BACKGROUND INFORMATION We are Americans who currently live in Germany. The opportunity to visit 5 countries in 7 days... including Russia, Denmark and Sweden was very tempting. We realized if we were to visit each of them by flying and staying a weekend each, the cost would be astronomical. Those northern countries are extremely expensive. Cruise ships are definitely an economical travel option! You never get lost, and you never have to unpack except when you get on the cruise ship!
HOTEL INFO BEFORE AND AFTER Before the cruise we stayed downtown Copenhagen at the Maritime Hotel for an extra day. It was a good location. They called us a taxi to get to the ship.
After the cruise we stayed at the Hilton Hotel, which is attached to the Airport. We discovered that you can also access the train system which goes into downtown by tunnels connecting it all. It was very convenient, and also easy to get to the Airport for an early departure.
We were easily able to get taxis from the port to our hotel after the cruise. The cruise ship offers transportation on a bus to the airport, but we found it to be cheaper to use the taxi, and just took the risk that there would be a taxi at the port. We had a category 9 cabin so we were among the first to debark. Perhaps it would be harder for those debarking later to find a taxi. STATEROOM We had a stateroom with a balcony. It looks exactly like the little movie on the Costa Cruise website of our category stateroom. I think even the art on our wall was the same. Agreeable colors. Nice big closet space for us. I think there were 3 closet cabinets with space above to the ceiling. Our empty suitcases fit under the bed. There were drawers and cabinets under the mirror/desk. A phone in the room. A television. The channels include ship channels with programs that have been taped from briefings, as well as port information, etc. However they also receive channels from the country we are near. Cartoons in Swedish. Interesting. The TV also has video ports in the front, so we happily hooked our portable DVD player to it. It was in black and white. I mentioned it to our steward, who said that is because it is designed for the European system. We had one multi-region DVD and it was in color, of course!
The bathroom had (plastic) Italian tile in the shower. Nice big mirror. Shelves with a little rail to store things on each side of the sink, and under the sink. Not large space but adequate.
We've never had trouble with hearing anything in our cabin before, but we must have had someone loud above us. We sometimes heard clomp, clomp from above, like they were dropping their shoes and other things on the floor.
SHIP INFO Friends from fellow Americans commented that the decor of the ship felt gaudy. It has lots of bright colors mixed together in public area and lots of gold molding. But it also has a classy feel to it, with Roman statues and columns around.
The Atrium area covers many floors and has 3 glass elevators. It is fun to use them and observe the activity below. The atrium has the main desk and excursion desk as well as a bar. The second level of it has the ship's photography display.
A lot of cabin stewards and servers are Filipino. The majority of them speak English. Much of the Italian staff also speaks English. Each language group on the ship has a Hostess. We found our English Speaking hostess to be an invaluable source of information. She has a table in the Atrium every morning to field questions.
DINING In the dining room the breakfast is buffet style. You are shown to a table. They take your order for a drink. Cappuccino is available as an option at breakfast but only at breakfast. For the rest of the meals, you need to buy your cappuccino at the bars. But there is a handy coupon book you can buy and they are cheaper that way. The breakfast is very European with cheeses and meats. But cereal and other treats. The best breakfast pastries are in the fine dining room.
Eating breakfast at the Lido deck is fine if you go early. After 9:30-10 AM it gets pretty crowded. The ship is very much a late night culture, as the second dining starts about 9 PM. I get the impression many party late into the night and get up about 10 or 11 if there is no excursion or if the excursion is later. On the Lido deck no cappuccino. Just ordinary coffee (rather weak for my taste) or tea. And juices.
Lunch is nice in the fine dining, but it takes more time. It is sit down and order. And often has courses. Lunch on the Lido deck you can get as much or as little as you want. However it is very busy at noon. We often had trouble finding a place to sit. If the weather is nice you can sit by the pool.
Out by the pool you can often get burgers or grilled chicken sandwiches, fries, salad… soft serve ice cream, fresh fruit. This is at lunch, but even available later. There's a schedule in your daily program delivered every night to your door when each food place is open.
There's also mid-afternoon tea. This seems to be English style with scones and clotted cream, and other delicacies. Formal service. It was sometimes in a bar area, and another time on the Lido deck.
Dinner - we had the first seating at 7 PM. We always felt the food was great. A steak meal, Salmon meal, or pasta meal were offered every day. The other choices were varied and wonderful. Soup. Salad. Pasta. Entree. Cheese. Dessert. You could take all or a couple each time. They usually had a cold soup choice among the three. Cheese usually had fruit with it. There's the wine package or mineral water package you can buy. They only serve table water free. However, if you don't want to buy the wine package, you can buy a glass of house wine for something like 5 Euro on occasion. No sodas here.
We never did any midnight buffets or chocolate buffets. We ate plenty.
One morning we ordered room service breakfast. It is free and you fill it out the night before, except for a 2 Euro gratuity charged for the service. It was lovely to eat on our balcony. You can get cappuccino with that breakfast or regular coffee or tea.
ACTIVITIES There are pools, ping pong table, bacci ball, running track, the workout room. We found the outdoor whirlpools to be less busy than the one inside. There's one area that has a retractable roof for more inclement weather. There's also tartan colored blankets that you can curl up in on deck after a swim or time in the whirlpool.
Honestly, there are so many things you can choose to do. They have dancing classes that go on, games by the pool, etc. There's a schedule that comes out in the daily newsletter. There are craft sessions. I believe there's a cost for that. The card room kept busy with card games going on on the days at sea. The library has a number of English books. It's probably the quietest place on the ship. There's also the art auction (silent by written bids) with free champagne for the introduction day.
SERVICE We found our cabin steward to be very attentive. No complaints. Our table service was great at the evening meal. I mentioned above our English Speaking Hostess. She was a great help navigating questions we had. While Italians tend to clump in lines, I had an experience at the Excursion desk where the Italians were trying to clump and they made them get in line and wait their turn, to the protest of "that's the Italian way!"
The ship's photography really got on my husband's nerves. They take photos of you at every turn… when you get on the ship, getting off at every port with some dressed up mascot… at the formal dinner nights, during events. They are displayed and it is fun to look for your photos. But the price to buy them is very expensive. Like 20 Euro a piece. Just take photos with your own camera and bring home the memory. For my husband the every present camera in the face was invasive.
My favorite person was the travel expert. He gave seminars about a couple of the ports. He was multilingual and gave them at various times in different languages. It is too bad that hardly anyone attended his English ones as they helped me understand and appreciate the locations we visited much better. He also had a table set up before each excursion day, where he gave advice, passed out maps and drew on them individual information you might need. A fabulous resource.
I had one poor incident with someone who served wine complaining about how Americans drink a lot. I had one glass at a function, and I felt this comment was inappropriate; first of all, to single out a cultural group with a disparaging remark on a multi-national vessel. It went into my evaluation at the end of the week.
ENTERTAINMENT Overall we went 2-3 times to the theatre. The best night was in St. Petersburg when they had Russian performers come on the ship. They were lovely. The ships' entertainment was fine. Good singers. No new records or budding recording artists, but entertaining. Almost all songs (except for the Russian night) are in English because that is the pop music of the world. There was a comic entertainer one night but language is a barrier. When things need to be said in 4-5 languages it gets hard to keep ones attention. One night there was a sort of circus taking place in the Atrium. More of a distraction than truly entertaining. Kids would enjoy it.
SHORE EXCURSIONS Of course the ship has shore excursions promoted. You cannot go into Russia (St. Petersburg) without a visa pre-planned… unless you go with a shore excursion by the cruise company. I heard great feedback from those who went on excursions, saying it really enriched the experience at each place.
The only cruise sponsored excursion we took was in St. Petersburg. It was great. It was a wonderful way to see Russia. Two complaints there. They took us to two separate State sponsored shopping areas for ½ hour each which were very pricey. I suppose the cruise ship, or tour guide, got a commission. But the sad part was that we didn't have time to enter some of the great churches on the way. Just park in the parking lot and look from the outside. The second complaint is that all the tours from our Costa ship seemed to arrive at the Hermitage Museum at about the same time - and there were about 6-10 tours going on, in the various language groups. That meant that there was a bottleneck all at the same time to see the most prized pieces at the museum. I noticed after we passed through, the key items were wide open. But we were required to stick with the tour group, being Russia and all.
For all the rest of the ports, we brought along our Rick Steves book on Northern Europe. He had a walking tour laid out for Estonia, Helsinki, and Stockholm. The upside of that was that I walked so much I only gained 2 pounds on the cruise. At Estonia we were close enough to be able to walk from port into town. At Helsinki, the ship arranged for tour buses to drive us to drop off point downtown for something like 5 Euro a person. It was worth it. In Stockholm, they planned the same thing, but the day we were there, the buses weren't available. It was about a 1 ½ to 2 mile walk into the old town. Still, it was fortunately nice weather that day and good exercise for us.
DISEMBARKATION I truly hate this part. Is this because I hate to see my cruise come to an end? Anyhow - it is tough to make your way along with 2000 other people to various lounges to wait till you are told you can get off. We went early to our spot with reading material and hunkered down at a table. When we got off, finding our luggage and getting a taxi was easy.
SUMMARY If you ever take a Costa Cruise as an American, you should know a few things... it is an ITALIAN cruise line. • The decor is bright colored and glitzy. • The food is great but it is constantly Italian. • The music in the lounges is Italian. I had a hard time getting Italian love songs out of my head for a week when we left the ship, like "Volare," and "That's Amore." • Italians clump, they don't get in line. The cruise workers try to encourage lines, but it is a constant battle. • Announcements for the whole ship are given in about 5 or 6 languages. The life boat drill is quite a challenge. Just imagine. On the European cruise, English speakers were about 5% of the ship. • Italians seem to become one big happy family. However in their reunions in the narrow passageways it was sometimes hard to get past chattering groups of family gatherings.
Would we do it again? Yes, we would.