistance in preparing passengers for emergencies.
Overall, we found that most of the staff rarely smiled, were not friendly, and were not very helpful in general. There’s no documentation on tipping, on the pricing of the premium restaurants, or other basic facts passengers should know. The food is adequate, nothing great; I would rate the cuisine a little below that of a Carnival weekend Mexico cruise. It seemed like the wait staff lacked help, or perhaps Europeans simply serve their meals at a much more leisurely pace than I'm used to. I don’t think the waiter ever smiled, and he never spoke except to take our order. We actually preferred the buffets since we could eat without waiting a long time for our food to come out, and the food was about the same quality as in the main restaurant.
The worst part of the cruise was getting off the ship to visit Barcelona. The exasperating lines were made worse by the fact that many of the European passengers (mostly Italians) did not respect the etiquette of the queue. If I didn’t block off the space next to me, someone would cut ahead in line. The cutters would push their way forward as far as they could go until the front of the line became so clotted that no one else could squeeze past. We became so incensed that we were on the verge of head-butting people to hold our place. Sorry, old lady, but maybe you’ll learn some manners after an elbow to the face!
The second port of Marseille proved a better experience because we waited 15 minutes until the lines had dissipated. We then took the shuttle bus into town and queued up for a shuttle tour of the city. The shuttle service was evidently a very small operation, for the driver himself opened the ticket booth after dropping off the previous passengers. To no surprise, another family of Italians cut their way in front of us and ended up taking the last four seats together on the shuttle. After that, it was no more Mr. Nice Guy! I became determined to cut in front of everyone else in all future lines, since that’s evidently the way things are done along the Mediterranean. As they say, "When in Rome, do as the rude Italians do!"
We stopped at Notre Dame to take a look around--that's the Basilica de Notre Dame de la Garde, not the cathedral in Paris with the Hunchback--and I got some really nice shots of the city of Marseille and the coast below. When we returned to the shuttle area, there was a huge line, way too many people to fit on the next shuttle. We cut our way near the front of the line and waited. Once the shuttle arrived, most people in line ran to get seats, and the whole crowd yelled at them. Apparently, cutting is only okay to the Europeans if they're the ones doing the cutting. Nevertheless, the shuttle driver loaded the shuttle with people from the front of the line, and since we cut near the front, my wife and I were able to get seats together. We were rewarded for being as obnoxious as the Italians!
I'd read other reviews from Americans who'd had similar complaints, and most said that seven days of such frustration was too much. I figured a three-day cruise would be tolerable, and this one fit our schedule and was very inexpensive. On the positive side, we were able to see some nice cities along the Mediterranean, but the quality of food, service, and passengers left much to be desired.
Without question, the highlights of the cruise were the ports of Barcelona and Marseille. They’re both beautiful cities, with much more to see than we could do justice to in the six hours we had during our shore leave from the ship. I hope someday to spend at least three to five days in each city.
We may be spoiled from our recent Viking and Uniworld river cruises, which each had under 200 passengers. With about 3000 people, a good percentage of whom were pushy and rude, this voyage just wasn't as pleasant as a nice, quiet, and relaxing river cruise.