I have been on Costa cruises many times over the past 10 years and have always enjoyed the Euro-atmosphere throughout the cruise. As Concordia was a new ship launched in 2006, the largest in Costa cruises, I decided to give it a try.
I booked the cruise 6 months in advance with a travel agent in England with flights and transfer inclusive. My partner and I were met by a chauffeur on our arrival at Rome Airport who drove us directly to the port. It was quite a distance and, with fairly busy traffic, took us more than one and a half hour to arrive.
We were initially surprised to see very few passengers waiting for embarkation. Then we realized that Savona was the main embarkation port for Costa cruises, where most passengers started their cruise holidays. As it was a western mediterranean cruise calling at several major European cities, like Barcelona and Rome, there were local residents who would join the cruise at these ports too.
As we booked a Grand Suite, we were given priority for embarkation, relatively painfree, and we were on board within 10 minutes. However our suite was not ready till 2pm, so we spent some time in the buffet restaurant having a light lunch. This was not ideal as we had to carry our hand luggage around, but I guess this is all the same with other cruise lines.
Our grand suite was as expected, spacious, newly decorated. It is the largest type of cabin on the boat, even bigger than the Samsara Spa Suite. The size is about 450 sq feet (about twice the size of a normal cabin) with LCD-TV, walk-in wardrobe, jacuzzi bathtub, a long balcony with deck chairs. As we were Costa Club members, we found a complimentary bottle of sparkling wine, canapes and a fruit basket waiting for us in the suite.
Our chamber maid was polite and efficient, provided cleaning twice a day plus turndown service in the evening. We also had a butler whom we didn't see much of (probably twice in a week), and to be honest, we did not ask for room service and I managed most of the restaurant and excursion bookings myself anyway. Overall I think the staff was a rather tired bunch, looked overworked, none of them particularly friendly and they were definitely not as attentive as those we met on our previous Costa cruises.
I wonder if this has to do with the recent change of tipping policy. Previously the cruise fare did not include tipping, and guests were expected to tip the waiters and maids individually. At least this gave them an incentive to work harder and be more attentive. Though I have to admit that some guests, as far as I know, never tip (which is a shame, as the staff's earnings mostly rely on tips). Now according to the new policy, tips are automatically added onto the bill, and they will be distributed among all staff. However guests still have the option to cancel off, or add to this automatic tips from their account! My feeling is that tipping is a personal gesture, and as I get to know the staff after a week, it is nicer to be able to tip personally. At least they will know that I have given them a tip, otherwise there is no way for them to know that a particular guest has tipped them, and how much.
We opted for a second sitting in the main restaurant, which started at 9pm, rather late for my liking, though it is the norm for southern Europeans. As this was a big cruise ship, with more than 3000 passengers, the main restaurants (there were 2) were packed with people. As we stayed in the suite category, we were allocated a table for ourselves. Most passengers had to sit at big tables with other fellow passengers.
Food was mostly Italian, with a variety of choice, including light options and vegetarian dishes. One could have as many courses as one wished, from starter, followed by soup, then pasta, then main course with side salad, and finally dessert. Wine and mineral water were extras. The wine menu was rather extensive, boasting both European and new world selections. To me the price was very reasonable.
There were several other restaurants, including casual buffet, outdoor pool barbecue, and a special restaurant, with Mondrian-style decor, which cost extra. Overall food quality was acceptable. Of course it's no gourmet, and could not be compared to Crystals or Seven Seas. But the fare was more than half of those 5 star cruise lines, and I would say that it represented good value for money.
Most guests were Italian, followed by other Europeans, overall rather few English-speaking guests. The couple who sat across our table was from Argentina. They didn't speak much English, and our knowledge of Spanish is zilch. Despite this we certainly enjoyed the lively atmosphere with lots of singing and dancing throughout the cruise. Everyone was so very relaxed and jolly, full of summer sunshine and Latino passion.
We also enjoyed the well organized shore excursions. We took part in a half-day Barcelona city tour, a countryside stroll in Majorca, a historical expedition in Tunis and a visit to an aristocratic palace in Sicily. Local tour guides all spoke good English and were very knowledgeable. My only criticism was the long wait to embark ship at the end of the excursions: imagine more than 1000 passengers trying to get onto the boat at roughly the same time, with security checks on top. It was no joke.
Samsara spa is a new concept for Costa cruises. Passengers can choose to stay in one of the spa cabins, and eat in its designated restaurant. They will get complimentary entry to the spa which consists of a large jacuzzi pool, steam room, sauna, meditation room. Other passengers have to pay a fee to use the facilities in the spa. I had a look round on several occasions and noticed that it was always full. Didn't get the relaxing feel one expects in a spa, and I certainly didn't pay to use it. The spa receptionists were rather unhelpful too. Managed to book two spa treatments: one was hot stone therapy, the other Balinese massage; both therapists were very experienced. After the lovely massages, I had a sip of ayurvedic tea in the relaxation lounge looking out to sea. Overall, I would say it was a good experience at the spa, but no wow factor.
I certainly would recommend Costa. It is a good 4 star cruise line, providing a reasonable standard of service and cruise experience, relatively inexpensive, with a lively European feel and a young-to-middle-aged clientele. But don't expect sybaritic luxury!