In November 2008 my wife & I made our own way to Venice to join the Costa Serena for a cruise visiting Bari, Katakolon [for Olympia], Izmir [for Ephesus], Istanbul & Dubrovnik.
At Marco Polo airport the Costa staff were high profile & extremely helpful even though we were not using their transport. They assisted relabeling our luggage for getting it to our cabin & told us where to catch the bus to Piazza Roma & where we would find the shuttle bus that would take us to the ship.
For a couple of euros the public bus delivered us to Piazza Roma right at the link with the Costa shuttle bus. It takes around half an hour from the airport. The shuttle bus then delivered us to the port where it was a bit confusing as the signage was not particularly clear as to where to deposit the luggage. Costa staff again were helpful & once we located the spot to deliver our luggage it was effectively dealt with leaving us the rest of the day to explore Venice.
We were told it would be better to embark later as when the embarkation starts there tends to be a rush. We returned around 4pm [the ship sailed at 6pm] & embarked without any hassle. The large hall had various stands offering opportunities to purchase various packages....... wine, water, excursions, etc. We purchased a wine package on the assurance that we could swap the red wines for white as my wife is unable to drink red wine. However, we were not informed that at the table you can purchase carafes of white or red wine for around 8 euros. Still the wine & water deal was not a bad one, equating to what I would have paid at a restaurant in London. The Costa brochure, & notices displayed in the hall pointed out that no food or drink could be taken aboard but this was enforced haphazardly as the couple ahead of us went aboard with the see-through plastic carrier laden with spirits, whilst later during the cruise other passengers had their Turkish Delight impounded & returned at the end of the trip!
We were left to find our own way to our cabin which we did find after a few false starts! There were lots of staff around but nobody actually took you to your cabin as has been the case on other cruise companies. A good buffet lunch was available on embarkation day!
The cabin [inside on deck 7] was perfect. Spotlessly clean, fairly spacious and more than enough cupboard space. Our stewardess, Jannet [yes it did have two "n"s] was a gem and kept our cabin marvellously clean. Towels, sheets, etc were crisp & each night she laid out a different pattern on our bed! The only downer in regard to the cabin was the TV which had quite a few channels but really only the BBC World News in English. I'm sure that this could be improved!
The ship itself was also kept spotlessly clean but the decor, especially the huge figurines were tasteless! They must have cost a bomb but they really do the ship no service. Rip them out, please! There were enough lifts & we never had to wait long. The layout of the decks prevented you walking from end to end on all decks but using the maps provided you soon got the hang of it. The daily news letter gave full details of activities & events & was delivered to out cabin nightly. All the public areas well extremely well maintained & hosted by very friendly staff. However, the absence of Officer staff was noticeable.
Entertainment was very good........knocked spots off the previous company I had cruised with. The theatre was large and we never had to struggle for a seat. Watching the daytime activities.......dancing lessons, exercises, etc did bring a smile to one's face! The bar were attractive but the prices, especially the 15% service charge did not go down well! Whilst the prices were not different from a London restaurant-bar I'm sure that a price reduction would secure increased purchases! Likewise the minimum bets in the casino for blackjack was high [5 euro minimum] & there was nobody around to give prospective punters a learning lesson. For roulette yes but for blackjack no! Lower the minimum bet......it is more expensive than Las Vegas!
The pool areas needed some attention as the staff did not enforce rules preventing young children from using some pools & the jacuzzis. Also, the temperature really needed to be turned up for the jacuzzis as they were quite cool! There were more than enough beds & towels to go around. An added feature on the open deck were blankets that one could wrap up in to keep warm when it got chilly.
We were allocated the Ceres Restaurant & we could not fault the staff at our late dinner sitting. Costa arranged it so our table of 8 were all English speakers & we all got on very well. If you wanted an extra dessert you just had to ask & you got it! The service & food was A1.........the only thing missing was a lobster dinner which seemed to have been a tradition on other cruises. The portions were not large but they didn't need to be when you are having 6 or 7 courses! They certainly were very tasty! Instead of purchasing bottle water do ask for a jug which is equally as good and free!
The buffet on Deck 9 restaurant was also very good with themed days [Mexican, Greek, etc] & there always seemed to be pizza & pasta available at all times! Free coffee & tea was also available at the buffet restaurant & it was amusing to watch people filling up flasks to take back to their cabins! Occasionally there was a slow clear-rate of soiled crockery but it was liveable!
My gripe would be with breakfast & lunch. For both we chose the restaurant to avoid a buffet scenario. For both we were not able to choose where we wanted to sit but were directed by staff to fill up tables. Service was invariably slow & the staff not as friendly as the dedicated staff at dinner! Breakfast was a mix of waiter service & buffet & very noisy. It was disappointing as had we wanted buffet we could have used the buffet restaurant on Deck 9. All the orders were served at once so I got porridge, eggs, kippers, etc all at the same time. The waiters seemed not to want to do table service and encouraged / expected you to use the buffet! Whoever is in charge here needs to address this problem as it lets the ship down! We had people going hither & thither all around us which did not do for a relaxing breakfast! Lunch was waiter service but slow & with no choice of seating. This certainly could be improved! We tolerated the photographers who appeared at dinner with various contraptions taking pictures which were not easily located in the mass of photos displayed in the photo shop & which were not cheap!
The Captain's Reception in the theatre was bit boring but the lavish distribution of free glasses of sparkling wine or fruit juice more than made up for it!
We did not purchase any of the excursions as we did them ourselves. Bari, Dubrovnik & Istanbul are easy to do by yourself. The towns are easily accessible from the dock & unless you want a speedy guided tour skip the organised excursion. At Dubrovnik the ship docked rather than the tender as per brochure, & you need to spent the 6 euros for the bus to get into the city, it is too far to walk. At Istanbul there is a tram stop fairly close to the dock which drops you right by the Blue Mosque. In Turkey you will need Turkish currency as most shops, tourist sites, cafes, etc will not accept euros or credit cards! We used an ATM to draw out Turkish lira. For the trip the fare was very cheap & the entrance token can be purchased at the tram stop but you need lira!
For Olympia & Ephesus we disembarked as early as possible & got a taxi. At both places it cost 100 euros which equated to the excursion price but it did mean that we were able to stop off as & when we pleased, were one step ahead of the large ship parties, and could spend as much time as we wanted admiring any thing we wanted to. Had we organised it better we could have got another couple to share the taxi with us & then the cost would have halved for us. Still, it was enjoyable. A tip for disembarkation: get to the place early so you get off the ship ahead of the others. Regarding the large amount of passengers aboard the embarkation, etc processes went well.
When embarking it's advisable to pack any food or drink purchases out of sight just in case the security guy impounds it to the end of the trip! And yes, in most ports you can buy water at a fraction of the price you pay on the ship! We bought ours & stored it in the mini bar so that it was nice & cold when we wanted a drink. I am sure that you could do the same with beers, juices, etc!
Being an Italian liner the announcements were first in Italian. It was bit of a bore having to wait for the English version, which did seem much shorter, but then having cruised on another Italian line it didn't bother me too much!
On the whole it was a good trip & I would recommend it to prospective travellers. Improvements in the areas suggested would make the ship ever better! Bon voyage!