This was our 7th cruise and second time on the Costa Atlantica (which we sailed on in March 2002 through the Eastern Caribbean). Our other previous cruises were: Dawn Princess (Alaska, 7/97), Sea Princess (Panama Canal, 4/99), QE 2 (Transatlantic 10/00), NCL Sun (Canada/New England 10/01), and Carnival Imagination (4-day Caribbean 6/02). At the end of a few topics below, I have made comparisons between the various lines that we have sailed on. It goes without saying that these are simply our opinions. We are by no means experts or gourmands.
EMBARKATION PROCESS - We arrived in Venice after an overnight flight, collected our luggage and checked in at the Costa booth. We were then transported by bus (over land) to the pier. We were in a Suite and so we given priority boarding, bypassing the line and were able to board immediately. Carryon luggage goes through an x-ray machine and each passenger walks through a metal detector. Then the embarkation photos are taken and soon we were on the ship and being escorted to our cabin.
OUR CABIN - We booked a Panorama Suite (#6207) on Amarcord deck. It was a lovely suite with Queen-size bed, sofa, chair and plenty of storage space. We also had a veranda with a table and two wooden chairs. The bathroom was a reasonable size with lots of shelves, twin sinks and a good size shower with wonderful water pressure. In suites, there is an additional ante-room with a lighted make-up mirror, drawer space, a stool and a long marble vanity counter top to place extra toiletry items. (I recently toured the Carnival Legend which is the twin sister to the Costa Atlantica and they have added a small sink in the middle of the counter top which is a wonderful idea.) The hairdryer is located in the top drawer in the vanity area of the ante-room (NOT in the bathroom itself). It is the kind where you must continually apply pressure to the ON button to use it. My husband hated it and said he'd pack our own travel hairdryer next time.
THE SHIP - We thought the ship was absolutely spectacular! I've heard some people say that the decorating is overdone, but we like that glamorous look in a cruise ship. The Costa Atlantica has many well-designed public rooms and each seemed perfect for their purpose. I noticed that the sound-proofing was very well done because as we walked from one room featuring classical music, and walked into the next room with popular music playing, you could not hear what was going on in the next room. The Atrium lobby is just beautiful and features a piano bar in the center. Caffe Florian, which is an exact replica of the cafe in Venice which dates back to the 1700's, was beautiful and quite unique as far as the usual cruise ship public rooms go. It features classical music from Viennese Waltzes to Opera each night. The Corallo Lounge on the first deck was magnificent and the Madame Butterfly Lounge was also quite beautiful. Each stairwell features Murano glass vases in a display area and there is a separate bENTERTAINMENT- The main shows were in the Caruso Theatre and the smaller shows or other entertainment was usually in the Corallo Lounge, however there was a wide variety of music of all kind in each of the lounges each evening. Entertainment was somewhat weak when compared to other cruise ships with the exception of an incredible steel drum band from Trinidad called Island Magic. They performed show tunes and classical music on steel drums and had the whole audience applauding wildly in several standing ovations. Incredibly enough they are self-taught and do not read music. I enjoyed the "Everything Italian" production show. We didn't care for "Metamorphosis", but several people at our table loved the show, so it's just a matter of personal taste. With so many languages spoken onboard, the shows tend to be very visual in nature so that they can be enjoyed by all. Comparisons: NCL wins hands down with the Jean Ann Ryan singers, dancers and shows. We felt they were Broadway quality. Princess comesDINING- We had a table for 6 in the Tiziano Dining Room (the ONLY dining room onboard). This is a lovely 2-level room and we were lucky once again to have a table by a window. The menus for lunch weren't very exciting so we mostly went up to the Botticelli Buffet for breakfast and lunch. They featured a different ethnic specialty at one of the serving stations each day (which was usually very good), as well as the usual fare at the other stations. There were 4 serving stations and plenty of seating, including tables for 2 by the windows and cozy booths. At 4 p.m. the buffet offered afternoon tea (with sandwiches and cakes) or pizza which was a nice touch. I thought their desserts were very good, especially the Tira Misu and all of their cakes which had a very light quality about them.
ALTERNATIVE DINING- Suite passengers get a complimentary dinner in Club Atlantica (normally $23 per person charge, including tip). This is Costa 's specialty gourmet restaurant and we weren't very impressed the first time we ate there in March, but figured it was a freebie so why not? We find the menu to be lacking - very poor choices in our opinion. Dinner is served on Versace china. Would we go back again if we sail on Costa ? No. My view is that the restaurant is overpriced, the menu is poor and service is much too slow. I realize it's supposed to be fine dining, but it was just entirely too slow for our liking and we missed the company of our table companions. Comparisons: Our only comparison is to NCL's Sun which features 9 different restaurants. Most cost between $10 and $15 per person but were SPECTACULAR and we would go back to them again in a heartbeat if we sailed on NCL again. The Teppanyaki bar (Ginza) and East Meets West restaurants and particularly Le Bistro and Adagio were absolutelSAILAWAY FROM VENICE: We were a bit rushed because we had dinner at 7:00, but couldn't miss the sailaway from Venice. (Since our flight arrived late in the afternoon, we didn't get a chance to see Venice prior to boarding the ship.) It was an amazing experience to sail down the Grand Canal, passing Doge's Palace and other familiar sights. As all of us onboard the ship took photograph after photograph, people in Venice along the canal were snapping away too, taking photographs of the ship sailing by.
PORTS: The tour desk opens right after sailaway. The lifeboat drill took place at 4 p.m. on our second day in Bari, Italy. This was a very port intensive cruise. We are used to a few days at sea to recuperate from long days of sightseeing tours. Because of this, we decided to do a few of the ports on our own in a leisurely way.
Bari Italy- We took the 3-hour Bari Panorama Tour (22 Euros per person). (In the Caribbean the onboard currency is American dollars, but in the Mediterranean, it is the Euro. Luckily it is an almost even exchange, so it's very easy to figure out how much you are spending.) A bus took us into the town of Bari and we had an excellent tour guide. The tours are grouped according to language spoken, so we always had English speaking tour guides, while other buses had French, German, Italian, or Spanish speaking tour guides. Our tour concentrated on the famous St. Nicholas church (where we saw 2 weddings in progress) and a short walking tour of the harbor and town. We decided to do the ship's tour in Bari because several websites warned that pickpockets were a problem there. We were amused to see that we had several policemen on motorcycles who followed our group from place to places, as if to warn any potential pickpockets that they better stay away from the tourists.
Katakolon, Greece- A tour of nearby Olympia was offered here, but we had read conflicting information about how worthwhile the trip was, so we opted to just explore the town on our own. Katakolon is a charming little fishing village of about 3 blocks, featuring lots of souvenir shops and harbor-side restaurants. The souvenir shops had pretty good prices. Colorfully wrapped bars of olive-oil soap decorated with plaster-of-paris Greek statues cost about 1.80 Euros.
Volos, Greece (for Meteora)- This is a tour that we debated about for nearly 6 months -- The Meteora Monasteries Between Heaven and Earth Tour (a 9-hour tour of the mountain-top monasteries of Meteora -- a UNESCO World Heritage site, which was featured in the James Bond movie "For Your Eyes Only"). It takes 2 hours to Meteora by bus and we dreaded spending 4 hours of our precious time traveling by bus over dusty roads, however, we are VERY glad that we decided to do this. The sight of these monasteries perched atop mountain pillars was breathtaking. I also worried that I might not be up to the climb, but the bus was able to drive us most of the way up the mountain and then the difficulty of the climb depended on which monastery your bus visited. We visited the Holy Monastery of St. Stephens's which is now a nunnery. That just had a few steps and a slight incline to walk up - manageable for almost anyone. Shoulders must be covered and women must wear long skirts (they will provide you one to borrow if
Pireus, Greece (Athens)- Our Visit to the Acropolis Tour (52 Euros per person) was another highlight. Our tour guide gave us a short lesson in Greek history and then we had time to explore the site on our own. We had planned to go back later and shop in the Plaka, but it was hot (even in October) and we were tired and ready to get back to the ship.
Corfu, Greece- Internet advice said that Corfu Town was very doable on your own, so we just explored and then did a little shopping. Each town we visited offered inexpensive souvenirs and friendly shop owners. We never felt that people were trying to short-change us.
Dubrovnik, Croatia- Yet another wonderful city to explore on your own. This walled city is often called the Jewel of the Adriatic. We walked all around the center of town with its shops, outdoor cafes, and beautiful architecture. Their gelato is every bit as good as in Italy. Indulge yourself! We also took a walk in a residential area which was quite lovely.
Venice, Italy You can buy tickets for the Vaporetto (water bus) which takes you into Venice inside the ship terminal near where you collect your luggage. They also had a wonderful service where for about 5 Euros a bag, they would deliver your larger luggage to your hotel. We only took our carryon luggage on the Vaporetto and our other bags arrived within a few hours at our hotel. We booked 2 extra nights in Venice so that we would have some time to explore this wonderful city after our cruise. What can I say about Venice, except it was a dream! While walking around, you almost feel you have to pinch yourself! Since our time was limited we made a short "must-do" list so that we would use our time wisely but not feel overwhelmed. We spent lots of time in St. Mark's Square and felt the need to visit the REAL Caffe Florian (est. 1720) where we had cappuccino and scones. (About 20 Euros in their outdoor cafe.) We also had Cicheti (bite size snacks) in Cantina Do Mori (said to be the oldest cantina in V
We took the Secret Itineraries Tour of Doge's Palace which was 12.50 Euros, just 3 Euros more than regular admission, and well worth it. It takes you to special places in the palace which are off limits to other visitors, including Cassanova's jail cell. The guide was so interesting, especially in telling the story of Cassanova and his escape from the prison. After the tour is finished, you are free to tour the rest of Doge's palace on your own.
CAMERAS/FILM AND SECURITY - The photographs of our trips are priceless to me so I purchased one of those lead film bags from Travel Smith prior to the cruise. I got the large bag for $49 and felt it was well worth it. In addition to the airport x-ray (of course NEVER place film in your checked luggage as they x-rays are even more powerful), each time you re-boarded the ship in each port, you went through a similar x-ray scanner. Each time I took the film bag in my backpack when we left the ship and upon our return placed our camera and extra film canisters in the bag prior to putting it through the x-ray scanner.
FELLOW PASSENGERS - There have been negative comments on various cruise boards about the passengers on the Costa ships which in the Caribbean are about 75% American and 25% European. In the Mediterranean on our cruise there were only 27 Americans and Canadians with an additional 160+ English speaking guests (the majority from Great Britain, with a few from South Africa and Australia). The largest percentages of passengers were from Italy and Germany (this was a school holiday period in Germany). There were also French and Spanish speaking passengers rounding out the list. (However, each cruise is different and we were told the previous week had 200 Americans on board as well as hundreds of Italian honeymoon couples as this was a very popular time for weddings in Italy!) Some people have complained that the European passengers are rude. We did not find that to be the case at all. Yes, announcements are made in 5 different languages and in the Mediterranean English is the last language spoken in most
DISEMBARKATION - This was done by color code with each color meeting in a separate lounge area and given the go-ahead when to disembark. You then claimed your luggage which was also color-coded. In the past one of our luggage tags has detached (so we had to look in a ‘lost luggage' section which adds to your stress level when disembarking). Since then I go to the front desk and ask for more tags. I then double tag each bag (in different places) that you place outside your cabin for pickup. I covered the Vaporetto tickets and the luggage delivery service above under Venice.
WHAT MAKES Costa SPECIAL - We loved the beauty of the Costa Atlantica, her art and variety of music. On Italian Night in the Tiziano dining room, Italian music starts to play and the waiters and their assistants dance around the room with the lady passengers. Then a conga line forms and everyone dances around the room. On the last night, the usual parade of Baked Alaska took place, with what might be the very best tasting Baked Alaska afloat.