Costa Cruises Costa Magica & Vincent Finelli Eastern Caribbean January 8, 2006
It was magical to return to Costa Cruises on board the Costa Magica. Even before boarding at Pier 21, we encountered our old friend 2nd Maitre D' Francesco Frasca, who warmly greeted us like long lost relatives. We were happy to see that the Commandant was the personable Captain Giuseppe Russo, with whom we sailed last year on the Costa Atlantica. Then we saw Hotel Manager Walter German, with whom we had also sailed twice on the Costa Mediterranea. How wonderful, we already felt at home. January 8, 2006 was a cold day in Ft. Lauderdale and the tourists were eager to board, and so were we!
EMBARKATION Boarding time is scheduled for 1:00pm. This day we arrived at 1:30pm and avoided long lines, since in that first half hour many of the passengers were already boarded. We went quickly through security and check-in. We then were assisted on board with the wheelchair --- all in twenty minutes. Costa reduces embarkation time by having passengers register their credit cards on board later. Next we headed to the Card Room, Deck 5 Leonardo, to check our dining arrangements. We had been placed in the Costa Smeralda Restaurant which is all the way aft. Hilton Marinos, Supervisor of Wait Staff, graciously transferred us to the Portofino Restaurant midship. Since our stateroom was all the way forward, he understood that with a wheelchair the distance created a problem. This was a big help in cutting the distance during the entire cruise!
SHIP The Costa Magica is the new flagship of Costa Cruises. She was launched November 2004 and has been in service just a bit over one year. She, like all new Costa ships, is a clone of Carnival ships. Costa and Princess have joined the Carnival group and have brought with them a distinct Italian influence. The venerable Fincantieri Shipyards of Italy has built many of these new ships and the Costa Magica bears a brass plaque as the 6087th Fincantieri ship launched.
The Magica, like other recent Costa ships (since 2000) bears the mark of Carnival designer Joseph Farcus. It has classical exterior lines. Yet, it is the interiors that abound in repetitive details based on a specific theme: in this case the figurative and literal magic of Italy. Although built with American influence, the Costa Magica still retains the power of magical Italian Art and scenery.
The Costa Magica is 892 ft. in length; beam is 115 ft.; height at the funnel is 216 ft; her gross tonnage is 105,000 and her maximum speed is 22 knots. There are 1,358 staterooms (her full capacity is 3,470 passengers), crew and staff number 1,023, which is an acceptable ratio of crew to passenger. The Magica is rich in art with 5,652 pieces, of which 360 are originals. Her listed 12 decks are actually thirteen, if one counts Deck 0, all of which are named after famous Italian painters.
Deck 0 Guercino is used for debarkation and also has the Emergency Medical Facility. We visited it since Vincent lost his cane. He was provided with one to use until we purchased another on St. Thomas, USVI. The staff was very helpful and efficient: there was a $20 deposit refunded upon return.
Deck 1 Giorgione is all staterooms.
Deck 2 Tintoretto is all staterooms.
Deck 3 Raffaello is all public areas. Forward is the main level of the Urbino Theater with seats for 1,300: its excellent design (amphitheater style) allows for a sense of intimacy with the performers. It is named for the artistic and cultural city of Urbino in the Italy. It features a cupola with a stunning Murano crystal chandelier. The style is Renaissance, the seating is rich brocade in warm ivory and brandy tones. Midship is the Italia Magica Atrium; continuing toward aft is the Portofino Restaurant, next is the galley, and finally all the way aft is the Costa Smeralda Restaurant with a set of majestic terra-cotta sculpture group "Between Memories and Dreams" by Bruno Lucchi, at the entrance.
Deck 4 Michelangelo forward holds the first balcony of the Urbino Theater. Toward midship is the Photo Area and the second floor of the Portofino Restaurant connected to Deck 3 by a staircase. Going toward aft on portside is the Chapel decorated with murals of "Via Crucis" (The Way of the Cross) by Artist Karl Demetz. Starboard here is the Internet Cafe ($0.50 per minute of use) and portside is the Disco Grado. All the way aft is the balcony of the Costa Smeralda Restaurant.
Deck 5 Leonardo forward is the third tier of the Urbino Theater, and toward midship are the Galleria Shops, L'Aquila Bar and the Salento Grand Bar with its marvelous collection of silver pieces (Pampaloni Argentieri). Next is the Casino Sicilia with the 65 classic Sicilian marionettes (Teatro dei Pupi) displayed in glass cases. These individual pieces have been made by the artist Emanuele Salamanca of Catania, Sicily, with the cooperation of several other artists, who developed the initial idea of Joseph Farcus. These simply wonderful two to three feet tall marionettes have been appropriately located in the Casino Sicilia, since the tradition of the "Teatro dei Pupi" (the Marionette Theatre) evolved mainly in Sicily; even though, this phenomenon of popular culture and tradition has been encountered at different times throughout Europe. The figures depicted here are the characters from the epic works of "Orlando Innamorato" by Boiardo and "Orlando Furioso" by Ariosto, which are based on the French Carolingian "Chansons de Geste" (the Song of Roland). They are magnificent in facial expressions, clothing and armor, with exquisite design and detail. All the way aft is the beautiful Capri Lounge inspired by the grottos of Capri (especially the Grotta Azzurra). The extensive use of marble flooring throughout the public decks makes for easy gliding with a wheelchair.
Deck 6 Caravaggio, Deck 7 Perugino and Deck 8 Veronese are all staterooms.
Deck 9 Giotto forward has staterooms, midship the Maratea Pool, Bellagio Buffet, and aft the Positano Pool with removable cover. Here, by the Maratea Pool are the beautiful bronze sculptures of a bathing lady, and a boy and a girl each seated on dolphins, all by the artist Giovanni Smeraldi. By the Positano Pool is the bronze statue of Poseidon by Bruno Lucchi.
Deck 10 Tiziano forward again is staterooms, then midship is the Palinuro Pool with a long water slide from the deck above. Aft is the balcony of the Bellagio cafe. This is a very nice area for dining.
Deck 11 Tiepolo has a jogging track and the upscale restaurant Club Vicenza, which is a must see and dine opportunity. Its decor is inspired by the famous architect Palladio. On the stairways there is a large bas-relief representing the facade of the Venetian church S. Giorgio Maggiore and on the walls, surrounding the ceiling, there are many and many models of the most famous Palladian villa "La Rotonda" (interesting, but a bit overdone, a la Farcus!). We very much enjoyed dining one evening in this elegant restaurant, especially listening to the beautiful piano music of Vincenzo Silvestris, whose marvelous repertoire included both classic and modern melodies.
This was a night of heavenly music and a feast fit for the gods. The very young Chef Luca Agnorelli dazzled us with the following: Carpaccio of veal with shavings of parmigiano cheese on a bed of wild greens and arugula, trofiette (hand made pasta shaped like cavatelli) in a pesto sauce with tomatoes, a tender and succulent Veal Chop, and for dessert a delicious Tiramisu. The Versace tableware, the impeccable woven cloth linens and the recipes from the famous Belloni & Belloni (B&B) Restaurant made this dinner a special event. The Belloni family from Modena has a long tradition in culinary arts with 5 Star restaurants world wide (even in Las Vegas). We were most aptly served by Rahul Upadhyay and MaryClaire Calimlim.
Deck 12 Mantegna has the tennis and basketball courts and the children's room Squok Club.
This ship is gorgeous in its details and pleasant to the eye. The forward staircases, at each deck, are graced with pairs of bronze sculptures by Giovanni Smeraldi which continue a magical theme and within the murals of floral art by Casagrande and Recalcati there are winged horses (pegasus), fairies and mermaids, so beautiful and ethereal. Much of this art unfortunately goes unnoticed by some of the passengers. There is an abundance of exquisite artwork on the Magica, another floating museum by Costa Crociere.
One of the most apparent faults of this ship design is the location of wheelchair accessible cabins, which makes it more arduous for passengers with limited mobility. The wheelchair accessible staterooms, 10 of them with ocean view and 2 with balcony, are located the farthest possible from the elevators, all the way forward. The only ones near the elevators are 8 inside wheelchair accessible staterooms. This is also true for the Costa Fortuna and all the Carnival Conquest class ships, as we have recently cruised on the Carnival Glory and experienced the same difficulty. On this cruise, since the wind is the strongest at the prow, Vincent could only use the balcony when the ship was in port. We have observed that Royal Caribbean International and Princess lines cleverly cluster wheelchair accessible cabins near the elevators. Moreover, we see on board increasing numbers of passengers with wheelchairs, thus we feel that cruise lines should be more accommodating to the needs of these passengers. Just because people are physically challenged, it does not follow that they don't like to have a window or balcony from which to view the sea. In fact, it seems that, due to their limited mobility, they would spend more time in their cabins and on the balconies enjoying the view and breathing fresh air.
FOOD & SERVICE We are happy to report that food and service were excellent under Hotel Director Walter German. We encountered many back-to-back cruisers, especially Canadians, who were on board for a whole month. We dined each evening in the Portofino Restaurant at table #338 with terrific waiters: Nelson Tiamzon and his assistant Roger. Maitre D' Bartolomeo Vitiello and his Assistant Maitre D' Marcantonio de Candia make sure that all passengers feel special. The two formal meals on board are made unique with blue ribbon tied menus, candles on the table and complimentary champagne served with dessert (to be accurate, not champagne, but Prosecco, an excellent sparkling Italian wine).
Every morning at 7:00am breakfast was delivered to our stateroom: Cappuccino, Hot chocolate, fresh fruit and juice, sweet rolls or full American breakfast. Or, if you prefer, all of this and more is available at the Bellagio Buffet on Deck 9 from 7:00am on until 11:00am and full breakfast served in the Portofino and Costa Smeralda dining rooms continuously from 7:30 until 9:30.
For lunch we usually went to the Costa Smeralda on Deck 3 and saw our friends Asst. Maitre D' Francesco Frasca and Chef Antonio DeLuca and these two made our lunches fun, and were pleasantly served by Waiter Viktor Bankov. We had wonderful meals. Asst. Maitre D' Raffaele Bailo provided music and enjoyment to the diners. These were a truly international group of passengers judging by their response to much of the music and entertainment in the dining rooms.
Each night in the Portofino, we had exquisite meals served with particular attention, starting with the freshly made bread sticks and crunchy crusted rolls. Appetizers included the following: Vitello tonnato, Terrine of gorgonzola cheese, bruschetta, fruit cocktail, shrimp cocktail etc. Soups were quite varied and included: Cream of asparagus, Oxtail, Chicken consomme with egg, etc. Salads were from fresh Belgian Endive, Arugula, Romaine, Iceberg, Watercress, Radicchio, etc.
In the Italian tradition there is a pasta course which included the following: Fusilli with lamb ragout, Linguine Pasta with sea food, Penne a la Norma with smoked Provolone and eggplant, etc. Entrees included: Grilled swordfish, Baked cod, Veal Ossobucco a la Romana, Filet Mignon, Roast Rack of Lamb, Lobster tails, etc. Finally, desserts were excellent and not overly sweet. There were Cannoli, Baba au rum, Italian style cheese cake, fresh fruits, international cheeses, freshly made ice cream and sorbets, pies and cakes. These are all delicious because our old friend Executive Chef Villardo Purificacion has everything running smoothly.
Chef De Luca did a cooking demonstration along with his daughter Emma (Rigatoni with capers, olives, and tomatoes... delicious). Asst. Pastry Chef Susanne Fritz supervised a demonstration of Vincent's favorite dessert "Pastiera Napolitana" (a Neapolitan Cheese cake traditionally made at Easter time). Susanne is great and her desserts are perfectly balanced, not too overly sweet, just right. At the same show Assistant Maitre D' Nello Scala assisted with the preparation of Scallopine a la Marsala and it was tender and delicious.
Finally, Bar service is great under our old friend Sanzio Riccardi, imagine overseeing 11 bars! He does it excellently. The Costa Magica has the two main restaurants, Costa Smeralda and Portofino, the buffet restaurant Bellagio, the upscale Club Vicenza restaurant, eleven bars, a three deck theater, Casino, Library, four pools, a spa/gym, jacuzzi, a jogging track, a chapel, a cyber cafe` and a disco and sundry other venues. Yet, we feel the service and food all over the ship are excellent and the facilities are spotless. The most recent CDC Sanitary Inspection (Dec. 12, 2005) yielded a near perfect score of 99/100.
CABIN Wheelchair Accessible Stateroom #6208 is all the way forward at the prow of the ship, too far from the elevators for those with mobility difficulties. Unfortunately, there are several sister ships of the Magica which have the same problem (Costa Fortuna and Carnival Conquest class ships, the Glory and Liberty). The decor is simple with maple wood, salmon colored ceiling moldings and draperies of woven turquoise and salmon matching fabrics. When entering, straight ahead is the large bath with safety rails and a huge 5'x5' shower and a sink with mirrors and shelving. In the corner there is a single armoire and to the right is a double armoire. There is a lighted vanity/desk with stool, a TV, refrigerator, a coffee table and an upholstered barrel chair. There is a a queen bed and finally a glass wall and door to the balcony. The tiny balcony holds only a set of two chairs and a small table all attached, there is no room for a chaise lounge or recliner chair. This is a warning to all who book these cabins: Do not open the balcony door when the ship is traveling fast or when it is windy. During this cruise we had three high seas days. Two days were at the beginning and one at the end of the cruise. This is something we have not encountered much on our 57 cruises. Our wonderful Cabin Steward was Roger Eulalio, who was a perfect attendant. Thanks!
ENTERTAINMENT Cruise Director Max Bertolotto is smooth and his rendition of "Just A Gigolo" is great. The ship is well designed so that passenger traffic movement flows nicely from the Atrium to the Casino, to the bars, lounges, Grand ballroom and to the Disco. The cruise staff is friendly and conducts many activities including the following: Trivia games, Bingo, dance lessons, Italian lessons, singles parties, fitness classes, ping pong, tennis and volleyball tournaments, Horse Racing, etc. Since Costa is "Cruising Italian Style," most of the entertainment has a distinctly Italian flavor with tenors like Edmondo Rahme and "Roman Nights" and Toga parties. Actually, most nights we caught the early shows, but many other passengers told us the club entertainment was great.
DEBARKATION With the help of the pleasant and courteous Flavia Esposito from the passenger service desk, who has also given us information on the art work aboard, we arranged the wheelchair assistance for debarkation. At 8:00am a crew member came to our cabin and accompanied us through passport control, baggage pick up and custom, all the way to curb side where we met our son with the car. By 9:00am we were on our way home. Excellent.
PORTS OF CALL
Day 1 Ft. Lauderdale boarding 1:00pm, sailing 4:30pm.
Day 2 At Sea
Day 3 San Juan, Puerto Rico Arrive 5:00pm Depart next day 1:30am
Day 4 St. Thomas, USVI Arrive 7:30am Depart 5:00pm
Day 5 Catalina Island, Dominican Rep. Arrive 8:00am Depart 5:00pm La Romana Arrive 6:00pm Depart 11:00pm
Day 6 At Sea
Day 7 Nassau, Bahamas, canceled due to high seas and wind. It is better safe than sorry.
Day 8 Ft. Lauderdale Debarkation 8:00am
CONCLUSION This was our 11th cruise on Costa ships and as usual another great cruise, if we disregard the cabin location and the lack of opportunity to use the balcony. The most positive aspect of this cruise was meeting again so many people among the ship officers and staff whom we had befriended on previous cruises. It is like going back to your own home town, where people recognize you and greet you with a pleasant smile and who are genuinely happy to see you again. It surely made us feel good, as good as any homecoming! That is the main reason why Costa remains among one of our favorite cruise lines, not mentioning Italian cuisine that Costa chefs do so well and the festive atmosphere that is often found throughout the ship. These are the ingredients for a pleasurable cruise. On the other hand, Vincent usually enjoys relaxing on the balcony, which is why we rarely book only an ocean view cabin without balcony, and never an inside cabin. When economically possible, we book a suite, but cruising as frequently as we do, we cannot always afford a suite, thus we try to book early to select the appropriate cabin that fits our taste, needs and pocket.
Due to Vincent's limited mobility, we usually book a wheelchair accessible cabin with balcony near the central elevators of the ship. However, this has not been possible on this ship nor on any other Costa or Carnival ships, since the Costa Atlantica and Mediterranea and their Carnival sisters, the Spirit and Conquest class ships also do not have wheelchair accessible cabins that meet our needs. The Spirit class ships, including the Atlantica and the Mediterranea, do not have any wheelchair accessible cabins with balcony, thus people with limited mobility may have to book either inside or obstructed view cabins. And as for the Magica and the Fortuna, as well as for the Carnival Conquest class ships, the location of the only two wheelchair accessible cabins with balcony is all the way in front of the ship, as we have described earlier in this review. Two of our other favorite cruise lines that do more for the disabled passengers in regard to the location and quality of the wheelchair accessible cabins are Princess and RCI.
Yes, we enjoyed this cruise and we'll cruise on Costa again and again, but on these ships we'll try to book a suite next time. We hope that Joseph Farcus will read our criticism and in designing the new Costa and Carnival ships will be seriously looking at the designs of recent Princess and RCI ships in order to make his ships more user friendly to those with disabilities.
Guess what? We are sailing this Sunday, Jan. 29th, on Carnival Liberty on which we had booked the exact same balcony cabin prior to sailing on the Glory and Magica. Recently, we tried paying for an upgrade to a suite, but the price was too high for this cruise, so we'll be in the same situation as before. Naturally, once on board, the first thing we'll do is to ask the Maitre D' to moved us to the more centrally located Golden Olympian Restaurant rather than dining in the Silver Olympian which is located all the way aft.
One reason to travel several times on the same cruise line is the repeater advantage. Now on Costa Lines we are Costa Club Pearl members which give passengers concrete advantages: Free Champagne in the stateroom, a lovely tropical bouquet of flowers, fresh fruit bowl daily, a free dinner in the upscale specialty restaurant (Club Vicenza) and finally a nice model of the ship. Not bad! Happy Sailing!