This was my 10th and 11th cruise, 2nd on Costa. I sailed the Atlantica two years ago on a transatlantic. In my opinion, Costa does a lot of things right but there are some rough spots that need to be addressed. Still, it's just my opinion from my perspective. Others on the same cruises might very well disagree.
We booked the Sheraton Airport through Priceline for a very good rate. The hotel is very nice and the management was helpful and friendly. We arrived early afternoon and after checking around, we chose to eat dinner at The Rustic Crab, a casual restaurant with a varied seafood menu, but specializing in Garlic Crab. Delicious! But it's quite busy and there will be a wait.
Long and tedious with not enough chairs in the terminal for those waiting. It seemed organized, but obviously not enough help to process the number of people very quickly.
The Victoria was launched in 1996, before the balcony phase, so no balcony. I decided some time ago that if I could not book a balcony I would book inside, since I am not real impressed by a window I cannot open. Our inside cabin #80243 was about 160 sq ft and quite comfortable. Nicely designed with plenty of storage space and a mini bar. The bathroom was cramped but had an excellent shower. The TV had cable stations but no CNN or ESPN, one English movie channel, the rest in other languages.
I won't go into great detail about the design of the Victoria since that information is available at various sites. The ship is very clean and well maintained and quite beautiful. Even at capacity, the layout presents an open, uncrowded feeling. There are plenty of elevators, some glass enclosed which allows a view of the atrium. Perhaps my favorite thing about the Victoria (which is true of the Atlantica as well) is the open bars which serve both coffee and alcohol. The bar areas are open to public walkways which makes it easy to stop in for a coffee or drink and listen to music without feeling trapped in a bar. This is especially nice if you're alone at the time. Some have couches where you can sit and read, sip coffee, listen to music and not feel out of place. Great idea!
The pool is about average size and there are two hot tubs on each end of the pool. There are many, many deck chairs on all of the decks for sunning, and I do think that there were enough to go around.
The ship has about all of the other amenities of any modern ship except the mega-mega liners. Card room, spa, fitness center, Internet cafe...it's all there.
The casino is large with the usual table games and tons of slot machines. It is often crowded after dinner and into the night. I played a fair amount, lost a little but did meet a few that hit a jackpot. The bar staff circulates and it is easy to order a drink. Overall, the casino is appealing and comfortable with good ventilation.
There is certainly plenty of it in various spots so I will try to break it down, with comments specific to the area.
Formal Dining -- The two main dining rooms are on deck five, separated by the kitchen. Passengers are assigned early (6:30 PM) or late (8:30-8:45 PM) seating in one or the other. My first cruise I was assigned to the Sinfonia, the 2nd to the Fantasia. I found no difference. Both rooms are attractive, but not awesome in any way. I would describe the dining room food as fair overall with an occasional entree that excelled. The dinner menu offered six courses, including desert, with a number of selections. Pasta was one of the courses and was the most consistent. The bread was always hard rolls and I felt the deserts were uninspiring. I did not eat in the dining room for breakfast or lunch so I cannot comment.
Casual Dining -- Most of the casual dining is located on the pool deck, deck 11. The Nettuno grill is open from about noon till 2:30 PM and serves hamburgers, hot dogs, and fries, with all the trimmings, including bacon, cheese, sauerkraut and sautéed onions, but no pickles. All the food at the grill is excellent, but I did miss the pickles. The grill reopens about 4 PM and offers pizza (not great) and a selection of fruit.
The Bolero Buffet, off the pool deck, is open for breakfast, lunch and light snacks throughout most of the afternoon and evening. I would categorize the food there as fair, and selections rather limited. Costa does not offer very good bread.
La Terrazza, on the aft of the pool deck, is open for lunch and serves fresh pasta, pizza, and a different International cuisine each day. The pasta is excellent, and the rest of the selections are usually very good.
The Pizzeria, on Deck 12 is open from 6:30 PM till 1 AM for pizza or ice cream.
The late night buffets (except for the Gala night) are spread out through the bar areas and offers pasta, pastries, fruit, cheese, desserts. A nice selection and a great way to do it. The Gala buffet, a much grander affair, takes place in the Fantasia restaurant. Unfortunately, once you serve your plate, that's pretty much the end of grand for you have to trudge through the very long kitchen in formal attire to the other dining room in order to sit down and eat. This makes no sense. Perhaps the original thought was that there would not be enough tables left since the buffet takes up space, but it's just not the case. The buffet is not that well attended and there are plenty of available tables. At any rate, it turns an enormous effort by the kitchen staff into something rather unappealing. And it needn't be that way.
Alternative Restaurant -- Cafe Magnifico is the alternative restaurant, a sampling of Genoa's finest restaurant. Cost is $20 per person and a 15% gratuity. I did not eat there but one of my tablemates who did was truly impressed. He called it most definitely 5 star and in his opinion would cost several times the price on land.
Room Service -- Room service is offered 24 hrs although the menu varies after 1 AM. The breakfast menu which can be hung on the door is strictly continental. Coffee, tea, milk, pastries, fruit, yogurt. A variety of sandwiches are offered that are truly excellent. Room service is very quick and courteous.
Very, very uneven. My first table steward was barely marginal, the second absolutely outstanding. My room steward ranked with the best I've had. Some of the bar staff were friendly and efficient, a few others not. The tour staff was the worst I've encountered, often rude, abrupt and impatient with questions. The administrative staff was quite nice and tried to be helpful but often delivered the wrong information. Language problems were the culprit at times, I think, regarding wrong information, but frustrating nevertheless.
I am not a big fan of shipboard production shows, so I solicited the opinions of those who are. For the most part, they were pleased with most of the shows and except for two they thought were terrible, ranked the entertainment about average. The musicians throughout the ship in the various bars are all quite good. The band on the pool deck was always entertaining. They offered the usual deck activities such as bingo, horse racing etc.
Toga Night is a special Costa thing. Bed sheets and a cardboard crown with instructions on how to create a toga are delivered to your room on the afternoon of toga night which is the final night of the cruise. Most participate, and it's fun to see the different creations.
Smoking -- I have read many reviews on Costa which made an issue of the smoking, but I have to say I didn't find it to be an issue. There is no smoking in any of the restaurants or the Fantasia showroom. The pool deck has a smoking side and non-smoking side, separated by the width of the ship. All bars have both smoking and non-smoking areas. I didn't encounter anyone smoking in public walkways or at elevators. The casino allows smoking however it is very well ventilated. But the bottom line is Costa is a European based cruise line with a loyal European following and is protective of the rights of both sets of passengers. I think they do it as well as they can.
Announcements -- This is another area where Costa has been criticized. Announcements in several languages. Well, there is no way around that since Costa's passengers represent multiple languages, but I will say, since my cruise on the Atlantica, the announcements have been cut way back. On this cruise, there were very, very few announcements. How few? Well, I went through an entire day an hour off in time since I didn't know to turn my clock back. Didn't realize it till dinner when we were the only ones waiting to get in an hour early.
Coffee -- Coffee gets it's own heading because Costa's coffee is exceptional throughout the ship. No doubt, the best I've had on any cruise line. And I am particular about coffee. Now if they could just improve their bread.
The ports were all popular ports that have been reviewed many times, so I will only list the ones where I have some special input.
Catalina -- Costa's private island and I think they do it better than any other cruise line I have been on. They are extremely organized. You are met at the island by chair runners who will set up your lounge chair anywhere you want it. No need to try to chase one down no matter how late you arrive. The bar staff circulates selling drinks (of course) but the downside is that the drinks are jacked up in price. A $1.50 shipboard coke is now $1.95. Why? Anyway, the island is lovely, typical picnic food is offered at more that one location and you can always drink juice or iced tea for free.
Cozumel -- Try eating lunch at Pancho's Backyard. Delicious Mexican food in a garden environment, all prepared from fresh ingredients and absolutely outstanding Margaritas. Even better, ask for Manual and mention his web page and get a free (small) Margarita. Adjacent to Pancho's is an interesting shop with a variety of crafts and souvenirs. From downtown, you can get a taxi to the Mayan ruins roundtrip (he will wait for you). The paths at the ruins are uneven and not easy walking so if you want to go at your own pace, this may be the best way. The cost was no more than the tour.
Progresso and Merida -- The shuttle drops you off at the craft bazaar in downtown Progresso. Right there, you will find double decker painted busses that will take you on a $2 tour of the little town. Only takes about twenty minutes. Just a few blocks from the bazaar is Progresso's beautiful beach.
At the entrance to the bazaar tickets are sold to Merida. A round trip bus ticket is $8. A roundtrip with tour is $20. Take the tour. Merida is very difficult on your own. Very few people speak any English. It takes about 45 minutes by bus to Merida. I don't think any of the busses are air conditioned.
Key West -- The Conch Train tour is well worth the money. $18 at the station in Key West. The driver talks non-stop and covers every important bit of history and information you ever wanted to know. The trolley also offers a tour and you can get off and on the trolley at any stop you want to explore.
By now, you know my opinion of Costa's good points and problem areas. But I think the positive definitely out weighs the negative. I personally enjoyed the rather relaxed atmosphere and I think the passenger mix was a positive. We were the only Americans at a large table of British passengers and I have never had better tablemates. They were fun and gracious and we made lasting friends. Overall, I felt my fellow cruisers were friendly and courteous and I enjoyed getting to know several of them. The age was mixed, and although the group was generally lively and fun loving, they were not boisterous or brawling drunks. I feel that Costa genuinely tries to deliver a fine cruise experience even though they may at times fall short due to language barriers. I do think that some areas can be improved and that they should make an effort to do so. That said, I feel they offer an excellent product for value and I would not hesitate to cruise Costa again.