This was our first cruise so we did not know what to expect and this lengthy account of our experience is to help cruises novices to make the most of the cruise and to avoid pitfalls that we experienced. To summarise we had a fantastic time with a high standard of customer care and excellent food. However, there were three main complaints: Embarkation; disembarkation and excursions that hijack you to waste your time at a sales venues.
Embarkation in Venice
We left our luggage at the Port and went into Venice for lunch – so far so good. However, when we returned to join the ship there was a hall of sheer chaos! We were standing in various lines for almost two hours. There appeared to be an inadequate amount of staff to board over 3,000 people. This could easily set people in the wrong frame of mind which could cause some customers to view everything negatively after such an awful experience as there seemed to be absolutely no concern for the customer. Myself I saw this on a par with having baby: horrendous at the time but afterwards it is so wonderful you soon forget about it.
We were allocated cabin 8439 which was a lovely with a balcony providing splendid views. Our luggage had arrived in our cabin along with our all inclusive cards (which were well buying at €19.5 a day) and our fantastic steward Richard arrived to check that everything was in order for us and explained the need for the compulsory safety drill.
The food was excellent, although sometimes a little cold. I do not know how people can say the portions were small considering there were seven courses! However, there is a reluctance to accept that meals are for enjoyment rather than pure sustenance. Initially we were put on a table with two ladies of different generation and who spoke a different language! Breakfast was even worse with waiters like prefects marshalling you in to fill up the tables as you filed in! It was just like boarding school! I felt sure we would be singing grace in Latin at any moment!
Tulipano Nero Buffet Restaurant
On the Carmen Deck there was self service restaurant which seem to be open most of the time. It was always very busy with people push and shoving. I just could not understand why people would choose to have meals here as it seemed like a zoo but it was useful for getting a glass of water or a cup of tea.
There were two formal evenings where guests were expected to dress up. Having found the standard of dress very informal, I felt a little awkward about wearing a formal dress at 5.30 p.m. for the Captain’s cocktail party but I need not have worried, officials were beautifully dressed and this brought up the sartorial standards of the guests
There were two shows every evening to suit your dining sitting. The entertainment was of the highest standard and well thought out especially considering the shows were for an international audience. The shows ranged from Russians dancers to amazing magicians. Although there were professional performers, my favourite show was the one put on by the crew. These talented people were an enormous credit to Costa and illustrated a very good brand image.
There were lots of other entertainment and parties such as toga parties; Ladies night etc. but with the early start for the excursions all we were fit for after the show was a nightcap in the Piano Bar.
On the whole we were rather disappointed with the excursions especially when were hijacked to a carpet factory to listen to salesmen trying to sell us rugs! If I was going to make a £5,000 or even a £500 investment I would have come prepared with colour charts and swatches! It was not easy to escape the sales pitch and when we did we sat captive on the bus thinking of the lunch and that glass of wine on the deck that we were missing on ship! We found that the best trips were the ones that you take the shuttle bus to the site and view at your own pace. Even in November there a large number of tours and it was difficult to hear what the tour guide was saying.
I thought embarkation was bad but disembarkation was far, far worse! It was hell. Instructions were incorrect, no matter how many officials we asked we were just fobbed off to somewhere else. One official told us to put our cases in the trunk of the coach whilst another told us we could not take that coach and to go back into the terminal. After standing in front of the bus to stop our luggage leaving without us and after some considerable dialogue we were allowed on the bus! We had done everything to avoid the ramifications of this administrative problem - Costa had done nothing and we were the victims and had to suffer! This was customer abuse in the extreme and is such stupid corporate strategy to leave the customer with a very negative feeling about the cruise.
Hotel in Venice
The hotel in Venice was very substandard. It was supposed to 3 star but would not qualify as such in Britain. Furthermore with the cost of taxis to and from hotels that were so far out of Venice made this cheap hotel expensive. Customers would be better off making their own arrangements for a hotel in Venice at a better hotels in the centre of Venice could prove less expensive than a cheap hotel outside Venice because the cost of taxis.
The crew are very committed professionals working hard to ensure that guests have the very best experience but these teams are let down by the administrative staff that nether support guests or the crew. The Administrative Staff have not embraced the ethos of hospitality and regard customers as problems and there was a lack of attention to detail. In fact embarkation and disembarkation are bordering on customer abuse as there is no concern for people having stand in queues for hours and for old people to struggle with cases being sent from pillar to post!
The first port of call was Bari, we walked into the old town and took a tak tak (a cycle carriage) back to the ship. We had lunch on the Carmen deck where as the ship left port and we watched Bari disappearing in the distance.
We took an excursion but would have been much better off taking the shuttle bus (which magically only came into existence after everyone had booked the tours!). We had different opinions about Dubrovnik. I thought it was charming and atmospheric with an fascinating history whereas others thought the town architecture looked like a prison. The guide had some very interesting facts about the war and the history but was impossible to acquire any substantial information because of the sheer volume of people. The Tour Guide did her best but there were lots of other tours and it was not possible to hear what she was saying and consequently couple by couple we peeled off! I still feel very guilty about our ‘escape’ through the side door of the cathedral! Missing lunch again we made for a café…..…a café that told us that they did not have any food! In remembrance of when I was last in Dubrovnik before the war we had a glass of šljivovica - its still very strong stuff!
Many of the excursions advertised were not available. The team seem to be pushing a 10 hour tour of a spice market (more sales pitch and spices are not welcomed by UK customs); mosques; markets and a lunch (Turkish food does not begin to compare to the splendid food on the ship) so although my husband and I had been ripped off by Istanbul taxis in the past we decided to have short trip into Istanbul……….and, of course, we were ripped off again! We negotiated the cost of the taxi beforehand and got the price down from 100 tl to 75tl. The only thing when went to pay it was Euros not Turkish Lire! Thus tripling the price! This was clearly an established con as I had definitely said TL. We are British and we were in Turkey – why should another currency that has nothing to do with either nation come into it?!
An impressive archaeological site.
We took an excursion to Ephesus. The tour guide Petra, was very help and enthusiastic about the information she provided for us. I was impressed and plan to give the guide a big tip but all the goodwill was destroyed when we were hijacked to a ‘carpet factory’ where we were exposed to the sales pitch for rugs. I did not come on holiday to go shopping for rugs and if I did want to make £5,000 or even a £500 investment I would have come prepared with colour samples and swatches. When we did not buy anything the salesmen condescendingly said, “Your house is not big enough”! When we tried to leave we were forced through a maze jewellery and trinket counters. It took us so long to get out I thought we would be the last back on the bus instead of which we were one of the first back on (our bus buddies were not so lucky in navigating their escape!). We sat captive on the bus thinking of the lunch and that glass of wine on the deck that we were missing on ship! We did not pay for an excursion to waste our time incarcerated and exposed to the sales pitch for merchandise we did not want! There was no mention of this detour on the information regarding this excursion. Hence the large tip I was planning was diminished to nothing!
We took the shuttle bus to Olympia where we toured the site at our own pace which was very pleasant and then returned to the bus by horse drawn carriage. We were back in time to have lunch on deck as the ship pulled out of Katacolon.