Costa Pacifica. A Novel. We are a couple in our 40's who have cruised 12 times (HAL, X, Oceania, Carnival, RCCL, Regal Empress, NCL, MSC). We booked this cruise because of the itinerary, price and, in part, international clientele. We are independent travelers--have only taken 2 excursions on all these trips--who like to explore new cultures via interesting itineraries, and relax on board when we cruise. With the exception of the gym and library--which we hope will be well equipped and stocked- -we are not interested in ship amenities such as entertainment, activities, casinos and so on. The ship appeared well designed for persons with a disability.
We also booked before the Pacifica was launched so it was a bit of a gamble. When the reviews started rolling in, we started to sweat—needlessly it turns out! I know this cruise is not for everyone, but we had a terrific time. If you want things to be exactly like other cruises you have been on and will sulk if they are not, you may not have a good time. Open your mind and heart when you go.
Additionally our concerns were because we had sailed MSC in the Mediterranean and most people were saying the two lines were similar. I can say that in my experience the worst food and service was on MSC, and we probably had our best trip ever on the Pacifica (due to many factors besides the ship such as the great ports and flawless weather--yes sometimes the planets line up). Thankfully the two experiences were like night and day. Was "corporate" on board our sailing? How does one explain this?
Heading overseas: We flew Alitalia, and the experience was excellent. After I booked, I read the reviews and they were horrible. However, the plane was clean, on time, crew excellent, the complimentary wine pleasant and always available AND no lost luggage. On the return trip we had personal TV's with probably 50 movie selections.
Pre-cruise: we spent 2 nights in Rome at the Crosti. It was a clean, nice hotel with a great breakfast. It is near Termini which it is nice for those who transfer independently. The only issue for me was that we had a first floor room, so there was street noise, and also shoe noise on the marble floors in the lobby which was just a few feet away. Last time we were in Rome we used the Leonardo Express from the airport to Termini, but ended up booking a shuttle this time because I found a good deal. We regretted it. We had to wait 45 minutes for other passengers to come in, and we ended up being the last dropped off. It was a 2.5 hour ordeal, when the train would have been about 45 minutes, total. We used the same company to shuttle us from port to the airport (not enough time to use trains), and they were excellent--I think around 100 euro and only took 45 from Civitavecchia to FCO. It is called "Airportshuttle".
We purchased daily subway cards and found our way around the city with ease. We took in some sights we had not seen on our last visit: Tivoli Fountain, Spanish Steps, Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel, Circus Maximus, and revisited the Coliseum. Because we heard Saturday was the busiest day at the Vatican, we used a ticket buying agency before we left to smooth the way inside. It was a good call since the lines were hours long to just buy tickets. It was crowded but at least we got right in. Not sure if I can post a link, but it was called Rome-Museum— http://www.rome-museum.com/. The local food specialties we tried were great: tripe Roman style, oxtail, fresh anchovies, sautEed greens, caprese salad, whole artichokes dressed with the ubiquitous but delicious olive oil and lemon, and of course cured meats and cheeses.
On Sunday morning we headed to port. We purchased tickets to the Civitavecchia port the night before at Termini station. This is not necessary, but we went ahead and did it because we had no idea if there would be lines the next day. The ticket was 4.5 Euro each and the ride took an hour and 15 minutes. It was not an express train- you can get an Express ticket for about twice as much and shave off 30 minutes or so. We chose the slow train because the schedule worked better. Be advised that Termini is a high theft area (not robbery, but theft), so don't let you bags out of your sight for a second. From the train station in Civitavecchia, you walk through the little town for 10 minutes or so to the port entrance, where there is a free shuttle. We arrived to a makeshift embarkation hall and were given a number to board, and were told it would be about 1:50pm -we had arrived at 1pm. There were uncomfortable chairs to sit in and the bathrooms became dirty quickly. We had prepared ourselves to expect the worst so we tried not to get too worried. The check in staff was excellent and we were quickly on the ship once our number was called.
We went to our unlocked room to retrieve our key cards and then went to a self serve Kiosk to register the credit card for on board expenses. The ship was beautiful! Maybe a little flashy for my typical tastes, but spotless and lovely. I liked that many of the lounges radiated out from the atrium. It became like a village square at night, albeit on several levels, with everyone out and about in the same general area. This ship was kept cleaner than other ships I have sailed. Fewer dirty dishes lying around, and bathrooms were cleaner. Or maybe in Europe they just know how to flush the toilet and not pee all over the seat.
The fellow passengers were European, mostly Italian. We were told there were about 500 persons speaking English on board -about 15% of the passengers. I suspect this included many people that spoke English as a second language but did not speak Italian, French, German or Spanish--the other main languages served on board. For instance, there were many Japanese, and persons from other parts of Europe on board. Sure there were different ideas about space, including the infamous sidling into line a bit, entering the elevator before anyone could vacate, but it was hardly a big deal for us. I could not see going all the way to Europe and insisting on being on a ship full of Americans with American food and customs. It just made no sense unless of course the Italian product does not measure up (but oh, does it). Also being blissfully ignorant of all the chatting around us was liberating. Honestly understanding what people drone on and on about can get old.
The announcements in other languages were no big deal, I just tuned out the other languages. In fact I felt that announcements occurred with less frequency than all other ships I have been on except Oceania. They also did not seem to blare into the cabin at a high volume. Besides, how could you not love cheery greetings from fellow passengers in the elevator in so many languages?
Cabin: Our inside cabin purchased at a very low rate seemed much larger than many outside cabins we had in the past. There was no couch which made it seem bigger. The fact that there were two vanity mirror areas was a huge plus. The hair dryer was fine. The bathroom was also larger than prior rooms with tubs had been. The bedding was wonderful--nice quality cotton sheets and comforter. The first couple days the bathroom has a faintly bad smell that thankfully disappeared. We both love to sleep in very cold temps and opined the A/C could have been better. The first deck cabin was actually very quiet and we only once detected motion. The only English speaking station was the BBC. There was a mini bar which we did not have the steward bother to unlock.
Food: I really expected the worst, and we ended up being happily surprised. My tastes are a little different from average. I love ethnic and local type foods from gourmet to street food. I welcome an octopus on my plate! I am not really a meat and potato person, unless it is on occasion. For health reasons, I also no longer eat sugar, or flour, starches, so wondered how this would work on an Italian cruise line.
Dinner: We were assigned to the My Way restaurant. There is no evening buffet, but there is an alternative restaurant on board which we did not have the need to try since the dining room food was so good. We requested a 2 top table. We were dreading a group table. I know some people love this, but it is not something we prefer. We were happy to see a perfect 2 top in the corner. We were thrilled our request was granted as MSC had refused it on our cruise with them. We were assigned first seating with dinner start ranging from 6:45 pm to 7:00pm. It is worth noting that because there is no evening buffet, EVERYONE is in the dining room, including babies, toddlers etc. So yes, at first seating you are going to hear more squalling than you ever would on a traditional US cruise line. Parents also did not seem to feel compelled to take a walk out of the dining room with the screaming child--they just let it run its course.
We dined in My Way 6 of 7 nights—too full from tapas in Barcelona, so we missed a night. I bet it was the night they had lamb, because I was really surprised I never saw it on the menu any of the other nights (drats!) After the first night or so our waitress was able to detect the pace we liked and each dinner had excellent service. She was easily waiting on 25 people, and the assistant seemed to be assigned to not only her but possibly another waiter, so she was bussing the table a lot as well as taking wine orders and delivering wine. Crazy talent! Also with the exception of possibly Tunisia, people are embarking/disembarking at every port so that surely had to make things interesting for her. Other than an occasional issue with language at both dinner and lunch in the dining room when asking specific questions about the menu which were incorrectly answered (e.g., Is this coated with bread crumbs or flour?) everything was perfect.
Because I do not eat the pasta, bread, or desserts (except for a few sugar free I tried), I filled in the gaps by ordering 2 or sometimes even 3 appetizers, an entrEe, and cheese course. Once I even had 2 entrees, with nary an eyebrow raised. There were typically 3 appetizer available -one would have seafood, the other meat and/or cheese, and the third, vegetarian. I will go into details later, but I usually chose the fish, and hands down will say that in the dining room, this is better fish than on ANY other line I have sailed. Take it for what it is worth because I have really found cruise ship fish to be terrible. Was it as good as the seafood I was eating in fish market restaurants in port? Well, no, but dressed with lemon (requested from waitress) and olive oil (on the table), was satisfying.
There would be 1 soup, 2 pastas, 4 entrees: one seafood, one poultry such as quail, duck, or chicken, one other type of meat such as pork or beef, and a vegetarian. I tried 2 different soups--a cream of cauliflower and a bean soup with pancetta. Both were probably better or as good as any cruise ship soup I had tasted in the past. Salad would come either with or after the entrEe and was always the same: greens lightly dressed with oil. The veggie sides were weak. Where were all the tasty sautEed greens I was getting on shore everywhere?
The cheese course, usually my last, was really nice. The cheeses were generally nice quality and varied--a sharp aged cheese, a soft brie or blue, and a medium sharp cheese. The house wine (8.50 euro a half liter) was to our liking in white, but not red. I imagine these can change at anytime though.
We tried some of the sugar free custard style desserts, and they were all rich and excellent. I seriously questioned if they were sugar fee. Truthfully the cakes did not look that great. I am guessing desserts may not be the forte on Costa.
Overall the appetizers and entrees exceeded expectations and in many cases were better than other cruise lines we have sailed. I have eclectic tastes (but obviously adjust my palette for cruising) and my spouse is a bit more traditional. On past cruises we had to put hot sauce on almost everything to make up for the lack of flavor and/or quality. While the flavors are mostly subtle on Costa, something was better--be it the preparation or quality or type of ingredients. I really don't know. At these prices, they can't have a big food budget. I think we only used hot sauce once in the dining room and couple times on the buffet. I did dress things up with fresh lemon and olive oil. I was also happy things were less salty and portions more manageable than a lot of cruise meals I have had.
Both of us enjoyed the dining room food (will discuss less loved buffet later). The oddest things were that on the 2 formal nights, the food was only average. The rest of the nights were excellent or above average. We had a pitcher of ice water on the table every night. Even people drinking mineral water had the same. Again this contrasts with MSC where it took two nights of bitter negotiations with the head waiter to get non bottled water. Favorite dinner examples: wild boar chops, quail, duck (1 preparation not the one the other another night), excellent fish almost every night (asked for fresh lemon). We tried steak one night and it was fine, not better or worse than other ships.
Favorite appetizer examples: rabbit terrine, tuna carpaccio (my favorite), cured meats, smoked salmon, octopus, grilled whole prawns. . Dining room attire. Best described as what I saw on Oceania: country club casual, even on formal night most people did not dress up. Jeans were not uncommon, however no sloppy or "Mom" style jeans, ball caps, white socks, shorts, Senor Frog's logo tee-shirts. What I am saying is people did not look like slobs. They may have worn (tidy) jeans, but paired it with a smart shirt, blazer or sweater—and not tennis shoes.
A couple nights , "Italian Night" and the Captain's dinner, resulted in people breaking into Italian song and dance. I usually don't get into this kind of thing, but watching the Italians get weepy when patriotic Italian songs were playing made me smile that I was "not in Kansas anymore" (so to speak).
Lunch in the dining room was very good, however service a bit confused due to open seating and language challenges. At dinner you are seated with staff who speaks your language; at lunch, this is maybe not as likely.
Lunch at the buffet was hit or miss. Some items were fine (e.g., burgers), others excellent--don't miss the "seaman" buffet if you like authentic Mediterranean-style seafood. The octopus with green sauce was as good as any I have had in Spain. Fish was sometimes good sometimes below average. Sliced meats not great. Green beans served too often. Pizza available nearly all the time (maybe even all night?). Tried the toppings and they were good. Spouse had a slice and said it was great. Buffet quality was similar to other cruise lines, however selection was MUCH less than most.
Breakfast at the buffet--only did this one time. Poor selections compared to competing cruise lines, although this is from an American perspective which the cruise line does not cater too (which is fine). Kind of low quality unless they brought out the "good" meats such as prosciutto and cheeses at the Lido area.
Breakfast in the dining room: We ate breakfast in the dining room all other days. They had a buffet portion with good meats and cheese, great looking pastries and breads as well as hot items ordered off the menu. Every day, I had poached eggs that were served over toast with hollandaise. Also had smoked fish (salmon) most days which was better than most cruise ship-smoked fish I had tried in past. Cappuccinos and espressos are free in the dining room only and at breakfast only. The coffee at the buffet (and probably dining room) is an abomination! Avoid! The service was a bit tired and cranky in the dining room for breakfast, but given some folks are probably starting an 18-hour day, my heart goes out to them.
Big show entertainment : we stuck our heads in to see a few shows and they were just as lame, maybe more so, as any other cruise ship entertainment. I just don't get it, I guess. But I don't care either, so no harm done. Music: live and recorded throughout the ship was generally pretty cool. Wien Wien Lounge: classical music lounge. Loved it, the group was very talented.
We had a wedding vow renewal. Unexpected! I am wondering if I indicated we were celebrating a big anniversary (albeit in NOV) when we booked or it was just a mistake -but we got an invitation to a reception for honeymooners and anniversary folks. Free champagne, canapEs, and Captain "remarried" everyone in 5 languages. I am a bit jaded sometimes, but this was very charming and heart -warming.
Smoke in public areas: lingering smoke smell from time to time in non smoking areas. Most places were non- smoking. I am second hand smoke intolerant and was not too offended. Granted I was not in the casino or out and about late night. I have experienced far worse on RCCL, MSC.
Library: small selection of English language books -bring your own. The travel books were excellent, and we took lots of notes. They were reference only so you could not check them out. No American newspapers, so took a welcome break from the rat race. Gym: Excellent. Lots of great machines, cardio and free weights. The first day we went was in Savona and no one was there so it was heaven. The next day we went we were at sea before port and it was awful --packed with people who had never worked out but gosh darn it they weren't going to start that very day, slamming weights, camping on equipment for several minutes while fiddling with an ipod, sitting on machines backwards and people watching, not wiping sweat. My spouse made it a few more times, but after that I could not tolerate it. It was always packed when we wanted to go. We took the stretch class once in the atrium pool area and liked it.
The ladies sauna is not to be missed. It has a picture window and the view was great. The spa was beautiful, but I did not partake in any of the services. Service: Next to Oceania (an upscale cruise line)
Costa had the best customer service desk of any ship. If they did know the answer to the question you asked, they got it. I hate to say I was shocked. Given English was a second, third or fourth language they were great. Even officer level staff would sometimes greet you around the ship. We all know outside of functions, this is not the norm.
Ports of call: we tend to do things on our own. With the exception of Tunis, we toured independently. Sunny and temps in the mid 50's to upper 60's F everyday did not hurt matters. Best tip: hit any old style, traditional market halls you can find--we researched them beforehand. Great sights, smells, and food to try. We made copies of "walking tours" from Lonely Planet, Rick Steves, etc. so we knew our way around in different ports. I also have a few phrases and food translations on crib notes in various languages so we can have good manners when we visit places. "Hello, good bye, please and thank you" go a long way. 1) Savona: ship tours went to Monte Carlo and Genoa-= both of which we had already visited. Since we really run ourselves ragged in Rome, we took this as a day to relax. We worked out and enjoyed the ship in the morning and headed into town after lunch on board for some strolling around. We ended up in the harbor soaking in the early spring (late winter actually) sun, drinking prosecco, and people watching.
2) Barcelona: I would truly die if I went on a tour here, this city speaks to the free spirit. We took the shuttle to town for 6 euro (includes return). We did a little research before leaving and made some good copies of maps. La Rambla is the Old Town area. It is where tourists go but locals, too. Walked over there enjoying the architecture. Had some wine in the sun. Further up La Rambla there is the Boqueria Market on the main promenade. Razor clams and grilled sausages were had at a counter cafe in the market. Delectable. Picked up some local wine at a wine store which we brought on board with no issues. This area has some GREAT shopping for affordable, trendy clothes. More tapas: wandered into a place down an alley and had local wine and what translates to "face of pig": bite sized pieces of ears, cheek, snout, deep fried and salted. Tasty. Don't knock it until you try it. If you eat hot dogs, you have eaten worse, plus chemicals. Next stop, more local wine (Galician for me), grilled octopus, chorizo. All fabulous. It was impossible the hours were swallowed up like minutes. We headed back to port. Not surprisingly we skipped dinner.
3) Palma De Mallorca: Arrived at 7:30 am. There is a public bus right out front for 1.25 euro (bring change), it goes into town. There are a lot of nice walking places, again it is nice to have a map. Found another great market, I am sorry I do not have the name. The fish and meat displays were works of art. Lots more walking along the water front, walked up into the older part of town and enjoyed expresso with milk. Took the bus back to ship. This was a beautiful island, however I think it was more of a resort/second home area, than old city like some of the other ports of calls.
4) Tunis: took the Sidi Boud Said/Carthage Tour. Carthage is beautiful, we went to 3 different sites, and I was glad to have a guide to help negotiate our way around as we had traveled into Tunis on our own last time we visited, and I do not recommend it. I did not like that our tour guide made us stop at "preferred" stores (kick back) throughout the tour. I hate organized tours but I guess this is not uncommon. Otherwise the guide was good, very knowledgeable and passionate about Tunisia. Sidi Boud Said was lovely also, but it was hard to see the beauty through all the crap/trinkets lining the whole main street. It was a total tourist trap. It was a pity, all the same stuff at every store. I am sure mass produced somewhere, not in Tunisia. We ditched the group and agreed to meet them in an hour. The Costa English host Michael, an awesome Australian, did not seem thrilled. We are just not tour people! Got ripped off at a cafe (happened last time we were in Tunisia), thought it not best practice to quibble--just get me out of here. I guess they depend on that. Got back only 10 minutes before dinner and long after all aboard call. Not real happy about going to dinner with time only to wash my hands and change clothing.
5) Malta/Valletta: this was our second time. The entry and exit into the harbor should not be missed. Jaw dropping! Walked into town. There is a bus just outside of port that runs every hour on the half hour and takes you to the old city gate. Last time we rode the bus around the city of Valetta and felt it was a really fun experience. I think it was the #198. The busses are at city gate, and worth checking out just to see all the great colors and styles.
The city has a wonderful history and it was great to take in all the architecture and views. Had some local wine, and walked ALL over. It is nice if you can read a bit of history before going. If I went in the summer I would hit a beach or snorkel.
6) Catania, Sicily: Next to Barcelona, this was our favorite port. I am not sure if I can explain, but it just spoke to me. We walked off ship and dropped jaws at the site of Mt. Etna. It was a nice walk through port, and into the city (walk to the left) found many nice squares and cafe, and GREAT shopping. Got several pieces of trendy made-in-Italy clothing on sale for under 20 Euro a piece. There were plenty of expensive things too, but the sales were good when we were there. The famous fish market is not to be missed. I really mean it. Best market I have ever seen, and I understand one of the largest in Italy. All the shouting Sicilian fisherman, huge swordfish, Old Italian grandmas, families, couples hand in hand--priceless. We then sat on a piazza in the sun and drank Sicilian wine. Husband had to drag me kicking and screaming back to ship. BIGGEST COSTA Criticism: not enough time in ports. Compared to other ships, you lose several hours in many ports. This is a problem. After leaving Catania, it is fun to be out on deck when you go through the Straits of Messina between Sicily and the tip of the "boot". It is about 2 hours after leaving. Further along, the MOST IMPORTANT sight to see while at sea is the island of Stromboli. It is an active volcano that we passed at sunset. As we sipped our wine, pondering if this might be the best cruise yet, the mountain gave her prod to help us decide...she spewed lava! It would be a pity to be somewhere on the ship that you could not see Mt. Stromboli. Disembarkation day: Flawless. Breakfast in the dining room, out of room by 8:30, cappuccinos while lounging on padded solarium lounge chair until 9:40, went to disembarkation area we were assigned to at 9:45 and walked off ship. We were assigned to 10am, but we had requested a shuttle for 10 AM and did not want to keep it waiting. No problem walking off with the 9:45 A.M herd. Bags were ready and waiting, no lines, we were onto shuttle and headed to airport 10:00 am. I noticed many regional transfers had meeting times as late as 2 or 3 pm. They may want you out of your room, but they don't throw you off this ship which is nice if you have a later flight. Had I known this I would have requested the shuttle later since our flight was not until 2pm.
Conclusion: We would not hesitate to sail Costa again in Europe. I really have nothing serious to complain about EXCEPT, as mentioned, I do wish their times in port were not so short. While Palma, Malta and Tunis visit duration were fine, my heart was breaking having to leave Barcelona and Sicily. We probably won't sail Costa in the Caribbean because of this. Given the feeling some people have had about Costa and the Pacifica I know this cruise is not for everyone, but we had a terrific time and we travel a lot (cruises and on our own). If you want things to be exactly like other cruises you have been on and will sulk if they are not, you may not have a good time. Open your mind and heart when you go, and you may just have a great time.