On receiving our paperwork from Costa and noting the price of the port tours I decided to see if there were any reviews of cruises on the web as I wanted to find out if anybody had written anything regarding these tours as they were particularly costly when converted from Euros to Aussie Dollars. Costa were emphasising that there was limited space available on these tours and they could be pre-booked before departing and I was undecided which way to go (these shore tours were still available up to 24 hours before departure when we were on board, so don't let this threaten you into locking yourself in as they can't be cancelled once booked).
On accessing a 'cruise review' website via www.tripadviser.com I was very disappointed, and quite honestly alarmed at the bad reviews this ship had received - from safety of the ship, it's performance in bad weather, food, accommodation and ship personnel - it was starting to sound like the 'holiday from hell' and had I read these reviews prior to booking would not have done so.
I spoke to our travel agent at Flight Centre and she dutifully checked out what she could about the ship and said there did not seem to be anything really bad to report, and said that it was a 3 star cruise and provided we only had 3 star expectations we should not be disappointed.
Our price of $3379.00 per person included Economy Flights to Singapore on Qantas, Transfer from airport to overnight accommodation in a Superior Double at the Furama Riverfront Hotel, transfer to the ship, accommodation in an inside cabin on Level 4 (Lautrec Deck), all meals, onboard gratuities, port taxes and onboard entertainment, transfer back to Furama hotel for overnight accommodation at duration of cruise and transfer to airport for flight home.
My main concern was regarding safety as there were frightening accounts as to how the ship had recently performed in a typhoon in September - not well!
Fingers crossed for smooth seas we embarked on our journey. Flight to Singapore was very good, the airport transfer met us on arrival, overnight accommodation satisfactory, pickup and transfer to terminal as arranged. Boarding of ship was well organised and photographer there to record everyone's boarding. Staff greeted us on boarding of ship and our luggage arrived within half an hour of boarding. Our cabin was only small (two single beds) but a reasonable amount of wardrobe space for two people - we expected no more. Beds were very comfortable.
We did find as had been reported on a number of the reviews that the walls between the cabins were very thin and that we could hear the people next door talking very easily (as this was in Italian we didn't understand any of it and also flushing of toilet was easily heard). This did not seem to be a problem on the outside cabins as we asked others who were in them. Luckily for us we had a walkway on the other side so only had one lot of noise coming through.
Our cabin steward was Indian and kept our cabin beautifully clean, fresh towels twice a day and he always had a smile for us.
Our first meal on the ship was in the casual eating area of the Yacht Club - we hadn't had time for any lunch before boarding but the Yacht Club was open for light snacks - a wide selection of salads, cold meats, cheeses, pasta, fruit.
We had also purchased a 'drinks package' for my husband before leaving which we had been alerted to in one of the reviews. This was an X1 package costing $259 (AUS) and comprised of tap beer, house wine and bottled water during the course of lunch and dinner. There was no mention of this in any of the advertising material, on Costa website and our travel agent had to check it out for us as she knew nothing about it. This package could only be purchased up to about 5 days prior to boarding and was a very good investment as drinks are particularly expensive when converted from Euros to Aussie Dollars. A number of other drinks packages were available on board but none were as good value as the X1 if you are a moderate drinker who likes a drink at lunch and dinner. White wine was dry and light - wouldn't suit someone who likes a sweeter one. Red was quite light, not heavy.
They also had 'happy hour' on the ship between 11.00-12 noon and 5.00-7.00 pm when you got two drinks for the price of one, which were both served at the same time and had to be the same drink. There was also a 'cocktail of the day' which was 5 Euro as against the 6-7 Euro normally. A lot of people took advantage of this and you were allowed to take your unfinished happy hour drinks down to dinner with you.
At dinner my husband usually had a couple of beers and they always gave us a bottle of wine of which I would have two glasses and a bottle of water and then we could take the wine with us from the restaurant up to the Lounge to finish off, and the water back to our cabin as the water from the bathroom was definitely not drinkable.
The water was also unsuitable for washing white clothing - my white flannel was a horrible colour after 2 weeks but luckily we had also read this in a review so knew to take coloured underwear and keep other washing till we reached home. There are no facilities for personal washing or ironing on the ship and the laundry service is once again very expensive for us Aussies. I did mention that an ironing room would be a big plus for customers on the comments sheet we were given at the end of the trip.
For dinner we always elected to go to the Montmartre Restaurant which had two sittings - 6.00 pm or 8.30 pm. We were given the 6.00 pm sitting and initially I thought this was good as 8.30 pm seemed quite late, but by the end of the trip I had changed my mind. We often didn't get back on board from port until around 6.00 pm and it was a mad dash then to shower, change and be seated for dinner, although they were quite flexible and sometimes we didn't make it till 6.30 pm. The first sitting was usually finished by 8.00pm and then the entertainment would begin approximately 9.00 pm so we had an hour to fill in - however if you were on the late sitting the entertainment started about 7.00 pm and you went straight to dinner afterwards at 8.30 pm, giving you time for 'happy hour' from 5 to 7, and more time when we were in port before having to go to dinner.
As for the food, we had no complaints, it was excellent - not 5 star but I would consider 4 star - there was an enormous selection from entrees, soups, pasta, main course (meat, fish, vegetarian, poultry, game), salads, cheeses, fruits and desserts - probably about 5 or more of each, plus bread rolls and bread sticks. The service was impeccable, our waiter's terrific, very professional and very friendly - our waiter was training a new Indian waiter and whilst on the first night he was a little confused, by the end of the two weeks he was very professional and knew what we wanted in the case of drinks before we even asked. Whilst we went to this sit down dinner every night a lot of people opted for the more casual dining of the Yacht Club which was buffet - self serve and a more casual approach to dress. There was also a Pizzeria which was open for four different types of Pizza from 5-7 pm. Whilst we didn't partake ourselves there was food available till the early hours of the morning for those who stayed up partying - with a midnight buffet opening at 11.30 pm.
We did hear people whingeing about the food - but some people would whine about anything that was different to what they are used to - as for us we loved it.
Dress for the Montmartre Restaurant was informal but smart, no shorts, t-shirts etc., and for the Gala Dinners (3 in all) - Formal. We were very surprised at how many of the gentlemen on board had dinner suits and dinner jackets (obviously itinerant cruisers!) and the women very stylish, formal wear - but my husband only had dress pants, a shirt and tie with him and I wore something more dressy than usual, skirt or pants and nightwear top - but we certainly weren't the only ones and didn't feel uncomfortable or conspicuous because we weren't in evening wear - I think the Brits and Europeans are a bit more formal than the Aussies and New Zealanders on holidays.
Entertainment on board was very diverse, we went to most of the shows in the Follies Bergere Ballroom which were put on by the Entertainment Crew and thought them very good - not fantastic, although there were one or two that were, but very enjoyable and they worked very hard considering they did two shows a night within about a hour and a half of one another. In between the shows they had a 2 piece band and singer who were quite good and you could get up and have a dance if you wished. They also had a piano player and guitar player in the Flamenco Lounge who played easy listening music that was nice to sit and listen to after dinner before the show started. There was also a woman singer in the main bar, the Murana Bar, where 'happy hour' was held and it seemed to be the main place to congregate before and after dinner if you were looking for something more upbeat and lively.
During the day they had activities organised hourly for those who wished to participate - from art and craft, trivia quizzes, bridge games, learn to dance classes, language classes as well as talks about the ports we were going to stop at. Although there weren't many children on board they had a children's room and on looking in a few times they seemed to be having lots of fun with the crew assigned to that area.
I was a little surprised at the small size of the pools on board - one large, but one could hardly call it that and three tiny ones and a couple of spas - there were plenty of deck chairs but not a lot of places to be in the shade for those of us who don't wish to risk sunburn and skin cancer - not so the Europeans - they laid out there in the full sun, faces up to the sun with no hats and skin that looked like shoe leather, getting darker by the minute - obviously the message hasn't got through to them yet!
We had four days in all that were spent at sea, and thankfully the sea was very calm and my fears about the ship were not realised, but we did hear some awful stories of when they were in the typhoon and even the crew were sick - it is not a big ship, the smallest in the Costa fleet, only 28,000 tons and will only be doing the Asian area until next year when it will be sent back to the Mediterranean and a bigger ship will be replacing it, perhaps more suited to these conditions.
Unfortunately a lot of the places we visited the ship was not able to dock in a port so we had to anchor offshore and be taken ashore in tenders, two from the boat and some local ones. This was probably one of the worst aspects of the cruise as it was very hot and stuffy inside a lot of the boats they used from the locals, with strong diesel fumes and sometimes a 15-20 minute trip to the land. They also took the people off doing their tours first and then the other passengers are able to get off, thereby cutting down the time you get to spend in port which is cut down anyway when they can't dock.
We took three of the cheaper tours organised by Costa but mainly teemed up with other passengers who were interested in doing their own thing, and naturally we were able to do it a lot cheaper - probably for about a quarter or even less of the cost of the ship tours, but this did require some haggling and bargaining - but the ones we did take with Costa we did enjoy. I did question the cost of the tours but one of the cruise crew explained that because they have different nationalities on the ship they have to provide tours in different languages and whilst English speaking tour guides are relatively cheap, guides speaking French, Italian, German, Chinese, Japanese etc. are expensive and hard to come by and they average the cost of the tour over what they pay for all the guides so no-one is disadvantaged - seems fair, but makes them expensive to take in Aussie Dollars once again. Everyone we spoke to who did the organised tours seemed to really enjoy them, but then a lot of people got the cruise for a lot less than us and could obviously afford to spend a bit more on the tours. We spoke to various people from Perth who only paid $1350 AUS and were in outside cabins higher up than us - they did have to fly Tiger Airlines at some ungodly hour but considered it worth it because they got the cruise so cheap.
We enjoyed all the Ports of Call, except perhaps for Jakarta - this is a commercial city with not a lot to see in regard to tourism - the traffic is horrendous and this was on a Saturday which is supposed to be better and the port is situated a long way from the actual CBD and we were advised to be very cautious when we were there in regard to safety. A lot of us thought it would be better to bypass Jakarta and spend more time in Bali.
In Phuket, which we were really looking forward to revisiting after a previous holiday the ship did not anchor in Patong Beach as advised, but anchored out of Phuket town which is about 1hour 20mins from Patong Beach, the main tourist area. We were supposed to anchor at Patong Beach and be able to come back to the boat up to 12 midnight giving us time to enjoy some of the night life the town has to offer but they changed it on the day and organised a shuttle bus (12 Euros each return) that would take you from the Port to the town, returning at 6.30 and 8.30 pm. We only got off the boat at 4.20 pm thus not giving enough time to take a trip to Patong Beach and get back for the last tender at 8.30 pm, so had no alternative but to stay in Phuket town - which is nothing compared to Patong Beach. Next day we had to board the ship no later than 12.30 pm so had to be on the first boat at 7.30 am to enable us get to Patong Beach and back before the ship sailed - very rushed and most of the shops don't open in Patong Beach until 9.30-10.00 am. They still only organised a shuttle to Phuket town and we had to organise our own to Patong. In retrospect we thought it would be better to have a full day in Phuket rather than the two half days.
The biggest hassle of the whole trip from our viewpoint was in regard to currency - our travel agent checked out before our departure with Costa whether there would be money changing facilities at the ports when we docked and we were assured there would be, therefore we purchased American Dollars on a Travelex Card as advised so that we could get local money from ATM's on arrival in the various ports - big mistake! On board they would only change cash money into US Dollars, no local currency and hit you with a 3 Euro charge each time. On arrival at the ports of Macassar, Komodo Island (a national park with only an office for the park, and the rest just vegetation), Jakarta (only the dock), Phuket (only the dock) you had to wait until you found a money changing agency or an ATM in the town before you could access any local currency. Luckily we had some Aussie Dollars and the money changers would change these, but ATM's were hard to access except for Jakarta (once in the CBD), Malacca (once in town and then you had to locate one), KL (once in the CBD) and you spent a considerable amount of time locating them instead of seeing the sights - my advice would be to take a small amount of local currency ($50 say in rupees, ringats, baht) and the rest in US Dollars (cash) - there is a safe in the cabin where you can keep it when you aren't in that country - a lot of the taxi drivers were happy to get US Dollars instead of local currency but little stall holders wanted local currency.
At the end of our trip we could honestly say we had a ball - we met some great people, dinner seating was with the same people each night which was great to talk over what you had done during the day, but breakfast and lunch were open seating sitting wherever and with whoever you liked. There were a lot of people travelling on their own and everyone looked forward to meeting other people - the ports of call were varied and interesting - the ships crew were great, the waiters and bar staff especially, who work extremely hard, 12 hour shifts 7 days a week with the occasional 2 hour shore trip, 8 months of the year - mostly so their families back home can benefit from their working so hard and have a better life. The Captain was visibly present at a lot of the events and so were the various Officers. There were photos taken at every occasion on board but once again these were fairly pricey.
The only incident on the ship which gave us call for concern was one morning at about 5.15 am there was an enormous clunk sound and the ship listed severely to one side causing a lot of people to roll out of bed and a lot of damage to be done in the restaurants and bar areas where tables had been set for breakfast. No-one seemed to know what had happened and we heard various excuses after that, a change in the currents, a vortex, but everyone had their own thoughts and most thought it was human error of some sort that they preferred to cover up - we'll never know - but it was smooth sailing after that thank goodness.
We left the boat in Singapore, an early morning disembarkation and stayed overnight again at the Furama. We sadly farewelled the friends we had made from various parts of the world and were very glad that we had not got cold feet and cancelled. Perhaps we were just lucky that we didn't have any problems with our cabin and perhaps our expectations were in line with what to expect on a 3 star cruise but we would have no hesitation in recommending the Costa Allegra for a cruise provided you have realistic expectations and are not cruising in waters that might encounter a typhoon! We had a ball.