- the buffet (on deck 11) is open 24 hrs and has free tea, coffee and cold water to help yourselves. (Although we did find the cold water some times luke warm, even though you were meant to be able to get ice from it too.) There is also free tea, coffee and cold water out the back of deck 11 in the 'open restaurant' at dining times.
- food quality and restaurant staff are fantastic. Food was really amazing, esp the pastas at lunchtime.
- someone asked about minimum bets on the casino, from memory there were definitely 1 euro tables minimum, but I think like most casinos the min bet varied on different tables.
- one thing I wished we had done before we went was printed some maps of the ports of call off the internet. The ship does give you a map, albeit it is so poor that it wasn't of use at all. If we had just spent some time printing off a few detailed maps with road names etc, we could have been a bit more adventurous walking round - esp so in Abu Dhabi (which is like Dubai, pretty affluent and easy to walk round) and Bahrain (which we found sandy and hustly bustly and a more traditional Arab place). Muscat is pretty small, so a map wouldn't be so needed there.
- we took local taxis in most ports I'll give you a few tips re the ports we visited. Abu Dhabi - we did a 1 hour city tour for 100 dirhams (dhs) and asked to end it at Marina Mall, a large, good modern mall. Then got taxi from the Mall back to the boat. (Loads of taxis at the Mall). Worth driving out to the new Grand Mosque (looks amazing, like the Taj Mahal). Our favorite port - nice Corniche promenade along the front if you fancy a walk. You can't walk from the port entrance and need to get a taxi to the city centre.
Bahrain - we got the Costa shuttle bus to the centre of Bahrain and had a wander round. Very old Arab feel to the city, found the souks (from the mini bus drop off head forward and to the left - down a few little alley ways, by the side of building site alleyway) worth going round the souks if you like that sort of thing. I wore a pashmina head scarf in the souks just to avoid the stares really.
Fajarah (sorry can't remember the spelling). A complete waste of a cruise stop, and everyone we spoke to agreed. We got the Costa bus to Lulu mall - which is in fact a very poor excuse of a hypermarket. The trips didn't seem to go down with passengers better. I wouldn't know what to suggest here - everything seems a long way from the port and it seemed to be an Emirate with not much to see. Maybe stay on the ship?!
Muscat, Oman - again took a 1 hour city tour for 100 dhs. Really interesting - firstly stopped at the souks, out to the Palace, then a post 5 star hotel for a look round and a stop at the museum. We squeezed a lot in to an hour. Nice port stop. There is a nice promenade on the front too, if you fancy a walk. (Don't walk to the souks from the port entrance - just too far in the heat).
In all these places don't be frightened of getting taxis - they are really a good way to see the cities. If you are a bit adventurous you can get a lot out of it. If you don't mind spending more, of course the cruise tours have advantages - ie you don't have to organize anything and it is all done for you - each to their own I guess. But we were happy with taxis. They are everywhere, esp in Dubai where you flag them down like in London. They are outside all the malls and hotels in Dubai and queue up right where the ship docks up. The one and main tip for getting taxis is make sure the driver speaks pretty good English. You can do this when you are negotiating the price. Ask him to show you on the map where he would take you on a 1 hour city tour (or 2 hours if you want) and see if it is the same places you want to visit. If he can't show you or communicate to you in good English, I would just give him a miss and walk onto the next taxi driver.
Ok, on to other tips:
- we bought a couple of large 2 litre mineral bottles of water (2.50 euros each) on the ship. Then we were reluctant to keep spending this money to buy more water, so I nipped to the gym which has a water dispenser where you can easily refill the bottles up. No one said anything. I did see others do this in the buffet which gives free water, but the dispenser is not so easy to fill up bottles from.
- X1 is only Carlsberg beer (no other beers) and only 1 choice of red or 1 choice of white wine. So if you are looking to save money and you like a drink with your lunch/dinner X1 is fab, if you are more choosey with your wine/beer you may not be happy with this. We found X1 fine for us - we ordered a last beer/wine just as leaving lunch - and took it to the pool, and the same in the evening and took our last drink to the bar we wanted to sit in after dinner. Just phone Costa Cruises directly if you want to find out more about the X1 package for your cruise - ours was around £55 per person for 8 days.
- We have done an Ocean Village cruise and it was interesting comparing the 2 - entertainment on OV is far better. The entertainment on Costa was pretty poor really - Songs from the Shows, Belly Dancing, Puppet show. No comedians on Costa, which we liked on OV.
- The checking in procedure is quite slick on Costa, yes they do take your passport and give you a copy of your photo page to use to enter the ship with your Costa Card, but that is all fine. Just remember to go to the Plaza Lounge on the last morning, to pick up your passport!
- Depending when you check in you may not get your bags until 8pm outside your room. We took one large suitcase and one smaller 'pull along one' with our day clothes in so we could just get sandals/teeshirts out before they took our bags away. Also handy in that the smaller bag would fit in the large suitcase in our cabin, and that large case could fit under the bed to save space in the cabin.
- We were on Virgin flights and got into Dubai around 10am and we had a 'service room' for the first day, before getting our proper cabin at 8pm. That was a godsend for a little sleep after a night flight. Not sure why we got this cabin, if it was a Virgin thing or what, but it was good.
-You get your cabin on the last day until 4.30pm as Kevsgirl says, and you are allowed to stay on the ship until 10.30pm. We decided to postpone the flight home by 4 days and booked into a Dubai hotel so checked into the hotel, then came back to the ship for free dinner/drinks on the last night - only cost was a taxi there and back!
- As to currency to take - Dirhams is needed for the UAE states, and in Muscat and Bahrain they all seemed happy to trade in Dollars. (Our rep said Euros would be OK too, but I'm not so sure - Dollars seems the currency which was sought after).
- there are 2 'posh' dinners. The first was not the day we arrived but the next day. Really don't worry about what you wear for this - my husband wore a suit and tie but it was a complete mix. He wished he had worn a modern stripey shirt/cufflinks with no tie and trousers, rather than his work suit. As long as you don't have jeans on, you'll be fine. Lots of women just wore black trousers and a pretty top and fitted fine. Blokes tended to wear suits with ties or DJs, or chinos with nice shirts was absolutely fine. - we felt that the Reception staff were really rude (one elderly couple only had taken Nationwide Debit cards, no Credit cards - they didn't realize a Costa didn't accept Debit cards for payment at the end of your holiday - and the Reception staff were so rude to this poor elderly couple who didn't understand the difference between Debit/Credit cards).
- we took water and cans of coke into the ship after each port. Although you put your bags thru scanners, no one said anything. We did it by mistake the first time and realized we had done it, and then we thought we could keep doing it and the worst that could happen is they take our water/soft drinks away.
But I don't want to put anyone off a Costa cruise - overall we would definitely do it again - we just wished we had known the tips above before hand. Yes the service charge is a lot, but you know that when you book.