In all honesty, this wasn’t a cruising vacation but rather a repositioning cruise to take advantage of inexpensive transportation to South America, enjoy a bit of a rest and see some extra countries along the way. Never say never, but we likely won’t cruise again for some time, particularly on a European cruise line with people who don’t line up, push people around and insist on wearing thongs and bathing suits that they probably shouldn’t have worn even in their prime.
We organized a taxi at checkout from the hotel for five people to the train station in the early morning. The first cab arrived and we were reminded that five people need two cabs – no exceptions – ugh! The cab driver spoke to the hotel staff to make that point on our behalf. The second cab arrived with little time to spare. To our chagrin he charged extra for our baggage.
The train was lovely once it arrived and we enjoyed the countryside as we made our way, first to Milan for a quick train change and then on to Genova, and finally Savona.
Most of the information we researched suggested that Savona was not a place to see. Aside from arguing with a cab driver on the need for two cabs and his arrogance to load our rucksacks before we agreed to the price set us off on a bad start. We ended up walking from the train station to the boat – a great choice! Savona is a beautiful little town and from the little we saw we should go back.
We followed other people towards the entry gate to the Costa Cruises port. Goat rodeo is a good term to describe the embarkation as there was very little information on where to go and how to get onboard. But, staff were very helpful if we wanted to buy a last minute drink package or start thinking about tours.
After a few questions to veteran cruisers we figured out we needed a number before we could line up. Yes they call your number and you line up! Fortunately Colleen picked up on the fact that there was no break in the lines – and those wily Europeans were ignoring the number system and trying to get on as quick as possible. With some smartly placed elbows after we joined the line we got on board.
Onboard Costa Fascinosa
We found our room, met our cabin steward, and did the evacuation drill (which was a bit of a farce). Raymond (our English speaking onboard representative) gave us a welcome briefing which was great. He looked incredulous when we told him this was our first cruise, “19 days are you crazy?”
Dinner was our next train wreck as the Foster men were in one section of the ship and the Foster women in another. We tried to sort it out with the Maitre’d but so did a hundred other pushy cruisers. I left in frustration as I almost got in a fight with some Italian couple. Ben and I ate in the buffet and the ladies ate the sit down meal. It wasn’t terribly good on either counts. The rest of our dinners, once sorted out, were quite enjoyable.
The Cruising Life
A night of rest and we slowly started to figure out the life of a cruiser. It is lines, lines and more lines. Line up for breakfast, line up for guest services, line up for coffee. Okay, it really isn’t that bad. The food was pretty good, although the coffee was meh and it was very difficult to get a cup from the waiting staff during the morning breakfast when we needed it most.
Information passage is critical on a cruise ship so they pass notes using the Diario di Bordo (Daily Diary). It took about a week to figure out their process and even then it wasn’t consistent. Captain Pasquale Arena gave an update every day in several languages and we never understood a word he said. Funny, the French and English version did not match.
One of the most frustrating things was trying to sign out a basketball to play in the basketball court with Ben. It took two days and lots of passing the buck from the staff (four of them had different answers). In the end a fellow cruiser had a soccer ball and loaned it to us.
Costa, Gonna Cost’Ya
The cruise was a repositioning cruise and good value to move from one continent to another. After all was said and done, total cruise costs for the five of us in two rooms for 19 days of travel including three meals a day, snacks, and water at dinner was $6,311.89CAD. We opted out of the drink package to save our livers and also save some money. We ended up spending another $750.13CAD off ship which mostly included buying some essentials such as a new watch for Rob, new running shoes for Colleen, Hannah, and Ben, and some new t-shirts for everyone.
Of course I should mention the billing process onboard the shp. We started with an onboard ship credit of $800USD which we earmarked for covering the exorbitant mandatory tips. This shipboard credit was not showing up correctly on the video display in our room or at the kiosk in the service area. Three visits to customer service fixed the issue or so we thought. At the end of the day we ended up spending a bit more than the onboard credit due to the insensible system they have for accounting.
Visas and Reciprocity Fees
A big chunk of the cruise expense was prior to leaving Ottawa where we paid $600.00CAD for the visas to enter Brazil. We applied in person in Ottawa at the embassy and it took about two weeks for them to process it. We also had to pay $499.02 in reciprocity fees for Argentina. This amount ended up stinging just a bit in December when we learned that the Argentine reciprocity fees no longer apply for Canadians as of 1 January 2018.
We spent a little less than 8 hours in port and it was enough time to hit some quick highlights, buy a t-shirt, and get some drinks.
Founded as a Roman city, in the Middle Ages Barcelona became the capital of the County of Barcelona and later merged with the Kingdom of Aragon. A well known city in Spain, it is the capital and largest city of Catalonia and the second most populous municipality of Spain with a population of 1.6 million.(source)
Santa Cruz de Tenerife
The capital (jointly with Las Palmas) of the Canary Islands, with a population of 206,593 (2013). It is a under Spanish rule and enjoys a vibrant economy due to shipping and tourism. Whether it was Black Friday or just the normal economy the prices were quite reasonable during our excursion and we ended up replacing quite a bit of our gear.
One neat fact that I found was that in 1797 Admiral Horatio Nelson met with bloody defeat (including losing his right arm) in an attempt to storm the harbour. It was on Santiago’s day and that is the reason for having the image of Santiago’s sword cutting the lion’s head on the Tenerife flag, a symbol of the British defeat. (source)
The largest city in Morocco and one of the most important cities in Africa, both economically and demographically. Casablanca is Morocco’s chief port and one of the largest financial centers on the continent. According to the 2014 population estimate, the city has a population of about 3.35 million in the urban area. Casablanca is the economic and business center of Morocco, although the national political capital is Rabat. (source)
On the 22nd of November, Hannah became the first Foster (out of the five of us) to step foot on the African continent.
Not knowing much about Casablanca aside from the movie of the same name we headed out to explore. It is a dusty and poor city with not much going for it. We hit the main tourist attractions and then tried to find something to eat before finally deciding to head back to the boat.
The Old Medina
We left the mosque area to find the Old Medina which is the market area. One word – Lost, Second word – Found. A vibrant market area where you or the locals can buy anything. We enjoyed the atmosphere until a guy brushed my shoulder and I felt we were the target for a pick-pocket or something worse. The camera was put away and we were all on guard. Unfortunately this means no pictures of the manta rays for sale. Or the butcher with live chickens in a cage looking on as their companions became breast meat. It was a constant rush of people trying to sell you stuff so we moved on to a quieter street.
We didn’t want to exchange the too large USD or Euro bills required to obtain MAD (Moroccan Dirham) for the little time we were present. Unfortunately the local shops where we wanted to get snacks would not take USD.
We left early and headed back to the boat leaving behind a very dusty and dirty city without much appeal.
5 Days at Sea
Can you say “Ground hog day”? Up, gym, eat, lounge, read, eat, read, eat, sleep and repeat. We crossed the equator at midnight on the 28th of November. It was a great feeling to see land again when we saw the shores of Brazil.
Our first warning was in the Daily Diary which stated to be cautious in Recife due to petty-theft. Our arrival was pretty much the same as everywhere else and the map we were provided suggested a great opportunity to see many historic buildings and parks.
Supposedly Recife is known as the Venice of Brazil because of the numerous canals.
Spoiler! Recife does not resemble Venice in the slightest. The filthy canals reeked to high heaven as they were low on water. PS. Don’t eat the crabs or fish as the fisherman were getting them from the canals. Recife has a population of 1.6 million in the city proper with an additional 2.3 million in the surrounding area. It is poor and decrepit. Not at all charming.
After crossing the canal we headed towards a main square to check out an historic church before hitting the mercado. Sadly, the church was crumbling and was boarded up. We paused near a corner to get our bearings when a guy lunged at Colleen. He clawed at her necklace and ripped it off her throat. (She’s okay.) He started to run and I gave pursuit before Colleen called me off. The necklace was junk jewelry, a small mirrored disk that only cost 4Euro (which is why she didn’t even think to take it off). No one around us seemed to care even though they saw what happened. It left a poor taste with everyone and we headed back towards the port area. We discussed what happened and had a couple of drinks to calm our nerves before heading back to the boat. My dislike for Recife was huge and Brazil was wrapped into that sentiment.
Our next port of call was the beach town of Maceio. We went ashore and walked along the boardwalk following the sandy beaches which was several kilometres long. The town was much more friendly looking than Recife. Lots of vendors renting beach chairs, tables, and food.
“Sao Salvador is the capital of the Brazilian state of Bahia. With 2.9 million people (2013), it is the largest city proper in the Northeast Region and the 4th-largest city proper in the country (after São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasília). Founded by the Portuguese in 1549 as the first capital of Brazil, Salvador is one of the oldest colonial cities in the Americas. A sharp escarpment divides its Lower Town (Cidade Baixa) from its Upper Town (Cidade Alta) by some 85 meters (279 ft). The Elevador Lacerda, Brazil’s first elevator, has connected the two since 1873.” (source)
We went ashore without difficulty although there was no place to withdraw Brazilian Reals or do a money exchange. We headed towards the Elevator Lacerda and ran into police on motorbikes. One of the policemen had his pistol drawn so we gave them all a wide berth. The Elevator cost $0.50 reals and since we could not find a cambio we decided to walk one of the roads from the bottom to the top.
A Scam Maybe? Maybe Not?
A charming man, Raymond, came up to us and started speaking Portuguese. Nobody approaches a tourist unless it is a scam or they want something, right? He identified himself as a tour guide and began to regale us with the history of the city. I told him we didn’t need a guide. He warned us that walking from the lower to the upper (or vice versa is very dangerous), “Muerto if you go down that way”, and that we should take the elevator. He walked with us towards a cambio that he recommended. It seemed too slick that guys with cambio signs came out after Raymond got off his cellphone and near his office. We said goodbye and carried on.
We enjoyed the walk through the old town and everyone was in the spirit of Christmas, so many decorations were up. We stopped and listened to a fantastic choir in a church preparing for Christmas celebrations. I did note that police were everywhere, generally walking in groups of four with an assortment of weapons. We headed back down one of the roads to the lower town ignoring Raymond’s warning and made it back to the boat without difficulty.
Rio Di Janerio
“Rio de Janeiro (River of January), or simply Rio, is the second-most populous city in Brazil. Founded in 1565 by the Portuguese, the city was initially the seat of the Captaincy of Rio de Janeiro, a domain of the Portuguese Empire. Later in 1763, it became the capital of the State of Brazil which was a state of the Portuguese Empire. In 1808, when the Portuguese Royal Court transferred itself from Portugal to Brazil, Rio de Janeiro became the chosen seat of the court of Queen Maria I of Portugal. Rio stayed the capital of the pluricontinental Lusitanian monarchy until 1822, when the War of Brazilian Independence began. Rio de Janeiro served as the capital of the independent monarchy, the Empire of Brazil, until 1889, and then the capital of a republican Brazil until 1960 when the capital was transferred to Brasília.” (source)
We went ashore looking for an ATM or cambio without much luck. Though we gave up quickly because we met Fernando (+5521980967675 or email@example.com) – a marine biologist who doubles as a tourist operator. After some bargaining we agreed to $120USD for him to drive us around for the day – CORCOVADO (Christ’s Redeemer), a view of Sugar Loaf, Santa Theresa and the Colourful Steps, Ipenema and Copacabana beach (3 beers, 3 soft drinks, 1 bag of crackers). The water was freezing just like the Atlantic coast of Canada but the air was warm. The driving tour was money well spent, especially since all the sights were widely spread out over often steep terrain.
Turns out we didn’t need Brazilian Real after all. Even beach shacks have debit and credit machines. As our friendly beach bar host explained, Brazil is far too dangerous to be carrying money around so everyone uses electronic currency.
Rio was by far the nicest of our port visits in Brazil and we would have liked a few more days to enjoy the gorgeous beaches. Alas, back to the boat for the final Two Days at Sea and our final destination of Buenos Aires.
I think it is safe to say that cruise ships are not for us. The boat was not even close to capacity and we were expecting it to be more laid back. But the excessive crowds, pushy people and confined space made it difficult to enjoy. We also found that the port visits were ether too short or were decrepit and undesirable locations. In fairness, the meals were good and the key staff were very friendly and attentive. I won’t say never, but we likely won’t be cruising on a big ship again anytime soon.