This very experienced flight attendant and equally experienced cruiser gave Costa a try.
Verdict? Never again. NEVER. It's almost enough to make me, and my family (husband, son, mother, stepfather, stepsons, their wives) stop cruising altogether.
There were good things, but even those things were tinged with the negative.
The Paraguayos, a duo singing and playing harp and guitar, were wonderful.
But when I approached the stage during a break and offered money for a CD, the young man disappeared as if he did not want to be seen accepting cash for it. (Just as a steward seemed afraid to take a cash tip extended the evening before disembarkation, literally looking around to see if the exchange had been witnessed.) I opened his guitar case and put the money inside.
My husband spent his 72nd birthday traveling across the Atlantic to Barcelona for the cruise; on our first night on board the ship the servers brought him a lovely cake, which we shared with the others near our table. I had mentioned his birthday in a phone call I made to Costa immediately after booking through our travel agent. The Costa agent seemed, in fact, rather agitated at the request that his birthday be recognized and, in fact, quibbled with me over the fact that the first day of the cruise (Dec. 18) was not the exact date of my husband's birthday (Dec. 17)!
So I was more surprised than he was when the cake came.
Room service is an extra charge per person, and it's hardly cheap and includes gratuities. The steam room and spa hot tub are "private" and for a very steep extra charge. The only spa area truly open to all cruisers is a small dry sauna in each locker room. The gym and dry sauna both have signs stating that no one under 16 is allowed; it is stated in several languages. That sign will be ignored -- not only by cruisers (to be expected) but also by staff.
because they have clearly NOT been empowered to enforce the ship's rules and, if asked to do so by someone like me who expects the rules to be enforced, will be reluctant to do so for fear of "getting in trouble with the guests."
So, a note to all the ladies who like to work out -- boys between 12 and 16 will be wandering around, shamelessly gawking at your body while you exercise. (Witnessed it myself.) Kids of both genders will be goofing around on the machines (using them as if they were on a school playground), making them inaccessible to you and putting themselves at risk for injury, all while the staff pretends not to notice.
"I can do nothing," they will say. I know that is what they will say because I DID point out that children were precisely where they were not supposed to be, and that is what I was told.
"I can do nothing."
Cruisers are allowed to join the cruise at any of the ports (or, at least, several of them), and to end their cruise at any port (or, at least, several of them). So the elevators will be closed to cruisers for a few hours on these days to load/unload these passengers' luggage. You will be expected to take the stairs and to walk the length of the ship to get to your room or other destination.
You will hear all announcements in five languages. This includes the repeated announcements pleading with that day's new cruisers to attend the muster drill, and all of the very loud attending emergency signals. It adds to the overall problem of NOISE on the ship.
The bus from the ship/dock into Marseilles was 9 euro per person. For our small family of three this was 27 euro, or $36. Other cruise lines we have sailed do not charge at all for a bus ride into town from the dock. The young woman managing the crowd on the dock at Civitavecchia was not only rude; she was providing inaccurate information as to which bus was appropriate for those of us wishing to simply go into town. I have been in Civitavecchia before and I knew better.
There is an all-you-can-drink package. My son is 19 and does NOT drink alcohol or coffee; he DOES drink a lot of sodas. But there is only ONE package, and it includes coffee, sodas, beer, wine and liquor, and it is consequently very expensive. There is no package just for sodas. You are also required to purchase a package for everyone in your party if you purchase a package for one person. I presume this is to prevent those who've purchased the package from ordering a drink for everyone at their table. My husband went ahead and purchased a package for all three of us. Therefore, my son paid about $200 for all you can drink sodas for a week; hardly a bargain. I can't say that my husband and I got or money's worth from the package. He is a wine connoisseur so perhaps he did. I can say this -- the better wines aren't included and the waiters (especially at lunch in what is called the "dining room") are happy to interpret your request for white wine as a request for one of the more expensive non-included wines, and to charge you accordingly. This necessitated one unpleasant scene at lunch, but it was just unpleasant enough to be remembered and not to be repeated by the staff on subsequent days.
Another caveat: If you are paying by the glass, servers are always there to help sell you another. If your cruise pass has the designation on it indicating that you have purchased the package, well, servers seem nowhere to be found and when they are found, they're pretty slow. In other words -- the ship has gotten your money already, and they are consequently more than happy to leave your glass empty. If you purchase the package, you still must sign a receipt for every drink, even though it is for a zero amount. This means you will feel pressured to tip, even though your drink package will be surcharged with a hefty fee for gratuities.
The dining room at lunch is appallingly unpleasant -- loud, rushed, insane, with waiters that seem undertrained and overworked and mismanaged. We were two feet from a long serving station and witnessed multiple near-misses, accidents, spills, and waiters being reprimanded in various languages. A request for an English wine list was repeatedly answered with a wine list in every language BUT English.
Several times I ordered a vodka and soda, only to be asked by any number of the waitresses what KIND of soda I wished. I would answer "club soda" and the waitress would become frustrated and continue to ask me, "What KIND of soda?" It was funny once because it seemed like a simple translation problem. But it's also a training problem, and the waitresses' too-apparent frustration with what they considered MY inability to communicate is also a problem.
Dining table assignment was a nightmare. Immediately after booking with our travel agent we called Costa to ask a few questions and make a few requests. These included late dining, at a table with just our party of three.
We were told that requests were not accepted and that we would be assigned our table and that we would learn our assignment after boarding the ship. We chalked this up to late booking or perhaps to a new cruise line for us, a European line, with perhaps different policies that we should be willing to adapt to.
When we were boarded and found that we had been assigned the early dining time, we decided to give it a try the first night. In fact, we were TOLD that we would be giving it a try that first night; no ifs, ands or buts about it. Our dining companions did not show up so we were at a huge table alone, making it difficult to hear each other speak. (Especially because the room is so noisy -- although, we were to discover, not as noisy as other places.) We again sought late dining and were, basically, punished for this request by being changed to late dining AND moved to "My Way." (We had not asked for a change of venue, merely a change of time.) The room seemed more like a large, noisy, too brightly-lit family dining venue with overtired children and overworked/rushed servers. (It was particularly difficult to get wine; perhaps this is explained by my theory above -- namely, that once you have purchased a drinks package, servers are less eager to approach you.) Elegant, quiet, relaxing, sophisticated? Not at all. We again requested to be moved to the original dining room and we were, for our last dinner on the ship.
My son, 19 and a very experienced cruiser (Platinum on Royal), visited the dining room for breakfast two mornings and was ignored. He eventually got up and went to the buffet.
Entering a boutique one day, almost immediately upon its opening, was very unpleasant. Very. Apparently a staff meeting was being held behind a thin curtain and in full earshot of every shopper in the store. A woman who was apparently conducting the meeting (she spoke English but with a strong European accent of some kind) was accusing her staff of "lying." I heard a diatribe directed against these unseen employees the likes of which I have not heard before. The woman delivering it then stormed out from behind the curtain. I noticed the female employee at the cash register, who had offered to help me, seemed teary-eyed. In a few minutes another woman came in and addressed this weepy young woman as "Tatiana" and asked her to come with her and they walked away.
First of all, employees should not be talked to as they were being talked to. And secondly, this kind of meeting should not be held within earshot of guests nor during opening hours of the boutique.
Maps and legends are poor and/or in short supply and should be near every elevator and staircase.
I do not know that I ever heard an announcement from the captain and I would not have known him were I to see him. Was there a reception?
The ship is horribly understaffed. Every employee we spoke with indicated a clear desire to leave the cruise ship industry or to move to another line, even when we did not solicit information about their career path. Wait times were lengthy, no matter what service was needed. Calls to the guest services desk took many tries and long waits on hold. If you decide to address an issue in person, the line will be very lengthy.
My husband's parents and grandparents were all born in Sicily and we have traveled widely in the Mediterranean with our son. This cruise showed me a different side of the Italian people (who largely populated the ship's passenger list on our cruise), and, sadly, it's one I don't like. (My husband laughs because he insists he's not Italian, but Sicilian!)
But what we saw were large, multi-generational family groups (a joy to see, generally) with little oversight of children. Kids and teens were running at breakneck speed throughout the ship, noisily up and down stateroom halls, on decks, indoor areas (through and past bars and public areas) with no regard for their own or others' safety or comfort or expectation of quiet (in the halls).
Once I was walking on deck on a very narrow path between the ends of deck chairs. Along came a young boy at top speed. With no where to dodge he would have to stop and we could gently ease past each other, I thought. Instead he careened toward me, then hopped onto a deck chair and continued his pace, running on the deck chairs. It was VERY dangerous. No parent and no staff member ever tried to stop this kind of thing or discipline the children. I saw older people frightened and nearly injured by children. Moms pushing large strollers would elbow and shoulder their way through crowds and excursions in a way that was very rude and unsafe for all. People speak loudly and repetitively with no regard for the atmosphere of any particularly quiet corner of the ship. They disregard all lines, cutting in front of those of us who respect lines and leaving those of us with better manners at the rear and often empty-handed.
It is quite unpleasant to be forced to abandon one's manners on a cruise in order to have your family treated fairly. On a street in a suburb of Rome this kind of behavior can all be quite charming. On a cruise ship, where taking turns and exercising decent manners is important -- not so much.
Internet access costs are EXTRAORDINARY and even the employees said so -- 10 euros for one hour of very slow and unreliable service.
Our steward was a bright spot. Even then, there were two problems. We put the trash can where we wanted it to be. Every time he entered the room he replaced it to a spot underneath the chair at the vanity. Stewards need to understand that when the passenger moves something -- especially REPEATEDLY -- it's because that's where we want it to be! And normally we send an email prior to our sailing to request bath robes in our room. We didn't have enough time prior to this cruise because we booked so late. When we talked to our steward about getting robes, he made it clear that this might be difficult if not impossible. I believed him. We DID get three bath robes. But should your stewards have to work this hard to please a passenger with such a simple request? (Your sister line, Carnival, provided robes without a request and Royal and Celebrity were more than happy to do so immediately upon request.)
The overall atmosphere of the ship is loud, obnoxious and rushed. There is no quiet corner to be found. Trust me, WE LOOKED.
Booking a balcony in the Mediterranean in December was a waste of money; it is too cold to enjoy. Coupled with the steep extra charge for room service (we like a balcony for enjoying room service), it was truly a waste.
We called in advance to ask about the Playstation area that the ship advertises. We wondered if my 19-year-old son should bring his own console (to save money if consoles cost money to rent). The representative we talked to on the phone didn't know and didn't seem to care to find out. My son didn't bring his console. It turned out that the Playstation area (such as it is) is adjacent to the teen club, and he is too old for the teen club now; the age limit is 17. And, you see, we respect the rules about minimum and maximum ages.
This brings me to a very serious issue -- age limits and the behavior of children in certain areas -- and an even MORE serious issue.
Bear with me.
Your staffmembers wouldn't like it very much if my husband, aged 72, wanted to hang around the toddler area. In fact, I would expect that he and my son and I would all be asked to leave if we wanted to enter the toddler or teen areas of the ship. These areas are designated for passengers of those ages.
Your cabin manual states, in the English section:
To guarantee all of our guests have an excellent stay while onboard and to ensure the security of your children, we kindly ask you to read the recommendations and age limits specified by Costa Cruises for these programs.
In addition, we ask parents to please ensure that children do not run on stairs, on the outside decks and in particular in and around the pool area, which could be wet and therefore slippery. We also kindly remind you that swimming pool areas are not attended by lifeguards and diving is prohibited.
Children under the age of 16 are not allowed to use the gym. If an instructor is not present in the gym, children between the ages of 16 and 18 may enter only if accompanied by an adult.
Children under the age of 16 are not allowed to use the jacuzzis.
In addition to this information in the cabin manual, you have signs posted in prominent places throughout the ship, in all relevant areas, in multiple languages, reiterating these policies. They are hardly unpublicized or secret, and neither your passengers nor your employees are illiterate. I cannot imagine that the cabin manual says something different in Italian, Spanish, French, German, etc.
The daily newsletter made no mention of changes to the policies.
I repeatedly made calls to the guest services desk (often waiting on hold for far too long, indicating your need for better staffing in that area) and repeatedly stopped staff members near the ADULT pool noting that children, and in once case AN INFANT IN A DIAPER, were in the pool clearly designated for ADULTS. One afternoon the pool designated as ADULT was OVERRUN with children, splashing, jumping, screaming, etc.
I RARELY saw a hot tub ("jacuzzi") that did not have children in it, in clear contravention of your stated policies. A few times I saw DIAPERED INFANTS in hot tubs! I shiver with disgust as I type this! The rules says that no one under 16 is to be in a hot tub. PERIOD!
At one point I sat down and wrote a letter detailing this problem, and left it at the guest services desk. I received a phone call, in my room, later that day from a young woman (Monica? I can't remember) acknowledging receipt of the letter, telling me it was being passed on to the captain, thanking me for the effort I took to write it, emphasizing that improvements cannot be made without complaints being lodged, assuring me that I was correct in my understanding that the pool was for ADULTS, and promising me that the problem would be rectified.
It was NEVER rectified. In fact, the problem became WORSE. When I returned to what I hoped would actually be the ADULT pool, there were even MORE children there. I picked up the sign stating that it was an ADULT pool and began carrying it to the guest services desk. I stopped midway because it was very heavy and simply removed the sign from the slot where it had been slid into the sign. I continued toward the guest services desk. I was stopped by a security guard who wanted to know what the problem was. I told him, crumpled the paper into his hand (because it was as worthless as any trash on the ship) and GAVE UP on believing that your staffmembers were providing me honest, accurate information. I also GAVE UP on enjoying a pool or hot tub in peace, free from fecal material floating in the water from infants in diapers in the ADULT pool and hot tub (ALL of which, according to your policy, are to have no one under 16 in them).
I booked a Costa cruise having followed closely the wreck of the Concordia. I figured, as a travel professional myself, that accidents happen to all of our companies, and all of of our companies find ourselves employing folks whose lack of judgment and professionalism mean that they shouldn't be employed at our companies, if anywhere at ALL.
As a flight attendant, I learned during my initial training about something called Crew Resource Management. I am re-trained in it every year. CRM calls upon every crew member -- every employee -- to not only feel EMPOWERED to point out and/or correct problems, especially safety and health problems, but makes it clear that they are not only empowered to do so, they are OBLIGATED to do so.
Repeatedly on this cruise I was met with this response from employees who admitted that safety and health policies were being violated:
"I can do nothing."
"I can do NOTHING."
"I CAN DO NOTHING."
And it seemed to be true.
What is perhaps even more galling, perhaps, is to be told by an employee that they can, and will, do something, and that, in fact, they APPRECIATE the fact that I have let them know that there is a problem. And then it is never, ever, ever DONE; the problem is never, ever, ever addressed. It is patronizing; it is condescending; it insults my intelligence; it is frustrating BEYOND BELIEF. If you intend to do NOTHING, to flout your OWN rules and policies, then tell me so. Announce the changes in the daily newsletter. Take down the signs saying "ADULT POOL." Don't tell me that you are going to make sure that the rules are followed, and thank me for letting you know about the problem, and then DO NOTHING.
Here is the serious part (as if the health and safety of your passengers could be trumped by anything else):
What is going on behind the scenes, where passengers cannot or do not see, in ways which the average passenger would not understand, that will sooner or later affect health and safety, as it did on board the Concordia? If your employees cannot enforce simple, widely publicized safety and health rules aboard the ship, if they are not allowed and even encouraged and hopefully rewarded (rather than punished) for doing so, how on earth can they speak up to the captain and other officers when they see something unsafe?
I will not be sailing Costa, nor Carnival (for these same and other reasons) again. If you are unable, or unwilling, to enforce your OWN policies -- not MY policies, but your OWN, and those set by government agencies to which you claim to adhere -- then you have forfeited the right to the trust I must have in you to not only protect my family from the unsavory habits and bad behavior of other passengers but from the vagaries of the ship and of the very sea. If I cannot trust the cleanliness of the pools and hot tubs, the simple and easily maintained sanctity of an adult area, the enforcement of basic rules of safety and behavior in the gym, how can I trust you to follow the rules set out by various government agencies and, shall I say it, COMMON SENSE? How can I trust you to insure even more serious issues of safety? How can I trust that your employees feel comfortable pointing out these more serious issues, if they cannot enforce the most simple of rules? I cannot. I CANNOT.