Hans D. Baumeister

Hans D. Baumeister

2018-03-15 - Max Garni Düsseldorf****

This is a great little hotel within walking distance of Düsseldorf's main train station (about 7 minutes walk, not counting traffic lights). It is on a street crossing, but since I had a room to the rear of the building, I had no noise issues at night. I don't think the streets the hotel is on are very busy at night anyway, so you'll probably be ok in front as well.

Very clean, nice and modern room. Personnel is very friendly. Didn't check for A/C, unfortunately. Price/Value absolutely top level.

Breakfast is pretty limited in selection, though they offer to make you eggs to order.

The only negative thing that I remember is the front door: the automatic closer apparently has an issue as it doesn't restrain the door in the last few centimeters, causing it to slam (loudly) every time someone comes in. That is a real issue at night, as you will wake up from it. Luckily, the hotel wasn't booked while I was there, so I only woke up once.

I would go stay here again!

Stayed: March, 2018

Hotel Expo Verona ****

The room was clean and modern, even the window opened a slit to let air in (unusual for a large hotel like this). The AC worked fine, the bed was comfortable.
One really annoying thing was the location of the water tap for the shower (see picture): this was - at least for me - exactly in knee hight so that I kept tapping against it accidentally, turning the water hotter. Not a good thing and for me worth taking half a star off the rating.

The only other thing that bothered me was that while breakfast had a pretty good selection, the scrambled eggs were so soggy that I didn't even bother putting them on my plate - quite clearly not cooked through. Another half star (I love scrambled eggs).

A bit odd was the elevator arrangement. There were three elevators next to one another - exactly evenly spaced. The right one, as it turned out, was for "personnel only" (something that you'll usually find at a different location in most hotels). The only thing that told me this was a small sign next to the elevator; the call button looked exactly like the one between the other two doors and it took me a while to figure out that even though I'd pressed the call button, the elevator wouldn't be coming for me. Ergonomics gone out the window.

Since I didn't pay for the room (nor even found out what it cost), I can't comment on the price/performance ratio, but I can certainly recommend the hotel based on a qualitative decision.

Hostel Fleming, Palma de Mallorca **

Stayed August 2017

Having paid just over 40€ per bed in a 2-bed room might seem ok, but honestly, for over 80€ you can find a hotel to stay in that offers a private bathroom and A/C, both of which aren't available here. You might even get breakfast included at that price - here, you get breakfast outside someplace (there is a café right around the corner).

The street is a side street, but still quite noisy, so keeping the windows open wasn't really an option - it wouldn't have helped to get the room temperature down anyway, as it was stifling hot outside. A/C would have been a real necessity, but all the very small room had to offer was a ceiling fan that knew only one speed: turbo! The air was moved so much that while it was quite comfortable on the bottom bunk (ignoring the high noise level), anyone sleeping on the top bunk would definitely get health issues.

Instead of a regular cabinet to put your clothes in, all you get is a standard metal locker with a bunch of metal hangers (the kind you hate from laundry services). You can lock the locker if you have a lock on you or you rent one from reception. The door lock was flimsy and likely easily opened with a credit card (I didn't try), so try to keep your valuables on you. The only power outlet (i.e. to charge your phone) was on the wall to the right of each bed bunk, combined with a reading light that strutted out so far I hit my hand while sleeping several times (waking me up).

Beside the rather small space available for the two bunk beds and the lockers, there is also an encased balcony of about 1x2 meters that has a single chair on it. Lighting is a single gigawatt lamp (ok, I'm exaggerating) that will blind you for hours should you glimpse at it.

The bathroom is a community job on the floor. There are, I would guess, about 10-12 rooms on the floor, most of which are more than 2 beds. The facilities look relatively new and work fine. The showers are single units walled off with a separate door that have enough space for your towel and clothes, hung near the door, to stay dry. The bathroom was clean.

Hostel in general
All in all, the hostel is situated quite well near a major traffic circle in the northern part of the central city. I was there by car and finding a parking spot on arrival (after 9PM) was a challenge, but I did find one that was free until 9AM the next morning. I don't know how the bus connectivity is, but you can walk to the castle / harbor and central shopping areas if you're good on foot from the hostel.

The building had a very pretty courtyard with seating available, but since it apparently offers no bar services what so ever (even though it looked like a restaurant / bar facility in the back), you're stuck with beverages bought from a machine (not expensive). Some of the rooms face the inner courtyard, which might be quieter than the street (possibly not on a weekend).
Unfortunately, the Wifi was horribly slow when I stayed, so I used 3G instead.

There is an elevator available and it, too, looks quite new.

All in all, the hostel is ok for what it is (not a hotel). If the price was half of what I paid, I would likely stay again, but considering you can get full-fledged hotel rooms in simpler hotels in Palma for the same price, I don't see the advantage of giving up on a private bath and A/C, to be honest.

Motel One Potsdamer Platz, Berlin ***

Stayed: August 2017

One always happy to try something new, I opted to stay at the Motel One at Potsdamer Platz during my last Berlin visit.

This Motel One is a bit different from others I've stayed at, as only the reception area and the elevators are at the ground floor - the rest of the hotel starts on the 3rd floor. The entire reception's back wall is one huge "movie screen" made up of a matrix of multi-color LEDs. I've seen this type of "screen" at other MotelOne hotels - usually behind the bar - but never anything this huge. It really is quite impressive.

The Hotel is part of the Berlin Mall, a huge US-style shopping mall and my room was to the side of the hotel, looking over one of the main passageways in the mall. There is a large structure almost like a hallway separating the hotel rooms along this passageway and separated from it by fixed windows. You can open your window to this hallway, but it doesn't do you much good because I didn't get the feeling that there is fresh air circulating through it. There were even some painter's gear (ladder, pails, etc.) leaning against the hotel wall within this space.

Both the bar and the breakfast restaurant are also on the 3rd level. I'd kept breakfast optional when checking in and that was a good thing, as I had a look at around 8:00 AM and the place seemed solidly packed. I hadn't visited the bar the night before, so I can't comment on that.

The entire area around Potsdamer Platz was - though this likely depends on the time of year, completely overrun by tourists. You get used to tourists in Berlin, but this was rediculous. Having the mall right there probably doesn't help. Also, if you're looking for bars and restaurants that aren't tourist traps, you need to walk quite a ways out of the area.

While the room and the bathroom were typical MotelOne standard (which is just fine for me), I likely won't stay here again just to avoid the masses of people.
Subsequenly, I'm giving three stars not because the hotel isn't ok but because the area is pretty annoying (unless you're a shopaholic).

Room Tip: The rooms to the mall are - after closing hours - very quiet.


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!