Haynes World - ships, ferries, a laugh on the ocean wave, and other interesting things...

03 February 2015

COSTA NEO-ROMANTICA 17th December 2014

I regret that I am currently unable to upload photographs to this blog piece.

Part 2 (the final one)

Saturday 20th December 2014
Today we have a day at sea; the sky was clear blue, sunny, the temperature mid-morning at 13.6 C. The mid-morning quiz today was Currencies of the World, so we drank coffee in the Grand Bar and watched the video pictures of various bank notes as they appeared. We managed to come first in the quiz, and I found myself propelled forward to receive the team prize of a small zipped yellow Costa purse. I hadn’t actually been looking at the pictures all the time, so felt a little embarrassed. I handed the prize over to one of my friends, who had actually taken part, and she was happy and I felt better.

Brisk walking around the top deck in the cool sunshine was lovely and such a treat for a December day at sea. We could see the occasional vessel way in the distance, and one looked quite like a Grimaldi ship. I believe I caused some consternation in Reception when I asked one young member of staff if it was possible that he would be kind enough please to ring the Bridge to find out what the Grimaldi ferry was called. He was reluctant at first, and said that ferries didn’t have names. Oh dear, I wonder why he is at sea, I thought, as I showed him my photograph. He consulted with an older colleague who kindly rang the Bridge and we found out that it was the EUROCARGO GENOA. We had been parallel with her for some time so I thought it would be an easy matter to find out her name, and I was very grateful.

The rest of the day passed without getting involved in the Ping Pong tournament, another quiz, tango dance lesson, arts and craft Christmas decorations, bingo or the art of napkin folding, until a social gathering in the Grand Bar before another delicious dinner.

Tomorrow we are due in Marseilles at 8 a.m.

Ships seen: Eurocargo Genoa

Sunday 21st December 2014
I was up early this morning, ready to meet for 8 a.m. breakfast. At 7.25 a.m. I was just dressing after a shower when all the lights went out in my cabin, the air-conditioning stopped, and there was a weird silence. A tiny emergency LED light came on high up on the wall near the door, but it provided very little light. I rapidly finished dressing, removed my valuables from my cabin safe, and put on warm clothing. I wanted to get out of my cabin immediately and get up on deck. I know daily life sometimes holds big or small irritations, and I usually try to get things in proportion and ask myself “Is it life-threatening?”. This time I decided the answer might be “yes”. The television View from the Bridge showed it was before sunrise and barely daylight, and I knew I would feel safer up top.

Lifeboat drill training kicked in so I walked up 4 flights of stairs instead of taking the lift as I might have done, and tried to get out on an open deck. Several watertight doors had closed automatically I suppose, and so it was a struggle to find a way out. I see my first photograph was timed at just 12 minutes after I left my cabin! The seas had been very rough again overnight and there was a pronounced list still, but I managed to locate some of my friends who had made the same decision about getting up on open deck. I had been quite apprehensive, rather than frightened, about the complete lack of power in this Costa ship, but several images of other Costa ships came to mind of course.

I could see we were not moving, despite being fairly near to the port of Marseilles. We were in the bay, but surrounded by mountains, rocks and rough sea, with a pronounced list and probably out of control. Then we heard the anchor go down very noisily, so at least that meant that we wouldn’t go far, other than wherever the strong wind, list and seas took us. A puff of grey smoke came out of one of the yellow funnels. A new noise was heard, which must have been the auxiliary generator starting up. Then another new sound was heard which could have been funny in other circumstances: over a tannoy speaker very near us the beautiful tenor voice of Andre Bocelli belted out the one sentence from a song that many of us recognise – “Time to say goodbye”! We were not amused! It was immediately silenced and that was that.

The sun rose and we could see that we were still some way off the port of Marseille, surrounded by mountains, rocks and islands. We were all reluctant to go inside and get some breakfast, whilst we did not know what had happened. Finally, finally, nearly an hour after the complete loss of power there was an announcement to all on board. We were told it was issued on behalf of the ship’s Master and staff, and that due to a technical problem the ship had been delayed in entering the port but would soon be doing so. They apologised for the delay but said we were safe and in an anchorage. This message was repeated a couple of times, and 45 minutes later there was the sound of the anchor coming up and engine power and we could see a wake starting behind the ship from where we were standing out on the open deck in the cold.

We thought the delay in informing passengers about the ship’s complete loss of power was absolutely inexcusable. There is always a back-up system for broadcasts in case of emergency, and we felt that this had the potential to be such an emergency.

For those passengers down in their cabins in absolute darkness it must have been a very frightening experience (unless they were still asleep) but many people were preparing to go on excursions so must have been up and about the ship.

By the time we felt able to leave the open deck and search for food, the breakfast facilities had closed but we were directed to the Pizza restaurant for basic hot drinks in flasks and pastries.

I think we were all still in a state of shock because we know that loss of engine power can be the start of an emergency on board any ship, and we were still at sea. We knew the ship had been in dock recently and had work done, just before our cruise, and it was also possible to trace our own sea routes, captured from the internet, as we were taken into rough sea areas overnight and then obviously changed course. One friend was kind enough to give me evidence of this, and also of us swinging wildly on the anchor in Marseille bay, and I am grateful for this proof.

Once we sailed into Marseille harbour, we berthed adjacent to the COSTA DIADEMA and I decided I needed to get off the ship for a while. I went to Reception to buy a shuttle bus ticket and they were being hand-written by the staff there. My, they must still have other problems then.

The shuttle bus dropped passengers off some distance from the main attractions of the city, unlike on previous visits, so I walked back to the shops I wanted to visit. The air was fairly warm and pleasant and enjoyable after the early morning events, and I enjoyed seeing several ferries in the port on the return coach journey. One was the interesting CARTHAGE, the Tunisian ferry we took from here in Marseille to Tunis, coming back from Tunis to Genoa on HABIB. This was in the summer of 2010, and I called my diary notes “Ships, Saints and Swallows” covering the Tunis ships as well as many others (published August-November 2010).

Back on the COSTA NEO-ROMANTICA I had lunch and then met the others for tea, before preparing for this evening’s Captain’s Cocktail Party for Costa Club guests. The new passengers had embarked so they had to attend Life Boat Drill at the start of their Christmas cruise, and we were aware of more people being on board, but the atmosphere was lively and happy.

Several of us went to meet and be photographed with the Captain at his Party (more Prosecco) and then it was back to the Grand Bar to drink a toast to two particular families we know of who had each just exchanged contracts for the sale and purchase of property in the UK. We sailed from Marseille at 6 p.m. after watching COSTA DIADEMA sail out first in the darkness.

Dinner that evening was excellent as usual and we said goodbye to our waiters with many thanks. Tomorrow we arrive back in Savona in Italy and must disembark and return home, but this evening was enjoyed in the Grand Bar discussing the events of the day and our memories.

Ships seen: Corse, Mediterranee, Girolata, Pascal Paoli, Carthage (see Summer 2010), Costa Diadema, and other working ships in the port

Monday 22nd December 2014
Sunrise today is at 8 a.m. and we are due in Savona at 9 a.m., so I was up with the alarm and ready to meet my friends in the Restaurant for our last meal together on this little trip. I made time to photograph the view on the television screen of our itinerary on this trip, and could easily see the route of the ship after she left the shipyard and came to Savona for 17th December. I also collected my gift photograph of meeting Captain Gianfranco La Fauci. We had no luggage to collect in the Terminal Building so could head straight outside to the coach to take us to Nice Airport, leaving the Costa Savona Terminal at 9.45 a.m.

Ships seen: COSCO Tengfel car carrier in Savona, plus Sardinia Vera, Corsica Marina Secunda, Corsica Express Secunda, Corsica Express 3 all in lay-up near Savona and seen from the coach

It had been an unexpectedly eventful trip on the COSTA NEO-ROMANTICA and I had enjoyed most of it tremendously, on an ideal-sized ship and with good friends.

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.


Pizza Restaurant

Living Wall

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.

Vienna Cabaret

Noise levels in Vienna Cabaret

Back in the Grand Bar we know we already like this ship and look forward to our little trip.

Part of the Grand Bar

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.

Giardino buffet

Grand Bar in the sunshine

Fincantieri plates

Eurocargo Savona

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…

This used to be a dining ship

A picture of the Hole that was cut.

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.

Club NeoRomantica

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....