We joined the Marina in Barcelona on 7th June 2010, our 5th Costa cruise out of about 30 in total. We have enjoyed all of them and Marina was no exception but it is, of course, one of their small, older ships, almost identical to the Allegra. There were only about 30 English speakers on board, the majority Italian and French, with a few German & Spanish. Rather than having a 'beginning' and an 'end' there were people boarding and disembarking nearly every day.
We picked this cruise because it had no sea days and we had a 600 euro voucher each from when the Europa sadly broke down in the Indian Ocean last year which covered the cost (except for about 50 euros each in tax and our Easyjet flights.
We flew into Barcelona a day early and stayed at thed Hotel Coronado which was fine, if not luxurious, and was conveniently situated a short walk from the port. In fact we took the longer route, walkng through to Las Ramblas, up to Placa Catalunya then back down to the port, all quite doable with my husband's mobility scooter and me pulling our one small suitcase.
Marina was docked at one of the big cruise terminals, not the World Trade Centre, so that necessitated the use of the 2 euro shuttle bus. Boarding was quick and easy. Our allocated inside cabin (V209) was a fixed twin bed cabin, and two very narrow single beds at that, and having requested a double we immediately asked to be moved. We had to sleep on our 'shelves' for the first night but the next day they offered us a larger outside cabin right in the middle of the ship. We were delighted with this, although the cabin was still somewhat dated and lacked the convenient layout and amenities of modern ships. It was nice to have a window for a change but (for us) is not something we would consider paying extra for.
The food was as good as ever. Excellent pasta especially. The only complaint was that the buffet closes at 3.30pm (although there is tea and cakes until 4.30pm) so anyone arrriving back on ship after that has to wait until dinner, which is quite a wait if you are 9pm sitting. My husband did not need to use his scooter on the ship which was just as well as the Marina is not really wheelchair accessible, there are 'up and over' steps at several entrances to the main deck and the corridors are very narrow.
Now a little about the ports:
Monte Carlo, Monaco We had been here a couple of times before so decided not to go the the Monaco-Ville (old town around the palace) this time but to spend some time exploring the newer MOnte Carlo area. Walking out of the port we found an elevator and crossed the street towards La Condamine market, then walked down the pedestrianised 'Rue Princess Caroline' back towards the harbour. Following the harbour brought us to a pretty little church and statue dedicated to Sainte Devote. From there we walked up the hill to the Casino. The main Casino does not open until 2pm but the Casino de Paris (in the arcade next to the Cafe de Paris) was open, so we could rest for a while and waste a few euros on the slot machines. After wandering around the Casino district we headed off down the hill towards Larvotto beach, which was rather too far to walk but on the seafront we came across a beautiful Japanese Garden, a really lovely and peaceful oasis to sit for a while. We decided then to head back towards the ship, walking through the seafront tunnel that features in the Monaco Grand Prix, just missed a 'bateau bus' (little boat across the harbour) so decided to keep walking and admiring all the lovely yachts. It was a lovely day but we must have walked some miles, as my feet were killing me and for the first time ever the scooter ran out of power just before we got back to the ship !
Livorno, Italy This was about our 5th or 6th visit to Livorno so we had no intention of visiting Florence or Pisa again. It's a shame that Livorno is only seen as the gateway to these beautiful places as it is not too bad a place to spend a day in its own right. For the first time we did not dock at the horrible industrial port but at one of the berths at the bottom of the main street (Via Grande). It was still about half a mile into town, there were buses, but we saw a sign to the 'New American Market' just outside the port - on investigation nothing special - then crossed the main street and walked parallel to the seafront. our guess was right and we shortly came out behind the Piazza Grande (where the shuttle buses from the other cruise terminals drop off). One block up the Via Grande (going away from the port) is a nice market (fruit & veg, meat, shoes, lots of clothes,& just about everything else) that we had discovered on a previous visit. We spent the rest of the morning wandering around that. When the shops shut for siesta (about 1pm) we took bus no.1 from Piazza Grande (after buying tickets for 1 euro each from the tobacco kiosk) to the beaches of Antignano. This is the same bus as goes to the station but in the opposite directions (across the road from the cathedral). We passesd some nice looking 'bagni' - beach club establishments - but did not have too long to spend there so got off at 'Tre Ponti' stop to use the public beach. It is not a spectacular beach but was quite busy with local families and the water was warm (unlike Marina's pool which was like an ice bath all week). After a drink and 'gelato' at a nearby cafe we caught the bus back getting off at the bottom of 'Via Grande' and walking back along the seafront to the ship.
Olbia, Sardinia The Marina docks at the ferry port 'Isolda Bianca' and there was a free shuttle bus every 10 minutes to the port end of the main street 'Corso Umberto 1'. This is a nice stret lined with shops and cafes and small piazzas off the street. We lingered at bit too long in the town, having intended to take a bus to the beach of Pittulongu, by the time we found the bus stop (turn left before the railway lines at the far end of the main street) it appeared that we had just missed the midday bus, and my timetable (2 years out of date but the best I could find either on the internet or in Olbia) indicated that they only run once an hour. The last shuttle leaves the town at 4pm so we decided it was not worth the effort to have probably less than an hour at the beach. We followed the street for a while, finding a few shops but nothing of particular interest, then took a left turning ('Via Roma') which led back towards the main street via a series of squares. It's quite a nice town but next time we will be a bit more lively and make sure we see some of Sardinia's beaches.
Capri, Italy Local boats tendered into the harbour of 'Marina Grande' right opposite the funicular to Capri Town. It was only a short stay, last tender 12.30 for 1pm departure, so we opted out of visiting the town. There were quite a few shops and cafes at harbour level which kept us amused for an hour or so and a nice pebble beach. The water was lovely and warm and clear but a little inevitable surface polutioon from all the boats continuously in and out of the harbour, mainly ferries to Naples & Sorrento and tourist boats leaving for round island tours and the Blue Grotto - both of these looked easy to book on arrival. The water at the far end of the beach was much nicer and I enjoyed a nice swim. Tendering back was efficient with hardly any queue even though nearly everyone must have been returning to the ship about midday, and we left on time. Glad we did not take a round island boat tour as we had a lovely view from the ship as we sailed away, quite close to the island, past the famous rock arch and the 'Marina Picola' at the other side of the island.
La Goulette (for Tunis), Tunisia It was our honour to be one of the first ships to call at the new cruise terminal and what an improvement ! On our last visit 2 years ago it had been absolute choas with almost unbearable hassle from hundreds of taxi drivers. We have holidayed in Tunisia and like the country but fully understand why this port of call has been reported as such a bad experience for many cruisers. However, the new terminal will make a huge difference. As this was another short visit, sailing at 2pm, we had no intention of going into Tunis this time, so spent the morning exploring La Goulette. Sadly we found little of interest. There is a lovely wide beach of beautiful soft golden sand about a mile from the cruise terminal but it was almost deserted, just a handful of local youths sitting around and nobody using the beach cafes. Perhaps it was empty because the weather was overcast (although still warm) - I don't know, as we have seen this beach packed with people on other visits. Walking back along what seemed to be the main street, one bloack back from the beach, we found a small indoor market selling fruit vand veg, meat, fish etc, lots of cafes and a few shop, some open and some closed on Saturday morning. There are some old town walls, a couple of gateways and a statue of a man on a horse in the middle of the street near the port, but little else. Wandering back to the port we deviated to check out the location of the station for trains to Tunis in the hope that we will return one day soon. In fact it is very easy, simply walk out of the port, across the street by the garage and follow the railway lines to the station. On returning we spent some time looking at the shops in the cruise terminal itself. It has been built to resemble an old medina with some attractive fountains and waterfalls and complete with camels, Roman soldiers & a snake charmer. There will be about 50 shops when it is all open but only about half seem to be occupied so far. We got chatting to a cashier in the duty free shop (sells cigarettes about 40 euros for 400 and a good variety of perfume but no alcohol) and asked about changing money. He proudly took us to see the new ATM - which as of last week (12th June 2010) stands on a pallet wrapped in packaging ! When it is installed and working ('very soon' I was told) it will be in a little alcove just to the left of the immigration area.It will then be dead easy to visit Tunis independently. Simply get some local currency out of the ATM, walk to the station and take the train into Tunis from there. I believe it is still a good walk to the medina (we did it some years ago when staying at a Tunisian beach resort) but much cheaper than a taxi. We will definitely do it next time. Walking out of the port now seems to be easy thanks to the advertised taxi fares and organised taxi rank, whereas before it was nearly impossible. Several drivers still called out as we walked by, and a few others were waiting at the port gate, but a form 'no thank you' sufficed and we walked by with no trouble. I hope they enforce the fixed fares and keep the hassle factor low and that Tunis becomes a deservedly popular port of call. My only criticism was that in building a new terminal you would expect it to be wheelchair friendly. In fact there were sevaral points when my husband had to get off his scotter and lift it up and down small steps into different areas of the building and into shops etc.
Port Mahon, Menorca There is one advantage of travelling on a smaller ship and that is that it can get into hidden jewels like Mahon ! We sailed in at lunchtime down a long fjord-like bay (a bit like Malta's Grand Harbour) and docked right by a little market from where pretty little shops lined the quayside. Being Sunday we had wondered what to expect but most of these were open, selling typical tourist wares, local produce and especially the locally made leather sandals. The main town can be reached by 150 steps but we took the longer sloping route to the top and found a really charming old Spanish town. Most of the shops in the town were closed as, sadly, were all the churches and museums, but in a way it was better for us as had things been open it would no doubt have been busy and probabaly impassable with the scooter. We had a lovely couple of hours wandering around enjoying the scenery and would love to return here one day.
Conclusion The Marina is not my favourite ship, it is just unfair to compare it to the big modern liners, and (knowing what the Allegra does in rough seas) it definitely needed to be a port-intensive itinerary for me. But the food is good and the crew bend over backward to be helpful - and the fact that they have to do everyting in 5 languages as well as their mother tongues never ceases to amaze me - so if the itinerary and price were right I would have no hestitation in booking it again.