January 5 - 12, 2003
By Vincent &
This was our seventh cruise on the Costa Cruise Line and our third on
the Atlantica, its flagship. It is said that the third
time is a "charm" and it's true! The effusive Hotel Director
Attilio Sissa has kept his staff on its toes and the Atlantica
ship-shape. She is a jewel to be appreciated in all her glory of
cinematic memorabilia (Deck names and ship decor revolve around
Fellini films and actors). We have written two highly detailed reviews
on this ship's many wonders and they are still posted on the internet,
so we will refer readers to those reviews for the ship's layout and
decorations. Instead, now we will focus on what the Costa Atlantica
does best: "CRUISING ITALIAN STYLE." The ambiance and the
Italian cuisine are where Costa excels and what gives a Costa cruise
its identity. We did not have the feeling of "...been
there, done that..." when we returned to this ship. On the
contrary, we felt welcomed by the staff we befriended previously on
other Costa cruises, who remembered our names and greeted us
affectionately. It was like the return of the "prodigal
son," especially for Vincent who enjoyed speaking Italian and, at
times, his native Neapolitan dialect. The atmosphere on board became
more festive throughout the cruise. For us a Costa cruise is the next
best thing to actually going to Italy. It is the music, the
continental manners of the crew, the extraordinary efforts of Cruise
Director Ray Rouse, the factotum of the ship (Figaro quà,
Figaro là), and finally it is the Italian cuisine of Executive
Chef Purificacion Villardo and our old friend Chef Antonio De
Luca, which all combine to give passengers that special taste of "la
Tickets may read 10:30 am; don't believe it. Normally embarkation
begins at 1:00 pm. This Sunday the ship was cleared by Immigration
Agents unusually late, just before noon. Only three inspectors were on
board to handle 2,400 passengers, over 400 of whom were non-US
citizens. The following Sunday clearance was quite different: swift
and early, by 8:30 am we were on the pier and ready for our ride home.
What a difference a week makes. For embarkation we received assistance
to a waiting area for wheelchair and handicapped passengers along with
the three relatives in our group (Haydee from Buenos Aires, Argentina,
and Mary and Peggy from Tucson, Arizona). We were on board 1:30pm and
of course went straight to the Welcome Aboard Buffet, a culinary feast
for the eyes and the stomach.
This floating tribute to Federico Fellini's avant garde films
is both interesting and educative. The many reproductions of
Botticelli, Raphael, Titian etc. works are evocative of Italian
museums, for they are exquisite copies wonderfully framed. The classic
lines of this ship are pure Costa; she is more like a huge yacht and
her appointments are luxurious: marble and fine wood are everywhere.
The beautiful three room Cafè Florian is so highly detailed and
presents such a unique experience that passengers truly feel as if
sitting in a Venetian cafe overlooking St. Mark's Square (we know,
since we've been there and even the coffee smells the same!).
Please refer to our Costa Atlantica 2000 and 2002 reviews for
more ship descriptions. (Links here)
FOOD & SERVICE
Food and service is where Costa excels: Chef Villardo can be
proud of the many offerings on his menus. When it reads "Prosciutto,"
diners can be sure it will be the famous Italian Prosciutto di Parma,
the best cured ham in the world. Recently Costa has dedicated more
money per passenger for food and it shows. There are selections of
cheese available daily which include the delicious Gorgonzola
(Blue of Italy) Ricotta (creamy imported) and Mozzarella di
Bufala, Grana Padano and of course Parmiggiano Reggiano
The menus are printed in Italian with
English, German or Spanish translations directly underneath. Of
course, many Americans enjoy seeing the Italian while being able to
decipher it immediately. We suggest that these menus along with the
daily Italian lessons on board could be an introduction to traveling
in Italy. We dined with other Americans who said that at first they
were ordering as if in an American restaurant, until they realized
that they were missing a fantastic opportunity to try real Italian
food. As the old adage states: "When in Rome do as the Romans
do..." and each night can be a great dining sensation:
Night I, Bon Voyage Dinner: Try the
Antipasto Atlantica, roasted eggplant, zucchini and peppers with Prosciutto
di Parma. For the Main Course have the Costata di Manzo al
Forno (a tender and succulent Prime Rib of Beef).
Night II, Gala Dinner: Try the Escargot
Bourguignonne and Aragosta alla griglia (Broiled Lobster).
Night III, American Dinner: Shrimp
cocktail, mixed baby green salad, Costine di Maiale (Baby back
pork spareribs), and what could be more American than Spaghetti &
Night IV, Italian Dinner: Cioppino
(Italian Seafood stew), Trofie al Pesto (Genovese dumplings
with pesto sauce) and Osso Buco (Braised Veal Shank with polenta).
Night V, Caribbean Dinner: Tortino
di granchio (Caribbean Crab Cakes), Oxtail Bouillon, Linguine
con gamberetti (pasta with shrimp), Sirloin steak with green
Night VI, Farewell Gala: Oysters
Rockfeller, Fagottini ai quattro formaggi (pasta pouches
stuffed with beef, ricotta & spinach in a four cheese sauce), and Filetto
di manzo ai funghi porcini (Grilled beef tenderloin with porcini
Night VII, Bacchanal Dinner: This
night is topped off with a procession of Roman senators,
soldiers and lovely ladies all cavorting to Verdi's "Triumphal
March" from Aida. HAIL CAESAR! Don't fail to order Prosciutto
and Melone, Calarmari Fritti, Minestrone, Penne Putanesca, and
Costata di Manzo. Translate this alone... after all there
have been seven days of Italian lessons by now!
This is only the tip of the iceberg
and some of our favorites. Normally we never order the same items on
the menu, since we like to sample everything. The one thing we would
prefer is the availability of half portions, because we dislike
wasting food and the food portions are abundant.
The Menu is always extensive and
varied. Every night, in addition to the 4 or 5 main courses, there are
3 or 4 alternative options, including fish, meat and pasta dishes,
such as baked or grilled fish fillet, grilled meat and sausage,
Lasagna or stuffed Cannelloni. The luncheon menus are equally varied
and delicious. We suggest trying the risotto (rice) whenever it
is on the menu, especially with mushrooms or asparagus. Magnificent!
The dessert menus have three items
which are available everyday: Tiramisu, Pastiera Napolitana and
Zabaione: Don't translate, just order and savor! However, as a
suggestion never miss a profiterole or a soufflé. We
always marvel at those people who just order ice cream every evening,
when so many exotics are available. The Italian pastries rely more on
flavor than sweetness and this is refreshing.
We found the food in the main dining
room equally as good as that in the Ristorante Club Atlantica, the
upscale restaurant on Deck 10 (there is a cover charge of $20 per
person, except it is free for those occupying the suites). The menu
for this restaurant was created by Gualtiero Marchesi, a renown
Italian chef. The atmosphere in the Club Atlantica is more intimate
than the main dining room, the service is impeccable and the Versace
dinner ware is exquisite. However, we felt that it is definitely time
for a change in menu, since it has been the same for the past three
years. Moreover, we had a lovely table in the Tiziano dining room,
where the food, the service and the company were the best ingredients
for wonderful dining experiences.
We enjoyed Chef De Luca's cooking
demonstrations in the Piazza Madama Butterfly and his beautiful
daughter and Assistant Carla (Brava!). After each demonstration we
savored the dishes which were offered that evening in the dining room.
Food Service on the Atlantica is
under the direction of the handsome Maitre d' Hotel Umberto Cardone
and his Asst. Tobia Vallo (whom we have met on many Costa cruises).
The constant vigilance of these two, together with the other Asst.
Maitre D's Dante and Nicola, are the reason that the wait staff is so
accomplished. Our waiter Ronnie Ablog was swift and mindful of our
likes and his assistant Sonny Ribao was helpful, but never hovering.
Remember that with only 162 Kitchen Staff, Chef Villardo served
2,200 passengers and 900 crew over 9,000 meals per day, plus snacks,
formal teas at 4:00 pm, Midnight Buffets, Captain's Cocktails etc.,
etc., etc. It is mind boggling. Especially since every soup is hot,
every salad is crisp and every entree is garnished with fresh herbs...
Service is tip top under Hotel
Director Attilio Sissa; he is swift to action, effective and cordial;
his sole aim is to please the passengers. He definitely achieves that
goal. Our Butler Juan Pablo Aguilera was very helpful; he has a way of
providing service before being asked. On the first day Vincent ordered
a pitcher of orange juice with which to take his medicine, and
everyday after that, he placed a fresh pitcher of juice in our
refrigerator without our prompting. We had to debark early on Friday
at George Town, Grand Cayman to meet a private tour (more later on the
fantastic SEAMOBILE) and Pablo escorted us to the gangway by the VIP
route (we were told that he escorted Robert Redford and a few other
famous people the same way). When it comes to treating everyone like a
VIP Costa and its staff know how to do it.
Suite #6154 is spacious and well appointed. When entering, on the left
there is an ante room with armoire and lighted dressing table and past
that is the pure Italian bathroom, double sink, all granite, tile and
marble with a Jacuzzi tub. Excellent thought was given to comfort in
this bathroom: towel racks and handy hooks are in the proper places.
There is a granite bar and entertainment center: TV-VCR; a personal
safe, a dresser and another mirrored armoire. The queen size bed is
flanked by night stands with Murano glass reading lamps.
When entering, on the right there is
a mirrored wall bordered by wooden pillars with ebony capitals and
copper trim. The granite topped desk has another beautiful Murano lamp
and below is the refrigerator. Full American breakfast was served each
morning on the large granite coffee table. There is a peach leather
hide-a-bed sofa with matching draperies and bedspread. The far wall is
all glass with a door to the spacious balcony with two chairs, table,
On the walls are two dreamy paintings
by Andreescu: One is a sleeping woman under a starry night with a
castle in the background and a cat with yellow eyes in the foreground.
The other is of a girl with golden hair and stars with a "Mezzaluna"
moon and a bouquet of flowers and masks in the foreground. Unique! Our
cabin attendant Roland was superb, everything was in order, but we
hardly ever saw him.
The daily program "TODAY" lists many activities, from
organized exercise classes to lessons in tennis, from dancing and
language lessons to bingo and card tournaments, and trivia quizzes
(the formidable Finellis won two). There are also lifestyle lectures:
astrology, self exploration, etc., afternoon movies in the Caruso
Theater, and several excellent lead performers on board. A melodic
group, "Les Aristocrates," with a spectacular lady singer
Daniela and two other male singers, gave several performances in the
Corallo Lounge and in Piazza Madama Butterfly. Their repertoire
included famous Italian and International songs. Concert pianist
Pierangelo Miccichçè and tenor Luis Cartin, an old acquaintance of
ours, performed beautiful classical songs and opera arias at the Cafè
Florian. The latest show "Made in Italy" featured Luis
Cartin and the new excellent soprano Julie Ann McLaughlin with whom
Vincent was very taken. We particularly enjoyed the solo performance
of Van Pressley Jr. (formerly of "The Platters")
who took us down "memory lane" with the most popular songs
of the fifties and sixties. He got a standing ovation for songs like
"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," "The Great Pretender"
and "My way." We enjoyed his singing during our April 2002
cruise on the Atlantica, so we were thrilled that he was also
performing during this cruise.
Party Italian Style includes dancing
lessons in the "Tarantella" and the "Quadriglia."
By far the most interactive program for the audience was the
"Roman Bacchanal" a guest talent show. The audience gets a
chance to decide contestants' fate by either "thumbs down,"
death by lions, or "thumbs up" for freedom. Be prepared for
Italian congeniality everywhere. It's infectious.
PORTS OF CALL
Key West, Florida
Monday - Arrival 8:00am Departure 5:00pm
For first timers take the Conch Train a one hour tour ($19) which
will give a quick overview, so that the rest of the day can be well
Tuesday - Arrival 8:00am; Departure 7:00pm
We think the San Gervasio Ruins and the Folklorico Show would be the
best excursion for the money ($55) three and one half hours and there
is still half a day for some of the best snorkeling in the
world. Shopping is good here and just a $5.00 cab ride from the pier.
Wednesday is a sea day.
Ochos Rios, Jamaica
Thursday - Arrival 8:00am; Departure 5:30pm
The Ochos Rios Highlights, Coyaba Gardens and Dunn's Falls, four hours
($44) gives the flavor of Jamaica, plus the exercise of climbing the
falls and still getting in some shopping time.
George Town, Grand Cayman
Friday - Arrival 8:00am; Departure 5:00pm
Here it is possible to go off the regular tours to the SEAMOBILE, the
submarine experience of a life time (described in NATIONAL
GEOGRAPHIC). There are only three of these subs in the world: one is
in Grand Cayman, one on the US west coast, and the last is used in
research in Turkey. We contacted the Manager Simon Boxall by E-Mail:
email@example.com and by phone (345-916-DIVE) and he made arrangements
for us to be picked up between the North and South terminals by Chris
in a speed boat, taken to the platform near Seven Mile Beach. Sunny
helped us on the platform and Dave, the pilot, explained the process
of submersion and safety procedures. It was all very simple; we were
ready to explore the coral reef. The two man sub has a clear glass
dome with surround view. No breathing apparatus is necessary, since it
holds enough oxygen for approximately 2 hours and the dive lasts only
about 30 to 45 minutes. Dave, in scuba outfit, pilots the sub from
outside and behind, so the the sea view is unobstructed. Completely
calm and free of masks or any other encumbrances, we floated through
schools of tropical fish and saw sea turtles, conchs, sea fans and
coral formations within feet. For that Jacques Cousteau feeling this
is truly phenomenal. The visibility is wonderful. Mary is
claustrophobic, but had no problem since the bubble is large enough
and breathing is regular not through tubes or tanks. TWO THUMBS UP!!
1. Our Seamobile experience was unique. We have previously done
the Submarine Expedition and the Submarine Adventure in Cozumel and
the Caymans, respectively. However, this personalized dive to the
coral reef is something very different and it merits inclusion in
shore excursion offerings of the Costa Cruise Line.
2. So much food is wasted on
cruises; thus, we feel that half-portions should be listed on the menu
for those who want to savor the flavor, rather than gorge themselves.
3. There has been improvement
in the pizza; the toppings were excellent, but the crust did not meet
our expectation. We feel that the crust could be more flavorful if
they use the freshly made bread dough, instead, since their bread is
excellent. Very simple!
It is always a great pleasure to
visit our friends on Costa ships. Arrivederci! Until we
meet again, maybe on the new Costa Mediterranea or Costa
Fortuna, later this year.
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