Some back ground information; 2 adults, 2 kids, one 9 year old, one 6 year old. This would be the kids 3rd cruise and our 16th. (2nd with Costa, 14th within the WLCL)
Since we live in Florida, we drove down to Ft. Lauderdale, everything is clearly marked. We parked, took our carry on suitcases, walked across and started check in. We arrived around 1 pm and we were aboard in our cabin by 1.30 pm. Since the ship does not leave until 7 pm there were no lines anywhere. Your Costa Card is in the room and to activate it, you swipe a credit card at a self serve kiosk on board the ship, or leave cash deposit. (More about this later)
Reservations: We called Costa directly to reserve the cabin. The young lady was fast, efficient and understanding. All was done and booked within 10 minutes. Website: I am not a big favorite of Costa's website. I run high speed cable (road runner turbo) at home and this site is just slow, always. It is somewhat customer friendly but it could be made easier to navigate. Easy enough to fill in all the necessary paperwork online and print it, using the web check in. The luggage tags are cheesy and I recommend laminating them, and placing a back up inside your suitcase if dropping them off with the porters.
A week before: A week before embarkation, I contacted Costa customer service to find out where we would be docked in St. Thomas. It took awhile for them to find out this information. I was then informed that we would be docked at Haven-sight Mall Pier. Since this is what they told me 2 years ago as well and ended up being docked at Crown Bay then, I decided to keep my Car rental reservation at Cyril King airport in case that happened again. And, yes it happened again. We docked in Crown Bay. Way far away from Haven-sight mall. Good thing I kept my airport reservation. Plan at being docked at Crown Bay. Hertz (airport) will pick you up from the dock. It is a $5 cab ride or 2 mile hike. Check In: Have your passport and cruise boarding pass ready upon entering Port Everglades. The parking garage is across from the terminal (19) and it costs $15/day. The off-site/economy parking is $12/day however for the extra $21 you can just walk over, get in your car and drive away upon return. The savings are not worth the extra time it will take when you come back. Again, there were no lines, which did not explain the bad attitude of the check in agent we dealt with. She must have had a bad day. She was not nice. The security people were nice and courteous.
Ship: The ship is in good condition; it was very clean, has a good lay out and is easy to navigate. The colour scheme is not over the top, a bit flashy but pleasing enough to the eye. There are several nice touches, art and displays to enjoy while wondering through the ship. The casino is big enough, the theatre has sufficient seating with the usual obstructions, however, it was never really full for that to be an issue. The coral lounge is interesting (go check it out). The ship is not Wireless and that is very annoying. The computer room has 5 computers, I believe, however I need to use certain software and one is not allowed to down load. (To Costa; in this day and age, your ships should be wireless, it will make your staff happier as well)
The life boat drill was held on Sunday, the day after embarkation, I still do not know why. I guess we must be fortunate that we did not have any issues. Not that I really care, I know why they must do the drill and have done it many times. This one did seem very disorganized; the staff made it obvious that they found it a chore and no attempts were made to "ease up" on it while getting it done properly. Attendance was taken, so no skipping out.
Gym/Spa: I did not use the spa, just the gym and the saunas. They do run out of lockers fast on a (fun) day at Sea. The gym almost has too much in it. There is some equipment in there, which almost no one knows how to use. The Male gym attendant is not the nicest one to explain them to you either. The female attendant is much better. This equipment takes up to much space, and they would be better off replacing it with the equipment which the majority of the people do use. During peak times there is a wait for treadmills, bikes and stair climbers. The free weight selection is sufficient however not enough room for a good work out due to the previously mentioned space restrictions. There is also no place for individual, yoga or Pilates. The steam sauna is good and hot, the dry sauna could use some heat increase. I did not use the hot tub in the gym as it was filled continuously with parading Europeans (Italians), who did not set foot in the gym but thought it was a good alternative for a terrace. Plenty of towels around, although again, peak times seems to place a slight restraint on their operations. The saunas and gym were clean and well maintained.
Cabin: We enjoyed an inside cabin (by choice) with 2 beds coming from the ceiling. So it was a bit tight, but very manageable for 2 adults and 2 kids. There was plenty of storage for everyone's belongings, however all life vests were adults, no kids vests in the room. Our cabin Steward, Francis was excellent, one of the best of all the cruises we have done. He was very attentive, courteous and responded quickly to any inquiries on our behalf. He kept the room in great shape and we did not have to redirect his efforts during our stay. Our shower (regulator) broke twice, when we checked in, it was cold water only, the second time it was steaming hot water only, however once we made "them" aware the issue, it was addressed immediately. The 2nd maintenance person was prompt, efficient and courteous. They followed up with a phone call to ensure that all was well. The channel selection on the TV is sufficient; there are pay on demand movies at $8.95 each. There is 1 outlet in the room, so bring a small power pack to run/charge, your I-pod, Computer, etc. Additionally there is 1 power outlet in the shower. The shower is your standard size. It does have a shampoo dispenser I it. Since we stayed in a "normal" cabin and are a basic level Costa customers (this was our second Costa cruise), we received no welcome kit except a fruit platter, or additional toiletries. The towels were new, plenty full and fluffy.
Dining: We did not go to the dining room at all. The 2nd seating is at 8.45 pm. This is too late. The 1st seating is too early. Plus we prefer to go to the alternative dining, buffet, with 2 kids and not interrupt the pleasure of others. It is not that our kids misbehave, from our previous experiences, it just takes too long. The alternative dining/buffet, (deck 9 Botticelli) has plenty of choices, a good enough salad selection, pasta stations, ice cream station etc. The food selection and quality is OK, it is not fantastic, however it is not bad either. For the amount that they are preparing and the distribution of it, it is ok. Some foods do miss the final touch, I.E. just that additional kick of spice, or taste of herbs. The food temperature is ok if you are there between 7.30pm and 8.15pm. Apparently they switched the heaters from ceramic to something else and it is affecting the food temperature. The food is not cold, it just could be warmer. The staff was fast enough clearing the used settings, tables and were very polite. Regular breakfast starts at 7.30 am although; there is stuff available as of 6 am. Breakfast runs through noon. Lunch, has the usual burger and fries station, a taco station (better than expected), (near the main pool, opposite of the burger station), and the main buffet lunch service, with several pasta prepare stations. These stations and their food is pretty good. The selection and condition at the main line again are the same as previously mentioned.
Kids Club/Arcade: The kids are divided up by age, (mini) 3 through 6, (maxi) 7 through 12 and teens. You will be met by the squok staff upon entering. A program for the weeks' journey for all clubs is provided and you will see what their activities are. (9 years of age and up may check themselves in and out, if you give permission for them to do so) To be upfront; if you are looking to "dump" your kids and not see them, they will be bored and not enjoy this cruise, you really should not be on this ship. If you are using the club as an opportunity for everyone to take a moment and enjoy other activities and meet up again later it is good. The mini program has some good activities during the day and at night. Check your schedule and work it out appropriately. The Squok club team is engaged and works hard. They have many Nationalities and languages, kids and staff, so take a moment to recognize that. They schedule a good talent show at the end of the week. The Maxi club is a good place for the older children to meet kids from many different Nations and learn about each other. I have no comments about the teen zone. The arcade has some good games in it, (To Costa, please remove the hunting game (really, shooting Gazelles, Rhino's etc. who thought that was a good idea)) the games are fairly expensive $1.25 each. They would be more used at $1.00 each.
Bar Service: We bought the X1 package, beer and wine unlimited during lunch and dining room hours in the (self service) restaurants and we enjoyed using it. The x1 also gives you mineral water and cappuccino. Apparently there is a J1 package, check Cruise Critic for more information. Every time we used it (X1) we cash tipped the attendant, do this and you will be set. There is no 15% gratuity charge with this package, thus the attendant really appreciates the tip.
The Staff/Officers/Language barrier: Overall everyone was pleasant; the working staff seemed happy to be onboard and was very interactive with the passenger. We met some nice and interesting people while on-board. We did not really have any interactions with the ships officers and the ones we did see, did not seem all that customer service oriented. I understand that this ship mainly serves the European market; however in regards to the front desk staff, they could improve on their English skills. General conversation is fine with them; however more complex matters will require the assistance of a more experienced manager/officer who will be able to better understand the message you are trying to convey. English not being their native language is not an excuse; this is a training/hiring issue. The general staff language skills are fine.
Payment/Gratuities: This may be a bit lengthy. Our last Costa cruise, Fortuna in Jan. 2007 was absolute madness at the end in order to settle some charges and to give Costa credit, they pretty much straightened it out or at least stream lined it, however we were planning not having to deal with this at all. This, being, having to go to the payment room at the end of the cruise. What I would like to mention, all of this could have been prevented by Costa had I been given the option, on paper or interactively (TV), to let me allocate where I want "the Gratuities" to be allocated to, and not to be bluntly charged for them all, plus I would have spend more money on board.
We decided to pay the Cabin Steward by cash, we exceeded "the suggested amount", we tipped the bar service people cash every time I used the X1, and as mentioned previously we did not use the dining room at all. Because of this we did not leave a cash deposit, nor did we activate a credit card as our main objective was to avoid having to go to the payment room on the last day. Because we did not activate the card, I could not spend any money on the card. We still went to the casino and played the slots, in the arcade, we played the games. Things we could do in cash we did.
To our surprise, upon waking up on our last day, we received a print out with a hotel service charge. (Between brackets are the responses or looks implying those responses that I received from the representative) Guess what, I had to go to the payment room and try to explain to the representative who seems to be unable to understand that I speak English and not Italian that I paid the Cabin Steward in cash. (You left a cash deposit? ? No, I did not leave a cash deposit, I paid him in cash!), plus that I did not use the dining room (Shock! you did not eat. ? No I did not go to the dining room, I used to the self serve buffet). I paid the bar service extra by tipping cash on the X1 (You left a cash deposit? ? No, I paid them extra cash) After going back and forth for a bit I was then asked if I wanted to include my wife on my account. ? Yes, that would be ok. Why? (Oh, I will remove charges, fill this out and go see him over there.)
I want to make sure that everyone understands. I gladly pay for what I use or for additional service. Just give me piece of paper, showing where I want to allocate my money too, and we are all set. I would have spent more and Costa would have made more. The cabin steward was taken care off, so were the bar service people. Knowing what I know now. My next Costa cruise, yes there will be another one, because this was my main issue and overall they do a good job, I will leave the credit card, and will print out a sheet myself which I can show to the representative in English and Italian where and whom I would like to allocate money to and how much, since apparently we are destined to go to the payment room. I find it sad, that I have to do so, but I will. I guess Costa won. Thank you to whoever decided to bring order to the chaos at the payment room. Nice queuing taking place, a lot of moaning of why people had to line up. But that in itself made me ok with dealing with the payment room.
Entertainment/Shows: The shows were all over the board. The concepts are good, the dancers are good, the female singer is ok with some really good moments, and the male singer is just plain bad. They are not a good match. The impression we had, was that the male singer was a dancer who became lead singer because the main lead left. The Hungarian Acrobats were amazing. The Tenor show did not do it for me, but then again, I am not Italian and I do not like opera. There were plenty of people who did seem to like it. The staff talent show (Dreams) was good and provides you with an opportunity of reflection. There were some other shows, that we did not go see. The staff seems interactive enough during the day, they are not my thing, however people seemed to enjoy themselves and that is what matters. The cruise director, languages and announcements. I actually find them annoying. I know why they are done in 5 languages in Europe, but you are not in Europe. Do Italian and English only and if you must, add Spanish. By then you have it pretty much covered. ( I was born and raised in Europe , left at age 20 so let's get over it and stick to English and Italian while in the Caribbean)
Debarkation: This process was smooth and well organized. We were off the ship and on the road by 9 am. There were enough immigration officials. Costa had this process very well streamlined. Great job.
Fellow Passengers, +: You must realize that this is a European oriented ship, with mainly Italian passengers and their behavior is and will be different than what you are used to. Yes, they are rude, but only in the eyes of non-Italians. The funny thing is that Italian-Americans, think that they are rude as well. Due to this mix of Nationalities, which is very different from the other/main cruise lines operating in the Caribbean, this is a different experience, and presents some interesting interactions. This is a good way for your children to experience some cultural differences. All of this being said, the Italian staff/officers, should realize that they are not in Rome and should adjust.
Ports of Call:
ST. Thomas: With St. Thomas being a very popular cruise port, there were 8 ships in port the same day, including the Oasis, everything was full and crowded. We rented a car from Hertz at the airport, (if docked at Haven-sight, we would have used Avis. They, Avis, are located right next to A Cohen Liquor just outside the mall gate.) These are the 2 most convenient locations. Megan's bay was extremely full, crowded and not enjoyable. Way too many people. We left and went to Coki beach near Coral world and that place was packed as well. We have been to St. Thomas many times and have never seen it this busy. On this itinerary, St. Thomas is the best place to purchase alcohol. A Cohen normally is the cheapest. If you have an ad the ships store will match their price. If you are not planning on shopping in St. Thomas, and you are comfortable with it, get a rental car.
San Juan, PR: Having been to San Juan several times, we rented a car again. The most convenient location is a Hertz satellite location inside the Sheraton in Old San Juan. You can see the hotel from the ship and is a 5 minute walk. All other agencies require a pick up, as far as I could find out, and require a pick up/drop off and will take more time. We went to El Yungue, the rainforest, just follow the signs ( rt 26 to rt 3 to rt 66 (toll rd), back to 3, right on rt 191) There are many trails, for La mina falls park near KM 10 point and take the Big Tree trail, or park at KM 11,7 point and walk down. The visitor center is at the entrance of the park; however we did not go in there. Having the rental car and knowing where to go, thanks to CC feedback, we did this and it was much better than the offered tours.
Nassau; We went to a local beach. Get off the ship take a right turn, pass the Hilton and keep walking a bit; you will see beach with some facilities. That is good enough for a quick dip. To get there it will take about 15 minutes of walking. Nassau too, was very crowded. We have been there several times before. We feel that we have seen it, and would prefer not to stop there at all. Nassau is busy, full of people and automobile exhaust fumes. Local business people are very pushy and very determined. This was our least favorite port.
In Short: We had a good time, we will sail with Costa again. The ship was very clean and as with any other cruise line ship, there are good and bad things. This ship and itinerary are a great value for the money. It is a different experience, especially if you have kids older than 8. I hope this lengthy review helps you in your decision making process. Give it a try, keep your expectations realistic and you will be fine. And of course bring your gratuity allocation sheet.