COSTA MAGICA - January 31, 2005
Before going into details, here is a summary of our experience:
The good, the bad and the ugly....
The good: - Itinerary was wonderful: Egypt was the highlight, and many more nice surprises such as Rhodes. - We met some wonderful people on the cruise, we enjoyed the international crowd. - The ship being so new it's very clean, and it is well kept. - There is a well defined smoking side on the ship, and other than in the casino, you don't really get bothered by smoke - there are no ashtrays near elevators which is a good deterrent for people since no one smoked in these areas. - Tea in the Bellagio Buffet restaurant has a good selection of whole-leaf teas of good quality that they put into a sachet. You also get real porcelain cups which is a nice contrast from the picnic plastic mug you usually get at the buffet... as for the food, it was not great, and the dessert were the same ones everyday.
The bad: - No more chocolate on your pillows... not essential, but a nice touch before going to bed - No more bathrobes... had I known I would have brought one - No more toiletries
The ugly: - Food: quality, variety... it's just the worst food we've ever had on a cruise. I'm sure this will change soon as everyone was complaining. - No other dining option than the restaurant. They say the buffet is open but all there is, and this is true for all 12 nights we were there was a plate of iceberg lettuce, one with radicchio, olives, cold cooked cauliflower and carrots, 1 kind of cold cuts, and 1 kind of cheese. They also have pizza available til 1am. - Embarkation in ports was a nightmare... it took up to 1 hour to get back on the ship when we returned from some excursion, especially in Egypt, when 7 buses all returned at once... this was not pretty. People were upset, yelled and pushed.
Costa Concierge just opened in 2004 their new cruise ship terminal in Savona. It's a beautiful building well designed to wait for embarkation. It has a great outdoor patio where you can sip a beer or cocktail watching the harbor activity, while waiting for you number to be called. Since most passengers come with Costa transfers from either the Nice airport or Genoa airport, a Costa rep comes onboard the buses and give everyone a number. The luggage are automatically transferred from the bus to the terminal. Then, we proceeded to the terminal where there are many comfortable seats to wait for your turn. It was a bit long, over 1.5 hour wait, but at least is was comfortable. Then we cleared security fairly rapidly and proceeded immediately onboard. Everyone was asked to immediately go to the theatre to hand their passports. They keep them for Egyptian immigration processing.
Then we went straight to our stateroom where we found our Costa Cards on the desk. No need to wait in line to get your card. Also, the luggage was already in the cabin when we got there, which is always a great relief!!
The buffet was only open until 4pm, which was a bit tight. We had not eaten lunch so we ran upstairs, and just managed to put a few things on our plates before they closed off all the buffet lines.
So overall, the process was very smooth even if it was a bit lengthy.
We had reserved cabin 7401, a category 8 balcony cabin. The cabin is very spacious. It has a 3-door wardrobe with 2 separate hanging closets, and one with shelves with a full length mirror. The vanity has 3 drawers, and a small cabinet unit for smaller object storage. There is a small fridge, as well as a safe that uses a magnetic card for locking (any card with a magnetic strip works).
The bed was comfortable. There is also a very wide couch that can probably transform into a bed - it's not a pull-out couch, but the width of the couch is the length of a bed. There is also a small table that is adjustable to either be used as a dining table for breakfast, or as a coffee table. The bathroom is large enough, with the usual amenities, but no toiletries. There is one bar of soap, and for the 12 days we were there, we never got another one! No shampoo, or lotion. You can get lotion and showers caps on request only. Also, there are no bathrobes available either. Had I known this, I would have brought a bathrobe.
Our cabin steward was extremely discreet but polite and very efficient. He did not speak much Italian nor French (which is what 80% of the people on the ship spoke) but we managed to communicate in English. The room was promptly done as soon as we left in the morning. The cabin service was great.
DINING ROOM SERVICE and FOOD
We had a table for 6 on the upper section of the Portofino restaurant, situated at midship. The ship has two dining rooms and the galley is in between. Because of that, you cannot go to the front of the ship on deck 3 and 4. Since our room was aft, we always had to go down to Deck 5, then walk forward, and down again to Deck 3 or 4 from there. Not a big issue, but it is confusing at first. For the first time, we dined at the first sitting which was at 6h30 PM. This was a bit early since we were gone on excursions most days, and didn't return until 5 or 5h30. That didn't leave us enough time to unwind and get ready for diner. We were always rushed to shower and go down to the dining room. The second sitting was at 8h45 or 9 PM depending on the night. Knowing what I know now, I would choose the second sitting, even if it's a bit late just to have a bit more time after returning from excursions.
The food was definitely sub-standards. The menu offered a variety of dishes, but the preparation was not well done. Meat were never cooked properly, were tough and flavorless. The fish was often fishy tasting. We never once had a baked potato, we had most often boiled potatoes, and once we had mashed that were so gluey that needed to be cut with a knife. The vegetables were always frozen. We had shrimp once at the first gala dinner as a shrimp cocktail, and on the last gala menu, there was a langouste thermidor, which was not good at all, very tough. Filet mignon? Never to be seen. On the first night, we asked for dressing for our salad. We were offered 4 different kinds, and asked for blue cheese. The dressing we receive tasted really odd. Every other night, the only dressing available was Thousand Islands... this is odd. I must say that the pasta dishes were always tasty, and our server told me at some point that many people ordered two pasta plates as dinner instead of the meat dishes - I did that a couple times and was happy about my decision.
Our server Paolo was Colombian and his assistant George was from the Philippines. They were both very friendly. We communicated with them in English, which was a problem for many passengers as most spoke either Italian or French. The Maitre D', Dario was friendly and very helpful. On many nights the dining room was extremely hot, and as soon as I mentioned it to him he got on the phone with the engineers and we immediately felt the AC turned on. We also requested on one night a table at the second sitting and he obliged us very gracefully. The service was slightly chaotic on the first 2-3 nights, and we had to wait more than 45 minutes between our appetizer and soup, but after the first gala dinner, things smoothed themselves out, and service became more organized.
We had lunch in the dining room once, and the nice thing is that you can sit wherever you want. They don't 'fill' tables. The menu was limited, but the service was efficient.
Breakfast in the dining room only had a cold offering - continental breakfast: breads, cold cereals, juice. If you're longing for eggs Benedict, fill up before you leave...
Breakfast was the same every morning. We had a variety of freshly baked goods, croissants, chocolatine, brioche, Danishes etc. that were very good. Fresh fruits, berries and cream, muesli, cold cereals and yogurt completed the cold buffet. The hot buffet had hard boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, beans, waffle and French toast. There was also a selection of marinated fish, cold cuts and cheese. This was fine even if the selection became boring after a while.
Lunch was served at two central sections which had a more conventional offer, and on two side stations that had a 'theme' menu everyday. The food was average at best. IT was always very crowded and the best bet was to find a seat on the mezzanine level which usually a bit quieter. The grills by the pools offered hamburgers, hot dogs, fries and lamb chops.
After 2h30, the only food available was the salad bar which consisted of iceberg lettuce, radicchio, quartered tomatoes, olives, a mix of cold cooked cauliflower and carrots, one cold cut, one cheese and buns. There is also pizza available until late in the evening. If you didn't feel like going to the dining room, you really had no options.
Tea was the highlight of our food (or beverage) experience. They had a nice selection of whole-leaf teas of good quality that they put into a sachet. The cherry tea and the black currant were particularly good. You also get real porcelain cups which is a nice contrast from the picnic plastic mug you usually get at the buffet. The sandwiches were always dried, and the few pastries served were the same one everyday... Soft serve ice cream was available almost all the time, depending on the days, sometime the machine was on, sometimes it was off.
Naples: We didn't take a ship's excursion as we had been to Naples 3 times already. We wanted to go to the Museum of Archaeology, but since we were there on a Tuesday, it was closed. So we opted to go on our own. We walked from the ship to the Castel Nuovo, which is just across the street - a 5 minute walk from the cruise ship terminal. Since it was raining, we opted to take a city tour bus for €18. Then, we went to visit the Castel Nuovo. The entrance fee was €5 for me, and it was free for my mom. There was a few exhibits of 16-19th century paintings.
Alexandria: This was to be the highlight of the trip and it was. We chose the Pyramid, Saqqara and Memphis tour (€99 per person) and really enjoyed it. As opposed to all other tours that included a meal in a restaurant, we had a lunch bag that we picked up as we debarked the ship in the morning. It was certainly not a gastronomical feast, but it allowed us to spend more time at the various sites. The excursion started with a 3 hour bus ride to Cairo. On the bus, our guide talked about the ancient Egyptian civilizations, the most important pharaohs, etc. Because of our limited time in the city, and very little shopping opportunities, she offered to take orders for cartouche jewelery and t-shirts. Upon our arrival in Cairo, she called in the orders, and we were able to pick them up at the end of the day. They offered various size of cartouches in either silver, gold or silver with gold symbols. I ordered the most expensive one and it was $95 US. The small one made of silver was about $25 US. Once at the store, you could pay in €, dollars or with a credit card.
Our first stop was the Pyramids. We first went to the high plateau where we had a view of all three pyramids. We had about 15 minutes to take a few pictures. This stop had several merchants selling statuettes, pyramids, brass plates, post cards etc. This is one of the better shopping opportunity - so if you want some souvenirs, make sure to get them there. We bought 3 small pyramids in engraved brass for 1 Euro. Be wary of camel drivers… they will let you hop on their camel for free, but will charge you whatever they want to let you off… this happened to one of our friend… They will also charge you just to take a picture, so pretend you shoot something else! And watch out for camel pooh…
Then we drove to a parking lot located between the Kheops and Kephren pyramids. There, we had about 30 minutes to walk around. Those who wanted could go inside the Kephren pyramid. Those who went said it was not worth it, as you walked in a very small and dark tunnel that is about 5 feet tall, and ended in a room that was completely bare. All objects and wall painting were removed. You also have the opportunity to go visit the royal barque, but again time is very limited, if you choose to do this, you have to run. We chose to walk up to the pyramid and just sink in the magnitude of the work… it's even more impressive that what can be expected.
Our next stop was at the Sphinx. We had some time to wander on our own, and then we were able to eat our lunch at the restaurant terrace. We were given a coupon for a drink. The view was spectacular… We had 1.5 hour to walk around, and take in the sight. This was great.
Then, on to Saqqara. As we got there the wind started to blow and we witnessed a sand storm!! We went into a mastaba which was the tomb of Mererouka. There, we were able to see several rooms with unbelievable wall drawings and hieroglyphs. Once we got out, the storm had receded and we went on to the pyramid of Djoser, the step pyramid. We had about 30 minutes to walk around.
Next stop was in the ancient site of Memphis. The ancient city is no longer there. Palm trees cover most of what was once the capital of Egypt. But there is a small outdoor museum with the famous alabaster sphinx, a few sarcophagus, and the colossal statue of Ramses II. Even if there isn't much to see there, it was a nice addition to the whole trip. It was very pleasant to see the lush palm trees covering this site - a nice contrast with all the sand surrounding this area.
Last stop - Papyrus Institute. This is the last stop of all tours. They show you how papyrus is made in a 5 minute demonstration. Then you have time to shop for your papyrus and then you can walk up to the jewelery store, where you can pick up your cartouche, and then shop for other jewelery. The papyrus are relatively inexpensive. You can get small ones for €8-10. We were looking at a large one but found it a bit expensive - it was €75. The salesman told us 'How much do you want to pay for it…' we didn't think we could or should barter in a shop like this, but I guess you could… I offered him 50 and he accepted. When I went to the cashier to pay, the credit card machine didn't work. All I had was €40, and he gladly took it!
Limassol: We have not booked a ship excursion here, and I wished we had. We were in Limassol on a Saturday, and most stores were closed. Also, we were in town only for a few hours, which didn't give us a lot of time to do things on our own. We took the ship's shuttle into town (€5 per person return) and walked around the town. We went to the Castle which dates to the 12th c. This castle served as a prison up until 1950. It has a good exhibition of household pottery and ceramics dating from the 4th-18th c., as well as some weapons, and many interesting engraved tombs covers. At €4 per person, it's a short but interesting visit. There is also a rooftop terrace from which you have a great view of the city, and of the ship in port! There's a lovely garden with various artifacts, olive press and citrus trees that were all filled with bright lemons and oranges. Other than the castle, there isn't much to see in Limassol. We walked around a bit, then took the last shuttle back to the ship at 5pm.
Rhodes: Rhodes City Tour (€39) a half day tour that started out by a short drive up to the ancient acropolis of Rhodes. Unfortunately, there isn't much left of the temple that once stood there but three columns. We drove past that and then went to the ancient stadium, still in very good shape. There is also a small theatre that was redone in the last century. After that stop the bus drove us to one of the door to the medieval city, and we did the rest of the tour by foot. We walked to the Grand Master Palace which we visited with the guide. Even if this former house of the Head of the Knights was completely redone in the last century, it contained very well preserved mosaics from the island of Kos, and restoration work was interesting to see. We walked down the streets of Knights where each nation had a hostel, according to the language spoken during the time of the crusades. The tour ended in the old city, near the port. A that time we had an hour to walk around, shop etc. At 12h30, we could either get back to the ship with the bus, or stay in town and walked back to the ship - a 15 minute walk at the most. We truly enjoyed this day in Rhodes. Most shops were opened in the walled city, as well as bars and restaurant.
Also, the day before, we received a sign-up sheet offering the possibility of going to a jewel factory in the afternoon in Rhodes. You need to sign-up but it's free - they just need to know how many people would go to get buses. Since we were back on the ship, I decided to go for the ride. The store is about 15 minutes out of the city. They had opened the store just for us. There's a small museum with antique gold pieces. They have a lot of silver and gold jewelery. From what I could see, not many people have made purchases. The gold prices were very high - unless you absolutely fell in love with something, it wasn't worth it. As for silver, the prices were more reasonable and I found a nice bracelet with the Greek meander pattern for €25.
Those who chose the full day excursion went to Lindos in the morning, ate in a hotel (buffet style) and then did the Rhodes tour in the afternoon. Some of our friends did that tour and enjoyed it. However, some people found the 300 steps to go to the top of the Lindos acropolis a bit strenuous. One guy hired a cab to get up there… From what I understand, if you have lots of energy, do the full day tour, and if you have to choose one of the half-day tour, stay in Rhodes, it would be a shame to not at least walk through the old city.
Marmaris: Dalyan and Caunos Express (€52) Only two choices of excursion here and both see the same sights. The only difference is that the full day tour includes lunch at a local fish restaurant (€74). We opted for the 'express tour' in order to have some time in Marmaris for some shopping. The excursion was very pleasant. We had an amazing guide, Bekir, from Istanbul. Because of a snow storm in Istanbul the guides could not fly in, so they had to drive for 10 hours to meet the ship. The drive to Dalyan was just over an hour. There, we embarked on tarp-covered boats to go along the river and view the temple-tombs of ancient kings carved into the rocky cliffs. Then, we arrive at the archaeological site of Caunos with the Roman Theatre, the Roman Bath and the streets of this city founded in 5th Century B.C. After the visit, the boat takes you back to the village and to the bus. We were dropped off at the pier at around 2:15pm. We could either take the ship shuttle into town (€5 per person return) or cabs were waiting there also. Cabs were €5 each way for up to 4 persons. We went into town. I was expecting a typical 'turkish' market, but found more or an outdoor mall. In fact it's a labyrinth of streets covered with a glass roof, with all kinds of shops selling jewelery, ceramics, leather goods, clothing. Some are nice, some are shadier. We were told Turks were the master of counterfeiting - I've never seen so many fake Louis Vuitton and Gucci in my life!! But contrary to what we often see, these were really good copies, made of good leather with good finish (not all though, you have to be careful). You can get purses and shoes at very very good prices. From what we've seen, they will cut the prices in 4 from their original asking price. This was really our only shopping occasion so we bought a few things.
Athens: Acropole and Museum (€63) By the time we got to Athens, we were tired, and everyone had a cold... We had to be back on the ship by 4h30, which is early. So we took a half-day tour to the Acropolis and the Archaeological Museum. We had a shared tour - half French, half Italian, which wasn't really a problem as we had 2 separate guides. After touring the main monuments and building of the city, we stopped at the Museum. Our guide Effie brought us to the most significant pieces of the museum, giving us detailed information on Greek history, architecture and art. We saw the gold mask of Agamemnon, the bronze Poseidon and Young jockey of Artemision, and the statue of Athena Nike, just to name a few. After the museum, we drove past the parliament house and saw the guards dressed in their traditional costume. Today, they had to wear a thick woollen cap as it was only 3 degrees Celsius, with a light snow! Then we stopped at the original Olympic stadium where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896. Finally we arrived at the Acropolis. We slowly went up to the top with our guide. We stopped by the theatre. The temple of Athena Nike was gone!! I couldn't believe it… when we got to the entrance, there was a sign saying that the temple had become unstable, and was dismantled piece by piece. 'The aim of the current restoration project, in process since 2000, is to correct the inadequacies of all the previous restoration projects and to reinstate the building's original geometry.' The Propylaia is also under restoration. The wind was blowing so cold at the top, it was incredible! But the magnificence of the Parthenon made it very endurable. We had about 30 minutes of free time to explore on our own the top of the Acropolis, Parthenon, Erechtheum and its caryatides. We all met back on the bus and went straight to Piraeus. It was a good tour, but they won't let you off the bus in town. You have to go back to Piraeus, and then take your own transport back into town. We were too exhausted, and we got back to the pier at 2pm - which didn't give us enough time to go back into the city. The only full day tour is the Acropolis and Cap Sounion. Those of went enjoyed it.
Katakolon: Olympia and Museum (€52) I didn't have too much expectation for this tour, but I was positively surprised. It was a cold but sunny day. We first started by driving to the site of Olympia - about a 30-40 minute drive. Our guide Katia was extremely interesting. We walked the site with her in about 1 hour. The site is lovely, with lots of trees. We saw the temple of Hera, the place where they light the Olympic flame, the stadium, the temple of Zeus, the palaestra and gymnasium. Then we had about 30 minutes free time. We then walked to the museum which is just off the site. We had a guided tour of the museum again with our guide. It was very interesting. We saw the Hermes of Praxiteles and the Nike of Paionios. Then, we returned to the ship, just in time for sail away at 1h30. The small town of Katakolon is not too far, maybe a 15-20 minute walk from the pier. Some excursions stopped there to allow people a bit of time to shop. One other excursion combined the site of Olympia and a stop in a restaurant in Katakolon where they were served tapas, ouzo and a local band entertained them. Apparently this was lots of fun.
Well this concludes the excursions we enjoyed during this great cruise. Our last day was at sea, and allowed us to pack our bags without too much stress.
Debarkation was very smooth. Our meeting point was at 9h15 in the theatre, which was pretty good! Then we quickly proceeded outside in the new terminal, and were able to quickly recuperate our luggage. Buses were waiting outside, and were clearly identified for the various transfers available. By 10h00, our bus was en route toward Nice, where we had a 1 night post-cruise before returning to Montreal!
Well that's it for now... I know I haven't talked about everything, like entertainment etc. but I'd be more than happy to answer any other questions you may have! Read Less