Check in started at 1pm. Embarkation was quick here in Malta since there was a group of about a hundred staring their cruise. They don’t give you your cruise cards, but you find everything on the bed once you go to your cabin. No white glove attendants to show you to your cabin (as on MSC), you have to find it yourself. But they were already available when we boarded. Not too big, compared to the Outside and Balcony Cabins we had on MSC, but probably their Insides are the same size. We had no sofa or chair, just a stool. There was just enough closet space for our family of 4. The thing I hated most in the cabin were the wardrobe door knobs. They are not knobs but loops of rope which after a couple of times opening the wardrobes and drawers start hurting your fingers. Totally stupid idea! Cabin was always kept clean by our attendant, Agnelo and here is another difference from MSC….. only 1 cabin attendant per cabin and not 2! Bathroom was of a good size, but they still have the silly shower curtains. Cabin door was very light, making it easy for our 2 year old to open by himself. There was a flat screen in the cabin. The beds were very comfortable, nothing to complain here. Our cabin no 2350 on Deck 2, was situated close to the lifts which take you next to the pool and buffet.
After putting our luggage in the cabin, we made our way to Ca d’Oro Buffet on deck 9. It was not too crowded this time but sometimes we had to walk around it 3 or 4 times to find a table. Choice of food items not too big but what was available was good. The stupidest thing about it was that even if you wanted just one item, you had to queue after everyone since all the food items were next to each other. There were no separate pizza station or soup station, just one thing after each other, probably a money saving idea from Costa so people would not go more than a couple of times to get different food since at certain times there were long queues and when an item finished it was not replaced immediately, so people just stopped in front of food and waited. Sometimes queuing took even 10 mins. This is another difference from MSC, where they had various stations and the choice was much better, especially after the big change MSC made to the Buffet after July 2012, where they started having more choices available and the buffet started opening all day until 9.30 pm everyday. Not the same case on Costa though. Apart from having too few choices of food, food was available until around 3pm and the grill until 4pm. The grill was only available outside near the pool, so if you wanted some fries, you needed to queue outside as well. The grill consisted of fries, burgers, sausages and a different type of grilled meat (chicken, pork or beef) everyday, plus some grilled vegetables. At least the food on offer was always of good quality. There were 5 stations (all having the same food) where you could queue which were all open at peak times. Then there was 1 station offering pizza, cheese and 3 types of pasta.
Coffee, tea, milk and water was available free of charge in the buffet 24hrs.
There were different kinds of sweets available everyday in the buffet, just simple sponges, nothing fancy. I hardly ever liked any of them. Same as on MSC. Both lines need to employ some good pastry chefs! But at least there was soft serve ice cream available at lunchtime and tea time.
We had dinner at the Duca di Borgogna 5 times during our cruise. The other 2 nights we had table service pizza at the Buffet. We liked most of the food we had at the MDR, but the service was not that great. The waiter seemed to be serving too many tables and they were not next to each other, which seemed stupid to us, because he was always in a hurry, running from one side of the restaurant to the other. On the other hand, the assistant waiter seemed to be taking it too easy! I hardly ever had any dessert here because most of the time it was either forgotten or they took the order so quickly they forgot to ask us about dessert. The pizzeria was nothing fancy, just 4 different types of pizza every day which you can choose from, but both times we went, it was quite busy. There is only pizza and salad available in the buffet after tea time. Although most people prefer to eat in the MDR, Costa should leave it up to the guests to choose where they want to eat and open the buffet for dinner as well. We know it would be very popular because it was always busy on MSC. Most people with young children like us, prefer casual dining and the buffet is ideal. In the MDR we were seated with a young couple who had no children, therefore we felt we had to give them a break from ours for at least 2 nights. Service in the MDR was much better on MSC and even the variety of food available was better.
We ordered room service breakfast every day and it was promptly delivered without any problems. The coffee was very nice and hot. Same things available as on MSC. I ordered room service once in the afternoon, just a bread roll with shrimps and the bread was not fresh. The menu was very basic, just a couple of salads, soup and about 5 different types of bread rolls. Really nothing to write home about!
There was a sandwich bar on deck 10, open until 6pm where they had 4 different types of rolls available every day. They were ok, especially when toasted.
We did not like the décor of this ship, you either love it or hate it! We found some places too flashy to the point of looking cheap. MSC are much sleeker in their modern yet simple designs. The ship is overall quite clean, but not perfectly clean like MSC, and you do not see people cleaning all day long as you do on MSC.
We got the all inclusive drink package as part of a package from the tour operator. It is very good value for money if you like to drink. The quality of the drinks was always very good. Service depends on the bar staff. Some of them were very attentive and others seemed to be taking it easy, even at peak times. Our favourite bar was the atrium bar, where Christopher was always so nice and helpful.
We used the retractable roof Pool most of the time. The water was comfortably heated and they closed the roof at around 4pm every day. There was no one to guard the pool apart from the ‘at sea’ day. There were a lot of Sicilian young men who were partying all the time by the pool, diving and smoking and no one was stopping them. This made it difficult for us to swim with a 2 year old. My son and I used the slide once and it was not very busy. But after about 4 goes, I got dizzy and had to stop. My son could go on forever though, if I let him! The infant pool on the top deck was closed every day during our cruise, probably because the weather was still slightly cold.
Now to Smoking, a hot debate on Costa ships. People were smoking in smoking zones only inside, but sometimes you could smell the cigarettes even in non smoking areas. But outside, passengers were smoking everywhere, even on the non-smoking side on deck and the problem was that no one stopped them. Smoking policy is stricter on MSC. We would really prefer if smoking is abolished at least from inside.
Kids club was very well organised. My son spent a few hours nearly every day at the Squok Club and they even organised a show by the kids in the theatre. The trick is to look at the kids activities programme so you get to know what and where anything is happening. It took me a couple of days to get used to this, and my son ended up missing a couple of interesting activities because I did not carry the programme with me all the time. They even gave a token to the kids the night before leaving the ship. My son got a Costa Squok Club hat and he absolutely loves it! I felt Squok Club was more organised on Costa than MSC and it seemed to be more popular too.
The ports of call on this cruise were very interesting. Here is a brief description:
Malta – our home country. Valletta, the capital city is easily accessible on foot, either by walking up the hill or by using a public elevator. It is a beautiful city. The hop on hop off bus is also available at the port, and it is possible to go around the island on these buses.
Catania. We have often been here, and we love it! We used the port bus from the ship to the port gate, very good idea! Not many people seem to know about it because we saw most people walking. Then we walked around the city, visited our favourite spots, visited the market and then spent some time in Giardino Bellini. We would have liked to stay here longer.
Naples. It was our first time here. I had planned a route of around 2 hours walking. First we walked to the Galleria and then to Piazza del Plebiscito. Both of them are a must if you are visiting Naples. Then we walked along Via Toledo, a shopping street, and then into the old town centre, along Via San Biagio to see the crib shops. Most of the shops were open even though it was a Sunday. Again, we felt we did not have enough time to see Naples. We plan to go back.
Savona. It was also our first time here. The sight of Savona from the ship makes you think it is a beautiful city. Via Paleocapa with porticoes and Art Nouveau buildings, is the high street. It is the most interesting street in the town, nothing else to see here. The port itself is beautiful though, as is the view of Torre Leon Pancaldo, just across from the ship. There was a market here in Piazza del Popolo.
Barcelona. We used public transport from the ship to the Ramblas. Tickets cost Eur 3.50 per person, compared to Eur 9 for the Costa Shuttle. And public transport actually stops you closer to the Ramblas than the shuttle! We have been here a couple of times and we always end up walking the narrow streets to the right of the Ramblas. We always walk around the cathedral and up to Piazza Catalunya. It is such a beautiful and vibrant city. For first timers, the hop on hop off bus is a very good idea.
Palma de Mallorca. We felt this was the highlight of this cruise. It is such a beautiful place. The Eur 9 we spent for the Costa shuttle was a bit high, but well spent, since we did not waste any time to arrive in Town, under the beautiful cathedral. We spent 3 hours walking the beautiful streets of this lovely town. They have beautiful squares where you can sit down and enjoy the ‘dolce vita’ and they have some good shops too. We would surely love to go back.
And now to the big questions: Would you cruise with Costa again? Although we have experienced better, we would surely cruise with Costa again if we get a good deal. Do you prefer Costa or MSC? Sadly, I would say I prefer MSC because their ships are more beautiful, they give better service and they have better food!