After having an amazing time on the NCL Pride of Aloha in Hawaii three years ago, we wanted to take our "little ones" on a cruise. Currently living in Poland, we looked for a cruise leaving north of Italy so we could drive to it. I originally wanted to take a Royal Caribbean Cruise leaving from Venice, but was convinced by my travel agent that I'd have more "fun" on this one... I should have listened to my instincts.
We booked a suite with a balcony for three of us and an inside state room for our two older daughters. The booking all went very well and we happily printed our luggage tickets that we received by email and headed off to our cruise.
We are generally easy to please and this is my first "negative" review of a trip... ever. I am going to try to give as balanced a review of our time on board as I can.
COSTA PACIFICA - A "BIG BUS", NOT REALLY A CRUISE SHIP
This is a 3000 member ship, with "common areas" catering to far less. We felt that this ship is more made for people wanting to take a "tour" everyday and party all night, than for people wanting to enjoy a cruise on board. When "all members" are on board, the common areas are packed, there is not enough sitting space in buffet areas, service is slow, the gym was packed and the three ridiculously small pools - I cannot call them "swimming" pools - are crammed with people. We were more looking at a fun on-board experience than taking a tour bus. As this was a brand new ship, unfortunately we didn't have any reviews to read when we booked. So our advice is: if you are looking at taking excursions at every port, have "room service" for breakfast, don't use the pools or common areas much, and like slot machines, then you will probably love this cruise. If you are looking for a "fun" on-board experience with great service, this is not the ship.
THE WHOLE BOARDING EXPERIENCE SUCKS AND "PRIORITY" CERTAINLY HAS A DIFFERENT MEANING ON COSTA
Upon arrival at the parking lot we had to wait 30 mins in the car to unload our luggage because they only had one unloading area with a lot of cars coming in (there were two ships leaving on that day). We where given a ticket with a number and told to go to the "tent over there" (the main terminal was in use for the other ship). When we arrived, there where hundreds of people piled up waiting for their "number" to be called. Approx 50 people at a time had the same number and they all pounded on the entrance pushing each other like their life depended on it. There where no drinks offered, no welcoming staff, it was all very administrative and not very nice. They did however get everyone's picture taken... they do not miss any "sale" opportunity... Queue again for ID photos and security checks. Having booked a Suite, we had theoretically priority luggage delivery. Our luggage arrived 4 hours later... so much for Priority.
On NCL, same size ship, flawless check-in, friendly staff, flowers and drinks handed out while you where waiting, no one pushing... very different feel to the start of the cruise.
SUITE - VERY COMFORTABLE AND FRIENDLY HOTEL STAFF
This was the highlight of our stay. The room staff (all Filipinos) where adorable and very present. When we needed anything, we got it fast and with a smile. Each time we came back to our room, it was spotless. Breakfast served in the room was always on time and we received what we had ordered. The beds were very comfortable. From this perspective, the service was impeccable.
FOOD - RESTAURANT-OK - BUFFET-AVOID CROWDS - ROOM SERVICE-GOOD
This is one of the "big bus" aspects of the ship. The buffet areas at peak times were really awful. Luckily for us, we weren't booked on excursions every day - and we had room service for breakfast - so we went "out of hours", but the only times we did, it was packed with pushy and rude passengers all trying to get to their food as fast as possible. We think this is due to the manner in which the buffets are laid out in a long line, instead of the modern layouts with different areas dedicated to different types of food. Then, there weren't enough seats and many tables were left with food on them as there wasn't enough staff to clear the tables at sufficient pace. There was no food variety: salads, pizza, pasta.
The evening meals where very good in quality and the service by two Filipino waiters really friendly. They have a "kids" menu and gave pencils for the little ones to keep busy, which was useful because the service was a little slow most evenings, between 1:20 - 1:40... which is long with a 4 and 7 year old. Once again, nothing really innovative: standard classical European food (except for 2 Asian options across the whole week), pretty tasteless vegetarian food.
Room service was impeccable. They have a good selection for breakfast and a "round the clock" service with a small menu.
KIDS CLUB - GOOD AND FLEXIBLE
Our children, 4, 7 and 12 attended the club. My 12 year old stayed the first day, but it was too "babyish" for her. The Teen club was intimidating because there where mainly older teens. A "Tween" program would have been a good thing.
For the younger ones, it was a good service, with a different theme every day and dances, meals, games... They had a good time and the ladies where very dynamic and spoke Italian, English and French. The kids could attend daily from 9-12, 15-18 and 21-23:30 which allowed us some free time to practice some sport, go to the spa and in the evening play a little blackjack.
The only day we took an excursion, the children could stay all day at the club, which was a real plus since they where too small for the excursion.
SPA AND GYM - GOOD SERVICE, NICE AREA, A LITTLE PUSHY ON THE SALES
We made extensive use of the gym and spa. We went out of the "crowded" times. The staff was really friendly and helpful and the treatments where of very good quality. The area was peaceful and relaxing. I know this is standard practice, but every treatment was linked with an attempt to sell products and other services. When I'm on holiday, I don't like to be "sold to" all the time. Cost was high - do expect a 1000 EUR bill for a spa pass and a couple of treatments for 2 adults.
MUSIC - THE GOOD AND THE ANNOYING - GOOD RECORDING STUDIO
It's "the ship of music" and most of the music played on board was not my style, but to be fair to Costa, it is a huge bet to achieve something that will please the majority. On the other hand, if you can't stand the "um-pah-pah German and Italian folk music, just don't board this ship. There where several styles of music and we really enjoyed the chocolate bar guitarist who was the best musician in our taste. All the bars had live musicians and in general the quality of their playing was good, but none were excellent. The only really annoying part was the same single track being played over and over again in the deck corridor, and the ever-present Italian folk songs.
My daughter tried out the music studio and it was a great experience for her. The engineer was really nice and helpful and the resulted recording was very flattering :) If you like to sing, I would recommend you try this for fun.
A "GREEN" SHIP - MAYBE... BUT...
Another argument that made me tend towards Costa was their information about being the first "green" cruise company. Some of it is not visible to passengers (water heating, recycling, etc...) and they do have "recycling" stations all over the ship with plastic, paper, metal and "all the rest". Once a week, they have a WWF day in the kids club. They did announce at the beginning not to throw anything over bord too. But they could be doing so much more. Lighting is still mainly non economical, all soft drinks are served in cans (when has that been an ecological mean of packaging?), there is not a trace of organic food on board, they print over 100'000 pages each week (very ecological, isn't it?) and joke about having to change the printers every 4 months... and even though I never threw a towel on the floor and hung it back every time, when I came back to my room, it had been replaced by a new/clean one... theory is one thing... practice is another.
What we did enjoy on board was the Casino, since most Europeans don't gamble, it was easy to find a place to sit and play and we met some nice people there. The F1 racing simulator and the Recording Studio are fun. The slide was a big hit with the little ones too.
VIBRATING AND WOBBLING SHIP
We are not experienced cruisers, but it seemed that the boat vibrated much more that the NCL ship, even though the sea was a lot calmer. Every wave that hit the bow could be felt quite strongly in our cabin. Each maneuver in the ports, especially slowing down and turning, resulted in severe shakes and very loud noises. We also felt that the ship was quite "wobbly" and didn't feel very "solid". I want to stress that the sea was super calm all week and this is why we were very surprised by these behaviors and did not find it very reassuring.
DISEMBARKATION - RUDE AND UNHELPFUL ITALIAN STAFF
The last night we received a letter in our cabin telling us we had priority disembarkation and had to go to the restaurant at 8:30. No mention was made about where to leave the luggage in that letter, or in any of the written communications we got (including the cabin guide). Having with us a professional-grade guitar, two laptops, professional photography material in addition to all our luggage (value of over 20K$), we left our luggage in the cabin. We waited 30 mins in the restaurant for our names to be called and after disembarking waited for another 40 minutes outside. Our luggage didn't arrive. The ladies on the parking lot couldn't care less and were rather rude, complaining about us in Italian (expecting us not to understand...). Only when my husband got upset with them, they called in and told me to find Lara in the luggage area. When I found Lara, I explained the case and she said "it's your fault, you shouldn't leave the luggage in the cabin". I tried to explain why we had and asked her to call in the ship to arrange pick-up but she said that since we had "messed up" I had to go back on board and fetch my luggage myself. She was extremely rude and not helpful at all. Back on board, the lady at the front desk was lovely and our luggage was delivered to our car within 10 minutes flat. Unfortunately, this left us with a really unpleasant memory to finish this experience that was already mitigated.
ALL IN ALL
We wanted a relaxing holiday with time to ourselves and time with the kids. We left relaxed - but not as much as we could have been. The kids had a good time and we ate well, but we didn't have any sparkles in our eyes. We also felt that the staff wasn't really happy on board, that Costa tries to get a cent wherever it can and that customer service and environmental protection are more of a sales pitch than a worldly reality. All in all, it wasn't a bad cruise, but it wasn't a very good one either. We will certainly not cruise Costa again.