Having cruised several times with Royal Caribbean and Princess, myself and my Husband thought we would give Costa a try. We booked an ocean view guarantee cabin at a really reasonable price. We sent an email to Costa to ask about dining allocation and options as there was no facility to choose dining time or table size at booking (it turns out that this was because I booked a guarantee classic cabin) unfortunately, our questions were ignored but they did inform us that they kindly upgraded us to a samsara balcony cabin. Just to note, as I know that the question has been asked on the message boards, you do not get any of the other samsara perks if you are upgraded, which I completely understand as some of the perks included spa treatments etc.
Embarkation was the most disorganised that we have ever experienced. Despite staff being at the port in the check in area at 11:30, they did not start embarking people until well after 13:30. You were given a numbered tag when you dropped your luggage off which were then called in order when embarkation began. The announcements were very difficult to hear. There were screens displaying boarding numbers, but these worked intermittently and bore no relevance to the number that was actually boarding. Hordes of People were crowded around the check in area so you could not see where the queue began. They did ask people to move once, but no one took any notice and it was very chaotic. It was also very slow, I think there were three staff checking people in out of the 8 available check in stations, which then became one member of staff. We finally boarded at around 3:30. I am not sure if this is usual or if we were unfortunate. The Ship actually sailed an hour late as people were still boarding at 5:30.
There was a lack of information when boarding, and it is different to other lines as your sea pass is found in your cabin and you then need to go and register your credit card at a self service station of which there are several located around the ship. We found this out for ourselves, no one explained this to us.
The ship itself is stunning, the cabin was lovely and is of the same standard as the balcony cabins we have had on other lines.
We pre booked the all inclusive drinks package, this is well worth the money with a good range of drinks included.
I purchased a spa pass for the entire cruise. I thought that 79 euros was very reasonable and the spa is without doubt the best that I have visited at sea. Its beautiful.
There are a lot of smoking areas on the ship. My other half is a smoker and even he was surprised how widespread the smoking areas are including being able to smoke on one half of the atrium. I am a non smoker, and although all of the bars had non smoking areas this doesn't really work in practice, to be honest it didn't worry me too much but if you are very anti smoking you would struggle.
Food - The buffet was almost identical every day, with a very limited choice of food for breakfast and two different pizzas, spaghetti, couple of cheeses, couple of cold meats and a basic salad bar for lunch(there is no evening buffet). If you have experienced Princess or RCCL buffets do not expect anything near the choice available. Personally we were disappointed with the quality of a lot of the food, although one or two of the dishes were fine, in general it was bland and well below par. We found that every bread roll/piece of bread we had was stale to some degree - shockingly appalling.
The main dining room dishes were fine, one or two were exceptional, although again not as much choice available.
Room service - don't bother unless you are ordering fruit. We ordered breakfast twice, the first time hot dishes were cold, and again bread was stale (worst eggs Benedict we have ever had). The second breakfast was really late, we called to chase it up and were told it was on its way, twenty minutes later it arrived luckily hot dishes were tepid, but again cold stale
On our second night on board we attempted to book the club Fascinosa restaurant using the interactive TV service in our cabin, only to discover that it was fully booked for the entire cruise. On our fifth night, we used the interactive totems (of which there are several throughout the ship) to look at the Samsara Restaurant, whilst at this totem we thought we would check if any tables had become available for the Club Fascinosa restaurant and found that almost any time any evening was available - we ate 45 minutes after booking, and the restaurant was practically empty. So do not rely on the TV booking system. Food was good quality in this restaurant.
Although there are several aspects that would deter us from cruising with Costa again, I think the biggest problem Costa have is with their staff. Never have we experienced such unfriendly, unenthusiastic, inattentive staff, maybe they are demoralised, but you rarely saw a smile and at times we did experience rudeness. Do not expect waiters to come and ask you if you want a drink, we had to seek them out a lot of the time, this is really an area that Costa need to look in to as there seems to be something fundamentally flawed in their customer service. It is almost the polar opposite of other lines.
On the fourth day of our cruise we were informed that there would be three changes to our itinerary but in fact there were four changes, two of which were due to political tension in Turkey which is completely understandable and explained to us in a note delivered to our cabin, but mysteriously we were now arriving back in Venice at 7am as opposed to the advertised 10am, with no explanation as to why, we were disappointed, but got up at 630am for the sail in, unfortunately this was marred when we got soaked in dirty water in the clothes that we were travelling home in as they were washing the deck above our balcony. Nice.
When we booked the Cruise the itinerary stated that we would dock in Dubrovnik from 12:00 - 17:30. We actually ended up anchoring at 8am and again there was no explanation for this change. The tendering process was disorganised, it took us an hour and a half to get to shore (and we were up and had collected our tender tickets at 730) and half an hour to get back so we only got four hours in Dubrovnik as opposed to five.
Obviously Costa is aimed at the Italian market, if you do not speak Italian, and are thinking of booking Costa, just bear in mind that all of the entertainment on deck and in the theater is generally in Italian, it didn't bother us, but it really is not geared towards the British and American market.
We didn't let any of the negatives spoil our holiday, but in the future, will spend a bit more and get a much much better all round experience and stick to what we know. We were concerned when we read a lot of the bad reviews Costa has received on cruise critic, but we decided to go with an open mind, unfortunately we found out that many of the bad reviews are accurate and if you have experienced other cruise lines and expect Costa to be of the same standard, you will sorely disappointed as they fall well short on almost every facet. We would not choose Costa again.