Itinerary: Naples to Naples with port calls: Messina, Rhodes, Limassol, Marmaris, Santorini, Katakolon, Savona, Naples (10 nights)
I booked this cruise based on its itinerary leaving and returning to Naples, very close to where I live. This was a back-to-back cruise for me because I was on the previous cruise to the Aegean and Black Sea with final destination Naples where my wife would be joining me. I was pleased to be sailing again on the Costa Atlantica, a ship I had always read favorable comments about on Cruise Critic and other cruise sites. It has been judged to be one of the best ships of the Costa fleet, if not the best. I thoroughly agree. Much of this review is a repeat of the one I wrote for the first cruise. Both my wife and I are Costa Club members; I being Gold Pearl while she is still Coral category.
Embarkation: For this cruise most all the passengers had embarked at the day before at Savona from where I remained on board for the extension to Naples. I met my wife outside the Naples cruise terminal about 16.30 and helped her with check-in and boarding. I had brought with me her cruise card and of course already had my own which covered the period of both cruises. The ship itself was docked about 500 meters east of the terminal at the Calata di Massa port but Costa had free shuttle buses running back and forth. We boarded at 17.15 without problems and went immediately to our cabin and her bag was delivered about a half hour later.
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: Our cabin was number 7218 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 our needs. 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. We tended to keep the balcony door open when in the cabin (including night) because we preferred the outside sea air to the AC (which automatically shut off when the door was opened). The day area of the cabin 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. Our excellent cabin steward was named Marnie who hailed from the Philippeans. Both his Italian and English were very good and he provided outstanding service. As Costa Club members we 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 except for one night. 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, we were very satisfied with this cabin.
Service and Staff: 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. It was interesting to learn that Costa personnel are divided into four different classes. The first are the officers that sail the ship, with gold rank insignia (bars with a circle). Next are the sub-officers and specialists with gold insignia (only bars) most of whom are in the engineering department. The STAFF run the hotel services, administration, customer service, excursion office, kitchens, restaurants and bars. The staff officers and sub-officers wear the same rank as the superior officers but with red and gold insignia. Last class is the CREW who make up the majority of the ship's personnel; the waiters, barmen, deck crew, pool attendants, warehousemen, cargo handlers, baggage service, laundry, etc. Each class has their own mess which are located on Deck 1, known as the "white area" because of its white walls and flooring. Department chiefs, chefs, maitre's and bar managers are staff while their assistants are crew. Interesting.
Passenger Mix and Demographics: Even though all the cabins were occupied, there were only 2,100 passengers aboard for this cruise. The figures given to me by one of the staff at Customer Services showed the French to be the dominant passenger load with over 900 aboard. Italians and Germans were well represented. There were 64 British, 10 Americans and six Australians among the minorities. Most all of the passengers were aged fifty-plus but there were also a good number of families with small children.
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 non-smokers we 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, we ask for the second sitting in the MDR which we find more relaxing, quieter, and more to our normal style. We were assigned to table number 234 on the restaurant's upper level with a Peruvian waiter named Omar, friendly and competent; less so his assistant who may have been fairly new. We share our table with three other couples. Our maitre d' was the ever friendly Gennaro from Naples. The food from the Atlantica's MDR kitchen was better than on the other Costa ships we've experienced. Regarding drinks at the table, we had our choice between jugs of free iced tap water or pay-for bottled. We drink wine with our 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 us 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. We used the buffet for breakfast and lunch and had little 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, we 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 and dancing in one of the main lounges. 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. We had dinner one evening in the Club Atlantica which wasn't bad at all but with a limited menu that never changed. My gold pearl status meant the meal was free for us, otherwise a â‚¬20 per person charge is levied.
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 our 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. The service was very good and fast.
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.
Ship's Tour: We signed up for the special tour of the ship one day called "All the Secrets of the Costa Atlantica" which at â‚¬55 a person (Costa Club price) certainly wasn't cheap but turned out to be well worth it. About fifteen passengers met at the Excursion Desk at the prescribed hour where one of the security staff searched us to insure we had no cameras or cell phones. The group was divided by language, mostly French and just three Italian speakers. I presume the Germans and English speakers had a tour at another time. While the French hostess guided her group, Mary, a wonderful young lady from the Excursion office took we three under tow. Our first stop was the bridge where we were welcomed by Captain Russo and First Officer Parisi and offered drinks and pastries as well as the inevitable photo (free). Captain Russo was particularly attentive with us since he was from Sorrento and we live three miles away at Capri. He explained how the ship was operated, the mechanisms for steering and docking. He also gave us a heads up that very bad weather and sea conditions were expected in the next hour or so (How true it was!). As we were leaving I stuck my head into the Captain's apartment which was right behind the bridge - very nice indeed, just like a grand suite. After the bridge Mary took us down to the first deck to the engineering command center whose staff monitored most everything on the ship from temperatures in every compartment and cabin, fire suppression, engine operation, etc. We walked through the warehouse area where meats, seafood, and fowl was stored each in a separate temperature controlled environment, as were all the fruit and fresh vegetables. The waste treatment area, plastic and glass crunchers, and garbage disposal (certain things could be ejected from the ship but most was compacted for elimination at the next port). We toured various workshops where the plumbers and painters, and where carpenters, upholsters, etc. were hard at work repairing the ship's furnishings. The ship's laundry and ironing was a hot steamy place where dozens of Chinese crew members worked, flashing us big smiles when I complimented their work. We took a break in the staff mess and club where we were served cups of excellent espresso - much better than that available up in the bars. Mary indicated this was where they had their crew parties. The staff and crew also had their own sun deck in the bow of the ship with a little pool which could be used when off duty. She then explained that bridge and staff officers and most of the sub officers had their own cabins with private baths. Staff personnel had either single or two person cabins with a shared bath, depending on rank or seniority. The crew personnel all had two or four person cabins with shared baths. Leaving the below decks, we toured back stage in the theatre where its operation was explained to us. Last stop was the MDR kitchen where the assistant executive chef, a young Italian, explained how everything worked to insure that excellent quality of food we so enjoyed. Over 150 cooks and their assistants were at work preparing the evening meal. The few senior chefs all wore a blue neckerchief to distinguish them from the sous-chefs who wore yellow while the third cooks and assistants had white neckerchiefs. It was explained to us 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. The tour concluded back up at the Excursion Desk where we were give souvenir aprons. Truly an interesting afternoon.
Weather and Climatic Conditions: We had excellent weather the first half of the cruise and fair to bad the second half. For the first five days the weather we encountered was sunny, warm with temperatures in the low to high 20's, and mostly calm to slightly choppy seas. On the return leg from Cyprus, conditions were decidedly different.
Port Calls and Shore Excursions:
Day 1 - Naples Embarkation. Sunny and warm with an afternoon high of 28 degrees. We pulled out of Naples about a half hour late but had smooth seas all evening.
Day 2 - Messina, Italy. Nice day. We left the ship around noon and found a taxi to take us to Taormina which my wife wanted to see. The drive took about a half hour and brought us right up to the north city gate where the driver would wait for us. We wandered through the streets of this lovely town and toured the ancient Greek theatre, where a passing rain shower caught us. We took shelter under an arch and after five minutes the sun came out again. A little shopping, a stop at an outside caffÃ¨ for coffee and cannoli, and then back to the taxi for the trip back to Messina. We walked around Messina a bit before returning to the ship.
Day 3 - At Sea. Sunny, warm and calm seas passing from the Ionian to the Aegean. Costa Club Gold Pearl cocktail with the captain this morning in the Club Atlantica. Very nice pastries and prosecco, and good conversation with several of the ship's officers. In the evening the welcoming gala dinner.
Day 4 - Rhodes, Greece. Great day, sunny, warm and smooth seas. We had been to Rhodes several times so we decided to take a do-it-yourself tour with a taxi. The driver, Sergou, and his almost new Mercedes, drove us along the western coast road to the ancient city of Kamiros. We toured the site for about two and a half hours and then Sergou took us to a beach north of Kalithea where he goes with his family. He came back to pick us up after an hour and a half and brought us back to Rhodes town. Total cost was only â‚¬120. A little bit of shopping and walked back to the ship.
Day 5 - Limassol, Cyprus. Sea almost smooth, partly cloudy, and temperature 24 degrees. We entered the harbor on schedule at 13.00. Again, we had been here several times before so while I remained on board, my wife took the shuttle bus into the town for shopping, returning around 17.00. We left an hour later on schedule passing through a bit of rain.
Day 6 - Marmaris, Turkey. The sea was choppy during the night and the day dawned with a threat of rain. Too bad because the entry into the bay of Marmaris was beautiful with pine forests coming right down off the hills to water's edge. Lots of tiny inlets and hundreds of sailboats and yachts along with seafront restaurants and smart hotels. We had booked the Costa excursion to Dalyan and Kaunus today and left with an Italian speaking group for the hour and a half bus ride to Dalyan. At Dalyan we boarded several small boats for a trip along a reed-lined river to Kaunus passing by some huge tombs carved out of a hillside which resembled Petra in Jordan. Kaunus was a very interesting ancient site with a remarkable theatre. Our return got us back to Marmaris with no time to wander through the town unfortunately. We boarded the ship which set sail almost immediately. We took dinner this evening in the Club Atlantica with our Costa Club invitations. It was a beautiful setting but service was a bit slow and the food not much better than that served in the MDR I thought.
Day 7 - Santorini, Greece. The day on arrival was windy, sea very choppy, and rain threatening. The cable car was closed due to the wind so both excursionists and do-in-yourselfers were tendered to the ferry port of Athinos where free shuttle buses had been arranged to take us into the town of Fira. We had spent a week on Santorini several years ago so we decided to just walk around town a bit and enjoy a Greek lunch. After lunch in a little back-street restaurant called Nicolas (very good and inexpensive), we headed back to the buses because it had started to rain. Just as we got off the bus down at the port a heavy rain squall hit and the tenders could not dock. Most of the passengers had those cheap plastic rain covers on which immediately were ripped off by the wind and sailed away. Luckily some Coast Guard personnel opened up a large waiting room which we all herded into until conditions improved. When the tenders could dock we had a choppy ride back to the ship. An interesting experience!
Day 8 - Katakolon, Greece. Sea choppy, overcast with a threat of rain, temperature low 20's. Our umpteenth visit to Katakolon. While most of the passengers headed to Olympia, we casually strolled into the town for shopping and coffee with pastries at a kafeneion on the back street. My wife made some purchases at a jewelry shop where we had been before. In the afternoon we took the ship tour which I described above. The weather and sea turned decidedly adverse around 17.30 as we passed south of Zakynthos island and entered the Ionian Sea. Force 9 winds with waves over five meters high buffeted the ship and everyone headed for their cabins. All entertainment was cancelled and those hardy souls who went to the arriverderci gala dinner had a rough time of it. We wisely remained in the cabin but about 21.00 I went up to the pizzeria and brought back some pizza to eat. We rocked and rolled all night until around 05.00 the next morning when we entered the Messina Straits.
Day 9 - At Sea. The weather today thankfully was warm and sunny and the sea was only slightly choppy. Conditions improved more as the day wore on.
Day 10 - Savona. Sea calm, sky overcast, temperatures in the low 20's. Today while passengers disembarked and new arrivals embarked, we went into Savona to meet some dear friends who travelled from Villefranche sur Mer, France to meet us. We had lunch at the excellent "Blue Restaurant" right at the edge of the yacht harbor and the seafood was very good as usual. We returned to the ship around 16.00 and set sail an hour later bound for Naples. Only two of our original six table companions joined us for dinner as the others had disembarked today.
Day 11 - Naples. Sunny, warm and calm seas welcomed us to Naples where we docked (again at the Calata di Massa port) about a half hour early. We had to wait while the baggage was offloaded and trucked to the cruise terminal which added about an hour to the time we could disembark. The boarded the shuttle bus to the terminal where we picked up our baggage and walked to the hydrofoil boat which would take us back to our home island of Capri.
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 kitsch 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 (due to few Italian cooks 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 we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.