Costa Atlantica Aegean-Black Sea Cruise, 20 Sep-3 Oct 2011 from Civitavecchia to Naples with port calls: Mykonos, Izmir, Istanbul, Costanta, Odessa, Yalta, Piraeaus, Katakolon, Civitavecchia, Naples (12 nights)
I booked this cruise based on its itinerary to the Black Sea and the Greek island of Mykonos where I had never been before. This was a back-to-back cruise for me because I would stay aboard for the following East Mediterranean itinerary from Naples and back to Naples. I was pleased to be sailing on the Costa Atlantica, a ship I had always read favorable comments about on Cruise Critic and other cruise sites. It was judged to be one of the best ships of the Costa fleet, if not the best.
Embarkation: For this cruise most all the passengers had embarked at the day before at Savona. I had elected to forego one cruise day and board at Civitavecchia which is closer to my home and much easier to get to. I took a train to Rome and another to Civitavecchia where a taxi brought me directly to the Costa cruise terminal. As a Costa Club gold pearl member, check-in and embarkation was a breeze and in less than a half hour I was in my cabin. My bags took two hours to be delivered which was a long time considering I was supposedly entitled to a rapid delivery.
The Ship: The 86,000 ton Atlantica was built by Costa in 2000 (and was followed in 2003 by its sister ship, the Mediterranea). It has twelve passenger decks of which six have the cabins (which number 1057, most with private balconies). The Atlantica carries a crew of about 900 members and has a total passenger capacity of around 2,700 but only with every bed and bunk occupied (the passengers on this cruise numbered 2,060). The decks all are named after famous films directed by Federico Fellini. The first deck has the cheaper cabins (insides and outsides with port holes), the main kitchens, infirmary, and a large ballroom in the bow. Decks 2 and 3 hold all the public areas, i.e. the two deck main dining room, shops, offices, bars and lounges, casino, library, disco, and theatre. Decks 4 through 8 have all the balcony cabins and suites plus a few insides. The Squok Club for kids is at the bow of Deck 8. Deck 9 has the spa, gym, pizzeria, self service restaurant and three swimming pools, one of which has a moveable overhead cover. The elegant Club Atlantica specialty restaurant is on Deck 10 which is perfect for long walks because it wraps around the entire ship - two laps around and you've walked or run a kilometer. The 11th and 12th decks are for the sun loungers when there isn't too much wind. The captain on this cruise was Giuseppe Russo from Sorrento while his first officer was Francesco Parisi who divides his time between the ship and his home in Tupelo, Mississippi, USA. The cruise director was Petra Malin.
The Cabin: My cabin was number 7148 on Deck 7 named the Intervista Deck. It was a standard outside cabin with balcony which turned out to be quite nice and comfortable and more than adequate for my needs as a solo passenger. It supposedly measured 23 square meters but this included the balcony and bathroom. The king size bed was quite comfortable as were the pillows. The air conditioning worked fine but was too chilly unless the thermostat was turned a little toward the warm side. I tended to keep the balcony door open when I was in the cabin (including night) because I preferred the outside sea air to the AC (which automatically shut off when the door was opened). The day area had a three person couch, small table, and a hassock for the wide desk. Lighting in both day and night areas was good and there were two large mirrors. The dressing area by the entrance door was very good with a three-door wardrobe (a third of which contained shelves and the electronic safe) with lots of hangers. The desk had drawers for clothing and miscellaneous with a new hair dryer in one. The bathroom wasn't huge but was more than adequate. The shower worked great with plenty of hot water and excellent pressure except in the evening before dinner when it was necessary to increase the hot setting. The inlaid sink had a large mirror above it with shelves and compartments to hold everything. Good lighting, and two hooks on the door. The Gold Pearl perks were especially nice: Thick fluffy bathrobes by Frette, slippers, luxury bath toiletries and soap, after sun creme, and even face cloths! The towels (two bath and two hand) were changed as necessary twice a day and were generally fluffy but frequently the hand towels were a bit worn. My excellent cabin steward was named Made and hailed from Indonesia. Both his Italian and English were very good and he provided outstanding service. As a Costa Club member I always had a bowl of fresh fruit in the cabin which was frequently replenished. The cabin was quiet, no vibrations, and even when the sea was rough I noticed only minimal movement. I always book a mid-ship cabin with cabin decks above and below which usually ensures low noise levels and minimal ship movement. In conclusion I was very satisfied with this cabin.
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 a question or had need of their services. I had long conversations with First Officer Parisi and the lovely hostess for English speakers, Bethany Platania from Pennsylvania. Simona, a young lady from Naples in the director of services' office was especially helpful for me, as was Giorgio and two other ladies at the Customer Service desk.
Passenger Mix: Even though all the cabins were occupied, there were only 2,060 passengers aboard for this cruise. The figures given to me by one of the staff at Customer Services showed the Italians to be the major group aboard with 680 passengers. Next were the French with 500, Germans with 440, with 82 English speakers including 29 UK citizens, 12 US, and 10 Australians.
Cleanliness: Like all Costa ships, the policy on the Atlantica was to clean and polish every surface and corner possible constantly. There were hand sanitizers at the entrances to the restaurant and buffets, as well as at the boarding points.
Smoking: As a non-smoker I had no problems on board the Atlantica. Even in lounges where smoking areas were present, there was very little smell. The casino which is usually the smokiest area of a ship seemed almost pleasant. Smoking of course was prohibited in areas like the restaurants, theatre, shops and corridors and in the bars and lounges was permitted only at designated tables.
Restaurants and Bars: The Atlantica had one main dining room (MDR) called the Tiziano Restaurant located aft on two decks, the 2nd and 3rd. The upper portion was a wide balcony overlooking the tables below and was connected with stairways. The MDR was open for breakfast and lunch with open seating, and two closed sittings for dinner at 18.30 and 21.00. The ship's specialty restaurant was called the Club Atlantica, an elegant venue with a piano bar up on the 10th and 11th decks. There were eight principal bars with three on the upper decks and one each in the main lounges on Decks 2 and 3. The most appreciated bar was the Caffe Florian, modeled on the Piazza San Marco bar of the same name in Venice.
MDR: As always, I ask for the second sitting in the MDR which I find more relaxing, quieter, and more to my normal style. I was assigned to table number 222 on the restaurant's upper level with a Philippine waiter named Rex, very friendly and competent, and his Indian assistant, Clemente. Even though it was a eight-person table, my table mates were two ladies from Milano and a gentleman from Genoa. Our maitre d' was the ever friendly Gennaro from Naples. The food I found to be better than on the other Costa ships I've experienced. During the cruise I had occasion to tour the MDR kitchens (another gold pearl perk) where 150 cooks were at work preparing the evening meal. It was explained to me that they are fairly accurate in judging of quantities of each menu item by experience and the nationalities of the passengers aboard for any one cruise: Certain nationalities prefer soups to pasta dishes, others prefer seafood items to meat, some (Italians) want their pasta strictly al dente while others like it cooked more, some want their meat well done, some rare, etc. etc. The individual waiters will then select the dishes preferred by their table guests and bring them up to the MDR to be served. In the bakery all bread, rolls, pastries and even the pizza dough is prepared fresh every day. Truly an interesting tour. Regarding drinks at the table, we had our choice between jugs of free iced tap water or pay-for bottled. I drink wine with my meals and found the wine list to be good with prices for Italian reds in the 17 to 28 euro range. One bottle would last me three evenings and the waiter would cork it and save it for the next time.
Self Service Restaurant: This was the Bofficelli buffet which occupied almost half of the 9th deck aft. I used the buffet for breakfast and lunch and being single had no problem finding an unoccupied place to sit with my tray. The breakfast selections were generally always the same but there were so many things to choose from it was difficult to find fault, with the various nationalities finding items to their liking. There were several omelet stations for eggs cooked to order and everything from cold sliced meats and cheeses, pickled herring, scrambled eggs, french toast, pancakes, sausages, bacon, potatoes, etc. as well as sliced and whole fruit, cereals including muesli, corn flakes, etc. and various juices, American type coffee, tea, and water from the dispensers. The buffet lunch always had Italian salads, pastas, and meat/fowl/fish dishes, as well a carvery and daily ethnic items. In keeping with the Costa policy of appeasing all cultures, the water, coffee and tea dispensers were open all day long and in the late afternoon, sliced pizza was available and from 21.00 onward, whole pizzas were served by waiters in the pizzeria on Deck 9.
Bars: As far as the bars went, I found the best espresso coffee to be had at the Aurora Bar aft on Deck 9 and the Dolce Vita Bar in the central atrium on Deck 2. In the evenings the Caffe Florian was great for an aperitif before dinner while enjoying the music of an excellent piano/violin duo. There was live music in the main lounges and sometimes up on Deck 9. Every afternoon there was tea and little pastries or sandwiches at the buffet and a midnight treat in the evening. Once during the cruise they put on an "Elegant Tea" in the Club Atlantica that was really special.
Library and Internet. The Library on Deck 3 was open for an hour or so twice a day and had an excellent collection of English language books (as well as many other major languages). There were also six or seven computers available for internet use. I had my own laptop with me so I registered on-line for the wi-fi package three hours for â‚¬24 (minus 20% for Costa Club members) which worked fine in my cabin or any public area aboard. It wasn't the fastest internet connection but considerably better than a few years ago when shipboard internet was really slow.
Laundry: I always use the ship's laundry when I cruise so I can pack less and keep the weight down in my suitcase. Rates were similar to the laundry service of hotel chains plus Costa Club members got a substantial discount.
Gym and Spa: The Atlantica's gym was large with much space and many machines. An instructor was on hand daily, usually in the mornings. The spa was well equipped and used mainly by guests in the wellness cabins but others could use it as well paying a daily fee. There was also a large beauty shop. I only used the spa for massages. One hour massages with Costa Club discount worked out to about â‚¬75 each and were done by an excellent professional named Jacklyn from the Philippines.
Entertainment: The Atlantica's animation team worked full time to keep passengers entertained with games and quizzes during the day and silly variety shows in the evening. Also in the evening were musical performances, classical singing, shows, and reviews by the beautiful ship's dancers and other groups which either appeared regularly or were embarked for a day or so. Passenger participation appeared to be quite good. The huge Theatre was the venue for the evening's shows presented by the cruise director - after dinner for the first sitting and before dinner for the second. Most evenings there were also later shows either in the Theatre or one of the lounges.
Weather and Climatic Conditions: For this cruise we were blessed with mostly good weather and reasonably calm seas aside from the first day which was rainy and overcast. Temperatures for the most part were in the low to high 20's and days were either sunny or just partially overcast. While we didn't run into any really rough seas, the Atlantica held its own plowing through choppy seas a couple nights without hardly any noticeable movement.
Port Calls and Shore Excursions:
Day 1 - Civitavecchia embarkation. Coolish and windy. The obligatory lifeboat drill had been conducted the day before upon leaving Genoa so we Civitavecchia embarkees missed it (sob...). I spent the afternoon registering my credit card, signing up for massages, buying a water package, and settling into my cabin. The ship pulled out of Civitavecchia's harbor at 19.00 heading south.
Day 2 - At Sea. The day was cloudy with some rain and rough seas; temperature 22-23 degrees. We passed Stromboli and the Aeolian islands in the morning and later passed through the straits of Messina. The evening held the first gala dinner with smoked salmon, risotto with shrimps, and fresh sea bass (branzino) which is unusual because fish aboard is usually of the frozen sort.
Day 3 - At Sea (and later, Mykonos). Sunshine! The sea was barely rippled this morning with temperature 23 degrees and rising. We passed along the southern shore of the Peloponnese and entered the Aegean. Special gold pearl cocktail party with the captain and staff this morning. In the afternoon we arrived off Mykonos an hour early at 16.00 but since there was another cruise ship at the only dock we would have to tender in. The usual delays for tender passes but within an hour I was on shore. I walked around the town, had a Greek pastry, did some shopping, and since the weather had turned cold and windy I decided to return to the ship early.
Day 4 - Izmir. Rough sea and wind all night but by morning the weather was improving. Since I already knew Izmir well, I simply walked from the port all along the waterfront as far as the Konak clock tower and into the market area. The temperature had gotten up to 27 degrees. After some shopping and further exploring my tired feet told me to taxi back to the ship. This turned out to be quite cheap, only 9 Turkish Lire. I like Izmir. In the 30 or so years that I've known her, she's become a beautiful Mediterranean city. After dinner this evening I jogged four laps (2 km.) around the upper deck, not bad for an old guy.
Day 5 - Istanbul. Sunny and warm today and smooth sea. Fascinating Istanbul - another city that I know well. Weeks ago I had decided to take an all day cruise along the Bosporus today. I left the Karakoy port and walked all the way to the Galata bridge and passed over to Eminonu on the European side. I was early for the 10.35 scheduled departure of the cruise ferry so I had plenty of time to buy my ticket (25 TL) and be among the first in line to get a good seat. This I did and enjoyed an extremely interesting cruise up the Bosporus to Anadolu Kavagi, almost on the Black Sea. There the ship stopped for three hours allowing me to enjoy a relaxing and delicious seafood lunch at one of the little restaurants along the shore. The return trip set off at 15.00 and by 16.30 we were back at Eminonu. Again I walked the couple kilometers back to the ship without incident. We left Istanbul at 19.00 sailing up the Bosporus and passing under the two huge highway bridges which were beautifully illuminated in the dark. At 20.30 we entered the Black Sea which was really BLACK - no lights from shore or from passing ships.
Day 6 - Costanta, Romania. Sea only rippled during the night while dawn showed it would be a sunny day but cooler. Here I had booked the Costa excursion to Istria, an ancient Greek archaeological site. I had really wanted to visit the Danube Delta but that excursion was sold out well over a month before the cruise. An hour over very poor roads and even poorer villages took our tour bus to the "Romanian Pompeii." It turned out a far cry from Pompeii and there was very little Greek remains but mostly late era Roman.
Day 7 - Odessa, Ukraine. Sea smooth, sunny but chilly in the morning. Only 18 degrees in the afternoon. Another Costa excursion today touring Odessa. Our first stop was at the top of the Potemkin stairs with a spectacular view of the port and lower city. While touring all the sites we were treated to a lovely concert by five young violinists accompanied by piano - very, very good. The tour included lunch in a local restaurant which started out with a little glass of vodka - we were definitely in the former Soviet Union! In any case, Odessa was a very interesting city to visit.
Day 8 - Yalta and Sevastopol, Ukraine. Sunny and a little warmer than yesterday. I took the Costa excursion through Yalta and along the coast westward to Sevastopol which turned out to be the most Russian of the Ukrainian cities in the Crimea. There was a Russian navy presence most everywhere since a Russa-Ukraine agreement allowed them to establish their Black Sea naval headquarters here. We visited the Panorama Museum which held a 360 degree exhibition of the horrors of the 1854-55 battle for Sevastopol during the Crimean War. Lunch was at a seafood restaurant on the waterfront and highlighted by the performance of an excellent folklore group which sang and danced for us in traditional costume. After lunch we toured the Chersones archaeological site founded by the ancient Greeks. We got back to the ship just in time for departure at 18.30.
Day 9 - At Sea. Finally after six straight port days we had a day of rest and recuperation. Sunny and warm with slightly choppy sea, sailing south back toward Istanbul. During the day we passed back through the Bosporus, the Sea of Marmora and the Dardanelles straits. By late afternoon we sailed in to the Aegean.
Day 10 - Piraeus. The day began warm and sunny but the sea was rough during the night. Since I have seen everything there is to see in Piraeus and Athens many times over the years, just to do something I opted for the Costa excursion to Cape Sounion which I had last visited in the 1970's. The bus ride from Piraeus to Sounion took about two hours along the winding coastal road. The temple of Poseidon was the same as I remembered it but the site was much better organized now. Sunny but very windy and chilly on top of the hill. We returned to the ship in time for lunch and a relaxing afternoon. Italian night this evening in the MDR where my waiter Rex was one of the key performers.
Day 11 - Katakolon. Warm and sunny today but the sea was choppy during the night. I like Katakolon. I've been here so many times I know it like the palm of my hand. While most of the excursionists headed off to Olympia, I enjoyed a relaxing breakfast and then walked the short distance into the town where I sat a seaside kafeneion with a delicious frappe which aside from ouzo has become the Greek national drink. A little shopping and then back to the ship. This afternoon I participated in the gold pearl tour of the ship's kitchens as mentioned above.
Day 12 - At Sea. The sea was choppy all night but not too bad. Today was sunny and hot and the pools got good use. At 17.00 we pulled into the port of Civitavecchia where some of the passengers disembarked and others came on. We had the last gala dinner this evening and tomorrow my table companions would be leaving at Savona.
Day 13 - Savona. Sunny and warm with a 30 degree temperature. This morning I had to change to a temporary cabin for my in between passage to Naples where my next cruise would begin. The move took about an hour. I left the ship for a couple hours to do some shopping in Savona while the ship was replenished and stocked with new passengers. We set sail on schedule and as the new arrivals were settling in, I went to the spa for a massage. I paid â‚¬130 for the cruise extension Savona-Naples.
Day 14 - Naples. Again it was sunny and warm today with a 28 degree temperature. I moved again into my new cabin which I would be sharing with my wife when she embarked later today. The next cruise will be discussed in a separate review.
Conclusions: The Atlantica is a beautiful ship which was built before Costa was taken over by the Carnival Corporation and has none of the ugly glitz of the newer ships of the line. Her lines are beautiful as is the internal decoration. She was alive and vibrant, both as a ship and by the interaction between passengers and crew. Service was excellent and the Italian food served was mostly authentic (few Italians in the kitchens) and usually quite good to excellent, especially in the MDR but even in the self-service buffet. The cruise itinerary was great and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.