IN A NUTSHELL
On a scale of 1 to 5, I would rate:
Cabin and service: 5 Food and service: 1 Itinerary: 4 Ship activities: 2 Entertainment: 3
Overall experience: 3
* The itinerary was wonderful; Egypt was the highlight, and there were many more nice surprises such as Rhodes. * We met some wonderful people on the cruise, and we enjoyed the international crowd. * Because the ship is 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 aren't really bothered by smoke. There are no ashtrays near elevators, which is a good deterrent. * Tea service in the Bellagio buffet restaurant has a good selection of high-quality, whole-leaf teas that they put in a sachet. You also get real porcelain cups, a nice contrast from the plastic mug you usually get at the buffet. As for the food, it was not great, and the desserts were the same every day.
* No more chocolate on your pillows. It's not essential, but a nice touch. * No more bathrobes. Had I known, I would have brought one. * No more toiletries.
* The food: It's the worst food we've ever had on a cruise. I'm sure this will change soon, since everyone was complaining. * There's no real dining option other than the restaurant. They say the buffet is open, but for all 12 nights, there was only a plate of iceberg lettuce, one with radicchio, olives, cold cooked cauliflower and carrots, one type of cold cuts, and one variety of cheese. They also have pizza available until 1 a.m. * Embarkation in ports was a nightmare. I took up to an hour to get back on the ship when we returned from excursions -- especially in Egypt, when seven buses all returned at once. People were upset, yelling and pushing.
In 2004, Costa opened its 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 and watch the harbor activity while waiting for your number to be called. Since most passengers come with Costa transfers from the Nice or Genoa airports, a Costa rep comes onboard the buses and gives everyone a number. The luggage is automatically transferred from the bus to the terminal. Then we proceeded to the terminal, where there are many comfortable seats. The wait to board was a bit long – more than an hour and a half -- but at least it was comfortable. We cleared security fairly rapidly and boarded. Everyone was asked to go to the theater first to hand in their passports. They keep them for Egyptian immigration processing.
Then we went 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 4 p.m., 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 lines.
Overall, the process was very smooth even if it was a bit lengthy.
We had reserved cabin 7401, a category 8 balcony cabin. It was very spacious. It had a three-door wardrobe with two separate hanging closets, and one with shelves with a full length mirror. The vanity has three drawers and a small cabinet unit. There is a small refrigerator and 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, adjustable table that can be used as a dining table or 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! There was no shampoo or lotion. You can get lotion and shower caps on request only. Also, there are no bathrobes available.
Our cabin steward was extremely discreet and polite but very efficient. He did not speak much Italian or French (which is what 80 percent 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/FOOD
We had a table for six 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 6:30 p.m. This was a bit early since we were gone on excursions most days, and didn't return until 5 or 5:30. That didn't leave us enough time to unwind and get ready for dinner. We were always rushed to shower and get down to the dining room. The second sitting was at 8:45 or 9 p.m., depending on the night. Knowing what I know now, I would choose the second sitting just to have more time after returning from excursions.
The food was definitely sub-standard. The menu offered a variety of dishes, but the preparation was not good. Meats were never cooked properly; they were tough and flavorless. The fish was often fishy-tasting. We never once had a baked potato; we mostly had boiled potatoes, and once we had mashed potatoes that were so gluey they had 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 was never to be seen.
On the first night, we asked for dressing for our salad. We were offered four kinds, and asked for blue cheese. The dressing we receive tasted really odd. Every other night, the only dressing available was Thousand Island. This was odd. I must add that the pasta dishes were always tasty, and our server told me that many people ordered two pasta plates as dinner instead of the meat dishes. So I did that a couple times and was happy with 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 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. One night we requested a table at the second sitting and he obliged us gracefully. The service was slightly chaotic on the first two or three nights, and we had to wait more than 45 minutes between our appetizer and soup, but after the first gala dinner, the 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 – a continental breakfast with breads, cold cereals and juice. If you're longing for eggs Benedict, fill up before you leave.
Breakfast in the buffet 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, waffles 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 that 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; the best bet was to find a seat on the mezzanine level, which was usually a bit quieter. The grills by the pools offered hamburgers, hot dogs, fries and lamb chops.
After 2:30, 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 blackcurrant were particularly good. You also get real porcelain cups. The sandwiches were always dried, and the few pastries served were the same everyday. Soft-serve ice cream was available almost all the time, depending on the days; sometimes the machine was on, sometimes it was off.
Naples: We didn't take a ship's excursion as we had been to Naples three 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, just across the street - a five minute walk from the cruise ship terminal. Since it was raining, we took a city tour bus. Then we went to visit the Castel Nuovo. There were 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 and really enjoyed it. All the other tours included a meal in a restaurant, but we had a lunch bag that we picked up as we left the ship. It was not a gastronomical feast, but it allowed us to spend more time at the various sites.
The excursion started with a three-hour bus ride to Cairo. 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 jewelry 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.
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. At this stop, several merchants were selling statuettes, pyramids, brass plates, post cards etc. This is one of the better shopping opportunities - so if you want some souvenirs, get them there. We bought three 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 friends. They 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 between the Kheops and Kephren pyramids, where 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 paintings 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 its magnitude.
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 90 minutes to walk around and take in the sights. This was great.
Then, it was 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 saw 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 sarcophagi, and the colossal statue of Ramses II. Even if there isn't much to see there, it was a nice addition to the trip.
Last stop was the Papyrus Institute. This is the last stop of all tours. They show you how papyrus is made in a five-minute demonstration. Then you have time to shop for papyrus, and you can walk up to the jewelry store, where you can pick up your cartouche and shop for other jewelry. The papyrus items are relatively inexpensive. We didn't think we could or should barter in a shop like this, but I guess you could.
Limassol (Cyprus): We did not book 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. We took the ship's shuttle into town and walked around. We went to the Castle which dates to the 12th c. and served as a prison until 1950. It has a good exhibition of household potteries and ceramics from the 4th-18th century, as well as some weapons and many interesting engraved tombs covers. There is also a rooftop terrace with a great view of the city, and of the ship in port! Other than the castle, there isn't much to see in Limassol.
Rhodes: The Rhodes City Tour was a half-day tour that started with a short drive up to the ancient acropolis. There isn't much left of the temple that once stood there except for three columns. Then we went to the ancient stadium, still in very good shape. After that stop the bus took us to one of the gates 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 well preserved mosaics from the island of Kos, and the restoration work was interesting to see. We walked down the streets of Knights, and the tour ended in the old city, near the port. Then we had an hour to walk around, shop etc. At 12:30, we could go back to the ship with the bus, or stay in town and walk 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.
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 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 tours, stay in Rhodes; it would be a shame to not at least walk through the old city.
Marmaris (Turkey): There were only two choices of excursion here and both see the same sights. The difference is that the full day tour includes lunch at a local fish restaurant. We opted for the 'express tour' in order to have some time in Marmaris for shopping. The excursion was very pleasant. We had an amazing guide, Bekir, from Istanbul. 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 arrived at the archaeological site of Caunos with the Roman Theatre, the Roman Bath and the streets of this city, founded in the 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 2:15 p.m. We could either take the ship shuttle into town, or cabs were waiting there also. We went into town. I was expecting a typical 'Turkish' market, but found an outdoor mall. In fact it's a labyrinth of streets covered with a glass roof, with all kinds of shops selling jewelry, ceramics, leather goods, and clothing. Some are nice, some are shadier. I've never seen so many fake Louis Vuittons and Guccis in my life!! But contrary to what we often see, most of these were really good copies, made of good leather with good finish. You can get purses and shoes at very good prices. They will cut the prices by 75 percent from their original asking price.
Athens: By the time we got to Athens, we were tired, and everyone had a cold... We had to be back on the ship by 4:30, which is early. So we took a half-day tour to the Acropolis and the Archaeological Museum. After touring the main monuments and buildings of the city, we stopped at the Museum. Our guide 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 costumes. 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 it 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,' a sign said. 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 to explore 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, then take your own transport back into town. We were too exhausted, and we got back to the pier at 2 p.m., which didn't give us enough time to go back into the city. The only full day tour is the Acropolis and Cap Sounion.
Katakolon: I didn't have too much expectation for the Olympia and Museum tour, but I was positively surprised. It was a cold but sunny day. We first drove 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 one hour. We saw the temple of Hera, the place where they light the Olympic flame, the stadium, the temple of Zeus, the palestra and gymnasium. We had about 30 minutes free time; then we walked to the museum nearby. We had a guided tour of the museum. We saw the Hermes of Praxiteles and the Nike of Paionios. Then, we returned to the ship, just in time for sail-away at 1:30. 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 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.
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 9:15 in the theatre. Then we quickly proceeded outside the new terminal, and were able to quickly recover our luggage. Buses were waiting, and were clearly identified for the various transfers available. By 10 a.m., our bus was en route to Nice, where we had a one-night post-cruise stay before returning to Montreal!