This family travel specialist shares her experience of sailing the western Caribbean with the Italian-owned and very glamorous Costa Cruise Line.
Costa, with only two of their ships sailing the Caribbean at that time (the other ship is the Victoria), is unlike many of the cruise lines sailing out of South Florida. Costa markets itself as "cruising Italian Style" and caters to an interesting mix of Europeans and North Americans. We found this idea refreshing despite on-board announcements in five different languages and more smokers than we prefer to tolerate.
Costa displays Grand International Style
The Atlantica is a very grand and stylish ship inspired by the films of Italian director Federico Fellini. The public areas and lounges are decorated with large black and white posters of Fellini's characters and the 12 passenger decks are named after his greatest works. The movie themed décor is impressive, especially the gorgeous glass artwork displayed throughout the ship. (Anna preferred the mermaid statues in the buffet restaurant.)
With an Italian flair, the Atlantica boasts a multi-level main dining room, buffet restaurant/pizzeria, several lounges and a distinctive replica of the Caffé Florian in Venice. Our dining experiences were pleasant, but not outstanding. The main dining room, Tiziano, offered a nice menu, plenty of options for children, and entertainment. We got a kick out of the toga party dinner on the final evening as most guests were quite creative with their Roman fashions. We preferred the less formal Botticelli buffet and Pizzeria Napoli, and even ordered room service for breakfast and dinner on occasion. The Atlantica also serves dinner in the intimate Club Atlantica restaurant for an extra fee of $15/person.
In the evenings, Anna, a dance enthusiast, enjoyed the shows in the tri-level Caruso Theater. With a European flare (lots of skin), the shows are professional and well produced. Make sure to also take advantage of the professional photographer on board who is available in the evenings. Many families took home terrific family portraits. Evenings can also be spent listening to all sorts of music in the various lounges, trying your luck at the casino or a late night at the disco. An Italian fair provided fun entertainment one night with mask making and games. We also watched movies and replays of the excursion and shopping lectures in our cabin.
Nearly 75% of the cabins are on the outside of the ship, and we especially enjoyed having a balcony. The well appointed room included one king bed and a second twin bed. Each night, we also looked forward to receiving the next days activities schedule so that we could plan our time, especially for the two days we spent at sea.
Costa Family Activities & Kids' Club Programs
The activities for children are limited mostly to the Kids Club, the video arcade, and pool area. We did find many of the older children finding their own fun on board with the use of walkie-talkies and great hiding places. A series of more adult style games took place on the pool deck daily in addition to basketball, volleyball, shuffle board and golf on a very windy top deck. Several pools went unused due to the weather although a retractable roof can enclose one pool completely. It was frustrating, because Anna was too young for the water slide at the rear of the ship, and the whirlpools were usually overflowing with people seeking warmth.
The passenger mix did allow Anna to mingle with children and staff from a variety of countries in the Costa Kids Club. Anna enjoyed her time there despite its meager surroundings and lack of organization. More space is given to the money-making video arcade below the club, so oftentimes the disco was put to use as an extra play space. Children and teens, ages 3-17, are divided into three separate age groups. A variety of games and activities provided some entertainment, but endless hours of coloring seemed to be the main method of occupying the children's time. On two evenings, there were special theme meals prepared for the children for "Parents Night Out". The children dined with the Kids Club staff, followed by an animated Disney video (the only time videos are shown, which is nice.) The Kids Club also operates while in port, which is unusual, so parents can join shore excursions.
For the adults, a multi-level fitness facility has a good choice of aerobic and weightlifting equipment and classes, some equipment is more high tech than necessary for cruise ship clientele. Tanning lights are also available. Spa services are endless with many unique European treatments not often experienced in U.S. spas.
Mexico, Jamaica & the Cayman Islands Ports
The days in port provide a variety of choices to keep families busy. The ports of call were typical for the Western Caribbean itinerary with stops in Key West, Playa del Carmen/Cozumel, Ocho Rios and Grand Cayman . Our excursion highlights included a visit to Chankanaab Park in Cozumel (we took a taxi on our own from the port) and climbing Dunns River Falls in Ocho Rios. Chankanaab offers a small lagoon beach, a perfect swimming spot for small children, as well a good snorkeling right off the beach. There is also a restaurant, snack bars, a pricey dolphin experience, other animal shows, nature walks and very clean changing and restroom facilities. That evening we ate a wonderful dinner in San Miguel at Pancho's Backyard. This courtyard restaurant features upscale Mexican dining in a serene setting.
At Dunns River Falls, we were not quite sure we would make it to the top with a 4-year-old, but with the help of our agile guide, Anna gracefully climbed her way up the falls. It was quite an accomplishment, but also a bit scary… like Jamaica itself. Our visit to the craft market in Ocho Rios is not recommended because of all the harassment by the vendors, although we found some nice souvenirs. But we were out of money and needed to visit a bank. Remember, bring travelers checks!
In Grand Cayman, inclement weather canceled the much anticipated Stingray City trip, so instead we made our way to the turtle farm where we learned a great deal about these unique animals.
In general, Costa offers a nice variety of excursions in various price ranges. The booking desk often did not know much about the tours, which I suppose was related to the newness of the ship and staff.
Cruise Trip Planning Details with Costa
Getting on and off the ship in Ft. Lauderdale was very smooth and parking is available right next to the dock. I think it helped that we waited until only a few hours before sailing to board. (Make sure to keep some games and books handy as this process takes some patience.) Port Everglades is an ideal cruise port since it is so close to the Ft. Lauderdale airport and easily accessible by car from I-95. You can even go to this Port Everglades webcam site and watch the ship depart the week before you sail, or send friends and families a link to watch you sail away! From here, the Atlantica sails both the Eastern and Western Caribbean on alternate weeks.
Overall, the ship is impressive and it helped to create an elegant and relaxed sailing experience. We also met quite a few nice families from around the U.S. and abroad. But we rated this vacation experience as only mediocre thanks to the weather, canceled excursion and disorganized Kids Club.
Anna did not mind, and her first cruising experience is one for to remember.
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