Nancy and Joe Binder
Number of Cruises: 7
Cruise Line: Costa
Ship: Costa Atlantica
Sailing Date: October 13th, 2002
Itinerary: Eastern Mediterranean
Cruise Line: Costa
Sailing Date: October 13th, 2002
Day 1 – Venice, Italy
Day 2 – Bari, Italy
Day 3 – Katakolon, Greece
Day 4 – Volos, Greece
Day 5 – Athens, Greece
Day 6 – Corfu, Greece
Day 7 – Dubrovnik, Croatia
Day 8 – Venice, Italy
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 café 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 brochure you can request 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 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 comes in 2nd, and Carnival and Costa in a tie for 3rd place . 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 once again to have a table by a window as well as wonderful tablemates, especially Frank and Margaret Sullivan from London who felt like long-long friends after a few hours. We found the food to be not as good as in the Caribbean, mainly because the choices were slanted more to European tastes. Our waiter and his assistant, Lope Lira and Teodorico, were attentive and efficient. 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 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. 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. (Someone said this was the European way.) Also, for Mediterranean itineraries there is no iced tea in the buffet, no bagels, and no smoked salmon for breakfast – all of which we did have on the same ship in the Caribbean.
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 absolutely memorable dining experiences which I would rate way above Costa for both value and excellence. We also recently toured the new Carnival Legend which is a twin sister to the Costa Atlantica. Their supper club offers a WONDERFUL menu including Joe’s Stone Crabs and Filet Mignon.
SAILAWAY 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
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. Ships that are docked in Bari for a longer time offer a tour to nearby Alberobello where the famous ‘trulli’ houses feature unique cone-shaped roofs. 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. One of our English friends remarked “I feel rather like the Queen! I could get used to this.”
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 you are not properly dressed). We then visited Varlaam Monastery which had about 148 steps, but well-spaced and not very steep – again manageable for most people in good health. (Our friends were on another bus which visited St. Nicholas monastery and they said that climb was VERY challenging with LOTS of steep steps.) We were shown inside the churches and given some history. When a honeymoon couple stood with their arms around each other, a nun approached and motioned for them to move apart! After the visit we had a wonderful Greek buffet (included in the excursion – at 95 Euros per person) in a restaurant with great views of Meteora, and then settled in for our 2-hour ride back to the ship. It was a very long and tiring day, but well worth it and not to be missed!
Pireus, Greece (Athens)- Our Visit to the Acropolis Tour (52 Euros per person) was another highlight. Our tour guide, Poupi, (who said not to laugh at her name because OUR names in Greece were very funny also) was very informative and amazed us because she was wearing high-heeled shoes and a long beautiful dress! She climbed to the top of the Acropolis with no problem at all while the rest of us in sneakers and walking shoes were treading carefully so as not to trip on the slippery marble steps. She 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 café.) We also had Cicheti (bite size snacks) in Cantina Do Mori (said to be the oldest cantina in Venice, est. 1492!). Try their Prosecco wine which is said to be the best in Venice and then just point to whatever looks interesting. Each portion costs about 1.25 Euros.
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.
We had booked an inexpensive hotel, Pensione Wildner, which we knew had no elevator. It is situated just a few doors from the famous Danieli Hotel which charges $800 per night. We had the same wonderful views of the canal in ourLagoon View room was for $190 per night which included a buffet breakfast daily of cold cereals, breakfast pastries, and cheese. The hotel was clean, with a fairly modern bathroom, but with a musty odor, and of course no screens. (Screens are virtually unknown in most European hotels!) We didn’t anticipate mosquitoes in October, but I guess the stagnant water serves as a breeding ground. My husband got bit up quite badly the first night (they don’t tend to bother me except for buzzing in my ear now and then). The second night we sprayed the curtains, and window jambs with insect repellent (as well as my husband) and that seemed to keep them away. We splurged on a Water Taxi to the airport on our departure from Venice on a rainy morning (about $80). We made a reservation at our hotel and there is a water taxi station directly outside which made it convenient to roll our luggage a few feet and climb aboard.
Small World Story: While in Volos, we detected a Scottish accent and starting to talk to people across the aisle from us in the bus, Sandy and Eileen Lindsay. On our first cruise to Alaska in 1997, we had met a wonderful couple from Scotland, Peter and Morag, who are largely responsible for inspiring the feelings of wanderlust in us. They continue to be dear friends. We made the usual introductions with the Lindsays and since they lived fairly close to Peter and Morag, I mentioned that we had friends living in Scotland. Sandy asked our friends’ names and I thought his jaw would drop to the floor when we said Peter Nall. He and Peter belong to the same club! We had several chats on the ship and since they were also spending 2 nights in Venice, we decided to meet up and ended spending quite a lot of time together in Venice which made it very pleasant for us. Two highlights were (1) sharing a Gondola ride (80 Euros – the gondolier said 100 at first but Eileen told him another gondolier had quoted 80 and he immediately came down in price with no haggling), and (2) a tour of the Grand Canal by Water Taxi at night. This tour operates every day but Sunday at 5:30 p.m. Our tour guide, Denise, a native New Yorker, who came to Venice after falling in love with a Venetian told us all about the various buildings along the Grand Canal and offered us a champagne toast at the end. The water taxi holds about 8 people for this tour. Each hotel has a brochure which offers this tour and various walking tours around Venice. You can book your reservation at your hotel’s front desk.
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 cases. We skipped Bingo since that also was delivered in 5 languages. The cruise director speaks all 5 languages fluently as does the Captain! I was also very impressed with the command of English of several of the European passengers. At times you would encounter other guests in the elevator or in the buffet area and everyone would attempt to communicate in some way either by sign language or a few words that they had picked up in the other’s language. We felt the mix of passengers added a certain exotic flair to our cruise. American passengers will always be seated with other English speaking passengers in the dining room. An English speaking hostess is provided to assist with any problems, or booking excursions. Ours was Renata who was very sweet and did a fine job. There were lots of children on board because of the school holidays, but we were VERY impressed at how well behaved they were. Even small babies were brought into the theatre for the shows and never made a peep. Amazing! Another item that is brought up on the Costa message boards is smoking. Smoking is NOT permitted in the dining room or the theatre. You do see more smoking in the bars and other areas of the ship when compared to an American cruise, but it never seemed to be a problem. There are so many other areas on the ship, that you are sure to find one that is not smoky.
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.
VERY MINOR COMPLAINTS -
1. 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.
2. Food on the Mediterranean cruise isn’t as good (to our tastes) as it was on the Caribbean itinerary. This is because the majority of passengers are European and so you find differences in how things are seasoned and there are different choices on the menu.
3. Air conditioning was practically
non-existent in the Mediterranean! This was NOT a
problem in the Caribbean, but again this is a European
difference. Our new friends from Scotland complained that they had caught
colds on board because of the freezing cold air conditioning. I remarked
“What air conditioning?”. Normally I bring a sweater and evening wraps
because it can be very chilly, but I was uncomfortably warm on several
evenings this time.
It is also interesting to note that a few of the complaints that I had written down on the comment card after our last cruise had been rectified. There is now butter in the shape of flowers in Club Atlantica rather than the foil packets, and chocolates were placed on our pillows EVERY evening (instead of only on formal nights).
SPECIFIC INFORMATION FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE SAILING THIS ITINERARY ON THE COSTA ATLANTICA - I 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 – 7:00 p.m. Second sitting – 9:15 p.m.
Day 1 – Sunday – Venice - Dress: Casual - Shadows Show (Carlo Truzzi and Simona – from Italian and European television) – we didn’t attend this show but some people said it was good. Two shows – 9:30 and 11:30. Club Atlantica closed tonight.
Day 2 – Monday – Bari - Dress: Formal (Gala Cocktail Party 6:15 or 8:30)–Metamorphosis Show at 9:30 for 1st sitting and 11:30 for 2nd sitting. In addition to the Gala Cocktail Party, there were additional separate cocktail parties for (1) people in suites, (2) honeymoon couples or those renewing vows or celebrating a special anniversary (with a free photo posing in front of a wedding cake), (3) American and Canadian guests, (4) repeat passengers (with a free photo with the Captain). On Monday, October 11th all American guests received a complimentary bottle of wine at dinner in honor of Columbus Day!
Day 3 – Tuesday – Katakolon - Dress: Casual –Magic of Erix Logan 1st Sitting 9:15 p.m., 2nd Sitting 11:30 p.m.
Day 4 – Wednesday – Volos - Dress: Casual – Island Magic (Steel Drum Band) FANTASTIC!! It was wonderful to see even the little children enjoying the music (“galloping” in their seats to the Willliam Tell Overture)! 8 p.m. for 2nd sitting and 9:30 for 1st sitting. Also African Night out by the pool at 10:15 (similar to Caribbean nights).
Day 5 – Thursday – Athens - Dress: Casual – Show featuring singer Van Pressley, Jr. of the Platters at 9:15 and 11:30 –
Day 6 – Friday - Corfu – Dress: Formal – “Made in Italy” Show at 9:40
and 11:30. The Magnifico Buffet is also tonight at 12:15 – other nights
might feature smaller scale buffets such as a pastry buffet or fruit
Day 7 – Saturday – Dubrovnik -
Dress: Casual – Atlantica Variety Show at 9:30 and
A word about dress: Anything goes seemed to be the rule here. Some people DIDN’T dress for the formal nights, and other people dressed formally on Casual nights. The Costa brochures and elsewhere on the net said there was only one formal night so I only brought one gown. But the second formal night, I just wore black slacks with a satin dressy blouse and didn’t feel out of place at all.
Hope that covers everything!