By Robert Selwitz
To cruise or not to cruise: This is the question faced by millions of people who enjoy being at sea but are deeply concerned about the increase in their exposure to COVID-19. Fortunately, the 3-year-old Costa Smeralda, one of the largest ships in the world, now offers a positive and affordable response.
Mixing an affordable and attractive route with limited capacity restrictions that are part of an intense anti-virus exploitation campaign, Europeans have flocked to its week-long clockwise bypasses of the sea Mediterranean. And now Costa wants those who live outside of Europe to join them.
Current weekly ports of call include Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca, Spain; Messina, Rome and Savona, Italy; and Marseille, France. Passengers can start and end their journey from any of these ports.
Key to the ship’s success is Costa’s vigorous health policy. Although the 20-deck giant can accommodate 6,554 guests, capacity has been reduced by more than a third. This opened up the spacing that made their antivirus campaign so successful. Masks are mandatory except for eating or drinking, and elevators are limited to four passengers at any time. Menus have been replaced with QR codes, so passengers use their mobile phones when they want to order.
They are encouraged to take their temperature daily at the ship’s stations. Handwashing stations can be found at all restaurant entrances, and there are plenty of hand sanitizer dispensers everywhere you go. A COVID-19 test is required before the initial embarkation on the ship and again on the fourth day of navigation.
Other health protection measures include the absence of crowded traditional dining rooms and endless buffet lines where passengers serve themselves. Instead, there are now many smaller dining areas, and adjacent seating is being actively discouraged.
Of course, it’s right on the ship itself. Each country the ship calls on has its own set of health documents – often frustratingly complex – that must be completed and approved. Being computer savvy is a real plus here.
Perhaps even more frustrating is that passengers are prohibited from leaving the ship during their journey, unless they are part of a tour organized by Costa. Prices are moderate, but the inability to simply leave for a city like Palma – where under normal circumstances most passengers would get off, find transportation and explore on their own, then reboard before departure – is a problem. inconvenience.
It is now the strongest “no” in the ship’s passenger regulations list. This has less of an impact on visits to places more difficult to reach on one’s own, like Taormina, an hour’s drive south of Messina, a popular historic town in a place founded by the ancient Greeks in the 2nd century BC. JC It would have been inaccessible, COVID-19 or not, given the short stopover in Messina. And while the tour of the ship was crisp and intelligently subdued, attendees were to avoid everything but a single designated store. Trying to enter elsewhere earned the “offenders” a severe reprimand from the chief.
To underscore Costa’s seriousness, a line official said some passengers on a previous trip who had left an excursion only returned to the ship to find their luggage waiting for them at the pier. Then they were informed that they were no longer allowed on board.
However, although growls ensue, Costa insists this strategy of ‘keeping everyone together’ is essential to their ultimate effort to ensure all passengers are as far away from potential COVID exposure as possible. -19. And Costa executives insist these “bubble tours” will go away as soon as COVID-19 is no longer looming.
On board, the food is tasty and beautifully presented by a knowledgeable corps of international waiters. Although this is an Italian ship, English speaking customers have no problem making themselves understood. Without fail, staff members are patient and empathetic to passenger requests, even those they have heard hundreds of times before.
Most importantly, the Costa Smeralda is a fun, family-friendly festival. Multigenerational groups seem to be everywhere and the entertainment designed for adults is plentiful. One of the favorites is a series of descending waterslides where everyone can spend hours floating down tubes that vary in challenge levels. Many quieter areas both in and out of the water provide adults with a bit of peace and quiet.
A highlight is the CoDe (Costa Design Museum), a quiet retreat filled with a century’s examples of superb Italian design. Everything from fashion and transportation to ceramics, furniture, appliances and even toys is showcased for a fascinating change of pace.
A week aboard the Costa Smeralda is definitely a bargain, although unlike most European passengers, American citizens require a transatlantic flight to get to their embarkation point. But with fares starting at less than $ 1,000 per person, passengers can get a compact and attractive balcony cabin. Prices for individual tours are well below those of competing steamboat companies, and moderately priced food specialties range from excellent pizza to exuberant teppanyaki restaurant. There, smart chefs juggle utensils and ingredients as they chop and prepare to conjure up delicious seafood or beef dishes on a large open grill.
For Americans who need to get to a port on the Costa Smeralda first, one of the perks is that many are great destinations on their own. Therefore, before (probably better to eliminate jet lag) or after your navigation, explore for example Barcelona, ââRome or Marseille on your own.
WHEN YOU GO
Costa Smeralda: Information and reservations: www.costacruises.com
The Olivia Plaza Hotel in Barcelona provided comfortable digs for several days prior to our boarding with excellent design, central location and helpful staff: www.oliviaplazahotel.com.
Costa Smeralda passengers have the option of visiting Taormina, Sicily on a Mediterranean cruise. Photo courtesy of Barbara Selwitz.
Robert Selwitz is a freelance writer. To read articles from other Creators Syndicate authors and designers, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.