On Saturday the 29th March 2008 my family and I boarded the Costa Allegra at approximately 8pm, we completed the passport and administration process onboard ship and were escorted to our cabin (4122) by a crew member but unfortunately she took us to the wrong cabin, was this a sign of things to come? - The lady crew member apologized explaining that she was new to the ship. We duly trundled our luggage and children accompanied with the staff member from the bow of the ship back to the stern.
Our cabin which we had booked in July 2007 was on inspection not only dirty but had a strange dank odor. In the area above the window the air-conditioning vents had been blocked and padded out with a 3 foot length of green foam sponge this was absolutely filthy and blackened with dust and debris that had accumulated between the air-conditioning vents and the foam. The children's upper bunks had to have their duvets changed as they were dirty and marked. Towels were seemingly in short supply, our cabin initially only had two.
We raised these issues with the maid and left the cabin to explore the ship. On returning some 2 hours later the cabin had been cleaned, duvets changed and additional towels supplied and the ominous 'green foam' had been removed. We decided to settle down for the night at approximately 12.10am. We now discover that the ladder to the right-hand bunk cannot and will not secure properly to the upper bunk, there simple wasn't enough space between the bunk and dressing table for it to do so. The opposite left-hand bunk was OK (See pictures 19-20 and video footage). My daughter therefore had no option but to gain ingress and exit from her bunk by climbing onto our double bed then the window sill, stepping across to her bunk. (See pictures 16-18 and video footage) Something that is surely dangerous and raises in my mind both health and safety implications and liabilities on yourselves. This was later raised with Anita Wolfgang the Front Desk Manager - her reply was that it was a small ship and they could do nothing about it because of the configuration of the cabin and its fixtures and fittings.
The ship set sail later than scheduled at just after midnight on the 30th March, to myself and partners disbelief the whole cabin started to violently vibrate, items on the dressing table were moving around on their own and large particles of dust were falling from where previously the green foam had resided. A combination of the vibration and noise woke the children who started crying. We sat, watched and endured this for some 45 minutes; there were no signs of it abating so I went to reception to see what could be done. The lady on reception reassured me that this was quite normal and that things would settle down shortly. I returned to our cabin to find the children still crying and being comforted by my partner. We sat and waited the intensity of noise and vibration remained constant, dust and residue still falling from the air-conditioning vents.
At approximately 01.15am I went back to reception and again spoke to the duty receptionist, I asked her to come and see for herself the issues we as a family were having with the cabin, she refused saying that she couldn't leave her station at this time of night and reluctantly she called one of her colleagues. He came back to the cabin with me he explained that there had been ongoing problems with the cabin in the past. On returning with him to reception I requested even at this early hour that the duty receptionist change our cabin as my family and I couldn't stay in these conditions any more, she flatly refused saying that the ship was full, but that they might be able to do something about it in the morning. Again I reiterated that the noise, vibration and dust left it unbearable for us to remain in there and asked her just to come and look for herself, she refused. I then asked to speak to her superior the Front Desk Manager (Anita Wolfgang) the duty receptionist refused to do this saying that it was late and Anita would be in bed asleep. This annoyed me some what, I being the paying guest who was in a dirty, dusty, vibrating, noisy cabin being told that she couldn't do anything and wouldn't contact her superior because she was tucked up in bed asleep. I asked her once more if she would either swap our cabin or contact and raise these issues with Anita Wolfgang, she said she wouldn't and there was nothing she could do as the ship was full to capacity.
After trying my hardest and going through what I hoped would be the proper channels I was left with no choice but to take the following actions. I returned to our cabin at approximately 01.30am to find my children still crying and being heavily consoled, I removed two mattresses from the bed taking them down the corridor and into reception. I returned twice more to the cabin taking bedding and pillows. The reception area now becoming my intended sleeping accommodation for the night, I remained there in bed in front of reception for some 5-10 minutes. The duty receptionist by this time had miraculously found a replacement cabin from this full to capacity ship. I was shown to room 3070 at approximately 02.00am. Unfortunately the replacement room was an inside cabin and not an outside one as we had paid for. I refused the cabin and returned to my temporary double bed in reception at 02.10am. Again the duty receptionist tapped away on her computer, she even though it necessary to get Anita out of bed by this time, and by some strange and unbelievable team work I was 5 minutes later offered on deck 4 (our original deck) yet another spare cabin identical to our original one except for the vibration, noise and dust pollution. All our clothing and possessions were duly removed from cabin 4122 to cabin 4070 amidships.
We finally settled down for the night in relative peace at 03.40am. I later discovered from talking to one to the engineering/maintenance staff (addressing another cabin) that it was common place for foam to be packed into some of the rear cabins to stop metal and wooden fittings from vibrating and helping to soften the engine noise coming into the room via the air-conditioning ducts.
Breakfasts onboard in the main restaurant were just a nightmare, waiters and assistant waiters just milling around, squabbling and falling out with each other. We used the restaurant 8 times in total for breakfasts finally giving up during our second week. There wasn't one occasion during this time that our breakfast order arrived as requested. We would get scrambled eggs instead of poached eggs, boiled eggs for the children that arrived hard boiled, no toast when asked for. Coffee and tea never arrived on the first time of asking, tables were not set correctly, cups, saucers and cutlery often missing, replacements being scavenged from other tables to make a full complement at the table you were seated at. On two occasions we had to reorder our breakfast as nothing arrived the first time around, the final straw for breakfasts came when we were left waiting 35 minutes for two simple cheese omelettes after ordering them twice on arrival they tasted and had the consistency of rubber flip flops.
We asked the maitre d' on two separate occasions why the service was so poor, reluctantly he said that they had recently had an influx of new and inexperienced staff from China and the Philippines and it was regrettable that they were still being trained by existing staff, he rambled on saying that it was difficult for them to learn because of the language barriers and that they had to work long hours. I really didn't want to hear this I just wanted the service that I had paid for, not a political sympathy vote from a staff member. Our remaining breakfasts were taken in the self-service eating areas these were much better as you could pick and choose the food you wanted, Omelettes for example were cooked in front of you and were good, coffee and tea was on tap from the vending machines.
Yet more organized chaos, food arriving at your table that you hadn't ordered, it would be taken away before the correct dish eventually arrived cold. There were waiters trying to take plates away from you when you hadn't finished eating. Waiters leaning across you to collect plates and serve others whilst you were still eating the list go on. The language barrier was an incredible problem you would often have to repeat yourself several times pointing and gesticulating along the way in an attempt to make yourself understood.
Again all the same issues were there from breakfast and lunch - the only advantage being that over the course of the cruise you could build up some understanding with your designated table waiters. The basic table etiquette though was still missing, for example 4 persons were at our table, starters would be brought out whilst others were still eating their appetizers, main coursers delivered when others were still eating the starters, there was no balance. It became embarrassing when night after night we would have to ask our waiters to either wait to clear finished plates whilst others were still eating and only bring out the same courses together. Surely this is really basic table etiquette; service in a high street café would prove more efficient.
Food quality and presentation varied tremendously out of the fourteen nights we ate dinner in the restaurant, there were only two occasions where food didn't either go back for replacement because of either being the wrong dish or under/overcooked. You could ask for your steak to be medium-rare and it would arrive well done, vegetables would often arrive crucified, broccoli and courgettes for example just a puréed pulp on your plate. This is not only the waiters fault for bring it to your table but the chefs fault for sending it out in the first place. The only safe bet at the dinner table was a side salad - but I suppose you can't really go wrong with something you don't have to cook.
• Health & Safety Issues
I work for a large American company as a Senior Health & Safety Manager. I have been trained and train others in responsible working practices, looking after 2450 company employees. Some of the examples of poor working practices were beyond belief, yet your onboard televised videos portray a fantastic H&S approach, it's only a pit they don't observe and take this attitude on the Allegra.
Fire escape routes were blocked by locked 'fire doors' (see photo 1) Agreed they were opened once I raised the issue with a crew member but that is not the point - in the event of an emergency he wouldn't have been there to open them. There were trailing electrical cables from a multitude of appliances, vacuum cleaners, floor polishers, portable air-conditioning, units all tripping hazards waiting to happen. They were even cables trailing on external and internal stair wells. I must have raised these issues with the crew members using these appliances and cables 6-8 times, the standard answer was just simply sorry sir, and on every occasion the cable was kicked away into a corner without any further thought or consideration.
Liquid spillages galore all over the ship but rarely did you see any signage alerting people to this, often there was just a pile of napkins left on the floor for internal spillages or beach towels for deck area spillages just soaking up the residue, a nice hazard in it's self.
In the second cabin we had (4070) the internal tannoy system didn't work, it was only the vigilant action of the maid checking her cabins as part of the emergency drill that we were alerted of the evacuation procedure on day two. I ask myself if there is one cabin with a faulty tannoy how many more are there onboard ship?
Defective poolside barstool 'stump' temporarily made safe with an upturned pop can.
Painting and decorating of the ship whilst both at sea and in port was ongoing, there were numerous examples of areas not being cordoned off whilst the stripping back and repainting of these areas were being undertaken. I appreciate that maintenance work is necessary but these pedestrian walkways and seating areas should have surely been clearly signed and cordoned off for the wellbeing of all onboard.
• Water color (orange)
Cabin water was always orange in color, I would liken it to a pale tea color; it would change the color of clothes and towels used to dry yourself. We were told that it was this color because of the chlorination process used to kill harmful bacteria.
• Conflicting information from staff members
The number of times we would ask a staff member a question only to be told something different by someone else. For example every local port map we had been supplied the night before the following day's port of call was wrong. The maps clearly showed the supposed port of call and disembarkation, but in all but one destination we docked somewhere else - the maps were useless. On numerous occasions we would have to source a local map whilst ashore and get someone from the local port authority to identify where we were.
The staff on board at the reception desk often did their best to try and find out where we were, often looking embarrassed and bemused as to where we were themselves, scatting around looking for different maps etc. It became a daily routine, the first thing you would do when docking into a port was to ask where we actually were in relation to the map supplied. In Brunei for example the ship never did get hold of a proper map, we sourced several locally, handing them out to disembarking passengers and pointing out to them where we actually were.
• Expensive shore excursions
Shore excursions were very expensive; the figures below are taken from the tour order form and represent 'median' prices from that list. For a family of 2 adults and 2 children it equates to: £1899.98 69% of the cruise only cost would have been spent on shore excursions if the 'median' cost had been taken for the excursions available. These were obscenely expensive for example tour 6111, Cu Chi Tunnels and Panoramic Tour of Ho Chi Minh City' ship price 214 Euros (£173.50) for two adults and two children. We arranged our own taxi from the port, the taxi driver who spoke good English drove us to the tunnels, hired a local guide to show us around them, brought us back to Ho Chi Minh City and gave us a guided tour of there all for $45.00 US dollars (£23.00) the tour lasted for 6 hours. Another example tour 6264 'Brunei On Your Own', ship price 109 Euros (£88.21) local taxi for 2 adults and two children $12 US dollars or (£6.00) the taxi driver even parking along side the tour bus to add insult to injury. • Cabin Flooding
On Saturday 5th April we returned to our cabin 4070 from a full day in Singapore, whilst resting in our cabin the ship set sail for Vietnam. The Allegra was not far out of port when we became aware of it listing to the starboard side - she would seemingly straighten up again and then list again. On the second occasion our cabin was flooded with the contents of the bathroom, water ran from its sanitary fittings, the cabin was swamped from front to back. The flooding was so sever that it not only saturated most of the carpeted floor area and 3 of our suitcases which were stored under our double bed. It was obviously soiled waste water because the smell was intolerable. The ships engineers visited the cabin and deemed it uninhabitable, they said that all the furniture and carpets would have to be removed and the cabin sanitized before having new carpets fitted.
At 11.20pm we were offered alternative accommodation, a twin bed roomed cabin (7014?), not particularly of much use when you are a family of 4. I rejected this on the grounds of complete incompatibility and health and safety grounds. I returned to the reception desk to be told yet again that this was the only cabin available on the ship - further standoffs resulted in me offering to take up sleeping arrangements in the reception area again. Subsequent telephone conversations were made to Anita Wolfgang and a vacant cabin to accommodate us all was eventually found. Our clothes and personal possessions were removed from cabin 4070 to 7002 and we finally put the children to bed at 02.40am.
Further meetings with Anita Wolfgang and later with one of the engineering staff informed us that the initial listing and lurching of the ship whilst leaving port in Singapore was a result of it taking onboard fresh water supplies. There apparently had been a misbalance between the two fresh water tanks (one being fuller than the other) causing it to list to the starboard side. This resulted in some cabins 'sloshing' water from out of the drainage facilities. Anita said that this had happened in the past usually effecting deck three. I asked her further questions in particular how many cabins were affected this time - she was reluctant to say and wouldn't comment further.
Beverages so expensive the following are just examples of what we were expected to pay; a can of coke £2.34, a small 275ml bottle of beer £3.97, Gin & Tonic £5.85 and a Jack Daniels & coke £6.55 all extortionate prices, but if you wanted a drink Costa certainly had the monopoly. We have cruised as recently as February and October 2007, on different cruise lines both had similar pricing structures for drinks and beverages, a 500ml beer for example cost between £2.50-£2.75 and spirit with a mixer £2.75-£3.00. A simple bottle of water o the Allegra was £2.50 but you had to buy it even if only to clean your teeth as the tap water was bright orange!
My family and I booked a cruise with Costa because we believed you could offer us a cruise of a lifetime, you certainly did that, but unfortunately not for the right reasons. My partner and I have cruised some 15 times between us, on numerous cruise lines, all over the world. I personally have travelled to over 70 countries worldwide and we can honestly say that this has been the worst holiday experience(s) we have ever had, a total nightmare from beginning to end.