AIDA Prima (Baltic Sea Cruise) ****

Cruise dates: June 29 - July 6, 2019
Cruise itinerary: Kiel - Tallinn - St. Petersburg - Helsinki - Stockholm - Kiel

+ Excellent food quality and variety
+ multiple restaurants available

  • Pressure toilet in cabin
  • too little seating in covered pool area and not enough cushions to go round
  • Theater shows not on par with other cruise lines
  • poor soundproofing between cabins

  • Getting to the Ship and Checkin
    We were happy to read that it would be possible to drop off our luggage at Kiel central station, as the dock is only about 20 minutes walk from the train station. As it turns out, this process isn’t free of charge (wich isn’t mentioned anywhere) but rather costs €5 per person, but includes a bus ride to the terminal (which we really didn’t want).

    Since we did a detour into the shopping center across the street from the central station and it was getting late when we came out, we figured we might as well take the bus. There were only a few people in front of us, and over the next 15 minutes the line behind us got longer and longer. You could tell the Aida aide waiting at the boarding point was getting nervous, so I asked here why there weren’t any busses coming to pick us up. She thought that perhaps the parallel street that the busses came back from the terminal on may have been shut down for security reasons as this was the second last day of „Kieler Woche“. We decided to go ahead and walk after all (likely a good decision - no busses passed us on the way).

    Boarding the AIDAprima was very different from the boarding process of any other cruise we have taken. For one thing, signage was minimal or just didn’t exist. You simply joined a queue in the middle of the terminal hall. When we got there, the line wasn‘t that long and it quickly filled up all the way to the hall entrance after we got there. Checkin was one level up, and they only let through about 15-20 people at a time to take the escalator up. Some folks strode right up to the beginning of the escalator, showed the attendant stationed there something and were let through, bypassing the line. I can only assume that these were priority passengers (Suites, etc.), but here, too, no signage or a priority queue, so this didn‘t add much to the morale of people waiting.

    Once we took the escalator to the next floor, we were offered ice tea and stood in line again, this time one that was cordoned off in a zig-zag pattern. Once through that, we were pointed toward one of many party tables set up with laptops - this is where the checkin process took place.

    Checkin went very quickly and off we went to the next queue divided up by floors to pick up our board cards. Then through security and we were finally able to board the ship.

    First Impressions
    We entered the ship on the 6th floor and the first thing we saw was „Die Scharfe Ecke“ („the hot corner“), a Currywurst booth. Of course, each of us had to have a Currywurst before going to our room - and yummy they were!

    Finding your way around the ship isn‘t easy, and it took us a bit of wandering to figure out the best way to get to our cabin on the 11th floor (back Starboard). The layout of the ship is different than what we‘d previously been used to. Some features of the ship are on decks that otherwise only have cabins on them, such as the reception. This isn‘t an issue, as you can always walk the hallway to the front, middle or back part you need to get to, but it is very confusing at first.

    The ship is built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and seems to be only ship of the Aida fleet by that manufacturer. We‘ve been on ships built by Meyer Werft in Papenburg / Finland as well by STX in France and it is quite obvious that the differences between ship manufacturers is much like those setting car manufacturers apart. Just like with a car, you can get from point A to point B with a Skoda just as much as you can with a Mercedes, but there are differences in comfort level.

    As an example, the sound proofing between cabins is really poor on the AIDAprima - while our neighbours to the right weren‘t of the quiet sort in general, we were able to understand every word they said in the cabin if the person talking was close enough to the wall.
    I‘m willing to guess that Mitsubishi probably builds ferries and cargo ships more than cruise ships and just doesn‘t have the expertise in the important details that a Meyer Werft does.

    We were in cabin 11183, a „premium veranda“ category. While certainly not wider than cabins on other cruise ships, the balcony (sorry, „veranda“) was probably 50% deeper than others we‘d been on, making both reclining seats (reclining to completely flat) possible as well as the hanging up of a (supplied) hammock. Very nice.
    Very good as well was the available space in the cabin, with two relatively large closets with real hangers and shelves (some of which were taken up by safety vests and two bath robes), as well as a few drawers in the furniture and nooks and crannies in various places.

    Super convenient was the separate toilet with its own sink - this is really great if you are traveling with four people in the cabin. Unfortunately, the toilet itself was one of the worst I‘ve ever used anywhere. As with all cruise ships (and planes) I‘ve been on, it is a low-water-use toilet that supplements missing flush water with high-pressure air. I‘m assuming that the toilet in our cabin was adjusted poorly, because it had major issues extracting away residue, especially toilet paper. Even with very little toilet paper used, you would have to „flush“ it up to 5 times to get it cleared. Not so great (if not to say, very annoying).
    We had a very prevalent sewage smell in the shower side of the bathroom. It turned out to be a dried-out floor drain half hidden unter the sink from which you could actually hear air escape (cabin air is evacuated from both the shower and the toilet rooms, as is usually the case on cruise ships). Easily fixed with some water poured in with a glass - I don‘t understand why this isn‘t standard operating procedure for the cleaning staff, it literally takes 10 seconds.

    Instead of the expected pull-out couch for two people, our couch was just for one with a second bed that dropped out of the ceiling.
    The maximum weight for this bed is 120kg, but quite honestly it made some strange creaking sounds with our 35kg son moving around in it, so I probably would not want to sleep on the couch below with a 90kg adult in the drop-down bed above me...

    Very surprising and very annoying was the lack of a mini bar in the cabin. This is a feature that - especially for water and the odd beer in the evening - is really convenient. I have no idea if it is Aida standard not to have a mini bar in the cabins or if it is just the AIDAprima. Especially finding a place that sells water by the bottle wasn‘t that easy (hint: the Traveller‘s Store has water in stock).

    Another annoyance was an odd locked, but quite obviously empty plastic container under the bed. We never figured out what this was for (we weren‘t given a key to it, otherwise we could have used it for somewhat safe storage), but it took up a good chunk of below-bed real estate, so if you travel with four full-size suitcases, you‘re pretty much up the creek.

    There is a large, flat-screen TV (around 40“ diagonally) in the Cabin with plenty of programming - most of it German language channels. The picture quality could be better, especially because the screen (an LG) likely does at least HD, but it was ok. We were happy to be able to see two of the more important Women‘s Soccer World Championship games on it. One of these was also being shown at the Brauhaus, but there is only one large screen there that is only properly viewable from the center seating.

    The quick answer is: food on this ship is fantastic. There is variety for every taste (though, as I picked up from a conversation between a guest and a restaurant manager that wasn‘t to be overheard, you may run into a snag if your are -sensitive).

    There are multiple restaurants that are included in your fare (though some require a reservation to be made), including a Tim Maelzer steakhouse (incredible quality!), an Asian restaurant that lets you pick your ingredients to be stir-fried, a Spanish Tapas bar, etc.
    There are two classic buffet restaurants, and even though they tend to have much less the „chow hall“ atmosphere that you find on other cruise ships, they tend to be extremely busy at peak times. Think „no place to sit“ and „step on other people‘s feet trying to get food“. These types of restaurant seem to be too small on every cruise ship we‘ve been on, and the AIDAprima isn‘t any different, unfortunately. The variety of food and drinks in these restaurants is extremely good, though. In my opinion and experience, only Celebrity reached this level of excellence (our last cruise with Celebrity was 8 years ago).
    In comparison to the other cruise lines we‘ve been on (Celebrity, Norwegian, Costa and MSC), the AIDAprima does not have a served-at-an-assigned-table restaurant. Instead, you can (or have to, depending on the restaurant) reserve tables at one of the specialty restaurants instead of going to the buffets.

    Where the AIDAprima is lacking, however, is in service quality. While personnel is very friendly in the restaurants, etc., I find it astounding that on a ship where more than 90% of guests are German nationals (some of which don‘t speak English well or even at all), there would be personnel that is in contact with guests (restaurants, bars, etc.) that obviously don‘t speak German at all or so poorly that it is difficult to get your point across. I ended up just speaking English with them most of the time, which worked fine. Most of the personnel is - as with all cruise ships we‘ve been on - from the Philippines or nearby Asian countries.

    Also, their training of what their restaurant offers doesn‘t seem to be on a level that I would expect on an Aida ship. Example: we ordered starters and main courses in the „Brauhaus“ brewery restaurant. All the food came at once, so that I alternated between my soup starter and Schnitzel main course to at least get some of both down in a hot condition. Mind you, the starters we ordered were clearly marked as such on the menu.

    I also found it quite annoying that food being served would start to be taken away 15 minutes before the official closing time of the restaurant.

    The AIDAprima has an „open pit“ theatre, something we’ve not seen on any cruise ship we‘ve been on, as these usually have their theatre in the bow and laid out to be closed off completely. I‘m not sure what the ship‘s architect had in mind with this very open construction (you can walk by the „pit“ on all three levels on both sides of the ship). On the one hand, I would think that people meandering around on three levels on both sides would irritate the artists considerably (but perhaps you get used to it). On the other, the considerable volume generated during (infrequent!) shows is probably quite irritating in adjoining shops, restaurants, bars and the casino, the latter of which is openly connected to the theatre.

    What is a bit of a shame is that the AIDAprima doesn‘t offer the typical daily show program that you find on other ships. Rather, the theatre is used for occasional music and dance / acrobatics shows that are not nearly on-par with what we’ve seen on other ships, as well as movie theatre and informational events.

    They do have a small theatre/nightclub called Nightfly that features late-night, more adult-oriented shows (nothing like Las Vegas, but likely inappropriate to teens under 16). You have to reserve your seats between 19:00-20:00h at the theatre entrance. The show costs €10 per person, but includes a glass of bubbly.

    As we decided to reserve for the evening before the second sea-day, we ended up with excellent seats right at the stage. There are two „sections“ to this theatre, the very front which has an excellent view from any seat, and the back which is blatantly ridiculous. Essentially, you‘ll end up having either a wall, a column or other people blocking your view. The MC of our show, when people in the back started to leave, even mentioned that he fully understood that people were frustrated, as the theatre designer obviously didn‘t know what he was doing. It is also quite a shame that the theatre only gets used for a single show per day - seems a waste of ship real-estate.

    There is a giant screen with half-circle, step seating in the water area on deck 14 in the back of the ship. This screen is so bright that you can view it perfectly even in bright sunlight. We watched „Jurassic World 2“ there and the picture quality was really good. It would have been great to have a pillow for your back, as you‘re sitting on large wooden steps, but there were none to be had.

    Pool, Slides
    The main pool is amidships on deck 15. It is relatively large (compared to other cruise ship pools I‘ve seen); the main part is indoors (under a large, oblong and translucent cupola), a smaller part is outside.
    The entire area is called „Beach Club“ and also includes several bars and a stage, where a live band plays most evenings. There are wicker-like chairs and lounges along the outer rim as well as on a small upper deck inside the cupola. On sea days with colder outside temperatures, this area tends to be packed and finding open seating is difficult at best. Also, the chairs are all made so you can really only recline comfortably with a cushion for your lower back. These exist, but they seem to be a dwindling species. You‘ll find that some people need three of these to get really comfy (not caring whether other people lose out), but there definitely seem to be too few cushions generally available.
    The giant slides in the back of deck 14 seem really cool, especially because they have clear segments that look over the side of the ship. Unfortunately, the amount of water that is pumped up to help you slide down is too little, so the ride is much too slow (our daughter actually stopped mid-slide and had to propel herself forward with hands and feet).
    The covered area that houses the slides also houses a „water park“ with tires that you can swim around an oval water parcours on and some fun water games (mainly for smaller kids). This area also has a climbing parcours.

    The Spa is a payable option and really quite nice. It features plenty of rest areas, both outside and in, as well as Saunas and other temples of sweat. You can also book massages here (which we did). Fruit, water and tea are available (included in price). If you’re looking for a place to get away from the bustle of the rest of the ship (on a sea day, for example), this is the place to go.

    In an age where everyone has a smartphone, Aida has made Wifi available nearly everywhere on the ship. While their main modus operandi is to try to sell you internet time (as does every other cruiseline), the on-board portal is also available via Wifi for free.
    Unfortunately, I had major issues with the onboard Wifi in that I could connect to it quite quickly on my iPhone but never actually got a data connection (i.e., the Wifi connection was confirmed in settings with IP address assigned, but the symbol for it never appeared in the status bar). This happened on both my iPhone and my iPad, so I‘m assuming that it is something to do with Aida‘s Wifi setup.
    The portal is also available on large, portait-mode touchscreens that are distributed all over the ship - each one with an attached RFID reader so that you can log into the portal using your room key.
    While this approach is much better than on any other cruise ship we‘ve been on, the full potential isn‘t used (i.e. offering a search or cross-linking restaurant names with the reservation system or even indicating the deck number).
    As we learned, the cross-ship Wifi does make babyphones possible, which we really would have appreciated on other ships when our kids were of an age where they needed 24/7 supervision!


    MSC Meraviglia **

    Stayed: Feb. 2019

    Summary: Good vs. Bad
    These are just things to be aware of - some of them aren‘t easily changeable, some are management issues.

  • Food quality in the buffet restaurant.
  • Really quite new and showing it.
  • Cirque du Soleil on board.

  • Bad
  • Ship design and construction: There are many issues with the way the ship was designed and built that I found to be quite negative as compared to other ships I‘ve been on.
  • Customer-facing personnel: Unfortunately, the few black sheep amongst the crew really pull the average down, though the people we dealt with generally seemed subdued.
  • Ship interior is quite drab.

  • My Take: There are other ships and other companies out there...

    The Ship
    The Meraviglia is huge - at the time of our cruise, I believe it was the second biggest cruise ship in the world, taking on up to 5.714 passengers at fully booked (which likely rarely happens, as this means 4 to a cabin for many cabins on the ship). We had a good size comparison to an older MSC ship in La Valletta (the „Sinfonia“) and the difference is just stupendous.

    With its Christening in June, 2017, it had just over a year and a half of service under its belt when we were on it. The condition of the ship is in line with its age.
    Our cruise was in the 3rd week of February in the Mediterranean, so likely the ship was not near booked solid. We didn’t get stats like „passengers on board“, unfortunately, and interestingly, people got on and off at nearly every port we stopped at.

    There are several aspects to this ship that make me subjectively think they have to do with the French manufacturer. I‘m not a great fan of French technology products and this ship makes this feeling all the more assertive.

    The creaking in the cabin (remember, it‘s a pretty new ship) and the odd, intermittent shuddering or continuous vibration despite absolutely reasonable wave levels gives me the impression that the engineering that went into the ship isn‘t on par with other builders. In fact, it brought back a memory from high school Physics class, where we watched a
    video of the Tacoma Narrows bridge getting driven into its resonance frequency by a storm and then basically „exploding“. Not a nice thought and certainly not a noise to make you sleep well without ear plugs.

    While then central Promenade with a projection ceiling is a nice touch, reminding me of some casinos or even the downtown area in Las Vegas. The possibilities of such a projection screen are not utilized fully, in my opinion. Think of the Venetian, where a complete day/night cycle is gone through every half hour or so, it would have been simple and a real added value to make more of this feature here on board.

    The rest of the ship is rather drab. The staircases (which we used frequently - who needs a stairmaster?) have identical pictures all the way from the bottom to the top and the carpeting is held in the same rust color. I‘m not a fan of overly colorful interiors, but this is boring even for me. You have the occasional piece of art (mostly around the reception area) and one or two other highlights, but really, the ship is poorly decorated.

    The same goes for many of the bars. A real downer is the „Studio Bar“ - seldom have I seen a place so lacking in luster. On the other side of the promenade, the "pub" tries to add some flair and comes fairly close to looking like a British pub, though it looks like one that was just built and never used before. This is a shame - a touch of relicing would really have gone a long way here.

    Another negative aspect to the ship‘s construction is the way the movement of groups is restricted. As an example: all the ships we were on before (Celebrity, Norwegian and Costa) have had multiple entrances into resp. out of the main theater. This ship only has a single way out. If you‘re not sitting at the top, don‘t bother getting up until the masses have pushed their way through the catheract of an exit. It really isn‘t a pleasant experience. Lets hope there is never a mass panic in this theater or there will likely be people trampled to death.

    The same goes for the Carousel Lounge, where they have Cirque du Soleil performances 6 nights a week. The only entrance to the theater is through the casino. This is annyoing for two reasons: for one, the casino is a smoking zone, and while the air is obviously vigurously exchanged you still smell it quite clearly. It is also annoying if you‘re with kids, because you will be told quite rudely that you can‘t be standing near any of the gambling machines even if you‘re behind the cordon that at least optically separates the entrance to the theater from the casino floor.

    The impression that employees of MSC are less happy about their jobs comes across too often. From people that deal with customers being rude or just unfriendly to being told that „this is the first time working for MSC and hopefully the last“, one gets the impression that MSC is not a company with the best people management, nor one that educates customer-facing employees on the proper way to deal with those that, at the end of the day, pay their wages.

    The Cabin
    The cabin (we were in 10212) is modern and - at first glance - spacious for this category. However, that spaciousness comes at a cost: there is very little room to put stuff, especially when the couch is converted to bunk beds. Essentially, you have a double sliding door closet with hangers and a few shelves. The only drawer is in the desk, and a good quarter of it is taken up by the hair dryer. Other ships we‘ve been on provided a whole series of drawers next to the desk and cubbyholes around the TV.

    The bunk beds that are made out of the two-seater couch are fullsize single beds, the best I‘ve seen in a standard cabin. These come at a price, however - the unneeded upholstery from the couch goes under the bed, which leaves less space for your luggage. In fact, we weren‘t even able to fit two medium-size, upright suitcases under the bed without one of them sticking out about 10cm. Luckily, our kids had cabin-size suitcases with them, otherwise we would have been stumped at a place to put them.

    The bathroom is the most modern I‘ve seen (then again, the ship is quite new) and quite spacious. The shower is great, with a glass door and large enough to not feel cramped. Two drawbacks: the air is - as is the case in every cruise ship I‘ve been on - sucked out of the cabin here (which makes sense), but apparently the opening is so small that the sucking noise is very loud. It is so loud that inside you can‘t hear that people are conversing in the cabin, much less what they are saying.

    The other drawback is that there is no built-in nightlight, something we‘ve had in older ships. I can‘t think of any reason
    not to put a nightlight into a modern bathroom, but it fits with my general opinion of the ship‘s planning and construction.

    Because we‘ve had ships before without a nightlight in the bathroom (mind you: older ones), I had brought one with me. Unfortunately, the same „reasoning“ used throughout the ship’s design has been applied to the receptacle in the bathroom as to many other aspects of the ship: when you turn the lights off in the bathroom, the power is turned off here, too. How annoying is that? So: no nightlight. Nor can you charge your shaver overnight. Oddly enough, the TV works even without a keycard in the central power switch...

    There are two European (Schuko) outlets, a USB charging outlet and two US-style outlets at the desk - and the shaver outlet (110/220V) in the bathroom that turns off with the light switch. That‘s it.

    The cabin door provided absolutely zero sound proofing towards the hallway, which is unfortunate when you have neighbors that find it adequate to have a conversation right in front of your door at nearly midnight. Actually, you get a lot of audio from everywhere around you - subjectively a lot more than on other (older!) ships. Put that on the „bad design“ list.

    What also surprised me in a negative way is the poor air circulation. When you have a small cabin with four people sleeping in it, continuously getting fresh air into the cabin is absolutely imperative. In spite of the very loud suction noise in the bathroom, either the air fed into the cabin wasn‘t fresh or there simply wasn‘t enough of it, as the air quality in the morning was attrocious. This is an issue I‘ve had on no other cruise ship, not even ones as old as the Norwegian Jade! Poor ship design, once again.

    Food - Marketplace Buffet
    As our kids are not old enough to enjoy a sit-down dinner, we mostly ate at the buffet restaurant. While the food quality is really very good (better,subjectively, than on the Costa ships we were on), it is very limited in variability, all stations basically seem to have 90% identical food every day - for both, lunch and dinner - with variance only in things like the rotissary meat or salads. It is perhaps an unfair comparison to make, but if you consider the unbelievable choice in food we found on the Celebrity Constellation, this ship’s buffet restaurant comes across like a food court at a shopping mall.

    Unfortunately, it is way too busy for making for a pleasant meal: as with many other cruise ship buffet restaurants, the „Marketplace Buffet“ on the Meraviglia is often packed to the hilt. Sometimes, we weren’t even able to find seating anywhere. Especially beverage stations can be annoying, not only because there are obviously too few of them, but also because especially coffee seems to run out frequently. When the coffee isn‘t out, the coffee cups are. One morning, the cups were out at every station I squeezed my way to!

    Picking up used plates and silverware - or wiping down a table - is also something that can be improved on. It sometimes seems that there are more people walking idly around to provide (paid) bar service than people to do basic restaurant service. Unfortunately, this was also the case when the buffet wasn‘t as busy, which is disappointing.

    Food - L‘Olivio d‘Oro Restaurant
    We only visited the assigned restaurant once, without our kids. As we later found it, it was a specialty evening and the food was quite good, albeit not extraordinary. The table we were at was oddly US football-shaped and the two of us found sitting in this configuration to be a strange experience.
    Unfortunately, the noise level in the restaurant is so high, that aside from the friendly personnel serving your dinner at our table, we didn‘t see much of an advantage over the buffet restaurant, especially since there apparently isn‘t a kids menu (this we heard from other people).

    The Shows
    We visited both Cirque du Soleil shows: Viaggio and Sonor in the „Cocktail & Show“ variant. Without knowing the menu, we were glad not to have booked the dinner & show version, as you simply sit at tables around the circular stage and listen to guitar music while eating.

    Unfortunately, here too we found employees dealing with customers that would better be placed in the kitchen or in the engine room. You are led to your table by a waiter. The table number is on the paper tickets you get the night before in your cabin, and you pass by a table that holds various drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, which are the cocktails for the evening. An older gentleman in group before us was yelled at by the waiter „one drink per person, one drink per person!“ when he picked up the drink for his wife with his other hand (she was right next to him, not carrying a glass). Not a good impression.

    Both shows were a flurry of impressions and really quite good, though both were completely different. For small children, Viaggio is your better choice - at least our kids liked it better than Sonor (and I did, too), but both are impressive.

    Beside Cirque du Soleil, we also took in a very good live music and dance show and a magician.

    Pools + Other Entertainment
    There are various pools on the 15th and 16th decks, as well as several hot tubs. One pool and one hot tub are in an enclosed area (with a roof that can slide to the side). Due to the air temperature, we really only used the indoor pool, though this only made sense at offpeak times. With just one pool indoors, you can imagine how crowded it got at other times.

    The ship also has what they call the „Himalayan Bridge“ (a rope walking parcours) and a cool-looking waterslide that takes you over the side of the ship for part of the „ride“. The rope walking parcours is pretty cool - I did it with both kids, though you really have to hang on to your camera up there when the wind blows (and anything else that isn't attached to you)! Unfortunately, it was only available while docked.

    Costa Magica Norway Cruise **

    Before I portray my opinion of this ship and the service provided, allow me to state that when we researched options and prices for a Norway cruise, the cruise on this ship - despite offering many of the same ports of call as other cruise lines (AIDA, NCL, MSC), it was a whopping €3.000 less than the next more costly cruise (NCL)! So while I do have criticism about the ship and ist management, take that (or perhaps a similar) price difference into account before making a final decision.
    If you prefer not to read my ramblings, skip right to the summary at the very end of this review.
    The Ship
    With a name like "Magica", I expected some major magic in decorations and the general "feel" aboard. However - and perhaps I'm misinterpreting the name - there isn't anything magical about this ship. We've been on Celebrity, NCL and Costa ships and the Magica has got to be the most mundane in decorations and general "feel" of the lot. The lobby atrium decoration basically consists of a few out-of-focus looking photographs of Italian cities, with huge curtains draped over the space on deck 9 - probably to optically break it up a bit. That's it. While we visited the atrium bar on other ships just to soak in the decorations, we we only went to this bar once.

    The same goes for the stairways. More odd pictures of fairies flying through fields of flowers and - as stark contrast - mermaids with exposed pert breasts in each corner. The hallways to the cabins sport cartoon-style pictures of ladies in various poses and various states of undress and activity, some pretty suggestive. No pictures of men (fine for me). Don't forget, the ship was built in Italy.
    Cruise ships tend to have small bars hidden here and there on board - most with a theme, and most nicely done up so that you come back to spend money on drinks. We found no such "special" bar on the Magica. The bars on deck 9 (to the front and back exits of the buffet restaurant) are about as bland as can be, the one in the atrium I mentioned already and the one in the "Salone Capri" was either closed or had photo sets set up (Gala night) which showered you with bright photo flashes of light at regular intervals. There is also a bar in the casino, but it, too, is rather so-so. Maybe we missed something, but I don't think so.

    There is a library with some nice seating for quiet reading - unfortunately, when we were there, some Italian guest had a very heated argument with a crew member about some internet access issues. Why that discussion had to go on in the library, I don't know, but it got us out rather quickly.
    The shop is pretty bland as well - on NCL ships I was actually incited to buy stuff at elevated prices, because the merchandise was excellent quality and something you would want to have. Not so here. They don't have even aspirin to buy (NCL had a good assortment of different OTC-drugs), recommending you go to deck 0 to the doctor's office (which will set you back 85€ just for the handshake.
    A huge portion of deck 5 (where the shops are) is taken up by photograph sales. There are racks and racks of photos, some taken when going on board, some in front of the ship, some at dinner, etc. We tried to avoid that section of deck 5 altogether, because it is very crowded, though this is really difficult as photo sales are on both sides. Oh, and there is a separate shop selling just Costa merchandise, such as model ships, T-shirts, etc. Bizarre.

    The ship has two pools - one is in the middle of deck 9, the other in the back of deck 9. The back of deck 9 is covered by slidable glass roofing, which makes for a cozy (even too warm) indoor area - not bad if you're cruising Norway where the air temperature might reach 14 degrees centigrade in July! There is seating back here where you can have lunch or dinner (or even breakfast) and you have a huge panorama window out the back which makes for niche Fjord views. Oddly enough, this section was never overrun when we were there, which was nice.
    All the more reason for kids to populate the pool (cold saltwater) and whirlpools in that section for the entire cruise except for the last sea day, where we observed a few old folks complaining to management that there were kids in the whirlpools with resulted in a security person ordered to the whirlpool to get and keep kids out. I felt sorry for her - what a ridiculous an annoying job, seeing as Kids were only officially allowed in the mid-section cold-water pool, which at the low temperatures out there was hardly an option. So much for Italians being overly kid-friendly…
    There is the typical this-is-your-table-for-the-cruise style restaurant as well as a buffet restaurant. People in suites as well as diamond cruisers have a separate restaurant.
    For us non-first-class cruisers, the standard restaurant food was usually quite good with some oddball exceptions, but it took much too long for the food to arrive. We had our kids with us and only took them to this restaurant once. The choice of kid-style food was also quite limited, so it seems that management really prefers to have the kids (and ideally, the parents as well) go to the buffet restaurant.
    Wine-by-the-glass prices were completely outrageous, we were unable to find a glass for less than 10€, even though there was another menu on the table where regular house red was 5€, but our waiter told us that this menu was for people that ordered the seafood package only. We ended up buying a drinks package - 6 bottles of wine and 7 bottles of water for €124 - something that I would normally never do, but it worked out to be cheaper this way. Mind you, on the previous Costa ship we had been on you could get house red by the glass for absolutely reasonable prices.

    The buffet restaurant also had its up and downs. For one, it was nearly always packed to the hilt. Often, you would not get a table in the restaurant at all but had to either sit in the (excessively warm) rear pool area or the (windy and cold) front pool area. Queues for food got pretty long at times, through if you were lucky you had a relatively short wait. Food quality was good for the most part (the Pizza was mostly dough, for example), but for dinner they closed down all the stations except for two. This led to ridiculous lines and quite limited selection of food. Instead of having different styles of food on the two stations, the offering was identical. To make this even more difficult, there was a pasta station right in the middle, where a cook heated the pasta of the day with the sauce of the day in a pan. Unfortunately, he  continuously seemed to run out of pasta or sauce causing for further delays in the queue with people jumping ahead, etc.
    Really annoying.

    The rear station (in the warm pool section) was often (but not always, so you would have to go look) reserved for special (i.e. €€€) meal deals such as seafood, hamburgers, etc.
    For breakfast, you would occasionally have a girl go round refilling coffee. I remember seeing here twice. Seeing as the coffee station was in the middle of the restaurant, having refills done this way is an excellent method of taking some of the running around out of the place - too bad that this wasn't a regular service you could count on (as is the case on NCL ships, for example).

    Unbearingly annoying - at breakfast, lunch and dinner - was the horribly poor service of having dishes taken away. You would happily find a table that a group had just left, piled high with dishes, glasses and napkins, only to have an issue finding someone to clear it for you. If you did find a table boy and asked for him to clear it, you would always earn a scowl and muttering under his breath. I'm not blaming the guys doing the dish clearing here - they have a crap job. I'm blaming their management, which was never to be seen. In the restaurant, we were visited by the restaurant manager at least once when we were there - the person responsible for the buffet restaurant either hid out in some office or came in incognito - in either case, they didn't seem to care if the service was good or bad on their watch.
    The cabin
    We had a balcony cabin on the left front of deck 6. When I checked the location once our cruise ticket had come in, I was a bit concerned because the theater starts on the deck right below. And sure enough, if there was a show in the theater, you would know in the cabin - especially the bass was quite loud. This didn't really turn out to be an issue because our kids are at an age where they go to bed after us, but if you have small children that you want to have in bed or sleeping at 21:00h, you will have issues.
    Despite the picture on the website that we booked on, the cabin did not have two queen size beds, but rather one queen size bed, a sofa converted to a bed and a bed that folded out of the ceiling (with a ladder to get up into). Storage space was quite good, but just not enough for four people. You didn't have shelving or enough hooks to put / hang your day-to-day clothes or jackets on, for example, so some of these ended up on the window sill and some on the floor. Shoes were another issue. The biggest pain was that the cushions from the couch (which was now a bed) were under the regular bed and subsequently we had less space for our suitcases, causing one to stick out from under the bed and providing for constant annoyance. On NCL, the bed-couch was made into a couch every morning and into a bed every evening… on Costa, that just isn't part of the service.
    The bathroom was large enough, but the shower had a curtain instead of a stall, causing for flooding of the bathroom nearly every morning. Also, the shower water smelled odd, something we'd never had before on a cruise ship. When our son put warm water into his cup for brushing his teeth, it was yellow. Yuck!
    The Shows
    Shows were put on most nights, but frequently the description in the daily "newspaper" was so compact that you really didn't know what to expect:oOnly the name of the show was given, and that in Italian. You go figure. On other cruise ships you would have posters set out advertising the show that evening (with visuals and a decent description) - none of that on this ship.
    The quality of the shows was mediocre for the most part. I've seen shows on cruise ships that were Broadway quality and completely amazing. Magic shows you would normally pay decent money to see. None of that here. The shows reflect the level of quality of much of the ship - they are just good enough.

    The theater is a complete design disaster. While the seats on deck 3 (the "ground floor" of the theater) don't rise nearly enough to get a good view from the back, the mezzanine seats all have issues with either handrails right in your field of view or columns that don't just sit right in front of some of the seats, but also block the only wide exit path on deck 4 right in two, making you squeeze by the column (and the feet of anyone unfortunate enough to sit there). I've never seen such a
    poorly designed theater and don't want to know what happens when the ship needs to be evacuated during a show, as I don't know how people would get out quickly without trampling on each other.
    Ports of Call
    First of all, Norway is not known for bikini sunbathing. We had a mix of weather on the route and even on sunny days, temperatures did not go above about 16 degrees C.
    Also, tiny towns like Geiranger are tiny and will completely overload with two cruise ships stopping there. Despite this, we found plenty to look at and see.
    The excursions offered by Costa are silly expensive and can often be had for less if you are willing to self-organize. You'll need to do some research before your cruise. Mind you, it is often quite sufficient just to have a walkabout in a town or to nearby waterfalls. This will likely give you more of an impression of what Norway is like than highly organized bus/train/boat tours offered by the cruise line or by companies on shore. It all depends on what you want to do, of course.
    One major annoyance was Amsterdam: despite all indications (i.e.: dock smack in the center), we stopped at a freight terminal about half an hour by bus from the center of town. This was even more annoying to the folks at the next table in the restaurant the first night, as they had gotten on the ship docked in the center of town and didn't even know how they would get back there to go home.
    In either case, don't go for the outrageous bus transfer the ship offers you, especially if you're a family of four. You can catch a taxi right from port (there are enough) for about 20€ one way - just make sure you fix the price before you get in!
    After the first sea day to travel between Amsterdam and Norway, we stopped at Bergen. This is the second largest town in Norway and it offers a lot to see and do. Despite multiple cruise ships (I saw three, including ours, someone indicated there were four) people thin out if you move away from the harbor. Oddly, this was the only port of call where we found salmon sandwiches as takeaway - so if that is your taste, make sure you get in on it in Bergen!
    As it turned out, the indicated times for any arrival on the Magica were always erring on the early side. Had I realized this early enough, then I would have set my alarm for half an hour earlier. As it was, I missed passing by "the seven sisters", a huge and spectacular water fall that we went by on the way down the Fjord. The Geiranger Fjord is amazing and you absolutely need to catch at least the last part of it before arriving at Geiranger town (village). Also, enjoy the "drive out" in the afternoon - there is a reason this is a Unesco cultural heritage site.
    Geiranger itself is a really small village, but one of the more picturesque, so it is well worthwhile walking around to see the sights. An absolute must is the waterfall that is in the center of town. Really well-built steps take you alongside the whitewater river with a smaller fall here and there, all the way to the top, with spectacular views of the falls and the entire Fjord. Despite two huge cruise ships being in town simultaneously, the waterfall is not overrun, likely because it is quite a physical challenge to go up, despite the well made stairs and platforms.
    While this town is relatively large (considering the average people density in Norway is 3 per square km), it is likely representative of the average Norwegian town: some nice, older houses, some nice newer ones but mostly pretty ugly housing and industry. The town map at the port names three "must-see" sights, but without some sort of map on your mobile phone you likely won't find them: there are no further signs that guide you. This is actually quite positive, as the tiny beach at one end of the town was nearly void of people both times we were there (once without the kids, once with). You can collect shells there and enjoy the sights. The second "place to visit" is indicated to be on the river Rauna, right before the foot bridge - but we found nothing of visual value there (apparently, the camping ground is amazing enough to make the top three sights).
    According to my step counter, we ripped a good 12 km through and around town, and while it was interesting to walk through streets where real Norwegians live, the town really doesn't make my top ten list.
    This is also a very tiny town at the end of a lengthy Fjord. One of the highlights is a microbrewery that has some really tasty beer served in a totally cool pub. If you go, we recommend the 6-beer tester - this will give you an excellent overview of what they brew.
    We picked up tickets for a trip to Gudvangen at the local tourist office. The Trip is a combination of going one leg by boat and the other leg by bus - you can choose to either go there by boat and back by bus or the other way round, with about an hour's time to spend in Gudvangen. We took the trip there by boat, which is neat especially if you stay on the top deck (though you'll need to try to be on the boat as one of the first, as nearly everyone goes up top first. The trip there takes nearly two hours and it makes a few stops at smaller villages on the way (apparently, the boat is hop-on / hop-off).
    We'd been told that there is a Viking village set up in Gudvangen, so our kids had a goal set for them as well. Unfortunately, the Viking village entry fee is quite expensive (no word of that when we booked the trip), the idea being that you stay in the village for quite some time - the hour we had there just wasn't enough to make it a sensible option (adults were around 26€ and kids around 16€). That was quite a disappointment.
    The bus trip back took 20 minutes and was mostly underground - through an 11km and then through a 5km tunnel.
    There is a "shopping center" in Flåm that has a huge selection of clothes and other souvenirs - quite the largest we saw on the entire cruise. Prices were consistent with other most other places (it seemed that the shops in Stavanger know that the town is the last stop for most cruises - prices are unnaturally high for the same wares there) and they had some very nice woolen jackets that we should have picked up.
    This was our last stop before heading back to Bremerhaven. Stavanger is quite a big place and offers lots to see. We ended up in the port on the side of the old town, which we visited first. A lot of reviews tear this place up as being nothing special, we really liked it. It gives you an impression of what Norwegian towns probably looked like before they started pumping oil out of the sea here. Definitely worth a visit.
    The town itself offers some really interesting sights if you take the time to walk through it - including a huge playground in front of the Oil Museum (with an oil drilling theme, of course). The Oil Museum, by the way, was the only museum we saw that had reasonable prices for admission. It looked quite interesting and had the weather taken a downturn, we probably would have gone for a visit. Keep it in mind in case you arrive and it starts to rain.
    The summary is really simple: "you get what you pay for".

    Our experience on the Costa Mediterranea two years ago was a lot better than on this ship. Hopefully, the quality of Costa's offering hasn't declined in general and is only confined to this ship and ist poor management, otherwise I would likely not take a Costa ship again.

    If you have a balcony and you're the type of cruiser that prefers to have peace and quiet to read and to visit ports, then the huge price difference to other cruise lines (that most likely offer a lot better quality) is not really worth paying for. Stick to your balcony to read (bring warm clothes) and enjoy the ports of call. If, however you tend to be the socialite, looking for quality action, shows and good dining - or you have an inside cabin (don't do it!), then this ship is not for you. Spend the extra cash and go for better-quality cruising!

    Comparison Costa Mediterranea and NCL Jade / Spirit

    The Cabin
    The premium balcony cabin we had seemed a tick smaller than the one we'd had before on the Jade. The kids slept in "bunk" beds: the bottom one was the converted couch, the top one folded out of the ceiling. The arrangement worked, but on the Jade they had slept on the remarkably wide sleeper couch near the balcony, with a curtain between that couch and the parents' bed. 
    The door to the balcony pushed outward, held by a pretty tough spring which the kids almost couldn't open on their own. Also, to keep the door open, I had to drag the "coffee table" and a chair against it. On the NCL ships, on the other hand, the doors slid open and stayed open in any position you chose - a much better solution. Also, the balcony on the Jade seemed bigger, though I didn't measure it.
    The bathroom was functional; however the arrangement wasn't very well thought through. For one thing, the shower had a curtain and was separated from the rest of the bathroom floor by a thin wall about 5cm high. The curtain was too short to go all the way down, however, so when taking a shower, it would billow out at the bottom and water would spray onto the bathroom floor.
    Also, the toilet was in the middle of the room, making it impossible for the bathroom to be used if someone was using the toilet. On the NLC ships, both the toilet and the shower are separated from the rest of the bathroom (i.e. the sink) by sliding doors which is much more practical and prevents flooding of the bathroom while showering.
    As is frequently the case on these ships, there was a single outlet in the cabin, featuring both European and US sockets. Unfortunately, these were so close that they could only have been used simultaneously by plugging in an extension cord into the US outlet. There was also a dual outlet (US / European) in the bathroom, but this only had power when the light was on.
    If you're looking to charge several devices simultaneously, you'll need to bring a multi-outlet to plug in.

    The Ship
    In general, the ship isn't that much smaller than, say, the NCL Spirit. Despite this, it has fewer cabins and a lot less locations such as bars and restaurants. While the Jade offered several different types of restaurants (bookable for a small uplift per person), the Costa ship offerend only one, the "Medusa Club". We never visited it, but apparently it is a restaurant / club that is quite expensive to eat / drink in. Also, the NCL ships offered more bars, most of them themed, while the Costa ship only has three, two of which have a main thoroughfare going through the middle, which makes them a bit too busy for my taste.
    A lot of reviewers commented on the design language of the ship. Personally, the design didn't talk to me, it screamed at me. I've never seen a design that was so mixed and loud on any ship I've visited.
    While it screams "VENICE" at you in most parts of the ship, the theater (which is on 3 levels) is decorated with ancient Egyptian pictures and elements. The first time you come into the theater, this comes as a bit of a shock and soothing at once, as it is a much cleaner design.
    TThere is venetian glass everywhere (probably made in China), either in bizarre, tentacle-like forms or in the shape of lamps of all types. The restaurant is lit partially by a huge grouping of vase-like frosted lamps, alternating in short and tall. The first thing that pops to mind (mine, anyway) is a 30's Disney animated cartoon where some music plays and the figures pop alternatingly up and down to the beat, in an endless loop of the same 128 frames.
    Out of the mouth of each vase comes a colored, sperm-shaped thingamajig, in either blue, red or green. Not sure if the designer was trying to make us think of conception or not, but nothing else popped into my head when I looked at them.

    The Food
    The food quality is excellent, I was really quite surprised. For dinner, you get thee courses plus desert (and a salad, if you like) and each evening had a different area of Italy as a theme. While I appreciate that Italians probably find that to be quite tantallizing, I much prefer the NCL way, where you have at least some of the food based on the culture that you're currently visiting. No Slavic food to be had while in Croatia, no Greek food while in Greece. Luckily, we generally had a little something while on land to at least get a taste of the region.

    Unfortunately, there is no buffet in the evening; while this may be quite ok for adults, it is annoying if you're travelling with younger kids. Instead of getting them fed and off to the kids club, they had to sit through two courses of the adults before getting their dessert. We got this compressed a bit by talking to our waiter, but I really would have hoped for a bit more understanding for kids from an Italian ship.

    Breakfast can be had either in the restaurant or the buffet. The buffet restaurant is completely overrun; at times we had to squeeze our way through the masses to try to find a table. Here as with any of the other ships we've been on, you'll find inconsiderate ingrates that decide to block a table for 6 for two people, which doesn't help the situation (only them). While the quality of the buffet breakfast foods is very good, the selection is quite limited. There are different breads and jams in little plastic containers, meats and cheese and fruit. It's plenty to get satiated on, but NCL ships definitely offer a much bigger selection, including eggs in different forms, typical English or US breakfast foods, etc. 

    In the restaurant, the situation is more relaxed - there is a buffet, but you can also order special breakfast plates at no extra charge. This is the only way to get eggs for breakfast, or bacon or sausages or pancakes, etc. They also bring coffee and tea to your table, so it is easier going even with kids and - if you can make before the relatively early closing time, definitely to be preferred to buffet.

    The Kids Club
    Most of what I can say about the Kids Club is straight from our kids. The only "parents" thing to say about the club is that I would have preferred to have less movie times, since all kids are going to sit passively in front of a TV when a movie is on - no matter what language it is in.
    Our kids liked the kids club on the Mediterranea a lot, much more than on the NCL ships. They were very happy because the they really liked the activities, felt that the supervisors were all very nice and at least one of them spoke German fluently (the others enough to understand basic needs). On the NCL ships, there was no German-fluent supervision and the level of German understanding was usually extremely basic. I remember one situation where our son wasn't able to communicate that he was unable to open the toilet door (apparently it was stuck) and subsequently wet himself.
    On most days, there was a set theme, such as pirate night or fright night and activities during the day were focussed on preparing for a party in the evening, such as making pirate costumes, etc. For the dance party, the supervisors practiced the dance moves with the kids so that they would be a bit more fluid in the evening.
    Kids club opened at 9:00h until midnight, including lunch, with a break for dinner where the kids were to be picked up. Since our kids are not very interested in running through ancient cities for the sights at their age, we left them on board on a few days. While this was also possible on the NCL ships, it was considered "Babysitting" between 10:00 and 17:00h, which cost $10 per hour for our two.

    On the positive, we have the excellent food quality and the kids club.
    On the negative, the list is longer: no buffet for dinner, very limited buffet selection especially during breakfast, no specialty restaurants on the ship (except expensive club), smaller selection of bars, cabin smaller and bathroom impractical.