My wife and I received an email from Cruise Nation offering an eleven night cruise on the Costa Neo Romantica at what we thought was a very good price. Having never been on a cruise before and also being only in our mid 50s we were unsure as to whether to book or not.
In the end we looked at the destinations to be visited, Barcelona, Casablanca, Santa Cruz, Funchal, Malaga, Civitavechia and Savona and decided to go ahead.
Travel to the port of embarcation was supposed to be with Iberia from Gatwick and this was changed by the travel agent, without notification, to Vueling from the other Gatwick terminal. The plane was overbooked and all cabin luggage had to be packed into the hold. Legroom was at the legal minimum and the whole operation was less impressive than low cost operators such as Ryanair and Easy jet.
The ship was one of the smaller ones in the Costa fleet and newly refurbished throughout. We joined it on the final leg of a world cruise. We had an inside cabin which was quite comfortable and serviced twice daily by wonderful staff. The neighbours were at times quite noisy though and they could be heard through the walls.
The food onboard was generally excellent with formal dining or an anytime option being available. Here again the staff were excellent and no request was too much trouble. The formal dining is in a restaurant called Boticelli's, though not every evening was a formal occasion. Giardino's is where you can have buffet food during the day, including afternoon tea, and this too seemed to be of a good standard.
We used the gym on a daily basis and found it to be well equipped and clean. It overlooks the bows of the ship and offers good views. The downside is that it is like excercising in a green house - beware!
We were pleased to find that we were not the youngest on board and we made good friendships with other couples of a similar age and younger (most of whom seemed to have taken up the same "deal" as us). There is no Theatre on board and the entertainment is more Butlins than Las Vegas. The visiting cabaret acts were of a good standard, but the repertoire of the in-house musicians was very "samey" and began to wear thin when repeated night after night.
We thought long and hard about whether to take the drinks package or not and were glad that we had decided to do so, for as only moderate drinkers it still worked out more economic to do so. Water, tea/cofee etc was not included in the base price of the cruise
The ports of call were interesting to us, but Casablanca was culturally very different to anything we'd ever experienced (not in a good way). Savona was an absolute delight, not at all what we were expecting, as someone had said it would be like Hull!! I wouldn't look to book an excursion when docked here as there is definitely plenty to see and explore, all within walking distance.
Due to the nature of the itinerary, we had little time in Malaga and to make the most of our time there we had to disembark whilst it was still dark and everywhere was closed!
We took one excursion (to Rome) and everywhere else we explored either alone on foot, or with travelling companions. The hop on, hop off buses are good if you have limited time/mobility and want to see/learn as much as possible in a short space of time. Avoid the yellow one in Funchal, as although it offers a reduced rate for a ride up the cable car, it has much more limited frequency than the red bus.
On one of our at sea days, Costa offered a behind the scenes tour of the ship, for (I think) 29 euros per person. We would love to have taken this opportunity, but felt that this was just a way of milking captive guests for a bit more money.
Overall we enjoyed the experience, but would not now consider ourselves converts to cruising as some had suggested we would undoubtedly become. Enjoyable? yes certainly. Something we would do again? Very probably - and we are certainly glad to include it into the repertoire of holiday types that we select from