Tuesday, 3 February 2015
COSTA NEO-ROMANTICA 17th December 2014
On 17th December 2011 I was in Genoa, standing on the roof of a tall car park and enjoying the view of the harbour and the ships. The afternoon sun was sinking fast but I had a wonderful view of part of the city skyline and a Costa ship being refitted. I was with one of my good friends, about to join COSTA DELIZIOSA the next day and meet up with another good friend. The Costa ship we were photographing was the COSTA ROMANTICA, and we could see that her forward theatre had been removed, creating a big gap. She was being NEO’d!
Fast-forward exactly three years and my last trip of 2014 was to be on the Costa ship we saw being refitted. Another friend had already sailed on her and enjoyed it very much, so I was looking forward to five nights on board. Costa had offered me an excellent price on the COSTA NEO-ROMANTICA for a pre-Christmas trip so a few of us chose to travel. The usual itineraries last 7 nights, so it seemed a good opportunity to try the ship.
Wednesday 17th December 2014
I was up at an unearthly hour to drop my case in at London Gatwick Airport and wait to board my 7.25 a.m. BA flight to Nice. Another travelling companion was on the flight and we were glad to arrive early and meet up with another friend. The sun had risen soon after leaving the UK so the sight of the clear blue sky over snow-capped Alps on the route south was memorable. The couple sitting next to me on the aircraft were also sailing with Costa, on the COSTA NEO-CLASSICA from Savona tomorrow, for twenty-six nights heading for Seychelles and Mauritius etc. through the Suez Canal. The ship was just out from her refit from COSTA CLASSICA to COSTA NEO-CLASSICA so her passengers had a day in France or Italy first, before travelling to Savona.
We were pleased to get to Nice and take a pre-booked Costa coach along the coast to Costa's home port of Savona in Italy. Once in the terminal we were soon guided through to the ship and embarked very quickly. Bags were rapidly left in cabins and then we went for lunch in the Giardino Restaurant, the attractive buffet on Deck 10 aft. There was time to unpack and prepare for Boat Drill (in five languages) before sailing at 5.30 p.m. from Savona. Our ports of call are to be Barcelona, Valencia, then a day at sea before visiting Marseilles, and returning to Savona.
My cabin 7088 was an inside double for single use, and was spacious and comfortable. There were coffee-making facilities (to be paid for) but good toiletries in the well appointed bathroom. Furniture and furnishings were smart and I could reach the safe in one of the wardrobes! There was a small writing set in one of the wardrobes, in a pull-out drawer, and a neat basket for laundry etc. I could see that life jackets were kept in a high cupboard so I moved one into a lower space. The cupboard door opened upwards and remained open for a couple of days – I certainly couldn’t reach the top edge to pull it down and close it, and presumably the cabin steward couldn’t either, without help. I wonder who designs these things…
Out on deck we could see the newly-refitted COSTA NEO-CLASSICA dressed overall, ready to receive her first guests tomorrow so we wondered what she might now be like inside. (See Costa Classica April 2013, published May 2013)
Once inside in the warm we met our other two travelling companions in the Piazza Italia Grand Bar, and this proved to be our favourite venue during the trip. It was the whole width of the ship, with huge glass windows and drapes, comfortable seating areas grouped on various levels, with views to the bar or little dance floor, or out to the sea. The Bar staff were pleasant and efficient and soon realised what we were likely to order, depending on the time of day.
That set the tone for most of the trip, as we discovered when we went to the Botticelli Restaurant for dinner. It was open seating but the five of us were welcomed to a circular table and the staff were very professional but friendly and obviously wanted us to enjoy the dining experience – and we did. We discovered that there are nine hundred passengers currently on board but lots more will join the ship in Marseilles, for the Christmas cruise.
The ship was built as COSTA ROMANTICA by Fincantieri in 1993, at 53,000 gross tons and was refurbished in 2003. In November 2011 she began a 90 million Euros refurbishment in Genoa, and this is when I saw her. The theatre was removed and two new half decks were added, together with a full luxury Samsara spa – presumably to increase income. The tonnage increased to 56,769 and she set sail in March 2012 as COSTA NEO-ROMANTICA, advertised as “A whole new World of Luxury”. She can normally carry 1,600 passengers, or a maximum of 1,800 when necessary.
Passenger cabins are on the lower four decks (Amsterdam, Copenhagen, London and Paris); Verona Deck 8 above them has the huge and ship-wide Botticelli Restaurant from aft to midships, leading forward onto a landing and staircases. Forward of this is the Piazza Italia Grand Bar, the Verona Wine Bar (which always seemed to be empty), Excelsior Casino, Card Room, Chapel, Samsara Spa and Gymnasium. Above the Gym was the Venus Beauty Salon, and behind that was the top level of the Samsara Spa, and it was these that replaced what was previously the theatre on the ship.
On Deck 9 aft of the Spa facilities was a comfortable open-ended small coffee shop, with Cigar Lounge opposite. Aft of these were Via Condotti shops and opposite them was the Club Restaurant neoRomantica, with an extra tariff. Aft again was a Photo Shop, Virtual World, and the Cabaret Vienna big lounge; aft was the Samsara Restaurant for Samsara cabins and suites passengers from forward Deck 14 Lisboa, and then Tango Night Club.
The large Giardino Restaurant was on Deck 10 with excellent views out to sea on three sides. More Lido and bar areas were on the Deck 11 above, with easy access to the open decks.
Our first evening’s entertainment was a ‘Destinations’ musical show in Cabaret Vienna on Deck 9. This was a lounge with seating all on one level facing a stage and small dance floor, so all passengers entering or exiting beside the stage could be seen at the same time as the show. On our way in before the Show I was amazed and amused to see one screen showing the seating plan within the lounge, which was colour coded to show where the volume would be loudest, and graded down to where it would be quieter! That is certainly a first, and I was pleased to get a photograph. We chose to go mid-way on one side and sat back to enjoy the second performance of the production with two singers/dancers and four energetic dancers (2 males, 4 females in all). They worked hard but because of the height of the room their performance did not project well which was a shame. I even found I was not alone in wishing for stronger and louder voices from the singers. The recorded music was enjoyable.
Back in the Grand Bar we know we already like this ship and look forward to our little trip.
Ships seen: Costa Neo-Classica, Costa Neo-Romantica, an Abou Merhi Lines vessel (they have the AML cruise ship), plus Sardinia Vera, Mega Express 1 or 2, Mega Express 3, plus 2 Corsica Ferries fast craft, all laid up outside Savona, Stena Carrier
Thursday 18th December 2014
There were very rough seas overnight but I slept well in my inside midships cabin, and enjoyed a sunny breakfast in the Giardino Restaurant as we sailed along. We are due in Barcelona at 2 p.m. so spent some of the morning in the Grand Bar watching a cookery demonstration; a geography quiz had been advertised but did not happen. We could have had dance lessons, done arts and crafts, found out about Shellac nail polish, gone to a Corn hole tournament or attended a Spanish song and dance party on deck. We did a Video Quiz on Beers of the World, which our team enjoyed, before lunch and preparations for arrival in Barcelona.
As we turned to berth in Barcelona we had to hoot at a small excursion vessel in our way; as it was one of those that did harbour tours, we were happy to see those were available, even in December. Once disembarked we took the local port bus to the Christopher Columbus statue and were soon paying our 7 Euros for a 40 minute harbour tour, even though it was mid-afternoon by this time.
We could clearly see the new balcony cabins that had been added to both the port and starboard sides of our ship. Two of our group each had a balcony cabin, one on each side, and independently commented that during the previous rough sea night they had been woken by the movement of huge waves; each friend had looked out from their individual port or starboard balcony and could see the actual height of the waves – they were memorable! I was happy I had an inside cabin…
After the tour we returned to the ship and I decided to see if the Mission to Seafarers facility was open, as it was just along the quayside near the terminals. Unfortunately by that time of day it had closed, but it was good to know that it was conveniently located near cruise or ferry ships for those in need. The Mission is another worthwhile charity that depends on gifts or donations and I am happy to support its work in the United Kingdom.
Back on board I prepared for the evening, as we had booked a table in the Club Neo-Romantica Restaurant for dinner at 7 p.m. The food and service was wonderful, as were the surroundings. The silver and glassware glittered and if we had to speak a little louder to overcome the sound of the efficient air-conditioning, then that didn’t matter. It was a delightful experience, and we could watch the lights of Barcelona disappear as we ate delicious creations from the Chef.
The Grand Bar was then the place to discuss the evening and plans for tomorrow.
Ships seen: Greenfast, Gloria, Costa Neo-Romantica, CMACGM Ivanhoe, the old ‘dining’ ship that had been moved out of Port Vells inner harbour to another location and which still had no name visible, Constancia, Eurocargo Savona (the new one), Omnibus from Las Golondrinas for the harbour tour
Friday 19th December 2014
After a good night’s uninterrupted sleep I was happy to take breakfast and watch our 9 a.m. arrival in Valencia, Spain. The port is large, with cruise ships, ferries and cargo/container facilities spread over a vast area. Once on deck, as we manoeuvred into our berth, we saw a car-carrying train approach the port entrance, which seemed to take an age to pass us. We could see its route to a distant area, taking probably 10/15 minutes to get there, as we stood watching under a clear blue sky.
Some of us walked to a nearby quayside to take photographs, and then I took the ship’s shuttle bus into the city. The old city is delightful and the stonework showed to advantage under the clear sky and winter sun. I visited the Cathedral which was started in the 13th century on the site of an older mosque, so has many building styles, and is topped by an octagonal bell tower. The Cathedral is said to contain the Holy Grail, has a picture by the painter Goya, and is full of other interesting paintings and treasures. Outside again I enjoyed looking at local artisan stalls, narrow streets and fountains.
Back in the port terminal building I was happy to see a lovely model of the ro-ro passenger ferry JUAN J. SISTER, and still sailing for Acciona-Trasmediterranea. She too was built in 1993, and a clever artist has set out tiny model people, cars, lorries, tankers etc. to show what she can carry. That was fun to see.
Walking along the overhead walkway to get back on board, I noticed a huge emission of white vapour or smoke coming from the funnel. I’ve seen so many ferries emit non-white smoke from their funnels over the years, usually from cheap fuel that’s used in old engines, that it was quite a shock to see this coming from our Costa ship. The security man on the gangway was interested to see my photo but I don’t suppose I will ever be able to find out what caused it…
The sun still shone as I went for a late lunch and took photographs on deck and around the ship. I avoided the Samsara Spa offer to advise passengers on the benefits of seaweed as an anti-inflammatory solution for arthritis, aches and pains.
We have a standing arrangement to meet for a pre-dinner drink in our favourite Grand Bar, so we all enjoyed talking about our day’s activities in Valencia or on board, before another dinner in the Botticelli Restaurant with our favourite table and waiters.
We sailed just before midnight, having watched several ferries come into harbour. Tomorrow we have a day at sea, sailing towards Marseille in France.
Ships seen: Gloria (again), Costa Neo-Romantica, Acciona’s Sorrento and Scandola; we saw only the lights of Visimar 1 as she berthed.
To be concluded....