Embarkation - it took us about 1 ½ hrs to board the ship. Overall, it went as smoothly as boarding 3,000 passengers could be. We went directly to our cabin and found our room keys and the tickets for the excursion we had purchased a few days prior online on Costa's website. The muster drill occurred around 4 and with a 1 yr old is not easy. Holding a 1 yr old while wearing the both of you are wearing life vests is not easy. The staff did offer me a pass to go back to my room if my child became too much to handle. I just took off both our vests and was able to get thru the entire drill.
Ship - The ship was beautiful, this is an Italian Cruise line and you can get a sense of their culture from the dEcor. There ship is covered with artwork, statues and A LOT of gold. Most of the documents and menus were in English and Italian, and some in 2-3 additional languages. Announcements were also made in several languages.
Entertainment - some of the shows are kind of hokey, if you are looking for Vegas or Broadway like shows - this is not the cruise for you. If you are looking for something to pass the time during your cruise, then the shows will entertain you. The last night was "Roman Night" and the passengers talent show - this was fun. You have to give credit to the people who have the gusto to get up there are show their stuff. The last night every puts on their togas to dinner and for the show - again kind of hokey but it is fun. Everyone has their own interpretation of how to tie a toga, some better than others.
Kids Club - the Squok club was excellent. The club is broken into 2 groups - Mini Club (3 - 6yrs) and Maxi Club (7-12 yrs old). Every day there was 3 sessions, roughly 9am-12, 3PM-6PM, 9PM-11PM. Kids need to be diaper free. My 4 yrs old thoroughly enjoyed her time spent in the club. The activities were interesting to her and the counselors were enthusiastic. There was more than one night were she cried because she did not want to leave. Part of the group were traveled, also had a 5 and 7 yr old boys that also stated they liked the club. Every night had a different theme - jungle animals, spooky Halloween, pirates, etc. They had 2 dinners during the cruise specifically for the kids and served pasta, chicken fingers, fries, etc, on these nights the session ran from 5:30-11:30. The counselors even went around cutting up all the food for the younger kids. There were two group photos taken, one with all the kids in the created Halloween costumes and the other with the Captain of the ship. During the time in the club - the counselors give our "Squokkers", play money used as positive reinforcement. My child couldn't wait to show me at the end of each session, how much she earned for being good. The last session of the cruise, the squokkers can be turned in to the Squok market to get free stuff. Every kid walked out of the club with a bunch of stuff, my child received a backpack, wallet, bubbles and yoyo with the Squok logo. I wasn't too keen on traveling with my children, let alone leaving her in a club for any length of time. However, I was pleasantly surprised at the organization and execution of activities by the "Children Animators"/ Counselors. I think my child had the best time of anyone in the group.
Ports - Our captain hauled the ship to San Juan so we actually arrived an hour early at 4PM. I still wish we were able to arrive during the morning since many of the sites are closed around 4-5. This port primarily caters to the late night club but you can still use the daylight to shop and see the narrow streets of old San Juan. The 2nd port was St Thomas, we took an excursion to Mountaintop/Coral World. MountainTop is the highest point in St Thomas, basically it's a brief tourist stop to take some photos of the island and buy some souvenirs. Coral World, an Ocean Park was a good choice since we were traveling with younger children. Overall, it did not meet my expectation that I had after reviewing the website (http://www.coralworldvi.com), it was smaller than I thought it would be, but my kids did enjoy it. The entire excursion was only 4 hours so we still had another 4 hrs to go shopping around Havendale Mall which was right beside the ship. So overall, it was worth the time and money spent on the excursion. La Romana, this is a fairly undeveloped port that was created (in my opinion) as a way to push people over to the Casa De Campo Resort. There is NOTHING, in the vicinity of the ship, many people without formal plans got off the ship to turn around and get right back on. We stayed on the boat at this port but heard good things about Altos de Chavon, a village that was created which is a few minutes from the port. You can take a bus or cab over there so I am told. Several other people did go to Casa De Campo which I heard was beautiful. There is a swimming pool and beach that is inside this complex than can be used as well as restaurants and other amenities. Grand Turk, this is a beautiful, still undeveloped island, not yet fully raped into a commercialism tourist trap like ports in Cozumel and Jamaica. Carnival built a facility right off the pier than includes a beautiful beach with fake looking aqua blue water, a handful of stores/vendors and a huge Margaritaville with a huge swimming pool, restaurant and bar that you can hang out in. We stayed within this complex and didn't venture out. I read a few bad reviews of the hop on, hop off trolley and didn't want to get stuck with my 2 kids and have to wait to get back.
Food - I must admit, my expectation was high for an "Italian" cruise ship. The food overall was decent, not spectacular. We had a early sitting for dinner so we stuck with that most of the trip. The dinner buffet does not open up till 7:30 and we did not want to wait for food. They did prove a high chair for my 1 yr old and it was set up every night by the time we arrived. The head waiter was very helpful and even though I brought my baby food for the entire week, they did offer to bring him additional baby food. The did have a large selection as well as the always available - chicken, spaghetti, cheesecake, Caesar salad. I did not have any dish that I would consider awful, just not a excellent and I expected. We same held true for the buffet, as on any cruise, you can eat to your hearts/stomach's content.
Other Services - Pharmacy - My 1 yrs old did get sick and had a fever few days on the boat and I had to use the pharmacy to get more Tylenol. All the medications are in Italian so I was a bit concerned since I do not read Italian and was afraid I would overdose my child. The nurse was very helpful with the medication and it did break my son's fever and make him comfortable. The medication was reasonable about $5.50 for an average size bottle of Acetaminophen. Laundry - we did bring clothes for the formal night with the intention of using the laundry service since the rooms do not have irons. On average, it would cost almost $10 to press a simple dress or suite. Luckily, I packed well, every stayed decent because I couldn't' see paying almost $40 for the 4 people in my cabin. I might bring a steam iron next time I cruise. Electric Outlets - I read a review that suggested bring a power strip, which I did pack. Thank god I did, I brought a portable DVD players for my kids, plus curling iron and had cameras to recharge. I couldn't do it all with only the one outlet that was there. TV - people with kids - if you have it, bring a portable DVD with a selection of movies. There is nothing on the few English channels that would keep them entertained if you need to stay in your room any length of time. As I said, my 1 yr old was sick and we took turns staying with him in the cabin - the DVD was a life saver and broke up his already cranking sick mood. Cribs - I was provided a crib during the trip however, I would recommend that if you need to use their "crib" that you bring your own bedding. I do not think the bedding was ever washed and my child who has sensitive skin was breaking out from the dirty fabric. Luckily I did bring both crib and "Pack and Play" sheets, neither fit their crib perfectly. The ship provides essentially a Chicco play pen which is longer than a traditional Graco/Evenflo playpen yet smaller than a traditional crib.
Staff - Overall the staff was good, the waiters were had were patient and very helpful with the menus. By the last night, some of the staff was starting to get a little cranking. The room steward was good and kept our room tidy At the disembarkation, one of the guys from the social staff snapped at one of the guests because he claimed to have only had 2 hours sleep. The attitude seemed to be "you had a good time, but we are tired of you and its time for you to go". We were slightly annoyed the morning we left because we were told we had to leave the room by 8am. We left our stuff in the rooms to run to breakfast, and when we came back at 7:40, our steward were already in our cabin prepping it for the next set of guests..
Disembarkation - now this was a mess. They had us all meet in different areas according to the color tag we were provided the day before. My color was to meet in the theater at 8:45. They then proceeded to call out colors to get each group to disembark the ship. When our color was called, we had to go from the theater (deck 3 front of the ship) to the middle of the ship, deck 2. We traveled like a herd down the stairs to one of the little hallways lined with cabins to get to the middle exit. Hundreds of people trying to converge into 1-2 lines in the narrow hallway WHILE stewards where in this same hallway cleaning rooms with carts in the middle of this hallway. There was no consideration we were traveling with small children, and they were both almost trampled and cut off from us by tired cranky people trying to get off. The staff was not very helpful directing traffic to help with this mess.
Overall, did I get what I paid for - Absolutely. Did we enjoy ourselves - Absolutely, we made the best time of it. Did my young kids enjoy it - Absolutely, I did not regret bringing them even though I had initial concerns. Would I travel Costa again? Probably not - it was a beautiful ship and we enjoyed our time, however, I think you can get a bigger bang for your buck with Carnival or Royal Caribbean (this is a sentiment that I heard many times during the trip.)