A blog series from a maritime lawyer and boating enthusiast.
The Navigator explores various topics in the boating world; including safety issues and an in-depth look into the cruise industry. In this inaugural issue, I share my experience aboard Costa Atlantica by Costa cruise lines and provide essential tips on cruise safety and cruise etiquette.
My family and I took a seven-day cruise aboard the Costa Atlantica sailing out of Fort Lauderdale this past Spring. Our Itinerary included stops in St. Thomas, San Juan and Nassau. We are experienced cruisers and have been on many different cruise lines. This was our first time on Costa cruise lines. We were looking forward to this trip since we heard many good things about the accommodations, food, excursions and staff. We boarded the vessel in Fort Lauderdale at Port Everglades. This is a rather simple port and very sparse in its construction. However, it was a smooth transition and we boarded quickly without any wait.
Once aboard the vessel, we noted that the décor was clearly of Italian influence with ornate trim and sculptures. While the Atlantica is over ten years old, it was well kept, clean and neat. Traversing the ship was relatively easy even though there were few deck plans available in places that you would most expect them. They were noticeably absent near the stairwells and elevators. In spite of that, we found our way around the ship rather easily after our initial orientation.
We booked a balcony room and found it to be exactly what we expected, a double bed and two bunks with ample storage space for our clothes and luggage. The bathroom was of typical design with a shower, head (the maritime term for toilet) and sink located in a singular room. The room was also outfitted with a television and a small refrigerator stocked with a minibar.
A word of caution: Costa cruises, does not warn passengers on their website or in any other informational materials that smoking is allowed in the cabins. We are non-smokers and our son is hypersensitive to cigarette smoke. Unfortunately, we were sandwiched between two rooms of heavy smokers. Our room smelled like a saloon most of the trip. We complained to the front desk several times, but guest services were not accommodating and unresponsive.
The Costa Atlantica is nicely appointed with 3 different pools on the ninth deck. All of the pools have Jacuzzis. Children under the age of 16 are not allowed in the Jacuzzi. However, this rule is sporadically enforced while the ship is at sea and not at all while the ship is in port. During the days at Sea, There is always the race to the chaise lounges and chairs; and while the ship states reserving chairs for long periods is not allowed, this rule is never enforced. You see chaise lounges reserved by people that never show up to use them. I feel that if a chair remains unoccupied for more than an hour it becomes a “free game.”
The daytime entertainment on the pool deck is cheesy but extremely fun, such as the Belly Flop Contest. They keep adults well entertained and are continuously ongoing. Also, there are musical acts that play up on deck doing everything from rhythm and blues to calypso music. The nighttime entertainment is very typical of any cruise line. The main shows consist of musicians, magicians and jugglers. One evening there was a Passenger Talent Show, which was extremely enjoyable.
The thing that set Costa Atlantica apart from other cruise lines was their cruise director. He was well organized, committed and very entertaining. He acted as the emcee of many shows and was very accessible. One event comes to mind on April Fool’s Day the cruise director and recreation crew played a prank on the passengers.
The day before, an insert was placed in our daily compass stating that the Bahamas required a “Buoyancy Certificate” for any passenger wishing to disembark the ship and visit the Bahamas. Passengers had to meet that afternoon at the mid pool wearing their life preservers to obtain a “Buoyancy Certificate.”
Around noon unsuspecting passengers showed up at the pool wearing their life preservers for their “buoyancy test.”Once they were in the pool, they were informed it was an April Fool’s joke and everyone had a good laugh.
This ship had two happy hours where all drinks were 2-for-1. This was a nice perk since cruise ship cocktails can be very expensive. They also had discount coupons for soft drinks and kid’s beverages. However, the coupon pamphlet was not easily managed. We left two booklets on a table by accident only to lose them permanently. Other cruise lines put a stamp on your sea card so you don’t have to worry about the coupons. I have suggested this to Costa.
People typically go on cruises for exceptional food, entertainment and fun. Costa met only one of these challenges, the food was awful. On one day, they served tripe, stewed cuttlefish, and roasted hog head. We opted for the burger and hot dog bar.
There is an up-charge restaurant requiring an additional $30 per person if you want to escape the bland and tasteless dining room food. The food was better at the up-charge restaurant, but not worth the additional fee. They advertised Wagyu beef, but I’m convinced it was simply Prime. The bone-in veal chop was exceptional and I would order it again. The ambiance in the up-charge restaurant was odd. The floor continuously shook with an engine-type vibration. The dress code for the dining room was resort casual but we noticed people in t-shirts and shorts along with flip-flops in the dining area.
Excursions were easily booked through the excursion desk, but I suggest pre-booking your excursions since the lines are long at the desk.
We took one excursion in San Juan to the Bacardi Rum Factory. This excursion was extremely interesting. The entire family enjoyed learning about the history of the Bacardi family that traveled from Spain, to Cuba, Mexico and then Puerto Rico. The grounds were beautiful and the tour was in depth. Next, the tour brought us into Old San Juan where ventured out our own. I would suggest grabbing a street map and walking around Old San Juan to visit all the small shops and restaurants. The old fort is interesting and there is plenty of information and literature that you can pick up on your own without the necessity of hiring a guide.
While we were in St. Thomas, we took a cab into the downtown area and made a scavenger hunt out of all of the coupons we received on the ship offering free jewelry samples. Our 11 year old daughter found this to be extremely fun and she picked up a lot of souvenirs. On one of the side streets there is a family owned restaurant called “Couzins.” Be prepared for a long wait, but its well worth it. The conch fritters are as good as any I have ever had and our 9-year-old son loved the curried chicken stew. Be advised, the service is on “island time” and if you are in a hurry you will be very frustrated. This is not a place to grab a quick bite, but rather to enjoy the local flavor and relax away from the hustle and bustle of the main shopping drag downtown.
Walking up the 99 steps to Blackbeard’s Castle is an interesting option for those wishing to go downtown. This historical site is where Blackbeard called his home base for many years. There is a fortress at the top which overlooks the entire span of the island and gave Blackbeard a clear view of any enemies or government ships that come into the harbor. Keep in mind while walking up the 99 steps; these are not your ordinary stairs. They are made out of cobblestone and are uneven. If you have back problems or are out of shape, I suggest taking a cab to the top.
There are a number of beautiful beaches on St. Thomas, and there are plenty of excursions offered by the ship that include snorkeling and sailing. I encourage you to take advantage of the snorkeling and scuba diving in St. Thomas. The reef system is among the best and there are several tour operators that offer reasonably priced dive trips. As with any snorkeling excursion off the ship, you will be accompanied by a multitude of people. If you are looking for a more private experience, you will have to check directly with a tour operator at the port.
We did not leave the ship in Nassau on this cruise. However, there are a number of interesting things to do in Nassau if you are a first timer. I would suggest a city tour to learn the city’s history. There are several excursions available to neighboring beaches and popular dive spots. Another alternative is a day trip to The Atlantis Resort. This is a costly excursion if booked through the ship. It is less expensive if you take a cab over to Atlantis and purchase the wristband through the concierge. You can save upwards of $35 per person this way. Check with the Atlantis Resort before you leave on your cruise to see if you can buy the day passes directly. The hotel often changes its position relative to cruise passengers and sometimes requires cruise passengers to purchase day passes through the excursion company.
We enjoyed our time aboard the Atlantica and had a fun and relaxing Spring Break. The cruise director salvaged what would have otherwise been a mediocre cruise.
With all of the competition of other cruise lines and choices available, I doubt very much that I would go on Costa again, largely because of the food and the smoking policy. I would consider Costa in the future if the quality of food changed radically in an upward direction and they instituted and enforced a no smoking in the cabins policy.
Cruise line Safety Tips and Cruise Etiquette
by Mark. R. Hanson, Esq.
- Wear appropriate footwear – Around the pool decks, they want you to wear flat shoes with a rubber sole.
- DO NOT WEAR slippery shoes around the pool deck OR high heels.
- Monitor your alcohol consumption prudently – Ships can be inherently dangerous and if you’re intoxicated, you heighten your chances of injury significantly.
- NOTE: If a passenger slips and falls and injures themselves and wishes to initiate litigation later, common defenses are: Inappropriate Footwear and Alcohol Consumption.
- Use the handrails in ALL stairwells and wherever available – Most hallways are equipped with handrails and they should be used if offered. Ships have a tendency to pitch and roll, especially in seas, and using the handrail can avoid injury.
- Do not reserve lounge chairs by the poolside if you do not intend to use them within one-half hour of reserving them – The passengers outnumber the chairs and it is simply rude to reserve a chair and not occupy it. Chairs become available from time to time, and therefore reserving them is unnecessary.