As Floridians who primarily sail the Caribbean with Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess and Celebrity we were initially a bit wary to book with Costa. In addition to the "issues" that Costa has had this year with two of their ships, we were wondering if we would be fish out of water on a ship where the primary language and culture is Italian. On both accounts we were very pleased that our worries were without merit. With some small improvements in a couple of areas, especially the boarding process in Venice, this cruise would rate as one of the best we have taken throughout the years.
When discussing our interests with our local travel agent we had several options when selecting our European cruise. We selected the Favolosa for a couple of reasons - the itinerary is both unusual and exciting (Bari, Olympia, Izmir / Ephesus, Istanbul and Dubrovnik), the ship itself is less than a year old and finally the pricing was very tempting. Having sailed on Carnival's Liberty in January we basically knew what to expect with the ship itself as the Favolosa is, for all intents and purposes, a carbon copy of the Liberty with only some cosmetic changes. The biggest differences between the two are around the main swimming pool (Favolosa has a retractable roof) and the Favolosa's balcony cabin seems to be laid out better leaving more room.
Our adventure started with an early morning flight from London's Stansted Airport to Venice's Treviso Airport aboard the infamous Ryanair. As a highly experienced flier I can honestly say that this was the worst airline "adventure" that I have EVER experienced (and that is saying something with the current state of airlines today). The ONLY positive thing that I can say is that they got us to Italy in one piece!!!! Obviously not Costa's fault but clearly an experience to be highly avoided in the future.
With a couple of hours to spare in Venice prior to boarding (the process starts at 2pm) we checked our luggage at a bag storage facility adjacent to the people mover that takes you from the car entrance to Venice to the port and walked around the city for awhile. Upon returning to the port we took our luggage to the entrance to the terminal only to be told that we had to lug our luggage back across a large parking lot (and busy street) to a central drop off site (would have been nice for a sign at the exit to the people mover as we certainly weren't the only ones to have this happen to). Being in our mid 40's and in good shape this was a taxing process - older individuals, those with mobility issues or if it were raining would be in serious trouble. Once we walked back to the terminal from dropping off the luggage we entered the terminal to experience a situation one small step above mass chaos!!! You had to go through multiple lines without any real explanation or apparent purpose to any of them. The terminal was woefully understaffed. Compared to how organized things are in Port Everglades and Miami this was surreal. We were fortunate that the process took only 90 minutes for us - it took our dinner table mates several hours to get through with only a few minutes left prior to the 6:00 sailing! With the horrors of Ryanair and the boarding process we were greatly concerned that this was going to be the trip from hell and, with our passports taken from us by the cruise line upon boarding, we were going to be held prisoners for the next seven days.
Fortunately things quickly improved. The ship itself is extremely clean and the cabin was perfect. Our cabin attendant, Cristian, was one of the best that we have had on any of our 15+ cruises. Although the life boat drill seemed to take forever (it had to be repeated in 5 languages) it was to be expected given the issues that Costa has experienced this year.
For Americans accustomed to sailing on US based vessels in the Caribbean or Alaska thinking of sailing on the Favolosa there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, the primary language on-board is Italian. Although major announcements are made in 5 languages including English you clearly are the minority on this ship. Meals are geared to European tastes (breakfasts are more pastries than omelets / pancakes, there are more courses at dinner with smaller portions per course, smoking is more prevalent around the open decks, you have to purchase bottled water at dinner, etc.). As long as you have an open mind and are willing to "go with the flow" these things are minor.
Over the years we almost never purchase shore excursions from the cruise lines. The only exception is when the ship docks in areas where our physical safety may be compromised. We have been extremely fortunate that we have always been successful in our pre-planning and execution of non-ship sponsored excursions. This practice held true on this cruise with the only exception of Izmir, Turkey where we were concerned with the distance between the port and the ruins of Ephesus and booked an excursion through Costa. We would rate the ship's shore excursion for Ephesus as excellent even given the usual high price paid.
The on-board evening shows were excellent and the food in the dining rooms was at least as good as what you would find on Carnival or Royal Caribbean. One suggestion would be to have the coffee / beverage stations around the pool and buffet open for longer hours. During the evening movies / Euro Cup soccer games shown on the big screen around the pool it was a pain to have to walk all the way to the stern to get a cup of water!
Compared to the embarkation process the debarkation process was far more organized with plenty of instruction given prior to the final day. Again, a small suggestion would be for Costa to have at least one staff person assigned to the area where the passports were to be retrieved on the final morning as many people were queueing in a small area for a good length of time. Unfortunately the rudeness of people having "members of their group" (2 people became 20) cutting others in line who had been there for up to an hour was unacceptable. Again, a few more staff would have been appreciated to keep order and facilitate the process. However, once we got our passports we were off the ship, with our luggage in about 15 minutes.
In conclusion, the ports that the ship visit are amazing, the ship itself is new and clean, the majority of the staff are energetic and proficient. With a few small improvements, Costa will have no problems overcoming the issues that have plagued them this year. We would certainly sail with Costa again in the future.