Our Costa Allegra cruise, from the 12th until the 26th of December, 2009, was frequently billed "the Christmas Cruise" onboard. From the beginning there were festive decorations in all of the public areas and Christmas Carols playing over the vessel's intercom. It was a nice touch.
We arrived in Singapore a day early and spent a bit of time acquainting ourselves with that city's MRT - mass rapid transit. I highly recommend the MRT as there is a station at the harbour front where the Allegra docks and it provides a quick, convenient and cost-effective way to get around. We also used it to return to the Changi Airport after our cruise finished. Don't be daunted as MRT staff are on hand to help you out at each station.
Costa crew made it super easy to check in, with one young lady who we found at the foot of the escalator, leading us to our luggage drop-off point and directing us to the check-in spot on the next level up. Check in seemed quite casual: a look at the passports and assignment of the cabin number. Even though we had been provided with forms for our onboard account ahead of time, there was no need to have them completed as all passengers had 48 hours to set it up.
Our cabins were very small inside cabins on floor 5 right at the front on the ship (2 cabins for our party of 4). An advantage of this position was the lack of foot traffic outside our doors. There was no undue rocking motion as we had feared there might be. Our water was a dirty brown when it first came out of the tap but seemed to clear a bit after running. As we had been forewarned on previous Cruise Critic posts, we were not unduly concerned. Toward the end of the cruise I was drinking that water and suffered no ill effects. Since the cabins were so small it was crucial that they always be clean and tidy so the services of our cabin attendant were most appreciated. They were nice guys, as well. Our bed linen was changed three times during the cruise, the shower curtain washed three times, and the towels changed twice a day.
Regarding the water, I found it quite palatable when ice and a slice of lemon were added. Both of these were available in the Yacht Club buffet dining area. As we learned during the "behind the scenes" talk, the water is desalinated on board.
There is a power outlet at the desk in the cabin and we took a power board to expand that so all rechargeable gadgets were catered for. The power adaptor we used was the two round pin variety.
The small ship size had a lot of advantages, including the fact that there was never a long way to walk to find something to eat, a place to read, the activity centre, the show room, or back to our cabin. We didn't miss the amenities that the big ships have as we were busy in port most days and the small pools provided an adequate combination of rest and recreation on the others.
After a few days of conforming to our 6.30 seating time in the dining room, we asked for a table in the 8.30 sitting and then developed a habit of seeing the show, having a cocktail, then sitting down to dinner. Happy hour was 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. in most inside bars and 9 p.m. until 11 p.m. at the pool bar, and during this time patrons received two (of the same) drinks for the price of one. We always had the cocktail of the day at 5 euros plus the ubiquitous 15% service charge, which kept it affordable, and our under 18 year old children had non-alcoholic cocktails that were paid from the "boys and girls" drinks vouchers that were 10 for 20 euros with no service charge.
By the way, we found the dining room to be very chilly on the first few nights so be prepared with something warm to wear, if required.
On the third day of the cruise I thought to myself "there must be no cruise director!" - but then she appeared on the first welcome gala show. Her main job was to say a very few words in six different languages so there was none of that rah rah that we had encountered on our 5 previous cruises, thank goodness. A complement of four lively young people did their best to get us involved in the day's activities - including far into the evening - and they were terrific.
We enjoyed the food: there was an excellent variety and most of it was well prepared. Best of all, I didn't have to do the cooking or the clean up! The hardest thing about the food was to not eat too much, but just in case, we too ourselves off to the gym or walking track most days. The gym is well equipped and the walking track lovely in the cooler evenings.
Although we had been forewarned that smoking was permitted in certain areas inside the ship, except the restaurants, it is hard to understand how Costa Cruises cannot move with the times and permit smoking only on outside decks. It was annoying to have a quiet read in the lounge only to have a Costa crew come and sit nearby and light up - and it was mostly crew.
Officers appear to be as arrogant as suggested on previous posts but that did not bother us as the rest of the staff is just great, and they speak English too!
Other than the smoking issue, the point we raised on our feedback forms regarded the lack of information about ports and piers. We did not know until the newsletter for the next day arrived each evening exactly where we would be mooring. We did not go on any Costa excursions as there were 4 of us and taxis were very affordable. Even where the local population does not speak English, they are savvy enough to know where the tourists want to go and are quite prepared to spend the day showing you around. Some information we got from the tour department bordered on misleading: regarding Port Klang a message was sent that we were an hour away from the closest city (Klang) and and hour and a half from Kuala Lumpur. We took a taxi to a large Klang shopping centre in 20 minutes and the taxi driver said it would only be another 20 minutes to KL. Of course, that was Christmas day and the traffic would have been down, but the tours people knew it was Christmas day, as well. There was a mixed response from the people who did take tours: some were loved, some were termed "rip-offs". The best bet is to do your own research. This is how we found our first day's activity, a trip to Trans Studio, but we did not find that there was a free shuttle to the ship! Trans Studio management have spoken to cruise personnel and hosted a group of them onsite and was very surprised that there is no information about this amusement park available for the ship's passengers. As amusement parks go, it wasn't great but it was indoors, out of the sun, and could be fun.
We turned our passports in after our last time ashore in Singapore and did not have to go through immigration at any other port. I am a Canadian citizen and the others in my party are Australians and we needed at least 6 months before our passport expiry in order to enter Indonesia. Some passengers were upset that their travel agents failed to provide this information. We didn't use a travel agent so did our own research.
There were actually 8 ports on the cruise: there was a space in the form I filled out above to say how many but the maximum that was allowed in the form was six. Also, the names of the ports we visited, other than Singapore, are not listed in the "Select a Port" section of "Port Reviews" on this "member reviews" form. While many of our ports were third world, they were all educational and worth seeing. Two points to note were the almost overwhelming hawkers/touters/sellers in the Indonesian ports and the rush by many people to be photographed with our two tall blonde 17 year olds (one male, one female).
Overall, this was my favourite cruise to date. The previous posts regarding the Allegra helped us set our expectations appropriately so there were no annoyances, only pleasant surprises.