If you only want to read a "short and sweet" review, stop now and read a different review. If you want to learn about the kind of cruise product Costa is offering the South American market, read on and you might ... Read More
If you only want to read a "short and sweet" review, stop now and read a different review. If you want to learn about the kind of cruise product Costa is offering the South American market, read on and you might find this review informative.
A brief word about my cruise experience to give a measure of insight into my observations. I have been on approximately 80 cruises on all level of cruise lines from Crystal/Seabourn/ Azamara/Oceania/ Celebrity/MSC/Royal Carib/ Carnival and others. In a prior life I was a lawyer. I'm not rich, but comfortable enough to take 3 or 4 cruises a year. I consider myself pretty sophisticated, but not elitist. I now live in both NYC and Bs As.
My girl friend (a Portena) and I wanted to take a cruise and to take her daughter and the daughter's boy friend with us - their first cruise. I thought this mini cruise RT from Bs As to Punta del Este and Montevideo would be an appropriate first cruise for the kids (21 years old). Costa is not my favorite line by a long shot, but I had sailed on this same ship for about 14 nights on a transatlantic cruise about two years ago. I was in Samsara and it wasn't that bad. Moreover, 3 nights, no air purchase necessary, and Samsara was kind of nice because of the dedicated dining room. An easy intro to cruising for the kids I thought.
I was a bit surprised with the pricing and terms available via the So Am travel agents my Buenos Aires girl friend consulted to book the cruise. First, you had to buy the drink package (brindiamo) when booking a Samsara cabin. No other option. The price for 3 nights for each of our two inside Samsara cabins with brinidamo and prepaid grats was about $1350 ($2700 for both). I thought that was kind of pricey (450/night per cabin), but what the heck, it was certainly not an expensive cruise and the Samsara level was pretty nice...so I thought.
We planned to arrive around 3pm in hopes of avoiding the rush. The terminal is a 10 minute cab ride from my Recoleta apt. Unfortunately, boarding did not start on time (noon) as there was apparently some kind of problem (reported to be wind and cargo container related) so we became mired in the process along with most of the other 3800 pax whose numbers were waiting to be called to start the process, go through immigration, etc. Fortunately, we met a friend who worked at the terminal and he was able to help us check in "smoothly" (bypass the lines).
Curiously, by order of the local authorities no refreshments can be offered by the cruise line in the pax terminal. There is only one café in the huge terminal and I suspect the owner is politically connected because this one café has a monopoly on refreshments. Why else would authorities prohibit cruise lines from offering guests even a glass of water? Corruption rears its ugly head once more in Bs As.
Check-in struck me as unique because no onboard room cards were distributed prior to embarking. The cards were awaiting you on your cabin bed. One is required to register a credit (not debit) card within 48 hours of boarding at guest services or at one of the several machines located onboard designed for this purpose. That was a first for me.
Pax are not assisted to their cabins, but we managed to locate our adjoining Samsara inside cabins without difficulty. By the time we got to our cabin, washed up, and looked for some lunch, it was about 4:30 pm. Gratefully, the buffet was kept open longer than the posted 5 pm closure as many pax simply did not get a chance to eat before then by virtue of the delayed boarding.
Disembarkation was a joke. The ship's daily paper did not have info about disembarkation or breakfast availability. Though different colored luggage tags were left in the cabin , no colors were announced. People just filed off as they pleased. Luggage was available at the gangway alongside the ship so we had to shlep our own bags to board a bus that took us to the terminal. There were 3 large ships disembarking that morning (10,000 pax). Customs did not exist. We were herded like cattle through the terminal past customs, no declarations of any kind, to the masses waiting out side struggling to get taxis that were not going to overcharge. We walked a couple of blocks away from the terminal and caught taxis to take us to our respective destinations (nearby Retiro and nearby Recoleta to my apt). What a nightmare.
I had sailed a transatlantic cruise about 2 years earlier on the Fascinosa in a Samsara class cabin which is why I booked the Samsara class on this minicruise. Samsara cabin occupants had a dedicated dining room that was far superior to the MDR and alone justified the higher cost IMO (not to mention access to the restricted Spa facilities). I was soon to find out that as the result of a recent policy change even Samsara occupants are now required to pay $28.50 pp to dine in the "Samsara" restaurant. I found that out only after dining there the first night of the cruise.
My inside Samsara cabin had a bed that was situated so close to a wall and desk that getting out of bed on that sde meant squeezing through an uncomfortably narraw space. Bad. Our flat screen TV (about 26 inches) was located as far from the head of the bed as possible making viewing a bit strained but that turned out to be unimportant because there was very limited programming and what there was, was not unexpectedly, in Spanish (or Portugues).There was sufficient closet and drawer space for a mini cruise, but I doubt it would have been comfortably sufficient for a longer cruise.
The shower pressure in the bath was low which was a minor annoyance, but oddly there was no hair conditioner or shampoo. My girlfriend has hair like Shakira so conditioner is an absolute must. I have never been on a ship, much less in a supposedly superior cabin class like Samsara, where shampoo and hair conditioner was not supplied. I had to call guest services twice to get some little bottles delivered to the cabin. Not sure if this was SOP or our steward simply forgot to place the bottles in our bathroom. Bad.
When we went to the dedicated Samsara spa we were told by reception there that in order to get robes we had to ask our room steward. Subsequently, our room steward told us to get the robes at the spa. Hello? I was now beginning to entertain some doubts about this cruise. Another call to guest services resolved the matter.
The older I get, the more I find myself liking little kids. They are a pleasure to observe and there were lots on board (summer vacation was just ending). A whole lot. Maybe too many to suit some, but in So Am, more so than in the US, little kids hang with the grown ups till all hours. It's the culture. Apparently, it's also the culture to dress down. Generally speaking, the dress of most passengers often bordered on unintentional punk. Good slacks and a collared shirt were rare even on gala night which, due to the brevity of this cruise, was combined with "white" night. I was one of few who even bothered to wear a sports jacket. Go figure. Shorts prevailed which was actually kind of interesting given the number of women with good legs. (Of course, lest my darling girl friend misinterpret this observation, it was purely for the purpose of reportage. I couldn't care less. Really, dear.)
The culture of So Americans is also more dance oriented and the dance floors located throughout the ship were frequently full of pax learning a new step or doing salsa or cumbia or you name it. They really get into it. The music was great especially at the main lobby atrium lounge where a surprisingly "big" sound was generated by a couple of alternating, equally talented keyboard singers backed by recorded dance music.
My Samsara package included the "brindiamo' beverage package. Unfortunately, mixed cocktails like cosmopolitans, negronis or pina coladas were not included in the package. Thankfully, waiters at all bars would serve non-alcoholic cosmos, pina coladas etc and then serve you a jigger of vodka or rum so you could mix your own cocktail and not pay the $11 you would otherwise have to pay notwithstanding "brindiamo." Go figure. As I mentioned, I bought the Samsara cabins anyway because I thought the dedicated dining room was part of the deal. I discovered it was NOT only after dining there the first night. I then really began to question why the inside cabins were each $1350 for 3 nights.
The Samsara dining room was very good when I thought it was included in my package. Well prepared duck ala orange with chestnuts, A nice grilled salmon with a large langostina sitting atop it. Really nice food with excellent service. There were very few diners in the room so we had practically all wait staff to ourselves. However, at $28.50 pp surcharge, I wasn't sure it was THAT good. At least, I wasn't sure until I ate in the MDR on the 3rd and final night and had an atrocious meal. I 'd gladly pay the surcharge to avoid the slop they throw at you in the MDR. And that included a grilled lobster for a $17 surcharge. The lobster was dry and small. It was served without drawn butter and when I asked our pleasant and hard working waiter for some, he brought individual wrapped butter pats. He had no idea what drawn butter was. Bad training. As bad as the lobster was, it was much, much better than the advertised chef's special that night which I can best describe as a ground porkburger that tasted as if it might be reconstituted dog food. It was no better than the reconstituted powdered eggs I had for breakfast on the disembarkation day. Yuch. Inedible. To paraphrase an old joke: Gee whiz , Costa. What did you do with the money? What money? The money we gave you to buy food!
We ate breakfast first morning in the MDR. We could order eggs, etc, from our waiter (nice guy and hard working as usual), but still had to leave our table to get fruit from a nearby buffet. Hmm. When we ate in the "lido" buffet the next day, I found it terribly difficult to locate bacon and eggs. There was bacon at the omelet station, but it wasn't visible and there was no easy signage informing you it was available at that station. So one walks around a large area looking for stuff. Ditto for bread. There was no toaster near a bread tray. Where the heck could I toast my bread. Go wandering some more. When I mentioned this to a chef he began to argue as if having a toaster was impossible- not enough space. Hmm. Bad.
We did have one lucky break - sort of. We were assigned to the early seating in the MDR as appeared on the back of the room card. After the first night at the Samsara, I went to guest services to change our first seating (8;45) to second seating (10:15). (We eat late in So Am.) I was told I had to consult the maître 'd at 7:45 pm when he would be at the MDR. At about 7:55 my girl friend went to the MDR to change the seating. The maître said it was impossible, but treated her so impolitely my normally even tempered darling was upset and got angry, righteously so. We called the dining room mgr and after explaining what happened he comped us at the Samsara for that night and changed us to late seating for the 3rd and final night. He remembered me from my TA two years earlier. High fives all around.
In the main theater/show room there was a magician on the first night who was good. We only caught part of his act. There was an acrobatic high rope duo the next night. Pretty good. On the last night, the ship's company put on a show (Radio) which as far as these kinds of shows go, I thought was not very good. Music was too loud, dancing was spotty - not my cup of tea and not all that well received by the audience as far as I could tell. However, the entertainment throughout other parts of the ship (grand bar Topkapi, atrium bar, outside pool deck) was all great. Lots of singing and dancing till the wee hours. So I was told - I crash at about 12:30. We danced a lot before that.
For the price I paid this was a terrible cruise. The food in the MDR was laughingly bad. The cabin was smallish, poorly laid out and ill supplied. Service was only proper after several calls to guest services. Who wants to have to complain to get things right? Read Less