Buying the Cruise
We bought a 10 day all inclusive Hotel + East Caribbean Cruise holiday from a travel bureau in our hometown Espoo from our regular travel agent whose services we have used for many years. At first there was no more cabins with balconies left on the cruise ship although it was the 1:st of October almost 4 months before the Ship was going to sail. We decided not to go if we do not get a cabin with a balcony. Luckily our dear agent managed to the wished cabin with a balcony so we invested the 2315 EUR / person and started choosing excursions from the catalogue printed out from the Costa-Cruises website. The average monthly wage in a steady job in Finland is about 2800 EUR so it takes years of saving and planning to take the cruise.
Day 5 Tuesday Bus to Cruise boat
After sleeping 4 nights at the Hotel the bus to La Romana started at 8:30 so we had ample time to eat the breakfast. We had to take all our luggage with us and give away the room, towel cards and safety box lock. The bus driver stopped at some roadside pick nick café in Nagua where the new road across the Dominican Rrepublic over the central mountain to the Caribbean Ocean side started.
After driving over some rice fields the road came to a check point gate where a soldier armed with a machine gun made sure that everyone paid their dues. Before arriving to La Romana the bus driver maid another stop at the “Three legged Dogs roadside café”. People in the Dominican Republic are so poor that they do not bother to tidy up litter or any trash on their yards. Even the cars have license plates only on the back. Over 80% of the population are coloured , but the big roadside signs had pictures of president candidates that all had white faces.
The bus made to the harbour some 13:10 where we had to sit and wait under an open air roof (with toilet) in a ribbon coral for an hour until the customs procedures took place. All food and alcohol was put into a safe for the duration of the cruise. After the checking of the pre filled papers and passports we got our Costa Cards and where ready to embark with our hand luggage. The heaviest suit case was tagged and delivered to our cabin.
Costa Mediterranea was build in Helsinki 2003. It is a magnificent vessel about 300 meters long and 30 meters wide and 12 decks high. It can carry 2680 passengers. The interior is designed in Italy. One can feel the luxurious touch in the blending colours of fabrics and building material. The stairs have high lighted glass commutes for unique craft works of ceramics and silver. The lampets of the Orientale Lounge staircase fountain are colourful Murano glas.
We had the unbelievable luck in getting the first (front) cabin with a 5 meter wide balcony on deck 6 other cabins had only a 2,5 meter balcony some of them even with lifeboats limiting the view. The balcony is furnished with 2 fabric chairs and a small coffee table. The cabin it self is approximately 15 square meters. The floor space is occupied by the double bed a little table and 2 small chairs. There is a little bathroom with shower sink and toilet.
What is more important there is a 230/110 V socket to charge the mobile phone and use the razor in the bathroom. There are also 3 closets and many drawers. There is no suitcase table so we kept the suitcases on the floor corner. Each cabin has a mini bar and TV. The floor is covered with a wall to wall carpet.
Our Cabin servant Cedi was on an 8 months conract. Some 6 months was still left before he could trawel back to see her litle daughter back home in Indonesia. He was always polite friendly and smiling altouch he had 20 cabins to look after.
At firs we had to put some money on the Costa Card at the Info Desk. No money is used on the boat. Instead everything is debited from the Costa Card account. We had changed most of our currency to dollars but euros was used on the boat so we lost 40 EUR because of the bad exchange rate. So we deposited 1500 dollars on the other Costa Card and assigned the other Costa Card to Visa.
Then we reserved a table for dinner on the first serving at 19:00 The Italian origin girl at the Info Desk was very arrogant and bored and was poorly acquainted with English language.
It was about 20 minutes to 15:00 when we got us organized and decided to have a quick bite of something to eat before the self service cafeteria was closed at 15:00 on the Harmonia (Hamburger) deck 9. Again a bad synchronizing of eating times, and again missing the lunch. We could have had a good lunch at the Hotel before leaving the room at noon and still made it to the customs at 18:00 and to dinner at 19:00, because the boat was NOT leaving until midnight.
Perhaps it would be a good idea to let some of the staff members participate on a Costa Cruise on some other Costa ship as “SPY”-passengers. Maybe they could get a better idea how it feels to be a passenger on the cruise. We are sure that they would come with lots of good new ideas how to develop the services.
The Tax Free Shop
There is a big Tax Free shop on deck 3. We did not buy anything from the shop because the buying was so difficult. It seems that the Italian origin shop clerks did not want to sell anything for English speaking passengers. One other reason, why the buying was so difficult, was that the shop was CLOSED from 11:00 to 17:00 when we would have had time to shop. One thing we can not understand why the shop selection included lots of Italian design articles, when most of the passengers where Italian so they could get the SAME stuff at home. Since the ship was built in Helsinki why not get a repertoire of Scandinavian design articles?
Cruise Hostess for English speaking passengers
A splended idea from Costa Cruises was to have an English speaking hostess Deborah Dalati on the ship. She belonged to the entertainment staff. She was keeping lectures about safety and how to fill the official documentation. We missed her great personality especially at the start of the excursions.
Cruising is a big industry and the ship is like a floating city (with a grew of 900). Navigating , Hotel service , Customer service, Eexcursions, Eentertainment functions are all performed by separate entities that know nothing of each other. The only ones who experience the whole picture are the passengers and Captain Giancarlo Cha.
It would be a great help to see the timelines of all functions on a single chart for the whole cruise. It would then be easier to see the time windows available for different events and tasks. The Tour office and the Tax free coud be open from 2 pm to 5 pm.. In the morning there is only a 15 minute timewindow to reserve an excursion after breakfast and before excursion meeting.
We used the lifts only 2 times during the cruise and maybe thanks to this we did not gain so much weight. There was 3 lifts side by side so that you could not see the other lifts coming if you where standing in front of one lift. Inside a lift there was an announcement in Italian that the doors where opening, but you could not hear this from the outside when you where waiting for another lift. From the outside you could hear again in Italian from the departing other lift, an announcement that the doors where closing, but then it was already too late to make it to that other lift.
Of course if a passenger comes from Finland to a boat that is made in Finland the sauna is a must. The sauna interior was unfortunately also designed in Italy. The sitting height was too low. The sitting height is measured from the stones of the stove. Your feet should be on the stone level when you are sitting. The seat should be so high as you are sitting with straight back your fingers should touch the roof if you put your hand on top of your head. The sitting board was also too narrow.
The lighting should have been dim, but the whole side wall was a milk-glass window to the deck day light. The only thing that was correct was the air ventilation with incoming air under the door and out going air from the roof hole. There was no thermometer on the wall only an hourglass for some mysterious reason?
On the locker room wall there was an instruction written, to keep your swimming suit on at all times on the premises – also in the sauna. Keeping your swimming suit on in the sauna is considered unhealthy and it is therefore forbidden in every public sauna in Finland.
On the corridor opposite the sauna door there was a row of nameless doors that led to private shower rooms that you could lock from inside. The shower was again nailed to the wall. You could not let out water with a temperature suitable for your use, with out getting a gold sprinkle on your shoulders first. Hot water was not hot enough as high as the deck 9.
The Ships Hospital
A family with 3 teenagers was among the passengers. The two boys where looking quite ill already on the bus to La Romana and the husband got the fever also. They had to stay in the ships hospital for 2 days. Although there is a doctor on the ship he can not prescribe any antibioses because there is no laboratory on the ship.
Breakfast 7:30 – 9:15, Lunch 11:30 – 13:00, Dinner 19:00 – 21:00
We ate most our meals at the restaurant at the back end deck 2. During the breakfast and lunch we where escorted to the nearest table (free seating). At lunch we always took the “Single Dish” because everything was pre selected on the same plate so it was quick and effective. At dinner we had the permanent table reserved with the other 6 passengers from Finland. We had bought the water and beer package and we drank from them during the Dinner.. At dinner everyone got to choose a 5 course dinner. About 3 alternatives per course. There was a different menu every night. It was a small miracle how the waiters got everyone served in 40 minutes. Only once in Guadeloupe the dinner was served so late that the angry people eating at the 21 serving where waiting at the restaurant door, when we where the last ones to leave the 19 serving at 21:10.
At the info desk they did not know that you could buy beautiful Italian ice cream portions at the Armoinia pool bar on deck 9. We asked the bartender of the main hall opposite the info desk and the bartender knew.
The Drink Packages
Drink packages are sold and a logistic miracle is keeping track of the bottle count. Every time you get a zero priced receipt to sign. If You looked hard enough You could see the number of the remaining bottles on the receipt The meaning is to save a few Euros if you can forecast your consumption in forehand. Unfortunately the Beer package consisted of 20 bottles which we never managed to finish in a week. After spending thousands of euros to come on this cruise it does not make any sense to try to save some 20 euros. Consuming the drink package feels like work. You wind up drinking more than you really want to when you do not want to loose the 3 last free bottles.
The Evening Shows
Every evening there was a show in the Osiris Theatre after dinner. Every show was better than the previous one. The same artists performed, but it was always a different story and costumes. Some of the artist where exceptionally talented both to sing and dance. There was also a one man circus show by a multitalented man. One could honestly say that the shows where world class entertainment.
One evening there was a show where all the performers where members of the ships own grew. At the end of the show they came to receive their applauses in their usual working clothes and went back to work.
There was a selection of excursions to attend to at each port of call. Usually the get together for the excursions was 30 minutes after the ship reached the port. We had in good faith used 2 months to choose the excursions of interest in forehand from the Web. The excursion tickets are reserved from the excursion counter that is CLOSED from 11:00 to 17:00 There is only 1 hour time window after breakfast or before dinner and a huge row of passengers at the counter aiming to reserve an excursion ticket for next day. The touch screen computer aided excursion reserving machines where broken. We never found the reserving system from the TV with the remote.
There is something terribly wrong with the logistics and organising of the guests to an excursion. The guests do not know how to stand in a row or have forgotten how they used to do it in school. The excursion managers are waving their hands and speaking in tiny voices to get the guests to understand what they are trying to achieve. The English speaking guests do not have a clue what is going on. Finally somehow different number tags are clued to excursion guests chests, according to the selected excursion and language and the managers start leading the different groups to the waiting busses. The only way to find the busses is to follow where most of the guests are going, because the managers vanish at this stage. You are compelled to ask for the right bus when you get to them.
We suggest that Costa Cruises gets the same kind of ribbon corals that are used in the airports where guest going to excursions destined to different places and guided in different languages know right away witch line to take. Perhaps the attendees would get a card (stating destination and language) that is collected at the bus to keep count that everyone is on board.
If they would have told us in forehand that we had picked such an exotic excursion guided in such an exotic language as English that only a “MIXED excursion” (Italian/English 80/20) or (French/English 95/5) was possible we would have accepted that, but with a reasonable reduction in price.
There was altogether 49 brave ones from Finland (Aurinkomatkat) on the Cruise. We think everyone would have gladly paid a 100 EUR more for the Cruise if we would have had an own Guide from Finland.
Day 6 Wednesday Catalina Island (7,5 hours)
Catalina island is a small uninhabited island with white sand beaches just 15 km from La Romana. The ship anchors nearby and the tender boats commute the guests to the shore and back to the ship every 15 minutes. There are hundreds of sun chairs on the beach and the guests are allowed only to stay on the stretch reserved for the Costa passengers. An armed guard is prohibiting to walk further along the shore. The 3 beach bars sell drinks debited to the Costa Card no potato chips are sold . Some souvenir shops accept dollars. Everybody can get a compliment lunch from the pick nick open air barbeque on a paper plate. We try to find a secluded place under the shade of a tree. We decide that this will be enough of laying on a beach on this holiday. In the evening we dress up formally for the captains Welcome Gala Cocktail before dinner.
Day 7 Thursday Tortola – Road Town (9 hours)
The ship stops on a pier opposite to another big cruise ship. The pier is located right at the centre of Road Town. We had not reserved any excursion on Tortola. We where thinking of going to an all day trip to Josh Van Dyke that allegedly has the most beautiful sand beaches in all of Caribbean. But the excursion has been removed from the list. So we decide to walk to the Botanic Garden in the city. The garden was a little bit dry because of the season. On the way back we found a fabulous intimate 3 table bakery “Bamboushay pottery” located behind the Sunny Caribbee Spice Co and had the best coffee and upside down cake we have ever tasted. On the way back we stopped at a block of little cabin shops built on the waterfront for the tourists. One man was playing a
catching reggae tune with his self build electric guitar equipped with a rhythm machine. The feeling is so cool that we buy a Hawaii shirt with pictures of palms and parrots and a blue large transparent beach dress
Day 8 Friday Antigua - Saint John´s (6 hours)
The ship stops at the pier of Saint John´s centre. There are lots of pre advertised jewellery shops built just for tourists at the harbour. Antigua is the only island on the cruise where East Caribbean Dollars are accepted along with US Dollars. We walk along the streets lined with nicely painted wooden houses to St John´s Cathedral on the hill but it is closed for restoration.
We find a marvellous shop called “Island Creations” on #3 Redcliffe Quay, where also big sized dresses made of batik fabric are sold. We buy 2 dresses and one shirt.
In the harbour pier there is a charter sailing boat named Black Pearl. The Costa Mediterranea crew is constantly maintaining the ship in shape – the anchor is being painted.
Day 9 Saturday Barbados – Bridgetown (9 hours)
We have reserved tickets for the Orchid Garden – Sunbury Plantation English excursion. If the boat docks in the morning at 9:00 the excursion guests gather at the meeting point at 9:30. We have had ample time for breakfast delivered to our cabin. The usual hullabaloo commences at the meeting point, and we just follow the other guests along the long pier and trough the customs building to the busses. The excursion managers have clued a number sticker on each quests chest. We find the buss with the same number easily. The guide is a local girl who has studied Italian in the University of Barbados. She has even spent 4 months in Italy. She thinks that this is an Italian excursion and talks only Italian and is very surprised to find out that half of the quests have bought tickets for an English excursion. So the guide tries to make a mixed Italian/English tour in about 80% / 20% ratio. (Her native language is English).
Another disappointment is revealed because the excursion is not going to the Orchid World like it says in the Web. The Orchid Garden is changed to Flower Forest although the number of the excursion is kept the same. The Flower Forest is still a fine place worth seeing. We are astonished by the size of the plants that grow wild here, when we are used to grow them in pots inside the house.
ST John Parish church
Next we stop at St John Parish church that has a wonderful view point from the cemetery terrace.
Sunbury Plantation House
Next in the program is the Sunbury Plantation House, which is like a doll house in real human scale. All the furniture and household things are left untouched, just like the folks would still be living there. We see the first gas stove ever used on Barbados. It is so soothing to sip fruit juice in the shade of the big platan trees in the Plantation House garden. You really can feel how the upper class life was at the time of the sugar cane industry.
All over the countryside You can also see that people taking good care of their little houses. They all have a small garden.
Back at the peer we buy a couple of rum cakes for souvenirs and a pretty orchid painted tray. In the evening we get a second change to wear our formal wear and dine at the Medusa restaurant at deck 10 and have a huge T-bone steak. It’s a very romantic dinner with candle light and grand piano music.
Day 10 Sunday Guadeloupe–Pointe a Pietre(12 hours)
We arrive at this French town at 11:00. It is the ugliest city on the cruise but luckily we have reserved tickets for the Carbet Waterfalls English excursion.
Again excursion hullabaloo at 13:00 and we find our selves on an French instead of an English excursion. The guide holds a mixed French/English tour in about 95% / 5% ratio. The waterfall (middle height one) is magnificent. The road to the buss parking place is steep, narrow and has many 180o curves. We make the rest 200 m along a boardwalk to the fall. It is forbidden to go under the fall because of the falling stone danger but every one wants to have a picture taken under the water fall anyway.
On the way we see the bananas ripening inside blue plastic bags. The blue bags are kept on the bunches for 4 months because they don’t lure so many insects.
Day 11 Monday Sint Maarten – Philsburg (5 hours)
When we arrived at Philsburg at 13:00 the harbour was filled with cruise liners. We where on the Dutch side of the island divided by the Dutch and French. US Dollars where accepted in the shops.
We had reserved tickets for the “See and Sea Island Tour”. A trip with a glass bottomed boat to view the corals. We had a note in our cabin the previous evening in Italian about the tickets. At the Info desk the man had a Websters Italian / English dictionary where we looked at the only word that was strange – it translated to “FORGET” . We could not understand the meaning that they could not deliver our tickets because the printer did not work. The excursion was postponed because of the bad weather. That meant we had ample time to watch the tourist shops on the pier. Before we went a shore we took the “Single Dish” again to save time.
On the pier area there was a very good shop with quality beach clothes (US made) called “Island Living”. We took a cold beer on the bench and listened to a steel pan orchestra playing in a gazebo on the square.
We also bought a pirate calypso CD under the counter from a kiosk. The stores where built on a fenced tourist area. You could not walk along the beach even if the distance to the city was not far. Couple of brave ones took a private taxi to Maho Beach to watch the airplanes landing over the beach. They almost missed the boat because of the heavy traffic jam on the way back.
When the boat was leaving the harbour we had a safety drill that everyone had to attend to. We stood at the lifeboat stations women and children in front and men in the back row in lifejackets while they announced what we had to do in case of an emergency. This was the only time the English announcement came first and the French announcement last after 6 other languages.
The staff was inspecting the passengers with a hard look on their eyes when the announcement where played to emphasize that this was a serious matter.
Day 12 Thuesday Bus trip back to Hotel
In the morning we sat on the balcony admiring the beautiful white sanded beaches of the Saona island. At the horizon you could see the diesel generator smokes of La Romana . All the electricity on every Caribbean island is produced by huge diesel generator power plants pushing un cleaned carbon dioxide and micro-particles boldly in to the atmosphere. Caribbean islands would be an ideal place to try out small 70 MW under water nuclear power plants designed by Flexblue.
After breakfast there was only one hour 9:30 – 10:30 at Dionysos Lounge deck 3 to settle the Costa Card account and get the unspent euros back. Euros were still accepted at the tax free shop before docking.
The ship arrived at La Romana port at 13:00. The heaviest suit case was left outside the cabin door the night before. The passengers leaving the ship at La Romana where gathered to to the Osiris Theatre for passport and embarking document control at 13:15. On the pier we collected the heavy suit case at the customs. Everything went efficiently and smoothly. All 49 of us where sitting in the buss at 14:00 ready to return to Puerto Plata. The driver stopped at a tidy café right outside La Romana. I had reserved a smooth jazz CD to play during the buss journey. We where a bit tired of the loud meringue music. That was a mistake - the driver started to feel drowsy and would soon fallen asleep if one of the passenger would not have kept him awake by talking to him.
We drove trough a dried up palm plantation and stopped for photos. It is forbidden to cut down living palm trees so the palms are deliberately left to dry standing to get timber.
2 stops one before the central sierra and one after. And then non-stop driving from Nagua to Puerto Plata 80 km/h trought the towns way over the speed limit with loud merengue music. We arrived tired and hungry just in time for dinner at 19:10. We requested for the most peaceful room and got the most noisiest room 2354 abowe the animators theatre. We went back to reception to complain and got a wonderful quiet room and went right to bed after dinner.