We are in our 40's and this was our 5th cruise, but first with Costa. We live in Hong Kong and were seeking to escape Chinese New Year, however we failed in this endeavor as it followed us, along with what felt like half the citizens of China, onto the boat....We did not have very high expectations based on previous reviews, but this was worse than we expected. However, the ports of call were terrific - pity about the rest. As we live in HK we had no flights nor hotels etc and cannot comment on this aspect.
Short queues but refused to allow us back into Hong Kong after embarkation. Apparently because there were "a lot of PRC residents coming on the cruise and they are not allowed back into HK". This was of course incredibly irritating because we arrived at the ship around 2pm for a 7pm sailing, expecting to be able to eat lunch, check out the cabin and then go back ashore for a spot of shopping and sightseeing. However this was not allowed - either shop (with all our hand luggage) before you board or not at all!
Our cruise tickets did not even specify the address on them - which meant that we could not direct our taxi to the port and, given that there are over 20 ports/docks/marinas in Hong Kong were lucky even to get close (we had to walk the final km). Quite ridiculous.
This cruise took place over Chinese New Year. Unbeknown to us, it was marketed in the China market and was 98% Chinese passengers (out of 950 passengers, 7 were Australian, 2 were American and 6 were French. The rest were some variety of Chinese... Which meant that all the announcements were in Chinese, the food was set up to appeal to a Chinese audience, all the events/activities etc were all geared up for the Chinese. Although most of the crew was either Italian or a mix of Asian countries and spoke English, everything else was geared up for the Chinese.
The cabins on this ship are quite simply, horrible. The ratio of inside cabins is very large and the size of these inside cabins is tiny. We had booked a "double". This turned out to have two single beds. Usually not a problem on such ships, however, due to the size of the room, there was not actually enough room to put the beds together and still have room for the bedside table. In order to get a double bed, they had to cut the wires to the bedside table and remove it entirely - thus depriving us of 50% of the surface space in the room. Still, there was no room to walk around the bed - although we had maybe 6 - 8 inches on either side of the bed, it was jammed up against a desk on one side and a fridge on the other, meaning that in order to get to the side of the bed one had to climb over the bed.
The bathroom in the cabin is small but functional. The shower dispensed hot water. There is no shampoo or conditioner or any other amenity however - except soap and toilet paper. There are no facecloths and the towels are not changed except if we specifically asked.
The room (now) has one drawer and three narrow wardrobes - so while there is plenty of hanging space there is no space for any "drawer" type items.
Information (or rather, misinformation)
The ships information office is unfortunately mis-named. It serves no information whatsoever.
For example, simple questions like "We heard an announcement for a briefing on life onboard at 7:30pm announced over the loud speaker but did not catch where it was being held, can you tell us please?" were met with disbelief. No, there was no such announcement. (huh?) No idea where it is being held.
We also asked (because we had a suspicion about this) "Is it a public holiday in Vietnam today?". No idea. We asked the tour office this question too - they rang around and informed us that, no, it was not a public holiday today... WRONG!
The restaurant is pleasant (made less so on our particular cruise by the 98% of Chinese passengers who have a different view of dining to westerners). The food was OK most of the time, however the choices were incredibly limited - one or two starters, one or two main courses, mostly all Chinese food for the Chinese passengers on board.
The buffet upstairs is a scrum - very small, very crowed with very indifferent food.
Both the buffet and the main restaurant appeared to serve exactly the same food, so there was no way to increase the (low level) of choice.
The Pizza Restaurant charges an additional sum of USD2.50 per pizza, and we had a voucher for a free pizza, however when we tried to redeem it we discovered that the pizza restaurant was not open at lunchtime or during even mealtime - just for a few hours in the afternoon and late evening!
Service in restaurant
Good service in restaurant - waiters were very apologetic about the food and were usually quick and efficient.
Service in cabin
The cabin steward was OK - he did not change towels until asked but once we sorted out the procedures he was OK. Did not change the battery on the smoke detector (it was beeping) for about 24 hours after we pointed it out. But on balance, he was OK.
Prices (otherwise known as "on board rip offs")
Bus into town at Da Nang - $7 Pizza $2.50 Sunblock $21 Diet Coke $3.50 a can
The website clearly indicated that "Far East cruises on the Costa Allegra" would add a sum of USD6 per person per day for gratuities. It also indicated that this was able to be varied if required by going to the Service Desk. However, we were charged USD8 per person per day and when I went to the Service Desk to point out this inconsistency they said that "Hong Kong is not in the Far East" and that no changes could be made. After considerable argument with the young Chinese lad on the desk, I eventually got to speak to a senior (Italian) member of staff who facilitated a reduction in fees (which we then distributed directly to the staff who had served us, since these were the only staff on board who deserved the money!).
The Costa Allegra is a small ship and there are no sports facilities on board other than the very small and poorly equipped gym. There is not even shuffleboard on the deck which is a great shame. The hot-tubs did not have hot water in them!
Entertainment was generally good. There were some good singers in the bar and some good songs in the shows. The "Instant Fashion" show was particularly fascinating. There was also a "topless show" run late at night every night for an addition fee of USD22 - which we did not experience but given the number of children on the boat seemed like an odd form of entertainment! However, most of the activities during the day were inapplicable as they were run in Chinese. However, the Cruise Director Ciro did try very hard to ensure that the dozen or so non-Chinese speaking passengers got something to do - he arranged a tour of the bridge, for example, and Chinese lessons.
Smooth but we did not use the luggage service.
Ports (Da Nang and Halong Bay)
Da Nang is not interesting - you need to go down to Hoi An for the good stuff which is 30km away. Very easy to get ripped off by local taxis etc on the dock but if you just walk outside the port area then normal rates can be achieved. Around USD20 each way to Hoi An is a fair rate. The tours were overpriced (but then you expect that) - it was pretty easy to hire a car plus driver for the day for around USD50-60 and see all the sights on the tour at your own pace. Hoi An was great - lovely old buildings, interesting craft workshops, cycle rickshaws and boat trips, bikes for rent, good cafes and shops etc. Easy to do on your own and plenty to keep busy.
Halong Bay is terrific. However the town is nothing - a small touristy market and a couple of minor temples is all. The good stuff is all in the Bay - you need to get on a boat. We got a group of 6 together and hired a boat that could have sat about 30-40 people, so it was GREAT, worked out at USD25 each ( again cheaper than exactly the same tour, on a more crowded boat, offered by Costa). Toured around the lovely islands, stopped on a floating village to buy fish which the boat crew cooked for lunch! Really interesting.