Italy at sea
Marlinda Angbetic Tan (The Freeman) - December 21, 2014 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines – On November 29 we boarded late into Costa Victoria at the port terminal of the Singapore Cruise Centre. We missed our  10 a.m.  connecting flight from Manila to Singapore as our Cebu-Manila sector was quite delayed due to a flight cancellation. It’s a good thing that Philippine Airlines has a  3 p.m.  flight to Singapore which we took to catch up with the rest of the tour group by  7:30 p.m.

Despite our late check-in, everything went smoothly and even our luggage were delivered to our respective cabins on record time. Impressive! Forthwith, we put on life jackets (found in the cabins) and reported to our assigned Muster Stations on Deck 6 for the obligatory General Emergency Drill. Even infants were fitted with life jackets!

It is important for guests to register their Costa Card at the Guest Services on Deck 5 for its activation.   The Costa Card is all a guest needs while on the cruise to open his or her cabin, get off/on the ship during shore excursions, purchase tours, some food and most drinks, a spa treatment, or items at the duty free shops on board. Registration is by credit card or cash deposit.

Another important thing is to know the location of the two main restaurants, their operating hours and what food they serve. And what time is your sit-down dinner – I was Secondo Servizio (second seating is at  8 p.m.; first seating at  5:45 p.m.) at Restorante Fantasia, the ship’s Chaine des Rotissueurs-accredited fine dining. The other restaurant is Restorante Sinfonia which is buffet style. Casual buffet is available on Deck 11: breakfast by  6 a.m., then lunch, merienda, and dinner until  11 p.m.  Deck 12 offers hamburgers, hotdogs and pizzas; sandwiches and coffee for 24 hours, no break.

The Costa Victoria is “Italy at sea.” Its cruise highlight is Carnevale di Venezia – the famous Venetian Masquerade Ball with a special dinner menu. We were given fancy masks to join the fun-filled carnival on the last night. The ship can host 2,394 guests, with a 790-man crew on 14 decks, only 11 of which are for guests. The Costa Cruise Line, under the Carnival Corporation, is the #1 Cruise Line in Europe. Established in 1948, it has 250 destinations with 150 cruise offerings. It came to Asia in 2007.

Many of the ship’s stewards and waiters are Pinoys; among the guests were 126 Pinoys, 103 from the Philippines and 23 Singapore-based. The restaurant manager himself is Pinoy – 2nd Maitre d’ Edward de los Santos, who speaks six languages and who conducted our personalized disembarkation instruction – in Tagalog, exclusively for Pinoy guests! He told us that 30 percent of the crew of the Costa Fleet are Filipinos. Victor Carvajal of Travelways informed us that Costa Crew recruitment and training have been ongoing at a building on Ramos St., Cebu City.

We noticed many children and we found out that the ship is family-oriented, offering the Squok Club free to mini (3 - 6 years old) and maxi (7 - 11 years old) travelers. The children have their own activities and meals with numerous crew members attending to their needs. (Some kids, it was observed, were reluctant to rejoin their parents after the games in Squok Club.) The parents can enjoy some time by themselves at the pool, in the spa, the casino or on day-long shore excursions. Teen (12 - 17 yrs old) travelers, on the other hand, have their own brand of fun at the Teen Zone, Rock Star Disco.

During our welcome cocktails on the first day at sea, we met the Pinoy Executive Chef Elmer Bautista, who assured us that he always includes Filipino dishes on the menu and at the buffet spread. He cooked “karekare” and chicken pork adobo for us. I remember eating “inun-unan” salmon on one of my cruises with Pinoys in the kitchen. Chef Elmer, ever smiling, was always there after dinner to check on our opinion of the food served.

We appreciated the Costa brand of personalized service.   If there are Indian guests, Indian and vegetarian dishes will be on the menu; Chinese guests will find Chinese cuisine; and so did we Pinoys find our dishes at the buffet spread. The Pinoy stewards offered tips on how much a Thai massage should cost, where to buy cheap souvenirs, what to buy and what not to buy. Some even offered their crew discounts for on-board purchases. The captain greeted us during the formal Captain’s Cocktails in our respective languages. Truly welcoming!

Phuket, the first port of call in Thailand, offered shore excursions involving temple visits, elephant rides, speedboat race from James Bond and Rang Yai Islands, Thai massage (of course!) and mall shopping. Top quality bird’s nests I bought here, aside from the topnotch Thai massage I enjoyed at Pimnara Spa which also offers Guinot Institut treatment and facials.

Lankawi, the second port of call in Malaysia, offered crafts and culture, museum visits, bird watching, flora & fauna exploration at the geo-forest, and shopping at their huge duty free shop with other nearby shopping malls. Really cheap buys!

Costa Victoria has a New Year cruise on  December 28, 2014 – January 2, 2015, with a “barkada” promo – Buy 2 cabins with balcony and get 1 inside cabin for free (upgradable into a cabin with balcony). It’s a 6 days/5 nights trip to Phuket (Thailand), Lankawi and Penang (Malaysia). Any of the travel agents around may be able to help with inquiries about or bookings for the cruise.

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