After reading a lot of the reviews on this website concerning Costa, we were very worried about how our cruise holiday would turn out. This was our first time going on a cruise and we are a family of four - two kids who are 4 yrs old and 6 yrs old.
We took a bus transfer from Nice, France, to Savona, Italy, which was arranged by Costa. This went without any troubles and the driver stopped after about 90 minutes of driving for a 30 minute rest stop, then we continued our way to the cruise terminal in Savona. When we arrived there, we were all given embarkation cards with a number on them to indicate in which order we could board the ship. We were given a card for group number 21 and we waited in a very comfortable terminal for around 45 minutes before our number was called. There was a little children's room available where our kids could play while we waited. Also, there was a cafe and outdoor seating on a nice terrace, if you preferred to wait in the open air.
Once on board, we had our photos taken by the crew to go with our Costa Cards and then we were directed to our cabin. I had already looked at the floor plan for the deck we were on, so I knew where to go to find our cabin. I would suggest people do this before getting on board, as the cabins did not appear to be in sequential order! So, ensure you know which direction to head in once you are on the ship!
We got to our room and our luggage was brought to us about 5 minutes later. The cabin we had was a classic sea view cabin. We were on deck 5, towards the front of the ship. Our kids were very happy, as their beds were folded down from either side of the cabin, over the top of the king-sized bed in the middle of the cabin (this was made up of two beds pushed together, but it was very comfortable). Everything was made up nicely and I was happy with the cleanliness of the cabin :) We were excited to explore the ship but decided to stay in our cabin until the emergency training drill was ready to take place. We put on our life jackets and headed up to deck 9 where we were 'herded' towards our muster station. The training is useless and just lip service, honestly! I didn't learn a thing. But I guess that Costa have to say they have given us the training and it was all over after 15 minutes.
We found 99% of the staff members on board of the neoRomantica to be beautifully polite and willing to help us. After reading other reviews, I had expected the worst, but everyone doted on our daughter and were very nice to us despite the fact we only speak English! Our kids were fine in the Squok club but it was a little bit small. The kids went there for about 3 hours minimum each day and also experienced 3 squok dinners, which allowed us (mum and dad) to have a few nice quiet dinners on our own!
The Squok club hours are in three 3 hour lots during the day, usually 9am - noon, then 3pm-6pm, and then 9pm-midnight. Our kids NEVER went to the last session, as it is very late for little ones. For older children, that may not be a problem. We also were informed that we could leave the children with the Squok staff for a continuous period if we were going on an excursion that was booked through the Costa Tours. So if a tour is scheduled to leave at 8am and return at 3pm, we could drop the children off at the club at 7.45am and then the staff would be with them until we returned. We did this twice on our cruise, as sometimes our kids did not want to spend a long day sightseeing. Remember that you cannot leave your children in the Squok club if you are planning to go on a self-organised excursion. On days when the ship is at sea for the entire day, the second session of Squok is from 3pm-5pm, and then the third session begins at 7pm and the children all have a themed dinner together, followed by a movie or games.
We found the food on the ship to be acceptable, it's not 'amazing' but it's not revolting either. It is what it is, but don't go in with huge expectations. There were a couple of standout dishes that I can remember from my 10 day cruise and there were a couple I would rather forget, but overall, it was okay. We realised after the first few days that we didn't have to always eat at the restaurant with table service, as Giardino's restaurant actually turns into a self-service buffet for breakfasts and lunches! We much preferred this option as we could make big salads and eat much healthier, balanced meals. You can't rely on getting a nice salad or main meal with vegetables at dinner, so get all the greens and fresh produce you can at lunch time. By the tenth day of our cruise, we were beginning to tire of the multi-course dinners and felt a bit unhealthy. Thank goodness for the salad bar at lunch! We sometimes took fruit back to our cabin to eat at other times. This seemed fine with the staff, as no one tried to stop us. Generally, you can get breakfast from 6.30/7am up until about 10.30/11am. Lunch is at noon. Late lunch is from 2-4pm, then there is afternoon tea from 4-5pm. Early casual dining for dinner begins at 5pm in the Pizzeria (but you have to pay 7.50 euros per person for all you can eat pizza), and 6pm in the Grill (free). The other restaurants are serving from 6.30pm. There is a club restaurant that anyone can book into and pay for their dinner. It looked beautiful but we never went there. Also, if you are not in a Samsara cabin but would like to eat in the Samsara restaurant, you can either buy an upgraded dining package or pay for a one-off dinner at 25 euros per head, excluding drinks. We did not do this, so I cannot comment on the food in that restaurant, but it was said to be 'healthier'.
As for drinks, we purchased the all inclusive package. We did not have to purchase this for our daughter, as she is 4 yrs old. 5yrs and upwards do have to have a drinks package. Please be aware that you cannot get bottles of water with the package, only GLASSES of water. We did bring a couple of drink bottles from home and filled these up in our cabin for the excursions. The water on the ship is totally FINE for drinking, so do not be scared by some people's photographs of the water quality!!! We made friends with a couple of the waiters and barmen and they gave us a few cans of ice tea that were unopened for our journey home when we disembarked on our last day. Also, at dinner, if you do not finish the bottled water, just take it back to your cabin at the end of the meal. There is no problem in doing this and you might as well not let it go to waste.
Other comments on the ship - the cabins seemed to be pretty sound proof, as I didn't hear our neighbours at all. Sometimes I could hear people in the hall, but this did not bother me. On the contrary, we were probably the noisiest people around with our young kids... We tried our best to keep them quiet! There was a good selection of in-house movies available to purchase through the tv in the cabin. Yes, there were available in all languages, including English. We paid 8.95 euros to watch The Croods and the kids loved it. We also brought our laptop, loaded up with movies, Don't forget to bring a power adapter and a power board/ power strip so that you can charge all of your devices/cameras/etc.
The only toiletries provided are soap. There are no shower caps, or shower gels, shampoos, etc. You can purchase those things in the dutyfree shop on deck 9 if you come unprepared.
The entertainment on the ship is a number of little bands which are directed at old people, not very exciting for us (in our 30's). The dancers were pretty good though. There was a magician one evening, and we thought he was good, as did our kids. He did the show in Italian, French and English! Other nights there were events that we didn't attend, but that is because of our kids needing to go to bed.
I am not going to rate the shore excursions, because everyone would be different. We took an excursion to Ephesus from the port of Izmir, Turkey. This was a good tour, but we were taken to a rug shop after seeing Ephesus were we were hassled to buy a rug. These people were nice enough and I would have liked to buy a rug but I do not like being forced into a situation like that! We were given wine or tea here too, and a little demo about how the silk is farmed and the rugs are made. After refusing many times to buy a rug, we had to find the exit which was at the end of numerous rooms containing jewellery - we have never seen so much jewellery in our lives! The actual tour in Ephesus was very interesting though! The other tour we took was to see the volcano in Sicily called Mount Etna from the port of Messina. It was quite a drive to get there (2 hours, not 90 mins as stated in the tour guide). However, it was cool to see the volcano. Take very warm clothes if you go here during the colder months. It was incredibly windy and FREEZING.
I used the gym a number of times. It is sufficient for keeping up fitness on the cruise but if you go at peak times, you will need to wait to use a cardio machine. The machines are meant to be used for 20 minutes per person, but keep your eye on people, as some rude individuals may try to restart their session as soon as the 20mins are up! As for weights, there are 3 benches and dumbells ranging from 4kgs upwards. There are some weight machines but I didn't like them and never attempted to use them, as they weren't the traditional type but some weird ergonomic sort. There is a stretching area with a few yoga mats and an ab ball or two. The view from the gym is directly over the front of the bow of the ship, so quite nice.
Disembarkation took a while and we were given an approximate time of 10.30am as our timeslot (the ship docked at 9am). We ended up getting called off at about 11.15am. We were not allowed to be in our cabin after 8am, so after we had breakfast, we sat in the main bar, where we could get drinks, etc. It is very comfortable there, so we didn't have a problem. I even took my daughter back up to the Squok club for a play. You are able to utilise anything on the ship until you are ready to leave, except your cabin, ofcourse.
This review is getting very long but I just wanted to say that if you go on the cruise with an open mind, you realise that some Europeans can be a little rude at times, you are polite to the people who are serving you - you will have a nice time. Honestly, the neoRomantica was fine! Each ship can speak for itself, I suppose. But I wouldnt hesitate to go back again to this one.