My husband and I took our first cruise with a couple of good friends on the CostaAtlantica from Ft. Lauderdale. Our embarkation went surprisingly smoothly and quickly. Since 9/11, of course, it was both reassuring and also slightly ominous to see so many members of the military with huge guns at the port in Fort Lauderdale. We had been warned that our luggage would probably arrive late at our cabin because of security concerns, but we got aboard at about 2pm, took a trip around, and our luggage was at the cabin by or before 4pm when we returned.
Upon boarding, I was overwhelmed by the huge atrium and feared for a moment that the ship would be "Las Vegas on the water." We visited our cabin (4208) and were very impressed by how spacious it was compared with our apprehensions that we might feel a sense of claustrophobia. The cabin was very well designed: space was so abundant that we barely filled the closets and left many cabinets totally unused. The cabins are designed to make the most of the space and we never felt cramped. Our friends commented that the shower was significantly larger than those they have experienced on other cruises.
The cabin had loads of very nice wood, which more than compensated for the lurid salmon-colored NaugahydeTM sofa. We loved the private verandah, and the 100% cotton sheets were a great pleasure to me. The verandah was a wonderful place; some people thought that the chairs were not the most comfortable in the world, but we felt that they were just fine.
We spent a couple of hours after pigging out at the Welcome Buffet wandering around the boat. I immediately fell in love with the Caffé Florian, which is an imitation of a famous Venetian coffee house dating from 1720. It is a lovely three-room lounge where classical music is played all the time. I also loved the contrast: you could find Vegas-style glitz, classical quiet, and a sort of quirky tribute to old movie stars in the Papparazzi Lounge. I loved that place and my only complaint is that the wonderful large old photos are not labelled. Who was that woman with David Niven? Who was Kirk Douglas sitting next to? And we found what was to become our preferred night scene: the Piazza Madama Butterfly, a tribute to Puccini's opera. The entertainment there was first-rate.
Remarkably enough, we never felt crowded. I knew that the ship was at near capacity, but it seemed as if we always found a good seat immediately wherever we went. The flow of the crowd seemed remarkably tranquil and I never had the feeling of being overwhelmed by too many people.
I love music and I was happy to see that there was music readily and abundantly available for all tastes. I did NOT spend any evening time at the Dante Disco, which has more contemporary music (hip hop, 80s hits, disc jockey stuff), because I was so devoted to piano lounge singer Kelly Monzallo, and Linda and Cali and The Tringali Trio who performed in the Piazza Madama Butterfly. I spent the late afternoon and early evening listening to the classical music and enjoying coffee drinks in the Caffe Florian; I often would spend an hour or so there before going to bed, unwinding with sounds of the classical pianist and violinist.
This seems to be one of the most hotly debated topics about the Costa line. I was not expecting wonderful food because of reviews I had read, so I was delighted to find that everyone at our table for 8 was perfectly happy with the food. The food was not the kind of gourmet food that you get at a restaurant for $100/per person (I have done that occasionally), but considering the price we paid, we were all very pleased with the range and taste. My only negative observation, and I possibly did not try enough, was that the soups seemed a little insipid, so I just moved on to other kinds of appetizers. Some of the food was truly magnificent; some of it was merely adequate, but in the course of the week, we were always pleased.
Basically I would say that unless you have a highly honed gourmet palate, that you will find the food to your liking. It was far far better than our daily fare at home. For every meal, some entries were highlighted as being low-fat and/or low carbohydrate, and total calorie and fat grams were printed. Every dessert had at least one non-sugar offering for diabetics or dieters. The Tizziano restaurant is dedicated to the painter Titian who is famous for his "Titian red," so we enjoyed seeing the facsimiles of his art work.
The first morning, we stopped at Key West. Instead of signing up for an excursion, we simply took a walk to the Hemingway House and museum, which was our main interest. It also gave us an opportunity to see the streets of Key West. It was a walk of about eight blocks, which was just fine with us, but I also noticed a lot of taxis were available for those who would not want to walk that distance.
In Cozumel, where we signed up for the "unlimited snorkeling" excursion. I would say that if you are an experienced snorkeler, then perhaps you could just take a taxi and find a place to snorkel on your own. Since we had never snorkeled before, we were grateful for the instructions and for the fact that the young men who ran the snorkeling place were extremely attentive and gave extra tips to those who were having some difficulty. We had purchased a snorkeling expedition in the Cayman Islands, but our experience in Cozumel persuaded us that we could go it alone, so Costa cheerfully refunded our excursion money. Indeed, at Grand Cayman we found a delightful place to snorkel for less money by far than the planned excursion.
Pools and Gym
We went up to the Fred and Ginger Deck daily for the aft swimming pool (adults only) and did not even look at the other swimming pools to see if they were overrun with children. We always found that the pool was not overcrowded, and we also found an opportunity to get into the jacuzzi every day when it was vacant.
I did not go to the gym at all, but both my husband and our friends used the treadmills and other equipment and never experienced a wait or a time limitation. They were both very pleased.
I got heavily into some of the activities, especially the trivia games. There were Italian lessons, opportunities to play bridge, and lectures on many sundry topics. I noticed also that there were daily meetings for members of 12-step programs (although I am not in one, so I did not go). There is also a Catholic Mass daily, which was something that one of our tablemates took advantage of.
The library has a collection of books in many languages. I noticed that the English language books tended to be mysteries, thrillers, and romances . . . no Kant or Hegel to be found. I had brought along about eight books of my own, but got through just one of them, and that was primarily on the airplane -- I just did not anticipate how much fun I would have doing all of the activities and shore excursions. The library includes five or six speedy computers and you can use them for 15 minute units for six dollars. I was usually alone there when I checked my email every day. The Internet connection seemed quite speedy, so I was able to get a remarkable amount of email taken care of in 15 minutes.
"People watching" was a high point for me; I loved the diversity of the crowd on the Atlantica. I just wallowed in watching people and hearing the mix of languages: Italian, French, Spanish, English (of the Irish, British and American varieties), and even a little German.
This seemed like a large and lively part of the ship. It was so extensive that nobody had to wait at all. I decided to try my hand at roulette and after my husband and I had won $30.00, we cashed in since we felt that was a pretty good deal. There are more than enough one-armed bandits. There were also tables for blackjack, poker, and craps, and we enjoyed watching some of those games; the slot machines seem rather boring and monotonous. I enjoyed the interactivity of roulette and watching the poker, especially.
Never one to ignore a closed door, I did sneak into the hallway of the quarters where the crew sleeps. I read the bulletin board and was reassured to find that the crew members are represented by a union which provides them with shorter working hours than on many other lines, and with good health care. Sick crew members are returned to their homes free of charge. The bulletins, in several languages, made me feel satisfied that the workers are not oppressed, or at least not too terribly.
Suggestions for Improvement
The opening night show was really rather lame. Cruise director Ray Rouse is a genial man, but he is no David Letterman, despite what he might hope. I think that the first night's show should introduce all the various talented lounge acts and tell the cruisers in what lounges they can be found. The other shows were infinitely superior; unfortunately, after the first show I was the only member of my party who attended the second, which featured the dancers in a delightfully conceptualized and choreographed series of numbers. Then we were all back for the rest. The magician was disappointingly derivative and unoriginal, but that was only one night. So five out of the seven nights provided first rate entertainment in the impressive Enrico Caruso Theatre.
I would recommend the CostaAtlantica highly for lovers of Italian culture, art, music, and film; people who would like to meet or at least look at a diversity of people from many different countries; people who like to find various types of ambience, and not just one attitude or mood; and people who like high energy games and dancing. The ship is so large that there are a lot of quiet little nooks and crannies all over the place where one can be reclusive. The high percentage of private verandahs is a true plus. Our cabin was very quiet and we never heard one single noise from the adjoining cabins. The ship is also very wheelchair friendly, I noticed.
I give especially high kudoes to Sylvia Marinelli, the director of activities and who is hilarious, intelligent, and beautiful, and the people she works with, including but not limited to Rosario, Niccolo, Andy, Marcella. They made the place so "HAPPENING" for me with their antics, which ranged from Keystone Cop routines (well, only once) to sophisticated games, to serious Italian lessons, and to thoughtful conversations about travel and culture.
We had perhaps the best week of our lives for the money spent. We are seasoned land travelers and have visited most of the great cities and spent infinitely more money per week. We just could not believe how much bang we got for our buck!
PHOTOS courtesy of Costa Cruises, Steven Ferry & Douglas Terhune.
For lots more SeaLetter photos and information on CostaAtlantica, click HERE.
Natalie Tyler and her husband both teach 19th century poetry at a large university. Natalie is an avid reader and may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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