I decided to put in my 2 cents to help the English speaking people who may want to join the Costa Cruise. Before booking this cruise, I read many horror stories about this Italian cruise line but decided to come anyway to see what it was really like.
My mom and I took this 11 day Costa Concordia Cruise to the Eastern Mediterranean which started on January 20th, 2009. We took a train from Rome Termini (cost was 4 euro vs around 120 euro if you take the taxi) to Civitavechia (last stop). The train ride was about an hour and someone came to check out ticket 2 stops before arrival. We asked how much longer it would take to arrive but he didn't speak English. Luckily, there was a very friendly man sitting next to us who translated and gave us information on what to do later after we get off the train. We were pretty lucky because he turned out to be the Maitre d' for the restaurant on the cruise.
Upon arrival, simply exit the terminal and turn right and walk toward the port where there is a McDonald. This is a short 2 minute walk and you will see a free shuttle bus that will take you to the ship. The check in time is from 1 pm to 6 pm so if you arrive around 1-3 pm, you should see lots of people walking toward the ship with no baggage....these are the crew.....so just follow the crowd.
After the free shuttle arrived at the check in point, we were greeted with English speaking porter who said our luggages would be taken to our room since we have a tag on it already. Then another English speaking host greeted us and gave us a embarkation number. We were also instructed if we wanted, we could register our credit card number first while we wait for the expenses to come. The wait was not long and before we knew it, we were already on board. The keys and information are all laid out on the bed and the luggages were already there.
So far, I thought everything was very efficient. All the crew I met spoke English and were friendly to very friendly. By the way, I am Chinese-American. The ship is relatively new. The Italians do smoke much more than us in America but there are non-smoking areas. Most smoked around the main lobby/piano bar area. If you avoid going over there, you should be fine.
Since my mom spoke little English, we were pleased to find that there was a Chinese representative on board who greeted us and gave us an orientation. There is also an English speaking rep who does the same thing. They are there to help with all your questions and problems. The ship even had a Chinese menu to my surprise. Be sure to ask for that if you don't want pasta every day. I am not sure if they had Chinese food on board because it was around Chinese new year time when we traveled. But it doesn't hurt to ask if you want something different than pasta each day. For the first day, I though the service was excellent for a cruise line that holds more than 3000 passengers who spoke a variety of different languages Italians, French, German, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, and so on and on but the majority I think were still Italians.) I say this because I am in the customer service industry I can only imagine how service can be poor if the system is bad. We were greeted with a smile and directions in English whenever we were lost. The Maitre d' was happy to change sitting time for us and when the ship was rocky, he told us we could get sea-sick pills at the guest service but instead delivered it to us personally while we had dinner. The chef was thoughtful enough to give us sampler portions of each item on the Chinese menu when we couldn't decide what to eat. What was most impressive was that these were done without being requested. That's very good customers service in my opinion.
Internet: It cost 50 cents in Euro for each minute. If you are in no hurry, there are Internet cafes near each port that you can use for a lot less $. Excursion office: They have all sorts of answers but are only interested in selling you the excursions. They will highly discourage you to go on your own so if you are planning to not take the excursions, it's better to bring guide books or you will waste a lot of time asking for information and get answers that may be frustration (in a language you don't understand, or various conflicting answers). The excursions we took ranged from 50 euros to 120 euros. The English guides were all very informative. And as a tip, if you book any excursions with Costa, you want to arrive at least 15-20 minutes earlier than their meeting time because that's when they pass out stickers to let you know what bus you will be on. The earlier you get the ticket, the faster you go to the sites to avoid the crowds. Also, if you want a front seat of the bus, you want to go on earlier too... We cruised in January and both the tours we took the guide said the season was slow but it felt like there were a lot of tourists already. I can't imagine what's it's like during the summer...
Visa: If you are a US citizen, you don't need to apply for a visa ahead of time. They will do it for you on board.
Samsara spa: The spa is very new, clean and nice. You will find a steam room, sauna, Jacuzzi and a few lounges with excellent view as they are situated in the front of the ship. The cost of a 1 day pass to access the spa facility is 35 euros. We went for the Cruise pass, which included unlimited access during the entire cruise and a free 50 minute massage.
Cashier, Info: The section of the ship is the worse. They are understaffed for the number of people lining up to ask questions. You will also see Italians cut in front of the line to ask questions. In such cases, just inform them to not do that.
Stops: Savona: The first stop is a town called Savona. The excursions included a trip to Monaco, Savona city tour and the Aquarium. We decided to explore the city on our own since the ship is within 5 minutes walking distance from the port. It's a very small town. We finished touring in about 2 hours by foot. Katakolon: We took an excursion to Olympia. We chose the one with the visit to Olympia, taste of local Greek wine, food, dance and music. I think the excursion was around 70 euros. The only worthwhile part of the excursion was the explanation of Olympia. If you have a guide book, you can go on your own. There were plenty of people who you will meet on the ship in which you can share taxi. The food, wine, dance and music were nice but really wasn't worth the extra money. Perias: We were on our own today. I figured Athens was big enough the metro and bus system would be easy enough to navigate. I heard from people who work on the cruise ship that to take the metro to the city center is 1 euro and to take a taxi is 5 euros. But when we got off, the official guide posted was around 20 euros to Acropolis. Then we we exited, the taxi drivers gave estimates that ranged from 80 to 120 euros for a 3 hour tour to and around acropolis. They kept saying the official posted rate is for one way and for per person.
So, we decided to take the metro, which was not really very close to the port. Here is how to go. To take the metro, exit the ship and turn left on the downward sloping main road. Keep going left and you will see a Hertz car rental. Keep going and you will see a McDonald. From there, you are about ½ a kilo from the metro station (from the port to the metro about 1.5 kilos). The universal "M" that you commonly see in all the cities around the world is not posted on the metro closest to the port. The metro station is in a building next to a white bridge. When you see the bridge, just ask the local people and they will tell you where the entrance is.
From the port, you want to take line 1 to Acropolis and exit on Monstraniki (I forgot the spelling) but it's about 7 stops away. What ended up happening was the metro stopped around the 4th stop and everyone got out. We sat in there until someone told us to go out and take the bus because the metro on the weekends are under construction. I don't know how long that will be so before you hop on, ask the cashier. Later on we found out there is a bus that goes straight from the port to Acropolis that takes about 50 minutes and costs around 50 cents in euro. As the information booth on the port before you leave.
We finished touring the Acropolis around 1 pm and shared a taxi with 2 other Americans we met to go to Cape Sounion to see the Temple of Poseidon. In all honesty, if you have driven down the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles, or have been to the Caribbean, you would not really find Cape Sounion impressive. I would have skipped it if I had known. The temple looked a lot like what you would see in the Acropolis so it's really not necessary to make that trip. It took 1.5 hours to get there, with traffic and then another 1.5 hours back.
Izmir: Today we took the Ephesus tour only because the Chinese guide suggested we do half a day to Ephesus and spend the afternoon at the local bazaar that is right next to the port. Ephesus is about 40 minutes away and it's worth the trip. What I found most interesting was the whole city was made of marble. They had a men's sports club/bathroom area that is so well preserved that you can see the marble toilet and the ancient bidet and a fountain inside that used to have frogs singing so it's not embarrassing when you make noises. What was also funny was that the guide said that since all the toilets were made of marble, the rich used to have their slaves sit on it first for a while to warm it up before they use the facility. That was very interesting. I think the toilets in Japan solved that problem by having washlets that warm up today. Another interesting site was the library and how grand it was. There is a tunnel from the library that leads you to another place. To not ruin the surprise for you, I will not tell you where it goes and let you find out on your own while you go to this tour. If your guide doesn't mention it , make sure you ask.
Finally, I was looking forward to seeing the bazaar and having Turkish people sell things to me because I wanted to compare how aggressive as merchants they were compared to the Chinese when you go to China. (if you have been, you know what I mean, my friend!) But unfortunately to find out, on Sundays, the Bazaar is closed at Izmir. So before you plan your day and you know you are arriving on a Sunday, ask around on the ship to make sure the bazaar is open or not to decide where to go because there is not that much to see around shopping streets near the port for the whole day. Rhodes: The old town is literally 5 minutes walk as you depart the ship. It's quite nice. After touring the town, we rented a car (from 11 am so the car was half price,40 euros for half a day). The rental car agency is right outside the ship. You can't miss it. I am glad we rented it otherwise we wouldn't have seen Lindos. The coastline is spectacular. The beach is very much like the Caribbean but the color is bluish instead of greenish. And also, the houses are white, typical of what you would see in Greek postcards. Lindos is worth the visit if you are coming to Greece for the first time and expect to see scenes of white houses with the blue ocean like those seen in Santorini. Limassol: We didn't join any excursion but bought a round trip shuttle bus ticket from the excursion office for 6 euros. There is not much here to see and you have to get back by 1 pm.
Alexandria: I was looking forward to the Pyramids the most on this trip. We signed up for the Pyramids and Nile excursion. Boy was I shocked at how poor Alexandria and Cairo were. Buildings were unfinished, streets were dirty and people were poor. The tour guide kept saying we were passing through poor areas but it seemed to look like that all throughout the 2.5 to 3 hour trip from Alexandria to Cairo. Anyhow, be prepared for aggressive merchants selling you anything from postcards to taking your photo and charging you or taking a photo with you and charging you. Again, I thought the Turks were sort of bad already compared to the Chinese but I have to say the Egyptians win in their persistence to sell. I don't blame them. If that was the only way I could make a living, I would probably do the same. I prepared a lot of one dollar bills just to give away to poor kids there. Kids were selling things too. I went to the less aggressive ones (those with no business and still a lot of inventory on hand and bought things from them and then give the merchandise back to them to sell later.) I think it's useful to prepare a lot of $1 bills because everything is very cheap. $20 will is way too big. $1 will buy you 20 postcards already. The wooden sculpture of a cat or Pharaoh goes as low as $2 each. They were nice ones too. Anyway, if you are sick of people offering to sell you things, you can just ignore them and pretend you don't understand since there are so many nationalities there. Just saying no nicely won't work. The pyramids were a spectacular site. What was interesting was that there were no toilets next to the pyramids and the Sphinx. So be prepared to hold it or go in the bus you came in with. The tour guide highly discourages you to go into the pyramids although you could. She said there is nothing to see but you could if you wanted to. So I asked her where the entrance is when we arrived at the pyramids and she told me " you should have told me earlier that you wanted to go in, I had to buy tickets at the entrance." I wasn't very happy with that answer. She didn't say we had to tell her if we wanted to go when she announced the possibility of going in. Why did she announce it anyway if she was going to tell me it's too late. Anyhow, just so you know, if you want to go in, ask your tour guide ahead of time so you don't screwed like me. The Nile ride was OK. A river is a river and there is not much difference between the Nile and the others. However, the Egyptian buffet was delicious. Some people thought that was the best meal of the entire trip...compared to Costa's meals and I agree. There was a belly dancer along with another folk dance performance. The food and the show here were definitely better than that in Olympia. Finally, we went to see the Mosque. That was nice as well. Conclusion: Overall, the Costa cruise is better than my expectations. Don't expect the type of Americanized service you are used to at home because you are not a home. There is a big mix of culture and what's normal to them in handling situations may not be how it is to you. Here is my summary on each department: The cabin steward, waiters and service people were ALL very nice, polite and friendly. The excursion office people were also pleasant because they wanted to sell you the excursions but didn't want to offer you more information than necessary, which is not much at all if you want to go on your own. The cashier people were the worse. They didn't have much smile on their face and answered questions reluctantly. The excursions...well, if I had to do it again, the only one I would have taken is the one in Egypt since that country is too hard to navigate on your own because everything is in Arabic, transportation seemed difficult and it doesn't seem like you can get by with English. If you are adventurous, travels frequently and don't mind asking a lot of questions to strangers until you get the right answer, then you can definitely save a bunch of money going on your won. The spa....I would not join the entire trip spa deal for 199 euro again because there were at least 4 days out of the trip that the sea was too rough and it was not relaxing to rest in the Jacuzzi when there were waves splashing. I didn't feel I got my money worthwhile. The ship: lots of smokers. There are non-smoking areas though.