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  #1  
Old October 30th, 2012, 12:41 PM
barante barante is offline
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Default "Live" from the Costa Victoria, a monthlong B2B from Shanghai to Singapore

Welcome to our world.

Over the month of November, this travelogue will document our cruise on the Costa Victoria from Shanghai to Singapore. By combining two itineraries, we'll be visiting two ports in China (including one overnight on the ship in Shanghai Nov. 1), one each in Taiwan and Okinawa, three in Vietnam (one overnight), Hong Kong (overnight), Singapore (overnight) and various ports in Thailand (one overnight) and Malaysia.

The way we look at this is that whatever comes must beat the present alternative in Baltimore. We have no idea as to what happened to our house. The housesitter will get there when road restritions are lifted. but it is a fair guess that we lost electricity, may have some seepage in the basement. It is possible that a tree might have fallen. Me, why worry?

In any case, this thread will report on our experiences on the Costa, a line that has its die-herd fans as well as detractors. We'll want to see for ourselves what it is all about, and compare our experiences to whatever we have seen on more than 16 cruises on HAL, Princess, Carnival, Celebrty, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean. (We have two MSC cruises booked for next spring).

I'm watching the destruction of Sandy on CNN in a riverview room at the Broadway Mansions, a hotel that was built in the 1930s as an American apartment house and later served as the Japanese occupation headquarters, etc. I selected it after an extensive search that attempted to find value. The Broadway Mansions is a nice enough hotel for a budget-conscious traveler that appreciates touches like bathrobes and cotton slippers; free in-room tea and coffee, free Internet and an available in-room fax. The best feature of our executive level room is the glorious river view, which looks garish -- like Las Vegas at night. (The executive perks include a free, substantial breakfast and a hospitality room with snacks. All that has kep us going all day today).

We have not attempted to call anyone back in Baltimore. No one has sent any shocking messages on Hotmail, our agreed-upon means of communications. Faceb--k would be useful, but China denies our access to it. Also blocked are NYT, Huffington Post and Politico.

Day and night, we hear regular chimes from The Bund. The tune is: The East is Red.
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  #2  
Old October 30th, 2012, 01:22 PM
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Look forward to your live updates!
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  #3  
Old October 30th, 2012, 01:27 PM
Keith1010 Keith1010 is online now
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Have a wonderful cruise.

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  #4  
Old October 30th, 2012, 06:51 PM
barante barante is offline
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Default No drama

If you watched television news in Baltimore Sunday morning Oct. 28, you would have thought the end was near. But by the time we got to the BWI airport, it wasn't even drizzling. Expecting mobs, we arrived two hours early for our 11:20 a.m. flight. The airport appeared completely normal. Except that the captain --yes, the capitain -- of a departing flight to Atlanta urged passengers at the gate to get their drinks at the airport and make the pit stops there because on the way to Baltimore it had been too choppy for service.

Our flight to Minneapolis was full. Some light turbulance for the first 15 minutes.We arrived early. Changed into a bigger Airbus 300. Sat next to a 42-year-old man from Woodlawn, Maryland, who was going to the Philippines for two weeks. "Angeles City?" I enquired, naming the well-known male hangout for sex. "Yes," he answered, "it's the universal story." My wife, sitting next to me, thought I handled the coversation with knowledge bordering on expertise.

So how was Delta? Three meals on the way to Tokyo: dinner, snack sandwich, breakfast. My personal entertainment console didn't work. Neither did my console on a different Delta plane from Tokyo to Shanghai. It's a long flight; the Tokyo flight was full; the Shanghai flight, also on Airbus 300, was half full. Served on that last leg was a dinner, the tastiest of all served on our journey. (Note: All beverages on the Minneapolis-Tokyo-Shanghai legs were free, including wine and beer).

Everything in Shanghai went smoothly. Exchanged some Chinese money. I had printed the hotel's name in Chinese and had asked for quotations from two vendors for an airport pickup. Instead. we used a regular cab for one third the price, or less. Signance, in English, was outstanding; the airport
taxi pickup area ran in an orderely fashion. The cab was new and clean; the driver separated by a partition that may deter a gunman in China but perhaps not in the U.S.

In five minutes we were on our way to the Broadway Mansions.
All cruies should begin like this.

Last edited by barante; October 30th, 2012 at 07:08 PM.
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  #5  
Old October 30th, 2012, 07:01 PM
Shanghaikaiser Shanghaikaiser is offline
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Default greeting from west coast

A most concern greeting to you. Hope the malevolent Ms. Sandy did not treat your house too harshly. But at least you are well and having good time in Shanghai. We are leaving tomorrow from California.
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  #6  
Old November 3rd, 2012, 02:08 AM
barante barante is offline
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Default On the way to Okinawa

Don’t expect much anything to work on Costa the way it does on major lines catering to the U.S. market. In the end, most things are fine once you figure out the confusing ways in which Costa operates. And they are confusing.

A caveat. My “live” reports will concern only our 17-night journey on Costa Victoria Nov. 1 through Nov. 17 from Shanghai to Singapore, and a subsequent B2B. If you have taken Costa or will be taking Costa, your experiences may differ. Also, different Costa ships may operate differently.

After two nights on the Costa Victoria we are beginning to get the hang of things. We are beginning to comprehend the planned insanity. It’s like trying to learn a new language: you get frustrated now and then.

The Costa Way seems to be to try to create confusion when order would suffice. Like at the check-in in Shanghai. Why on earth did Costa arrange four lines of passengers to feed three crew-operated machines that photocopied oncoming passengers’ passport douments, thereby creating a choking point?

But before we get there, first things first.

This is the way one checked in in Shanghai. Your first dropped off your luggage inside the departure hall. Except that if you did not have luggage tags, as we didn’t, you had to go through initial registration and then drop off your luggage.

From this point on, a normal U.S. check-in process would go like this: Passengers are given a group number or seated in a certain section of the waiting hall and processed in that order. No such logic in Shanghai. Instead, huge lines formed leading to a single processing point,where occasional conflicts ensued. Such as an old Italian lady screaming at the girlfirend/wife of a young Russian who was joining her mate, accusing her of jumping the line.

At a normal U.S. check-in, the passenger’s photo and credit card information would have been taken during the initial registration, and each passenger given a card to be used for ship purchases and exiting and re-entering at ports.

Because this was Costa and the Victoria is an older ship, none of that happened at registration. Instead, passengers first stood in lines for hours and then passed through a Chinese-operated security gate, where carry-ons went through an X-ray machine, and proceeded to the next point, where crew members photocopied our passports. With photocopies in hand, we then walked a long distance, passing the ships‘ photographers telling them we didn’t want any souvenir photos taken. We then walked some more and ended at the next point. There we were given two items: A Costa card to be used on the ship plus a red plastic card to be used at the emergency boat drill. (Would they require that card for a life boat if the vessel sank, we wondered? Turned out it was only to keep track of who attended the mandatory drill)

We then proceeded to yet another check point, near the entry to the ship, where Costa crew members checked out travel documents once more and Chinese officials checked our passports. They stamped beforementioned photocopies that were to be used in lieu of passports for exiting and re-entering in Shanghai.

Once inside the ship, our facial pictures were taken for our Costa cards and an old-fashioned perforated hotel key card given for our cabin. So instead of a single cruise card, as is the case on U.S.-formatted major lines, we always have to carry the keycard as well.

So what has not been done so far?

No one has taken our credit card information, the starting point in U.S. registrations. Costa’s way is to have automatic machines around the ship where passengers first insert their Costa card and then the credit card they want to use.

Hey, it gets stranger still. The Costa card, which now is effectively your onboard credit card, also is used to lock and open your inroom safe.

Are we having fun yet?
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  #7  
Old November 3rd, 2012, 08:54 AM
barante barante is offline
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Default A fun ship

So, are we having fun yet?

The answer is yes. Despite hiccups, the Costa Victoria is a fun ship. While some past CC posters have painted specters of Chinese hordes taking over the ship, there are hardly any Asians among passengers. And he few on the ship come mostly from North America.

Instead, the bulk of the passengers are European. Lots of Italians, of course. French is heard everywhere and so is German, and some Russian, Polish and Czech. Then there are some 400 Norwegians. Most of them belong to that Nordic country’s automobile industry. When the trip was initially announced, organizers said they expected a minimum of 30 people. That number soon swelled.

For Norwegians in particular, Costa’s agressively high bar prices are no problem. They home country is so expensive that everything on Costa is cheap by comparison.



Since so many passengers know one another, the atmosphere is relaxed. Spontaneous singing punctuated tonight’s gala dinner.

The Costa Victoria also is a dancing ship. About a dozen young men have been assigned to gigolo duties -- to dance with ladies. A few Costa women also are available to dance with men, including a comely lass from Dominican Republic. And people do dance. Last night, a guitarrist and his singer partner did lots of bossa nova and then effortlessly shifted to a Johann Strauss waltz. Suddenly the dance floor filled with eager couples.

Our average age is just above 60, it seems. We have fewer than half a dozen children.

Much has been written about Costa food. We have found most of it quite good.

In some previous posts, I fretted over the drinkin water situation since many CC posters said free table water on Costa might ber a problem. I even bought a $40 zapper which is supposed to deliver pretty much any water drinkable within 90 seconds.

All that was unnecessary. On our first night we asked for regular ice water in the MDR and got two glasses of it. The next night my wife asked for ice tea as well. Since then a pitcher of ice tea has been delivered to our table automatically, in adddition to glasses of water.

One of the great amenities here is the spa which includes a free Turkish bath (coed) and separate Finnish saunas for women and men. They are next to a good-zied indoor swimming pool.

All this nicely balances the drawbacks of confusion that include the ship’s Internet. Most major market U.S. ships would have a designated problem-solver in the Internet cafe. Not on the Victoria. Instead, people with Internet problems must wait in line at the information desk, where the staff is not capable of handiling questions.
I witnessed how a man in his 70s spent some 10 minutes this afternoon trying to figure out how to log in and out, while the line grew longer and more restless. He had bought an expensive Internet package and, it turned out, lost all of his minutes because he had not logged out properly.

This truly is a problem. I had serious difficulties in gertting the system log me out and lost a minute or two in the process. Other Carnival brands are able to handle this, why isn’t Costa?

We are traveling in a 150-square-foot inside. It seems awfully crammed. But even tht cabin has a tea kettle and a selection of teas.

The Costa is not a fancy ship. Its decor hghlight light colors and beachwood and somewhat resembles the RCL Grandeur of the Sea. It’s comforable like a old shoe.
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  #8  
Old November 3rd, 2012, 01:06 PM
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black forest black forest is offline
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Thank you - I am looking forward to your review! Very interesting.

Hope everything at your home will be alright.
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  #9  
Old November 4th, 2012, 04:01 AM
jonad jonad is offline
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Interesting about the kettle and tea in the cabin, as apparently they were removed from all Costa ships after some incident.
We were on the Victoria in May, from Singapore to Shanghai and didn't have a kettle.
Perhaps its to cater for the Asian market???
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2013 Costa Deliziosa - Oct/Nov (East Med)
2012 Costa neoRomantica - Nov/Dec (Sing-Melb)
2012 Costa Victoria - May - Asia (Sing-Shanghai)
2011 Costa Atlantica - Nov (East Med)
2011 Costa Mediterranea - Nov (West Med)
2011 Costa Classica - April (Asia)
2010 Costa Allegra -Apr (Sing- Civitavecchia)
2009 Costa Allegra -Nov (Asia Sth of Singapore)
2009 Costa Allegra -Apr (Asia Nth of Singapore)
2006 Star Gemini (Straits of Malacca)
1993 P&O Fairstar (South Pacific)
1974 Guglielmo Marconi (Fremantle to Genova via Panama Canal)
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  #10  
Old November 4th, 2012, 05:23 AM
scubabecky scubabecky is offline
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Loving the updates...keep 'em coming!

We'll be joining you in Singapore for the Nov 17 sailing. I was worried about the free water (or lack thereof) at the MDR but glad to see it wasn't an issue for you at all. We are looking forward to the cruise. Hope you have a brilliant time
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  #11  
Old November 5th, 2012, 02:14 AM
barante barante is offline
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Default Who knows why

Quote:
Originally Posted by jonad View Post
Interesting about the kettle and tea in the cabin, as apparently they were removed from all Costa ships after some incident.
We were on the Victoria in May, from Singapore to Shanghai and didn't have a kettle.
Perhaps its to cater for the Asian market???
Except that our cruise clearly was not marketed for Asians. All Chinese passengers are overseas Chinese, mostly from California. Fewer than 100 total. There are three times more Norwegians here than them. . . and no reindeers.

In a later post, I will offer my thoughts about cruising and the Asian market.

Last edited by barante; November 5th, 2012 at 02:17 AM.
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  #12  
Old November 5th, 2012, 04:01 AM
barante barante is offline
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Default Victories at sea

Yesterday in Naha, Okinawa, we scored a victory over Costa. Following their rules we entered Japan -- ILLEGALLY.

Since we were part of no ship-arranged tour group, we reported to the Deck Six theater to be "walked through" by the staff. The day before we had submitted our custom forms, as required.

When we got to the theater a Costa member of the CD staff was telling others "you may go now." So did we. With photocopies of our passports, no one stopped us.

We walked a mile to the Monorail, rode up and down its route from the airport to opposite suburbs and peeked at a couple of sleepy commercial areas. At one of them we met two lonely Mormon "elders," young missionaries who seemed as lost as we were. They were happy to speak to someone in English.

They were from California. "Have you ever been to California?" they asked. "Have you ever met a Mormon before." Being standup guys we told them the truth. When we lived in an antebellum house on Baltimore's Union Square -- the area where H.L. Mencken used to live -- religious solicitors came by all the time. So we told Jehovah's Witnesses we were Mormons and Mormons we were Witnesses. Nice smiles back and forth. Short and sweet. Worked every time.

After some more touring in Naha we returned to the ship only to be greeted by a stern Scandinavian type in uniform, who told us we had caused Costa possible trouble by entering Japan illegally. How so, we wanted to know? He told us: From the theater, we were supposed to have gone one deck up to be processed by the Japanese authorities and only then down four decks to the gangplank.

We tried to look contrite but laughed inside. We had defeated the mindless Costa way.
Back on the ship, we took naps and then I went to the spa. Temperature in the inside pool -- and I kid you not -- was 37 degrees Celsius, or 99 degrees F.

Although the spa has both Turkish and Finnish saunas, there is no water fountain there. One exists in the adjoining gym. When I drank from the watercooler-like apparatus, the water was warm. (This morning it was chilled).

More water news: Previously I reported that we had managed not only to get ice water served (in glasses) at dinner but also pitchers of ice tea. Last night, a pitcher of ice water as well was delivered to our table!

I think we are getting special treatment which might not occur if we were at a table of eight. Because the next table, populated by Germans and Italians, has to buy their water in bottles at nearly $5 each.

Today we are in Keelung, Taiwan. Having been there, we decided to skip Taipei on this dreary-looking day. Free Internet is available in the arrivals building. A Starbucks around the corner has wifi availabe for $100 Taiwanese on a 24-hour basis. A went to a Jewlery store that changed $5 U.S. to cover that expense and gave some coins back. No coffee, though.

Such improvisation is needed on these one-day stops. I didn't want to end up with excess Japanese money in my pockets, or Taiwanese. When we hit Hong Kong and Singapore, we'll use ATMs. Also in Vietnam, if available.
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  #13  
Old November 5th, 2012, 04:38 PM
barante barante is offline
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Default Shanghai and the meaning of it all

As Americans go to vote today, we are plowing toward Hong Kong. We are traveling through seemingly placid waters that will challenge the next U.S. president. Already, China claims sovereignty over several islands that today belong to Japan, a U.S. military ally. Similar disputes are in the offing with the Philippines.

These are contentious matters with complicated histories that merit serious study and discussion in some other forum. Just one example: Did you know that Taiwan, which Portuguese explorers named Formosa, once was under Japanese colonial rule? And that the samurai tradition is still celebrated there? Or that Chiang kaishek’s Nationalists, fleeing communists from the mainland, were seen as intruders, a fact that has resurfaced as a source of political tensions in today’s Taiwan?

With this introduction, I want to talk about Shanghai, whose own history included a defining period during which the British, Americans and French import/export companies ran what today is China’s largest city (pop: nearly 20 million), leaving behind the glorious landmark architecture of The Bund, that era’s commercial and financial riverside hub.

Any cruiser who has the chance should visit Shanghai. And stay there for a few extra days to witness one of the most exciting urban transformations of our times. Because in the past 20 years, Shanghai has become a leading global city. In that process, the marshes and farmland of Pudong, opposite to The Bund, have been transformed into a new millennial Manhattan, where futuristic skyscrapers keep rising like mushrooms.

There is no better way to see Shanghai than by taking one of several hop on/hop off tours. We bought a two-day pass from the Big Bus outfit for 300 yuan each. This admittedly was a steep price. But the service was frequent, the English narrative outstanding. Also included was a nighttime river cruise that left us in breathless, in awe. Because not only has Shanghai hired the world’s best architects to design those skyscrapers but also told them that lighting is an essential design element. From dusk to 10 p.m., when most lights are turned off to conserve energy, both sides of the Shanghai riverfront turn into a wonderland. The Bund bathes in neutral lighting; the Pudong side glitters like no other major city in the world. Buildings change colors; they are presented as works of light art; some are gigantic billboards.

While many big cities regulate or outright outlaw such garishness, Shanghai encourages it.

We flew to Shanghai from the U.S. on Delta. it was a long flight but Delta delivered and fed us three times. At the aiport, with the name of our hotel, Broadway Mansions, printed in Chinese, we headed for the taxi rank. After changing some money. For one third of what the cheapest agency would have charged for the pickup, we took a metered cab. Ended costing us 180 yuan, about 30 bucks. I gave the driver two bills. He gave me the change and printed a receipt. Smple. This is how it always works. Metered, no hanggling, no tips necesary. Always a printed receipt. Taxis are cheap. Use them, but always have your destination written in Chinese.

Similarly, when the time came, we asked Broadway Mansions reception to write the address in Chinese of the Wusong International Cruise Terminal. For 109 yuan, a fraction of what agencies would have charged, we were taken on a 40 minute ride from the hotel on The Bund to the port. The next day, after having overnighted on the ship, we took an early cab ride (16 yuan) to the nearest MRT station and then headed for the Pudong Airport by Metro. From there we took the magnetic levitation train back to Shanghai. it was a seven-mknute ride, with the train reaching the speed of 301 km/h. We then took the MRT back to Wusong, where a free Costa shuttle greeted us at the station and took us back to the ship.

All Shanghai MRT stations have station names in English. Announcements on trains also are made in English. Nevertheless, during our MRT travel, we experienced some confusion, our own. But at every juncture we were helped by someone who spoke English or just wanted to help. I want particularly to mention two young men wearing dark suits. Their English was minimal. But they simply whipped out their iPhones and, using the subway map on the screen, gave us the proper directions.

Here is the kicker, which ought to kick the next U.S. president in various ways: Wi-fi connectivity extends through all of Shanghai MRT Metro. Meaning that when you are underground, you can keep talking or searching. It is just one of the many things that is positioning China for a competitive edge.

A final note: The Wusong International Cruise terminal is what most lines use nowadays. A terminal along The Bund is only for river cruises. Some of our fellow passengers reported having gone there, only to be greeted by a sign telling them to continue to Wusong.

Last edited by barante; November 5th, 2012 at 04:51 PM.
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Old November 5th, 2012, 05:10 PM
barante barante is offline
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Default Our main in Shanghai

I meant to add that one of those young men in Shanghai with minimal English guided us on the MRT to a connecting line in person, even though this diverted him from whatever he was doing.

He asked where we were from?

"The United States," we replied. This clearly did not register.

"America," we tried again.

"Good," he responded.
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Old November 6th, 2012, 04:43 PM
barante barante is offline
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Default The way it is

We are approaching Hong Kong. It’s nearly 5 a.m. Wednesday (11 p.m. Tuesday on the East Coast, and I am trying to find out who won the presidential election. Too early to burn my expensive wi-fi minutes, so I am trying to find out through Costa Victoria television offerings.

No such luck. Usually it’s a relief not to be bombarded with the schizophrenia of CNN or FOX, but on the Costa Victoria we live in splendid isolation: This is our lineup:

Channel 12 Euronews (English), prerecorded Eurocentric coverage
13 Euronews (German), prerecorded
14 Deutsche Welle (German), Berlin’s overseas propaganda channel.
15 RAI (Italian)
16 Channel One (Russian)
17 Lotus (Chinese)
18 France 24 (French)
19 TV5 (French)
20 TVE (Spanish)

Some of these channels are presumably live. . .
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Old November 6th, 2012, 05:28 PM
AnonymousCruiser69 AnonymousCruiser69 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by barante View Post
We are approaching Hong Kong. It’s nearly 5 a.m. Wednesday (11 p.m. Tuesday on the East Coast, and I am trying to find out who won the presidential election. Too early to burn my expensive wi-fi minutes, so I am trying to find out through Costa Victoria television offerings.

No such luck. Usually it’s a relief not to be bombarded with the schizophrenia of CNN or FOX, but on the Costa Victoria we live in splendid isolation: This is our lineup:

Channel 12 Euronews (English), prerecorded Eurocentric coverage
13 Euronews (German), prerecorded
14 Deutsche Welle (German), Berlin’s overseas propaganda channel.
15 RAI (Italian)
16 Channel One (Russian)
17 Lotus (Chinese)
18 France 24 (French)
19 TV5 (French)
20 TVE (Spanish)

Some of these channels are presumably live. . .
it is only 4:30 PM tuesday. i'm enjoying your blog. thanks!

Last edited by AnonymousCruiser69; November 6th, 2012 at 05:29 PM.
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Old November 6th, 2012, 07:02 PM
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it is only 4:30 PM tuesday. i'm enjoying your blog. thanks!
Welcome to Cruise Critic!
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  #18  
Old November 7th, 2012, 04:56 AM
jonad jonad is offline
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Barante: do you think perhaps the Europeans just want to order bottled water, as that is what they do in their homeland?
We have never had any problems on any of our Costa cruises with water at the table. We too order bottled water as we get the wine package, but others have ordered jugs without problems....but from comments, it does seem to vary.

I also want to point out that on the newer Costa ships you only have the one card which is your I.D card. credit card and key. Its only the older ones which still have the perforated keycard.

We went through the same 'kerfuffle' as you when we disembarked in Shanghai....perhaps even more so, as it was Costa's first time in Shanghai so they went through all sorts of formalities before we could disembark. They even took our photo at Immigration......still we got off and all went well.

I think patience is the key and just remember a holiday is what you make it

Have fun. (We're off on the neoRomantica on the 21st...)
PS. You probably know by now that Obama won!!
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2013 Costa Deliziosa - Oct/Nov (East Med)
2012 Costa neoRomantica - Nov/Dec (Sing-Melb)
2012 Costa Victoria - May - Asia (Sing-Shanghai)
2011 Costa Atlantica - Nov (East Med)
2011 Costa Mediterranea - Nov (West Med)
2011 Costa Classica - April (Asia)
2010 Costa Allegra -Apr (Sing- Civitavecchia)
2009 Costa Allegra -Nov (Asia Sth of Singapore)
2009 Costa Allegra -Apr (Asia Nth of Singapore)
2006 Star Gemini (Straits of Malacca)
1993 P&O Fairstar (South Pacific)
1974 Guglielmo Marconi (Fremantle to Genova via Panama Canal)
1974-75 Guglielmo Marconi (Genova to Fremantle via Capetown)
1965 Sydney (Genova to Fremantle)
1963 Flavia (Fremantle to Naples)

Last edited by jonad; November 7th, 2012 at 04:59 AM.
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  #19  
Old November 7th, 2012, 09:09 AM
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Yes, Jonad is right. I am German and I love to drink sparkling water or soda, even if I have to pay for it.

Thanks for your daily update - I am looking forward to it.
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Old November 7th, 2012, 07:07 PM
barante barante is offline
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Default It's magic

Last night was magical.

The Costa Victoria was parked overnight in Kowloon, next to the Star Terminal, one of the hubs for cross-harbor passenger ferries. In other words, we were in the heart of Hong Kong’s Chinese section, with the length of the ship’s starboard side overlooking the Hong Kong Island skyline. When we had our dinner, our window table enjoyed a million dollar view of skyscrapers at night.

My wife and I raised our glasses of ice tea to this magnificent city. A lady at a German-speaking table also proposed a toast: To Obama!

The dinner crowd was sparse. There was simply too much competition. We, too, cleared out hastily because we wanted to get a good table in the outside aft-portion of what on other ships is usually called the Lido deck. On many other ships, an aft pool usually occupies that space; on the Victoria it is reserved for tables, partially covered by a huge canopy. How that canopy survives winds and storms I don’t know, but it is an option that shields tables from too sunshine. Simply stated, that deck is a delight.

The reason we headed for that aft deck was Hong Kong’s nightly 8 p.m. light show. It is not to be missed, and our ship was a perfect vantage point. I still argue that Shanghai’s skyline and nightly lights are more dramatic. But Hong Kong , with colored laser lights and such, rivals that show.

What made that show extra special last night, simply by coincidence, was a belated Octoberfest that either Hong Kong’s German community or some company held in tents on a pier next to our ship. Hundreds of revelers quaffed beer and devoured wursts to the sounds of a truly excellent oompah band from Germany. Lots of lusty singing. Prosst!

In the morning we had done some of the obligatory touring. On our own. It was easy to do. We simply took a Star ferry (under 3 HK dollars) from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island, where there is a stop right at the terminal for the 15C bus that whisked us to the terminus of the Victoria peak tram. Spectacular views from the tram and from the observation deck at the top of the peak where the Bubba-
Gump Shrimp Company -- yes, that Bubba -- operates a restaurant with some of the best views in business.

I must say that overall Hong Kond Island didn’t do much for me. It is a high-rise canyon and a traffic nightmare. It also is not designed for strolling. Unless you know where you are going, you soon get frustrated because few crosswalks exist. Instead, you must use skywalks stretching from one mall or office building to other.

Kowloon, by contrast, was a delight. You can haggle -- and haggling is expected -- in streets and streets full of small stores operated not only by Chinese, but by Indians and Arabs. Touts trying to entice you to buy cheap suits or fake watches. Suzy Wong may be dead but her trade lives on, practiced by enterpreneurs local and foreign who want to free male tourists from their cash. To see this cornucopia of human activity, one does not go any father than the
fringes of Star Terminal, itself located next to a shopping mall whose Christmas decorations draw huge crowds. Much glitter from brand merchants, too. Without Chinese customers Mont Blanc, Cartier and other premium brands would go out of business!
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