Itinerary: Savona-Barcelona-Casablanca-Agadir-Lanzarote-Gran Canaria-La Palma-Tenerife-Madeira-Malaga-Marseille-Savona (28 Feb.-15 Mar. 2010)
The Ship: The Marina is the oldest and smallest of the 15 cruise ships in the Costa fleet. It's only 175 meters long and 26 wide with nine decks. It carries a maximum of around 800 passengers and a crew of about 350 with 383 cabins including 8 suites, the only cabins with balconies. One main dining room, a self-service restaurant, and four bars, plus the usual theatre, casino, disco, shops, etc. The lay-out was fairly simple. The passenger cabins were located on decks 2, 3, 4, and 5. Deck 4 had the main entry ports, the Reception, Excursion Office, Beauty Shop, Photographers, and Chapel. Deck 6 was where the bars were, casino, shops, and MDR entry. The swimming pools and sports facilities were on deck 7 and 8 while the Infirmary was on Deck 2 and the working part of the ship, crew quarters, etc, were on Decks 1 and 2. The captain of the Marina was Marco Derin and the cruise director, Federica Giammarioli.
Embarkation: The night before embarking on the Marina I stayed at the NH Savona Darsena Hotel which is right next to the Costa Cruise Terminal at the Savona port. Arriving at the terminal I gave my suitcase to the luggage check-in people and proceeded into the building and the Guest Services desk where I picked up my boarding pass - number 3 as a Costa Club Pearl member. Boarding was scheduled to begin at 13.30 and it did. Numbers 1 and 2 passed through quickly and by 13.50 I was aboard and proceeded directly to my cabin which was easy to find since it was on the same deck as the entry-port (4th deck).
The Cabin: The cabin I selected was an outside midship on Deck 4 Aurora, number 458. Being an older ship, the Marina's cabins are not the greatest in design, beauty or comfort, but for me travelling solo it was adequate. It was smallish, maybe about 15 meters square, with two round windows on the starboard side, and with a small bathroom containing the sink, toilet and a glass enclosed shower stall. The walls and furnishings were 1950's era clear varnished press-board. The furnishings consisted of a French/American size double bed with night stands on either side and fixed reading lamps. One stand had the telephone. Facing the bed on the other wall was a long shelf under which on the left were two drawers making it a desk, and the minibar under on the right with a small 1970's era TV above. The only seat was a round overstuffed stool by the desk. No chair for reading or relaxing. The bed was comfortable enough but had a sheet of plywood under the mattress to give it rigidity - real class! Storage space was available pretty much everywhere in the cabin with built-in shelves. The wardrobe had three doors, two for the hang-up area and one with shelves for folded things. More than adequate for one person but if my wife was with me I'd have been out of luck. There was a steel room safe (with a key) right out of the dark ages. Mirrors and lighting in the cabin was adequate. Noise from the outside was noticeable when people stopped to chat in the corridor or late at night I could hear my neighbours in the cabin next door. Towels were changed as needed twice a day and bed linens every three days. In the bathroom there a kleenex dispenser, bath gel in the shower and a bar of soap on the sink. No problem with hot water or water pressure. Everything in the cabin was kept very clean by the efficient cabin stewards. There was no vibration movement or noise in the cabin, but when the sea was rough a rolling motion was felt which just made for good sleeping. As Costa Club Pearl I had the standard fruit bowl and bottle of sparkling wine (Prosecco) brought in along with the daily restaurant menu. My cabin stewardess was named Mariliz and was extremely capable.
Service and Staff: I found the staff members in the Reception and Excursion offices to be professional, friendly, and very helpful. They were of several different nationalities and spoke two or three languages each. At no time was any of the crew or staff rude or discourteous in any way. To the contrary, almost everyone I had occasion to meet had a smile and/or greeting for me and after a couple days many addressed me by name. The Reception (Guest Services) manager was Lizeth Moran, a true professional who along with her staff handled every little matter with a big smile. The excursion staff, whose names I wish I had written down (Francesco and Katia were particularly helpful) worked around several problems trying to organize tours with dedicated language guides even when there weren't sufficient participants signed up. The restaurant, bar, and cabin services personnel were great.
Passenger Mix: On this cruise there were about 780 passengers aboard, mostly in the 55-75 age category. There were roughly 360 Germans, 150 French, 70 Italians, 40 English speakers including 10 Americans, 30 Spanish, and 20 Slovanians, a couple Japanese, etc. The multi-language announcements were few. Not being during the school holidays, children aboard were no more than ten, thus we had very little chaos.
Cleanliness: Excellent. One nice thing were the hand sanitizer machines located outside the restaurants. On returning to the ship after an excursion there was always a man handing out sanitizing wipes.
Smoking: Not noticed. Smoking was prohibited in the corridors and of course the restaurants and theatre. The casino was the only area where it was freely permitted besides the outside decks. The two main bars had a smoking area on one side and smoke-free tables on the other. I did not notice any tobacco smell in the non-smoking areas.
Restaurants and Bars: The Marina has one main dining room (MDR) located aft on deck 5, one self-service restaurant on deck 7, also aft, two bars both on deck 6, Harry's Bar in the center of the ship and the Marina Lounge aft. There was also the Lido Bar up on the swimming pool deck which was open only during the day and the Laguna Club Bar which was open at lunchtime and during the nightly discothèque. The MDR - Cristallo Restaurant. Even though the MDR was on Deck 5, entry was from Deck 6 via a real moving stairway, an escalator (plus two normal sets of steps). It is divided into four sections, right, left, center and the semi-circular rear section with full length windows looking over the stern of the ship. The captain's table was in the rear of the center section. Tables were set for two, four, six and eight persons with a waiter and his assistant looking over two or three tables. Managing the MDR was the head Maitre d', Antonio, and three assistant maitres. The MDR was open for breakfast and lunch as well as dinner but I used it only for the evening meal. I had chosen to eat with the second seating which started at 20.45 (21.00 for gala nights). For the first two nights I was seated by myself until Antonio finally moved me to a table with three Italian couples, two aged in their 60's-70's and one cute couple in their early 20's. Notwithstanding the age differences we got to know one another and enjoyed each other's company throughout the cruise. Our excellent waiter was named Juan from Colombia while his equally excellent assistant was from India. The food served each evening was generally always good. Each day's menu usually had a choice of three appetizers, a soup dish, two or three pasta/rice dishes, three entrees, a salad, cheese selection, and assorted deserts or fruit. Only once or twice I did not find something to my taste - one was a particular fish that is delicious when fresh but of course on a cruise ship fish (and meats) are kept frozen until prepared so one cannot expect gourmet quality. The wine list was adequate and had good wines in the 18 to 25 euro range. Water could be ordered either bottled or tap water in a pitcher. We had one incident in the MDR which was of note. The evening we passed through the straits of Gibraltar and entered the Atlantic we had just sat down to dinner when the ship started tossing with the waves. People jumped to their feet, chairs fell over (including the chairs with two of my table companions in them), plates and glasses fell to the deck, wine and water spilled, in short, mass chaos. Thankfully no one was hurt besides a lady who bumped her head on a serving stand, but within a couple minutes the ship settled down and we regained our places. Luckily they had not yet started serving the appetizers otherwise there would have been substantial more mess to clean up. Since our table was one of the worst hit, the maitre moved us to another for the evening. Quite a few passengers forsook the dinner and headed for their cabins, but this was the only time we had any problems with dining during a rough sea. It was something we all laughed about afterward but many of the people were really frightened. The Self-Service: Deck 7 had the self-service buffet called the Yacht Club which was open for breakfast (generally 07.00 to 10.00) and for lunch (generally 12.00 to 14.00). It was closed during the evening other than on gala evenings when it was open only for our ten or so children so their parents could dine in the MDR. There were two serving lines to chose from, both with identical food. There were also two side stations making eggs and omelets to order in the morning, and pasta dishes at lunch. In the aft of the ship was the panoramic Laguna Club with additional seating and bar service. Between the Yacht Club and Laguna Club was a third serving line open at lunch usually serving some ethnic specialties frequently attuned to the area the ship was visiting (Arab, Spanish, French, etc.) Most days I was ashore on excursions but when I was aboard at lunch time I usually ate something light from the buffet, trying not to gain weight. Bars: I generally took my espresso coffee in Harry's bar and it was quite good. I used my Costa coffee coupon book that I had purchased on a previous cruise (and I still have a few left-over coupons which will wait for the next!). Some evenings I enjoyed an after dinner drink in the bar and listened to the music. Both bars had live music in the evening and many people took to the dance floors. Harry's Bar was more for serious conversation among friends while the Marina Lounge was much more lively with members of the animation team joining in the fun. Drink prices were generally in the four to six euro range. At midnight the Laguna Club was turned into a lively discotheque and the two lounges on deck 6 served a buffet. Room Service: I ordered the free room service breakfast each morning I was scheduled to leave for an early shore excursion. Juice, a couple pastries, and two espressos hit the spot without having to waste time going up to the self-service or MDR. I saved my desire for bacon and eggs for those sea days when time was not a factor. I did not use room service for anything other than breakfast.
Library and Internet: Both were in the same room on the 5th deck. The library was open for an hour or two in the morning and again in the afternoon. Books were labelled and separated by language. The selection of English language books was reasonable. There were five or six computers available for internet users. I did not use them so I cannot comment.
Laundry: I used the ship's laundry services three times and was very satisfied. The end of cruise "magic bag" (up to 25 pieces for only €19.99) was especially helpful in not having to carry home dirty laundry for my wife to wash.
Gym and Spa: The gym was not huge. Located toward the front of the ship on the 8th deck, it had two treadmills, two exercise cycles, and assorted exercise machines, benches, weights, etc. I used the gym almost every day and rarely had to wait for a particular machine. The spa located above the gym, contained a sauna, showers, and two massage rooms. Spa activities were managed by the beauty shop on deck 4. As I do during every cruise, I signed up for full-body massages and was lucky to have a girl named Venus who did wonders with my feet, legs, and back muscles. The top deck 8 had a good oval 200 meter running track which I used after dinner for a few fast-walk laps (five to make a kilometer), and in the early morning on at-sea days. On a few occasions wind or rain made me opt just for a lap or two.
Entertainment: I usually did not go to the after-dinner shows, preferring to stroll around the outside upper deck several times (good for the digestion Once I did attend to listen to an excellent pianist from Budapest play music of the 18th century, and another evening there was a very talented vocalist which I enjoyed. ). My table companions usually went every evening and found the entertainment quite good.
Weather and Climatic Conditions: Aside from the two nights with rough seas between Gibraltar, Casablanca, and Agadir, we did not experience any really bad weather. Daytime temperatures in the Mediterranean ranged from the low teens to over 20 degrees Celsius, depending where we were. Along the Moroccan coast and in and around the Canaries, the temps were all in the low to mid 20's. Rain and wind were experienced occasionally but did not hamper the cruise or shore excursions.
Port Calls and Shore Excursions:
Day 1 - Savona. I boarded the Splendida here. Weather mostly overcast, chilly with some light rain. We set sail at 16.00 and left the Italian coast behind. Sea conditions good.
Day 2 - Barcelona. Day mostly sunny. Sea good. After a good night's sleep I spent the morning doing pleasant things and had a light lunch in the Laguna Club. We arrived Barcelona around 13.30 and by 14.00 I was off with the shore excursion "Tour of Barcelona." Our English-Italian group went by bus throughout the city and to Parc Guell where we much of Gaudi's work. An outside visit and explanation of the still unfinished Sagrada Familia cathedral which is expected to be finally consecrated by the Pope in November of this year. At the end we were taken on an interesting walk though the old Gothic quarter of the city.
Day 3 - At sea. Weather turned ugly today and it rained in the afternoon. Sea good. They announced rough seas this evening and for the passengers to take precautions moving about. First gala dinner this evening. Luckily the sea conditions remained good during the dinner.
Day 4 - Casablanca. Sea very rough all night but I slept through it. Arrived Casablanca at 09.00. Sea partially cloudy. I remained aboard today since I had already been to this city and seen everything. Spent time in Gym, ran laps, had a massage, read, and took a nap after lunch. This evening we pulled out of the port just in time for dinner which turned into the disaster I mentioned above. The sea remained rough all night. The Atlantic wave conditions along the Moroccan coast are frequently violent this time of year we were told.
Day 5 - Agadir. We arrived at 14.00 after a morning with sea conditions still rough but improving. Sky sunny and temperature 20 degrees. Beautiful day for the Agadir City Tour. Our group was again a mix of English and Italian speakers. First stop was the old Kasbah up on a hill overlooking the city with its extensive beaches. Back down in the city the group went through a perfume "factory" spiel but I, as an old Morocco hand, stayed outside and chatted with the guide. Our last stop was for a very lively and interesting "Fantasia" which was good but not as good as the one they do at Chez Ali in Marrakech. A cold wind was blowing when we returned to the ship at 18.30.
Day 6 - Arrecife, Lanzarote. Arrived at our first Canary island at 08.00. Sea good all night. Weather partly cloudy and morning temp at 19 degrees. Took the "Gran Tour of Lanzarote" excursion with the same English-Italian group. We went first to the fantastic Timanfaya National Park which was a desolate lunar landscape of extinct volcanos and lava fields. Did the touristy camel ride and saw the geothermal "experiments" at the visitors' centre. After the standard buffet lunch in a big hotel, we went to the north part of the island to Jameos del Agua, an underground cavern created by lava and designed by Cesar Manrique whose works are scattered everywhere on this island. Weather sunny and warm in the afternoon.
Day 7 - Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. This was the largest of the Canaries. At 08.30 our English-Italian group got on a bus and went first to Maspalomas in the south. While most all the guides we had on this cruise were good, this one (name Juan Samoza Almador) never ceased talking and prefaced every sentence with "Ladies and Gentlemen," "Signore e Signori," literally driving everyone crazy. Anyway, Maspalomas represents the worse in over-construction with every square kilometer crammed with megahotels and other tourist related establishments. The famous sand dunes could only be seen at a distance and the beach had been mostly washed away by winter storms. A narrow twisting road took us up to the lovely center of the island where we stopped for lunch (at bit miserable) at the Parador at Tejeda. This part of the island had lovely green valleys and forests. Gala dinner this evening.
Day 8 - La Palma. Weather and sea good. Temp at 08.00 was 22 degrees. Did the "La Palma Island Tour" which was enjoyable. Usual English-Italian group again with a good guide. Lovely small island with extensive banana plantations, laurel forest, canyons, green, green, green. Lunch in the Parador La Palma in the center of the island. In afternoon we went to the volcanos of Teneguia and San Antonio - the latter having erupted less then 30 years ago. Impressive views from the volcano rims. The temperature reached 27 degrees today.
Day 9 - Tenerife. Usual good weather also today. No English or Italians on tour today so had to sign up with the Germans. Luckily one of the ship's photographers and his mother went as well because while my German is sufficient to understand the basics, it was nice to have someone to talk with at lunch. We went first to Mount Teide, over 3700 meters high. We walked around the lava fields down below, at only 2300 meters. The narrow, winding roads were tiring but after two hours we finally reached Puerto La Cruz where we visited the interesting botanical gardens. Lunch in a big hotel on a VERY developed waterfront. Very hot today. Back on ship at 15.30. The huge MSC Fantasia was also in port today.
Day 10 - Funchal, Madeira. We, as well as the locals, were pleased that we made this port call, the island having been inundated with torrential rains and mud slides with 42 deaths only two weeks previous. A massive clean-up was still underway and we saw evidence in many places of the disaster which hit this lovely island. Today our group was made up of French and Germans plus myself and one Italian lady and our Costa excursion office escort, Katia. Our guide was a very pretty young lady named Annaluiz. This all-day excursion ("Faial, the Wonder of Madeira") was made up just for this cruise because the standard one to Sao Vicente was dropped due to some inaccessible roads in that part of the island. First we did the famous "cestinho" ride down through the streets of upper Funchal - fun but there were only two really steep places where the toboggan picked up speed. Our bus met us below and we headed across the island, stopping at an overlook at Terreiero la Luta, then further on at a really neat place in the mountains called Ribeira Frio where we stopped for refreshments. Prior to arriving at Sao Roque de Faial, we stopped for lunch at a very nice restaurant called "Cassa de Chà do Faial" and after went down to Porto la Cruz, Agua de Pena and Portela. Last stop was back at Funchal where we visited a wine shop and had some free time to walk around the city centre. Back aboard at 16.15 for a massage and dinner.
Day 11 - At sea. Homeward bound, heading across the Atlantic back toward Gibraltar. Weather and sea fine. German spread today by the pool at noon with wurstel and krout - much enjoyed by our German friends. Gym and jogging before the Costa Club cocktail party with the captain.
Day 12 - Malaga. Sea smooth all night and we passed through the Gibraltar straits at 07.00 in the morning. Nice day. Pulled into Malaga at 11.30 and went into town with the port shuttle bus. No excursion today as I just wanted to walk around on my own, having been to Malaga once before. Went though the magnificent cathedral, and then on a whim, boarded a City Sightseeing double-decker and went all around the city. Started getting chilly by 15.00 so I grabbed a burger at McDonalds and headed back to the ship. Dinner this evening was Italian Night with lots of dancing and singing, napkin waving, waiters and cooks parading around, to which all the guests eventually joined in. Fun evening.
Day 13 - At sea. Chilly today but at least the sea condition is good. Easy day, did some laps around the top deck in a misty rain. Temp in afternoon only 5 degrees (after what we had become used to in the Canaries!). Arriverderci gala dinner this evening.
Day 14 - Marsielle. Sea fair all night but cold in the morning. At 09.30 I went ashore with the tour to Aix en Provence with the Germans and a few Italians. Aix is a lovely university city only 30 minutes north of Marsielle. We did a walking tour starting with the cathedral and ending at Place Charles de Gaule, passing by Place Les Quatre Dauphins and the beautiful Cours Mirabeau. Sunshine today with a high temp about 14 degrees. Back aboard, I started packing my suitcase (sob, sob). Dinner with my table companions was lively because aside from our young couple, we were all accomplished cruisers with other cruises on the horizon, thus no last-night melancholy table. Suitcase outside the cabin door and to bed.
Day 15 - Disembarkation at Savona. I awoke at 06.30 and finished packing my carry-on bag. Left it in the cabin and went to breakfast in the buffet. At 08.00 I vacated cabin 458 for the last time and went to Harry's Bar for coffee and to wait for my color-code disembarkation group to be called. At 09.30 I passed by all the crew of the Reception and Excursion offices lined up at the exit to see us off. A very nice gesture on their part I'd say. I easily found my suitcase and walked out to where the shuttle buses were waiting to take me to the airport at Genoa. We departed Savona on time at 10.00 and got to the airport about 45 minutes later where I had to wait until 17.30 for my flight to Naples. Luckily I was able to talk my way into the VIP lounge with my frequent flyer card.
Conclusion: This was a most enjoyable cruise. On today's megaships rarely is it possible to get to know so many fellow passengers and crew members well enough to even know their names. Being a small ship, one could walk the Marina from bow to stern in just a minute or so and you had the feeling that everything was within a easy stroll from your cabin. True, it's not glitzy like the newer ships and it could use a good rehab in several areas (corridor carpeting for one) but at the end, I really liked it, little old Costa Marina! The ports of call were interesting and whether I had been there before or not, it was always good to walk around on dry land for awhile. Faults were few and I found it a very positive experience. Costa is a very good cruise line offering a lifestyle that I'm used to and enjoy. I'll do it again - soon.