Two weeks after the completion of our cruise on the Voyager of the Seas, my wife and I embarked on the CostaRomantica. This was our third cruise on this ship, including the one for our son's wedding, celebrated on Valentine's Day last year. By now we recognized many officers and crew members by sight, and some of them by name. Moreover, we befriended the Hotel Director, Alfredo Salomoni, who gave us the warmest welcome aboard and made us feel at home throughout the cruise. What a host! We also remembered from previous cruises the head waiter Tobia, who presented some of the cooking demonstrations in Piazza Italia, and the great chef Antonio De Luca, who was responsible for some of the best dishes we ate aboard. Antonio's pastiera, a Neapolitan dessert, was just as exquisite as the one prepared by Camillo Buonincontro on an earlier cruise.
This was another great cruise, even better than our recent one on the Voyager. It is true that the CostaRomantica cannot be compared to the Voyager of the Seas in regard to the grandiosity, modernity, varieties and spaciousness of public areas. The Voyager is great for all of these attributes and the uniqueness of many novelties in naval architecture, such as the Royal Promenade and the ice skating ring. But the CostaRomantica, a seven-year-old, intermediate size ship (54,000 tons), still maintains her sober elegance, inspired by world famous Italian design. Carrara marble and hand-crafted furnishings abound in both public areas and staterooms. She does not glitter with glitzy and sparkling decorations found in contemporary megaships and gigaships, but rather original pieces of artwork and fine artisanship found throughout the ship emanate a feeling of classical beauty and luxury. With all things considered (e.g., service, food, stateroom accommodations, etc.), the CostaRomantica still remains our favorite cruise ship, closely followed by the Grand Princess and Century.
The embarkation was relatively easy, with very little waiting time for all passengers, especially for those who had booked a suite. We had a panoramic suite on Deck 11 (#1119) and in less than half an hour we were on board. We were greeted by two rows of stewards in uniform with white gloves, lined up in the atrium, waiting in turn to pick up the hand luggage and accompany the passengers to their cabins. This is the best welcome aboard that we have seen on any cruise ship: no lost passengers here, looking around to find their cabin. It would have been no problem for us to find our suite, since we are familiar with this ship and on our last cruise on the CostaRomantica we occupied the adjacent stateroom (#1121). However, we feel that this initial greeting of the passengers sets up the atmosphere of pampering and an expectation of great service for the rest of the cruise. We surely enjoyed the pampering received during this cruise and we can attest that the service far exceeded our expectation.
For those not familiar with the CostaRomantica, there are only ten suites with balconies on this ship, but there are eighteen spacious mini-suites (340 sq. ft.) and six full suites with huge panoramic windows, with floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall glass panes. They offer plenty of light and an expansive view. We have been spoiled with the balconies on other cruises, especially in the Sky Suite of the Century with a large veranda (142 sq.ft.) which we used extensively, since in August/September last year, we encountered the best weather both in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean during our European cruise. This time, however, we did not miss the balcony too much, since the weather was not the best for outside air and the view was still spectacular from the three panoramic windows in our suite. In addition, our stateroom was located on the pool deck, only a few steps to open air. Furthermore, the spaciousness and the elegance of this suite more than compensated us for not having a balcony.
The cabin is luxuriously appointed with fine furnishings, especially the bathroom, with its gray and shrimp colored marble walls and floor, double sinks, jacuzzi tub and separate glassed shower stall. The only improvement which can be made to this bathroom would be the installation of clothes hooks on the door: a minor addition for the comfort of the passenger. I hope that the Costa management listens to our criticism and makes the suggested improvements in the new ship, CostaAtlantica.
The CostaRomantica is an intermediate-size ship built in 1993 by the Fincantieri shipyards in Montefalcone, Italy. The shape is definitely modern with an accent of classical motifs, such as the multitude of portholes, not usually found on contemporary cruise ships. All the staterooms, with the exception of the suites, are located on the lower decks (4 to 7), while the public areas are on Decks 8 through 14 (13) and the suites are on Decks 10 and 11. This ship has good flow, with the activity center, Piazza Italia, on Deck 8 located midships between the L'Opera Theater, forward, and the Botticelli Restaurant, aft. The only blemish in this flow is found on the 10th deck, where it is not possible to go from the forward elevators to the Giardino Buffet or to the Terrazzo Cafe without going up or down one deck and walking toward the rear of the ship to the aft elevators or stairways to go back to Deck 10.
In the aft section of Deck 9 are located a medium-size casino and the beautiful Tango Ballroom, surrounded on three sides by windows. In the forward section there is the upper level of L'Opera Theater. Linking the forward and aft sections is Via Condotti, where are located the photo gallery, pizza parlor, ice cream cart and the duty free gift shops, displaying the usual merchandise found on board every other cruise ship. I think frequent cruisers, such as my wife, would prefer a greater variety of merchandise varying from ship to ship and reflecting the characteristics of the cruise itinerary and the ship's nationality.
The crew was one of the friendliest encountered by us on any cruise ship. We had met many of them on previous cruises and we were pleasantly surprised to be recognized by most of them, who greeted us with a warm "welcome back on the Romantica." It was like coming home again. We were pleased to see again Hotel Director Alfredo Salomoni, Captain Aldo Buongarzone, Chef Antonio De Luca, restaurant staff Marco and Tobia, cruise staff Antonello and many others who made this cruise even better than our previous ones. Many of them remembered our son's wedding on board, on Valentine's Day, a year ago and approached us to ask about Marcello and his sweetheart wife Paige. We are also thankful to our butler Frano, who was new on board, but was very efficient and eager to please us. He filled daily the fresh fruit basket with whatever fruits we preferred and served our morning breakfast genially and punctually. There was good service overall throughout the ship, but the most important aspect is the festive atmosphere which the staff continuously created with such activities as the cooking show, pizza throwing contest, the daily trivia quiz, the pool side games and dancing, and, most of all, the Festa Italiana and Toga Party. That's cruising "Italian Style."
We ate most of our breakfasts in the cabin with the exception of one which we had at the Terrazzo Café and another, the day of debarkation, in the Botticelli restaurant. The breakfast in the room was limited to coffee, tea, juices, cereals, pastries, milk, fruits and marmalades, while at the Terrazzo and in the restaurant, there was a greater variety, including fresh eggs cooked in any styles, pancakes, ham, sausages, etc. The quality was good but not excellent.
We had lunches and dinners in the Botticelli. The food was good to excellent, with ample choices on the menu to satisfy almost everyone, although there is always someone who will be hard to please. (But then, what's new?) We found some of our favorite dishes, especially Italian ones, including some pasta, veal and seafood dishes. A delicious dish was the fettuccine all' aragosta (pasta with lobster). This is an Italian ship, with Italian chefs, thus Italian cuisine is what they do best. They also bake delicious bread and bread sticks, pastries and desserts, such as the pastiera, the petit fours and an anniversary cake specially made for us.
The main shows presented at L'Opera theater were of the typical cruise fare except for the Italo-American tenor Richard Ianni, who enchanted us and the whole audience with his spectacular voice and a popular repertoire. His rapport with the audience was genuinely warm. We had heard him on the CostaVictoria three years ago, when he apologized for having a sore throat. Yet we thought he was good. However, this time he was in good health and he blew us away with his range and fullness of voice. Needless to say, he got a standing ovation and several curtain calls. Other musicians who entertained in Piazza Italia or at pool side were only from fair to good, but the "Strollers," a duo with accordion and violin, who frequently strolled through the dining room, were less than good, sometimes bordering on cacophony. These two players were not the same as the duo, "The Sensational Strollers," who played at our son's wedding a year ago. The names are similar, but the quality was definitely different.
Ports of Call
We previously have cruised in the Eastern Caribbean on the CostaRomantica and on other ships. The ports of call for this ship are the usual San Juan, St. Thomas, the Costa private resort, Catalina Island, and Nassau. Critiques on these ports can be easily found in other reviews, thus I am refraining from any further comments. One comment I would like to make is on the time of arrival of the ship in San Juan, at 8:00 PM, which, I believe, is too late for any sightseeing visit to this interesting city. We have sailed into San Juan at dawn on other ships, and it was a beautiful sight, with two Spanish castles at each side of the port entrance. I made a suggestion to Costa in a 1998 cruise review on how to modify the itinerary to allow an earlier arrival into San Juan, but my suggestion was not implemented. I had suggested changing the sequence of the ports of call -- making Nassau the first port visited and San Juan the last. This change would also give the passengers a much needed last day at sea for relaxation and preparation for the next day's debarkation.
Costa uses the same system of color-coded luggage used by other cruise lines to determine the sequence of debarkation. The system works well and the operation went relatively smoothly. After a good breakfast in the main dining room, we were on terra ferma by 8:30 AM, relaxed and happy after a great week at sea.
Cruising has become our favorite vacation and cruise planning, along with visiting web sites related to cruising, is one of my preferred pastimes. I am beginning to feel like a seasoned cruiser, because I am becoming familiar enough with many cruise ships so as to identify them from a significant distance by the shape, color, smokestack and other unique features. When cruising the Eastern or Western Caribbean, the chance of sighting other cruise ships at sea, approaching or departing from a port, docked at piers or anchored in the bays, is quite frequent. A few times I was very pleased with myself for having correctly identified a ship appearing on the horizon as a faint outline.
On Jan. 3rd in the afternoon, seated on the balcony of the Voyager, I spotted a ship approaching from the rear; as soon as a spoiler-like feature was visible at the stern of the ship, I realized that I was seeing the Grand Princess. And on Jan. 26th from my cabin window on the CostaRomantica, while docked at St. Thomas, I was admiring the approach of a long, low and slender ship, with the classic shape of the old liners. I was definitely admiring the Norway which then anchored in the bay, a couple miles from us.
Other ships encountered on this cruise were the Grandeur of the Seas, the Westerdam and the Paradise in San Juan; the Sun Princess, the Grand Princess, the Norway and again the Grandeur of the Seas in St. Thomas, and the Disney Magic in Nassau. There were other ships docked in Nassau, but they were not visible from our cabin since the view was blocked by the Disney Magic.
We had another great cruise on the CostaRomantica. She still remains our favorite ship. Undoubtedly we'll be cruising on her again, maybe in the Mediterranean. But first we would like to book a cruise to Alaska either on Princess or with Holland America Line. Then we would like to try another newer ship, maybe CostaAtlantica or Celebrity's Millennium. Maybe we are ready for a world cruise. It's only a matter of time and money. Happy Cruising!
Vincent & Mary Finelli have written many reviews for the SeaLetter and may be reached at: email@example.com.
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