A word about me: I'm British, and have cruised several times before on both Princess and Cunard. I travelled with my extended family (British/South African) in a group of 10.
When I first saw the Costa itinerary for this cruise, I was very excited because it offered a rare chance to see Libya. I immediately agreed to go.
I was a little apprehensive at first because Costa, as an Italian company, are a bit of an unknown quantity on Cruise Critic and there aren't all that many reviews. I will therefore be quite detailed but feel free to skip to the end for my conclusion.
We travelled down to Civitavecchia by train from London, via the Eurostar and then Trenitalia's sleeper service to Rome. From there, we took the express service to Civitavecchia, which takes about 45 minutes. You can take a cab from the station to the docks, you can walk, or there is a free shuttle service which goes from the entrance to the docks to the ships. Although it is not a very long walk (just under a mile), it might be difficult with heavy luggage and the layout of the docks is quite confusing. I recommend the shuttle bus or a taxi if you are new to Civitavecchia's port.
We arrived about an hour before embarkation closed, and then had to wait for nearly an hour before we could enter the ship. There was a hall full of people, and only one person doing the embarkation administration. This seemed to consist of waiting in three or four separate queues and having our passports checked, photocopied and checked again and again. To be fair to Costa, some of our party had embarked much earlier, and had found the process very smooth - so it's probably sensible to arrive early.
We dodged the inevitable embarkation photograph and boarded.
The ship's decor is elegant and modern, mainly dark blues, whites and silvers with some beautiful marbles on the walls of the casino and stairwells. Our balcony cabin at the rear of Deck 11 was small but well appointed and there was plenty of cupboard space. The bathroom was tiny, but again it had plenty of storage space. The shower wasn't great but it was adequate, and the room was very clean. Costa Victoria is a relatively old ship and its position in Costa's fleet was classified by one of the crew as "middle...well, slightly less than middle" with the newer Costas at the top.
There are two main outdoor pools and four hot tubs. These were unheated and so only for the brave. Another indoor pool in the spa has a bizarre rule banning swimming, so one wonders what it's for. The pools are filled with fresh salt water daily, and close at 8pm. The gym is small but adequately appointed for all but the most dedicated weightlifter, and I never found it too overcrowded. The bars and public areas are well kept and pleasantly decorated. We didn't use the spa or casino.
The buffet was much, much smaller than I am used to, but the food was very good, politely served and nicely presented. The buffet, and eating arrangements generally, reflect the Italian attitude towards food. Italians have great respect and love for food, and they eat plenty of it, but they don't see the need to be constantly eating. Therefore, the buffet is closed for several hours during the day: between 5 and 8pm and again after about 11.30pm. However, a limited range of pizzas, salads, sandwiches, fruit and cakes could be had in the pizzeria on Deck 12 up till 1am, and room service runs 24 hours. We never went hungry. I recommend the room service breakfast, which provides a continental style meal of pastries and cereal. It is also the only way to get proper, free cappuccino on the ship as ordering speciality coffee anywhere else results in a charge of about 2 euros. It is also worth noting that the free hot tea and coffee dispensers are out of action between 5 and 8pm, although there is a good afternoon tea from 4 until 5 in the pizzeria. A tip is to avoid the fruit juice dispensers at breakfast and use the bottled juices in the "Healthy Corner" as the juice from the dispensers tasted very watered down.
The dining rooms were very nice. We're all used to anytime dining, but didn't find the set dining times too onerous. We had booked a table for 10 for the second sitting, but when we received our dining tickets, we seemed to be down for the first sitting. This was, however, relatively easily sorted and we had the table and time we wanted. The meals were very good: perhaps not as good as the food on Princess or Cunard, but for the money we paid I was not going to complain. The choice was good and there was something for everyone each night. Another thing worth remembering is that menu items containing previously frozen ingredients are highlighted. This is a requirement of Italian law and does not mean that the food is of poor quality, nor that other cruise lines do not do the same. It's obvious that a ship must use quite a lot of frozen ingredients. The waiters were polite, efficient and unobtrusive.
We didn't use the bars very much, but they had a good selection, were reasonably priced and also served Amaris, which are odd Italian herbal liqueurs with strange ingredients like artichoke. These are perhaps an acquired taste but worth the effort.
This is an interesting topic. Being mostly English, our party are used to mentioning issues to the relevant people and then having them sorted out. We soon worked out that Italian culture is quite different. My sister's cabin was incredibly hot, despite cold air coming from her air conditioning vent. She reported this problem every day for three days, and each time an engineer visited her room and vaguely suggested that she might have left the balcony door open. This wasn't the case and she was so hot at one point that she slept on the balcony. Eventually, she reported the problem in a more Mediterranean manner, which is to say forcefully and loudly, and refused to leave the information desk until she had a satisfactory answer. Her air conditioning problem (caused by air bubbles in the vent) was solved almost immediately. There was also a general problem of leaks in the air conditioning system on our deck and in odd places around the ship: at one point it appeared to be raining in one of the toilets. We heard an engineer telling an increasingly frantic room steward that there wasn't anything he could do until she told him where the leak originated from. However, we understand that the Costa Victoria is very shortly due for an overhaul in dry dock so these problems will presumably be fixed. Be prepared for a lackadaisical attitude to any issues unless you make a fuss.
I would not say, however, that these issues spoiled our holiday in the slightest.
Costa's USP is its eclectic itineraries. We were very excited about visiting Tripoli in particular. In Catania, I took the trip up to Mount Etna, which was spectacular even in the misty, drizzly weather. In Tunis, we took a taxi under our own steam and explored the city, which was fascinating. The taxi driver was very pleasant and agreed to pick us up when we'd finished exploring. I would say that the best strategy in Tunis is to avoid the tourist souk, unless you like being hassled to buy a lot of junk. Once out of the tourist trap area, we were left alone.
From Tunis we went to Gabes, which would have been quite a shock if we weren't expecting it. Gabes is not a tourist port: it is completely and unapologetically industrial. So industrial, in fact, that several tons of sulfur were sitting around on the dock next to the sulfur extraction works. The famous desert wind, already loaded with fine Sahara sand, whipped up plenty of sulfur dust and deposited it on deck, in our food and in the pools. Stinging eyes soon sent almost everyone scuttling inside. However, we were soon taken out to the desert.
In Tripoli, we took the excursion to the beautiful Roman ruins at Leptis Magna, which I would recommend only if you enjoy archaeology (which fortunately I do). The port is walking distance from the town, and some of our party spent the day exploring the city alone. They say the city is beautiful, very clean and completely safe.
In Valletta, Malta, I took the horse riding excursion in the morning. I would say that to get the most out of this excursion, one really needs prior experience of horse riding to avoid being led. The views are amazing. We were given the chance to have a half-hour's swim in the sea and then we spent the rest of the day exploring Valletta on our own. It's a lovely town.
The organization and quality of the tours is very good: English speaking guides were provided for us, the vehicles were well maintained with seat belts and I have no complaints, apart from the fact that we did feel (in Tripoli and Catania in particular) that it would have been nice to have had some free time to explore the cities independently once the tour had ended.
The entertainment on the ship was reasonable but not brilliant. The shows were fine, but perhaps a bit amateurish at times: they didn't really float my boat. What the Italians seemed to really enjoy were the late night audience participation shows in the Concorde Lounge. These were, frankly, baffling to non-Italian speakers, but they did look like fun. Italians also really like a conga, and many of these snaked their way around the ship after midnight, which is when things really get going.
Since smoking was banned in much of Europe, it seems to have become much less popular. There were a few smokers in the bars and lounges, but certainly far fewer than I would have expected of a European ship. The smokiest place was probably the casino, or the upper balcony of the Concorde Lounge: both easily avoided.
There were two formal nights. Italians are stylish folk and I would strongly recommend bringing some nice gear with you: a tuxedo isn't strictly necessary but everyone looked like they had made an effort. Ladies should bring a cocktail dress or two. The other evenings had a range of attire from smart casual to formal. Basically, you can't be overdressed on any night.
If you have the option of choosing a cabin, I would recommend avoiding the fore cabins on decks 11 through 7 as these are next to the Concorde Lounge. There are windows from the lounge looking onto the deck corridors. You can sit quite happily on the floor of the corridor and watch the whole show, and hear it extremely well. I would guess the cabins are quite noisy until the shows finish: this would be 1am at the earliest. The aft cabins on Deck 11 can get noisy when people are on the deck having breakfast: you can hear tables and chairs scraping from 7am onwards so if you're a late riser these are cabins to avoid.
There are the usual cruise annoyances: photographers leap out from nowhere and then the unflattering results are put on display for all to see, and there are all sorts of ways to squeeze some extra euros out of you.
This is a ship that's showing its age, but this didn't spoil our holiday. Yes, you might have to slum it a little - the only toiletries provided are soap and a shower gel dispenser in the shower and the pool isn't heated - but Costa provides excellent value for money. This isn't the cruise for you if you like to be waited on hand and foot with your every need provided for. If, however, you are quite relaxed, like a bargain, don't mind joining in the odd conga and want to visit unusual ports, this *is* the cruise for you.