My husband and I were "first timers" and traveled with another couple who had gone on a previous cruise. Costa was a new name to us, but our travel agent assured us that it was an excellent cruise line. We booked rather late, mid-February for a March 1 cruise and chose the option that included airfare. We were a little upset at having to leave home at 3:30 am to make a 6:00am flight, but this is often the time the airline schedules flight from our nearest airport.
Our flight was uneventful and a very nice gentleman with a large "Costa" sign was waiting at baggage at the Ft. Lauderdale airport. Mr. Cadena was extremely helpful and we were soon on a bus to the port with very little effort on our part. Due to health problems, I can not walk very far and each step of the way, a wheel chair was waiting.
It was mid-afternoon when we arrived at the ship, and every step of the way was handled with efficiency and grace. We couldn't have asked for an easier time. Although we had eaten a breakfast at Atlanta between flights, we were pleased to be able to go right to the buffet and get a late lunch.
FOOD: My husband and I, along with our traveling companions, are typical midwesterners and hardly "gourmets" when it comes to food. The selections from the buffet were very good and well presented. One of the most delightful aspects of the trip was that every meal, whether in the dining room, at the buffet, or on deck near the pool, has a large variety of fresh fruits and melon. We ate most breakfasts and all lunches at the buffet. A few times we went to the dining room for breakfast, and we were seated a the early dinner starting at 5:45 pm. I was not sure about this and almost chose the late seating, but the choice of the early seating turned out to be perfect. Our excellent waiter made a very difficult task of serving each table their different courses at the correct time seem effortless. He did his job with good humor and a wonderful smile - and managed to visit with each table while doing his job.
Each evening was a dining adventure. There were seven courses to choose from, but we always chose less. We all decided to try something new each evening. I had never tried chilled fruit soups before and found that I enjoyed them so much that I have started looking for recipes to prepare for the summer. There were always at least five "special" entrees each night along with approximately that many regular entrees such as grilled salmon. The food was prepared well and served even better. Desserts were delightful. I was a little apprehensive about that many courses, but there were served at a leisurely pace that was just the thing for allowing us to relax between dishes. Our waiter was exceptional and, after the first night, remembered our little special requests for the rest of the cruise. Almost every night had a theme with the wait staff seeming to enjoy the fun. There was singing and dancing and laughter every evening. We enjoyed the time to visit with the families seated around us and each evening shared our daily adventures. My husband surprised me by wearing one and really getting in the Toga Night our last night on the cruise.
A few times, we decided to have room service delivered to our room. The room service menu was somewhat limited, but the sandwiches were large and tasty, the fruit was always chilled and delicious, and the coffee and tea the correct temperature.
The best hamburger I have ever eaten was from the hamburger grill located on deck close to the pools. It was large, correctly cooked to my "medium well" request with warm (not hot) fries on the side. I give the food an "A" the serve staff and "A+"
ROOM: We booked balcony rooms on the seventh deck. Our room was very clean, and brightly decorated. There were three closets, two for handing clothing and one with shelves. I am not a light packer, but all of our clothes fit into the closets easily. The ship was generous with hangers, but there were not enough for all the handing clothing. I would recommend bringing some hangers from home. Our suitcases fit nicely under the bed. The vanity drawers were large enough to hold everything we needed to store in them. There was a mini bar in which I was able to keep my medicines and a safe. The television was easily seen from both the couch and the bed. The selection of channels included American networks, a variety show channel, a vintage movie channel, various channels with information about the ship, and others.
The bed was comfortable and a good size and there was light enough to read easily whether day or night. Our balcony contained two chairs and a table with enough space to move around easily. The balcony was very private, so we almost always opened our curtains. It made the room seem even larger and we enjoyed the sunlight. The bath, while not extremely large, was just the right size for one person to be able to manage nicely. The entire room was kept very clean and used towels, etc, were replaced and the room checked at least three or four times a day.
I have breathing problems and must sleep with a number of pillows behind my back. I asked for the extra pillows and they were delivered very shortly. Phillipe, our room steward, was one of the main reasons our cruise was so wonderful. He had cool damp clothes waiting for us in our room first thing. To be able to sit with a cool cloth on your face after hurrying all day is the best way to start a cruise. Excellent first impression! On the second day, I asked for a pitcher of ice water to be brought with my room service order and each day after that, we had a pitcher of ice water waiting for us when we returned to our room. He spent the entire cruise noticing and remembering what we preferred. Each evening when we returned to our room, our bed was turned down and a little something (chocolates, cookies, etc) was waiting for us. It is little touches like these that make you want to take another cruise on the same ship. Room steward receives an "A++"
PUBLIC AREAS: The ship is ornately decorated in rich colors and gold guilding. It is very much in an Italian style of the past. The lounges and open areas flow nicely from one to the other giving the ship a nice open feel. There were plenty of comfortable chairs and couches for most everyone to sit and be comfortable. The library was also the internet area. Comfortable seating and nicely sized carrels allowed us to easily use the computers. The shops were nicely sized and easy to move through. There were plenty of elevators and stairs. Deck 3 was the only level with an outside deck on which you could walk. It was wide enough for a leisurely stroll while the dedicated walkers and joggers could also enjoy the deck.
I am vehemently anti-smoking, but I knew up-front there would be some smoking allowed. I also knew that Costa was popular with Europeans (more on that later) and they smoke more than most Americans. For the most part, I was not bothered by the smoking. The smoking areas were plainly labeled and most people abided by the rules. In a few places you would see No Smoking signs and ashtrays on the same table, which was rather a mystery. I just assumed the smokers brought the ash trays and ignored the signs. I was only bothered really bothered once by smoking. On deck 10, in an area with chaise lounges set up to sun, there are No Smoking signs placed approximately every 10 - 15 feet or so. While my friend and I were sitting there, I was surrounded by cigarette smoke. A woman, sitting two chairs away was blatantly smoking right next to a No Smoking sign. I showed her the sign and asked her not to smoke, to no avail. I eventually went to another part of the deck to sun. Too bad smokers come so late to reading -- at least the universal No Smoking signs. I didn't let this ruin my trip.
Almost every night we went to the theater after dinner. The shows were entertaining and varying. The lower level of the theater is equipped with comfortable couches facing individual tables. This is a nice touch in case you want to have a drink or a place to set your purse or whatever you are carrying. It is somewhat stuffy on this level. The upper level has stadium style seats, but has a nicer breeze flowing the seating area.
A movie theater would be a nice addition to the ship's public areas. While I enjoy the live entertainment, there are times when I would like to be able to sit and enjoy a newer movie. I know many ships do have movie theaters and Costa should think about installing one.
CRUISE EXPERIENCE: The fact that the passengers on the cruise seemed to be about evenly divided between American and European allowed us to meet and get to know people from any countries. At the table next to ours, was a lovely couple from Belgium. We met and visited with people from England, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, and from many other countries along with Americans from many states. With one possible exception, everyone we met was friendly, courteous, and having a wonderful cruise. We took pleasure in making so many excellent acquaintances.
Heaps of praise to the parents with children on my cruise. At no time did I ever see or hear any children misbehaving. All children were allowed to have fun without disturbing the other passengers. I am very happy to see parents who are teaching their children the correct way to behave!! Bravo!!
PORTS: The ship stopped at San Juan, St Thomas. La Romana, and Grand Turk. Charlotte Amalie was my favorite stop. Of course, we had to try the "Original" Banana Daiquiri on top of the mountain. We did not book any of the cruise excursions, instead opting to leisurely shop and take a local taxi or bus on a tour. The tour guides were knew their islands well and spoke English well. They pointed out many old buildings with the dates and historical significances associated with each. We enjoyed the beach at Grand Turk with a Pina Colada from Margaritaville. Next time we cruise, we will be looking at the excursions offered by the cruise line.