This was my and my girlfriend's first sea cruise and we chose it as a relaxed way of seeing western Norway and also because it departed from a port relatively close to our home city. The cruise went from Amsterdam all the way up to Honningsvag and back, spearing the gorgeous fjords along the way.
We had no trouble getting to the ship. The Amsterdam passenger terminal is very close to the Central Station (which is itself not that far from the Schiphol airport) and the terminal is not busy so the processing does not take long.
Costa NeoRomantica is a 14 deck ship (Wikipedia seems to disagree, but I was just there), with the top 3 or so containing cabins for people who I sincerely hope donate to various charities, 4 more decks worth of living quarters for the average plebians and several recreational decks in between, the majority of which are occupied with bars and restaurants.
Costs and value
It was a promising ship, but I believe that how much you will enjoy this cruise and how costly it will be for you will largely depend on how much information you can acquire, how quickly you can acquire it and act upon it. This is of course true of any vacation and, I suppose, true of our lives in general, but it is especially applicable to this cruise, for it was rigged with extra costs.
It appears that the price of the cruise itself, as high as it was, had in fact been cut for some time in order to attract more customers, but rest assured, the cruise company will try to make up for that loss in other ways at the customer's expense.
Here, even the hidden costs have hidden costs. Most drinks on board are overpriced, something I suppose this cruise will share with all the others, and you are not allowed to bring any drinks or food with you from the shore for "safety reasons". Not making a profit is very unsafe, I agree. Your bags get x-rayed upon every embarkation, though the security staff did not care about our water, which makes me think it is all about the alcohol content of what you are bringing on board.
On top of that, the prices of food and beverages you buy on board do not include the so called "service cost", which usually amounts to 15% of the price and usually only appears on the bill, once you have already been charged. The bright side of this is that you don't have to worry about tips and I hear that in countries like US 15% is the norm for tipping.
If you are planning on having any alcoholic drinks, you may want to get the all-inclusive package. It is expensive, yes, but you will be amazed how quickly you will go over the limit if you don't buy it. A couple of soft drinks at dinner will cost you EUR 10.
Our cruise was advertised as being 13 days. The 13th day was a straight out lie, since you have to clear your cabin by 8 a.m. (yes I know this is an industry wide problem); the 1st day of the cruise started in the evening and consisted of leaving the port of origin; and then there were the 4 days that were spent entirely at sea (bring your books). This leaves us with 7 actual days and the number of hours you are allowed on land each day differs from just enough to why did we bother waking up so early? So, if you do the math it all amounts to, let's see...1...6....not very good value for money.
The destination and excursions
The true prize of our trip was the destination and Norway is one diamond of a destination. It is difficult to judge the choice of the ports of call made by the cruise company, as it is trying to appeal to everyone's taste. The cruise did appear to cover all the different sides of western Norway, from the cute cities of the South to the lush fjords in the middle, to the barren cliffs of the North. However, as mentioned before, I found that the time you are allowed on land is not enough when set against the amount of time you have to spend on board.
The cruise company offers several excursions in each port of call. You can book them from the comfort of your bed through the interactive TV. However, we quickly learned just how much more money you lose by booking the excursions through the cruise company instead of spending time on a bit of research and booking directly through local tour operators. A shuttle bus to and from the Norwegian North Cape cost about 60 Euro p.p. The same trip booked through the ship cost 80. For other excursions the price differences were even higher with barely any justification. And please note that Norway's prices are considered to be rather high already.
Norwegians on their Western coast have a developed tourism industry and the port towns offer quite a few possibilities in the summer, from a simple bike rental to glacial hikes. There is usually a tourist information point right at the port where you get equipped with a free map and can see the various tours being offered.
Despite the prices, most of the ship's excursions were quickly fully booked, so if you are going to book through the cruise company, do it before the trip or as soon as you enter your cabin.
The quality of the excursions is also rather mixed. It is likely because they are executed by local operators, often several different ones per excursion. On one occasion the guide spoke good and clear English. On another part of the same excursion the bus guide spoke bad English and could be barely heard. However, in both cases you did at least get a sense that the local guides try.
Either way, most of the excursions should have been called transfers. Really, all they do is get you to the place you want to visit. It so happens that Norway does not have much in terms of urban history that a guide could babble about for a long time.
Facilities and things to do on the ship
The ship has a little bit of everything available. There are two pools, two jacuzzis, a game room, a mini-library (read: two book cabinets), a fitness center, an overhyped spa, a little chapel, a couple of stores and more. Unfortunately no theater and that is especially unfortunate because there are so many different spacious bars so you know they could have made place. There is a game room on board but during our stay the machines were malfunctioning. Another small annoyance is that at 18:00 the crew starts taking off and stacking up the seat cushions on the whole of the upper deck, including the adults only section, leaving only a few places inhabitable. I guess adults go to sleep at that time and I have been doing it wrong all my life.
There is, of course, a wi-fi connection. However, not only is it very expensive, but we were warned by one of the guides that the satellite connection is unstable and not worth it. Considering that Norwegian towns often have reasonably priced wi-fi available, the guides advice is worth listening to.
The on board entertainment in general is a bit of a mixed bag. Although officially the program starts in the morning, only the evening part of it can be called entertainment. Everything before that is a poorly disguised filler. It consists either of spa commercials disguised as seminars or events that involve the guests entertaining one another and are therefore done at minimum cost to the cruise company. This is not as bad as it sounds because, by comparison, river cruises have far worse evening entertainment and nothing at all during the day, so the company's financial creativity is commendable here, but it is a little irritating that the company is trying to sell such filler as part of the entertainment.
As for the evening entertainment, there is some variety, but a lot of it is clearly targeting the elderly. This is again forgivable because most of the guests appeared to be 50+, but this leaves the younger adults on the sidelines most of the time, which has as its result that when an interesting event does come along it is likely to be ignored by the younger out of habit, who could have otherwise enjoyed it. It is nice though that if you do not like the main even of the evening there are a few alternatives, and you can just go listen to a couple of guys playing classical music.
For the youngest guests there appear to be some games and special baby-sitting entertainment programs, but most of the older kids just hang out in groups around the pool anyway, more than well entertained by one another without the assistance of the cruise company.
The general issue cabin we had was quite spacious by ship standards. Very dominant in that space was the huge bed a correct investment of space. The cabin design looks neat but has a flaw where parts of the cabinets protrude above both sides of the bed and also towards the end of it, so that getting off the bed from the sides without injury is challenging. If you want to connect an electrical appliance you may need a special connector. There was one in the room which worked for us (for us the voltage was right but the some plugs did not quite fit). There is a coffee machine and a fridge but no water cooker. The rest of the room is quite ordinary.
There is a big screen interactive TV containing about 20 channels, but it was a bit of a letdown. On the one hand it has a lot of practical and useful functionality, like allowing you to order room service, providing port information and even providing a webcam view from the bow and from the stern, something I found out is standard on all Costa ships. On the other hand, the channels are mostly news channels and most of them are in Italian, because it is an Italian ship you see that departed from Amsterdam to go to Norway. Maybe the crew really value their TV. Considering that we spent at least 4 days purely at sea and considering the occasional empty afternoons, the cruise could really benefit from a higher selection of English channels and at least one movie channel. You can of course watch movies but at a high price (why don't you add some service cost on top of that?).
There was a problem with the sewer closer to our cabin that created a nasty stench in the hallway, which lasted throughout the 1st half of the cruise, but it did get fixed eventually.
Food and drinks
The nourishment is good, and in fact, of all the things on board the food seems to justify the price of the trip the most. It gave us a scare at first because our first meal was a dinner and dinners on board would for the rest of our trip consist of very small (French cuisine size) portions, but the cruise made up for it by the all-you-can-eat breakfasts, lunches, tea-times and room services. But do heed that this is coming from a writer who is easily dazzled by any food, like a kid at an amusement park. Perhaps if the company diverted some of the funds spent on those ten different types of meat in its all-you-can-eat buffets towards its entertainment, it would balance things out a bit more.
Dinners contained good variety, offering a taste of Italian, International and local cuisines (customary lobster included) and the quality of the meals was acceptable though not praiseworthy.
This reviewer is not a fan of alcoholic drinks and my partner is a very moderate drinker (making us mortal enemies of the cruise industry) but when we did try their cocktails we were surprised how tasty they were. Almost worth the money.
Servicing and staff
Everyone is polite and predominantly helpful. Many of the staff could use some more English lessons though, if the cruise is trying to appeal to such an international clientele. This boat wears a very self-aware Italian face, as if it declares that they are Italian and the passengers are too. As mentioned before, the boat cruise was restricted to the Netherlands and Norway, while the crew appeared to be mostly Filipino, so I do not think the attitude is justified.
A really nice feature is being able to order room service almost for free (say it with me now once more so we don't forget: "Service Cost"!).
Information services are mostly ok. The travel papers we received prior to the departure contained a good deal of info and every evening during the cruise we would get a program for the next day with all the important information. But you only get the critical information concerning the ship. It does not tell you that even though some doors say crew only you can still go through some of them; it does not tell you that during those days you spend on sea there will be nothing for you to do but eat and read; it does not tell you about the cheaper alternatives to their expensive cruises and, although you can exchange Norwegian Crown for Euros, it does not tell you that this relates only to banknotes.
There were other issues for us as well. With reference to the aforementioned bus trip to the North Cape, the staff member at the ship's tourist information desk told us that there was no other transportation there other than the busses they had booked, so she either lied or spoke when she did not know. Due to my unrelenting hope in human beings, I trust it's the latter.
There was also a problem with the disembarkation in the ports where mooring at a berth was not possible. The ship's tender boats (read "life boats") would take guests ashore but this had to be done in many trips and some people (read us) had to wait a very long and uncertain time before we could leave. There were no embarkation or disembarkation problems with normal ports though.
With reference to the already mentioned prices, they are explained ahead of time but it is done in such a way that the final price is always blurry.
Hopefully the reader does not get too discouraged by my somewhat dark review - the cruise was in the end enjoyable, but you don't pay a mercenary to bake you cookies and you don't come to me for a pep talk. Final verdict is then that the cruise is average value for money, but it did provide us with a window into the beautiful Norway in relative comfort, albeit a small window...a small round attic window...partially barred.
Hellesylt: Were not allowed off at this port.
Geiranger: One of the most beautiful places Ive ever seen. Developed tourism. A tiny town.
Trondheim: Small provincial, pretty churches, cheap city-wide wi-fi connection.
Honningsvag: Northernmost town. Surprisingly warm. Barren but beautiful landscape.
Tromso: Relatively large city. Not much to do and not particularly pretty.
Leknes: Pretty islands (Lofoten) with small communities. All about hiking and boating.
Olden: 2nd Prettiest place after Geiranger. Small towns. Home of the glaciers. Good hiking.
Bergen: Nice little city. Interesting fish market and harbor, though very touristy.