This was our first ever cruise and was part of a coach & cruise holiday with Leger. We embarked in Venice after driving to Italy with overnight stays in Belgium and Austria. The boarding process appeared to be a bit of a cattle market with people milling about all over the place although it was in fact fairly painless and after 30-45 minutes of joining several queues for passport and security checks we were onboard.
Our photographs were taken as we stepped aboard and we were soon in our cabin ( a balcony room on deck 9)to be met by our cabin steward Mervin (nice helpful guy). He showed us around the room which had a double bed, a flat screen TV (which also doubles as an information source, messages are displayed on it from Costa and you can also check your onboard spend from it), a decent size bathroom with a great shower and plenty of shelves for toiletries. 3 single wardrobes (one has a safe in it, no extra charge for this), a long dressing table with several drawers, a fridge (minibar, be warned this isn't part of the all inclusive even though it contained the same drinks we could have for free at the bar!) (one of the drawers contained a built in hairdryer) and the room has a sofa and coffee table. The balcony wasn't that big but enough room for two chairs and a small table.
There was no tea/coffee facilities in the room which was a big minus for me, I like a cup of tea in the morning when I wake up and a hot drink before bed in my room. The self service machines are available at night in the Pizzeria but are switched off at 1am (the bars shut at 1:30am) so if you stay for last orders you've blown it, they are switched on again at 6am for the early risers but it still meant getting dressed and taking a longish walk to the restaurant for your first cuppa of the day. Either the water wasn't hot enough for a decent cup of tea or the tea bags are rubbish but I kept with the coffee. The machine coffee was of the filter variety and I like instant, for some reason only one of the drinks stations stocked sachets of Nescafe which meant having to find the right machine everyday.
Everything purchased on board is charged to a Costa card, the only time you can use cash is to feed the slot machines but you can also use your Costa card for that too. Our cards were waiting for us in the room as were instructions to attend the compulsory lifeboat drill that day on deck 4. Our Costa cards were swiped as we arrived for the drill and I know that those who didn't attend would be chased to ensure that they joined the next one the following day when the ship stopped to take on more passengers in Bari, Italy. Our cases arrived in our room about 2-3 hours after we got on board.
We'd purchased the all inclusive drinks package, prior to boarding Â£117 each for the week (this could be purchased on board too for 19.5 euros a day each) and we were free to start using it as soon as we wanted to. The only other thing to do was to either register a debit/credit card for additional spends or to pay a cash deposit. Registering the card took about a minute on one of the many card machines located throughout the ship. The all inclusive option is a no brainer as far as I'm concerned, we reckon that we spent on average at least 70 euros a day between us on bottled water, hot drinks,soft drinks and alcohol and we didn't go mad! Very few drinks were excluded from the all inclusive (a couple of premium brandy's, champagne and speciality coffees which you could make up yourself by purchasing the coffee and spirit separately if you really wanted to. I'd recommend the all inclusive to anyone, the draft lager is Carlsberg (bit gassy but ok), the mixer coke is real coca cola in cans (other soft drinks the same) and all the spirits were recognisable uk brands.
The food, ummmmm, we opted for the early dining option 6:45pm and we were seated with 3 couples who were members of our coach party which was nice because there weren't that many other English speakers on the ship and although we did pass the time of day with other non English speaking cruisers conversation was difficult as we were reliant on their command of our language, our French, German and Italian extends to hello, please and thank you. Our table was in the restaurant on deck 4 right at the back of the ship and whilst we had a great view of the sea from our table it was subject to vibration from the engines which I didn't initially like but got used to it.
The reviews of food on this cruise line are pretty poor and I'm afraid that on the whole I have to agree. The evening meal consists of about 7 smallish courses with each course having 3 choices. I never went hungry but I often missed some of the courses out altogether as there was nothing that I fancied and none of them were outstanding, some were a bit yuk ! The pasta course always seemed disproportionately huge compared to the meat course which often consisted of 2 extremely small portions of meat with a table spoon size portion of potato and two beans and carrots or something. There was an always available menu too if you didn't want anything on the set menu but that was limited to salmon or spag bol/lasagne. I found out from another couple on the penultimate day that you could order steak (their daughter had it every night as she didn't like the other stuff). I did order steak and chips on the last night as I really didn't want anything else, in fact all our table followed suit, it was a thinnish piece and cooked well done even though I asked for it medium but it was the largest piece of meat I got the whole cruise and I enjoyed it. I discovered that other people on our party asked for it too (also being aware of it only on the last few days) but they were denied it and weren't very happy as some of them had complained of leaving the dining room still hungry on occasion. They were on the late sitting 9:15pm and often didn't get out of the dining room until 11pm ! Several were experienced cruisers and according to them the food at the evening meal was sub standard compared with what they'd had on other cruise lines.
The lunches were much better, self service option with plenty of choice and two separate areas for panini's and burgers & chips etc. Breakfast could be taken in either the restaurant or self service, I preferred the self service. Late night snacks were available in the Pizzeria although I didn't try it myself. By the time we'd finished dinner, had a look at the show and sat down for a few drinks it was usually 1am by which time the food was finished.
The shows, I admit we only watched two of them, Fire and Ice, which was very entertaining and the show put on by the animation team (the group that did the poolside entertainment) it was midly amusing. The first time we went was on our second night, it was a classical singer, the theatre was rammed full and it wasn't our thing anyway so we didn't stay. As other reviewers have said some of the columns downstairs and railings on the upper floors obstruct your view so choose your seats carefully. They do serve drinks in there but it's quite dark and not easy to attract the waiters attention, it was a bit hot and stuffy sometimes too.
Most bars have some sort of entertainment, a singer or musician and several were quite good. The Palatino bar was generally for ballroom dancing which was very popular with a lot of cruisers, usually a game of bingo 20 euros for a single game (3 tickets,American style 25 numbers, play for a line and a house) but prize money is good ranging from 300 to 800 euros for the house. I won a game played in the afternoon, 300 euros, happy days!
The smoking issue, I read a lot about this prior to getting on the ship with complaints about people being in a constant haze of smoke, rubbish ! As you might guess, I am a smoker and not being banished to the top deck was actually a plus for me but I appreciate equally that non smokers don't want to share my filthy habit and for all you non smokers fear not. Smoking is not allowed everywhere on the ship on the contrary. Quite rightly there is no smoking in any of the dining rooms. Some people did chose to take food out onto the open decks which does allow smoking but even non smokers would be able to find somewhere away from anyone smoking to eat al fresco in comfort. All of the bars restricted smoking to one area and some of the bars had no smoking at all. Of those that shared smoking and non smoking the extraction fans worked more than adequately so that the smoke didn't drift into the non smoking parts.
The shopping area is located around the central atrium and wasn't that big really, some of goods offered were on the expensive side but there were also bargains to be had, I found some Clinique perfume at a very good price. The cigarettes were also cheaper than in some of the ports but no English brands so didn't bother.
You cannot avoid the photographers that are set up everywhere that you have to walk past between bars and the dining rooms in the evening and after refusing for several days we finally succumbed (with no real intention to buy) so that we felt justified refusing them the rest of the week. We did out of curiosity have a look at them the next night and actually they were very professional and even made us look good so we bought them even though they were a bit pricey, 20 euros for one (8x10")and 70 euros for a set of 6, we did a deal at 6 for 50 euros. If you fancy a set of nice photo's don your best bib and tucker, they do souvenir ones with the ship superimposed on the background on some nights.
We never struggled to find a sunbed although some spots were more prized than others particularly when cruising as the more open decks could be windy. The small pool at the back of the ship was reserved for adults only in the afternoon and this was monitored by the security staff and I never saw any kids in the jacuzzi's as stated on other reviews. Beach towels are available all over the ship. The staff were all polite and attentive and we only got jostled out of place once in a lift(by other cruisers not the staff)despite the warnings that this was the norm. Getting on and off at the ports went very smoothly. Some of the stop offs were a bit on the short side but not a real issue. There is a relaxed and informal atmosphere on this ship and apart from the food it was okay as a starter cruise. It's a bit difficult to compare the price with other cruises as ours was 7 days out of a 14 day holiday but I understand that Costa Cruises can be considerably cheaper than some of the others so it seems that you get what you pay for. Even those who have been on 'better' cruises couldn't fault the actual ship, it was quite luxurious.
We didn't buy any of the optional tours of the ports due to the expense and despite being novice cruisers we chose to make our own way around the ports of call either on foot or using public transport. We didn't get lost or miss the ship and the exercise did us good.