Why Costa? - If you know me, you know I'm a die-hard Holland America fan. Then why in the HAL did I elect to cruise "Italian Style" with Costa Cruise lines? Well, let's go back about a year ago, when we initially scheduled. SunFlower (my better-half) wanted to do a Western Caribbean, which included Key West. She's never been there and was really looking forward to hoisting a few at Sloppy Joes, seeing Hemmingway's 6-toed cats, Audubon's house and the treasure of the Atocha. So, I booked an inside cabin on Holland America's ms Veendam, out of Tampa, on a one week Western Caribbean.
In April, after finishing with the Internal Revenue, we decided to invite our daughter, her husband and two boys to join us. They accepted and I changed the single inside to two adjoining/connecting outsides. Everything's going along nice and smooth. In July, DD informs us that she's not going to be able to cruise, as she's expecting our fifth grandchild in March. Cancel the two outside cabins and transfer to a single verandah for Grub (our oldest grandson), SunFlower and me. August and Hurricane Dean just about wipes Costa Maya (one of our stops) off the face of the Earth. Change four, drop Holland America and book the Costa Mediterranea, as she was on a similar itinerary and included a stop at Key West.
Pre-Cruise - Once we had our booking number, we did all our shore excursion and amenities bookings on-line, through Costa's website (http://www.costacruise.com). I suppose I changed excursion selections a half-dozen times as SunFlower and Grub kept me appraised of their choices. I never had a problem making or changing the bookings. Kudos to Costa for this feature.
We elected to drive from Michigan to Florida, as we had a lot of property from my mother's estate, which we needed to deliver to DD. So, with the Town & Country loaded up to the windows, we headed south on Wednesday morning, right after I got off work. Nine and a half hours later, we stopped at the Hometown Inn in Ringgold, GA (http://www.hometowninnringgold.com/). I definitely recommend this motel. Very nice, easy to get to, safe neighborhood a good rate and CLEAN! The next morning, a quick continental breakfast and we're back on the road.
We arrived at DD's at 5:00 pm and checked into our hotel, the Masters Inn - Tampa Fairgrounds (http://www.mastersinns.com/)… Danger, danger, Will Robinson! … Stay away from this place. It's probably great for migrant workers and fleet truckers (maybe), but the smell of industrial strength disinfectant was too much. SunFlower was afraid of bedbugs and I agreed. We split, immediately. I wouldn't even book my ex- into this dump! Avoid it. We checked with the Ramada Inn - Tampa (http://ramadatampa.com/). Excellent facility. I highly recommend them. The next morning, DD brought the most recent addition to the family over for breakfast (the I-Hop is right next door). He may have been four weeks early, but is healthy and doing well.
We headed on down to Ft Lauderdale on Friday as soon as Grub got home from school. We had a late arrival at the Day's Inn at 4211 North Federal Highway in Pompano Beach. DUMP! The lock on the door to our room was broken. The card reader latch worked and so did the "Y"-shaped, flip-over latch, but the whole mechanism was loose, held in place by only one screw and the dead bolt was broken/jammed. Apparently there had been a forcible entry previously, and repairs had not been made. The desk clerk was worthless. He barely spoke English and just kept repeating "No more rooms". Since I have a permit to carry concealed, we were safe that night, but I'd hate to think what would have happened if someone had made a mistake and tried to come in the wrong door.
We had invited our good friends, and fellow Wolverines Chris and Jane, to join us. They jumped at the chance and booked an inside cabin (6199). Rather than ride with us, or drive down on their own, they elected to fly into Fort Lauderdale and meet us there. We made sure we had their cell numbers with us and met them at the airport on departure morning. That really was a very painless process. I dropped SunFlower off at their arrival terminal and drove to the cell phone waiting area. This is a parking lot away from the terminals. Once your arriving party picks up their luggage, they call you and two minutes later; you're pulling up at curbside. No traffic jams. No security concerns. What a great idea!
Embarkation - Breakfast at a local Denny's and it was off to the airport to meet our friends. They were about 30 minutes late arriving, but they made it in safely and no luggage was lost. Four minutes later, we're unloading the luggage at the cruise terminal and I'm parking in the adjacent long-term lot. Luggage tags were generated at curbside, and we headed in for processing. After a grueling five or six minutes we were through the final security checkpoint and across the gangway. Very easy check-in and well run processing. More kudos to Costa!
Grub was intercepted by a couple of Animators (Activities staggers) from the Squok Club. They gave him a set of head-bongers and a schedule of club events for the week. We couldn't get him to wear the bongers (at 12 they just aren't very 'cool'), so I put 'em on! To quote George Lopez, "Yeah, and I looked good too!" Entering the ship, we were met by a dozen staff officers and various department representatives. Dragging the carry-ons, we headed for the Perla del Lago buffet and to explore the ship until the cabins were released. At 1:00 pm we headed for our cabin and SunFlower got her surprise.
She had originally booked a standard verandah cabin (5177). Without her knowledge, I had coordinated with Costa and had gotten us a seven category upgrade to a Panorama Suite (6182).
In the cabin, we found a bottle of imported Champagne, two crystal flutes, a bowl of fresh fruit, and a plate of canapés. The ice bucket was full and our cruise cards and Grub's drink card were waiting on the counter. As we began exploring the cabin, Phillipe, our steward, and Oresto, our butler, arrived and introduced themselves. These two charming gentlemen are a credit to Costa Cruise Lines. I gave Phillipe a description of our luggage, and it began arriving within the next 30 minutes! Oresto insisted on unpacking for us and made our conversion from landlubbers to sailors absolutely painless. Well, I suppose the champagne probably helped a bit.
The cabin was spacious. The verandah was about 6' x 14' and had a tinted glass railing. Even though there were two nice lounge chairs and a small table, there was room to walk around. Inside was the standard queen bed, with lighted nightstands on either side, a daybed (twin), also with a lighted nightstand, a ceiling stowed Pullman (which we did not use), an easy chair and adjustable coffee table. The main cabin had two counter areas, a well-stocked refrigerator, a chest of drawers, television, safe and plenty of storage cabinets. There were two roomy closets in the main cabin and two more in the dressing room. Yes, there was a dressing room between the cabin and the bath, with a vanity, large mirror and great lighting. The bath was more than adequate, with the infamous 'cruise ship toilet' (do not flush while seated!), twin sinks, a large counter, Jacuzzi-tub and shower with sliding glass doors. There was also a very nice selection of toiletries, which Phillipe kept stocked at all times.
Happy birthday and congratulations on your retirement SunFlower!
The Cruise - This was an eight day/seven night cruise, out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with Ports-Of-Call scheduled for Key West, Florida; an 'At Sea' day, Georgetown, Grand Cayman; Roatan, Honduras; Cozumel, Mexico, and a final 'At Sea' day. At least, this was the planned itinerary. Unfortunately, events were underway which would change those plans … just a bit.
On our first morning, we were scheduled for Key West. There was some confusion as to what time that would be, as we had "Spring Forward" that night, so we were not sure exactly when we would dock. Regardless, we all headed down to the Degli Argentieri Restaurant for a big breakfast. Looking out the windows, I noticed that we were heading North, which I though a bit strange, but I wrote it off to maneuvering in the approach channel to Key West. Around 7:45, we were interrupted by an announcement,
"Ladies and gentlemen, we regret to inform you that at last night a passenger was seen going overboard. The ship has been conducting a search all night and has not been released by the Coast Guard. Unfortunately, we will not be stopping in Key West as scheduled. All scheduled tours have been cancelled and the cost will be credited to your accounts. We will remain on station until we are released."
Around 8:15 am, a male passenger was making a scene in the main lobby, at the customer services desk. Security personnel took up positions in the immediate vicinity, quietly ushering other guest from the area. I saw two plainclothes personnel with handcuffs in hand. The man was yelling, cursing and threatening the staff. Eventually, the calmed him down and took him into one of the nearby offices, ending that episode of the drama. Around 10:30 am, an announcement was made that the ship had been released by the Coast Guard from further searching, and was returning to Miami for "technical reasons". By 11:00 am the ship held position off the entrance to the Port of Miami channel. There it was met by a small boat (20'-25'?, similar to a sport fishing boat). Two men (a CSI team?) got off the boat, each carrying a large black suitcase. Then, the man from the lobby was escorted off the ship. I could not tell if he was restrained or not. After the man was taken off the ship, we set sail for Grand Cayman, with Key West nothing but a memory. We were credited for all shore excursions, port charges and other fees.
Our missing passenger was never found. At the time of this writing, the case remains "under investigation" by the FBI.
According to the more popular rumors a couple (boy and girl-friend), with a balcony cabin, had been arguing ever since they boarded. Supposedly, there was a second, ex-girlfriend somehow involved, who left the ship before sailing. When she found that she had been invited to be a third-wheel? The couple had been seen arguing with each other all day previously, and well into the night. But no one reported them ("Don't want to get involved, you know."). Around 11:15 pm, someone reported that they thought they had seen someone go overboard, from the side of the ship. Just about the same time, the yelling from the cabin ended. Forty-five minutes later, the boyfriend reported that, while they were arguing, she suddenly climbed the balcony railing and jumped overboard.
The Ship - Wow! To some eyes, the décor may be over the top, but personally, I liked it. Lots and lots of marble, mirrors and light. The atrium is the focal point of the ship and the center of activity. Reaching 11 decks and topped by a huge skylight it will draw your attention. There are three glass elevators, which are in constant use and afford knockout views. OK, starting at the top, let's wander around …
12 (Madera) Deck - Only accessible aft, via a stairway leading from Club Medusa, the forward portion is a topless sunbathing area. Grub was not expecting this and only tripped over two lounge chairs before exiting the area. Moving aft, we took a stairway down to …
11 (Pandora) Deck - This deck is in three sections. Forward is a basketball/tennis court and jogging track with a non-skid surface. Amidships there is a small sunbathing area above a bar. This area is also topless. Internally, the aft section hosts the Club Medusa balcony. Outside there is a baby wading pool between Club Medusa and the water slide. A very nice, quiet area with a windbreak surrounding the pool area. At the very aft are the steps leading up to the water slide. The slide was not open al the time. Check the sign for availability. When it was operating, the wait was about 4-5 minutes between runs, but Grub felt it was too long. Oh well, his loss. I had a great time. The slide ends on …
10 (Cleopatra) Deck - Frequently used as an additional jogging track, Cleopatra has a bar amidships, between the forward and aft family pools. Great views and, as previously mentioned a second topless area. Immediately aft of the aft pool opening is the (bocce) bowling alley. Plenty of lounge chairs. No waiting …
9 (Armonia) Deck - Forward are the Ischia Spa, Venus Beauty Salon and Gymnasium. Very good selection of machines and free weights. There is also a hot tub for those who don't want to soak outside and don't want young people around. I enjoyed this area too. It's nice relaxing my cares away; with a frozen thingy in hand and watching others sweat their sins away.
Heading on back, past the ping-pong tables, is the Armonia Pool. This is one of the two family pools. The second being the Cadmo Pool. They each have an elevated hot tub, but Cadmo has a sliding cover, allowing it's use during bad weather. Between them there are two bars, which do a brisk business all day and night. Again, lots of lounge chairs and tables for casual dining.
Immediately adjacent to the Cadmo Pool is a bandstand with a 3-4 man combo playing throughout the day and evening. Stage right (starboard) is the poolside grill - hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, chicken filets, etc. There is also a drink and desert station on this side. Portside is a deli/sandwich bar with yet another drink station. Continuing aft, you'll come to the Perla del Lago Buffet area. There is a glass stairway extending out into the atrium and connecting Armonia with Cleopatra Deck allowing entrance to Club Medusa …
Club Medusa is the reservations-only exclusive dining experience, now being offered on most cruise lines. The club is on two levels, Cleopatra and with a balcony on Pandora). As Panorama Suite passengers, we had a complementary dinner there one evening, and were very happy with the meal. The service was excellent and the atmosphere was quite romantic. Non-suite passengers may also dine there, but the menu is a la carte, and a full meal will run you around $30-35 per person, plus drinks and gratuity. Worth it? That'll have to be your call …
OK. Back to the Perla del Lago Buffet. There are four serving lines for meals and one of these usually serves ethnic food (German one day, English another, etc.). At breakfast, there are two omelet stations adjacent to the atrium. In the afternoon and evening, these change over to pasta selections. Yummy! Another change, in the late evenings, is that the aft-starboard buffet section becomes the Poilliso Pizzeria. With the ever-present Pizza Margarita (pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese and basil) and two other choices, which change daily. Aft is the "adult-only" Apollo pool, hot tub and bar. There are plenty of lounge chairs and towels available.
8 (Pagaso), 7 (Prometeo), and 6 (Narciso) Decks - are cabins only …
5 (Orfeo) Deck - Likewise, is also primarily cabins only, except for the forward most portion. Here you'll (eventually) find the Squok (children's) Club. What's interesting is that this area is only accessible from a stairway leading up from a landing on 4 (Teseo) Deck; and, that landing, in turn, is only accessible via two stairways which lead up from 3 (Bacco) Deck! All in all, it's a very convoluted routing to get to the children's area. However, this also significantly insulates the children from the adults. The Animators (youth counselors) were numerous and kept a very busy schedule for each age group. The only children who really didn't participate were the teenagers. There were activities available for them, but it's "that" age. So, they basically entertained themselves. A lot of basketball, ping-pong and just hangin'…
4 (Teseo) Deck - As mentioned above, at the far forward end is a landing, which takes one up to the Squok Club. On the port side of this landing is the Chapel. Catholic Mass is conducted daily (would you expect anything less on an Italian ship?). Starboard is the video arcade. There is a very extensive assortment of machines available, and my grandson never complained of a wait. Indeed, those times when I was searching for him, I seldom, if ever, found anyone there …
3 (Bacco) Deck - On either side of the Osiris Theater are the Winter Terraces. These are two very intimate, semi-secluded areas offering tables for two and large windows. The deck slopes up as you head aft, arriving at the upper entrances to the Osiris Theater Balconies.
On port side is the library/internet café. You can access the Costa website at no charge, but are limited to 5 minutes of free connect time per hour. If you need more time, or want to surf anywhere else, you'll need to insert your Costa Card into a reader. The cost was never very clear, but thankfully there is an onscreen counter, which allows you to see how fast your charges go up (as opposed to how slow your downloads are). The connect speed is terrible, verging on the order of around 350-500 bps! That is, it takes about 2-3 minutes to load the average web page. Longer if there are pictures involved. My recommendation? Save your money and avoid the Internet. You're on vacation and there's nothing going on back in the world that you can really influence anyway. As far as the library itself goes, the selection is limited, but that's primarily because they are carrying a general selection in six languages. If you're multi-lingual, you won't have a problem finding good materials for your leisure time.
Continuing on, is the Oriental Lounge. This was a favorite hangout of many, as it is quiet, easy to get to and afforded a nice degree of intimacy. There is also a very nice fountain surrounded by a stairwell, which led down to 2 (Teriscore) Deck. Following the Via Condotti, you'll progress through the on-board shops. If there's anything you forgot, they can probably provide it (at 2 to 3 times the 'back-home' cost) …
Halfway along, you'll arrive at the photo galleries, which surround the Maschera D'Argento Atrium. As with all cruise ships these days, the ubiquitous photographers are everywhere during the cruise and the results are on display in glass cabinets. Each cabinet has a sign identifying the general time the photos were taken. If you manage to find one you wish to purchase, you'll have to find one of the staff and have them unlock the cabinet and ring up the sale. Takes time, and I'm sure that they will eventually find a better way to do this. Once the photos are replaced, you won't see them again until the last day. Then they'll be stacked in open baskets. This is a very inefficient way to find your photos. They missed a lot of sales because passengers grew tired of searching and went on to something more interesting.
Next, you'll come to the Dionisio Lounge. This is a great little area to meet up with your table companions for pre-dinner cocktails, appetizers and a recap of the day's activities, before entering the upper portion of the two-level of the Degli Argentieri Restaurant …
2 (Teriscore) Deck - From the bow (that's the pointy end of the ship) and heading aft; we start with the Osiris Theater. Seating over 1,700 guests, this is the primary venue for the production shows, contests, indoor games and that good ol' reliable standby … Bingo. There were two shows nightly. The early show was for the second seating passengers, and the second reversed the process. We enjoyed the shows and even got the grandson to attend on a regular basis.
Just outside the theater, you'll find the card room and the Piazza Casanova at the bottom of the fountain and stairs. The Piazza was used for many shows, dancing and games.
The Grande Canal Casino is next, and fully extends across the deck. Therefore, there will be heavy pedestrian traffic, including children, through the gambling area. Personally, I did not appreciate the young people hanging around, searching the floor for dropped tokens, or even playing some of the slots. Yes, the casino staff did move them along, but not with any serious consistency …
Amidships, is the Maschera D'Argento Atrium. This will be the first thing you see as you enter the ship, and your last as you leave a week later. Extremely impressive, the atrium extends up Cleopatra Deck and is capped by a huge skylight. Guest Services (manned 24/7) and Shore Excursions (very limited hours) offices are on the port side. Dancing along the walls are three glass-enclosed elevators, 19 stylized figures and lights in the shape of jellyfish.
Aft, is the Talia Lounge. As with the Dionisio Lounge on Bacco Deck, it's a great place to meet up with friends before, or after diner. This is the entrance to the Selva Disco, extending down to 1 (Circe) Deck. Aft is the lower entrance to the Degli Argentieri Restaurant …
1 (Circe) Deck - Whew, finally! OK. Forward is another of the Mediterranea's quiet little secrets, the Giardino Isolabella Lounge. This one deck show lounge provides a great location for smaller performances, dance lessons, classical music and meetings. At the very aft end of Circe is, as mentioned above, the lighted dance floor of the Selva Disco …
The Degli Argentieri Restaurant - This is the main restaurant and is on two levels. Well lit and nicely decorated, the Degli Argentieri did not see the crowds I expected. Oh, on the first night, yes. Almost every table was full. Everyone wants to meet their new tablemates, wait staff and check out their view. We were fortunate to be at table 50, a window table for six, just starboard of midline, on the stern. We had a fantastic view of the sea, the glorious sunsets and where we had been.
Our waiter, Dominick (Dom), and Assistant Waiter, Joseph, were not Italian, but were both from the Philippines. Even with that twist, they did a marvelous job of introducing us to the various offerings and the impressive creations of the Chef. Our drink preferences were always remembered and service was both prompt and invisible. Dom had no problem with a discrete shake of the head if one of us ordered something that was, shall we say … 'less than excellent'.
Dinners are your standard cruise offerings, three or four appetizers, three soups (two hot and one chilled), two salads, and then two pasta courses (Italian style dining), followed by five to six entrees. There were also some standards offered every evening, for those who did not want to experiment - sirloin steak, broiled/poached/grilled salmon, broiled chicken, Caesar salad, baked potato, etc. The desert selection was fairly good. There is also a children's menu, offering hamburgers, mac'n'cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, chicken fingers and fish sticks.
Grub did me proud. He took one look at the children' menu and informed Dom that he, "wasn't going to be eating any of that junk." He ordered off the adult menu, and insisted on the chilled soup and two portions of grilled salmon every night. In addition, he also tried (at least) one new dish at each meal. There were a couple he didn't care for, and Joseph made them quickly disappear.
There was what SunFlower and I both considered to be a glaring omission for an Italian cruise line … no canoli! Honest, eight days and seven nights on an Italian ship, with an Italian Head Chef and no canoli anywhere, at any time! Shame on you Costa ... Shame.
Special Events - There are two Formal Nights (second and sixth), which is pretty much standard for a one-week cruise. Costa does one thing that sets it apart from their competition. On the final night, when you have packed your bags and are now limited to your next day's carry-ons (carry-offs ??), Costa hosts "Roman Bacchanal Night. That's right … TOGA, TOGA, TOGA! Your cabin steward will leave extra bed sheets in your cabin, along with instructions on how to tie and wear a toga. A bit of prior research allowed SunFlower and I, along with our friends and our grandson, to purchase togas before the cruise. We were five of around 15-20 who went this route and were glad we did. We were recognized and really felt special. It made the night a lot more fun. Although some people, even after a week, still hadn't learned to relax enough to join in the fun. Most did. I saw some strange combinations. Bib-overalls with a toga over hem. A toga with cowboy boots and 10-Gallon hat. You never know …
The Final Evaluation - Here we go. First, let me say that I have problems with folks who go on a cruise (or other vacation for that matter) and expect to find faults. "The cold water wasn't cold enough. The hot water wasn't hot enough. I saw a worn spot on the carpet. The lounge singer wasn't as good as Enrico Caruso. One of the stewards failed to smile at me one morning." Yadda, yadda, yadda. Come on people … Lighten up. If you go looking for problems, you'll find them. How sad. I prefer to look on the sunny side of life. No, everything isn't going to be absolutely perfect. But, is the cruise line honestly trying to give you a good experience for a fair price? There were plusses and minuses on this cruise, to be sure. The only issues, of any consequence, were:
The Cons - The biggest problem was that we cruised during Spring Break. We will not do that again. Many of the American parents were failures at that responsibility; i.e. - they did not 'parent'. They tended to let their children run wild. It was not uncommon to get on an elevator and find that every button had been pushed. More than once I found chewing gun stuck under tables in the lounges. Young people (teenagers, primarily) tended to take over whole sections of the lounges or the Osiris Theater and were uniformly rude to the other passengers. And … NO CANOLI !!!
The Neutrals - Announcements are made in five languages. English, Italian, German, French and Spanish. This can make some events (the abandon ship drill) a bit longer than some may be willing to bear. Also, because many passengers are European, you'll find smoking much more common than in the States. Personally, neither of these were a problem for me; however I did hear others complaining.
The Pros - I liked Costa. The staff were good and put out a good product. The ship is very well decorated and I did not have any problem finding my way around. The entertainment was varied and interesting. The casino was friendly (I won enough on the penny slots to pay for the next cruise!). Shore excursions were many, interesting, timely, escorted, and safe. The food was more than plentiful and was varied enough that everyone was able to find something to his or her liking, just about any time of the day or night. I was pleased to note that they did not serve food American Style, i.e. - quantity vs. quality. Portions were small, but they were never-ending! The French, German and Italian kidlets were very well behaved. The tragedy of the first night was handled well and was not allowed to dampen the spirits of the rest of the passengers.
Will I cruse again? - Absolutely! There is no better way to vacation, and no better value for your money!
Will I cruise again with Costa? - That remains to be seen. For now, I'll give a tentative … Perhaps.
Will I cruise again during Spring Break? - Absolutely not!
Please, do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions. Thank you.
- Calgon (Calgon1@Yahoo.Com)