January 29 Costa Pacifica 11 Night Eastern Med
The purpose of this review is to hopefully provide helpful information to others sailing on the Pacifica. My husband and I are not new to cruising. In fact, this was our 35th one. But it was our first on Costa Cruise Line.
Our trip began on Jan. 25, for three nights pre-cruise in Rome. We did not do a package through the cruise line but made our own travel and hotel arrangements. Our flight departed Houston to Rome via London arriving on Jan. 26. I selected a Rome hotel (Teti) from TripAdvisor recommendations that was located 2 - 3 blocks from Termini (train) station. Upon arrival, our original plan was to take the train from FCO airport into Rome. However, as we were on our way outside the departure terminal, we were approached by a man who ran a shuttle service (Minivan Service Roma). His charge was 15 Euro per person (train was 11 Euro pp). Since it was raining and we were tired, we took the shuttle with delivery to the door of our hotel. The hotel was small (probably 8 rooms), very reasonably priced, friendly staff, and included breakfast.
On our first day in Rome, we visited the collosseum, forum, Parthenon, Trevi fountain, and Spanish steps. All this was done by walking - with maps from the internet and one obtained at the hotel.
Second day in Rome was another self-guided walking tour to Vatican City. Although I didn't think the crowds would be enormous in January, I purchased tickets online in advance for the 10:00 AM time slot. We arrived at approximately 9:15 AM (it opens at 9:00) and we walked right in. There were no lines, so reservation wasn't necessary. But our first time there in 17 years, so didn't know what to expect. We immediately went to the Sistine Chapel and there were only about 15 people in the room. From there, we went back through the galleries and an outside walk. Somehow we managed to wander back into the chapel again. By the time of the second visit, there were probably 90- 100 people in the room. From the Vatican, we walked to St. Peter's Square (nativity was still up, as was Christmas tree). We went inside St. Peter's Basilica - what an amazing church! And the most incredible nativity was still set up inside it.
On our third morning in Rome, we checked out of our hotel and walked to Termini Station. We bought tickets (11 Euro pp) at the counter for the trip back to FCO airport. We had shuttle reservations to Civitavecchia. The shuttle arrangements were made at time of cruise booking as we hadn't made plans (at that time) for visiting Rome. However, we could have taken the train from Termini to Civitavecchia for 4 Euro. A taxi from the Civitavecchia train station to the cruise terminal was 20 Euro according to a fellow passenger. The shuttle bus ride took approximately 1 hour from FCO to the cruise terminal.
Upon entering the terminal, we were given a number designating the order we would be called. We had number 7 and waited 40 - 45 minutes to be called. The process was very orderly, no mad scramble to get in line. We walked to a roped off area and had our boarding passes (received from travel agent) and passports checked. From there, we proceeded to a desk where we turned in the health information forms that we were given upon entrance to the terminal. After that, we entered an area where the usual photo (standing behind a ship's wheel) was taken. And finally, we reached the back entrance to the terminal where we were allowed out in groups of 5 - 6 to walk to the ship's gangway. At the gangway entrance, our passports and cruise documents were once again checked and then we boarded the Pacifica. At the entrance, a ship's employee used a handheld scanner to scan our boarding pass codes. On the reverse of the scanner was a camera used to take our official photo. No key cards were issued to us. Our last stop upon entering the ship was to relinquish our passports which were placed in manila envelopes and receipts issued (passports were returned on 4th day).
We quickly found our unlocked cabin and our key cards were lying on the bed along with other printed information. In addition, our checked luggage was already in the cabin. We still haven't figured out how they did that so quickly. Immediately after unloading our hand luggage, we went to find one of the several onboard machines used to program/activate information for credit card use. Either a credit card or cash deposit had to be made within 48 hours of boarding. All in all, the boarding process went very smoothly and efficiently. Much easier and faster than other cruise lines we have been on.
Our key card indicated that we had second seating (9:00 PM). So our first stop after getting the credit card registered was to visit the maitre d'. We asked to be switched to early dining (6:30 PM). He was very accommodating but said our first night's dinner seating would be temporary and by second night we'd have a permanent assignment.
At 5:30 PM, an English speaking information talk was given in one of the lounges. At that time, we were told there were 380 English speakers (3000 total passengers) on that sailing.
Our first dinner was at a four person table with a couple from Canada. And on second night, we were at a 10 person table. There were 8 of us (all English speakers) with two empty seats - one couple from Canada, one couple from Scotland, one of the ship's dancers and her boyfriend (he was taking the cruise as a paid passenger and she was given permission to eat dinner with him) who were from England. After two nights of just the eight of us, the additional chairs were removed.
Although we didn't attend the first evening's entertainment in the theater, it was the usual welcome aboard variety show with singers and dancers. We attended the remainder of the shows and all were good and in English. There was a magician, a cirque du soleil type show, a singer from S. Africa, a mime/juggler, Pacifica crew show, classical concert, several musical shows, and a passenger talent show.
What attracted us to this cruise was the itinerary, especially Israel. The following is a breakdown of the ports and what we did.
Port # 1: Savona Instead of an excursion, we decided to spend some time walking the streets and enjoying the shops and Saturday farmer's market.
Port # 2: Katakolon Since our ship didn't arrive till 1:00 PM, we knew we'd be unable to take the train into Olympia. We shared a rental car with two other passengers for the drive to Olympia. Cost of car rental - 45 Euro (total) plus 10 Euro for gasoline. The entrance to the Olympia museum and archeological site was 9 Euro per person.
Port # 3: Piraeus for Athens Since we had been to Athens two years ago, we decided to forego an excursion and take the train into Athens to visit the National Archaeological Museum, Agora, and plaka. Upon our arrival in Piraeus, it was raining and cold so we decided not to make the trip. When the rain stopped, we walked into Piraeus but there wasn't much to see.
Port # 4: Rhodes A beautiful, ancient walled city - one of our favorites. We followed directions from the internet entering through the Liberty Gate and along the Avenue of Knights making our first stop the Palace of the Grand Masters. Since we arrived at the palace early, we missed the excursion crowds. From the palace, we continued along the medieval streets enjoying the history of such an amazing place!
Port # 5 Limassol We took a ship's excursion to the village of Omodos, Temple of Apollo, and ancient ruins of Kourian (49 Euro pp).
Port # 6 Ashdod for Jerusalem/Bethlehem In Israel, we took an excursion (Guided Tours - $115 USD pp) via mini-van with 8 other fellow passengers to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The Jerusalem part of that tour was wonderful but we were extremely disappointed in the Bethlehem portion. Our Israeli guide was not allowed into Bethlehem. So we transferred to another van with a Palestinian guide who later informed us that he wasn't actually a guide. He had to get permission to take our group into the Church of the Nativity and provided no history. He said we would not be able to see the Grotto of the Nativity because it would probably be a three hour wait. Not sure how he estimated that since the line wasn't very long. So instead, we were taken to a shop to see what was supposedly an urn that contained Dead Sea scrolls and then we were kept there for another 45 minutes to shop. I would much rather have spent that time waiting to see the Grotto. Others on our tour agreed.
Port # 7 & 8 Pt. Said for Cairo and Alexandria In Egypt, we took a private excursion (Ramses - $120 USD pp) that included only the two of us. We had a guide and driver, both of whom were very accommodating. We'd visited Egypt once before and we chose to see the pyramids and sphinx again. Our guide arranged for us to take a camel ride at the pyramids. However, instead of doing the Cairo Museum of Egyptian Antiquities (again), we opted for a sail on one of the traditional felucca boats. Afterwards, we were taken to an area for souvenir shopping before beginning the drive to Alexandria (where the ship had moved during the day) to re-board our ship.
Following our last port, we had two sea days before returning to Civitavecchia. On our final morning, we had to be out of our cabin at 8:30 AM. At that time, we were directed to the New York, New York restaurant to wait. By 9:45 AM, we began the disembarkation process. Our return was via shuttle to the FCO airport in Rome.
Prior to this cruise, I read on many of the Costa threads that the food was 'different'. But there was no explanation as to what 'different' meant. I would characterize the food as appealing more to Europeans than Americans. However, we enjoyed the food very much. My husband loves pasta and pizza so he was very satisfied. We never had breakfast or lunch in a dining room and instead ate those meals in the buffet restaurant. Neither meal-time buffet was as elaborate or large as we've seen on other cruise lines. But there was always an adequate variety. Breakfast included hot and cold cereals, eggs (scrambled, boiled, omelets), bacon, sausage, potatoes, a large selection of breads and pastries, cheeses, cold cuts, and fresh fruits (cantaloupe, watermelon, pineapple).
Buffet lunches provided pizza and fresh made pasta daily plus a variety of hot dishes. There was always some type of meat, poultry, fish, cooked vegetables, salad bar, breads, cheeses, desserts, and self serve ice cream machine. On several days the lunch buffet, also, included foods that were 'different' to me but part of a Mediterranean diet; such as calamari, octopus, and mussels.
Our evening meals were taken in the My Way Restaurant. Beef entrees were very limited. However, there was one night when flank steak was offered and another night prime rib. No lobster or crab legs on the menu. But there was always a meat (lamb, pork, veal), poultry, fish, and vegetarian entree. Each night's menu had three appetizers, one soup and one salad, two pastas, and four entrees. Dessert included four items to choose from. The food was always served hot and service was prompt.
The ship's interior was very nice and clean. There were a number of rooms/lounges in which to sit and the library provided a quiet place for reading. The gym was very large with a variety of machines and we never had to wait to use any. Although we didn't take swim suits, there were a large number of people who made use of the hot tubs and pools.
The staff was friendly and helpful and the difference in languages was never a problem. Our evening wait staff was polite and efficient. And our cabin steward always did an amazing job in a short amount of time.
All in all, we thought our Costa cruise was a great value for the money. We thoroughly enjoyed the ports, the food, shows, and service.