Are we crazy? Immediately after our Transpacific cruise last Fall we finalized plans for another big cruise acrosss the Atlantic. This trip was a great bargain and included stops in the Caribbean before crossing to the Canary Islands, Spain, France, Italy and Croatia before culminating with a 4 day bus tour of Italy. All in about 30 days. These are the go-go years, what the hell.
Our cruise on the Costa Delicioza began as the Northeast was slashed by a huge Noreaster storm causing several passengers to miss the sailing. By the first morning of the cruise we found out the storm also caused such high water and damage that the port of Nassau Bahamas was closed. One port missed. We have been to Nassau many times, no big deal. Two days later we arrived off the coast of the Dominican Republic where we were to stop at Amber Cove, closed again. Again no big deal, we had read that it was a cruise company shopping stop. So then Costa scheduled a stop at their private Catalina Island near La Romana DR and we had a nice beach day. Curiously, we had a some of the best food of the cruise so far on this beach day. We had not been impressed with the food thus far.
Our next 2 stops in the Caribbean were St. Kitts and Antigua. We had always been interested in St. Kitts and scheduled our own tour. We got into port mid afternoon so it was a quick tour but we saw the highlights, Brimstone Hill Fort – the largest fortress in the Eastern Caribbean built by the British, Romney Manor with Caribelle Batik, Wingfiled Estate – the 17th century home of Thomas Jefferson’s great great great grandfather, and a tour of the finer neighborhoods of the island – like where Robert Redford lives.
We had visited Antigua years ago so we walked St. Johns on our own. The town needs a lot of work but the people are nice. We visited the old church, the farmer’s market and the seafood market. These were interesting but somewhat nasty. Red Cliff Quay, the old slave market turned into shopping and dining was a nice area.
From Antigua we had 7 days at sea crossing the North Atlantic. Our next stop was Tenerife famous for the single deadliest plane crash ever, when 2 packed 747s crashed on the runway killing almost 600 people. We booked a ship’s excursion to Mt. Teide (Tay day) the highest peak in Spain at over 12,000 feet. The Canary Islands are much closer to Morrocco in Africa than Spain but they are a Spanish provence. Teide is a big volcano and we rode the cable car to the top. It was cold. Tenerife has over 300 volcanoes. Our tour included lunch at a fine restaurant but there was no vegan option and unlimited wine made for a bad value for us.
Our schedule changed again when the captain informed us that we would not be visiting Cadiz Spain and would instead visit a second Canary Island, Lanzarote. Wind and sea conditions warranted this change. We docked in a nice marina area at Arrecife and had a great tour including a camel ride. Lanzarote is dominated by the Timanfaya Hills volcano. The hills erupted for 6 years straight from 1730 to 1736. The entire island is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. There is still little vegetation in the lava fields with temperatures near the surface of 100 to 600C. Water dropped into a shallow hole instantly turns to steam. The landscape was like the moon. We visited a winery where they produce very unique wines in the volcanic soil. It is so dry and windy they also use a vine growing technique of wrapping the vines in a circle in a depression to minimize moisture loss. Very interesting. The statue “El Diablo” by Cesar Manrique is the island’s symbol. Lanzarote was one of favorite ports on the cruise.
After a day at sea we passed through the Straights of Gibralter (unfortunately in the middle of the night) and arrived at Malaga Spain. Here we utilized the Hop On Hop Off bus and saw the highlights of the city for peanuts. We visited El Gibralfaro fortress, the square next to the Picasso museum, Picasso birthplace and the narrow old streets of this medieval city. It was a cold windy day but we loved the old world ambience of Malaga.
Our next port was Marseilles France. At this point we should mention that we had a great on-board lecturer Jean Christofe Robles. He combined 2 of his passions, music and travel, and created a website, Travel with your Ears. http://www.travelwithyourears.com/ He did several presentations on World Music including music of the Garifuna of Belize, rake and scrape music of the Bahamas and reggae around the world. Fascinating stuff. He also did some port talks including Marseilles, where he told us about savon de Marseilles soap. He explained that this soap has been famous worldwide for centuries. The real deal is made with 72% olive oil and can be used for everything from body washing to laundry. At one time there were 60+ factories in the city producing this soap with many fragrances. Marseilles is France’s second biggest city so we opted to visit Aix-en-Provence, a smaller univercity town in nearby Provence. The shuttle dropped us in the heart of town and we loved walking its narrow streets with a beautiful bakery every 20 feet. The shops and people were very nice during our halfday tour.
At our next port, Savona Italy, many passengers disembarked the ship while many families embarked on an Easter week 5 day cruise. Needless to say this ws a big change in the demographic of the ship. Costa is an Italian cruise line owned by Carnival Cruise lines of Miami. Our ship had about 1800 passengers many of whom were European. This included at least 600 Americans. The group tended to be seniors with many older seniors. Every important announcement was made in at least 5 languages, it took a while. Some messages were only in Italian, we guessed these were not important. When the European families boarded the buffet was over run. Hadn’t these people eaten before?
Savona gave us the chance to visit Genoa, home to Christopher Columbus. We had a guided tour of Genoa and saw Columbus’s house, San Lorenzo cathedral, 11th to 16th century walls, the revived antique port. The original old city had 2 story buildings built of stone, the newer (300 – 400 years old) additions went to 4 to 5 stories built of brick. The narrow streets stayed the same. Genoa had great foccacia, a hundred different ways – delicious.
Naples was our next port. We had visited Pompei last time – it is awesome. This time we took the one hour fast boat to Capri. Famous for the rich and famous, it is a unique island with highend shops and hotels. We saw the famous Three Rocks, the gardens of Roman Emperor Augustus, the Krupp mansion, the stone pathway from marina piccolo to Krupp. The narrow streets had lemons everywhere, bakeries and a funicular (not running, our day). The views are great, the wealth exaggerated. Most hotels and shops were still closed for the winter so we can only imagine what its like in “season”.
Bari Italy was next and a place we really had never heard of. Its situated on the heel of the boot and was a major entry point fot GIs during WWII. Here we took a ship’s tour to the nearby town of Alberobello, a town in Italy’s Apulia region. Its known for the Trulli, whitewashed stone huts with conical roofs. These drystone homes date back centuries and are UNESCO World Heritage site. They are unlike anything we’ve ever seen.
Dubrovnik was one of our favorite ports on this cruise. It is on the Adriatic coast of Croatia and one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe. We had a wonderful guided tour of the old city. It’s pedestrian only and we visited a Dubrovnik museum dedicated the the men who died in the war of Croatian Independence from 1995 to 1999. Dubrovik was bombed during the war but somehow mostly survived. We also visited churches and a monastery which has a pharmacy operated by monks since 1317. We bought some creams from them. Dubrovnik is a hot tourist destination and we feel lucky to visit during a shoulder season. We imagine it would be impossibly hot and crowded in summer.
Our cruise ended in Venice. Our ship sailed into the port right past St. Marks Square. Venice is so unique its almost overwhelming. We had a nice walking tour and time on our own. We visited some Murano glass shops and saw some spectacular pieces. We saw the famous gondolas, the Doge’s mansion, the basilica, the crowds in St. Marks.
In talking to our fellow cruisers we found almost all said they would never cruise with Costa again. Our biggest complaint was a lack of sanitation especially in the dining venues. Every other cruise line we’ve sailed with requires everyone to sanitize their hands before entering the dining areas, not Costa. We even witnessed officers not sanitizing before eating. Needless to say hundreds of passengers came down with a virus, including us. We actually lost weight on this cruise mostly because the food was so mediocre. Day after day the food never changed. Many times the only thing to eat was salad. The vegies and salad fixings were good. Even the desserts were boring. Our cabin was great, the onboard lectures were good, the entertainment was mostly good, embarking and disembarking the ship was well organized. To summarize, Costa did some things very well, some okay and some very poorly. It was still an awesome trip, we’d do it again just not on Costa. 7332 nautical miles, 7 countries.
Up next, our Italy land tour!