Thursday, April 18, 2013

What NOT to do on your first Mediterranean Cruise and other insights...

We just returned from our first 7 day cruise to Greece and Croatia. It's still quite unbelievable to me to be able to say that (even after four plus years over here) we took a train to Venice and cruised to Greece but...

it's true.

One of the huge benefits of being military stationed overseas are the enormous and relatively inexpensive opportunities for taking those trips of a lifetime. I will say this cruise wasn't inexpensive but it was planned as our last hurrah in Europe.  Luckily, after booking the cruise, we found out we are not moving back to the states any time soon but that's for another post.

Here are some of the lessons learned (and what it cost) from a first time cruiser.


1) I booked our Costa Cruise through  and talked to Mitch at the end of December. He advised me on which room to pick and helped me get everything in order. The cost for three adults and one 16 year old was $1968. Because we didn't have to pay for transportation to the port of origin or to the other destinations or for room and board, I considered this an excellent deal. I  also told Mitch that I heard about him from my favorite overseas blog Life Lessons of a Military Wife because he takes extra special care of you as a military family.

2) Before I could confirm the cruise online I had to rush and get the kid's passports redone because you need a current passport with at least 6 months left on it until it expires.  Cost: $270 because it was a first time adult passport for both.

3) Decisions decisions... after we got the new passports we were able to complete the "web check-in" online. This enabled us to book excursions and "personalize" our cruise. Translated, this means we were able to make appointments for the spa, buy drinks packages (see below on this one) and, as mentioned, book excursions for our ports of call.

The excursions were expensive! Until now, we have managed to get ourselves around Europe quite easily on the cheap so I know what things cost. However, because of the short time in port and the location of the sights in relation to the port, we opted to buy two excursions... one in Athens, Greece to see the Acropolis (which was about 30 minutes from port) and one in Katakolon, Greece to visit Olympia. Both tours included a tour guide, bus transportation and a little shopping side excursion. Total for three adults and one 16 year old on the two excursions: $628.72.

To buy each drink onboard individually (and expensively) or imbibe freely (after paying a flat fee)? That is the convoluted question. And it was a hard call for us. How much would we drink? A bottle of house wine onboard is 22 euro, a glass is 5 or 6 euro, a coke is 3.40 euro all with an added 15% mandatory gratuity. The only free drinks on board were bad coffee and water available in the buffet. We all normally drink a ton of water too and the water in the taps on board is not really potable.

What did we do? We flopped down at our first dinner after an exhausting day of embarkation and ordered what we wanted to drink (1 bottle of wine, 1 bottle of water, and four soft drinks) and signed the $56 bill for it and then, slightly drunk and stupid, we went and bought the drink packages for the four of us. With C-Bear, who is over 18 and of legal drinking age, we had to buy her an adult package as well. There is no picking and choosing over who in the room gets the all inclusive package. It's everyone or no one.  478 euro for all of us for the package. That's $637 for all you can drink beverages for 7 days.

If I could do it over again I would not have purchased the drinks package because what happened was this:
 P-Diddle drank three cokes every day,
C-Bear drank too much. Enough said.
I, being the cheap ass that I am, wanted to get my money's worth, drank way more wine than I would have normally, drank water bottles galore and enjoyed two cappuccinos a day. 
I damn well got my money's worth. I am still detoxing.

Husband, being the level headed one, drank normally and
 probably less than what it cost us for the package.

4) Internet service on the ship was pretty speedy but very expensive. 10 euro per hour. I imbibed once for one hour just to get my fix and clean out my inbox. Cost in dollars: $13.30

5) One more cost, that I was expecting because I read about it on the Costa website was the daily tips added to our shipboard account. For every person over the age of 12 there is a 7 euro daily charge for tips. Because of this, added to our bill was an additional 196 euro or $260.

Total Cost for 7 Day Cruise (not including spending money or new passports): $3563

Other Stuff You Always Wanted to Know...

1) We were slightly concerned about language barriers on our trip being that the passengers were mainly European. We did not encounter one moment when we could not communicate. Every person on the ship we talked to, who waited on us, our steward etc., or tour guides all spoke English very well.

2) We should have driven to the port and parked. I've heard through my Facebook Travel Group that you can park cheaply at the port in Venice if you are on a cruise for around 100 euro for the week. We thought we could beat that by parking on base, busing it to the train and training it to the port. All went well until we went to buy our train ticket... the departures we wanted were not running as the schedule showed online the day before. We ended up spending $83 for the four of us to get the high speed train. The regional train worked perfect to get home at $28 for the four of us but it was exhausting to lug all our junk onto the train and a packed bus to get to our car. I won't make that mistake again.

3) The embarkation terminal was confusing. We didn't know where to go to drop our luggage. We entered the terminal, walked around awhile and finally figured out we needed to go elsewhere to drop our bags. We figured it out but it was not intuitive. We had to ask.

4) I wish I'd packed more clothes. I know you rarely hear that but it's true. I didn't have anything really nice to wear figuring I would buffet it on formal night. I wish that I'd at least brought one skirt, hose and pumps so I could have attended the semi formal night.

5) Oops. We didn't read our ship newsletter carefully and showed up for formal night in our regular clothes. Embarrassing but we powered on and enjoyed ourselves anyway. That's when the all-you-can-drink package comes in handy!

6) I didn't tip extra at the end of our cruise and wish I had. I know, I know... they added the mandatory tips onto our account (as mentioned above) but those waiters and stewards are really as gracious and wonderful as everyone says. They worked so hard and learned our names, our needs, our drinks... I still feel bad.

7) The food was delightful. I enjoyed each lunch and dinner menu completely! There was fish and vegetarian options in every category and I seriously ate fish for lunch and dinner every day. Yum. One complaint: Costa is an Italian cruise line based out of Genoa. Their gelato sucked. Just saying.

8) Our room had two electric plugs side by side: one 110V, one 220V. Just an FYI for anyone packing all their electronics. We had a constant fight over who was charging what at what time.

9) TV selection for English speakers was almost nil. There was BBC news and that was it. You could pay 8.95 euro for 6 month old movies to watch on an old 2006 TV. Not worth it for us. All this said, we were pretty much totally cut off with no internet, tv or phones. It was a blessing I tell you! We embraced it after the initial white-knuckling!

10) As a last note, I will say that the Costa Magica staff was extremely well organized on-board with everything. At no time did I feel like I didn't know what was going to happen next. From the safety drill to dinner seatings, excursions and disembarkations everything ran like clockwork. There were plenty of staff to direct and explain when needed. This was reassuring for a first timer like myself.

Well, that's my two cents. Hang on a sec, let me see if I have two cents left after that expensive vacation! No really, I have no regrets

If you are interested in cruising over here in Europe, let me share these handy dandy websites:

A post on cruising - love Life Lessons of a Military Wife! She just returned from another cruise and has promised a new post on her experience so watch for it. Here's the one I read before planning mine: What you should know before cruising

Military Cruise Deals

There's some juicy stuff on here. I spent a lot of time reading reviews.

Also when I returned from our cruise, I was intensely curious about how one ship can coordinate, feed and care for 4000 people. I spent some time looking at these fascinating behind the scenes photos on the blog Twisted Sifter:
Behind the scenes of the world's largest cruise ship.

Stay tuned for vacation pictures...


Anonymous said...

Good stuff, E!! Maybe next time we'll be more adventurous when in Italy.

Anonymous said...

Edith, this post made me laugh, thank you! I can see myself trying to down as many alcohol laced drinks as possible in order to "get mine" too!

Sounds like your family created some great memories...and possibly lost some too :)


edith said...

Ha -True! It was sooo fun and writing about it has me reliving it again... and laughing a lot!

Carmichael said...

Going on the Costa Luminosa Mar. 7, 2015, to the Caribbean, and this has helped me to know what to expect. So, since my husband and I are not drinkers, other than an occasional glass of wine, do they charge you for water at the sit down dinners?

edith said...

Carmichael, I don't think they do but honestly I can't remember. I'm sorry. Edith