"It is amazing how one ship's service and quality can differ from another." -Overheard at Costa Magica Buffet on Day 1 of Voyage
This cruise was to be the last for at least 5 years for my wife and I. We are about to start a family and know traveling will be difficult with little ones, and of course there is the financial cost to consider as well. We had taken four prior cruises and one other on the Costa Mediterranea. This in only three years of marriage! To say the least, we love cruising. And we thought we loved Costa.
Things started going wrong almost immediately.
What a complete mess. We arrived at dock 22 at Port Everglades in less than a half hour from arriving at the airport. We were stoked. The flight, taxi, everything was flowing smoothly and quickly! We hadnt received luggage tags in the mail for our bags. We didnt know how this would be handled. A hint was definitely delivered when we didnt get our paperwork and later found out it had been filtered as spam and was now email only. Our last cruise on Costa Mediterranea was only in April, and that had DHL delivered documentation. That changed, apparently. I am all for electronic tickets overall. But not at the stake of a smooth delivery of service. That is exactly what happened when we got to the port. We had to wait in a line for luggage tags. And it was chaotic. No one knew where to go. Costas Florida crew, mainly elderly retirees, seemed as befuddled as most cruisers did. Why didnt we receive tags? What were we to do? So a line grew so that reps could verify documentation and hand out the tags. I waited in line for 45 minutes and finally one of the reps gave up and started handing them out. What a security risk! What a customer service fiasco.
We finally got out of that line and entered the next fiasco. The luggage scan. We waited in this line for an hour and a half. The hold up wasn't actually security, it was Costa (once again). They did not have enough staff to check people in, so the line for that grew so long that security literally had to stop scanning luggage. However, I purchased a Suite. So I had priority embarkation. That didnt help in the security line. There was no security line for priority VIPs. After clearing security, I got right through to an agent to check me in. While the security scan generally isn't part of embarkation, nor is luggage check in, I give it very low scores here. I go into negative territory because after check in, once again we had to wait in line to actually get on the ship. That was another 20 minutes or so. I argued with the Costa rep that I had priority embarkation, but that did me no favor.
With over two hours of rage built up, we got on the ship. We gave the photographer, models and greeters on board the cold shoulder. We were mad. Bad Costa, very bad.
Despite being famished, we decided to unload our carry-ons in our suite straight away. I was immediately disappointed. The suite was small. It was definitely not the 600 sq ft advertised, closer to 275-300 sq ft. The bathroom was the major high point. The whirlpool and the rest of the bathroom were large and nice to use. We both took a whirlpool bath every other day of the cruise. Just outside of the bathroom is this poorly conceived walk-in closet setup. It has a dresser for a woman to put on her make up with the closet portion directly behind it. One could not get into the bathroom without bumping in and disturbing the wife. This was irritating.
The rest of the cabin had wood accents and very nicely designed Magica artwork on the walls. We enjoyed it. It was enchanting and stylish. We immediately ordered mattress pads for the bed and feather pillows. We didnt expect to get them, but asked anyway. We got them, and a Suite Pillow Menu from Dorelan, an Italian based company. We could choose from 7 different pillows. We ordered two more pillows that had a very interesting design, with the temperpedic bed material (Dorelan calls it Myform). Our bed ended up having 8 pillows. Combined with the pads, sleeping was a true luxury and spending time in bed was our favorite activity ultimately on board.
The balcony was another frustration. While it was long, it was not wide enough to easily get in and out without disturbing others on the balcony. Where this became annoying was when we tried to eat on the balcony. We had to play musical chairs and tables to avoid creating a mess. While any balcony is better than no balcony, I was annoyed.
Later on in the day we returned to the cabin to find canapEs, Champaign and a fruit bowl with grapes, kiwis, mangos and apples. All very fresh and chilled. The canapEs included caviar, walnuts, brie and salmon. I ate the whole plate--my wife was not into them. The Champaign we decided to bring home as a gift for a friend, but when we had it wrapped by the duty free store, the attendant boldly said he wouldn't bother bringing it home because it was crap. LOL! Thats just great, Costa!! Our Butler introduced herself. Her name was Claudia and we thought she was very pleasant upon this first meeting. She cleared our refrigerator as requested in a love note, and arranged our pillows and pad delivery. My wifes first comment to me after meeting was, she looks utterly exhausted. She was right and this would have implications later. Our room steward, Julius, was a constant delight the entire trip. Very friendly, industrious and responsive.
Overall, our room was really not very different in size from the room we had on the Costa Mediterranea in April. We had 7238 on that ship and Id estimate the size to be the same minus the walk in closet and luxury appointed bathroom. And the balcony was actually smaller! What exactly had I spent an extra 300 dollars per person on? Service? Maybe thats it. (Note: Love Notes are what I call the notes I leave for the attendants of our rooms during our cruises. Instead of trying to track them down, I merely leave notes for them on the door whenever I need something. I call them love notes because I love to be pampered!!)
After checking out the room, we hit the buffet. Our experience on the Mediterranea was that food got progressively better as the cruise went on. We noticed this on our other cruises as well. We attribute it to staff exhaustion from the last cruise. It is our justification, anyway. So we didnt expect much. Food was OK, not stellar by any means.
It continued to not be stellar through out the trip. We never ate in the main dining room, but had most meals brought to our room by our butler. Initially, she was quick to deliver, but she got slower and slower. One order never came and when we complained we were told dinner was over. Our final order of the cruise took over an hour and a half. With most orders, the food was warm to cooling by the time we got it in our room. Claudia seemed embarrassed but unable to do anything to remedy it. She looked lost and unempowered. Most orders were incomplete, lacked silverware, lacked salt and pepper, lacked butter for rolls obvious things. Claudia seemed to be making a very honest effort, guest services had a continuous line the whole trip. We didnt know who to complain to, and whose fault it was. We ended up doing nothing about this except note it carefully on our survey at the end.
The buffet never got better. We had some outstanding pasta, of note was the gorgonzola gnocchi and bacon and onion spaghetti. The steaks were never cooked right and not flavorful at all. Sides were unpleasant green beans and other assorted things.
The other option was to eat poolside at the grill. There my wife liked the deli sandwiches, and I enjoyed burgers and grilled fish. One frustration with the grill is that they wont make you a real cheeseburger, you have to put a cold slice of American cheese on your own burger. One day they ran out of American cheese and substituted Swiss cheese. I asked for American and was told they were out. . . only to find the next day that it was back on the menu there!! My wife started taking extra deli sandwiches to the room and putting them in the refrigerator to eat later. Costa, what are you thinking??!! Quality issues led to seeing lots of plates head to garbage cans pretty full. One night in the room after getting lackluster room service again, we sent nearly 75% of what we ordered to the garbage. We felt very guilty about this.
A Suite perk is a free meal at Club Vicenzo, the for pay dining option on the Magica. Claudia strongly warned us to reserve a table early so we wouldnt miss it as it was very popular. We did so and reserved it for Monday night, on a day at sea. We expected it to be full. We walked in and it was empty at 7 PM. We stayed until 8:15 and no one followed us. The restaurant was empty minus us and one other couple. Service was very professional, with the laying of napkins in our laps and such. The table wear is from Gucci. We thought wed get a 5 star dining experience. No such luck. To say it was terrible would be an understatement. It was horrifically bad. We ordered t-bone steaks. I initially asked to see the steaks offered. The waitress looked perplexed and said we couldnt. The menu itself was confusing. There was an ala carte menu and then a tasting menu. You could taste 3 things for 25 dollars or 2 for 20. Suite passengers got to taste two things for 20. It would consist of a main entrEe and a type of salad, and then side items and dessert. We got Caprese salads that were decent. Bread and breadsticks were passable, but not spectacular. But then came the main entrees. We gasped simultaneously. The T-bones were these thin strips of meat with a humongous bone wedged between. It didnt matter how you ordered it, it came well done. It must have taken no more than 2 minutes to completely cook the poor thing. And the sides were laughable and so unprofessionally presented. They were on the same plate as the main entrEe. Three short and tiny asparagus? Four carrots? Corn and red pepper? A plate full of cold fries, not shoe string potatoes that we ordered? It was day 2 and we were fed up eating on the damn ship. Don't even ask me about the desserts at Club Vicenzo.
Was there every a fantastic meal? No. There wasn't. If it wasn't cold, or the entrEe stunk, or the dessert stunk, it was something else that went wrong. We looked forward to deli sandwiches and ports so we could eat some real food. If that doesnt turn you off to this ship, continue I have plenty more, but first
This was the only highlight of the cruise. The shows were of good quality. The first night was a former member of the Platters (Sonny Turner??). My wife and I are not into that kind of music, but the singer did put on a good show overall.
The Vegas style shows were well done and done without a hitch. Entertaining and fun.
The Newlywed and Not So Newlywed show, which is something we look forward to on other occasions was poorly attended. The CD, Max Bartolotto, was not entertaining and seemed befuddled by responses of participants. Several times he looked annoyed with one particular couple. His irritation was easily apparent and it made for a very displeasurable experience watching it. I was amused by old people talking about their sex lives like they were 18 year olds.
The much lauded Costa Talent Show was the true entertainment win of this cruise. The cruisers wowed us with their talent. Of particular note was the older lady comedian. She was outstanding. One unfortunate note was one particular cruiser sang an old hymn, and the response of the audience was to leave in droves during his performance. On our prior cruise, part of the fun was sending the performers to the lions. The talent was terrible, which made it enjoyable. No such luck here. The one area we were hoping would be bad, turned out to be good! Oh the irony!!!
The CD overall seemed unenthused and uninspired. He looked tired and worn out, as did his staff. I recalled assistant staff members Silvio and Eugenio from the previous Mediterranea cruise, and they were much more outgoing then. To the point where we thought Silvio must be on stimulant drugs. Apparently this time they were handing out MaryJane. While we didnt participate in the Lido deck activities, we did often observe them from our sunbathing positions. They were poorly attended and participated. One of the staff members, Angelo, commented several times just how much he hated doing the Blackjack Tournament each cruise. That tells me there are fundamental problems among supervisors and staff.
As mentioned before, I did the Blackjack Tournament. We also participated in Bingo and the Arts and Crafts activities. The Arts and Crafts entailed painting ceramics, t-shirts and fans. We didnt have to pay extra for them and got to bring them home as souvenirs. Bingo was held in Lounge Salento instead of the theatre. Eugenio hosted the Bingo. He is quite flamboyant to say the least.
Spa & Fitness
We used both the fitness center and sauna/steam rooms. The fitness center was difficult to find initially. There were no clear signs pointing it out. It is on the 11th floor behind the Saturnia Spa. You have to walk through the locker rooms to get to them.
My wife used the running machines and elliptical machines. She found them difficult to use because instructions were only in Italian. She figured them out eventually. The equipment and the room itself seemed old and not well maintained. They have a whirlpool set in the middle of the room above the fitness machines. The placement is odd. I looked in to see if I wanted to get in, and it looked dingy. The plastic molding in many areas was stained. I turned around and headed to the sauna.
I have been a long time fan of the sauna. I belong to a fantastic health club with outstanding Finnish built saunas and steam rooms. My expectations are high and my knowledge of how to use them is also high. I've been to the real thing in arctic Sweden. I was not let down here. It was as if a Swede or Finn built the fine Magica sauna. It had two heaters and the wood work was well done. It was a large room with capacity for around 15 men. It had a large window to the sea, which was enchanting. Lighting was just right; enough luminosity to get around, but not enough to make you overly self-conscious with a bunch of other sweaty guys. The temps were around 150-180 degrees, the professional sauna users preference, so to speak. It was perfect, and I did a full round of warm ups and cool downs. The problem with the cool downs was that you had to sit near the toilets in the locker room. And someone obviously had a bad trip to the buffet.
The steam room was a let down; the steam was intermittent and the room didnt have the right aesthetics. It was white and blue and had no lighting at all. One out of two isn't bad.
Per our usual operandi, we did no ship organized excursions. The forums here at CruiseCritic are outstanding and provide the researching cruiser more than enough information to organize or find better excursion opportunities.
We had nearly two relaxing days at sea before our first port of call, San Juan, Puerto Rico. This was a late arrival. We docked at 4:00 PM. This was misleading on the original viewing of the itinerary several months before. It said we arrived at 5 PM on Tuesday and left at midnight on Wednesday. It led me to believe we got nearly a day and a half there! Wrong! Read carefully! The worst implication of this was that one misses some of San Juans best treasures because they close at 5 PM! Namely, San Cristobal and El Morro! When we arrived at 4, I thought we could make a b-line for the doors, grab a taxi and perhaps spend at least a half hour at El Morro. No such luck. Despite the fact we departed a US port and made no stops in between, we still had to be cleared by immigration and that took an hour. We got off the boat at the pier in Old San Juan and found Royal Caribbean and Norwegian docked, with Carnival coming up behind us. The city was about to be flooded by at least 8,000 tourists. The pier was a madhouse. People shouting at each other, horns honking incessantly. It was disorienting. We ran to a Coldstone Creamery to escape.
Later we started our tour of the old town. The temps were actually cool, but the humidity was unbearable for this sweat prone bear. I couldnt stand it. The locals were wearing winter coats. I know, I know you hate humidity and sweat but love the sauna. I am a man of many contradictions.
I am not sure where the 8,000 unwelcome guests of the city went, but most of them didnt get very far from the pier because within a block or two uphill, crowds dwindled considerably. Our goal was the restaurant Barrachina, home of the Pina colada. Just a bit further down the path is the Fortress residence of the Governor. It was lit up for the holidays and looked beautiful.
At Barrachina we were treated to good service. It had started raining heavily by then and I felt sorry for those in the uncovered atrium of the restaurant. After I drank my pina colada, I became very nauseous. I am not sure what did it. I felt better several hours and half a bottle of maximum strength bismuth later. Our meal there was very good, a marinated beef dish, but pricey - 17.00. Barrachina also has a gift shop attached to it and is totally unfitting to the history of the restaurant.
An interesting highlight was all of the Haitian gift shops in Old Town. They are worth a visit. I enjoyed using my limited French with the shop owners.
We headed back to the pier at 9 PM and found a very long line. There was only one security agent allowing people back to the main pier! It took 45 minutes to get back on board. While in line a very intoxicated/stoned local entertained(?) the line with his bizarre little dance. I wasn't sure whether the man needed help or a kick in the pants. I was both horrified and amused. It is emotionally confusing encountering poverty and such social ills when on vacation. You are there to engage in pleasure--they are living their life devoid of it. A good friend of mine only does tropical forays to Hawaii for the very reason of the dichotomies of Caribbean tourism.
Port two our eastern itinerary was St. Thomas. What can be said about St. Thomas that hasn't already been beaten to death? Our goal was to ferry to St. John and ultimately Trunk Bay beach. We arrived to a wicked rain storm and hoped for three hours that it would end. It did finally and we darted off. We picked up an overpriced tax (10pp each way) to Red Hook to catch the 15 minute ferry ride (5pp each way) to Cruz Bay, St. John. It is a very scenic ferry ride. One can also catch a ferry in Charlotte Amalie, but that makes it a 45 minute ferry ride and higher cost. Ferries ran from Red Hook and Cruz Bay on the hour. Once in Cruz Bay we grabbed a taxi (6pp each way) to Trunk Bay. It took 20 minutes and was a death-defying ride. The driver obviously knew the route well, and curves also!!
Trunk Bay beach is extraordinary. It is your quintessential paradise. It is supposedly number 3 on the best beaches of the Caribbean and for good reason. While it is one of the few beaches in the US Virgin Islands that is public and requires a fee to enter (4pp), it is well worth it. After Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, this one is our favorite. We spent 3 hours there.
Back in Cruz Bay later in the day, we found a cute place to grab some local fare. We got some Johnny Cakes and Pate pastries along with some Barritt's Ginger Beers. All of it was good and relatively cheap.
Upon arrival at Red Hook, I found myself exasperated with the fact that wed spent nearly 60 dollars on just commuting around the islands. I didnt want to spend another 20 to get back to the ship. So I followed the advice of one of the posters and decided to grab a local bus back to Havensight. These 2pp transports are open air and at the time of the day we jumped on, it was loaded with school kids. Nearing the end of the day, it stopped frequently. I was nervous we wouldnt get back to port in time. Adding to my anxiety was the fact that I could not understand a word of the Creole the kids were speaking. I'd ask questions and they respond with indignity. One of the girls enjoyed my obvious discomfort and concern. Meanwhile, my wife soaked up the experience and adventure.
We got back close to Havensight and hopped off. The bus driver stopped us and said he'd take us closer, but we knew we could beat the bus by foot. I thought this was very generous of the driver and was my best experience with a local of the day.
Our third port was Casa De Campeo, Dominican Republic. In truth, the port is called Casa De Campeo, but is 30 minutes from the renowned resort and golf course. The port is actually across the channel from La Romanna Dom Rep's second largest city. We woke up early so that we could eat on the balcony with the city behind us. What was actually directly in front of us were large smoke stacks spewing back smoke into the air. It was never clear what was being manufactured there.
Our intention was to take the port authority shuttle to Altos De Chavon, the Spanish village recreation at Casa De Campeo Resort. But an angry French Canadian warned us as we walked to the shuttles that they were a rip-off and to take a taxi instead. Shuttle rides to La Romanna and Altos De Chavon were 5pp each way. So we did the quick math and figured to do both would cost us 40 dollars. Our new Quebecois friend suggested we take a local taxi for 30 dollars and a tour. Great! We thought!
As it turned out, none of the drivers spoke English and they wanted 35 for a 2 hour tour to both locations. We decided to take the adventure. Our driver was Daniel Jimenez. We communicated with a combination of my knowledge of Spanish and my wifes better knowledge of Spanish. We had these moments with him in the taxi where we would laugh in glee when we managed to communicate effectively. The taxi itself really was a circa 2000 Toyota Camry wagon in beat up condition, but comfortable. As with almost every taxi I've taken in the Caribbean, the gas tank gauge said it was empty and the fuel light was on. LOL!
The tour of La Romanna consisted of the police station, fire station, main market square and shopping. The city was swarming with people, but no major apparent extreme poverty. It was relatively clean and orderly. The police presence was high, and they carried semi-automatic machine guns. This scared my wife, but didnt faze me. Id say the only point of poverty that I witnessed was a legless man with one arm on the bridge across the channel. That was it. Ocho Rios, Jamaica had far more observable poverty than La Romanna.
An interesting point about the La Romannians is their lack of willingness to barter or negotiate. We found this with the insistent Daniel, and at the shop he took us to. They wanted their full prices and acted very insulted that we didnt want to pay them. I am quite serious about this point. In many other ports of call, they'll just wave you off if you cant agree on a price. In La Romanna, they got angry. I was very put off by this. The prices were high by American standards, let alone third world ones. I didnt want any part of it. They were trying to fleece us. My wife on the other hand was a different story. Her philosophy on the third world is that even if they are fleecing us, the price contributes to a better life for them and shed rather pay that than giving it through a third party like a charity. I tried to explain economic theory and reality to her, but she wouldnt have it. We ended up paying 51 dollars for two small sculptures of mediocre quality and a painting of good quality. To each their own.
Altos De Chavon was the gem of this trip. On the way there we crossed through the famous sugar cane fields of the Dominican Republic. They stretched for miles and miles. Upon arrival at Altos, the security guard tried to explain that we had to pay 5pp on the way out to visit the place. I had not read this elsewhere and was very dubious about it. We toured the place and found it enchanting and very true to the old world it was modeling. The view of the Chavon River was awe inspiring as well. We didnt have time to check out the shops or restaurant, but have heard from other cruisers that they are well worth checking out.
We left Altos De Chavons main park area from a different end that we entered. We got slightly lost on the grounds. We found Daniel and the taxi and hopped in and left. I waved to unpaid security guard as we drove off. I was sick and tired of being ripped off for the day.
Many people have stated that Dom Rep is wasted port stop. I would disagree. Plan your excursion and adventure carefully and you'll enjoy yourself. While I felt fleeced, the adventure was worth it.
Our final port calling was Grand Turk, the city of Cockburn. As it turns out, the port is several miles south of the city of Cockburn itself. It was constructed by Carnival Corporation last year as an alternative to nearby Nassau. The port area reminds me a great deal of Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas. Carnival has created a little shopping area with pastel colors, and the beach area is very reminiscent of Half Moon Cay, complete with free lounge chairs and cabanas. The great part is that you can just hop off the boat and walk to the beach instead of taking a tender at Half Moon.
The caveat to walking off the boat and to the beach is that they make you walk through the shopping area to get to it. It immediately struck my wife and I that it is similar to the casino hotel experience in Las Vegas. They make you walk through the Casino to get anywhere.
Most of the shops are locally owned, with a few large jewelry and Duty Free shops mixed in. A Margaritaville restaurant is the anchor. You have to take a taxi into town. There is nothing else there except for a condo development and bar.
The beach itself was nice, but somewhat spoiled by the pier which blocks a view of the open ocean. We walked further down the beach and swam where it was less obstructed. Many others followed suit and brought their loungers and cabanas with them.
We ate at Margaritaville. It was expensive and mediocre in quality. We didnt order the 10 dollar 10 ounce drinks. While there I was moved by a couple who were very obviously in love. As I watched them at their out of the way table, I built this imaginative scenario of their lives. I imagined they were some French couple who probably are in their first stage of romance and enamored with each other with that youthful lust we all have in that stage. The woman had this look on her face that made me feel joyful. As if she was deeply concerned about every word that came out of her mans mouth. Sometimes I wondered if she was waiting for him to pop some question out his mouth. She had this apparent look of expectation. Her eyes were wide and she had classical European looks. He looked very Mediterranean and chain smoked. They kissed often and held each other closely and tenderly. I felt satisfied that these tourists were enjoying themselves immensely on this trip. They were imbuing joy around them.
We had an extra long day at Grand Turk and really enjoyed it. Wed gladly take it over Nassau.
Finally, a miserable day at sea, getting sicker and sicker with a bad cold. I spent much of the last day resting in our suite. But I got out for a late lunch. When I was done eating this woman came by to pick up my plate. It was the woman enamored with her man I saw from afar at Margaritaville. I didnt realize it at first. Now, she looked downtrodden and exhausted. I looked closely at her name tag, she was from Romania, like our Butler. I felt so sad at that moment. Sometimes I wonder if cruise staff have worse lives than my cat, who I think comparably lives an easy life. This has led to mixed emotions about cruising in the past. The facts are that most service staff on cruises work for tips. However, these tips actually pay a relatively decent wage overall, given US standards, and are extraordinary when compared to their home standards. But they work generally 7 days a week, for six months or more at a time. My understanding is that most staff get a half day or full day off every few weeks, depending on the ship and itinerary. Their shifts are split into two 5 hour shifts every day. I can see where this wears on a person in a short period of time. And I saw this with nearly all service staff on the ship. My heart was broken for this woman.
I wish we could have saved the survey so we could comment on this. By far, this is one of the best benefits of having a suite. Disembarkation was very good (On Holland America disembarkation is awesome no matter what level of cruiser you are). They separated us out from the rest of the cruisers by having us go to Club Vicenzo. There we were greeted by a continental breakfast being served by the romantic couple from Margaritaville. This time the woman looked rested and pleasant. Her boyfriend/husband(?) seemed no different from the restaurant, except that his interplay and communication with the woman was much more formal, of course.
We waited for 20 minutes upon arriving at 8:30 AM to get off. That was smooth. Gathering our luggage was smooth as well.
It is said that any day on a bad cruise is better than a good day working. I am not so sure about that. I get a high when I've had a particularly good day at work. When I cruise I have a certain level of expectation and nearly every one was shot down on this one. I am very happy with every port experience, however. We cruised this ship knowing that it had mixed reviews in the past, but wanting the itinerary. Read Less