First of all Costa does not recognize Cruise Critic Roll Calls and Meets, so my attempts along with others on later Dubai cruises to establish a Roll Call met with a dismal response. So I was not able to arrange any private tours as I did on my last NCL Cruise. This is mainly due to the fact that there were not many passengers from the USA on board due to the long flights involved. Costa did inform me however, that there would be an English speaking briefing early in the cruise. Fly/Cruise or Independent?
The first decision is whether to take the full fly/cruise or go independent from the UK. Costa will not give you the competitively priced flight details until the holiday is booked. We told our agent that the booking was provisional depending on the flights, as I did not want to be changing aircraft in the middle of Europe in winter. (Airports were closed all over Europe the day after we left!) After 10 days Costa still did not provide suitable flights, as they involved either changes in Germany or leaving early on the Saturday in Dubai. That would have lost a whole day in Dubai, so we booked our own non-stop flights which arrived at 2130 on the first Saturday and left at 0210 on the Sunday. The current packages now available in the UK (early 2010) include 2-3 nights in a hotel before the cruise. This is a great way to start the holiday as it means you beat the jet lag and the chance of winter weather delays.
On arrival at the airport you have a very long walk in Terminal 1 to passports and customs. You don't have to stop at the Visa desk if you are from the EU or N. America as you automatically get a 30 day visa. After passport control you have the opportunity to shop at the excellent Duty Free shop prior to going through a final security check and leaving the airport. The shop is a great way of getting some 10Dhr notes for tips, taxi change and stocking up on soft drinks! On leaving the airport you will be met by your Costa Rep if you can find them or get a taxi to the ship. No need to pay £30/$48 for a pre-booked taxi as there are lots of city taxis waiting in line.
There are 3 types of taxi in Dubai: Ladies only taxis, normal taxis and family taxis which seat 7, or 3-4 with luggage. The cost to the ship was less than 60DHr which is £10/$16. The journey takes about 15 minutes in the evening. All Dubai taxis are metered and very clean. They are an excellent way for a small group to see the City.
On arrival at the Cruise Terminal we handed in our completed online tickets and signed a health declaration. We were told all our documents and cards were in our cabin. Next we handed in our passports which we would not see again until disembarkation, so keep the receipts! We now proceeded to the ship having given our luggage to a porter.
We expected to be sprayed with antiseptic gel as we boarded the ship, but although there was a gel dispenser there nobody insisted on its use. This routine continued during the cruise. The gel was there outside the restaurants but its use was not enforced at all.
Our late arrival time proved to be a bonus as you are not allowed to board the ship until 1500 on the first Saturday, but can leave your luggage at the terminal. Your cabin is available from 2000 on Saturday so we went to our cabin first and found our Costa cards which serve as the door key and onboard account. It had taken 90 minutes from walking off the aircraft to getting onto the ship including shopping - Fantastic! Within an hour our luggage appeared so our cruise had really begun.
The Costa Luminosa
The Luminosa is a beautiful ship, elegantly decorated and well laid out. A lot of thought has gone into the design from the spacious cabins to the layout of the theatre and bars. There are lots of lifts/elevators so getting around is very fast. The use of hi-tech information and booking "totems" reduced the lines at the enquiry desks and made booking of the facilities very easy. Even the registering of your credit card was done using an ATM style machine. Note, only Visa and Mastercard debit cards are acceptable, not Maestro and Cirrus only. The machines are in 10 languages and so are all the announcements and entertainment! The ship is efficiently run and everything appeared to work except the air-conditioning. We had a balcony cabin on deck 8 for 3 people. This was very convenient for getting refreshment from the cafeteria on deck 9! Normally it's a bit of a squeeze, but the cabin was much longer and wider than normal so we had no problems. The balcony was fairly large but had a large overhang from the restaurant deck above, this did not affect lower decks. I was informed that the cabins with the smallest overhang and largest balconies were on deck 4. There was a mini-bar in the room and a hair dryer, but no iron. The beds were very large and comfortable. Large cases fitted easily under the beds. However, we did not sleep very well as the room was always hot and humid, so we complained about the air-conditioning. Someone came to fix it but it wasn't just our cabin, the whole ship seemed humid compared to our other cruises. Other faults we had were quickly dealt with. The sockets are 110v US type and 230v Continental. You cannot use 2 UK adaptors together as the sockets are too close, so bring a lead with a US plug for charging your electronics as they are multi-voltage. There is a second dual outlet in the bathroom which only works with the light on. The cabin service was excellent. The room was made up twice a day and ice was re-plenished at the same time. We had breakfast in the room most days at no extra charge, but the timings were a bit erratic and the drinks were often cold. There is a €2 charge for room service at other times.
There is one main dining room, the Taurus with two sittings. The Taurus was a lovely place to eat, the serving stations were all separated from the tables, but some tables were very close to each other. We had asked for a table of 6-10 and were paired up with a very friendly family threesome, also from England with a teenage daughter. This infinitely improved our cruise experience as there were few opportunities to meet other English-speaking guests other than on a tour, accidental encounters or if you were lucky enough to be sat with them at the open seating breakfasts and lunches.
The food and service in the Taurus was quite good. The service at dinner was very slick as there was a time constraint, but there was still time for coffee. The food was good rather than sensational. The worst dinner was at the Christmas Eve Gala. We had dry turkey with no cranberry sauce, no Christmas pudding and not a mince pie in sight. I think it was the Italian style that affected the menu! The ice cream was lovely compared to the fare at the cafeteria. The lunch service was not as hurried and was not recommended if you wanted to leave the ship for a day out. There were two Gala formal dinners and one Arabian Theme night. However, there were still a lot of men who think that formal is a clean pair of jeans! The Samara guests had their own restaurant, but I'm sure it was the same menu as the Taurus. There was a fine dining restaurant called the Luminosa Club which we did not use.
The main cafeteria was the Andromeda on deck 9 which served food and drinks most of the day. You could get tea, coffee, water and pizza all the time. The water dispensers were handy for refilling your own bottles prior to a day out as the ship's water was fine. There were ice cream machines available at meal times, but the ice cream was horrible. It was water based rather than milk. The Andromeda included a Grill Bar for burgers, etc and several pasta stations. This reduced the lines as there were several serving stations. The only time it got crowded was when the tour buses returned as it was the only place to eat. The food was again good, but not memorable.
There were several bars which also sold coffee and cake. The main entertainment bar was the Elettra on deck 2 and then the Piano Bar Antares on deck 3, which was always less crowded. There was also a noise insulated disco frequented by the younger set. There did not appear to be a proper band on board, so things never really hotted up, as the music mainly consisted of aged Duos with music machines! The main problem with all the bars was the smoke. One half of each bar allowed smoking which eventually dispersed everywhere - ugh!
The main evening show was held twice nightly in the fabulous Phoenix Theatre. As there was a show for each sitting there were always enough seats, but after watching all the shows I can see why! Costa tries to be all things to all men, so the constant 10 language announcements meant there was no room for a compere or comedian in the shows. Even the Bingo was in 8 languages! The theatre itself is very hi-tech with laser lights and turntables, etc and had an excellent layout. The shows consisted of a talented 14 strong Russian Dance Troupe, who did a 45 minute show, but did not sing. The next show was all singing from an Italian female singer who cleared most of the Italians away by singing in English for the first 20 minutes! The following show was 45 minutes of acrobatics and juggling from a very athletic Chinese Troupe. The shows would have been much better with some variety as they were all one thing or another. The usual Crew talent show was a bit of a fix as most of the acts were from the entertainment staff who sang in the Bars! On the final Saturday the theme was Arabian Dancing and again we had 15 minutes of one man twirling around in a traditional LED Illuminated Costume! This was followed by a Belly Dancer who insisted on pulling children from the front row to accompany her on stage - had she been checked by "the Child Protection Agency?"
Life on Board
The first day started with a Ship's brief in English at 0930. As most people had arrived between 2300 and 0200 the night before, it was a bit early and the information was repeated on the TV and also in the Daily "Today" ship's paper. The English host had a daily hour for any problems, but did not organise any "meet and greet" sessions for the 500 English speakers. If you asked any questions at her briefs you were told to see her afterwards and she would not discuss any problems even if they applied to the majority!
The "Today" paper was delivered every evening and contained the relevant information for the following day. It was an essential read, especially when the clocks changed! The TV had the usual programs of excursions and the cruise events to date. The only English channel was BBC World and sometimes there was a free film in English, but as there was no TV schedule it was a bit hit and miss! You could pay €9 to see more recent films in English.
As the ship's currency was the Euro, this made everything expensive for £ and $ guests. The cocktail of the day was €5, plus the 15% service for drinks. This was the bargain of the day, so we had a few of those during the week. There were drinks packages at extra cost, but the arrangements and rules varied, so Costa needs to be contacted directly to get the best deal for you as the internet wasn't very clear on what was available.
The extra features of the Luminosa were the Golf and Racing car simulators. The car was €20-25 for 5-7 minutes and was quite exciting if you could drive well, as the car was very easy to crash. A lot of people spent most of their time impaled in a straw bale. A reset "on track" button would have been handy for novices. The golf looked good, but at over €100 for a round it should be. The 4D cinema at €8 for a 12 minute Disney style ride was good fun. Playstations were also available for rent and there was a Video Arcade. The big pool had a retractable roof and was mainly frequented by children. As the ship was docked during the day except the first and last days, there were plenty of sun-loungers available in quieter parts of the ship. There was also an adult pool at the aft end of deck 9.
As the ship was in port most days there was not a lot happening on board during the day. There was an excellent gym and a spa which offered a wide range of treatments. There was a dance lesson most days around late afternoon which was well attended and good fun. I wish we'd attended that second Tango lesson!
There was also a large Children's club and Teen club, the former being the more popular. The smaller children appeared very happy and were taught to perform a routine for the Arabian Night.
The Arabian Night consisted of Folk dancing on the stage in the large pool area that also had a huge TV screen which showed all the action on stage plus the ship's TV channel during the day. The evening also had belly dancing by the Dance Troupe and a Conga dance of all those who had dressed in costume. It was an enjoyable evening that was followed by a Midnight Buffet around the pool.
The Casino was quite popular. There were lessons for beginners for the table games and plenty of one arm bandits for those keen on losing their money. The casino was only open when at sea.
Deck 3 had a small mall of shops selling the usual cruise memorabilia and jewellery. There were the usual watch and gold offers during the week. The duty free did not compare at all with the airport. The photo shop displayed most of the ad hoc pictures taken on arrival and in the dining room, but some pictures were left in your room with an order form. If you did not want to order they were collected the next day. There were plenty of opportunities for Formal photos on Gala nights. A DVD was available at the end of the cruise for €40 which highlighted your cruise.
Christmas on Board
The cruise was from 19th December to the 26th, so Christmas featured everywhere on board with illuminated trees and nativity sets on show throughout the ship. Door decorations were placed on every cabin door and the crew wore Santa hats. Christmas music was continuously played over the PA, but it wasn't intrusive. There was a Mass on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the Theatre. There was also a Christmas theme to some of the entertainment during the week. However, for British guests the lack of our usual Christmas fare and cranberry sauce was a bit of a downer. Christmas was also actively displayed ashore in the local Malls! Ports of Call and Tours
At all the ports of call the ship advised that you could not walk out of the port. Most ports were out of town except Muscat. A free bus was provided to get you to the port gates. At every port except Muscat there is absolutely nothing to see within walking distance of the gates! Taxis are available from the gates but may not be metered, so you could get scammed! The souk and cafes are walkable from the gate only at Muscat. At Fujairah and Abu Dhabi there were shuttle buses to the shopping mall for €6. This was well worth the trip at Abu Dhabi as it was on the opposite side of the city from the port along the beautiful tree-lined Corniche. As there was not a lot to see in Fujairah it was an excuse to leave the ship and stock up at "no haggle" prices at Lulu's which is the UAE equivalent of Wal-Mart. At Dubai the shuttle bus to the Dubai Mall was free and again was well worth the trip if you didn't have anything else planned. The Mall is right by the Burj Tower, the world's tallest building by miles!
Taxis were available in and out of Dubai right by the ship. There is a port charge of Dhr20-25 included in the fare. Taxis could only bring you back to the ship at other ports due to security. There was a hop on hop off bus tour available at the ship in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Full details of these tours including the maps are available on Google.
As usual you could view the expensive Costa tours and book them online before you go. As previously described the tours were either of the city highlights or safaris into the desert with various lengths of transit time. Hotel tours included overpriced tea or lunch stops at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi or the Burj Al Arab in Dubai. The only alternatives were taxis, hop on/off buses or finding a reputable local tour guide. Just wandering off on your own is not recommended. The ship provides you with a useless map at each port but an up to date guide book is essential as everything is changing very quickly. The Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi in my 2007 book had moved 10 miles!
We ended up using the Hop on/off tours in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai after being quoted a ridiculous taxi fare at the gate at Abu Dhabi. The tour has only been running since December in AD. The bus picked you up at the ship then dropped you at the port gate in Abu Dhabi where another bus met you. The tour was very informative and had a 20 minute frequency if you got off. We bought a 2 city ticket which was discounted; it also included a Marina Mall Tower visit in Abu Dhabi and a Dhow cruise in Dubai. At Dubai the bus took you into town to pick up the Red City Tour. After a few minutes you arrived at the Wafi Mall, which is worth a visit. From there you could change to the Blue Beach Tour which goes out to the Atlantis on the Palm and back via the Emirates and Dubai Malls. Hint - if you are on the Beach tour and it's getting late, you can get off at the Dubai Mall and go downstairs to the shuttle bus area and get the free shuttle back to the ship which runs until 2100. This saves going back into town and changing buses twice to catch the last bus back to the ship which leaves at 1845! If you miss it the taxi fare to the ship is only about £5/$8.
Compared to Europe there is not much culture to see apart from the Mosques and Palaces. The museums contain little more than weaponry and costumes until the Guggenheim opens in Abu Dhabi. The most amazing things to see are on a Las Vegas theme, i.e. Glitzy hotels and shopping malls, especially in Dubai. The Wafi Mall had an Egyptian theme and the Dubai Mall had a spectacular aquarium and waterfall.
We booked the Mystical Muscat Tour as this should have included a visit to the Grand Mosque and Palace. In the end we just had a fleeting glimpse of the Mosque from 500 yards and a quick drive by of the Palace Entrance so you couldn't even get a photo! This was caused by the Sultan visiting the Mosque so everything shut down including the traffic. There were no real alternative sites to see apart from a distant view of the luxury Al Bustan Hotel. After the small Museum the final shopping trip to the souk was across the road from the ship! Even going with the Costa tour has its drawbacks. We are still negotiating a refund!
Our tour above highlights the main problems of tourism in its infancy in this area. The local dignitaries can bring havoc to a city at short notice by closing everything down almost on a whim. Our mosque visit in Abu Dhabi was also denied by arriving during an unscheduled closure, but at least there was no traffic jam.
We did not take part in any other Costa tours as we found the ability to see what we wanted much easier with the Hop on/off bus. This had the advantage of a direct connection to the ship and an excellent commentary in 8 languages on a known itinerary. However, Spanish was not available. We did not get off the ship in Bahrain as there was nothing there to get too excited about unless you want to visit the old Grand Prix track.
You can leave the ship anytime from when it docks on the Friday until the early hours of Sunday morning and still use all the facilities. You can use your cabin until 1630 on the last Saturday. There are facilities to keep your hand luggage safe while your main bags are off-loaded depending on your departure time.
We had a brief in English on Friday morning about the arrangements as well as comprehensive notes in the "Today." Final accounts were delivered to cabins early Saturday morning and if there were no problems they were automatically settled on your card. Queries had to be sorted before collecting passports from 0400 to 0930 on the Saturday in the Piano Bar. If you had lost your passport receipts your entire group had to collect in person, otherwise only one had to go. It was amazing that the line was only a couple of minutes long as everything was arranged efficiently.
Most queries were about the compulsory service charge. As it was mentioned in the booking conditions I can't see why people have to complain about it at the end of their trip. It was mainly passengers who had eaten only in the cafeteria objecting to tipping a waiter they never saw in the Taurus. There were still staff in the cafeteria, folks.
On the Wednesday you were asked what time you would be leaving the ship so you got the correct colour coded labels. Luggage had to be left outside your cabin with the coded labels at least 8 hours before you departed the ship. If you were leaving the ship and returning on the last Saturday you could leave your hand luggage under supervision in the Antares Disco on deck 2 until 2300. Anything purchased on board on the last day was payable in Euros or US dollars.
For those travelling with Costa there were display boards around the bars and theatre with your flight and departure times from the ship shown complete with any flight delays. On finally leaving the ship you collected your luggage in the terminal and went through security and customs to your bus or taxi. There were no big lines and plenty of taxis. Twenty minutes after leaving the ship we were at the airport ready for the 8 hour flight back to London and not the 12 hour trip via Frankfurt Costa wanted us to use!
We all had a lovely cruise on the Costa Luminosa it's a fine ship efficiently run. We met new friends and saw some amazing sites, though not all complete, especially in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. We were disappointed not to have seen inside a Grand Mosque due to the unforeseen closures. As Costa tries to appeal to all nationalities this does restrict the entertainment program. For English speaking guests there will soon be US cruise ships on this itinerary which should have greater appeal. Nevertheless, Costa had a competitively priced cruise especially if you had children. This advantage was reduced on board by the Euro prices.
This itinerary will be great in 5 years when the area is completed and the building work stops completely instead of temporarily.
Would we cruise Costa again? It depends on the itinerary and competition!