Love Wine? Love Live Music? Then you'll Love the Costa Med
Having enjoyed a cruise on the Costa Med in 2007 that left from Venice, Italy and hit ports in Italy, Greece and Croatia, my friend Jim and I decided to try a longer transatlantic Costa Med cruise in 2008 that started in Savona, Italy and ended in Santos, Brazil. While some things could be improved, we had another great time overall. We flew from New York into Genoa, Italy on November 26 where we stayed at a Costa-arranged hotel called the Bristol Palace. Our large, spacious room and its modern bath were very pleasant as were the bar and reception area. We had an excellent dinner at one of the finest restaurants in Genoa, Zeffirino, that was located a couple of blocks down the street.
Then we then were picked up on November 27 by a Costa-arranged van for our hour-plus transfer to the port in Savona. Unlike some other drivers we've had, the van's driver was polite and did a great job getting us to the port on time. He earned a tip from us. Unlike last year in Venice, embarkation at Savona could have been a bit smoother. The departure hall was very tightly-packed and our United States passports caused quite a stir for the Costa staff. They were quite anxious to confirm that we held valid Brazilian visas. We had arranged them at some expense through an expediter that Costa suggested called Zierer Visa Service so that wasn't a problem and we were finally allowed to board the ship. W
hile other reviewers have also noted it, I'd be remiss if I didn't note that the design and style found on board the Costa Med are stunning. While most of the ship has Italian roots, parts of it are modeled after Asian (Roero Wine Bar) and Egyptian (Osiris Theater) influences. Even on my second cruise, I kept noticing new details, like winged cherubs on the ceiling on one bar, every day on board. The Atrium is particularly stunning with its colorful floating sculpture and glassed-in elevators. One of the exciting features about the Costa Med is that it attracts mainly European passengers while most of its staff still speaks decent English. Life on board feels different than it would on a different line in the same family like Carnival where most of the passengers speak English. Along with Jim and I, there was only one other United States citizen on board out of about 1800 passengers.
Since this cruise was for 17 nights but was affordably-priced like most repositioning cruises, we decided to book a Panorama Suite. It was well worth it for the top-notch bathroom and spacious veranda. The bathroom had two granite sinks and a real Jacuzzi bathtub with shower. Last year's bathroom, like most I've used on board other ships, featured only a narrow, coffin-like shower. The veranda had four chairs and seemed to take up about half of the aft of the Costa Med. Our Cabin Steward, Florence, did an amazing job keeping the Suite clean throughout the cruise. Our Butler, Desmond, had to cover 11 other suites on the Costa Med so he didn't do much except deliver a fruit plate to our room each day. The Suite did benefit from a few other nice small touches like enhanced bath amenities, terry cloth robes, advance copies of the main restaurant menus and one free meal in the pay restaurant. You should definitely book a Suite if bathrooms or verandas matter to you.
Another exciting feature about the Costa Med is that it offers an excellent wine list at affordable prices in its main restaurant, pay restaurant, and in its wine bar. There were thirty to forty full bottles available, mainly from Italy but also from other leading wine countries like France or Spain, for about 20-25 Euros per bottle. One of our wine waiters in the pay restaurant and wine bar, Tatiana, was extremely attentive and knowledgeable. If you love wine like we do, then this is a great line to try out. The main restaurant was very good. While we never were awake in time for Breakfast there, we did have most of our Lunches and Dinners there. Each Dinner featured at least three Appetizers, three Soups, two Pastas, four or five Main Courses, one or two Salads, a Cheese platter, and then four or five Desserts to choose from. While the food wasn't quite as good as on our previous Uniworld, Windstar or Oceania cruises, it was still very good. On both of our Costa cruises, I was impressed that the Maitre D' made an effort to seat us with other passengers who spoke English and were roughly our age. We had three charming young ladies at our table this year. Two from Germany spoke enough English to be a lot of fun. And our Waiter, Benjie, who's a 7-year Costa veteran, did an amazing job handling his 24 passengers. The pay restaurant, Club Medusa, was very good too. We ate two Dinners there. It wasn't expensive or crowded. Some of the food items on a Michelin-starred Chef-selected menu were outstanding like the tomato bacon onion soup; others were just odd like one fatty beef shank main course I didn't enjoy. The buffet restaurant upstairs was at best good. Some of the food on the steam trays wasn't hot or fresh. The hot dogs, pizza, salads and desserts were fine. It was very difficult to get beverage waiters to take our order. So we mainly ate at the main restaurant downstairs. One area that could be improved a lot is the main stage.
At least half of the shows we saw were mediocre at best. The eight-person on-board dance troupe did a good job as did a couple of singers but it was almost cruel for the Cruise Director to force some of the bar entertainers, like a talented piano soloist, Demetrio de Bellis, to take their turn on the main stage. The best show we saw was from a local Brazilian dance company, Interarte of Salvador, that was on board for one night only.
Yet another exciting feature about the Costa Med is that it offers four to six bars with live music each night. The same entertainers who struggled on the main stage excelled in these smaller venues with room for 50 to 100 passengers. Most notable were Tango Trio, featuring a violinist, pianist and accordionist who were amazing and featured each night in the Roero Bar, and a couple of solo performers, Flavio and Dino, who did terrific jobs on their keyboards and on Dino's guitar in the Dionisio Bar. The solo performers both earned tips from us. And Flavio rewarded us by giving us his most recent CD.
The Laundry on board did a great job with laundering my jeans and dress shirts and dry cleaning my blazers and dress pants. The Certificate of Crossing the Equator, signed by the Captain, that appeared in our cabin after we crossed it, was a very nice touch as was tooting the ship's horn when we crossed. I wish someone had warned us, though, about how easy it is to get sunburned when you're near the Equator. Jim and I suffered a lot from only an hour and a half out on our veranda that day. The Internet Café on board lost its satellite connection about halfway through the cruise so we lost our ability to access the Web for email or other sites. We were able to occasionally get email through our cell phones when we were close enough to shore. The new Costa Club card that I carried, for frequent Costa travelers, was supposed to lead to a 20% discount on service in the Internet Café, Laundry or Mini-Bar that never materialized on my final statement. Nor has Costa answered an email I sent over ten days ago on that point. We also had some difficulty getting an Excursion that Costa cancelled in Barcelona credited on my statement. It took visits to three different desks to get it done. And prior to the cruise, Costa needed prodding by CruiseCritic.com to admit that its unilateral switch from Dollars to Euros for our Excursion costs, months after we booked them in Dollars in advance on the Costa web site, left a bit to be desired. Costa needs to do better at customer service at its Reception and Excursion Desks.
Since many of the ports on this repositioning cruise aren't regularly visited by Costa or other cruises, I'll only make a few comments on them. Along with several Excursions, we used the paid Costa Shuttle Bus service several times to get from the port to local sites of interest. I was quite impressed by Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. It may have been hundreds of miles away but it fondly reminded me of all the other cities I've seen in Spain. We had an excellent steak lunch there at Casa Carmelo on the waterfront. I thought the part of Fortaleza, Brazil where the Shuttle Bus dropped us was squalid with men sleeping on the streets and many empty buildings. Yet the shopping mall in Recife, Brazil where the Shuttle Bus dropped us was very affluent. We had an excellent buffet lunch at the Skillus chain restaurant. One of the young ladies from the kitchen adopted us since she spoke the best English there. And she earned a tip from us. We had an amazing lunch outdoors at Jardim Das Delicias in Salvador, Brazil featuring seafood stew served in a large bubbling pot. And the Excursion we took that night in Salvador to see a local dance troupe with gymnastic flair was excellent. The Jeep Excursion we took to Corcovado and the Rainforest in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil was outstanding but a bit long. Unless you love beaches, I wouldn't recommend visiting Brazil with Costa or otherwise for another five or so years so that it can build up its tourism infrastructure a bit more.
After killing a couple of hours on board waiting, our disembarkation on December 14 in Santos, Brazil went smoothly. We were able to claim our luggage, clear Customs, and get on our Excursion bus that toured Sao Paulo, Brazil and then took us to its Airport for our flight back to New York. We had a great experience with arranging our two separate flights here using the www.vayama.com website that specializes in international travel. While we wondered in advance if a 17-day cruise would be too long and if we'd be eager to get home, that wasn't the case here. We really enjoyed sleeping late, eating at the main restaurant, and enjoying the wine and live entertainment in Costa Med's bars a lot. We'd definitely travel on the Costa Med or a different Costa ship in the future.