We planned this trip as a celebration of my parents 50th wedding anniversary. There were 13 of us in the group - filling 5 cabins.
We made one big mistake. We were flying in the day of the cruise from Atlanta to Frankfurt and then to Rome. Because we were getting there several hours early, we figured that if our flight was delayed or cancelled, there were enough other flights that we would be ok. We were wrong. Alitalia cancelled the flight from Frankfurt to Rome without any notice. In fact, we were sitting at the gate and I decided to find out why the gate agents were not there yet. I had to go outside the secure area to the Alitalia desk. They were absolutely no help. They put us on a Lufthansa flight that did not leave for 4 ½ hours. The only response we got was that was all they could do. Left with no choice, we took the flight. The people at Lufthansa were very pleasant and helpful making sure we got our luggage on the flight and that we were sitting together. If everything went perfect, we would still make the ship. We had contacted the shuttle service and arranged for them to pick us up later. They said this happened all the time. Unfortunately, the baggage handling system in Rome broke as our bags were coming off the plane. We had to wait for almost an hour for the bags. We finally got them 10 minutes before the ship was to leave. Instead, we had the shuttle driver take us to the train station and we got a night train (9 hours) to Savona. We never suspected that the train would not have a dining car, so we were left eating crackers and trail mix that we happened to have. We finally got to Savona and after a short cab ride (15 Euros per cab). We were there before the ship, but when the ship arrived, we were not able to embark until noon when the passengers scheduled to board in Savona boarded. Lesson learned: Always fly in at least one day early.
Calling our banks ahead of time did not seem to help. When my card would not work, I called them only to find that they had noted that I would be in Europe in October, not November. Once they fixed this, I had no problems. Other peoples cards seemed to work in one place but not another. But we expected this and that is why we had multiple cards and cash with us. Unfortunately, one of the places one of the cards did not work was on the ship.
We bought X1 packages for 3 of our group. We only received 2 of them. Costa Miami never notified the ship that we had bought a third package - but they charged the credit card. The only help we got from the information desk was to finally get us the phone number for Costa Miami, but we did not get that until Thursday night, so by then it was not worth the call. Fortunately we found out that most of the waiters do not seem to care who has the card. Everywhere, except the dining room, we were able to order drinks all around the table using the other cards. In the dining room, they would only allow the person with the card to order the drinks (bottles of wine or water). But once it was on the table we could share.
We also bought (at the same time as the missing X1 package) a Boys and Girls package for my son. When we bought it, Costa Miami told us that they were doing away with the current package, and instead were offering an X1 package that did not include alcohol. It was $20 more than the Boys and Girls package. We bought this. Unfortunately, nobody told anyone on the ship about this new package. They only had the 20 drink coupon book. We did not receive this until Tuesday night. We had to pay for some of his drinks before he got the coupons. They told us they could not take the others off the bill. We have a second issue to discuss with Costa Miami.
This trip was for my parents 50th wedding anniversary. We ordered the Anniversary Package for them . This was supposed to included a bottle of champagne, 2 bathrobes, 1 portrait, flower arrangement, certificate from the captain. Instead they got the celebration package, which was only the champagne and strawberries w/chocolate.
The food in the dining room was very good, but not what I would call great - still better than many restaurants back home. All of the food was good. The wait staff was attentive. I was surprised that they were not more sociable - like I have found on other cruises, but I understand that is the culture. They were there to serve the food and that was it. The only exception was the last formal night. They actually seemed to be enjoying themselves - as did everyone there. This cruise was over Thanksgiving, and for the dinner that night, Turkey and Dressing was on the menu.
I wanted some time away from the group with my girlfriend (she became my fiance over this dinner), so I booked us a reservation at Club Concordia. You have to reserve this 24 hours in advance, but there were only about 7 couples there and room for 20 or so. The food was excellent - much better than the dining room. You get 2 courses and dessert for 20 Euros. Drinks not included. They club has a piano player/singer, who coincidentally played on of our favorite songs as I was proposing. After dinner, they brought us a complimentary glass of champagne - perfect timing since she had just said yes.
We had a cabin with a window. It was larger than I expected. The beds were comfortable and we were very pleased. Andrea took care of our cabin and did a great job.
This was handled very quickly and orderly. Everyone was given a group number and you boarded when your group was called. The bags were taken before we even entered the building.
We missed the meeting to get our luggage tags, but others in our group went. This seemed to be a bit more difficult than embarkation. They had to argue to get tags to get off earlier - we had been told by Costa Miami that because we were past Carnival cruisers, we could get off the ship early. Our Carnival numbers were recorded prior to the cruise. This seemed to make no difference. We had a shuttle waiting on us at 9:30 and the ship personnel wanted us to proved that we had to get off earlier than when they scheduled us. They finally relented and gave us the early disembarkation - 8:45. We were at the hotel by the airport around 9:45.
We only went to a few of the shows on the ship. They were not the caliber we were used to, but they were still enjoyable. We had no interaction with the English speaking hostess, so I cannot comment on her. The kids (all 14 and above) felt that this ship was geared more towards older people and there was not a lot of things for them to do - but they still managed to stay busy and have fun. There were not many kids there age on the ship. I would guess that the average age was 40-50. Information Desk Most of the people working at the desk were not terribly helpful. They tried, but they need to learn to listen. We tried several times to explain the problem with our drink cards, but we were cut off before we could fully explain and told something that did not relate to our problem. On the last day, we got a different person (I think her name was Rosa) and she listened to us and then helped us.
Ports of Call
We missed Savona because of the cancelled flight. But, we did not see anything really to see there anyway. We only planned to get off to buy some wine.
Barcelona -It was 5 Euros pp to take the bus from the ship to the Trade center and back. That seemed a little steep for the distance, but it was too far to walk and still have time to see much. We took the elevator ride up the monument near where you are dropped off. It gives you a good view of the city. We just walked around and enjoyed the mimes and the sights. There was nothing spectacular here, but it was very enjoyable. Palma de Mallorca - The cab ride was 10 Euros per cab into town. The cab drivers were very pushy about trying to get us on a tour, but when we told them we were only going to pay 10 Euros to go into town, they agreed. We mostly saw pearls for sale everywhere. I was told they were a good deal. We saw several beautiful churches. The cab ride back was 10 Euros per cab.
Tunis - Despite what I had read from others who visited here, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit here. It was probably one of my favorite ports. We took our only shore excursion here. The excursion was great. Without this we would not of had enough time to see all we did. Be careful when you get off the ship. Without asking, we immediately had jasmine put into the women's hair and then were told to give 1 Euro each. We found the same when we got to the Bardot Museum - but with head scarf's for the kids at 5 Euros each. The Bardot Museum is great - lots of well preserved mosaics and statues. We headed to Carthadge. The history here was overwhelming. We then headed to the Souk in Sidi Bou Said. You have to be prepared for the bartering here. My daughter got a little overwhelmed, but in the end, we got some great deals. We saw price reductions of as much as 90 Euros down to 12 for a silver lined ceramic plate. It was actually fun to have the vendors chase us down the street to make the sale. We made it back to the ship just before we left port.
La Valletta, Malta - Skip the cab ride here @ 10 Euros per cab each way. Instead, just take the city bus for a round trip fare of 1 Euro. It leaves right across from the port. This was a great city to walk around. There are lots of shops selling silver filigree at great prices. No negotiation here, but after leaving Tunis, it was tempting. We got pizza and meat pies from a small vendor - it was great and cheap. The market is just inside the city gates. I understand it was temporarily moved there.
Palermo - This is one city I could have skipped. The hop-on hop-off bus was 20 Euros per person and not worth it. It was up the road from the port - we were expecting it right outside. It did not give you much time to get off at each stop and you did not see much. Save your money here and just walk up the main street. We did find some nice ceramics to bring back.
Rome - We had a mixup with our shuttle driver. We had reserved a trip to our hotel and then into Rome. They only seemed to know about taking us to the hotel. After getting the desk clerk from the hotel to interpret for us, we got it straight and were on our way into Rome. He gave us a quick non-stop tour of the major sites, then dropped us off. It was chilly and rainy so our sightseeing was a little limited. We only had the afternoon, so we knew it would be impossible to see Rome in a few hours. We did take the subway to the Coliseum and walk around it, but there was not enough time to go inside. We also went to the Trevi Fountain. After a couple of wrong directions, we were running short on tie so we finally gave up on getting to the Vatican. That will have to wait for next trip. I would recommend getting an all day subway pass for 4 Euros.
Hotel -There is a Hilton attached to the airport via a moving sidewalk, but it was booked, so we stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn at the Airport. I highly recommend this hotel. It is only a few minutes drive away - the hotel has a free shuttle. The beds were very comfortable and the hotel staff was extremely helpful. We had free internet access so we were able to catch up on our e-mail. The food in the restaurant was very good.
Overall - We had a fantastic trip - even with the mishaps. But then these things are what add to making the trip memorable. Next time we will go a little early and spend more time in Rome. This cruise is packed with things to see and do, so it would have been nice to have a little time to just relax. Instead, we came back to work the next day and it made the week very long.