7 Night Eastern Caribbean Cruise November 10-17,1996
We were picked up at the house by our travel agent Pam and driven to Newark Airport for our 8:15 Carnival Air Flight #83 to Ft Lauderdale, FL. The plane was a 737 with I don't know how many passengers but you would have had to have used a shoe horn to get even one more person on. The seats were very close together. We arrived at Ft Lauderdale on time and were met by a representative of Costa Cruise Lines and escorted to the bus and to Port Everglades, where the CostaVictoria was awaiting our arrival. There was mass confusion, and it took us about an hour to check in and get on board. Our stateroom was very nice and big for cruise ships, about 10' x 8', which was at least twice the size of the room we had had on our last cruise on the Seaward. The port hole was very big (3 times the size of normal). The bathroom was of fair size, complete with shower. And then there was the TV/radio, hairdryer, a small refrigerator and a built-in safe. At check in, everyone is issued a ship's credit card. Everything purchased on board, with the exception of gambling at the casino, is charged to the card, and at the end of the voyage, is charged to your personal credit card. The ship's credit card is also used as your identification and boarding card.
We took a walk around the ship, and is she BIG. A short description of her: she is 824' long; 105' wide; 75,000 gross tons; passenger capacity of 2,250 (although only 1,950 on this trip) with a crew of 800. The worst part was that she only draws 25 feet of water. (This caused the ship to roll a lot more than it should have; it is about 150' high [14 stories] from the water line, and the least breeze causes her to roll.) The ship has two restaurants, the Sinfonia which seats 600 and the Fantasia which seats 506. Besides those two on Boheme Deck (#5), there is the Bolero Buffet on Rigoletto Deck (#11). For entertainment, there is the Festival Show Lounge on Decks 6 &7 which seats 800, the Rock Star Disco (Deck 6) and the Concorde Plaza on the Carmen Deck (#7) which also houses the Casino, Chapel, Conference Center, Library, Shopping Gallery, Photo Shop and the Capriccio Lounge. All told, this ship has 10 different bars, three swimming pools (two outdoor and one indoor), saunas, a Turkish bath, a gymnasium and an outdoor tennis court.
During this walk around, I took a lot of footage on the camcorder. We had a quick bite at the Pizzeria on Deck 12 (Butterfly Deck) near the two swimming pools on Deck 11. I tried the pizza, but one bite was enough to know that it stunk; I settled for a hamburger. Then it was back to the cabin to get our life jackets and stand by for the Boat Drill. We were assigned to Life Boat #10 at Station D on Deck 6 (Traviata Deck). Then at 1645 hours, we sailed for San Juan.
For dinner, we were assigned to Table 36 in the First Sitting in the Fantasia. At our table were Rocco and Marie from Long Island, Rita and Jean, two Russian-American ladies from New York and the third couple, a dentist, Claude, and his wife Joanne from Quebec City. Alfredo (from Lima, Peru) was our waiter, Mario (from Hungary) was our busboy and Rocco Palumbo was our Head Waiter (Asst. Maitre d'). We received a bottle of wine as a gift from our travel agent. We found out that there was no expresso served at the table for lunch or dinner. I argued with Rocco and also the Head Maitre d' (Cosmo Costanzo), but to no avail. They stated that it was a company policy not to serve the coffee at the table, because it would take too long and disrupt their schedules. Expresso can be purchased at any of the bars after dinner. We finally were able to get it served to us by one of the cocktail waitresses, and two double expressos plus one anisette cost $8.62!!! And the "doubles" were very small -- can't imagine how small the regular (single) expresso would have been. We stopped by the Festival Lounge after dinner to see the "Victoria Fashion Show" which wasn't very good. After the show, we stopped in at the Concorde Plaza and danced to the Magic Sound, a nice four piece Italian group. It had been a long day and we suddenly felt tired, and about 11:30 PM called it a night, and didn't bother trying the midnight buffet.
Nothing much during the AM -- we had breakfast in the dining room, and exercised by walking around the Boat Deck (Deck 6) about 10 times. (Three times is approximately one mile -- we also always used the stairs rather than the elevator: good exercise) We attended a tour information lecture where we received descriptions and information about escorted tours in San Juan and St. Thomas. We tried to book the San Juan Highlight tour but were too late - it was all booked. It was an overcast, breezy day with frequent rain squalls. The ship rolled a lot more than she should have in the moderate sea we were in. An uneventful day. For lunch, besides the appetizers, we had salad, Fettuccine Alfredo and Torta Rustica (an omelet) and ice cream. We met Captain Mario Palombo at the Captain's Welcome on Board Cocktail Party, and also were introduced to the ship's senior officers. (Big party - had one glass of champagne!!) I don't recall what we had for supper but it did include an appetizer, a pasta dish, salad, etc.
After dinner we attended a show in the Festival Lounge, but this time we had to sit in the balcony and discovered that whomever had designed this ship didn't do a very good job. You could only see the stage if you sat in the first balcony row! Anywhere else in the balcony, just forget it. We also discovered that there were no water fountains anywhere on the ship - if you wanted a drink of water, you had to go to a bar. We then went to the Concorde Plaza and danced. The ship was rolling a little harder and some of the passengers were starting to get woozy. Stabilizers don't seem to help at all. Had fun doing the Macarena with the dance floor rolling under us. Checked out the midnight buffet - Pastry buffet tonight. Okay, but nothing to brag about. There was a copy of the Souvenir Journal in our stateroom; we turned the clocks one hour ahead, and noted we were due to dock at San Juan at 4:30 PM.
An uneventful morning; it rained on and off all day. We tied up in San Juan at 3:30 PM. Went ashore and walked through Old San Juan, purchased a few souvenirs and then started back to the ship. (The shopping area is right close to the docks) Cathie thought she had lost her camera and as we were searching the bags for it, she broke one of the "shot" glasses she had bought for Laurie. We found the camera in the bottom of the shopping bag, so we had to buy another "shot" glass. On the way back to the ship, we took a wrong turn (actually Cathie wanted to take a picture of an old church, and that threw me off course) and got slightly lost and went way out of our way. Finally got back after walking around an old fort and the Governor's mansion. Then, after we got back on board the ship, Cathie couldn't find some of the stuff we had bought. After dinner (antipasta, pasta, salad, veal cutlets, etc.), we went ashore again. But this time we didn't get too far before we ran into a heavy downpour, and we were in the open by the piers. Luckily, some guards opened the gates to one of the piers and we, together with about ten others, were able to get under cover until the rain stopped. We then decided to return to the ship. At the dock, Cathie couldn't find her boarding pass and even though I tried to convince the guard that I didn't know her, they still let her back on board. Well, you can't win them all!!
The Tropical Night festivities were rained out and held in the Taverna Lounge on Deck 12 instead - and the midnight buffet was held in the Bolero. We attended both with a nice Scottish couple we had met. They were going to continue on board for the Western Caribbean cruise after we docked at Ft Lauderdale. The buffet left a lot to be desired!!
We sailed for St. Thomas at 1:45 AM and docked there about 6 AM. We lucked out with a nice, partly cloudy day. Our Skyline Drive Tour started about 8:30 AM in a small van taxi. There were taxis of all shapes and sizes. It seemed that every vehicle was a taxi. The island still showed lots of signs of Hurricane Hugo which devastated the islands with up to 215 mph winds, about two years ago. Well, the drive was something. The roads were very narrow and curvy going up the numerous hills and all the way to the top of the volcanic mountain (which is St. Thomas), about 1500 feet above sea level. The view was spectacular. You can see for miles in all directions and all of the Islands in the group, St. John, St. Croix, Tortola and also the British Virgin Islands. Although St. Croix is the largest of our islands, St. Thomas is the most cosmopolitan and has the deepest harbor, and therefore plays host to all the cruise ships. Besides, its Charlotte Amalie is the largest town, as well as being the capital with the Governor's Mansion. The tour also stopped at a former governor's retreat, a beautiful estate known as the St. Peter Great House. The place had been completely restored and the house and gardens are now part of a National Park. We got off the van when it was downtown and walked around the shopping area (a tax free port). Oh yes, I was having problems with David's camcorder - it wouldn't work. I stopped in one of the photo shops and of course it was a minor problem: the battery was dead. And I had just recharged it after we left San Juan! So we got a taxi ($2.50 per head) and returned to the ship, had lunch and went back to Main Street because Cathie wanted to do some more shopping. We were back on board by 4 and the ship sailed for Serena Cay (a private island owned by Costa) at 6 PM.
This evening was Festa Italiana night. Both Cathie and I dressed in Italian colors (Green, White and Red). Off course that night the menu was all written in Italian with everything from Antipasti, Pasta, Main dish, cheese dish, fresh fruit and desert, but NO EXPRESSO was served. Then the show that night in the Festival Lounge featured Richard Ianni, an Italian singer (fair). We were too late to get any seats on the main deck and were up in the balcony where we had to sit on the back of the seats in order to see. Then back to Deck 6 outside of the Fantasia Restaurant where some of the crew were doing Italian face painting, mask making, and demonstrating how to carve vegetables, amongst other things. I had the Italian flag painted on my head (where the hair doesn't grow). Then it was back to the Festival Lounge, where they were having a pizza throwing contest. Cathie volunteered me to be a contestant; I tied for First Place. The show was taped, and the next day it was shown on the ship's TV. A fellow passenger's wife had also taped the whole thing and said she would send me a copy. We also tried to (and finally did) get a copy of the ship's tape. After the contest, we wandered around the various Italian demos, and that was also the theme for the midnight buffet.
About 6 AM we anchored off of Serena Cay, the Dominican Republic. A beautiful, cloudless day. Since there wasn't any rush, we slept late, had a breakfast in the Bolero Buffet and then went ashore. The ship used its lifeboats (catamarans) as tenders to take us ashore. It was the type of tropical beach you see in the movies, with white sand and palm trees. It was all very well laid out with a large dining hut (with four serving lanes, each about fifty feet long and each with its own barbeque), plus two or three dining huts with tables and chairs, a covered dance floor, several bars, toilets and a very well kept beach with plenty of chairs and beach boys to set them up for you. And this was all done without marring the pristine beauty of an unspoiled palm-fringed beach. They even had several souvenir stands, rentals of ski boats and water skiing. Cathie and I went on a "walk-a-tour" along the beach of the Cay for two or three miles, and then back. Then we tried the water -- beautiful, warm (in the 80s), and clean. When I came out, everyone was looking at me. I couldn't figure it out, but told myself that they were just admiring my macho physique. Then the truth came out when Marie, one of our dinner partners, told me that my trunks were all ripped. I quickly put on my shorts.
After a very good lunch we checked out the souvenir shops and I was able to find a pair of trunks and then bartered the price down from $15 to $6 (the ship had informed us that only their credit card would be good on the beach, but the vendors only wanted cash and could not take the cards). I changed back into the trunks and was able to go back into the water. We spent a nice day on the beach and went back on board about 4 PM. That evening, there were both lobster tails and filet mignon on the menu, and since I couldn't make up my mind, I had both. Of course, that was in addition to the regular courses (antipasti, manicotti, cheeses and desserts) of the meal. (Oh yeah, I had pasta at all the lunch and dinners we had on board, and also at the buffets.) The rest of the evening was about normal, with a variety show, and dancing in the Concorde Plaza. The midnight buffet was held in the kitchen. I made arrangements with Cosmo, the Maitre d' for a private tour of the kitchen and also received an invitation for a tour of the bridge.
Enroute to Nassau, we had moderately rough seas, with the ship rolling and pitching slightly and intermittent squalls all day long. Not many deck activities. We toured the bridge, talked with Capt. Palombo ("I know you -- you're the pizza man": everyone had seen me on TV, even the crew) and picked up a few facts about the ship. According to them, it's the safest ship in the world and can come to a complete stop in three (3) ship's lengths (which is extremely good). The bridge is all enclosed (no more open sides); there is a window in the deck of the bridge on each side so the skipper can look straight down along the side of the vessel when docking, and also can see the entire side of the ship. No need for tugs any longer: she has three thrusters forward and two near the stern. Her maximum speed is 23.9 knots and we were presently cruising at 19.8 knots on a heading of 297ø NNE. All in all, a tremendous improvement over the ships I sailed during and after the war.
After the bridge tour, I had my private tour of the galley which is located on Deck #5 between the two dining rooms. Everything is made on board ship with most of the heavy stuff (butchering, bread baking, etc.,) done further down in the ship where the large freezers and refrigerators are. All the ingredients for the day's menu are sent up to the kitchen and prepared there. All of the pastry baking was also prepared and baked in this galley. They do parboil the pasta at the beginning of the dining hours and then reheat it as needed. All the equipment was stainless steel and everything, including the deck, was very clean. Oh yes, they had two very big expresso machines, with large hoppers on top which hold several pounds of coffee beans, which are ground and fed into the machine automatically. According to my guide, they could easily serve expresso to both dining rooms, but of course, the company policy was not to serve expresso at the tables during lunch and dinner. After the tours, we watched a very short cooking demo in the Orpheus lounge - how to make a basic tomato sauce. It could have been longer and they should have more classes.
We attended Mass at 5 PM,and they had not anticipated the turnout. Instead of using the Chapel, which is very small, Mass was held in the Conference Room, which only seats 50. There were at least 200 people attending, with most having to stand out in the passageway, back as far as the elevators. Don Paulo, the Ship's Chaplain apologized, but stated that there wasn't anything he could have done. This could have been handled much better and shows very poor preparation. And he had to say the Mass in three languages: English, Italian and Spanish. That night we attended the show in the Festival, which was fair, but I have to hand it to the dancers who were able to keep on dancing and not lose a step, what with the ship really starting to roll and pitch. After the show, we found seasickness bags placed over all of the railings on the stairwells. The outside decks were closed to passengers and a lot of the passengers were getting sick. We went to the Concorde Plaza where we listened to a contemporary pianist who was having a hard time trying to play, what with a piano which insisted on rolling back and forth. We tried to dance, but finally gave it up and called it a night without waiting for the midnight buffet (found out the next day that only about 100 made the buffet). We had to turn back the clock one hour that night.
The sea was still rough, and it was raining. The captain announced that we would be pulling into Nassau about 11 AM rather than 1 PM, and that we would be leaving earlier. We docked on time and the rain had let up. There were at least ten cruise ships tied up -- Nassau lives off tourism. We had lunch, and then went on an island tour. This time we had a real rickety van (I told the driver that we had a flat, but he told me no, that it was only a BAD tire). Nassau was disappointing and is very dirty. I can see why all those people want to come to the States. We did some last minute shopping and were back on board by 4:30. The ship sailed for Ft Lauderdale at 6. This was the Roman Bacchanal Night and we all put on our sheets: the word was "no sheet - no eat". They had passed out special sheets to all the passengers, but we were prepared, since Cathie had made ours beforehand. Since this was the last night, we also found "the envelopes" in the cabins with the suggestions of how much to tip. We attended the show after dinner, then some did some dancing in the Concorde Plaza, and said our goodbyes. Since we had to pack and put our luggage out before going to bed, we didn't make the last midnight buffet. Also, we had to get up earlier to make our Everglades tour (back in Florida), so we were back in the cabin by about 11.
We docked in Fort Lauderdale early, had an early breakfast, and then went down into the Concorde Plaza for our debarkation and excursion to the Everglades. Since we were going on a tour, we would be getting off before the other passengers. But we all had to wait until Immigration cleared all of the foreign passengers. Our luggage had been picked up during the night ,and we found it waiting on the pier for us. As we were getting off the ship, Department of Agriculture personnel were waiting at the gangway making sure we didn't bring any fruit ashore. We picked up our luggage and carried it off the pier to our waiting buses, without clearing or being stopped by Customs. In fact, I still have our Custom's Clearance card. We started the Everglades tour about 9:30 and even though it was the best tour of the trip, it ended too soon and the bus left us off at the airport at 12:30. Our flight wasn't until 7:45, so we had a very long, boring wait. The flight was overbooked and some didn't make it. But we were on (with a shoe horn again) and it was a very uncomfortable flight back (not due to the weather, but because of the tight seating arrangements). In Newark we found our trusty travel agent there awaiting us, and about midnight we were back home.
In summation, both Cathie and I felt that the trip did not meet our expectations, that we actually had had a better time on our previous tour on the Seaward, Norwegian Cruise Lines. If I remember correctly, everything, including the expresso was included on the Seaward, whereas Costa charged for all the soft drinks. Costa's service was very good, the cabin was much bigger and the staff very friendly, courteous and accommodating, but the food, shows and tours left a lot to be desired. The Victoria, even though she was twice the size of the Seaward, was a much rougher ride and rolled in the slightest breeze. But then, we can't blame Costa for the weather. There were a lot of other things also which showed poor planning, e.g.., space allocation for Mass, no drinking fountains and the poor viewing seats in the Festival lounge, Oh well, we will wait to make any more judgments until after our next cruise, which will be either through the Panama Canal, or to Alaska, on either the Princess or Holland American lines. Oh yes, we each only gained two pounds!!!
Arrivederci and Ciao!!!
of Four Winds Travel Services Inc. in Aurora, Illinois. Thank you, Judy!
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