The Costa Mediterranea. Feb 2 - 8, 2008. the eastern Caribbean with stops at San Juan, PR; St. Thomas; La Romana, DR; and Grand Turk.
Altogether, Costa Mediterranea, was a real vacation value. Even though we booked a guaranteed obstructed balcony, we were assigned an unobstructed balcony on deck seven. Embarkation was easy. We had flown in the day before and rented a car to explore Ft. Lauderdale. There was a free shuttle from the car rental agency to the pier, and getting on board was painless. We snacked at the buffet then got into our cabin before 1 pm.
This was our second cruise. Last year we were on the Carnival Conquest out of Galveston, which we found to be a very positive experience, even though it was loaded with over 3,500 passengers. This time we chose the Costa Mediterranea based on favorable reviews and descriptions of the international flavor, dancing and the itinerary. For us, both cruises were terrific, but different. Costa was far more relaxed and adult, and in the end, we enjoyed it more.
The Mediterranea is a truly beautiful ship with an appealing décor that emphasizes 18th Century Italian themes, with lots of Venetian glass, modernistic silver pieces, antique Chinese ceramics (including Tang Dynasty horses), copies of Caravaggios, contemporary Italian paintings and playful ceramics, which we found appealing. Also, there is a Chapel, "Capella" which was beautifully decorated and always in use. The chaplain was a ship's officer. Our cabin was a virtual duplicate of our cabin on the Conquest, and both ships had been built at the same shipyard in Finland. We had a balcony cabin on Port side which was kept in perfect condition by our extremely friendly and intelligent steward, Archimedes.
The food was plentiful and very good both on the buffet and in the dining room; however, we give the edge to the Conquest, perhaps because of our American taste. For example, lobster bisque on the Conquest was a smooth cream based delicate soup, while the soup of the same name on the Mediterranea was champagne based, clear and salty. However, dinner after dinner included pleasant surprises of new flavors and presentations followed by wonderful desserts. Of course, you could try multiple appetizers or entrees, and we did at the recommendation of our wonderful waiters. For us, the dinners were made even better by our dining companions, who started as strangers and became good friends.
Theater entertainment was a step below Carnival Conquest, still plenty entertaining. We had about 600 Irish aboard, and although many of their events were closed to other passengers, they had many public activities of song and dance that we joined. In general, dancing was terrific. We took lessons on various Latin dances, and even though at home, we don't dance much, we danced every afternoon and evening on the ship - 1960s Rock-n-Roll around the pool, Salsa and Merengue, and lots of simple (we had to keep it simple) ball room dances before and after diner. We even tried to learn an Irish jig. The cruise director David Lawton and his staff were very professional, competent and funny (often along the lines of Monty Python or Benny Hill), and the musicians, both instrumental and vocal, were top notch. There were bands or duets at several locations. They kept the party rolling. Speaking of which, don't miss Roman night, and go ahead and wear the toga. It is much more fun if you participate. With so much activity, we actually did not gain any weight, despite our appetites. "That's Amore."
Pool side was usually crowded, but there were three nice pools, and there was always room for one or two more. We actually enjoyed swimming in the ship's pools and using the whirlpools which never seemed congested with people. Despite, the large number of Europeans, I noted only one lady sunbathing topless, but I assume she just had a "wardrobe malfunction."
Ports of call were fun and each very different. We created all of our own excursions. At San Juan, Puerto Rico, we docked within easy walking distance of the old city. The Tourist Information Center provided rum punch and samplings of various rums. We walked the exterior of the old city wall to enter at the old gate for a stroll to the Cathedral, to give thanks to God for safe passage as travelers have for nearly five centuries. The fort was not too much further, but as a US National Park Service property, it closed at 6; so we simply wandered the grounds which provided post card views of the sunset and the city. Shopping was plentiful at US prices, and by 8 we made our was back to the ship for our late diner seating.
The next morning was St. Thomas. On advice of fellow cruisers, we shared a cab to Sapphire beach with our snorkeling gear. Sapphire may be the prettiest beach we have ever been to, and it wasn't crowded. The water was too choppy for good snorkeling; so we relaxed on the beach. It was easy to get a cab back into Charlotte Amalie for a walking tour of the town.
Dominican Republic was a pleasant surprise. At La Romana, you have a choice of beaches, golfing, the cute resort town of Casa de Campo, and La Romana itself, which was an easy walk from the ship and has the "Jumbo" store, an open market and plenty of shops with real bargains. The people were fun to talk with. We stopped into a church on the square for Ash Wednesday, then on the way back to the ship, spent a pleasant hour watching Dominican boys playing baseball. Some of them talked with us about their passion for the American big leagues, with lots of easy big smiles.
The last stop was Grand Turk which we love. The cruise terminal is new, and there are the usual duty free shops, but for $5 each, we took a cab into Cockburn Town where we seemed to go back in time a hundred years. Our cabby proudly showed us her small house and the near by spot were locals claim was the first landing place of Columbus in the New World. We were told that there is no unemployment and virtually no crime, and not much going on. Rotary Club meets on Tuesday nights. We went into the quaint 1887 Queen Victoria library with its small collection of musty books and internet access for a small fee. The librarian was glad to see us. The post office was even more amusing. We were the second customers of the day. I trundled upstairs to the Philatelic Bureau to buy stamps for postcards where for my $3 stamp purchase, the smiling clerk gave me a pen engraved, "Turks and Caicos Philatelic Bureau - We Love Our Customers." Meanwhile, my wife was asked if she would consider a job working for the post office since they had a position available. It was tempting. From there, we walked to the beach to snorkel in the clear, shallow water. Almost immediately, my wife found a large conch shell, a keeper. There were a half dozen species of tropical fish and plenty more shells, but we only took one. Had we been into scuba, there are excellent dive sites nearby. We stopped at a beachside cottage hotel, the Osprey, for a very large $6 pina colada while waiting for a cab to return to the ship. We are grateful we got to visit Grand Turk while it is still largely unspoiled. The next day was at sea for a rest and the toga party.
Altogether, Costa Mediterranea, was a real vacation value. Embarkation was easy. We had flown in the day before and rented a car to explore Ft. Lauderdale. There was a free shuttle from the car rental agency to the pier, and getting on board was painless. We snacked at the buffet then got into our very cabin before 1 pm.
Our only real negative was the Ft. Lauderdale Cruise Terminal and airport on returning at 8 am Saturday, and our flight didn't leave until 7 pm. Customs was not bad, but two other cruise ships arrived just before us, and no taxis were available for a long time with no place to sit except the hot curbside. When we finally got to the airport, it was mobbed with tens of thousands of returning cruisers who were camped out on benches and the floor for hours on end, as we were told it is every Saturday and Sunday. We were not allowed to check our bags for at least three hours before departure or enter the secured area prior to two hours before departure. So we got stuck sitting on our bags for hours. Ft. Lauderdale airport is none too pleasant. So you may want to consider staying over and enjoying an extra day or two in South Florida.
Keep on cruising.