We selected this cruise and cruise line because of the itinerary as a visit to the islands in the Indian Ocean had long been on our bucket list. The only other cruise lines that regularly sail the Indian Ocean tend to be the deluxe luxury ships, such as Regent, Seabourn and Oceania, which are a bit out of our league pricewise so the Costa option was pretty much a forced choice. As a result we embarked on our cruise on the Costa Mediterranea with very low expectations and a high degree of trepidation, especially considering many of the highly negative Cruise Critic reviews and the poor image this cruise line seems to have with the self-appointed “ cruise experts” who rate the cruise industry!
However, our fears were largely ill-founded and we must say that the Mediterranea exceeded our expectations in most respects. Admittedly, we had booked a Panorama Suite which entitled us to suite class privileges such as access to the only alternative restaurant on the ship essentially reserved for suite class passengers, so we accept our assessment of this cruise experience may be somewhat biased. Nevertheless, even though we may be accused of reviewing our experience through rose-coloured spectacles, we think Costa generally gets a bad rap and is by no means as sub-standard as many of the reviews suggest. In fact, we feel the cruise line has many qualities and innovations that their so-called more prestigious and more highly rated competitors can learn from.
For a vessel that is one of the oldest in the Costa fleet, the Mediterranea is in pretty good nick. It apparently received an Euro 18 million makeover in 2018 and it clearly shows in the quality and condition of furnishings, carpeting, wall coverings, etc. throughout the ship. The initial impression on boarding the ship is somewhat overwhelming. Yes it is gaudy, bright, colourful and perhaps overly ornate with elaborately designed flooring, wall coverings, Venetian lighting, cornices and ceilings, but it is almost like sailing in a Rennaisance inspired art gallery! Beautiful framed prints of many of the Old Masters adorn the walls of the lounges, bars and restaurants, and interesting sculptures are strategically placed in most public areas. Even the passageways leading to cabins on all decks are covered with themed murals depicting much of Italian history and mythology. Yet it somehow seems to fit with Italian flair and bon homenie evident everywhere.
As with most of the cruises we have taken over the years, our Mediterranea experience was much akin to the proverbial curate’s egg, some good and some not so good.
Some of the positives of Costa Mediterranea include:
• Dedicated concierges for each main language group on board. Being on a ship where English speakers were in the minority this was a special boon and made us realise just how difficult it must be for non-English passengers on the typical American cruise lines that make little or no effort to communicate in any language other than English! Laura, our Concierge was outstanding, ebullient, enthusiastic, always willing to help, and, as we were to learn from the ship staff concert later in the voyage, a Scottish dancer of note!!
• Their embarkation process is very quick and simple with minimal documentation required. Essentially it just entails handing over one’s passport; everything else is already in one’s stateroom, including the Costa Card required for all on-board transactions, accessing and egressing the ship and, interestingly, for opening and closing the in-room safe.
• Apart from a full range of standard and premium beverages, each bar throughout the ship is equipped with a coffee machine capable of vending a full range of top class speciality coffees, thus obviating the need for a typically overcrowded dedicated coffee bar found on most other ships we have sailed on previously.
• Well laid out main recreation deck with three good sized well-spaced pools with plenty of showers to cool off.
• Plenty of bars and lounges, all with dance floors, situated throughout the vessel offering plenty of spaces where one could just sit and chill or listen to one of the excellent on board entertainers.
• In-lounge entertainers, solo singers, duos and trios, were invariably excellent. A special shout out to Pasqual who entertained passengers nightly in the Talia lounge, who in our view, was one of the most talented cruise ship singer/musicians we have yet come across.
• Regular themed buffets on deck at lunch time, showcasing the fare from many countries including German, Greek, Italian, Spanish and British. A seafood extravaganza one day was especially good offering the best Paella we have ever had anywhere on our travels.
• The ordering system in restaurants and bars is all on hand held tablets which allows each order to be immediately registered and sequenced in the relevant kitchen or bar. Quite unique. We appreciate that such systems are now commonplace in many upmarket restaurants worldwide, but it is the first time we have encountered such a facility on board a ship.
• Service generally from stateroom butlers and attendants (Eutiquio and Jerico – great service guys), to bar staff and restaurant waiters - especially Sandeep, Khukan, Leslie and Joe in the suites only Club Medusa restaurant, with Maitre D Albert Jnr, pool attendants, and even Guest Relations and reception personnel, was invariably excellent – engaging, attentive and efficient.
• A lot of credit needs to go to the hard working and highly visible Hotel Manager for the attitude and attentiveness of staff and for the efficiency of the whole operation.
Of course, there were inevitably some negatives and if Costa could focus on addressing these, we feel their current reputation in the industry would be enhanced considerably.
• Lack of alternative dining venues on board. Effectively, there are only two options, the buffet restaurant or the main dining room. As suite guests we had access to a dedicated suites only restaurant (The Madusa), but this offered essentially the identical menu to that offered in the main dining room (with a couple of additional standard options). This is extremely limiting and, on a two week cruise, very monotonous as the fare does not change all that often. The only other option is a fee paying Pizzeria that is situated in a portioned of area of the buffet restaurant in the evenings. Quite frankly incongruous for an Italian cruise line to charge extra for a basic pizza offering! To be competitive with other similarly sizes cruise ships, we feel the Mediterranea desperately needs at least one other included dining venue and at least one fee paying Speciality restaurant
• The Mediterranea does not offer an anytime dining option which effectively means that passengers are limited to eating at either the early or late sitting each evening with no option to change between the set eating times. This is especially limiting on a ship that has no alternative dining venue. We like the anytime dining option that is available on most other cruise lines. We generally prefer to dine latish but not always at after 21h00 each evening!
Some other general comments:
Food: Generally Ok to good, but with no Wow offerings apart from the hitherto mentioned Paella on the open deck buffet one lunch time. We found the fare in the buffet restaurant to be well prepared but somewhat uninteresting with the exception of the varied pasta dishes on offer each meal time. We dined most evenings and the occasional lunch in the dedicated Club Madusa restaurant. Portions were small but very attractively presented. Appetizers, pastas and deserts were invariably good to excellent, but we found most main dishes to be bland and often overcooked. Meat dishes, especially pork and beef were often tough and unappetizing. Again highlighting the need for some alternative dining options.
Itinerary: As mentioned, we chose this cruise primarily for the itinerary. We had visited Mauritius on numerous occasions so did not partake in any special excursions while we were berthed in Port Louis. Our primary interest was in the other islands to be visited.
In the event we must say we were somewhat disappointed in Seychelles. We participated in one excursion – a glass bottomed boat cruise (major disappointment) which included a visit to the tiny Moyenne Island to see the giant land tortoise sanctuary, also a bit of a let-down as we have much larger tortoises in South Africa!
We opted not to do another excursion while in the Seychelles and spent the second day of the Seychelles sojourn wandering around Port Victoria on our own. A mistake as, apart from an ornate Hindu temple and an impressive statue of Madiba, the town had little appeal. We probably should have opted for a tour of some of the other islands of the archipelago.
Madagascar was very interesting. We docked at three ports that gave us a reasonable insight to life on this beautiful, impoverished island. In Nosy Be on the west coast we decided to do our own thing and just meandered around the town. At the next port, Diego Suarez on the north of the island , we took a three hour TukTuk ride where we viewed their version of Sugar Loaf mountain, some famed baobabs and one of the islands best beaches. A pretty hair-raising experience at times driving through some of the most pot holed (should we say crater) ridden roads we have ever seen. But we had a delightful driver, a university student who drives tourist tuk tuks to fund his studies.
In Tamatave on the east coast, we took a ships excursion that included a sail down the man-made Pangalanes canal and a visit to a typical Malagasy village where we sampled their fresh fruit and sipped cool coconut milk.
The experience of Madagascar was a bit of a shock to the system. The poverty levels are quite horrendous with more street children and beggars than we have ever experienced before including parts of the Middle East and southern India. Being one of the poorest nations in the world, it is a real third world experience with an economy destroyed though nepotism, maladministration and rampant corruption over many years. Yet the people are stoic and ever-smiling even though they exist, officially, on less than one US$ per day. As our charming, well-spoken tour guide wryly observed, “when you have already reached the bottom you cannot go any lower, so you may as well smile. Things cannot get any worse!” The island nevertheless has massive potential. It is rich in minerals and has immense tourism potential in a part of the world that still has so much unexploited opportunity for development. A new, more visionary Government is now, apparently, in power that is determined to stamp out corruption so, hopefully, efforts to raise the standard of living of its impoverished populace and exploit its untapped potential will start to be realized in the not too distant future.
On the other hand, our final port of call was to Reunion, a return to the first world! As our tour guide said when we boarded the bus for our excursion “Welcome to France!” As a French colony Reunion inhabitants are considered to be French citizens in every respect and even qualify for the identical social be benefit structures that are operative in mainland France. We took a full day ships excursion that drove us through two thirds of this tiny island and included a journey through a lunar landscape of frozen lava, a distant view of the active volcano that had erupted only a couple of days before our visit, so we were prevented from getting too close to the eruption itself, followed by a typical Creole lunch.
All in all, an interesting experience marred primarily by the monotonous eating schedule that is imposed on board. OK perhaps for a three to four day trip, but way too restrictive for a cruise of two weeks duration.
The Mediterranea is beautiful ship with a deck configuration that makes it quite different from the sameness that typically characterizes the more modern cruise lines. However, in our view, it will never be able to compete with other cruise ships competing for the same mass middle market as it is currently structured. Costa already have a number of vessels that have a wider range of facilities that enable the cruise line to compete more effectively in this highly competitive market segment.
We therefore strongly recommend that Costa consider rebranding some of their smaller, older ships to compete in the smaller, but more prestigious “Luxury Lite” segment currently populated by brands such as Oceania, Azamara and Viking. In the case of the Mediterranea this would not be too difficult as it already has much of the infrastructure that is more than comparable with its potential competitors in this segment, such as a plethora of attractive lounges, bars, well laid out entertainment decks and a full theatre. All it really needs is to reduce its passenger capacity to not more than 1800 to 2000, largely by converting one of its decks to provide for more suites – perhaps to include a few grand suites to cater for the really well-heeled , and to convert some of the relatively underutilized areas such as the disco lounge and Dionisio wine lounge into alternative themed restaurant dining venues. The main dining room could also be reduced somewhat in size to also provide space for additional alternative dining options. Also introduce an “anytime dining” option. Provided these alternative dining venues offer a range of relatively upmarket eating experiences, we are sure the Mediterranea would be more than able to compete in this market if restructured along the lines suggested.
Good sized cabin with plenty of storage space. Double sized balcony with two reclining chairs. nice bathroom with state of the art shower! generally well appointed and equipped although the toiletries were minimal and of a standard not befitting a suite class.