Costa Serena Cruise Review by Mike: Probably not again
Probably not again
This was our second Eastern Med cruise. The previous cruise was with Celebrity and was fantastic. We were looking for a cruise that went to Istanbul and Costa had what we were looking for. We took a water taxi from our hotel to the embarkation pier. There was a costa rep on the pier and he said to leave the luggage with him and he would look after it. We then went to the second floor of the building and were told to get a numbered tag from the desk. When your number was called you got on the ship. Embarkation was fairly quick and in no time we were in our cabin. The difference between Celebrity and Costa is that on Celebrity you are taken to your cabin, and with costa you find your own way. For those never having been on a large ship before this can be a little intimidating. Just ask for directions. The room was large and the balcony was also a good size. The room was well laid out, and there was storage for the suitcases under the bed. My negative in the room was that the beds were More
as hard as a rock. The same with the pillows. Even though the bathroom was clean, it smelled of urine for the whole trip. There were quite a few shelves in the bathroom, plenty of space to hold all our items. Our shower's water pressure was great, but our tablemates complained that theirs was weak and sometimes they had no hot water.
We had breakfast in bed every morning. This is one of the romantic things about cruising. Cappuccino, coffee, fresh juice, croissants, Danishes, yogurt and milk. It was all good. Lunches were onshore during the excursions. Twice we ate at the free for all buffet..ie push and shove to get at the food you want. Pizza and pasta were nice. So was the fresh fruit salad. We had the early seating for dinner. This was the 6:30 seating. We aren't the wait until 9PM to eat kind of people. The only drawback to the early seating is that there were a lot of children at this meal. For the most part they were all very well behaved. The serving staff were great. They knew your name by the second meal. I gave both of the waiters a $20 tip during the first meal, and we were well taken care of for the rest of the trip. My wife and I had purchased drink cards before the cruise. These are called X1 and you need to phone Costa directly to get these. They give you unlimited bear, pop, and a bottle of wine at supper. Also you can use it for lunch. We were 10 people at our table for supper, and by the second night all of the others were wishing they had an x1 cards no one else had heard of it.. The meals were all 7 courses. Appetizers, soup, pasta, main course, salad, cheese plate and desert. The appetizers were ok, I am not a soup eater, so for most of the meals I started with a salad. These were of normal quality, until the last couple of days. The lettuce was beginning to turn brown by then. My wife enjoyed some of the soups. The main courses were pretty to look at but the portions were small and most of the meats (steak, roast, pork, rabbit, and duck) were all tough. I had to send back a couple of them. The pastas were good as well as the cheese plates. The desserts were very ho-hum. More than once I left the table still a little hungry.
How to dress for the dinners was very confusing. There are 3 types of meals. Formal,informal and casual. This meant absolutely nothing for most of the passengers. On Celebrity formal was a tux or suit and a tie, informal was a jacket and tie, and casual was an open collared shirt. On this ship they all meant the same thing. Wear whatever you want to supper as long as it is not shorts or a t-shirt. There were jeans at formal night and hardly a tie in sight.The majority seemed to be more on the dressy side (what you would wear to a wedding) The daily information sheet (today Magazine) that was delivered to your cabin each night told you the dress code for the next evening meal. This obviously was only a suggested attire.
The staff knew the rules on the ship, but never enforced them...ie kids on their parent's laps in the casino, kids at the adults-only pool. The staff knew english very well , but perhaps their Italian was not good enough to discipline other people's children!
BARI.We docked around 11, and were off on the ship's tour at 12. It is a beautiful city. The tour was a great way to see a lot in a short time. I think there were 20-25 people on our tour and the guide's explanations of St. Nicholas and the castle were informative. We were happy we took the tour. We got back to the ship at 2. Very long lines to reboard, but there is a store to shop in if you don't like lines. Muster drill took a long time and the staff was not very patient. At the buffet and at the muster were the only times we noticed any pushing!!
KATAKOLON Olympia Mythology and Modernity Tour met at 8:15. 30 of us on the bus. We drove 30 min through farming areas to the site and our guide explained a lot on the way. This guide was excellent. She took a bus 4 hours from Athens to give the tour. She studied archaeology in Germany and was very informative. The site was very crowded with tourists. The stadium was impressive. Very simple and understated, quite a contrast to the recent extravaganza in Beijing. Back in Katakalon we had a little shopping time, but since it was my birthday, we sat at a portfront table and ate Greek snacks and drank ouzo. The line-up was 1.5 hours this time when we boarded the ship.
Formal night....most ladies in fancy shorter (knee length) dresses and some men in 2 piece suits. A few people in jeans though. The dining room gets very warm as the meal progresses.
IZMIR We walked off the ship at 8:30. We had hired a private guide, Yildirim, to take us around Izmir as we had been to Ephesus before. We found the guide through ALLABOUTTURKEYDOTCOM, Burak Sansel is the owner, and the guide he organized for us was wonderful. We had emailed him with the sites we wanted to see and that is what we mostly did. It cost 200 USD. There was a big national holiday, and most of the downtown traffic was rerouted for a parade. Yildirim's English was great. He has a son who lives in Canada, 100 km from us and he has visited our area. We drove along the coastline for 30 min as he told us history and answered questions. Then we went to the old elevator. We were dropped off downtown near the Konak clock Tower and did a lot of walking in the Kemeralti district (this is what we asked for). We really enjoyed the market/ bazaar. There is a very clean bathroom there. Our guide paid for us to use it, I was glad not to squat over a hole.That option is there too if you are willing! We went to the guide's favorite spot for lunch and enjoyed kebabs, kofta, salads and it was less than 10USD for all 3 of us. Next door he bought us dessert. Yum. It was fun walking with him and he explained many Turkish and Jewish customs to us. He grew up in Izmir and so did his mother. He gave tours because he loves to teach. If we go back, I would hire him again.
ISTANBUL - We docked quite early,no line ups getting off the ship. We met another guide hired through Burak's site "allaboutturkey.com". This guide's name was Bulent Aslan, and like our guide at Izmir, he was very well-travelled and spoke perfect English. Through email we decided what sites to visit in our 4 hour tour. (180 USD for 2 people) Our driver took us the scenic way on Kennedy Street around the harbor until we reached the Sultanahmet area . The views of the Sea of Marmara are nice. Bulent gave us a running commentary of sites and history as we drove. Our driver dropped us off at the Blue Mosque. After our walk through, we headed through an open park-like area that used to be full of buildings until a fire destroyed it all. As we walked, Bulent would tell us the best locations to take photos. The next site was the Haghia Sophia. Wow, we were here for a long time. There is a lot to see and a lot to learn. We had a glass of apple tea just outside the front gate. There is also a clean bathroom here at the exit with flush toilets and soft (?) tissue. Our next stop was the Basilica cistern. Then we met up with our driver and went to the Grand Bazaar. He took us to a few unique shops. He spent another hour with us here. Instead of going back to the ship. we wanted more time at the Bazaar. Bulent walked with us over to the "best" restaurant in the bazaar and we had a nice lunch. We were going to take a taxi back to the ship, but Bulent suggested we take the tram. He told us exactly where to go and which stop to get off at. The tram, which was very crowded, doubled back through the Sultanahmet area so we could see our favorite buildings one more time. We had a short walk from the tramstop back to the ship. No line-up at all to get on the ship. Again, I would recommend doing a tour in this way in Istanbul. I appreciated the fact that we could give either US dollars or euros to the guides and they would give us the Turkish lira for the stores that did not accept anything else. We did not need to change very much, but their rate was fair.
AT SEA DAY-another formal dinner. The waiters put on a good show as well.
DUBROVNIK -we took the ship's tour. The bus was full. We drove out of town a few miles first so we could get to an area where we were looking down into the harbor. We had 5 minutes to get off the bus, take our pictures and get back on. It was a little rainy and foggy, so the views were not as spectacular as they usually were. The bus dropped us off in town at the old walled city. This tour was a walking tour and some of the older folk had trouble. Our tour did not include walking on the wall "above" the city. Those who did the tour on their own really enjoyed it, but they said that they did not get much out of walking through town and through the churches as there were no signs to explain anything.Our guide spoke very good English. He had a bit of a cold and some passengers had trouble hearing him when we were in the churches. When the tour was finished we had a couple of hours to explore on our own. We had lemonade and bought a few items (excellent plum brandy).Then we could get on any Costa bus to go back to the ship. The lineup to get on the buses was very long. We walked into town a bit and looked into some other stores. When we got back, the lineup was even longer. We needed an icecream cone while we waited for the line to get shorter. The icecream store right beside the gate is great . 1 Euro for a huge scoop.The line of people waiting to take the bus back was even longer, so we decided to take a taxi. 10 Euros for 4 of us. No line up to get back on the ship today either.
VENICE- It was foggy, so we could not dock right away. We were about an hour late getting in, but it still went very smoothly. One item I must comment on is the Italian women making PILES of sandwiches during breakfast. Once they finished their meals they went back to the buffet and loaded plates with piles of meat and cheese. The plates looked like deli trays. I am not sure if they were taking sandwiches for their train rides home or what, but it was surprising to see. This was happening at a few tables.
All in all we got what we paid for. The price for this cruise was not expensive, And that is probably the reason there were so many children on board. For me a cruise is the romantic way to see the world. I like to get dressed up for supper and spend quiet time with my wife. Celebrity was just this, where Costa was a family vacation. I would probably not choose Costa again for this reason. ( this and the lack of good dinner meals). Less
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