This is an account of our trip aboard the CostaVictoria sailing on September 26, 1999 from Genoa, Italy to the Greek Isles and return. We had sailed on the CostaVictoria in February, 1997 in the Caribbean. (See CostaVictoria by Bernard Soltz) It was not our intent to sail again on the Victoria, having chosen the CostaClassica, sailing from Venice for this itinerary. Because of the NATO action in Kosovo that Spring, Costa cancelled the Greek Isles trip for the Classica, moved its ships to Genoa, and redid the itineraries, giving the Victoria substantially the old itinerary of the Classica. When this was announced to the public, we had our travel agent purchase passage on the Victoria. In this report, I discuss changes to the ship, its condition now compared to its almost new state in 1997, the food, service, shows, demographics, and other details of interest. I also review the ports, and tell you a little secret* I learned from speaking to a passenger on another Costa ship.
Flying in one day early proved beneficial. When we checked into the hotel, we were so tired after spending nearly 13 hours travelling and moving through 6 time zones that we went directly to bed and slept for 3 hours before going out. When we boarded the Victoria on Sunday we were fresh and ready for cruising.
Before we arrived at the harbor, we saw the Victoria. It was the biggest presence in the harbor and was visible for miles. Also in port was the CostaRomantica, but we knew the Victoria immediately, having seen the ship many times in the Mediterranean. When we arrived at the Ponte Mille we turned our bags over to the longshoremen for transfer to the ship.
We boarded amidships, in the common area, which looked exactly as it did 2 1/2 years ago. It was clean, bright, and showed no signs of wear. We found our cabin, 80305, clean and ready for us. The beds had been put together in queen-size configuration, and our table assignment, room keys, shipboard credit cards, announcements, an invitation to a cocktail party after dinner, etc., were laid out for us. The cocktail party would prove very interesting -- more on that later. On the way to our cabin, which was the most midship location I was able to book, I noted much wear in the rugs, water stains, signs of patching and replacement; heavy use does take its toll. After we were in our cabin a few minutes, our cabin stewardess introduced herself. She was Magali, from Peru, and, as I learned later, she was related to Fujimori, President of Peru. Magali gave excellent service throughout the cruise, and was always available when called.
Rather than wait for our bags, we went to the "Welcome on Board Buffet." This was much less opulent and varied than I remembered in 1997, but it offered an adequate selection. Our appetites satisfied, we went back to the cabin for our luggage. Of our four bags, one arrived without its combination lock, and one arrived with a combination lock rendered useless. Nothing had been stolen, but Costa had to remove the damaged lock for us. With our clothes stowed, and our stomachs full, we were ready for the Boat Drill. But it was not to be; Costa scheduled the drill for the following day, a most unusual, but welcome, change.
As is our usual practice, we chose early dining. At 7:00 pm we went to the Fantasia Restaurant, which looked the same as it did in 1997: clean, bright, and no sign of wear. Our table, 43, was a table for 10, near the centerline of the ship, where we were joined by 8 very interesting and congenial dinner companions. Six were from California, and 2 from New Jersey. One couple was very young, newly wed and delightful. Our waiter was Miguel from Honduras, who gave excellent service throughout the cruise. Our Assistant Maitre D' was Cosmo from Italy, who was very attentive, and who prepared some special dishes for my wife.
The cocktail party, which our hostess Elda told us was for American passengers, seemed poorly attended. I learned later that there were only 47 Americans (out of 2000+ passengers) on the ship.
Before calling it a night, we managed to take in the end of the show in the Festival Theater. It was too dark to check the condition of the theater, and we had already missed most of the show. Later shows were musical reviews, magicians, and jugglers, and all were blessedly short.
On our previous two Mediterranean cruises, Americans were in the majority, with English the predominant language, and the US dollar was the standard unit of exchange. As you might expect on this cruise, the dominant nationality was Italian. Italian was the primary language on the ship, and all financial transactions were in lire. The following list, though incomplete, lists the breakdown of nationalities by number:
When the Victoria moves to the Caribbean in the Fall, English should once again be the primary language, and financial transactions will be in US dollars. For the benefit of European passengers, dollar amounts will likely be listed in Euros, too. (And look for those lire signs to come down in the Casino!)
What has Changed
One of the first things I checked was the balcony of the Festival Theater. The knock on the Victoria in its first year was the lack of a raised tier in the balcony, which prevented anyone but those in the first row from seeing the stage. This has been corrected, and the sight lines are good. I also walked through the lower level of the theater, and could find no signs of undue wear or seediness. The theater was spotless, as were the rest of the common areas of the ship.
Next, I checked the gym in the spa. The big shortcoming here in 1997 was that anyone of average height using the stepper could bump his head on the ceiling. Nine months ago Costa replaced the stepper with a similar machine manufactured by Chrono Step. The lower axis on this machine appears to have solved the problem. I also used the steam room in the spa several times. The steam output this time was more than adequate, and quite satisfying.
Those opera presentations which I liked so much in the Concorde Plaza are no more. The room is still much used, perhaps to its fullest extent later in the evening when the younger passengers congregate for dance parties. Very lively, and quite noisy!
What has not Changed
In 1997 I rated the food on the CostaVictoria as average, not up to the quality of that on Celebrity, Princess, or Royal Caribbean. To that list of superiors, add Holland-America. The pasta dishes, which were offered at lunch and at dinner, were very good, and the ice cream flavors were superior, but the meat dishes, both beef and veal, were all too tough to eat. At one dinner, everyone at my table left their beef nearly untouched. Chicken dishes were okay, but the fish dishes were either undercooked or overcooked.
* The little secret: In Genoa, an acquaintance who had just debarked from the CostaRomantica asked me about the food on the Victoria. She said that she had not had one good meal during her entire cruise. Sounds like the problem is endemic.
A Good Deal
Zefferino's, perhaps the most expensive restaurant in Genoa, offers a special rate on a fixed menu to CostaVictoria passengers. Since this restaurant is open on Sunday when almost all other restaurants in Genoa are closed, it is a good idea to take advantage of this offer. In fact, I suggest that you go there only if you partake of this offer. Their regular menu is priced for OPEC ministers and Internet millionaires. And when you're there, make sure you check the prices of any extra items-- wine, desserts, etc.,-- you might want to order. In my opinion, 40,000 Lire is too much for a sorbet and a scoop of ice cream.
What I Liked the Most
The best thing Costa has going for it now is the engaging personality of its staff: cruise directors, tour directors, information personnel, and animators, none of whom work for tips. Some of my fondest memories are of the quizzes in the Orpheus Grand Bar, where Veronica was the head animator. I was both amazed and entertained at her rapid-fire announcements in five languages: Italian, German, French, Spanish, and English. She interacted beautifully with everyone of all nationalities. If Costa is to compete successfully in the ever-more-competitive cruise business, the excellence of these personnel is key. (And they should do something about the beef, too!)
Ports of Call
The tour brochure sent with Costa's travel documents presented only a partial listing of all tours offered on this cruise. Here's a complete list of what was offered, and what I chose!
The tour to Pompeii, which would probably have been the most popular tour of this group, was cancelled because of a strike. The trip to Ercolano (Herculaneum) was offered as an alternative. Because I had been to Naples and Capri years ago, my choice was Ercolano. This was a Greek city (later a Roman city) which was destroyed, like Pompeii, by the eruption of Vesuvius. Much walking was involved, so Theresa stayed on the ship. This was a half-day trip, and I recommend it. Those going to Capri got a special bonus: they did not have to be back on the ship by noon because the ship picked them up at Capri on its way to Katakolon.
On either of these tours, you will travel by bus to the ruins of ancient Olympia. Both tours entail a bit of walking over rough ground. I chose tour 841, which I recommend primarily because of the orientation offered in the museum. Olympia is a must-do, if only to see the place where the Olympic flame originates.
Selection of the Thera & Akrotiri tour was a "no brainer" for me. I had learned about Akrotiri from the National Geographic Magazine, and was determined to visit this interesting site. The existence of the city of Akrotiri was not known by anyone until the second half of the twentieth century. A once-flourishing Minoan city, it was destroyed by the great earthquake of 1500 B.C. Seating for both tours is limited, so book early.
There were no organized tours for Mykonos. Just walk around, shop, eat, spend money and take pictures. Start taking pictures early, as the sun goes down fast in the Fall.
I had no idea that these beach tours were going to be available, and was not prepared with beach wear. So, if this is what you want to do, remember to pack a bathing suit. My selection was tour 911, Tour of Rhodes, which, I was assured, required very little walking or climbing, and was something that Theresa could do with me. Rest assured, there was much walking, and lots of stair climbing. So much for the validity of brochures. The Grand Master's Palace, which we visited, was almost modern; it was rebuilt by the Italians in the late 30s, and is not truly authentic, but it is big! (Bring a bathing suit.)
This is a 1-hour bus ride, followed by a strenuous climb up the side of a mountain to see the remains of two 15th Century Greek Orthodox churches. It is not exactly what is advertised in the brochure. I thought we were going to visit the fortifications at the very top of the mountain, but it was not to be. The churches were passing-fair examples of what I had seen in an earlier Black Sea cruise. Go only if this is your thing!
Ship exterior photo courtesy of Costa Cruises. Interior photos courtesy of Bernard Soltz.
Bernard Soltz hails from Philadelphia for part of the year and "snowbirds" in Florida during the winter. He and his wife Theresa are very experienced cruisers and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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