Costa Cruises are homeporting Cost Mediterranea in Dubai until at least 2020. Middle East residents as well as cruise tourists interested in an Arabian Gulf roundtrip cruise from Dubai can enjoy the best of Italy, alongside the best of Arabian hospitality at the various ports she visits in the Gulf.
Costa Mediterranea hits the sweet spot in cruise ships size. At 86,000 gross tons she’s large enough to include an array of cruise comforts and amenities, while still being small enough that you don’t feel lost in the crowd, and some of the intimacy and personal connection between staff and passengers can still be found.
Carrying a maximum of 2,600 passengers, but 2,200 on average on her Dubai cruise program, Mediterranea is the second Spirit-class cruise ship ordered by Costa. The Spirit-class was first designed for the line’s owner brand Carnival, but proved hugely successful and was introduced to some of its subsidiary lines like Costa.
Costa Cruises’ exuberant Italian nature is felt throughout the ship, from the main dining room, where there’s a pasta course at both lunch and dinner, to the enthusiastic Italian greetings from Filipino cabin stewards, Indian waiters and other staff. Costa Cruises is a cruise line that has made its heritage a part of its USP, so when you’re aboard Mediterranea you really feel like you’re in Italy.
While MSC Cruises have tried (and succeeded!) in appealing to almost every type of cruiser with MSC Splendida (which is also homeporting in Dubai this coming cruise season), Costa Mediterranea is more interested in doing just a few things, but doing them extremely well. This is a fun ship with a genial party atmosphere, and a younger cruise crowd as a result.
There are at least seven different dance venues to choose from each evening, and reflecting the international mix of passengers, they play everything from Italian favorites and dance standards to Latin and Euro-pop.
Italians love to dance and the ship’s entertainment staff lead line dances of various style and conduct madcap events like the “Mr. Costa Contest,” which includes a partial striptease by contestants.
The unashamedly liberal nature of such an event, taking place against the backdrop of the Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Muscat skylines, makes it all the more fun. Costa Mediterranea is a ship where almost anything goes, and if you adopt just a taste of that mindset, the cruise turns into a hilariously wonderful voyage.
This fun-loving nature is carried over into the interior design of the ship. While not in-your-face Las Vegas-style gaudy, they are certainly loud. The ship is intended to channel the 17th century palaces of Italy. No surface has been left without marquetry, colourful paintings or murals. And every light fitting, chair and table has some art deco flair.
Designed by parent company Carnival’s Joe Farcus, there is an abundance of Carerra marble, Murano glass, terrazzo, mosaics, inlaid real and faux woods and a lot of artworks featuring bare breasts and naked Cupids. Luckily, the staterooms are more neutral in décor, some might even say plain.
While the balcony cabins and suites lean more toward inoffensive yet tasteful, the inside cabins and standard ocean view staterooms are among the most basic of the mass-market cruise lines.
On the plus side, more than 50 percent of cabins have private verandahs, and the ship has been retrofitted (in 2013) with Costa’s signature spa cabins that provide direct access to the wellness center and other perks.
That refit was mainly technical in nature, but also included an overhaul of all the ship’s soft furnishings, from carpeting and curtains to sofas and sunloungers.
Although she was launched 15 years ago in 2003, Costa Mediterranea feels brand new in every way.
Up top, there are three pools, two amidships and one at the stern, the latter with an impressive waterslide for a ship this size. Sports facilities include a golf driving net and sports court for volleyball, basketball or tennis. On the lone seaday during her Dubai cruises, there are extensive outer decks for sunning and even some out-of-the way spots for reading.
The atrium aboard Costa Mediterranea.
Down below there is a soaring atrium that puts the frozen-divers waterfall of Dubai Mall to shame, a cave-like disco, spacious casino, and several lounges for all sorts of evening entertainment. There is also a small library/internet center, a card room, and of course activity centers for kids in several age groups, managed by Squok Club.
Costa Cruises has focused on being the most affordable of the major cruise lines, ticket prices, especially in the Arabian Gulf cruise market out of Dubai, typically come in well below those of its nearest competitor MSC Cruises. The difference in price is felt in the cruise experience to some extent.
Aboard Mediterranea, there is a charge for bottled water, tea and coffee at dinner. During lunch water is provided free of charge, and at breakfast both water and teas and coffees are complimentary. Aboard MSC Cruises, all are included in every meal.
There are three dining options aboard Costa Mediterranea: a spacious two-deck main dining room and a two-story alternative restaurant up on Deck 10, as well as a large lido buffet for casual cuisine starting at breakfast and continuing throughout the day.
Passengers aboard Costa Cruises are also not as international as the guest make-up of MSC Cruises’ Dubai itineraries. Most of the passengers are Italian, with the rest made up of Germans, French and a few Spanish guests.
Interestingly, most Dubai cruises with Costa also include a sizeable South African contingent. The ship is Italian through-and-through, so all public announcements are made in Italian first and then repeated in English, French, Spanish and German.
Because Costa Cruises offers a free Squok Club for children older than three years old, and because Costa Mediterranea’s Dubai cruise season runs over the Christmas holidays, she tends to be a popular ship for families.
While the average age of passengers on most of her Caribbean or Mediterranean cruises is 55, it drops significantly during her winter season in the Middle East. At times the ship can feel a little rowdy, but this is a fun ship and its all part of the experience. If you want something more sedate, but still affordable in the Dubai cruise market, MSC Cruises’ ‘Splendida’ is the better option.
Costa Mediterranea offers an extensive array of shore excursions during her Arabian Gulf cruise season, especially in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but many of the orientation lectures prior to a port call are really just a sales pitch for the shore excursions themselves. It would be helpful if more port information was provided to guests, perhaps a map showing the nearest landmarks and places of interest. In Dubai, for example, many guests may not realise that the new QE2 Dubai floating hotel and adjacent Port Rashid Marinas development is within a short taxi ride of the ship.
All of Costa Mediterranea’s Dubai cruise itineraries are either 5 or 7 nights. The only difference being that the shorter cruise doesn’t include the overnight stay in port in Dubai on the first and last nights of the itinerary, which makes it popular with Dubai residents. Either way, there will be one formal night and two themed nights on each cruise. On her European and Caribbean itineraries, there are sometimes two formal nights.
Formal nights aboard Mediterranea are largely a case of cultural interpretation. The daily program advises a jacket and tie or tuxedo for men and a pants outfit or cocktail dress for women, but jeans and a shirt or mini dress will be accepted as well. Most evenings, guests dress anywhere on the spectrum from elegant to casual. In the main dining room, shorts and tank tops are discouraged.
Theme nights on her Dubai itineraries are usually a Tropical Night and of course the cruise industry favourite White Night. As the names suggest, tropical night involves Hawaiian shirts, flowers and exotic cocktails, while White Night encourages everyone to wear all-white and at the deck party after dinner (complete with white deserts) there are white cocktails galore.
Costa Cruises’ on-board currency is the Euro, but on Mediterranea’s Caribbean cruises the dollar is used. Automatic gratuities of US $11 per night, per passenger (Caribbean sailings) or 8.5 euros per night, per passenger (European and Arabian Gulf sailings) is added to your final bill for those 15 years of age and older. For passengers between 4 and 14 years old its $5.50 per night or 4.25 euros. The gratuity cover all hotel staff, but it can be cancelled at the guest information desk if you’d like to tip your staff personally.
The introduction of VAT in the UAE does not cover the cruise industry, so even when the ship is alongside in Dubai or sailing in UAE waters, on-board purchases are not subject to VAT. There is however a 15% gratuity added to all beverages ordered at the bars or in the dining rooms, and this service charge is also included in all spa treatments, at the beauty salon and in persona trainer packages in the gym.
Costa Mediterranea is the perfect choice for an affordable but fun cruise in the Arabian Gulf roundtrip from Dubai. She’s the right size for comfort and a diverse array of bars and lounges, but small enough that you don’t feel lost in the crowd.
Costa Mediterranea is homeporting in Dubai from November, 2018 to April, 2019. For more information about her Dubai cruise season, click here.
Categories: Ship Reviews