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Nancy & Joe Binder

Age: 50's

Occupation:postal worker

Number of Cruises: 5

Cruise Line: Costa

Ship: Costa Atlantica

Sailing Date: March 10th, 2002

Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean

This was our 5th cruise but 1st time on Costa. We booked under a Costa Special for people celebrating a milestone wedding anniversary in 2002. This was to celebrate our 30th anniversary. Our previous cruises were: Dawn Princess (Alaska, 7/97), Sea Princess (Panama Canal, 4/99), QE 2 (Transatlantic 10/00), and NCL Sun (Canada/New England 10/01). 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 West Palm Beach Airport around 11 a.m. and the Costa Representatives were waiting for us. There were about 6 other couples on our flight. They accompanied us down to Baggage Claim area and our luggage was off-loaded on a separate carousel. Our luggage was then wheeled out to a bus which was waiting to take us to Port Everglades pier (about a 50 minute ride). It was a full-size air-conditioned bus so there was more than enough room to spread out and put our carry-on luggage on the seats across from us. We arrived at the pier, got in line, and checked in immediately. It was an efficient, orderly process. We were #15 and entered the waiting area to see that no numbers had been called yet. There was adequate sitting and standing room. The boarding process began around 1 p.m. and they moved through the numbers fairly quickly. People with suite accommodations did not have to wait in the line but received priority boarding. Your carry on luggage goes through the airport x-ray machine and each passenger walks through a metal detector. Then the embarkation photos are taken and by 2:30 we were on the ship and being escorted to our cabin.

OUR CABIN - We booked an outside cabin with a Veranda, choosing carefully to avoid one which was obstructed by the lifeboats. We had Cabin # 5249 on the I Clowns deck. It was a nice-sized cabin with a Queen size bed, sofa, lots of storage space and a small veranda with 2 chairs. All our suitcases fit under the bed which helped with storage. The bathroom was a reasonable size with lots of shelves and a good size shower with wonderful water pressure. The hairdryer is located in the top drawer in the vanity area of the cabin (NOT in the bathroom). 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. NOTE: There is one dispenser in the shower which we thought was Shower Gel originally, but is shampoo. We found this out AFTER we bought shampoo at the store downstairs.

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 had many well-designed public rooms which each seemed perfect for its 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 a café in Venice dating back to the 1700’s was beautiful and quite unique as far as the usual cruise ship public rooms go. It featured classical music from Viennese Waltzes to Opera each night. The Madame Butterfly Lounge was also quite beautiful. Each stairwell features Murano glass vases in a display area and there is a separate brochure which details all the artwork on the ship.

ENTERTAINMENT - The main shows were in the Caruso Theatre and the smaller shows or other entertainment was usually in the Corallo Lounge, however there was an incredibly wide variety of music of all kind in each of the lounges each evening. On most nights, those with late seating (8:45 p.m.) had to see the main show BEFORE dinner. Since we prefer to see the show after dinner, we chose early seating (6:15 p.m.). Entertainment was somewhat weak except for Richard Ianni and the Everything Italian production show. We didn’t care for Metamorphosis, the magician, or the first evening’s show featuring a juggler. However, don’t miss the Toga Night show on the final evening. It was WONDERFUL!! And it was so much fun to see the majority of the people dressed in togas at dinner and at the show. Comparisons: NCL wins hands down with the Jean Ann Ryan singers, dancers and shows. We felt they were Broadway quality. Princess comes in 2nd, and Costa 3rd. The QE2 was a Jazz Cruise, so we didn’t get to see their usual offerings.

DINING - 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 to have a table by a window as well as wonderful tablemates (2 couples from Florida). We found the food to be quite good at dinner and our waiters Elman and Mohammad were attentive and efficient. On most nights we ordered the extra pasta dish for the middle of the table to share, and this was always wonderful. HINT: If you ask for Bruschetta on the first evening (not actually available on the first evening), you will get it each night thereafter and it was superb! The menus for lunch didn’t do anything for us 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 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 Tiramisu and all of their cakes which had a very light quality about them. One strange thing—in the dining room, the men were almost always served with their dinner before the women which was the exact opposite of our previous cruising experience.

ALTERNATIVE DINING - Soon after we boarded, saw our cabin, and had lunch in the buffet, we went to the Service Desk and made reservations for Club Atlantica ($23 per person charge, including tip). This is Costa’s specialty gourmet restaurant and we definitely wanted to try it. It is closed on the first day of the cruise as well as Tuesday evening (Puerto Rico), so we made a reservation on Wednesday night so we wouldn’t miss any of the formal or theme nights in the dining room. Dinner is served on Versace china and the food and service were excellent. They also provide a complimentary glass of champagne. Was it worth it? Yes! Would we go back again if we sail on Costa? No. One tiny complaint – For such an elegant dining experience, I would suggest that they serve those little molded butters (shaped like butterflies or such) instead of the usual foil-wrapped pats of butter. And they DO NOT serve coffee after the meal which we felt was very strange. 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 absolutely memorable dining experiences which I would rate above Costa for both value and excellence.

PORTS: We are not really ‘beach’ people or fans of the Caribbean but booked this cruise mostly because of the Anniversary Special that was offered. However, we did enjoy most of the ports. Hint: The shore excursion booklet is in your cabin when you arrive. If you want to book an excursion that has limited capacity, I suggest you book your tours promptly. The tour desk opens right after the lifeboat drill, around 4:30 p.m.

San Juan, Puerto Rico - This port was extremely hot and humid and since we arrived around 3 p.m. and there were limited tours offered, we just walked around on our own. I had my photo taken with 2 parrots for $10. After taking some photos of the fortress and a few interesting buildings, we went into the Wyndam Hotel and Casino to cool off. Then it was quickly back to the ship.

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands - We took the ‘Sea Trekkin’ Excursion to Coral World ($80 per person). As a non-swimmer who wears glasses, I figured this would be my only opportunity to see the kinds of sights that scuba divers and snorkelers see. Only seven people can go under at a time. They give you an orientation lecture and you are required to fill out a form saying that you have no medical conditions which would prohibit you from doing the helmet dive. One by one you climb down a metal ladder (they give you gloves and booties as you’ll be walking on a somewhat rocky ocean floor approx. 11 feet under the water). When you are about shoulder height in the water, they place a large helmet (70 pounds) on your shoulders and you continue down the ladder until you reach the bottom. Air is pumped into the helmet so you can breathe normally, and as I said you can keep your glasses on, and your hair doesn’t even get wet! Amazing! The current knocks you around a bit so you hold onto a waist-high chain around the perimeter of the area that you’ll explore. You can bring an underwater camera, however, it is a bit hard to take photos with one hand as you are clutching on for dear life to the chain with the other hand. A rescue diver and a guide accompany you and if anyone wants to go back up, they can immediately let you do that. The guide will bring various sea creatures over to you to hold in the palm of your gloved hand. And they take your photograph underwater which sells for $10 after the tour (approx. 20-25 minutes). It was a wonderful experience for me, and not all that frightening. After the helmet dive, you were given about a half hour to explore the rest of Coral World which was smaller than I envisioned. If you have been to any large aquarium, then Coral World is nothing to write home about. Afterwards we bought some souvenirs at the Havensight Mall which had some reasonable shops as well as the Columbian Emeralds and the like.

Catalina Island (Costa’s Private Island in the Dominican Republic) - As I mentioned, we are not ‘beach people’ so weren’t expecting much here. However, we were pleasantly surprised. Try to be on one of the first several tenders so that you can get an umbrella (they go fast!) and a good location on the island. We were able to get a spot under a palm tree (plus an umbrella as I burn very easily). There are plenty of lounge chairs for everybody, however, if you wait too long, you’ll have a long trek to the end of the island to find some available beach space. The guys who carry your umbrellas and chairs really work hard and deserve a tip. I saw guys carrying 8 chairs plus an umbrella at one time and then the group didn’t give them a dime! Costa trucks off food and beverages and sets up a lunch buffet under a tent which was a really nice touch. You can make your platter up and then eat back on your lounge chair. The only problem I had was the smoke from the barbeque really irritated my eyes so I was practically blind with tears streaming down my face trying to find my lounge chair. (The smoke isn’t bad in the beach area – only under the food tent.) We spent several lovely hours there and shortly after lunch went back to the ship and into the pool. (The rear pool is for adults only and was very enjoyable.) A note about children: At the other pools I was surprised to see at least 50 children. I was surprised because you really never saw the kids in any area of the ship other than the pool. The children’s program on Costa must have been really well organized and I credit the ship for spelling out the exact rules to parents. No children under 12 could use an elevator without an adult. No running, yelling, etc. And both the children’s program and the parents seemed to have excellent control over their children.

Nassau, the Bahamas - Here we opted for the ship excursion ($47 per person) to the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island. We could have done this cheaper on our own (a taxi plus $25 at Atlantis for the tour), but we don’t really like the hassle of bargaining with taxi drivers etc. and one person on the cruise boards said that the ship’s tour allowed you access to more places. (I’m not sure if that is true or not.) The resort is spectacular and we had a wonderful guide who took us through the dig and the aquarium. We were then free to walk around the resort (except for the pool areas – the pools are just for guests). We decided to splurge and have lunch at the resort’s Lagoon Restaurant (undercover, but outdoors). We knew that food was fairly expensive there and our lunch cost $40 for the 2 of us (1 bowl of conch chowder, a personal pizza, a club sandwich, and a Bahama Mama and a Strawberry Daquiri). Some people on the cruise boards have said you can take a taxi and sneak into the Dig and Aquarium, however, there are guards who check everyone to see if they have a wristband.

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.

ONBOARD ACTIVITIES - We found a pleasant assortment of activities on the Costa Atlantica. There must have been a different Trivia Game each hour, as well as lectures about shopping and shore excursions. There was arts & crafts, food and beauty demonstrations, lifestyle lectures, movies, exercise, karaoke and more.

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 Med, the percentages tend to be reversed.) Some people have complained that the European passengers are rude. We did not find that to be the case at all. In fact, we witnessed more rude behavior from our fellow Americans! Yes, some announcements are made in 5 different languages. The only time that was irritating was during the fire drills when we were already restless after having been lined up in our life vests for over a half hour and then had to endure the entire drill given in 5 languages – however, we can all appreciate the importance of the information. We skipped Bingo since that also were delivered in 5 languages. (The only time I’ve enjoyed Bingo has been on the Princess ships because the British cruise directors have funny sayings for each number and it really adds an element of fun to a fairly boring game.) I overheard some Americans complaining that they encountered other passengers ‘who could only speak a few sentences in broken English’. However, most Americans can’t even speak ONE WORD in another language, so what is the complaint?! The assistant cruise director went from English, to Italian, to French, to German, and to Spanish without blinking an eyelash and sounding infinitely fluent in each language. I was also very impressed with the command of English of several of the European passengers. We felt the mix of passengers added a certain exotic flair to our cruise.

DISEMBARKATION - This was done by color code and each color met in a separate lounge area and then was given the go-ahead to disembark. You then claimed your luggage which was also color-coded. One of our luggage tags had detached so we had to look in a ‘lost luggage’ section, but finally found our missing bag. This was the 2nd time this happened to us on a cruise! So my suggestion is to go down to the front desk and ask for more tags. I would double tag each bag (in different places) that you place outside your cabin for pickup. The buses were then waiting for us according to which airport you were flying out of. We got to the airport around 10 a.m. and our flight didn’t take off until 3:45 so it was a long wait. You can’t check you luggage through until 3 hours prior to your flight, and they didn’t allow you to enter the waiting areas until about 2 hours prior to your flight. We had a decent lunch at the Chili’s Restaurant in the airport, and by then it was time to go to the waiting area.

WHAT MAKES COSTA SPECIAL – We loved the beauty of the Costa Atlantica, her art and variety of music. Toga night was an absolute standout with Italian Night coming in a close second. 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. Later there are booths offering games, face painting and bocce ball. On the last night, the usual parade of Baked Alaskas took place, but everyone agreed that it was the best Baked Alaska that they had ever tasted on a cruise ship.

VERY MINOR COMPLAINTS -

1. Chocolates were only placed on our pillows on the 2 formal nights! I really missed this touch.

2. The cocktail napkins were only about 3” square and one-ply. If even one drop of your drink spilled, or you wanted to wipe your hands, you were out of luck. They also didn’t serve little bowls of snack-mix with their drinks as most of the other cruise lines do.

SPECIFIC INFORMATION FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE SAILING THIS ITINERARY ON THE COSTA ATLANTICA - I for one always like to know every detail before I go on a cruise. Which nights are formal, what is the entertainment, etc. So I thought this might be helpful to some people. First sitting – 6:15 p.m. Second sitting – 8:45 p.m.

Day 1 – Sunday – Dress: Casual - Club Atlantica is Closed – Welcome Aboard Show at 7:30 for 2nd sitting (pre-dinner show) or 9:15 for 1st sitting.

Day 2 – Monday – Dress: Formal (Captain’s Cocktail Party) – Club Atlantica is Open – Metamorphosis Show at 9:30 for 1st sitting and 10:45 for 2nd sitting.

Day 3 – Tuesday – Dress: Casual/Tropical – Club Atlantica is Closed – Evening Movie 1st Sitting 8:15 p.m., 2nd Sitting 10:30 p.m. Tropical party by the pool 10:00 p.m.

Day 4 – Wednesday – Dress: Casual – Club Atlantica is Open (a good night for reservations since you won’t miss a formal night or theme night) – Magic of Boyd – 7:30 for 2nd sitting, 9:15 for 1st sitting.

Day 5 – Thursday – Dress: Semi-Formal (Jacket & Tie for men) OR Italian Colors (Green-Red-White (Optional) – Show featuring singer Rich Ianni (high recommended) at 7:30 for 2nd sitting and 9:15 for 1st sitting – Club Atlantica Open but don’t miss Italian Night in the dining room!

Day 6 – Friday – Dress: Formal – Club Atlantica is Open - “Made in Italy” Show (also recommended) at 7:30 for 2nd sitting and 9:15 for 1st sitting. The grand buffet is also tonight – other nights might feature smaller scale buffets such as a pastry buffet or fruit flambes.

Day 7 – Saturday – Dress: TOGA! (No sheet, no eat!) – Club Atlantica is open, but don’t miss Toga Night and the Baked Alaska in the dining room! – Also don’t miss Roman Bacchanal Show at 10:30 p.m. in the Theater (one show for both sittings).

Hope that covers everything!

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