South America Cruise
This is a cruise up the coast of Brazil designed for Brazilians but we found it quite enjoyable as Americans. We were 2 of 60 Americans on board. The other 58 were with a corporate group that kept to themselves. Not knowing Portuguese and only a little French and Spanish, we anticipated difficulty but were delighted at Costa's surprisingly good logistics - in six languages. Resourceful tour guide Angela and our lovely hostess Patricia were informed and attentive, close all the time on shore excursions for a quick translation in English or to point out something interesting. This was Patricia's first time hosting an English-speaking group (she usually hosts Germans or Italians) and she did a wonderful job.
This particular week after Carnival was, unknown to us, "Fitness Week." At least 1000 of the 2000 passengers were in rather awesome shape, making poolside people-watching an unusually attractive pastime.
Costa Victoria parties into the night, every night, as she cruises Brazil each February. Carnival Week was especially hard on the crew, as Brazilian teenagers spray-painted cabins, broke into storage lockers, ran down hallways late at night, often did not tip, and drank illegally from booze they smuggled on board. This week, they merely ran down hallways and yelled a lot (bring earplugs). We were on deck 9 and it was pretty quiet except for two nights. If noise becomes a problem, demand the information desk gives you a second room in which to sleep. If the ship is not full, they will accommodate your request.
Costa Victoria is almost 10 years old but in the last year she's undergone some changes. There is a new captain and cruise director. Balconies were added to two floors of formerly porthole rooms. The best improvement? The food is *remarkably* better than late 2003 when we sailed her to Egypt. Each night we found cheeses or bruschetta waiting for us on the table. The seafood was excellent, especially the scallop and mussel salad. When we asked the waiter, a charming Filipino named Jay, why the food was so much better, he said, smiling, "The Victoria has had many changes. You know, we have added balconies in the last year." And with that, he left us wondering if this was a translation problem or he was just kidding! Note: the new balcony rooms are nice but you may want to get the exact same room, without balcony, for much less.
Getting There and Back: Costa offers no transport to the port at Santos from the airport at Sao Paulo because, frankly, too few foreigners buy this great cruise. We took a taxi for $78 each way for the 75-minute trip. Embarkation, usually 15 minutes or less in other Costa ports, was a sweltering 90 minutes. Get to the port as soon as you can before 2pm to secure a good place in line. You'll need to arrange for early disembarkation (red luggage tags) for any flights prior to 1pm. Using another cab, we got to the airport a harrowing 45 minutes before the flight and barely made it thru security and on the plane.
Use Common Sense:Although crimes against tourists are few and tourist police are everywhere, use common sense in Brazilian ports. With the exception of Buzios, which is pretty much like Key West and very safe, leave your bling-bling (jewelry) in the cabin, along with your NASCAR tank top and your Budweiser hat. Carry money, your room key, your Costa card, and your passport in a pants pocket, preferably zippered.
Overall, spending a week on the Costa Victoria is an easy, fun way to see Brazil with reasonably sized cabins and lots to do. For true pampering, choose another line like Princess or Celebrity. But for getting around inexpensively and comfortably to exotic places, Costa is the best.
Hello to Mohammed and Rita from Switzerland, Charlie from England, and our waiters Jay and Frances!
Photos courtesy of Costa Cruises
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George Smart and Eleanor Stell are consultants and speakers, have been on more than 20 cruises so far and can be reached for questions or comment at: firstname.lastname@example.org. For their other cruise reviews, see: www.strategicdevelopment.com/travel .
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