My husband and I have just returned from a 14-day cruise aboard the Costa Marina, starting at Savona, Italy, on 14th February, and visiting Spain, North Africa, the Atlantic Islands, and France. Before booking, we fully appreciated that the Costa Marina was a very small ship, with only around 800 passengers, but having read a couple of favourable reviews, and with the incentive of the reasonable price offered, we thought this would be a good choice for our first cruise, to celebrate our recent retirement - & of course Valentine's Day!
Things went wrong from the start!
The travel (arranged by Costa), comprised a KLM flight from Aberdeen, via Amsterdam, to Milan, followed by a 2.5 hour bus journey to Savona. It was hectic at every stage, involving delays, frantic dashes from one runway to another, and then a long queue at Milan to fill in paperwork when our suitcase was lost! There were about a dozen British couples in the same situation, all trying to get to the Costa Marina on time, minus all their suitcases! We arrived late, after the scheduled sailing time, although they held the ship up for us. We were very tired and hungry, having eaten practically nothing but an ice-cold, KLM sandwich all day. Having missed afternoon tea, we were not offered any refreshment, and we barely had time for a drink of bottled water (found in our tiny cabin & for which we were later charged 2.88 euros!) before being rushed into a mandatory safety drill. We had booked an early sitting for dinner, but this was changed by Costa to a late sitting, at 8.45 pm, due to demand from higher priority Costa Club passengers and we were unable to alter it.
The food, when it eventually came, was very welcome, and certainly adequate in quantity, but rather disappointing in choice and quality. I would rate it very similar to a Spanish 3-star hotel, although the al dente pasta was consistently very good.
Our suitcase turned up in Barcelona, although some others had to survive 12 days without their cases! We rallied round to lend them clothes! The weather was cold and miserable in Savona & Barcelona, warming a bit in Casablanca, but then the fun really began: We sailed from Casablanca on Wed 17 February, with a warning of bad weather, although we were not fully informed of this. The daily newspaper merely noted 'mare agitato' and this 'agitated sea' turned out to be a force-10 gale!
For all the next day and another full night, we tossed like a cork in the ocean, wishing we were on a bigger ship, rather than a converted container ship that felt more like a ferry, and hoping our Captain would have the good sense to head for the nearest port for shelter. We were unable to get into Agadir, since that port was 'closed by the authorities'! We were very sick, as were many others. We occasionally tried to eat, but cutlery, dishes and glasses were flying off the dining room tables with every massive wave. Even the chairs slid around with people sitting on them. Bright blue sick-bags were placed in bundles throughout the ship, on all the staircases. Pills were issued, on request, from the reception desk
Throughout that awful night, we were constantly elevated from our beds to a state of sheer weightlessness, before being thundered back into our bunks or bounced against a wall. Wardrobe doors flew open and we had to pack towels under them. The bathroom mirror hit me in the back of the neck whenever I tried to use the toilet. Regular announcements in 5 languages promised that 'the ship was still safe', but these were of little comfort! To avoid dehydration, we drank copious quantities of bottled water, and were charged 2.88 euros for each one! In the morning, our toilet floor had several pints of water swilling around in it and the corridor had a bad stench of sewage that lingered for days. Between bouts of nausea, I was regularly muttering to my husband 'first cruise, last cruise!'
We eventually arrived in Lanzarote on 19th February, and heard of the devastation and loss of life caused by the same storm hitting the island of Madeira. We felt privileged to be alive, and on dry land! We almost abandoned ship in Lanzarote. At least one British couple did exactly that, paying for their own flights home! However, my husband persuaded me to give the Canary Islands a chance since the worst must be over. Although a visit to Funchal was to be one of the highlights of our cruise, it was quite understandable that we were unable to visit Madeira, because of the mud, landslides and wreckage left by the storm.
Now, I don't want to be entirely negative about the Costa Marina, since much of our 'extreme cruising' experience was due to 'extreme weather' and that is classed as an 'Act of God'. I am pleased to report that the second week of the cruise was much better. We made many good friends, because when you have lost your luggage together, shared the same clothes, weathered a dreadful storm and even puked together, the bonds inevitably grow strong! Meeting such wonderful people was the best part of the extreme cruising experience for us and we will certainly keep in touch.
The excursions were very expensive so we mostly did our own sightseeing. In most cases we were able to walk from the port into town, avoiding the need to spend 6 euros each on a Costa shuttle-bus over a very short distance. However, beware of trying to do this in Marseille: there are 8 kilometres of docks and it is really essential to use the shuttle-bus service. The drinks on board were also very expensive (15.50 euros for 2 brandy/sodas and around 20 euros for a bottle of wine.) We had purchased an 'all-inclusive 'wine/beer/soft drinks package' for £280, but it was only valid 'in the restaurant during mealtimes' so it proved to be uneconomical, since we couldn't eat at all during the storm and were frequently off the ship at lunchtimes. It did not cover any drinks in the evening or even the bottles of water!
To end on a positive note, and with the extreme-weather aside, the Costa Marina is a certainly a friendly little ship, with attentive, hard working staff, who can't do enough to help you. The tiny swimming pool was unheated, so only used by a few hardy souls, but there were 3 warm Jacuzzis. We liked the mixture of nationalities aboard ship, French, German, Italian and Spanish, with British being in a minority. The entertainment was varied and quite good, and there was some lovely music for dancing. We were particularly impressed with Joan, the wee Scottish singer in Trio Moods, and Kati, the wonderful soprano singer from the Kati and Peter Duo. Although I have stopped muttering 'first cruise, last cruise', I am not sure that I would go on another cruise, although I may be tempted by a bigger ship in more sheltered waters!
We returned home with another KLM flight yesterday, and to add insult to injury, they have lost BOTH our cases this time!