We chose this cruise for the itinerary, we wanted a taste of Brazil and the time of year suited us, as our main holiday is now usually taken during the northern European winter. I booked all the elements separately because I used the ... Read More
We chose this cruise for the itinerary, we wanted a taste of Brazil and the time of year suited us, as our main holiday is now usually taken during the northern European winter. I booked all the elements separately because I used the opportunity to use some frequent flyer miles for the flight. This was our first cruise with Costa.
Sailing from Santos to Rio de Janeiro (overnight), Salvador Bahia, Maceio, Recife, Tenerife, Madeira, Malaga, Palermo, Corfu, Dubrovnik and Venice. For what Costa classified as a Premium Balcony I paid 650 UK Pounds each, to this I added the All Inclusive Drinks package. There is also a compulsory Service Charge of 11US$ pppd. We found the drinks package is worthwhile if you have several drinks of alcohol a day, plus soft drinks, water and coffee. It also includes the 15% service charge that you would pay if buying individual drinks or cocktails. The cocktails are passable but not brilliant as we have had much better on other cruises.
For anyone flying into Sao Paulo Guaranlos airport and wanting to travel onward to Santos there is an hourly coach service from outside the Terminal. It takes approximately two hours depending on the traffic. The fare is 25 Brazilian Reals pp. The bus travels directly to Santos Bus Station in the Old Town and there is a Tourist Office about 50 metres from the stop. The lady spoke excellent English, supplied maps/ literature and suggested things to do and how to use the local buses. An official taxi rank is beside the Tourist Office, she advised to only use the regulated cabs with a green stripe down the side. On the beach promenade at Santos there is also an old Tram which is actually a Tourist office. The staff was really helpful with lots of ideas for the visitor and great knowledge of the local public bus network.
Santos is nice city but does not have numerous hotels, we choose the Mercure, which is a decent central hotel overlooking the beach. The staff spoke English which proved very helpful. It had a rooftop pool and did a reasonable breakfast. It is directly in front of the Ibis Hotel which also looks modern and well kept. Locally it is surrounded by beachfront bars, cafes and restaurants. The local beer, Brahma, is served ice cold and is very cheap. In Brazil terms Santos is relatively safe. Just do not flaunt expensive jewellery or cameras etc.
Tip: Unless you have some knowledge of Portuguese, invest in a cheap phrasebook or at least make a list of everyday food items, eg: frango = chicken. The majority of Brazilians do not speak English.
The Old Town is about 15 minutes bus ride from the beach and a tourist Tram does a circuit of the Old Town and costs 5BR, it is worth the ride as it lets you get familiar with the other attractions in the Old Town area. The commentary is in Portuguese. A harbour cruise for a couple of hours is also worth a bus trip of about 10 minutes and departs from the old harbour area.
The Fascinosa is a large ship that carries around 3000 passengers, but I must admit that although the ship was almost full, the only time I felt crowded was when disembarking at some ports. There were always lots of sun loungers and plenty of deck space. There was always plenty of space in the public rooms. Around the central pool area can get quite busy, because of the activities some people like to make it their base, but it did not affect us as it was an area we did not frequent very often.
The bars, lounges, etc. are spacious and the décor would not go amiss in Las Vegas or even Blackpool. The Bars got very busy at the end of first sitting dinner and the start of second and getting service could be very frustrating at times.
Tip. The crew are mostly from SE Asia and India, just remember they have just spent four months cruising out of Brazil where English is not widely spoken, thus they did not have great interaction with passengers. The crew however all speak English and if you give them a bit of your time you will find that they are delighted to engage with a bit of conversation.
Ports. The two days in Rio can be very enjoyable with enough time for a good run around, but can be tiring. Do not miss the arrival into Rio harbour it is well worth getting up for. The ship berths close to the city, about a ten minute walk to the Business District where you can catch buses and the Metro to Sugar Loaf, Christ the Redeemer, Ipanema and Cococabana Beaches. There are Tourist Reps in the terminal with maps, which will also mark the maps of where to catch buses and the route numbers etc. The buses are fast and very frequent, have change to pay on entry, plus hold on tight, they do not hang around. We divided our stay by Sugar Loaf and Ipanema, morning and afternoon with lunch at the beach on day one, Christ the Redeemer, Cococabana on day two. There is a very large outdoor market about 15 minutes’ walk from the ship just off the business district and worth a visit. If it all becomes too much jump a cab, but for us public transport provides a real feel for the place and is not too difficult. The busiest times at Sugar Loaf and The Redeemer are around 9 to 11 when the tour buses descend.
Salvador Bahia, Brazils first Capital and a world heritage site. It was also the centre of the slave trade in Brazil. The ship berths at a terminal next to Avenue France and it takes less than 10 minutes to walk to the old funicular railway that takes you to the old city, a little further along you will find the new elevators that will also take you up. This area provides you a clear picture and feel for the early Portuguese settlement. It is a very pleasant with lots of colourful buildings and very old churches, virtually all is pedestrianised. Some nice cafes and bars to rest awhile when soaking up the sun. There are lots of Police around which again provides a certain comfort for those that get nervous.
Maceio is a modern clean beach resort with the usual bar and beach shopping opportunities, the ship berths a bit of a distance from the centre, about 10 -15 minutes by the shuttle bus. It is walkable but is a longish boring walk through the port area. The beach promenade / boardwalk is modern clean and stretches a couple of miles along a nice clean sandy beach. This is a time to enjoy the beach or just stroll the prom. The place is safe to walk around.
Recife, this is a place to be vigilant. Don’t panic we walked around most of the day with nothing untoward, just taking the usual precautions, no jewellery, handbags, loose cameras, i-phones etc. I became aware later that several passengers had stuff stolen, it was not confrontational, they just snatch and run. The ship terminal is again reasonably close to the centre, the tourist office staff are at the terminal with maps and lots of advice and info. It is a straightforward walk to the center 15-20 minutes. The centre can on first look to be quite shabby but there are many fine old buildings and churches and several large squares. Clothing shops abound and the people are friendly. There is also a large and busy fresh goods market which is worth a look.
Olinda is nearby and apparently more worthy of a visit. We missed this by not reading the guide in advance of our stay. Other passengers went there, by taxi or bus, and rated it highly.
Tenerife, Madeira, Malaga, Palermo, Corfu, Dubrovnik and Venice all European cities that are on the whole safe clean and easy to get around. The only place we used the shuttle bus was Dubrovnik, although there were lots of Taxis available in each of these ports. In Malaga a little tourist train runs from the terminal to the centre at 3 euros. I liked Malaga it is a real nice city to stroll around. Palermo is large place and a map is a must but lots to see. There is the big red double decker Sightseeing hop on hop off bus which may be worth considering. It can be booked online with a discount. We stumbled upon the Church of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio by accident. It was a wow, and outshone the Cathedral.
Back to the ship. Fascinosa is incredibly clean and well maintained. The entertainment is very much geared to the South American market as they made up the bulk of the passengers aboard for the voyage to Europe.
Shows, Musicians, novelty acts etc, and maybe different to what US and most European passengers usually get on cruise ships. There is a lot of live Latin music and a lot of dancing - they really take their dancing seriously and are very good at it. I have never been on a ship where so many people danced so well and it was a pleasure to watch them. The ship itself is very steady even in very rough seas. We had an Argentinian music / singing trio who were exceptionally good.
The food, overall we found to be a bit mundane and not of great quality, you will not starve but neither will you be blown away. Simple things like a poor selection of cereals at breakfast and an abysmal selection of fresh fruits. Three toasters for a buffet serving a couple of thousand people. For an Italian ship, and we are fans of Italian food, the pastas and pizzas etc were nothing to write home about, almost downright boring. Even the grill that served burgers, sausages etc on the pool deck were of cheap quality. Essentially, the food could best be described as cheap ingredients poorly put together. The buffet restaurant was at times very crowded and the food was sometimes cold or overcooked.
The Big Questions. Did we enjoy it and the answer is yes, it was a simple and easy way of having a brief look at Brazil. Is it good value for money, again yes, you would have a job putting together a 21 night holiday and visiting the places that we did for the kind of money that was spent. Lastly, would we do it again, probably not. Would we use Costa again, probably not, unless there was an itinerary that we really wanted to do and at the right price.
Finally disembarkation, this could reasonably be described as chaotic. After waiting almost an hour beyond our allotted disembark time, we could stand it no longer and just walked off the ship.
Brazil suffers from a high crime rate, but do not let this stop you, just remember the basic rules and think about staying safe.