My husband, Manny, and I decided to take a cruise in January to escape from winter in Atlanta, GA. We decided on a week long cruise to the Eastern Caribbean aboard the Costa Atlantica. Our decision was based on cost, destination, ship's rating and the length of the cruise. I read the reviews of every cruise we considered before we made our decision. This was not our first cruise.
We always have fun together, so for us our cruise was a riot. The ship was way too Italian for us. Take Italian gaudy decor and multiply it by ten and you have some idea of what I'm talking about but not really until you've seen the photos! Add five foreign languages and a thousand smokers to the mix and you might gather why we feel this was not our most ideal cruise. And that is not to say it wasn't excellent in many ways.
I had not considered that there would be so much smoking, including cigars. I never thought to inquire about the smoking policies. In all fairness there were non-smoking areas, but that makes no difference in a room where half the people are smoking. (Remember being locked in a plane with half the people smoking and the other half gasping for some non-existent fresh air?) The dining room and theater were smoke-free. There was smoking on all outside decks and around all the pools so if was difficult to find a truly smoke-free place. The experience taught me to ask more questions next time.
The quality of the materials in the ships decor was expensive but the harsh colors; red, orange, yellow and gold are not soothing to my soul. The prettiest, calmest lounge was the "Corralle," but we were only allowed in there once because it was booked for most of the week for entertainment for a private tour of about 400 on board. After the cruise, a friend pointed out to me that the mega ships are being decorated more and more like Las Vegas with lots of lights and glitz, and I must say that at least explains it a little.
Although we are fans of open seating, it was not a part of this cruise so Manny and I chose the first dinner seating because we don't enjoy eating late. We requested a table for eight hoping to improve our chances of meeting other people. All our table mates had the same idea and we had that in common from the start. Spending a week eating meals together certainly helps to get to know people. No matter how diverse our lives were we all came to be "family" eventually.
The food aboard ship was what I would describe as "uneven"; some good, some excellent and some ho-hum. It was disappointing that the pasta on board an Italian ship was not exciting and in some cases not even palatable. Most of the pasta was "al dente" which is supposed to mean "to the teeth" or cooked but not soft. Well, actually it was hard and often not chewable at all. Most dishes were fine and as other cruisers have mentioned there was always something acceptable to eat. I personally enjoyed the array of cold soups that appeared each day on our menu. It was so appropriate for cruising the tropics. The desserts, although I tried (unsuccessfully) not to partake, were mostly very good and terribly enticing. On the last night I was forced to choose between Profiterolles (ice cream stuffed cream puffs smothered in chocolate) and Grand Marnier souffle...and I dissolved completely in a total sugar rush and had them both.
We ate a few meals from the assorted buffets in the casual dining area but they were not particularly appealing. Our favorite dining pastime was eating in the dining room. There was open seating in the dining room for breakfast and lunch and we could always get a table by a window and have a leisurely meal served to us by pleasant waiters as we enjoyed the sunny view of the blue and green Caribbean waters.
I must comment on the spectacular "Formal Night" midnight buffet. It was beautifully presented on a table about 60 feet long adorned with chocolate houses, ice sculptures and an awesome array of delicious delicacies. A separate table held bread sculptures of castles, windmills, towers and numerous animals. Although we regretted eating at such a late hour, our dinner table mates had dragged us to see it and the food proved irresistible.
Verbal bulletins were given in five languages; Italian, French, German, Spanish and English. I was charmed by the captain's English..."Ladies and gentlemen, we're now going to docka the shippa. My staffa will help you."
One constant aboard ship was the staff. Crew members came from 39 different countries. Many of the assistant staff persons did not speak sufficient English to communicate and although always polite, would race off to find someone who could understand what we were saying. Our cabin steward was efficient, solicitous and friendly. Our cabin was immaculate at all times and whenever we left we returned to find the bed made or turned down with candy on the pillows, fresh towels and toiletries and everything spiffy clean. In the dining room our wait staff was friendly and efficient. If I raised an eyebrow someone was there asking what I wanted. They always remembered past requests like what drink was preferred or what extras we desired and when we were seated everything was in place for us. (Extra lemon for tea, dried hot peppers for the Italian food.) The dining room service equals the best service in the best restaurants we have frequented. An interesting note: The waiters wear a fresh and different suit of clothes at every meal. That's 21 sparkling clean outfits a seven day cruise.
The stage shows were spectacular and very professional. A pianist and violinist on board performed in the lovely Caffe Florian and were impressive. In most cases the staff spoke Italian more than English and something was missing in the translation of humor. At bingo I could barely understand the caller when he announced the numbers. When he made strange noises with each call I was clueless as to what that meant and why it was supposed to be funny, and I consider myself as having a broad sense of humor. At any rate, if it was humor, most of it sailed right over my head.
Then there was "Toga Night," and to tell the truth, I dreaded it. I thought it would be too "hokey," When we entered our cabins late in the afternoon there were two clean, crisp, folded sheets lying on our bed, two gold (paper) olive branch crowns and an instruction sheet with about twelve different ways to drape a toga, plus encouragement to be inventive. The instructions included a note saying to wear or not wear anything we wanted underneath. We giggled ourselves silly getting all tangled up as we wrapped each other experimenting with toga draping. Even our cabin steward got into the act trying to help. Manny went shirtless, which (every time he moved) left one nipple exposed, but I was a coward and wore a green pants outfit underneath my sheet.
On the way to the dining room, everyone we passed was dressed normally and we began to feel like the man who took off all his clothes before entering the hotel bedroom where everyone yelled, "Surprise! Happy Birthday!" When we walked through the dining room, much to our relief, there were many, many people dressed in togas. And we noticed as the evening wore on that quite a few people had brought their own custom-tailored togas, some in GOLD lame, and all accessorized with jewelry and headdresses! Obviously not first-time cruisers...
After dinner, there was an on-board talent show and to our amazement, the guests were exceptionally talented. Some played instruments and sang and some did comedy routines. It was a most enjoyable evening to have fellow passengers share their talents with us.
Ports of call were the usual melange of stalls and stores all carrying the same wares, (shirts, hats, beach wraps and jewelry) not necessarily made in the Caribbean. But we aren't big on shopping. Our favorite day was spent on the private beach on Catalina Island in the Dominican Republic. A very long boardwalk through the sand enabled us to comfortably stroll the island and was especially helpful for the handicapped. Everything was provided; chairs, umbrellas and dining pavilions. The beach was pristine and a barbecue lunch was served including drinks and dessert. (Like we really needed more food.) The tenders ran every few minutes back and forth to the ship so there was no waiting or frustration. It was one of those perfect days. Floating in the clear, salty, turquoise water on a warm day in January was truly worth the trip. Seeing the fat naked European man change clothes while we ate lunch was not the highlight of the day, but it was worthy of noting.
Before the cruise, on Sunday, January 12, I left Manny on the loading dock with our luggage and parked the car in a huge lot and boarded the Costa Atlantica for a week. Naturally, although I took notes when I left the car, after a week I had no earthly idea where to find it. Fortunately I wasn't the only one, so they have a guy in a little golf cart driving around hauling bewildered people pushing their remote panic alarms until their cars respond. It wasn't exactly fun, but it was silly, time consuming and effective.
As an over-all perspective of the cruise I would say this: The stage entertainment and the musicians were excellent and the cruise staff did an acceptable job entertaining us with their games and contests. The daily newspaper listing all the activities on board and various other information needs to be more organized for a better more easily understood presentation. I also would have liked to have a non-alcoholic tropical drink special offered each day and at a lower price than an alcoholic one. I have no more to say about smoking except that I will definitely consider it in our next cruise decision. The ship was immaculate everywhere and in all ways. No on board illnesses, either. All other criticisms, good and bad, are explained above.