This was the first Costa and sixth cruise overall for DDP and me. Previously we have cruised on Celebrity to Alaska, NCL Sun to the Western Caribbean, Atlantis (aboard X) to the Eastern Caribbean, Eastern Med on NCL Jade and last Thanksgiving to the Mexican Riviera on NCL Star
All in all, it was a pretty disappointing experience. Due to inconsistencies of service, food and staff, Costa failed to live up to our admittedly low expectations. But as all of us Cruise Critics know, even the worse day on a cruise is better than any day at work....and Costa's two, that's right count-em, two happy hours a day with 2-4-1 drinks at both made a positive impression on us...or at least help us forget our troubles. Of course trying to convince the bartenders that it would be easier for them and us if they put both drinks in one larger glass took most of the week!
Precruise We departed RDU aboard Southwest on Friday morning and after an uneventful flight and a plane change in Tampa, we arrived in Fort Lauderdale a little after noon. I checked us in exactly 24 hours ahead and we had boarding passes 30&31 for our first leg and 24&25 for the second. Not that they did us that much good...both flights were continuations of previous flights so they were at least half full when we boarded. We did ok though, I got an exit window and DDP got an aisle...so no middles! I had pre-booked our hotel at Comfort Suites. We ended up here through a website www.Stay123.com. This website is set up for free parking at airports and cruise ports, but they had the cheapest rate - we paid $89 for the one night and included free shuttle from the airport and to Port Everglades. Their shuttle arrived about 10 minutes after I called. Other than a racist driver, the short trip to the hotel was uneventful. We arrived there to a lobby full of folks waiting for their rooms. We got on their list for early check-in (apparently my pre-check-in faxed letter didn't do the trick) and left to find some lunch. After following the hotel's front desk clerk's directions which resulted in what the DDP called the "Pre-Cruise Death March" we failed to find the promised land of Cuban food ...so we ended up across the street at Pollo Tropicale. Which while not perfect did give us a quick and tasty Cuban fix. We returned to the hotel to be told our room was ready...of course the oh so helpful clerk told four other parties that their rooms were ready at the same time so it took almost 30 minutes to finally get to our room. The room was fine and we were only going to be there for one night so all was good. At 3 pm, I went down and signed us up for the complimentary shuttle to the port. If you stay here, be sure to sign up fast. When I went down at 3:05, the 11am shuttle was almost full so I signed us up for the noon ride. I went back about 10 minutes later to sign up some friends who were checking in later and "our" shuttle was full so they ended up on the 1 pm shuttle. The complimentary shuttle runs every hour on the hour starting at 11am. They run a second one on the half hour for $5/pp. Even though officially embarkation wasn't scheduled to start until 1:30, after reading the CC boards, it appeared we could board earlier so I was hopeful that the noon shuttle was a good decision.
Embarkation We had the complimentary breakfast and were lucky enough to get a late checkout. We headed to the lobby about 11:30, got on board the shuttle (along with one other couple headed to Atlantica and five couples heading for Ruby Princess a little after noon. After dropping them off, we arrived at the Costa building about 12:50. After a quick pass through security - TSA stopped DDP for his eight pack of caffeine free Diet Pepsi, but let him pass onboard, however the agent pointed to a Costa sign that said NO FOOD or BEVERAGES were allowed - we did a quick check in shoreside and went right on board. Costa has a different system than other lines we have sailed. Rather than taking your picture and credit card on shore, they do it after you are on board. Just after stepping on board, there were three or four staff members with hand held scanners. They scanned the bar code off of your "print at home boarding documents" and took your picture. We were then allowed to go directly to our rooms which were open and ready for us. We got there at 1:15 so not quite 30 minutes from shuttle door to cabin. Waiting for us on the bed were our Costa Cards. With these in hand, we then could go to any one of a number of kiosks where we could register our credit card. It's a great system but due to inconsistent directions both written and from Costa staff, it wasn't clear if how or when we could use the kiosks. Several staffers told us we couldn't register our card until 3pm when the front desk would be open. So at 3 pm we headed to the desk and after standing in the 35 person line for a couple of minutes, I saw a sign that said Kiosks were upstairs, so up we went. Of course there was no one telling anyone in line that the kiosks were available, you only had to register at the front desk if you were making a cash deposit (and maybe if you were using a debit card). Anyway, like most instances on Costa, it was a great system but due to lack of communication failed to serve Costa well.
Ship & Cabin We had a balcony cabin on Deck 5 starboard. Our stewardess was friendly and helpful but not overly so. She kept our ice bucket full and our room straight and clean. On the few occasions we asked something extra of her, it was quickly and pleasantly done. Unlike our staterooms on other lines, Costa has the bed near the window and the sofa near the toilet and closet. We decided this layout is an improvement since it provides more open space near the closet and door where you typically need it to get dressed. One thing we didn't like about Costa is that rather than entering a code to open/close the safe, you use your Costa card. This seems like it would work fine until you discover that if your DDP uses his card to lock the safe, your card won't open it! So we quickly got an extra key and hid it in the room so either of us could open the safe. Our only real complaint about the room was the air conditioning. We were on the starboard side so we faced south. Despite two requests and follow-ups the room didn't get cool until we left St. Thomas and weren't on the sunny side of the ship anymore. While keeping our curtain closed through out the day did help, the room really was uncomfortable almost all the time. With the exception of one elderly lady down the hall who we heard complaining she was cold, I heard a number of folks complaining about the heat. The bed was comfortable but I like a hard bed. The bed was made with a bottom sheet and a duvet. Our request for extra pillows was the first of our requests that was quickly met. The bath was fairly typical, I missed NCL's glass shower door but the shower was roomy enough for me so I didn't have to fight the curtain the whole time. We did wish the lip at the floor of the shower was taller or the curtain longer as typically we ended up with a wet bathroom floor.
The ship was similar to others we have sailed. It was a little gaudy but I guess that was the style for ships at the turn of the century. We did think that having the pools separated was a good touch. Made it seem like there really weren't 2000 folks on board. We didn't like the layout of the exercise area as much. It is located forward and is set up in a series of wide steps that step down from an upper deck to a lower one. I am sure the intent was that everyone would be able to look out the windows and see the sea ahead of the ship. Unfortunately, it doesn't work out that way; you basically look at the top of the heads of the folks in front of you. Unfortunately, the equipment doesn't come equipped with televisions or a sound system so it was pretty boring. Lastly, there is a big skylight over the whole area so it was quite warm...and this was before you start sweating.
Entertainment Be advised that Costa's late seating opens at 8:45 so it makes for a very late night. Due to the late seating, we only went to two shows. One was a late nite comedian - some enjoyed him, I didn't. The other was the passenger talent show - as always it was fun. We had expected that our last night would be toga night. Apparently Costa is changing this. Rather, they had an Italian Festival night on the next to last night. The dining room staff danced and provided entertainment during dinner. The talent show was that night after the last dinner seating. They had some togas at the doors to the theatre if you wanted to wear one. The show was MCed by the Cruise Director in full Caesar garb attended by his staff and dancers. The talent show was treated as an event in the coliseum with us giving the contestants thumbs up to go to the buffet or a thumbs down to send them to the lions. Additionally, there was midnight food in the central atrium and the casino which looked tasty but it was so quick after dinner, I couldn't even bring myself to taste it. We didn't see The New and not so Newlywed Game live but did enjoy them on the TV later - as always, it was very funny.
Ports/Sea Days DDP and I have determined that we enjoy being on our own while in port so we did not take any of the ships excursions. Additionally, given our ports, we had decided to take it easy and treat this as a vacation rather than feeling the need to have educational tours.
We had two sea days right off the bat. The first one started with a muster drill. Given we didn't leave port until 7pm I am not sure why Costa didn't do the muster before we left rather than on our first full day. So at 9:30 am (who wants to get up that early on your first day of vacation?) we headed to our station out on deck. In another difference from other lines we have traveled, Costa only has four muster stations. All were on Deck 4, two forward, two aft. Lots of other Critics have complained about having to listen to announcements in five languages on Costa. This was the only time it got a bit tedious to me. I think they actually did the life vest demonstration in six languages. By the fourth or fifth time, I was really ready to be done...but safety first! One interesting thing that Costa did was to scan everyone's key card...that's right - EVERYONE's. If you forgot your card, no biggie, they used the same scanner to enter your name and stateroom number into the system. Seems like a good way to make sure that everyone was there. Not sure what they did if you weren't at muster - maybe come to your cabin and make YOU do the vest demo in six languages? After muster, we headed to the buffet for breakfast and then lounged around the pool for most of the day. I don't have any notes for our second sea day, but I suspect it was more of the same. I also suspect the two happy hours a day had something to do with the lack of memory!
In St. Thomas, after a big breakfast, we taxied ($8 each) to Megan's Bay ($4 each) and enjoyed our morning floating on the beautiful sea. We each had a pina colda ($12 for two) to make the visit complete. We left there about 12:30 and taxied downtown ($8 each) where we each bought our allowed six liters of duty free liquor (5 plus one VI Rum). We had planned on walking back to the ship but unfortunately, we missed the 2pm cutoff for free delivery to the ship so we had to lug it back ourselves. We taxied back ($4 each) but lucky us, we had a great driver. She reminded me of Maya Angelou and seemed to know everyone we passed. She was great fun and made the long trip - road construction had really slowed down traffic- a lot of fun. We got back to the ship about 2:30 and spent the rest of the day having lunch being lazy before our 6pm departure
We had planned to go to the Barcardi factory in San Juan but after our lazy day in St. Thomas, we decided why should we ruin a good thing so we ended up just wandering around Old San Juan. We enjoyed lunch at The Parrot Club so I could try mofungo for the first time..very tasty and the BEST Mojitios I have ever had. Their chocolate tres leches cake was also very good. On our way back to the ship we stopped at Don Q's for our free rum drinks. Very tasty, we would have bought some but we had already filled our allowable quota in St. Thomas. Just before we got to the ship, we stopped at a tiny little store and watched cigars being made and bought some to bring home. All in all another relaxing day. During our lunch, there had been a thunderstorm and just as we got back to the ship it started raining again. This was the only bad weather we had during the week. It actually made the departure from San Juan very picturesque - El Morro in the grey drizzle was great.
Our last sea day was spent almost totally on the balcony. So relaxing! We read, watched the ocean and really just enjoyed ourselves. It was the first time that I realized that I might consider paying for a suite sometime just so I could have a balcony big enough for a lounge chair...boy did I want a hammock! Unfortunately, Costa doesn't have room service during meal times so I did have to run up to the buffet and play room service stewart so we could lunch on the balcony.
Our cruise ended with a short day in Nassau. We arrived at 1 pm and had to be back on board at 5:30. So we decided to take the water taxi over to Paradise Island to see what all the fuss about Atlantis was about. The taxi was fun - way too many people but it was fine for the short ride and our "guide" was pretty funny so I didn't mind when he passed his hat for tips. Atlantis is quite the resort. Having never been to Las Vegas I presume it is like the hotels there - very over the top. It was interesting to see the difference in architecture between the original Atlantis towers (plain) and the new ones (a wedding cake from The Cheesecake Factory). We took a taxi back to the port and then wandered into town to buy a few souvenirs for family at home. Not a bad day, but if I ever end up in Nassau again, I think I will just stay on the ship.
Obviously from the title of this review, we loved the two happy hours a day and took full advantage of them! Our On Board account was about half of its usual amount. I wish all cruise lines would follow Costa's lead on this - but that is about the only thing I would like to see others learn from Costa. Like all other service on the ship, it was very inconsistent. We had two of the best Mahattans we have ever tasted one night in the atrium bar followed by two of the worst later the same evening in the theatre. Midway through the cruise, limes seemed to be in short supply. I order a mojito at one point and it was made with lemons. When I complained, I was told they were out of limes….funny but next time I was at the bar, they had limes. We heard similar stories from others on the cruise. We did luck out that there was a great head bartender at the rear pool - where we tended to spend our time. I overheard one of the bar staff call him Papi and when I started calling him that (much to the staff's amusement) I suddenly became his best friend…and he mine!
Costa offers an unlimited house wine at meals package you can order before you board. We were lucky enough that two folks at our table had purchased this package. Because of a lack of understanding or training of the servers we lucked out. When the two who had the package ordered their wine and mineral water, it was offered to everyone at the table. Such a deal FOR US! I tried to make it up to my table mates by buying them drinks a couple of times, but it sure seems like it could be a big money loser to Costa. The house wines were nothing special but they were very drinkable.
Food I am going to break down this portion of the review into each of the dining areas.
Main Dining Room - We never had an awful meal in the MDR but nor did we have a fabulous one either (of course we didn't have one of those at all on Atlantica). It started the first night. After we were seated and while perusing our menus, I asked to see the wine list. I was given a preprinted card selling their wine packages. If I was a mineral water drinker, I might have considered one of them but since I am just fine drinking tap water, the wine packages weren't going to save any money. So I again asked for the wine list. After asking a third time, I finally got the list. Of course about a minute later, she was back asking what I wanted to order. Given the list was six? seven? pages long, I of course had no idea. We went ahead and placed our food order and then when I had settled on a bottle to order, it took another round of requests to find someone to order it from. This procedure with minor differences happened each time I wanted to order wine or get my unfinished bottle from the night before. After the second night of it taking a major effort to find last's night's wine, we started just carrying it back to the room and delivering it to the table ourselves. The inconsistent service represented by the wine steward carried over to food and its servers. Each night at our table there was at least one WONDERFUL dish, one awful dish, and several ok or marginal ones. Examples of the awful dishes were the worst example of mushroom soup any of us had ever tasted. It was like mushroom water. Our table decided that the chef had forgotten the cream, the salt, the pepper and everything else that was supposed to be in it but the mushrooms. Another awful dish was what was called a Napoleon. It was more like rice pudding on a cracker. It was the first time in my life I sent a dessert back and asked for something different. At the other end of the spectrum were the Oso Bucco, the butternut risotto, and the short ribs one day at lunch. Most of the other dishes were about on par with what one would expect at a fund raising banquet at your local Holiday Inn's meeting room….overcooked fish with a sauce with a film on it, nothing special vegetables, nothing special desserts, etc. The most surprising disappointment was the pasta course. With the exception of the risotto, none of them were exceptional. We had expected this to be where Costa shone. It was never exactly clear to us who was "our" server" and who was our busboy. This wouldn't have been a big deal except when we needed something and no one seemed to be our server. It became a joke each night at our table to check out the bread and butter. We either had no butter and plenty of rolls or some butter but few rolls and the worst night was when we had butter but only a half roll in the basket. I guess they were so rushed between seatings that this got over looked
Buffet - There are four buffet stations on the pool deck plus two "grills" by the rear pool and another set at the center pools. All four stations served the same food at each meal. For breakfast, this was typically sausage, bacon, dry eggs, cold cuts, cheeses, oatmeal, and fruits. There were omelet stations both inside and outside by the grills. These had the same ingredients every day - tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, cheese and ham. They were tasty but I missed the variety that X has and the waffles from both them and NCL. For lunch, typically there were a couple of fish dishes, a couple of meats, a couple of chicken dishes, several pastas, vegetables, cold cuts and cheeses, a few items to prepare a salad, some prepared salads - none of them had much flavor. Between the four buffet stations were two other stations serving pizza and a larger salad bar. None of the food on the buffet typically appealed to me except for the salad and the pizza….And the best part of the buffet area - the pasta stations. Each day there were three pasta carts serving fresh made pasta. Typically two of the stations served the same dish and the third a different one. My favorites were the pesto, the duck ragu and the veal bolognese. This was the best food on the ship. The grills typically served hamburgers, chicken burgers and hot dogs along with fries, lettuce and some of the same prepared salads. The second grill station in each set typically had premade sandwiches along with cold cuts, cheeses and fruits. Inside and sometimes at the grills, there would be small - very small by cruise ship standards - desert stations - none had anything memorable other than that the cake was usually pretty dry and not very sweet, though I must admit it did make a good base for some soft serve ice cream. We never did dinner in the buffet so I can't comment on it but I understand it was a variation of what was being served in the MDR.
Club Atlantica - this is Costa's specialty restaurant and seems to specialize in steaks. I was excited that for a surcharge of $30pp I could have foie gras AND get to finally try Wagyu (American Kobe) beef. We had originally been scheduled to eat here with our group of about 60 but through some snafu, the restaurant didn't know we were coming so after seeing the wait staff scurrying to set tables, DDP and I decided to skedaddle to the MDR and try again another evening. While this turned out to be a good decision, those that stayed reported underdone potatoes, mis-delivered food, extremely long waits. about what you would expect when the kitchen had reservations for 20 and instead 80 showed up and 60 of them were at the same time. Anyway, we went back on the second formal night, just DDP and me..date night if you will. The restaurant is lovely. It has a large dance floor in the middle that was mostly unused on the night we were there. I suspect it was intended for there to be a dance band but all we had was a piano player. So the center of the room sits sorta empty. Once again, I had issues with getting the wine list (I lived in Italy - I know Italians drink wine - I really don't understand why Costa didn't want to sell any to me!) but it was finally brought to me. We ordered and our appetizers arrived in the expected time. The foie gras was cold…very cold and was served as a large lump. Not the delicately cooked versions I have enjoyed elsewhere. It's ok I said to myself…the Wagyu rib eye is coming…don't worry about the foie gras. DDP had French onion soup. It was fine but was overly sweet and the beef broth wasn't as flavorful as it should have been. We each had a glass of sparkling wine with our appetizers; these came just fine and were tasty. For our second course I ordered the lobster pasta and he had a Caesar salad. The pasta (like the pastas in the MDR) was overcooked and wasn't what I would have expected in a fine dining restaurant. The salad appeared to be exactly the same salad that is on the "available anytime" menu in the MDR. That's ok I said to myself…that American Kobe beef rib eye is almost here. It was about this time that one of the servers rolled over the wine cart - candle, decanter, white cloth, the whole nine yards. Uh oh, had I accidently ordered the $380 bottle of wine? My eyes are getting old (I guess in actuality all of me is) and sometimes I have trouble reading menus….I thought the wine was only $38. I stopped her from opening it and asked to see the wine list again….funny, this time it was immediately in my hand. No the bottle she was ready to open was indeed only $38, phew. Go ahead and open it…she does, but that's all she does, no lighting of the candle, no decanting…why did she bother to bring the cart over….who knows? So with a glass of big red wine in hand I was so ready to taste this beef I had been hearing about for so long. Here it came….my Wagyu rib eye. Funny, it sorta looks like an Outback rib eye…that's ok, I am sure it will taste different, it will be so tender and so flavorful. DDP's T Bone arrived, he cuts into it….hmm, medium rare never looked so brown, back to the kitchen it goes. I cut into mine, perfectly cooked - warm red center, just like at …hmm…Outback. I take my fork, lift it to my mouth, close my eyes and wait for the epiphany that I know is coming….hmmm…wait for it...the violins and harps are gonna start playing any second now…I just know they are but…..hmmm, this tastes like an Outback rib eye. Nothing wrong with it, but so much for my big foodie moment! DDP got his steak and it like mine was just fine, but nothing that we couldn't have on a normal Friday night at Outback. For dessert, DDP ordered the cheese cake and I ordered the dark chocolate pyramid. From the description, I expected a hard chocolate exterior with a mousse interior. Instead it was just moose in a pyramidal shape. Again good, but nothing special. DDP's cheese cake was very disappointing. It was exactly the same cheese cake that is on the "always available" menu in the MDR…wait, I think it had a couple of extra strawberries on it. The chef did complement us with a glass of bubbly with dessert which was a nice touch. So while we had a nice meal and none of it was awful, I don't think it was worth the $30pp surcharge and I certainly hope that someday I get to taste Kobe beef.
Wellness Restaurant - because of Costa's snafu with our group reservation in Club Atlantica, they invited all of us to dine one night in the Wellness Restaurant. This restaurant is open for all meals for Costa guests who book the wellness cabins and is available ala carte to other guests at dinner. It was the best food and service we had the entire cruise. DDP had shrimp and crab cocktail for his appetizer and I had a salad. We both had a filet which was tasty and tender. Unfortunately since it was the last night, I didn't take notes and we followed dinner by closing down the disco which included finishing up all the leftover booze and wine from the week so neither of us can recall what we had for dessert…but our memory of the Wellness Restaurant was that if we ever happened to cruise with Costa again (highly doubtful) we would only do so if we got a good enough price to either book a wellness room or plan on paying to eat in this restaurant every night.
Disembarkation Costa leaves luggage tags in your room on the next to last night, different colors signifying different times. Ours were later than I wanted since we had a 12:30 flight so we stopped by the main desk and exchanged them. Unlike some lines, rather than having to leave your room by a certain time, Costa invites you to remain in your room until time for your departure when you are asked to be at a meeting point. Once at the meeting point, a Costa representative welcomes you and once they are ready for the group to depart, escorts you to the departure gangway. The cruise staff was lined up to say goodbye at the gangway. All in all a very civilized way to leave - no endless announcements, no sitting around in a public area for hours waiting. My only complaint was that our cabin was three from the stern on deck five, our meeting point was on Deck One in the very bow of the ship and after lugging our carrryons from one end of the ship to the other and then down four flights of stairs, we then had to schlep iback up a flight and to the middle of the ship. Once landside, it was the usual chore of finding our luggage - one tag had apparently fallen off so that bag was in the land of misfit suitcases…and then through immigration, the cursory custom inspection and out to the taxi stand. Lots of taxi's waiting for us, jumped in one and a quick trip to FLL. We arrived at the lines at the SW counters along with probably 300 of our closest friends! Because of our full liquor boxes, we were very concerned about being under the 50 lb weight limit for our two big bags. We had already filled our collapsible bag and had planned on checking it along with the two big bags and our usual duffel carryon. We found an unused checkin counter where the scales were turned on and held our breath. My bag was 4 pounds overweight, DDP's was seven. So here we go, open the bag, stuff more dirty clothes, books, souvenirs in the two smaller bags….reweigh the big ones..still over…only two more pounds each to go…what are we gonna do?...wait, says DDP, didn't Costa give us some fancy tyveck bags? Where are they? Here in the front pouch. Fill up one of those with the big old ziplock bag of really dirty clothes from the floor of the closet (thank you to which ever CCer it was that suggested taking one along) and viola - one bag weighs 49.25 and the other 49.5 pounds. Yippee. Into the cattle corral we go…over and over we hear the SW guy tell folks you can't check luggage more than four hours before your flight..not a problem for us. The lines get longer and longer as more and more cruise ship passengers arrive. Luckily the lines move quickly, I suspect it took us about thirty minutes, we check in and discover that it was probably worth our $10 each for early bird checkin - we were #20 & 21. I wasn't sure how hard it would be to find an internet cafe in Nassau to check us in and it would have been closer to 22 hours preflight so I suspect we would have had pretty high numbers. We then headed to security…again very long lines…since it was all Southwest passengers; I guess it makes sense that the line would be the same length. We stepped off the ship at approximately 8:35 and we were our gate at 10:45 so it is not unreasonable to allow 2 hours - I am sure we spent at least 15 minutes getting our luggage repacked. The Southwest flight home was a direct flight and we thought we had hit the jackpot when the gate agent closed the door and we were sitting in bulkhead seats with an empty middle (one of only three on the plane) when our joy was ruined by the flight attendant asking anyone with an empty seat beside them to please trade with a mother and child so that they could sit together. This commotion was all taking place at the back of the plane near the other two empty seats but apparently those folks weren't taking the hint so when they made a second request, DDP hit his call button and made the trade. SW offered all the free cocktails he wanted but because of the amount of drinking done the night before, he wisely declined!
Summary Did we have a good time? for sure. Was it a cheap cruise? Yep Did we get what we paid for? I don't think so. Similar cruises were priced comparably on NCL but I think the inconsistencies of service and food aren't nearly the issue that they were on this trip. Would we cruise Costa again? Highly doubtful. The price would have to be incredible…I mean incredible and I would budget to eat in the Wellness Restaurant every night and set my expectations even lower than they were before this cruise. Suggestions for future Costa cruisers? Have minimal expectations. Enjoy lunch in the MDR, we only did it once and wish we had of done it more. Have a late breakfast by the back pool on the sea days - they keep the pool grills serving breakfast until noon…we really enjoyed that. Don't miss a happy hour…it makes some of Costa's other issues less painful!