Embarkation: The port of embarkation for this cruise was Port Louis, Mauritius. I went solo for this one and had decided to fly down to Mauritius a few days early to get acclimated. I flew business class on Air Mauritius from Paris and arrived refreshed early in the morning after a good nights sleep in a seat that reclined into a bed. After a few days in a paradisiacal resort (the Sands Resort & Spa) at Flic en Flac, about 20 km. south of Port Louis, I took a taxi to the cruise terminal arriving at about noon on 6 Feb. Check-in was fast and smooth and I went immediately aboard and to my cabin. My baggage arrived within 15 or 20 minutes.
The Cabin: I had booked Cabin 5079, a standard outside which turned out to be just fine for me. Not huge, about 16 sq. mt., it was more than adequate for one person. Right away I asked my cabin steward (named Emmanuel from the Philippines) to separate the two beds so I could walk up and look outside through the large round porthole. The now single bed was fine for me and quite comfortable. The cabin thus was furnished with two single beds, two nightstands and lamps, a small easy chair and a small round table. Built-in was a desk with two drawers below a large mirror, but only a stool for sitting. On the other side was a cabinet for the minibar refrigerator and a small-screen TV on top. In the corridor inside the entrance door were two good sized wardrobes, one full with two doors and a single with three drawers and three shirt slides, below the hanging space. The larger even had a tie/belt rack. Between it and the minibar cabinet was a piece with five drawers below and a storage cabinet above, with the electronic wall safe in between. Opposite the wardrobes was the bathroom, small but adequate. It had two bath towels, two hand towels, and a bath mat which were changed as necessary twice a day. I mentioned to the steward that the carpet in the cabin had seen better days and two days later when I returned from an excursion I found they had torn out the old carpeting and replaced it with new wall-to-wall. Very nice. I was impressed, but I had to smell the glue for two or three days. As a Costa Club member I received a fruit bowl and a bottle of Prosecco to enjoy. The fruit bowl was never refilled and the pieces I did not consume remained on my table almost to the end of the cruise - here they could have done better. The cabin was quiet, no vibrations, and sea movement minimal even when the sea was rough. I always select a mid-ship cabin with cabin decks above and below which usually ensures lowest noise levels and ship movement.
Service and Staff: I found the staff members in the Customer Service and Excursion offices to be professional, friendly, and very helpful whenever I had need of their services. I'd say all of the excursion staff was pretty great while at Reception, Daniela was probably the best. Our captain was Mario Moretta and one of the more visible captains I've run across. He was friendly and always available to answer questions or chat a few moments. The other hotel staff members were almost all quite friendly and seemed to enjoy their work.
Passenger Mix: We had a pretty full ship. I queried Daniela at the Reception who checked the computer to find there were 1350 passengers of whom 370 were French, 290 Italians, 150 from the U.K., Australia, South Africa or New Zealand, 130 were from Germany, and 3 held US passports (myself and a couple from Texas), plus a mixture of Russians, Spanish and Portugese. There were also many islanders aboard mainly from Mauritius and Rèunion reflecting the ethnic makeup of those islands: Indian, African, Chinese, and a mixture of all. There were only about 20 children aboard and most were involved with "Squok Club" activities.
Cleanliness. Costa is a line that prides itself on keeping their ships clean and shining. Notwithstanding the Romantica's seventeen years, she was kept sparkling by squads of men constantly rubbing and shining the brass, polishing mirrors and glass, vacuuming the carpeting, cleaning and sanitizing tables and surfaces. There were hand sanitizer machines outside of the restaurant and buffet and when boarding the ship.
Smoking: As is usually found on Costa ships, the bar and lounges were divided one side for smokers and the other not. Same thing up on the pool decks where ashtrays were laid out on one side but not the other. Unfortunately in the lounge where a very good pianist played each evening (Theatre Foyer), all the tables had ashtrays but even here the smokers tended to sit on just one side. I did not notice any smell of smoke from the cabins near me or in the corridors. Naturally smoking was prohibited in the restaurants, theatre, card rooms, library, etc.
Restaurants and Bars: The Romantica had one main dining room (MDR) called the Botticelli Restaurant on the 8th deck open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. On the 9th was the Romeo Pizzeria open every evening, and the self-service buffet on the 10th, open for breakfast and lunch. There were seven bars scattered around the ship.
MDR: I always book the second seating at 21.00 and was assigned to table 142, the "singles" table. There were five females and only two males, all Italian speaking. Our waiter was Sismundo Herman from the Philippines and his assistant was Richard from Peru. For myself and my table companions the food served was good with only mild complaints on a couple occasions when something wasn't up to expectations. Food was always served piping hot. The only real complaint was the refusal to serve pitchers of free tap water instead of the pay-for bottled water. The first evening at our table and many others, the waiters when asked, brought out jugs of ice water to quench our thirst. On the following evening they had to apologize because word had been passed down not to serve free water any longer. I, along with some others, went to the maitre'd who very apologetically said that a directive had been received from the head office of Costa in Genoa canceling this previously common benefit. He suggested we complain to the Customer Service Office which I did the following day. Here again the answer was that it was a directive the ship had received from Genoa, presumably to all ships in the fleet. For the remainder of the cruise the only option was to bring water from your cabin (which I did once with no problems), buy the bottled, or do without. Since I usually drink only wine at dinner it was no big problem for me but the others went ahead and bought a bottle each evening.
Buffet: This was the first cruise that I can remember that there was no problem finding a place to sit for either breakfast or lunch in the buffet. There seemed to be always plenty of open chairs at the large ten-person tables. In addition there was outside seating as well in the Terrazza Caffè. The buffet had two similar serving lines with salads, pastas, hot foods, carvery, pizza, various breads, plus an Italian pasta station and two specialty stations where cooks prepared on the spot a variety of items. The selection of cheese was especially interesting. Fruit and deserts of many types were on display. I found both breakfast and lunch to have so many things to choose from I don't see how anyone could go away hungry or dissatisfied. Again, hot items were always served piping hot.
Pizza: The Romantica also had a pizzeria on deck 9 called the Romeo Pizzeria. It was open afternoons from 15.00 to 18.00 for pizza by the slice, and evenings from 21.00 to 01.00 for pizzas made to order. I did not try it (I live near Naples!) but there seemed to be many that did.
Bars: The huge Piazza Italia bar & lounge on deck 8 received most of the bar business throughout the day and evening with entertainment by the ship's animation team and professional musicians. I preferred the more intimate Giulietta Bar on deck 9 where Felix, the head bartender, made an excellent espresso coffee for me each morning. On the question of prices, simple aperitifs or after dinner liquors were priced at €4.70 while most mixed drinks cost €6.70. Espresso was €1.30. To these amounts was added the 15% service charge. The water package was €25.99 (plus 15%) for 13 bottles.
Library and Internet: The library and internet point was on deck 8. The selection of English language books was reasonably good, as were the selections in other languages. There were many computers available for use for a cost of €10 for 30 minutes. Like all Costa ships now, wifi was throughout and I used my laptop in my cabin extensively. The cost was €3 registration and €24 for three hours, renewable. Costa Club members can deduct a 20% discount bringing that €24 down to €19.20.
Laundry: I used the ship's laundry early in the cruise and then again at the end. The quality of the service was excellent and the traditional "magic bag" at end cruise was very economical (€19.99 for up to 25 pieces of laundry).
Gym and Spa. The Romantica's gym was rather small but had a half dozen or so treadmills and a variety of other machines. Normally I make extensive use of a ship's gym but this cruise it seemed I never had enough time for it. The spa was really just the beauty center and massage rooms with a sauna. I booked four one-hour massages but when I found how good my masseuse was, I signed up for two more. Her name was Michelle (also from the Philippines) and she was absolutely wonderful, resolving a long standing problem I've had with my feet. It would have been worth extending the cruise just to continue receiving her care. As with all Costa ships the spa was run by the Steiner organization and the prices are standard. The full body one hour massage is listed at €109 but they have the pay three and get four for €327, plus I received a 25% discount on the second two massages I ordered.
Entertainment: I went to a couple of the evening shows which were pretty good. Two British singers plus the ship's dancers performed beautifully. Those passengers that attended every evening were consistent in their praise. The ship's animation team was very active and received good cooperation from participating passengers. They weren't really entertainment, but the ship's lecturer, Prof. Carlo Scopelliti gave two excellent history and nature presentations during the course of the cruise; one on the Seychelles and another on Madagascar.
Weather and Climatic Conditions: Summer weather in the tropics is characterized by warm sun, white clouds, stable temperatures and frequent rain showers particularly in the afternoon or evening. Such was the case in the Indian Ocean. Daytime temps were usually always in the 28 to 32 degree range, dropping only a couple degrees at night. It was very pleasant indeed and the rain showers were generally brief. HOWEVER, we had to put up with tropical cyclone Bingiza which beat rather heavily the eastern coast of Madagascar and caused several changes to the established itinerary causing the captain to cancel the scheduled port call at Nosy Be, Madagascar and remain an extra day at Victoria, Seychelles until the cyclone moved on. During the days we were anchored at Victoria we had absolutely beautiful weather.
Port Calls and Shore Excursions:
Day 1 - Port Louis, Mauritius. Warm and sunny; rain in the evening. Perfect for departing and arriving passengers. While many of the newly embarked passengers went ashore after checking in, I decided to remain on board since I had already been on the island for several days. I had previously booked via the internet all the shore excursions I wanted, I used the time to get organized, register my credit card, and get to know the ship.
Day 2 - Port Louis, Mauritius. Cloudy day. I had booked the shore excursion to Ile aux Cerfs (Deer Island). It took us about an hour to get there with the bus having to wend its way through heavy Port Louis traffic all the way to the east side of Mauritius where a small boat took us to the island, passing through mangrove swamps. The area wasn't exactly pristine as it was a small resort catering to tourist groups with mattresses on a secondary beach and palm leaf covered tables for lunch. The weather didn't cooperate that day so many didn't go swimming. The lunch however was good, chicken and fish creole specialties. Traffic returning to the ship was horrendous passing through Port Louis. The original itinerary had us remaining at Mauritius for an additional half day but it had been changed. We sailed in the evening.
Day 3 - At Sea. Rough seas and cloudy weather as we passed on the far edge of the cyclone activity. First gala evening.
Day 4 - At Sea. Sea continued to be rough but the weather improved. The sun loungers around the pools started getting good use.
Day 5 - Victoria, Mahè, Seychelles. Arrived right on schedule at 09.00. Nice warm sunny weather but very humid. Walked into the town and did some souvenir shopping in the colorful market. In the afternoon I went with the "Creole Night" shore excursion to Takamaka Bay on the south west corner of Mahè. Very pretty beach with nice swimming before dinner at "Chez Batista" with Creole singers and dancers. Barbequed pork and huge fish along with a multitude of Creole specialties (don't ask - just enjoy!). Entertainment very lively. Nice enjoyable evening.
Day 6 - Victoria, Mahè, Seychelles. Beautiful sunny day. Left ship at 10.00 on a big catamaran that was moored right under the ship for Praslin Island (pronounced PRA-lin). After a 45 minute crossing our guide got us on a comfortable bus that took us to the jungle center of the island and the Valle de Mai. Coco de mer trees, coconut palms, and dozens of other strange species producing bread fruit and weird forms of nuts and things. Many birds, black parrots, special spiders, lizards, gekkos, etc. We went back to the little port for a short catamaran ride over to La Digue Island, another paradise. No cars and only a few trucks with benches in the bed to carry tourists around. Most people on bicycles going to the houses of the few inhabitants. We left the little settlement by the jetty and rode a bouncing truck over a narrow paved road that soon became a bumpy sand track to the eastern side of the island and the beach called Grande Anse - a spectacular wide white sand beach with huge granite boulders delimiting the far ends. There was no coral barrier here so the waves were substantial, allowing some local fellows to ride their surfboards. We swam, played with the waves, and roasted in the sun. Lunch was in a little sandy restaurant right on the beach called "Loutier Coco." The Creole barbeque was very good, fish, fish, fish. Before leaving La Digue we went to the Union Estate to see the giant tortises (in a large pen, not walking around freely), and the production of coconut oil. A short walk took us to what is billed as the island's most spectacular beach, Source d'Argent. It was very pretty but not much sand, shallow water with a coral surface that hurt your feet. At least there was plenty of shade trees to block the sun a bit for our by now red skins. Two catamaran rides and we got back to the ship at 20.00. A great but tiring day!
Day 7 - Victoria, Mahè, Seychelles. We were supposed to leave the Seychelles today but Cyclone Bingiza caused our itinerary to be changed. It was announced that two of the Madagascar port calls were cancelled but we would make the one for Diego Suarez and have an extra day at Rèunion. A lot of passengers went off on private excursions today but I remained on board trying to cool my sunburn from the day before.
Day 8 - Victoria, Mahè, Seychelles. Sunny and warm. I went on a sailing catamaran excursion this morning all around the north end of Mahè island and landing at a small deserted cove beyond Belle Vallon on the northwest corner. Wonderful swimming with multicolored fish. We returned to the ship (sunburned again) by noon and at 13.00 to the voice of Andrea Bocelli singing Con Te Partiro, we sailed away from Victoria, the smallest capital in the world (I think I heard).
Day 8 - At Sea. Rough sea and overcast approaching the cyclone area. As the day wore on we were advised that the cyclone was moving southwest and would leave Madagascar shortly. Consequently we received the third change of itinerary since the start of the cruise: we would land not only at Diego Suarez but also make the scheduled stop at Tamatave, so Rèunion was back to just a one day call. Second gala night.
Day 9 - Diego Suarez, Madagascar. Gray and overcast, choppy seas. Very humid. We docked on schedule at 07.00 and at 9 I left on a shore excursion (ex Emerald Bay, cancelled due to choppy sea conditions) around the eastern side of the bay. We first went through the very wet town trying to dry out after the cyclone passed. A town with a lot of character with dilapidated colonial buildings, roughly built habitations, stores and shops of every variety (beautiful wood carved products), pot-holed roads that became red-dirt tracks as we left the town proper. Friendly people who seemed very happy to see all the tourists (Costa banners waving around) in town. On the track around the bay (with the island called Pan di Zucchero in the middle) we stopped in one location where ladies were selling bright colored pareos and children displayed large sea shells, men with iguanas or lemurs on branches, some women with white designs painted on their faces, all in all a very interesting setting. We stopped at a beach where a couple brave souls went swimming notwithstanding the less than perfect weather. Returning toward Diego Suarez we stopped at a hotel resort for lunch. I think we were the only customers at Diego's premier Blue Note Resort. A local reggie-type group entertained us with their music while we sipped on chopped-off coconuts with a straw sitting around the pool. Lunch was started off with everyone receiving a first course plate containing a big crab which we had to break open with pliers. The white meat was delicious. The second course was rice with pieces of fish on skewers; also very good. For dessert we served all kinds of local fruits, papaya, mango, pineapple, bananas, etc.
Day 10 - At Sea. Overcast and choppy seas. Italian night in the restaurant with the usual singing O'Sole Mio, Volare, etc., waving of the napkins, with the waiters leading the serpent dance around the dining room and dancing with the ladies. A good time was had by all.
Day 11 - Tamatave, Madagascar. Sunny with scattered clouds. A very large container port. No excursion today but I took the shuttle bus (€6 round trip) from the ship to the Bazar Be market in town. The streets were horrible, semi flooded after the passing of the cyclone, full of pot holes. The market consisted of hundreds of tiny stalls selling souvenirs, tee shirts, pareos, vanilla, carved wooden handicrafts, model ships, etc. in addition to the food, meat, and houseware stalls for the locals. Here there was a different atmosphere from Diego as there were armies of little children and women with their hands out begging. There was no way you could give them anything or they would chase you forever. I made some purchases and went back to the ship early. Last gala night.
Day 12 - At Sea. Sunny and rough sea. Much time was spent around the pools.
Day 13 - St. Denis, Rèunion. Sunny and warm. Sea conditions improved. Actually the ship docked at Le Port, about 20 km. south of the capital of St. Denis. Rèunion is an overseas province of France so the currency was euros, French language, French license plates on the cars, and a completely French atmosphere. I went on the excursion to the "Cirque de Salazie" today, passing first to visit a Hindu temple and then a vanilla plantation. We eventually arrived up in the hills passing through green valleys with dozens of high water falls in the clouds, and got into the little alpine town of Hell Bourg. Souvenir stores, crêperies, little bars ; a neat town. We went to lunch at a little hotel complex called « Les Jardins d'Heva. » As usual, it was all quite good. On the return we stopped for an hour at St. Denis for a walk through the market. Back to the ship for the last evening. Bags had to be outside the cabin door by 22.30.
Day 14 - St. Louis, Mauritius. We arrived on schedule at 02.30 and by 5 many people were already disembarking. My flight to Milano was supposed to depart at 09.40 but was delayed until 14.30 so I remained on board until noon (cabin vacated at 07.30).
Disembarkation: My baggage was waiting for me on the dock so I disembarked on my own. I had arranged a taxi to take me to the airport (Taxi Mauritius - €35 instead of the €60 the port taxis wanted), which took only 45 minutes, being a Sunday. Unfortunately the flight was further delayed until almost 17.00 but since I had a business class ticket I spent my time in the VIP lounge eating good little things and drinking French champagne. What a life!
Conclusions: It was a great cruise on a very nice ship. I had previously read a lot of negative comments about the Romantica, being old and small but I'm glad I didn't give it any thought. The number of passengers on a smaller ship allow so much more freedom of movement, both on board and ashore that makes it well worth while. I'll give both the Romantica and the cruise their well deserved five stars.