My family of 8 (booked in a total of 4 inside cabins) spent 2 weeks (17 Nov -- 1 Dec) on the Costa Victoria, departing from Singapore. When we originally booked this cruise, it was sold as a 14 night cruise but it was subsequently broken up into 3 separate cruises (a 4 night cruise from Singapore visiting Langkawi and Penang, a 3 night cruise visiting Port Kelang and Malacca, and finally a 7 night cruise visiting Kuantan, Laem Chabang and Koh Samui)
We booked this cruise due to the interesting itinerary and the unbelievable price. After reading the reviews of the Victoria, I was a bit apprehensive but not to fear. Everyone had a fantastic time on the cruise, making the best of the sometimes frustrating situations we encountered on the Victoria.
Embarkation: We booked online and the Costa website indicated that the Singapore port is at Harborfront, so we headed there. However, at the Harborfront Port, we were advised that a recent change now had the Costa Victoria pulling into Marina Bay, resulting in an additional taxi ride. Not a good first impression of Costa! However, once we got to Marina Bay, the rest of our embarkation went smoothly.
Interestingly, our room card was separate from our Costa Card (used to swipe for on board purchases, drinks, etc) which forced us to carry 2 cards at all times. Our inside cabins (quite small) were ready, and we quickly unpacked before the evacuation drill. Provided in the room was a power strip (sufficient for our power needs), a kettle/tea bags, and a bucket of fresh ice (replaced quite often thanks Imelda, our fantastic Cabin Stewardess).
The evacuation drill was an exercise in patience, as instructions were repeated in numerous languages at a volume that was indiscernible. Whoever set up Victoria's public announcement system needs remedial training...very ineffective and we could hardly understand 75% of the announcements made.
Dinner at the Fantasia Restaurant (located mid ship) was great. On the first leg of the cruise (Days 1-4), we had a very attentive staff of Vietnamese waiters (the fantastic husband/wife duo of Tran and Ha), which we thought was a very thoughtful move on the Maitre d' as half of our group hailed from Vietnam. Dinners were more than adequate, with lots of choices (Western and Asian dishes) and we never left the table hungry. Not sure of what to order? No worries, our waiters would bring multiple dishes so a sampling could be tried. We had read (prior to the cruise) that getting iced water might be a problem with Costa, as other members reported being forced to purchase bottled water. However, this was never a factor and we had plenty of ice water during the entire duration of the cruise.
Annoyances: Passports were necessary for disembarkation for Singapore and if overnighting at Laem Chabang. Obtaining passports for Singapore disembarkation was fairly straightforward, but for the Laem Chabang port, this was utter chaos. Tempers were high and we witnessed several passengers in hysteria the morning of, and all of this could have been prevented if Costa had better organizational skills and a much better trained front desk/reception staff who appeared quite indifferent to the hordes of angry/upset passengers. Here is the background to this entire debacle: The day before Laem Chabang (sea day), Costa staff put out that passports could be obtained anytime in a 2 hour period during the day. However, that was not the case. When we tried to get our group's passports, we were advised to "come back tomorrow morning after we pull into Laem Chabang and you can get your passport then". Thankfully, we had several inquisitive members of the group, who managed to find out that there was an official "Costa List" for passengers who intended to stay overnight while at Laem Chabang. This list would be used to by immigration to pull those individual's passports, stamp them for entry to Thailand and allow them to disembark the ship. Why this information was not put out by the Costa staff managing the front desk is a mystery. My father approached the front desk at least 3 times before obtaining this nugget of information. As a result, our names/cabin numbers were added to the "list" and magically, our passports were ready for us the next morning at Laem Chabang, but for all those who had been advised to simply "show up and get your passport", that was not the case. Tempers were flaring as many of our fellow passengers had coordinated private tours and they were severely delayed in their disembarkation process due to not being able to obtain their passports in a timely manner. We were able to get off the Victoria about 30 minutes after arrival, and have no idea how long it took the rest of the passengers to finally get their passports and disembark...VERY very poor service on Costa's part for this port. This could absolutely have been prevented by Costa and is an absolute disgrace that it was allowed to happen.
Ports of Call
Singapore: We flew in early to spend a few days here. Fantastic hawker food (cheap and delicious). Bought a 3 day MRT card which cost $30 (with a $10 refund if you turn the card back in) so for a whopping $20, you can ride unlimited MRTs and buses throughout Singapore...great deal! We stayed in Chinatown which has a vibrant and lively atmosphere. Visited the zoo, jurong bird park, Arab Street, the merlion, Marina Sands rooftop pool/bar, Gardens by the Bay. Great stop...this island nation is so very well organized and super easy for the independent traveler to get around. Bit pricey though compared to the rest of Southeast Asia.
Langkawi: We decided to do our own thing here and booked an island hopping tour for just over $100 for 8 people (our own private boat) for a 3-4 hour tour. Much cheaper than what was offered through Costa. We booked it right at the end of the port where motorbikes can be rented (40 Malay Ringgit for the day). Visited 3 islands (Pulau Beras Basah , Tasik Dayang Bunting and Pulau Singa Besar) which included eagle feeding at Pulau Singa Besar. It started pouring with rain, so after the tour, we headed back to Victoria for lunch, and afterwards the rest of the group hung out while my husband and I rented a motorbike for a scenic ride into Kuah. Langkawi is where you can stock up on super cheap duty free..great prices here!
Penang (Georgetown): A walkable city. Just ignore the taxis swarming you at the port and armed with a map, this is an easy city to navigate. Loved Georgetown...very pretty with gorgeous architecture. The blue hued Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion is only open for a group tour at 11 am so we admired it from outside. Lots of pretty temples here. For a glimpse of yesteryear, head to the Weld Quay Clan Jetties, home to five main Chinese clans -- Lim, Chew, Tan, Lee and Yeoh. An easy stroll back to the cruise where we had lunch before leaving pretty Penang.
Port Klang/Kuala Lumpur: My dad wasn't feeling 100% today, so the rest of us (7 total) hopped on the free Costa shuttle to the awaiting taxi mafia. Here we tried to negotiate for a ride into KL but kept getting referred back to a "negotiator" who had a "fixed price" list. We ended up getting a full day tour for the 7 of us in one taxi van (plenty of room) for $160 which included a visit to Batu Caves, Merdeka Square, Railway Station, National Mosque, Petronas twin towers (where we lunched at local hawker stalls on the second floor of the towers ) and had some nice photo ops of the towers themselves, a brief shopping trip in Chinatown, and a quick photo opportunity at the King's Palace. Our driver, a friendly female muslim, was fantastic and we really enjoyed the day trip. Note: leave plenty of time for travel....there was an overturned truck on our ride back and it took us over an hour to negotiate through that traffic jam.
Malacca: Gorgeous city. Had to tender here. I downloaded a free "walking the Dutch Trail" tour and led my family on it...very easy to do this on your own, don't book a tour here unless you absolutely love crowds and being herded from one spot to another. Our tour took us to Dutch Square (Stadthuys & Christ Church), St Paul's Hill & Church, Baba Nyonya Museum, the famous Jonker street (where Wah Aik Shoe Maker still sells shoes for bound feet - one of the last shoemakers in the world to make these), onward to Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, Kampung Kling Mosque, Portuguese Fort A Famosa, and the replica Sultan's palace. This is a very pretty port of call and we enjoyed it very much, rain and all.
Kuantan: Ugggh! Please drop this port of call. Its horrible. The extortionate taxi mafia wanted a ridiculous $80 round trip for a ride to the Teluk Chempedak beach (visible from the top deck of the Victoria) but who wants to pay a small fortune to hang out at the beach? Not us...we stayed on board and didn't feel like we missed a thing, lounging by the salt water pool and enjoying cocktails. This port could have been a complete miss...
Laem Chabang: We had already visited Bangkok so we opted to stay overnight in Pattaya. Read above for the nightmare scenario in securing passports for an overnight stay. Costa really disappointed us with their horrible organizational skills at this port. The reception staff was less than helpful and dozens of our fellow frustrated passengers crowded the front desk without getting adequate support...not good! Once we got off the Victoria, we hopped in our pre-coordinated ride to Pattaya (van for 8 pax was 1200 Baht). We stayed near Walking Street, and headed immediately to the excellent Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Gardens for elephant show, thai kickboxing, tigers, cultural show. Tickets were 500 Baht per person, the gardens were excellent. After heading back to Pattaya, we strolled by the beach, did some shopping (bargains to be had here but be sure to negotiate) and had fantastic street food. Lots of sights to be sure. Walking Street more tame that we expected, lots of fun.
Ko Samui: We had to tender to Nathorn Port. It was pouring with rain here, so instead of our plan to hire motorbikes around the island, we settled on a van to drive us around for a 4-5 hour tour, cost was $110 for 8 people. We visited Na Muang waterfall, Wat Khunaram (where a mummified body of Ko Samui's best known monk, Loung Pordang can be seen), the natural geological formations known as Hin Ta and Hin Yai Rocks (the Grandpa and Grandma rocks), which look, respectively, like male and female genitalia, Chaweng Beach and Fishermen's Village. Since the last boat tender was at 3:15 pm, we headed back to Nathorn Port for some last minute shopping before catching one of the last tenders for the Victoria
Overall thoughts: We had a fabulous time cruising around Asia and enjoyed most of the ports of call. Costa Victoria isn't for everybody, but we enjoyed it despite the setbacks (uncoordinated and misinformed front desk staff). In terms of value for money, this holiday couldn't be beat. Would we cruise with Costa again? Yes, but next time we would know what to expect of a Costa holiday.