Hans D. Baumeister

Hans D. Baumeister

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!

Superbude Hamburg St. Georg **

Stayed: June 2017

This has got to be the most flippant hotel (hostel?) I've ever stayed in. The decoration is, well, different, though interesting.

The hotel is located on the edge of the St. Georg district in Hamburg, on the super-busy Spaldingstraße. I had a room to the inside courtyard - luckily, as I would probably have had issues sleeping with a window to the street. Not only is there a lot of traffic (which you still hear in the courtyard), but also very busy train tracks just behind the street.

My room (202) was tiny and very cramped. It lacked a desk, which was annoying as I did have some work to do before my evening appointment. I ended up lying on the bed with the laptop on my lap - not super comfortable. The hotel provides free Wifi which seems fast enough but filters out certain protocols, such as Dropbox - annoying if part of your work is making files available externally using that service.

The window can be tilted but is locked so it cannot be opened completely. According to the note on the bed, they're keeping the window locked to keep pollen out, but that's ridiculous, especially if you can tilt the window. You can get the key to the window at reception, but I didn't bother.

The window is the only way to get fresh air into the room, by the way - there is no A/C. The bathroom has a vent in the ceiling, but I never heard a fan going, so I expect that all the nasty smells coming from the toilet only exit through the window if it is open. I ended up opening and closing the window multiple times throughout the night, as people seem to go a little crazy in the evening (close) and at 5AM (on the dot!), loud cleaning noises start from below (close). I ended up sweating a lot.

Blau Resort Punta Reina, Porto Cristo, Mallorca **

Since we had walked through this hotel on previous vacations to Mallorca, we decided to book it, together with a flight. Our package was breakfast + dinner and since it came with a flight it was actually quite reasonable.
Since we needed to be flexible during our visit, we opted for a rental car at the airport (much cheaper than at a hotel). Parking at the hotel is tight, the "guests only" lot is packed to the hilt every evening. Keep in mind that our travel was not high-season - I expect that parking there during high season is nearly impossible.
We alway found a spot somewhere on the side of the road leading to or from reception, but this, too was sometimes difficult during our near-off-season visit.
The ladies at reception are very friendly, the men we dealt with were all rather curt or even rude. Our room was 1122, which actually gives you a sliver of ocean view if you look out over the balcony divisions. Luckily, it was a quiet room; there is a row of rooms on the hallway to the bar, with no door to block any sound - I would have asked to switch rooms had we ended up there.
While you can get down to reception using a long ramp from the drive, I found no way to get to the elevators without using stairs. Apparently, Blue doesn't cater to people in wheelchairs.
The room was large enough and had two single beds pushed together. The mattresses were a complete disaster - extremely hard and you could literally feel the springs inside. My wife's mattress actually squeaked if she moved around. Very uncomfortable.
There is a smallish TV with a jumble of channels, some with an acceptable picture quality. Not worth watching (you're not there to watch TV anyway).
There are outlets available at the desk as well as the side of each bed. The A/C was rather too warm and apparently didn't feed fresh air into the room, as the air was like downtown Manhatten during rushhour every morning.  The AC cuts out if you open the sliding door to the balcony.
The bathroom is functional, though the shower didn't stay up (I had to wedge a hair pin into the holder to keep it from sliding down) and the tub is relatively narrow and bounded by a shower curtain. Get used to that curtain to fondle your backside while you rinse down - yuck. The sink was set back extremely far, i.e. there were a good 30cm of table from the sink to the edge. Very uncomfortable when brushing your teeth or washing your hands, as you basically have to lean into the table in order to do so.
Air was apparently not exchanged at all in the bathroom - the air in there was usually even worse than in the room.
Restaurant & Food
The restaurant turned out to be your typical, loud, bustling mass-tourism food place. Hot and cold foods were in separate rooms, which has advantages but also disadvantages. Food quality was quite good, though for breakfast the folks making fried eggs and pancakes weren't fast enough to fill demand. Forget having an omelette made to order!

Most fruit was fresh and there was always a guy making up pieces of it in one corner. Unfortunately, often the melon pieces were cut too close to the rind, making for frequent pulling of woody pieces out of your mouth.

Even though we were not there for high season, the restaurant was filled to the brink and so loud that conversing normally at a table anywhere just didn't work. We ended up just taking breakfast in the hotel and eating out for lunch and dinner as eating at the hotel simply wasn't a pleasant experience.

Also, this is the first of many tourist hotels I've been at where they expected you to bring your guest pass to meals and they would actually cross off the meal taken. Join the rest of the family 5 minutes later? Probably an issue… better all go together every time. I don't understand the need for this type of control.

Since we had a breakfast/dinner package, drinks were not included. Drinks at the bar were a bit high price-wise, but still acceptable. The restaurant is obviously not used to catering to non-AI guests, as getting and paying for a glass of wine turned out to be a bit of a nuisance.
The hotel offers free wifi - this always worked in the lobby / bar area, though the speed was spotty most of the time. Sometimes, we had good connectivity in the room, sometimes none at all.
All in all, staying at the Blue wasn't a pleasant experience, and I doubt I would do it again under most circumstances. Also, I don't plan on recommending the hotel to anyone I value as a friend.


Britannia Study Hotel, Brighton, UK ***

Stayed: March 2017

The hotel is located on Western Road, about 900m from the train station on foot. The No. 6 bus will take you quite close. The location is ok if you have a room to the back, as Western Road is quite busy.

The room was spacious enough but simple, with a desk and a largish TV on it. There was also a closet with plenty of space and a safe (which I didn't use). On the wall behind the desk hung a corkboard - that was a first in the many years I stay in hotels!

The room had two small windows to the street on the rear (which was quiet) that could only be shut against street light by rolling down a roller blind. Works, but not very pretty.

There was free Wifi in the room with ok speed.

The bathroom was ok - it was clean but simple. I found the exhaust fan incredibly annoying - it sounded like a turboprop taking off. It turned on as soon as the bathroom light was on, so you weren't even spared a few minutes.

Breakfast wasn't spectacular, but it was ok (a few warm items) and sufficient.

All personnel were very friendly and helpful.

For the price (less than 50€) absolutely okay and I would stay here again, though if you're here for holidays, I would probably splurge for something more upscale.

MotelOne Am Tierpark, Berlin ***

Stayed: March, 2017

Okay, there isn't usually much to report on differently with a MotelOne - they are all very similar and I've never had a problem with a room before in one.

Here, mostly consistent with my previous experiences with this chain, however there were some ups and downs.

The hotel is located on a very busy 4-lane street that is frequented 24/7. While I know from my frequent stays at the MotelOne Waidmarkt in Cologne (in 2013), sometimes with a room overlooking the Blaubach street that the soundproofing of their windows is nearly perfect, I still prefer a room away from the street if at all possible.

They offered me a room on the ground floor that faced the back of the hotel (E-19). The location was fine - it was located in a shortish run of hallway that was separated from the reception area by a glass door.

Slightly annoying were the two gigantic and artistically pleasing lamps that sat on the grass, as they stayed on all night (why??), causing a bright streak of light to shine over the ceiling. Also odd was that the AC only ran while actually heating, so no fresh air otherwise. Lastly, the air evacuation from the bathroom didn't work.

On the flip side, the personnel in the bar were very attentive and friendly - definite thumbs up for these two guys. The choice of "pub grub" was quite restricted - more so than I remember from MotelOne hotels, but it was ok.

Another caveat is the poor connectivity to public transit. With other MotelOne hotels in Berlin, you're either right on or very near a U or S-Bahn station. Not here - you have a good walk of about 500m to the next station. With luggage a real chore.

All in all, ok to stay in, though I have other MotelOne hotels in Berlin I prefer.