I'll start with a variation on the traditional Costa opening... We've been on three previous cruises (Princess, NCL, Celebrity) so were a little concerned by some of the reviews of Costa. However, given the timing and the itinerary we decided that we'd give it a go. We're easy going and weren't concerned by English speaking guests being in a minority. Great decision.
Arrival and Embarkation:
We flew in to Barcelona directly from Newcastle, UK on Easyjet with flight timings working very well. Taxi from the airport cost less than 30 Euros which made it cheaper than a pre-arranged transfer (taxis are plentiful and on the meter). Passed our luggage to the porters, had our boarding cards and passports checked and were on the ship. It's a different approach to the other boarding procedures that we have seen as you hand over the boarding card (printed out at home) as you get on the ship then head straight to your cabin where you'll find your cruise card and an emergency drill card alongside the other information on your bed. Having read the Cruise Critic forums, we checked for the 'EXTRA' mark on the back of the card (indicating the all-inclusive drinks package) which wasn't there so we headed to Guest Services where we were advised that it wasn't yet on the system but the invoice that I had brought with me was good for drinks in the meantime. We went for a quick explore of the ship and after an hour or so returned to pick up our new EXTRA cruise cards. No problem. Good tip from fellow Cruise Critic folk that probably saved a lot of hassle.
Most of the staff were from SE Asia (particularly Philippines and Vietnam) or South America, so English was the de facto language for bar and restaurant staff and cabin stewards. We encountered Italian and German staff on the desks, all of whom had decent English skills. The only multi-language announcements were to advise that the emergency drill was about to begin. We were particularly impressed with the drill as it seemed that each of the main languages had their own drill location so there was no need to listen to it five times. There was also an English host who was available daily in case of any unresolved issues.
The cabin was well laid out with all of the usual features, the balcony a reasonable size, no obstructions. Not big enough for a feet up lounger but the chairs were comfortable all the same. We did once or twice get the not so delightful cigarette smoke from other balconies around us. If you're a smoker, it must be a good thing to be able to smoke on the balcony, if you're not, then not so good. But, for us, it was a minor issue only. The bathroom worked well, the shower was powerful and the cubicle/stall was big enough for me (a fairly big bloke). I've put B2 as the category on the review but I think it's now BP (premium balcony which includes room service and which for the small extra fee is well worth it.
We liked the bright décor of the ship and the two pools with the retractable roof were good. There were many people taking in the Easter sun but we always found somewhere a bit quieter when we weren't able to get the sun on our balcony. We liked Rick's bar on five prior to dinner and the grand bar on 5 for a bit of entertainment along with the atrium bar on 3.
Can't comment on the shows as we didn't go to any. The theatre looked good though with small tables for drinks and double seats for the romantics. I liked the fact that there was live music in most bars most of the time. The fact that Costa caters for so many different nationalities (bands singing in German, French and Italian I think) did lead to some interesting takes on some English language standards, much to our amusement.
First up, there is no evening buffet, but you can get pizza pretty much all of the time (with table service and a salad bar from 2130-0100) and the layout of the buffet areas for breakfast and lunch is not the best which leads to the standard cruise ship buffet melee. There is an additional seating area upstairs (deck 10) where there was always space. Once we found this, we used it for both breakfast and lunch. The food itself was decent, on a par with NCL in my view, but not as good as Celebrity or Princess. Selection in the MDR was good with a pasta dish on the menu before the main (it is an Italian line after all). We had asked for, and got, a table for two which was great. Service also was very good. I am still always amazed at the logistics of providing that many different meals at the same time. There was an Indian family seated near to us that were catered for with what looked like excellent Indian dishes. Thought about asking for it ourselves.
Very good. We had no wait time in any of the bars and the staff were very personable (thanks in particular to Ludivia from Columbia). There were fewer staff in the buffet but you could still get a drink if you wished to. We found the service better than both NCL and Celebrity.
For this cruise, we did, in the main, our own thing. We took the 'Rome on your own' bus which worked very well other than the very busy pick up point in the Eternal City. We can't lay that on Costa though, as all the coaches pick up there. We did, due to our very late decision making, end up on the German bus as there were no spaces left on the English language version (totally our own fault and it was fun). We also booked the Marseille shuttle at I think, 10.95 Euro. It was very busy early on but we strolled onto the bus a little later without issue. I'd certainly advise very early or late for ease of transition. The return trip however, was not for the faint hearted. Our driver opened both sets of doors and in the ensuring scrum, many good folk at the front of the queue were sidelined. Fortunately, we got on the bus and another turned up right behind us. Still, not the best organisation. That said, in our experience, shuttle buses are never as good as you'd like.
Our one issue with this cruise was the lack of anyone, at any time encouraging you to sanitise your hands. There were dispensers at all relevant locations, but we saw very few people using them. On all three of our previous cruises, there were staff working to ensure all guests were sanitised at all food outlets. Not so on Costa.
On the evening before departure we had the talk from our English speaking host John Patrick where we learned that we needed to be out of our cabins by 0830 but were okay to be on the ship until 1100 or so. He also advised us that the all-inclusive package was still active. We changed our baggage labels to the latest time (again no problem) and decided to leave the ship around ten. The bags were there, there were plenty of taxis (although the return leg to the airport cost us 40 Euros) and it worked well.
A great ship with great ports. We didn't get to the shows as we were too busy off the ship and enjoying the ship before our 9pm dinner sitting. Would we go Costa again? Of course. Expectations were certainly exceeded. Service was good, getting on and off was good and for our cruise, the weather was excellent. In addition, the price was very good and the drinks package is about the cheapest around.
This is my first review, so I'm sure I've missed some important items. If anyone is interested in the ports or anything else for that matter, message me direct and I'll do my best.to answer any queries.