Sunday, March 18, 2018

Costa Deliziosa Review

Hello dolls!

Each February we try to take a trip somewhere warm to escape the North Carolina winter and get some family time before my busy season starts. In my area of law, it’s pretty much impossible to get away during the summer months, so we usually take our big trips in February and September. Last September, we went to Italy with our 13 month old son and were absolutely blown away by the country, it’s people, history, beautiful sites and food. We’ve traveled to many wonderful places, but we both agree that Italy is our favorite. It was so magical. We can’t wait to get back and are casually planning our next trip, but thought that 6 months later may be a little crazy. Instead, we looked into Italian cruise lines with February sailings in the Caribbean and were surprised to find several options! 

We picked a 10 day sailing to the Western Caribbean on Costa Deliziosa, mostly because of the itinerary. It stopped in Key West, Grand Cayman, Honduras, Belize and concluded with two stops in Mexico. Our last few cruises have been to the Eastern Caribbean (lots of stops in the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Haiti) often paired with Bahamas ports and we hadn’t been to the Western Caribbean in a few years. We liked the itinerary and the ship’s Italian roots, so we booked it and are so glad we did. Overall, it was probably our best cruise in terms of how much we enjoyed the islands and what we did on each one. We also loved the crew (they were so wonderful), the Italian influences and the fellow cruisers, but we weren’t wild about the food. In this post, I hope to give one American's perspective of this well loved Italian cruise ship!

On this cruise we loved:
  • The crew!
  • The islands visited/ports of call
  • The kid's areas/activities were wonderful! On Deck 11 there were TWO full sized playsets in a large Peppa Pig themed area that was securely gated. There was also a Peppa themed pool there for young kids, which we spent a ton of time in. There were also two indoor kids areas, one of which was over the top Peppa themed. If your child loves Peppa, you are crazy not to cruise with Costa.
  • We loved that you can call for free between two phones on board if you download the Costa app before sailing
  • The photo prices (much better than Carnival & RC) and lack of lines to take photos 
  • The quality of the photos. I usually buy 1 or 2 per cruise but they were all so great that I bought 8 on this cruise. 
  • The internet prices/packages (you can pay a low rate per minute if you just need to check a few things)
  • The size of the boat and number of passengers felt just right. We didn’t feel crowded or like we spent a ton of our time waiting in lines like we did on Oasis of the Seas, which was much larger 
  • The early arrival and late departure times at each port. Our ship was always the last to leave which was nice and gave us much fuller days than we're used to in each port.
  • We loved the additional Italian language exposure for our son (he picked up a few words in Italy and used them again here) and the many international friends he made. He will high five anyone who yells "cinque," looks for his milk at "latte" and waves bye to "ciao."
  • We had a standard balcony stateroom, which seemed bigger than the balcony staterooms we’ve had on Carnival and RC. The layout and furnishings were very similar to American lines, but the balcony felt much larger.
  • We loved all of the dancing areas and live music. Walker is HUGE on dancing and we danced every night after dinner, sometimes in more than one venue.
  • On disembarkation we loved getting to basically walk right off the ship because customs was so tied up with non-Americans. On an American cruise line everyone gets a thorough check and this process can take hours. On Deliziosa in America, we were off the boat and in a cab in about 10 minutes!
  • Milk was brought to our room each night at bedtime for Walker for free. Milk was also widely available on the ship, which was something we worried about beforehand that ended up being a non-issue. If you're traveling with a toddler, milk availability is great on Costa.

Things that have been better on other cruises
  • The food. We loved the Italian food in Italy but weren't wild about the food on the ship, even though it was prepared by Italians in a very Italian environment.  Ingredients seemed great, we just can't put our finger on why we weren't in love with the food.
  • The shopping on board left a lot to be desired. Not a big deal though.
  • The running decks were sometimes wet, which as a lawyer and uncoordinated person stressed me out.

As far as the food goes, I think most Americans probably wouldn't be wild about it and I hate to say that because I don't want to deter Americans from cruising Costa, because we had an amazing trip. Deli meats, cheeses, 10 types of yogurt and dried fruits made up the bulk of the breakfast buffett every day and if it weren't for the great selection of pastries that were also available and bananas (bananas are only available on request though) we may have struggled to find food we like at breakfast. No pancakes the entire cruise was a bummer and I don't think Ross had a steak the entire time.  He's a meat and potatoes carnivore and I'm a dessert loving vegetarian, so usually at least one of us is happy with food selection anywhere we go because we're so different.  Most of the desserts were some sort of mousse, which got old (sorry to be a diva). Food selection in the main dining room and on the breakfast and lunch buffets was also really limited compared to what you would find on Carnival or RC in terms of choices. I also missed the international food options (other than Italian of course) that I usually find on cruises, like Indian and Asian options. Dinners were 6 courses rather than the 3 or so on Carnival and RC, but because we have a toddler we usually only ordered 3 courses.  Food presentation was better than any other cruise we've been on though.

The crew onboard the Deliziosa was certainly the best we've ever had and we've had several amazing crews. At least 20 crew members - no exaggeration - remembered Walker's name and called him by name every time they saw him.  One spa crew member would give him 5-10 minute baby massages every time she saw him for free.  Our cabin steward, Adamson, was phenomenal as was our waiter, Jeffrey, who made him origami animals and left little toys for him at his high chair before dinner. The entertainment team was more fun and funnier than any we've encountered. On the last day they surprised everyone at the pool deck showing up in togas with crafts of water with a choreographed dance routine to some dramatic slow song where throughout they were spitting water on each other. It's hard to describe but it had my stomach cramping I was laughing so hard. The cruise director's coolest and most critical function was to speak like 10 languages interchangeably with ease, which he did so well. 

The ship size felt perfect and although it was sold out, we never once felt crowded (unlike on Oasis sailings where you always feel like you're in a Black Friday type crowd). The one complaint I have about the ship's size is that you can feel the waves more on a smaller ship than on a big one like Oasis.  We had rough seas twice and you could feel them more than you probably would have on a mega ship. The casino was always empty (I guess Italians don't gamble??) and the dance floors were always full of life.  We loved watching all of the great dancers on board and Walker loved pulling me out to the dance floor each night.  The European grandmothers LOVED him (everywhere we went it was nothing but "bello, bello" and cheek pinching).  

Prices on board were very reasonable and if you register for the Costa Club (just give your email address basically) you get 20-40% off most things on board.  We loved the photo prices and photo quality. Also loved the candid photographers walking around, which we've never seen on other cruises. We bought an enlargement of an adorable candid shot of the 3 of us in the baby pool that I'll cherish forever. The Voice show on board was AMAZING and ours ended in the most perfect way, with the last contestant being a blind man, escorted out by his wife, with the most amazing opera voice.  I still have chills thinking about it. We also liked that Costa had so many theme nights (white night, Italian night, a masquerade night with a masked ball afterward, etc.).

One of my favorite memories from this trip will be Walker saying “bye” and waving goodbye to everyone and everything (people, the ship each time we docked, the pool, the restaurants, Peppa Pig statues) anytime we left anywhere. We were melting and by the end of the cruise many of our fellow cruisers would wave to him constantly trying to get a wave and “bye” back.

I also loved all of the international little friends that he made. We spent the most time with David and Phillip of Denmark who would fold his napkins into shapes and make faces at him throughout dinner, Arturo from Russia who was only 5 days older than him and he played with almost daily (the boys even traded toys), little Eva from Paris who he played with in the pool and on the beach and who never could get over that he didn’t speak fluent French at 18 months (she also had the best eyelashes I’ve ever seen) and chunky little John from Turkey - the only toddler on the ship with more fat rolls than Walker (he was one of the cutest baby boys I’ve ever seen).

The Islands/Ports

This was my 11th cruise to the Caribbean, Ross's 8th and Walker's 2nd, so it’s getting more difficult to find islands with ports big enough to accommodate a cruise ship that we haven’t been to. On our last two cruises combined for example we only saw one new island. One of the main reasons we chose this sailing was because it took us to THREE ports that neither of us had ever been to: Belize City, Roatan off the coast of Honduras and the Costa Maya port of Mexico. The itinerary was mostly Western Caribbean. We really enjoyed these ports and our thoughts and tips on each of them are below.

Key West
We’d been to Key West and it is in our home country, so this one wasn’t the one we were most hyped about, but we did really enjoy the day and thought it was lovely. In some ways, it reminds me of New Orleans, my favorite US city (especially Duvall Street compared to Bourbon Street). I also have fun memories in Key West from my childhood with my parents. We shopped and walked around Mallory Square, took our son on a Conch train from Conch Station (which he loved), walked to the Southernmost Point in the US marker and of course took photos with it (by the way, we determined that the adjacent Coast Guard base was probably really the Southernmost Point, which would make sense for strategic reasons, but it’s still a fun notion even if slightly wrong). We checked out the beach right by that spot (very pretty and I didn’t remember it from previous trips). I got an adorable pink plaid dress for work and Ross had two pina coladas from the Howling Monkey. We saw Ernest Hemingway’s house but unfortunately for my son did not spot any of his cats. He did love seeing all of the chickens wandering around town though. We also saved a newborn chick who wandered into traffic and recreated a photo I took there when 15. Big day!

Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands 
We’ve been to Grand Cayman quite a few times, including on our first cruise as a couple in 2008 which is a sweet memory. We usually head to Seven Mile Beach (so beautiful) but this time with our toddler shipmate decided to opt for the island’s famous Turtle Sanctuary instead. Our son loves turtles and they also have a great aviary, iguanas and geckos EVERYWHERE (it’s borderline creepy), a baby turtle hatchery and other wildlife. I went as a child and loved it, but the Turtle Sanctuary has grown a lot since then in wonderful ways. Now, you can upgrade your basic pass ($10 or $17 depending on discounts, see below, which gives you access to all the sea turtles - you can even hold them) to an upgraded pass (the cost to upgrade was $27 more I think) which allows you to use their gorgeous water park and pool, see their shark exhibit, go to the aviary and feed an Ibis there from your hands and even snorkel in their giant man made lagoon which has sea turtles swimming in it! We decided to upgrade because it was all so impressive.

It is definitely a lot more than turtles now and you can totally spend a day there - we did! They also have a great restaurant on site over looking it all. Tip: we learned that you get a $7 discount on each ticket if you came to the farm on a shuttle or taxi. Random, but nice! This brought the $17 basic ticket down to $10. The shuttle we took from the cruise port was only $8 per person, so this was a win for us. Also, on the return trip, we found that there are public shuttles that stop right in front of the Turtle Center that will take you back to the cruise port for $2! We had a lovely day at the Turtle Center - our son was obsessed with the slide and all of the animals (the birds and chickens were his favorites even though we came for the turtles). It was a perfect day.

Roatan, Honduras
This was a new one for us and we really loved it. The port was nice with great shops but immediately outside there was a lot of poverty, which was sad to see. There was also a ton of litter in the estuaries. The island was mountainous, densely forested and beautiful. Everything you would want to do can be arranged right on the pier and we opted to take a taxi to West Bay Beach after reading great reviews. There we bought a day pass at Paradise Resort for only $20pp. Day passes are also sold at the Resort next door, Infinity Bay Resort, for $25pp. Both were gorgeous and right on West Bay Beach, but we chose Paradise because the pool and pool chairs were 80% or so covered in shade and we had a toddler with us. Still plenty of opportunities for sun if you want them, but the ease of finding shade was a big plus for us. The day pass included access to their jaw dropping, enormous pool that had beach views, chairs on the beach, calypso music (my favorite), showers, bathrooms, a few restaurants on site and free WiFi, all right on West Bay Beach.

We had an amazing experience there and highly recommend it. An hour or two after we arrived the beach got packed though because apparently two Carnival ships arrived after us. Before that, with just us in port, it was much more tranquil on West Bay Beach but with three ships in town it became a little crazy and crowded on the beach. The sand was so white and the water so clear. The jungle came right up to the water so the palm trees over the beach made it super picturesque.

There are tons of beach options on Roatan but we chose West Bay because it had great reviews and was closest to the port. It turned out that “closest” still meant a 30-35 minute cab ride, but we were told it was because we had to take the long way due to road construction. I'm not sure if that's true or just something we were told. Even still, I couldn’t believe we got a cab for that far for $7.50 pp. Our driver Ricky was wonderful and came back for us at the end of the day. We had arranged a meeting time but Paradise has a great system in place if you forget to do that. I loved all of the local vendors walking up and down the beach selling hats, ice cream, massages, hair braiding, handmade toys, etc. We had lunch at Bananarama which was very close to our resort, kid friendly and everyone raves about on the cruise forums. It was yummy and had a live reggae band singing Garth Brooks which basically made my life.  I thought I left the band a big tip but later realized that my currency exchange math was off and I only left about the equivalent to a dollar. Bummer!  Roatan was probably my favorite stop of the cruise, but it's a close call because they were all so wonderful this time.

Belize City, Belize
Colleagues and friends of ours RAVE about Belize, so we were very excited to check it out for ourselves.  We wanted to go to Caye Caulker, a tiny village built on a sandbar off the coast of Belize City, but heard it could be pricey to get there. Originally we were quoted $100 per person to get there from the port, but we eventually found a really nice woman who sold us round trip tickets on the Belize Express Water Taxi for $20 each. This was probably the best deal of our cruise. We later found out that buying them directly through Belize Express at their office (walking distance from port but tricky to find - ask locals for help) are $28 pp. Caye Caulker residents can buy them for less though and fortunately the woman we bought from was a Caye Caulker resident. Caye Caulker was mind blowingly beautiful and there were virtually no cruisers because of the costly and lengthy (45 min) water taxi ride. Most ships were only in Belize for a few hours but our ship was in port for 12 hours, so we had plenty of time. It's hard to describe how beautiful it was so I will just post pictures.  The island was cut in half during a hurricane years ago, so "the Split" has become a popular hangout there now with a cool bar, tables in the water, etc.  We loved watching the sunset over the water on the tender back to the cruise ship. Belize also had great shopping at the port. Overall, Belize was a win!

Costa Maya, Mexico
Costa Maya is really interesting because it is certainly the nicest port and yet least authentic/most commercialized for Americans that we’ve seen in the entire Caribbean. Performing dolphins, flamingos, a resort style pool, high end shops, a spa like massage center, faux native performers and beautiful Americanized restaurants that were trying too hard to look like they belonged in Mexico lined the port. You could certainly spend an entire day there - and we were told that a lot of people do - but I don’t think you would experience Mexico at all by doing that. You also wouldn't be leaving much money in Mexico by doing that either, because the lavish port is apparently owned by overseas investors. That’s not to say that it wasn’t impressive, because it really was.

We quickly made our way to the exit and found a local taxi driver to take us to Mahahual beach, which I’d read about online. Mahahual Beach was wonderful and one of the highlights of our trip. It featured a long, wide Mexican boardwalk, with beach chairs and beautiful beach on one side and Mexican restaurants and cute little shops run by locals on the other. Generally, if you eat at one of the restaurants you are granted access to beach chairs across the boardwalk for the day. We did our homework and decided to eat at Big Mama’s and the food was AMAZING. Our table was right on the sand and about 15 feet from the tide. The beach wasn’t super deep but it was enough for our son to go to town with his little sand tools. It was also fairly crowded with furniture, restaurants and people on the sand, but we didn't really mind because we had plenty of empty beaches before and after this port.  There was seaweed all over Costa Maya and Cozumel while we were there, but Big Mama’s and other little restaurants had teams constantly removing it. Our son got a maraca which he broke within minutes (he’s tough on toys) and a Mexican recorder which he’s still playing and loves. We ate a great lunch, played on the beach, swam (Ross went out to the sandbar, which was super close) and had a lovely day at Costa Maya. We spent some time in the port at the end and although there wasn't much authentic about it, it was very nice. Mexico was Walker's 10th country to visit, so it was a special milestone for us.

 Checking out the free dolphin show in the port:

 Best lunch of the cruise, lunch at Big Mama's:

He loved dancing in the street to all of the music coming out of the restaurants (some live, some on speakers)

 Back in port:

 Back on the ship for the second Gala Night:

Cozumel, Mexico
Cozumel is our favorite spot in the Caribbean and one of our favorites in the world. This was our fourth trip here and our son’s first and we were SO excited to show him our favorite things. Each time we visit Cozumel we rent a scooter and explore the right and back sides of the island (relative to the cruise ports). This time we had to upgrade to a Jeep for obvious reasons related to our mini-human, but the Jeep was really fun. It was lime green, old and clunky and had a canvas top over it for shade. The pedals were missing as were the fuel gauge and a few other things. Ross was obsessed with it.

We first took Walker to our favorite spot in Cozumel: Playa Del Corona, an open air beach bar/restaurant on the right side of the island. We’ve gone here every trip to Cozumel and love it. We recreated some old memories and pictures with him and added new ones, like him playing in the little toy casita they’ve recently added. Usually it would be just us, maybe one other couple and one waiter. We were a little sad to see at least 30 people there this time and at least 5 waiters. It looks like it’s becoming popular with tourists and not the sleepy little spot we were used to, but we still love it. We then went to a few beautiful beaches on the back side of the island and ate lunch at Bonita something which I was not impressed with. We explored a bit more, picked up our favorite Mexican ice cream at a gas station in the local’s residential area of the island then shopped along the main strip before returning the Jeep and heading back to the ship. We were the last cruisers back on board, soaking up every second of Cozumel.

I've posed like this on this exact wall four times: 2008, 2010, 2014 and now 2018 (with Walker <3)

Overall, we had a wonderful experience on the Costa Deliziosa and have already recommended it to friends.  Thanks for reading!

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