This is our 4th cruise overall (Holland America, Princess and Royal Caribbean), but our 1st on Costa. We chose Costa because of the good reviews for dancing. We had a great time.
It seemed like a lot of the other passengers complained about the service and entertainment. It is all in what you expect. Please consider that Costa is a more conservative, low key cruise line and probably lacks a lot of the more trendy features that some of the other cruise lines have. You won't find movies under the stars, golf, rock climbing, ice-skating, trendy Hollywood game shows, 5-star dinners, etc. For their budget prices, we found Costa to be a good option with great dancing, lounging in the sun, and reasonable drink prices.The smoking was about equivalent to other cruises. Nonsmoking areas were not enforced that well. It was impossible to avoid walking through smoking areas on the 2nd floor from the dining room to dance venues as the casino was in the middle. The ventilation was good however. A hint for dancers, organized dance cruises seem to know about the good dancing on Costa, so if you can, it might be a good idea to google and make sure you don't book a cruise that has an organized dance cruise group on board or you may find yourself fighting for floor space, on the other hand, perhaps that is what you are looking for.
For starters we were a little nervous about embarkation because of some of the reviews we read. When we arrived at Ft Lauderdale airport a Costa Representative was clearly waiting for us. We booked our flight through the cruise line so it did arrive in the afternoon. The representative escorted us to the bus stop where we waited for the bus to the ship for about 30 min. When we got to the pier the baggage handlers met the bus and took our luggage. As we arrived at about 3:30, there were no lines. Upon boarding the ship, we were escorted to our floor and the keycards were in the cabin. After freshening up and reading the "Today" activity schedule, our luggage arrived at our room at 4pm. Then we went up to the deck for sail away. We were expecting a party and fanfare. There was a calypso band playing which was nice and the "drink of the day", "The Mediterannea" was delicious. But we were surprised that there were very few people and no fanfare. We didn't know where they were hiding.
Things we really enjoyed were the international flavor of Costa. It is really hard to estimate the ratios, but it seemed like about 40% were American/Canadian with the rest a mix of Spanish, German, French, and Italian. We didn't experience any rudeness out of the ordinary on our trip. We did hear a few English-speaking people complaining about the service, shows, limited TV channels, and food in comparison to some more expensive cruise lines, but again, it is all about what you expect. A few people were annoyed at the 5-language announcements, but they were few and far between and I can't think of how they could do any better. We couldn't tell what the Europeans thought because of the language barriers. From our perspective, we enjoyed how there was basically minimal announcements and zero advertising on the ship. Tipping was automatic at a very reasonable $10/pp/pd and 15% on bar service and it was extremely refreshing not to be nagged to death about it like on some other cruise lines.
Cabin Starting with our 2nd cruise we always book an inside stateroom. It saves a ton of money and all we ever used it for was sleeping and showering. Just make sure not to book below the pool deck or adjacent to bars/mechanical rooms, that is the same with all cruise ships though. Our steward was the best we have had. Always available but not overbearing.
Dinner The first night was informal. We were seated in the dining room with 2 other American couples. Throughout the week our food was good and sometimes excellent, though not always what we expected from the menu description. For example, I was expecting a ribeye and it was roast beef. The menus were more international. A lot of fish and chicken, not as many steaks. My husband really liked the lamb and crab legs. The red wine by the glass was pretty good. The others at our table were not wine drinkers so we never tried the wine by the bottle (a reasonable $20-25 USD). The deserts were not as exciting, as other cruise lines, there were a lot of mousse and no rich chocolate tort. They always had some vegetarian options and sugar free options. Service was as you would expect for the price of the cruise. Good but not great. My water glass was often empty. The waiters often reached in front of us to serve the others. Occasionally we got the wrong food, which they corrected right away. I think this may have been due to the language barrier. If you point at the menu items you want as well as speak them, they seem to do just fine.
Buffet Breakfast was pretty much the same every day except alternating between scrambled eggs with and without mushrooms. There was also sausage, bacon, French toast, pancakes, waffles, and yummy hashbrown medallions. On the lighter, more European side there was cold cuts, cheese, pastries and yogurt. For lunch we generally ate the pizza. It was very good but surprisingly little variety. There were always a few pasta choices but sometimes a little too unusual for our tastes. The last day the choices either had swordfish or chicken liver. The salad bar was good too. There was a grill with burgers and fries that we did not try. The buffet area was comfortable with ample comfy booths. We were also impressed by the granite tables by the pools.. The custom order midnight pizzas were a nice option but the Buffet Magnifico was not as we expected. There were a lot of deserts and little appetizers. There were waiters that came around with drinks to buy but no water. Live music and dancing on the ship was excellent. We enjoy Ballroom and Latin dancing opportunities. From 5:30-1:30 in three lounges every night. In the Cassonova, the only break was for BINGO as there were two duets(singer and keyboard) that alternated sets. The Cassonova and the Isolabella had large dance floors that were rarely over crowded. All the dance lounges were on the 2nd floor, which was convenient. The 5 pc band in the Isolabella was especially good. We got in lots of Tangos, ChaChaChas, Rumbas, Waltzes and Fox trots. The bands played a variety of songs and took requests. We now have some favorite Italian songs too. Overall, this was by far the best dancing on a cruise we have experienced. The only thing we missed was a dedicated Latin band like the trips out of San Juan. We never made it to the Disco as the dancing was so good in the 3 other lounges. Because the dancing was so available we were actually able to go to some shows. We had been unable to do in the past because the show schedules often interfered with the limited dance band schedules. The 3 shows we went to were good. We did hear from our tablemates that some of the other shows were not so good. The Crew had some theme activities, which we did not care for. They tried very hard to get audience participation but it seemed forced.
Sailing was unexpectedly smooth. We aren't sure if this was because of smooth seas or the quality of the ship and crew.
The Sun decks were plentiful. The area by the pool was a little crowed but there were plenty of more remote decks that were peaceful and sunny. Pool towels were free and plentiful, no weird taking names and room numbers like on Royal Caribbean. Chair hoarding was about the same as on other cruise lines, especially by the pools. Bar service was available on all sun decks but not overwhelming. The drinks were tasty and reasonable prices ($6 for Drink of the Day, $7 for mixed drinks of good quality). Unfortunately the pools and hot tubs closed in the evening. We always feel like the hot tubs at night after dancing, not during the middle of the day when it is 90 F.
Ports Key West- We went on the bike tour. This tour is not for the athletic. The bikes were ancient rusty cruisers but thankfully with new seats. The tour was very slow. It was scheduled as a 2 hour excursion but took 4. The history lesson was good, though the shuttle bus driver had conflicting facts (we wondered who was right). After the bike tour we walked though town. We passed by Margaritaville as it looked too dark to stay for a drink. We heard Caroline's was good though. Many people that we saw took the time to hit the CVS pharmacy in town and stock up on water and pop/soda/coke. Although I think it is officially against Costa policy, we took the risk (Pepsi/MtnDew) and they didn't even flinch. That was nice because they are our favorite drinks and are never available on-board any cruise line we have seen. One couple had a whole case of water while we saw others bring aboard 12 packs of pop/soda/coke. Didn't see anyone try to smuggle booze onboard. GrandCayman- We signed up for parasailing but it was canceled due to wind. We did get a refund. Instead we walked down the beach to Eden Rock dive center for some scuba diving. The shore dives were really fun. This port was tendered by large tenders from the island. The shopping was convenient to the pier. Pepsi and Mountain Dew were available on shore! Roatan-This was our beach day. We took the ship excursion to Tabyana Beach. The snorkeling was excellent with beautiful coral reefs and cauldrons. We were given beach chairs for a tip and there was security. Massages and hair braiders were available. The palm trees were widely scattered and picturesque. The down side was the skimpy buffet and small variety of drinks. We also missed being able to order food from your beach chairs like some other beaches. We were disappointed in the amount of time at the beach too. Souvenirs were cheaper at the beach than at the pier. This port was tendered with the Costa life boats and was very slow. This definitely something Costa needs to work on. We heard from other cruisers that the snorkeling and kayak adventure was fun and well worth it. Cozumel- The ship was docked here with good shopping right off the end of the pier. Carlos and Charlies, Senior Frogs and Starbucks are also at the end of the pier. Pepsi and Mountain Dew were here too! We went on the ships diving excursion and again the time frame was off. It was suppose to last 2 hours and lasted 4. From the pier were went by taxi to a resort 20 min away and from there got equipment and caught a boat to the dive site. The boat had a toilet. We were told at the pier that we would be going to Santa Rosa and Paradise Reef but due to weather went to Palancar caves and some other reef. Both Dives were excellent. We were glad it was ship sponsored though because we got back to the ship only a half hour before departure.
Overall the price of the ships excursions was less expensive than other ships. Avoid ports that require tendering if possible. Enjoy your cruise.