When we saw the ad for a 5 night cruise for less than Â£100, in a premium balcony cabin to boot, we thought it would be extremely rude not to......and so we booked for the Costa Pacifica short Med cruise.
The prospect of sailing from Savona was a bit daunting, as I had no idea how we would get to it independently. However, I discovered that Costa themselves were running transfer coached from Milan, Genoa and Nice. So we booked an Easyjet flight from Luton to Milan, and paid Â£44 for the return transfer.
(It is worth noting that you need to change terminals to pick up the transfer. There is a bus stop just outside arrivals. Turn right as you leave the building) and a courtesy bus shuttles you between the terminals via a couple of car parks - it takes about 5 minutes).
The organisation for the Costa Transfer at the airport was rather chaotic, but we finally left for the ship at about 12.30 for a 2.5 hour journey. Unfortunately, there was torrential rain which had caused part of the route to flood and the transfer took almost 4.5 hours. It was lucky that the transfer was run by Costa or we may have found that the ship had left without us, but when we eventually arrived, there she was in all her glory. We were moved swiftly aboard, just as the muster drill was starting and the ship pulled away within minutes of us arriving in our cabin. We late arrivals were given a separate safety briefing at 8pm.
Our first impression of the ship were very favourable. We have cruised about 10 times before on a variety of lines, but this was probably the biggest ship we've been on to date. The decor was very vibrant with a strong music theme, and may not be to everyone's taste, but it felt modern and scrupulously clean.
Our cabin was good sized, with a 2 seater sofa-bed as well as the king sized double, a very usable shower room, and plenty of storage even for a couple of weeks. There was a flat screen TV, although the menu system for viewing your on-board account etc. didn't work (and apparently hadn't for the past 3 cruises) There were several "Costa" channels as well as the BBC World Service, and a variety of European language channels. The balcony was small but perfectly formed, and was very private. I didn't think we'd get much use out of it, it being November/December, but actually we found ourselves out there several times a day - even in the 95km winds on the last night!
Following our safety briefing (where we were assured that the Captain WOULD remain with the ship whatever happened) we went for the late sitting dinner at 9pm (early is at 6pm). The menu was quite extensive with about 7 courses each night including starter, soup, pasta, salad, main, cheese and dessert, and you could have as many or few as you chose. There were also some items like grilled chicken that were available every night. I read a review that said if you go cruising for the food then Costa may not be your best option, and I would agree. However, it wasn't bad, there was plenty of choice, and the service was great - just the food wasn't very exciting. We found that lunch in the dining room was better than dinner, probably because the service was staggered and they didn't have to get 1000 plates to the table, hot, all at one go. We only ate at the Lido buffet a couple of times, once in the afternoon when there was only Pizza and salad available (nice fresh pizza tho'), and once at lunchtime when there was lots of choice but it was absolutely manic.
For us, every cruise line has things that we really like, and Costa's "thing" was their "all inclusive" drinks package. We paid approx Â£16 a day each including the 15% service, and it covered just about everything except bottled beer, premium spirits, and fresh squeezed juices (I think it used to include that, but it's changed recently). We aren't huge drinkers, but we enjoyed the freedom of trying new cocktails, having good coffee with a brandy and a few glasses of quaffable wine with dinner without thinking about it. As many people have said, if you have more than 3 drinks a day then you're in pocket. For people that don't want to drink alcohol there is also now a package of unlimited soft drinks for approx Â£8 a day pp (for adults as well as children), and there is a also Lavazza coffee package which gave you something like 15 coffees at a fixed price, (27 Euros???) but it didn't seem to save you much.
There were a good selection of bars, with a variety of types of music - from classic Violin/Piano to disco and ballroom dancing. As many others have mentioned, some bar areas allow smoking, as does the Casino, and it's hard to avoid it altogether when walking around, but we found there were plenty of areas where you could sit in the evenings and not be bothered by it.
The main entertainment in the theatre seemed to suffer from the constraints of a multi-lingual ship, and we thought was rather weak. The one male and one female vocalists sang mainly in English, and the guy was pretty good. Then there was a dance troupe who seemed to do the same routine over and over just in different costumes (but I'm probably being a bit unfair.....) We only went 3 nights out of the 5, so it may have been better on those nights we weren't there? The only daytime activity we attended was a quiz, where the questions were asked in 5 languages. Luckily they were all short questions, and only 10 of them, but it was fun. I personally enjoyed the "European" ambiance of the ship, and didn't find any more rudeness or queue jumping than on any British or American ship - just more enthusiastic singing and dancing! And the best bit was that there seemed to be a real camaraderie among those Brits aboard, which led to some great evenings and lots of laughs....
I didn't know what to expect from the Med in the winter, but it surprised me to find that it was choppier than we've had on any other cruise including the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic twice. The "very rough" conditions meant that we couldn't dock in Marseilles, as planned for Day 2, although the ship seemed to handle the rough seas fairly well, so we headed for Toulon instead. Each day we enjoyed sunshine, but most evenings the wind seemed to get up and we'd get a little bit of rock 'n' roll - just enough to remind you that you were on a ship as you got rocked to sleep in the very comfy beds. Until the last night when, on leaving Corsica, both the wind and the waves were stormy, and the numbers at dinner diminished dramatically. Even a few of the waiters looked as if they might not finish the shift! But Costa managed the situation well, giving out sea sickness pills at reception, and helping the more frail to get about the ship safely and comfortably, and by early morning all was calm again both inside and out.
Having read a few of the other reviews here, I have to say I was in two minds about a Costa cruise, but thought a 5 day cruise would be a good way of deciding for myself without too big a commitment.
Did I enjoy it - definitely! Would I do it again? - probably, and at the price we paid I'd go again next week without a second thought. I thought for the price it was exceptional value, but I do think that they would need to up their game with the food and entertainment offering if they want to compete with the likes of P&O, Princess, Celebrity etc.