And so we find ourselves on a Jet 2 flight to Barcelona. Its a cool March morning as we pass over the channel & spy the Isle of White. This cruise was booked on a launch deal for the Costa Smeralda. Shes been at sea for almost 3 months having ironed out any niggles and problems.
We tend to have a rule that avoids brand new ships for a month or so - let them bed in and allow the staff to get used to its operation - especially hotel side. Speaking of hotels we have chosen the most excellent 5 star Hotel Miramar and Spa for our pre cruise stay. A beautiful hotel atop Montjuic with striking views of the city and port from its terraces. Normally Barcelona's port would be busy with several cruise ships but March is still off season and the only ships your likely to sea in the Med will be Costa or MSC vessels. Most of the other lines will have moved their fleet over to the Carribean etc.
Of course the world is just beginning to feel the start and effects of the C word and it is necessary for us to have our temperature taken as we check in over a glass of champagne. The rooms are modern, large and comfortable with that typical boutique style of having the bath in the room. Theres a private terrace and separate shower and bathroom area and a whole bank of wardrobes - safe etc hidden down a passage towards the back of the room.
Everything is top class including a nice selection of L'Occitane products for you to soak in and remove the traces of airport grubbiness. We have a great dinner downstairs at the bar (the hotel also has a cpl of full restaurants with set tasting menus which we will definitely try next time)
Cava & freshly squeezed OJ for breakfast ( plenty of food also available!) overlooking the whole of Barcelona, what could be better? At 11am we order our taxi to the port (more Cava as we check out). Our ship awaits just down the hillside a short distance away.
The Smeralda is Costas latest addition to the fleet and takes over from the route previously allocated to the Diadema which we took a couple of years ago. Its a very traditional 7 night route taking in all the major ports of the Western Med. However little did we know that on this occasion it would be doing no such thing.
Its after 1pm by the time we board and have a full body heat check before boarding. We drop our hand luggage straight off in the cabin as its ready, grab our key cards & check which MDR we are allocated: "The Columbina" for a nice table service lunch. We are both immediately impressed by the hand cleaning stations on board this ship; as well as the usual hand santizer gel globes we are so used to seeing now, every restaurant has banks of machines that wet wash and sanitize your hands automatically. Its also worth remembering that all this equipment was built and installed from day one launch so its good to see that these are not just additions because of the current crisis.
If you have ever read any of our other reports you will know that we have never been great users of buffet restaurants so its also great to see that Costa are offering a sit down service every day of the cruise for lunch and not just on sea days.
Jack chooses the seafood main course which is delicious and I choose a rather hearty venison and beef stew. We have the Brindiamo drinks package so its all washed down with a lovely dry Pinot Grigio and a very drinkable Cabernet for myself. Hopefully this will be the last time we see the main dining room as we plan to upgrade to club level, something we had discovered was well worth the money on the Costa Favolosa last year.
Then its time to explore the ship and find a place to sit and relax with the excellent coffee that Costa is so famed for.
The whole ship is more moderno Italian design than the usual bling on Costa Diadema. Its tasteful with clean lines though some of the colour choices in the stateroom corridors are slightly OTT.
Your never going to forget what deck is yours on this ship.
Bags arrive quickly to the stateroom and its soon time for Costas muster which takes place in the Jazz Bar. By the time we have unpacked its time to get a quick aperitif and find the maitre 'd to sort out our restaurant options. The Smeralda does not actually have the equivalent of a club restaurant - instead they have two private restaurants on deck 8 one dedicated to suites (the Panorama) and one for perla diamante Costa Club members (The Bella Vista).
A quick chat with the head waiter and we are encompassed in the extra refinement of the Panorama restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A small room with (as the name would suggest) panoramic windows across the port side wall. Service is excellent - food is delicious & piping hot and wine glasses are refilled before you can blink.
Starter of marinated trout tartare with quails egg
Spinach and Ricotta Cream Malfati
Crispy suckling pig with baked apples and fines herbe salsa
As we eat dinner the ship finally releases its hold on the Spanish mainland and we set sail- This has to be one of the most silent and smooth ships I have ever sailed on. The usual vibrations from bow thrusters and azipods that mark your departure just isnt there at all. Also noticeable is the lack of the grey and black smoke from the smoke stack as this ship is powered totally by LNG (liquid natural gas).
Tomorrow we are due in Palma (again - its only a few weeks since we here last here) early in the morning.