The sleek and sassy Costa Mediterranea is the second new ship to join Costa's fleet under the ownership of Carnival Corporation. The ship, like sister ship Costa Atlantica, makes a leap into the 21st century with a remarkably high percentage of verandah cabins. It's a most welcome addition, as well as a giant step forward for Costa, considering that prior ships offered a mere handful of balcony cabins, or none at all.
There's absolutely nothing ordinary or understated about Costa Mediterranea's decor. At first, the eye-popping ornamentation, designed by Carnival's super-talented Joe Farcus, is overwhelming. Farcus has outdone himself with incredibly inventive designs that reinvent details from 17th and 18th-century Italian palazzi (palaces). It makes you wonder if those palaces really looked that magnifico when they, too, were brand new. There's so much to look at that, in Farcus' words, passengers enjoy "a constant discovery process on board" though you may, in fact, feel like you're cruising inside a traveling theme park. Along with the theme park fun, however, goes a degree of regimentation-particularly with the assigned, two-seating system in the dining room. All in all, there are fewer mealtime alternatives than found on other large-ship lines, such as Princess, that have adopted free-choice dining.
Where Costa Mediterranea stands out from the pack is in its Italian exuberance, the hallmark of "Cruising Italian Style." The staff greets you with "buon giorno." The entertainment is full of gusto-though napkin-waving waiters dancing on the dinner tables isn't everyone's cup-of-espresso. In a nutshell, this ship is a terrific choice if you want to experience cruising with a definite European flavor and still enjoy all the expected comforts and amenities of an American-geared mega-ship.
Another area where this ship stands out is that it will become the first in the fleet -- aside from Costa Concordia and Costa Serena, Costa's newest -- to receive the addition of the line's interesting new spa accommodation concept. Beginning with cruises in April 2008, 44 existing staterooms on Costa Mediterranea will have been transformed into spa cabins. Though these are priced higher than the identically-sized balcony cabins, passengers are paying for extra services -- like three free spa treatments, complimentary fitness and meditation classes, and access to the ship's spa restaurant. And even though the balcony cabins are largely identical to those that don't get the spa treatment, they'll be outfitted with a few specialty items, such as aromatherapy diffusers and a mini bar loaded with healthy drinks and snacks.
The Restaurant degli Argentieri, based on a splendid 18th-century palazzo, is split into two levels and is the ship's main dining venue. It is a visually exciting space lit by fun glass globes that look like escaped balloons hanging from the ceiling. Dozens of fine silver goblets are displayed in little nooks throughout the room.
The restaurant works on an assigned, two seating basis and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (6:15 p.m. and 8:45 or 9 p.m. on formal nights). The late seating is geared to European dining customs and is quite late for many Americans. We, in fact, were usually just leaving the table at 10:45 p.m. And that did not even include time for coffee, which Italians customarily drink at a bar rather than at the dinner table. You can, of course, order regular coffee in the restaurant, but not cappuccino (a breakfast drink in Italy) or espresso. For these, you must go to a bar.
Dinner menus play up the Italian theme, with a different region of Italy highlighted each night. A tasty pasta course is always offered before the entree. Costa's "Salute e Benessere" ("health and well being") menus offer low-fat, low-carbohydrate options. Vegetarian selections are always available as well and are listed on the regular menu. The wine list is reasonably priced (many bottles around $24) with a predominance of Italian wines.
At night, the elegant Club Medusa (Decks 10 and 11) is the ship's alternative restaurant. A very cool glass stairway leads up to the Club from Deck 9. We found the appetizers, in particular, to be superb (try the grilled sea scallops or shrimp pie). There is a $23 per person cover charge and reservations are required. After dinner, the Club's balcony level transforms into a cigar bar that's open to everyone.
Caveat: If you want a fine dining experience at Club Medusa, don't accept the back table by the galley and tucked under the stairs. We did, though the restaurant remained half empty all evening with plenty of better seats going vacant.
During regular mealtimes, the sprawling Perla del Lago Restaurant on Deck 9 serves uninspired buffet fare. The numerous stations offer different dishes, so it pays to explore. The pizzeria, for example, is a separate station near the rear of the buffet area. While soft ice cream machines are scattered throughout, different ones are switched on at different times.
Though the ship offers round-the-clock food service, off-hour choices are slim. The 24-hour room service menu lists a few soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts. All passengers may order espresso or cappuccino with their continental breakfast, a nice touch. Only suite passengers may order off the full restaurant menus for complete in-suite dining, including hot dishes for breakfast.
Costa is one of the few cruise lines to still offer a midnight buffet. The location changes nightly and may be served up as a tropical deck party, a galley visit, or an extravaganza in the dining room.
Though tied together by the palazzo theme, each of the public rooms has a completely different feel. The cupid-adorned Piazza Casanova, for example, was based on a ballroom in a Venetian palace. It has a lovely fountain and good dance floor. The Asian-accented Roero Bar and Oriental Lounge were inspired by the Roero Di Guarene Palace (and look anything but Italian -- the servers wear oriental outfits, and the display cases show off artifacts from four ancient Chinese Dynasties).
The Giardino Isolabella Bar is particularly delightful. This cozy room is a veritable undersea grotto hidden away in a most unlikely location -- directly beneath the three-tier Osiris Theater.
The atrium bar, Maschera d'Argento, is the hotspot for passenger profiling. It's even better for art spotting, a highlight of this ship. Three walls soar ten decks upward, creating one gigantic work of art-a fabulous array of floating, larger-than-life dancing figures. The fourth wall has three glass elevators, so as you move, the dance takes place. There are also fantastic Murano glass accents everywhere, including dozens of jellyfish wall lamps with flowing tendrils. It sounds bizarre, but it works. Best of all, you'll see something totally new every time you step into a room.
It's worth climbing the stairways, too. We loved the whimsical pottery in the cases at each landing.
Art aside, Costa Mediterranea has all the usual public areas and then some. There's a real chapel (services are offered regularly) with lovely stained glass windows. A small, combination library/Internet cafe next to the Oriental Lounge has nine computer stations. Internet access costs 50 cents per minute and, as is usual on a cruise ship, can be frustratingly slow. The Grand Canal Casino sees lots of action whenever it's open. For shoppers, there are two stores selling logo wear, jewelry, watches, olive oil, pasta, duty-free cigarettes and liquor. Prices on Caribbean cruises are in US dollars. They're in Euros for European itineraries.
Caveat: Finding the public restrooms is tricky (and identifying men's from women's a challenge). A hint: Red lips are for women, mustaches are for men.
There are no self-service launderettes or ironing rooms.
Of Costa Mediterranea's 1,057 cabins, 678 have balconies. Standard outside and verandah staterooms (210 square feet) feature a dressing table with an efficient hair dryer hooked up in the drawer, TV, and a bed that can be converted from queen to two twins. Many cabins, including 71 of the 212 inside cabins (160 square feet) have a third and fourth bed that pull down from the ceiling. Closet and drawer space is ample for a seven-day cruise. There are outlets for American electrical plugs, though they aren't always clearly marked. All cabins have a mini-bar and easy-to-use safe.
Bathrooms are compact with showers only. Shampoo (no conditioner) and lotion are provided. The balconies have mesh chairs that don't recline plus a table. The privacy partition between each verandah extends a few inches beyond the rail, so you can't peek around to the next room (which is a good thing!). There are eight disability-equipped rooms that span several categories.
The ship's 58 suites are especially attractive, with charming details like the Murano glass table lamps that everyone wanted to take home. (They're bolted in place.) The suites come in three categories, ranging in size from 352 to 650 square feet (including verandah). The smallest is called a "Suite." The next category up is a "Panorama Suite," which features a larger sitting area. The "Grand Suite" has separate living and sleeping areas. The ones in the aft corners have nifty wrap around balcony space. All suites have good-sized granite tiled bathrooms with Jacuzzi tubs and double sinks. The balconies have teak furnishings, including lounge chairs. Passengers in these quarters get a variety of special services -- VIP check-in and early disembarkation, butler service, sparkling wine, full-course in-suite dining, a complimentary meal at Club Medusa, plus such added amenities as terry robes, slippers and a daily fruit basket.
Costa's guidelines suggest $3 each for the cabin steward and waiter, $1.50 for the assistant waiter and $1 for the head waiter/maitre'd. All tips are per person, per day and are automatically billed to your account unless you ask Guest Relations to alter the amount. Cocktails and wine have an immediate 15 percent gratuity added during Caribbean cruises and a 10 percent gratuity on European voyages. Spa and beauty salon services also have a 15 percent tip added "for your convenience."
|Fitness and Recreation|
The ship has three separate pool areas on Deck 9. The two central pools each have one, usually busy, whirlpool. One pool has a retractable magrodome roof for use in all kinds of weather. The smaller Apollo pool, all the way aft, is away from the crowds and has a bar and a third whirlpool. There is a neat waterslide up top on Deck 11, but it was only open a couple of hours during our entire cruise.
Costa Mediterranea's fitness facility and spa are combined on two decks. The Olympia Gym has an impressive array of state-of-the-art workout machines. They work two ways. You can establish your settings manually -- or sign up for a "key card" (and fitness consultation for an extra charge of $20); the key is pre-set so you are computer-guided throughout your workouts.
The area is tiered, so everyone has a sea view. Fun features include a forward-view whirlpool and separate men's and women's steam rooms, saunas and shower cabinets with multiple heads. The Ischia Spa, operated by Steiner, offers the usual menu of treatments such as Swedish massage ($99 for 50 minutes).
There is a small jogging track on the top deck above the gym, along with a netted basketball/volleyball area.
Caveat: Some fitness classes -- yoga, Pilates, kickboxing-have a $10 fee per session.
Costa's children's facilities are known as the "Squok Club," the name of a cute, friendly shark. Kid's activities are available year-round on both European and Caribbean itineraries. Offerings vary between the two regions, with programs on Caribbean sailings geared more toward Americans.
Depending on the number of children and teens on board, activities in the Caribbean are aimed at three age groups: Mini for 3-6 year olds, Maxi for 7-12 and Teen for 13-17. There are four full-time youth counselors (more for holiday trips). The two formal nights are "Parents Nights Out," and kids are treated to a buffet or pizza party while parents dine on their own. There is no extra charge.
Group baby-sitting is available for kids ages 3 (as long as they're beyond diapers) and up. It is offered by advance request and costs $10 per hour.
On Caribbean sailings, Americans are in the majority. Our cruise was roughly one-third European with passengers mainly from Italy, France and England.
During Costa Mediterranea's European season, the situation is reversed with primarily European passengers and 5 to 20 percent Americans. Americans will get a real European experience on board.
Announcements and daily newsletters are offered in a variety of languages -- a mixed blessing during the ritual emergency drill and on other occasions when the broadcasts continue from one language to the next.
On formal evenings, women wear everything from party dresses to glittery gala gowns. Men generally opt for dark suits rather than tuxedos, though Costa has a convenient tux rental package. There are two formal nights on a seven-night cruise. Other nights in the Caribbean are casual, the ultimate in casual being the last night's Roman Bacchanal when the crew hands out bed sheets to be worn as togas. I was surprised to see that only half the passengers participated. A number of past Costa passengers went all out, bringing their toga gear from home.
Evening entertainment ranges from dancing to romantic piano tunes in the Piazza Casanova Bar to opera or production shows in the main theater. The final night's passenger talent show was hilarious, thanks to the backup of the ship's professional singers and dancers. The amateur talent was pretty good, too. And, just walking into the three-tiered Osiris Theater is a trip. All those pyramids and pharaohs make you think you're in Egypt. Rest assured, the motif came straight from murals decorating a Roman palace built in the 1400s.
Daytime activities consist mainly of group games and fitness classes.
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