We have never tried a Costa cruise before and when a 7 night itinerary came out for Singapore to Hong Kong (part of a 14 night Singapore - Singapore cruise) we thought we would give it a go.
Costa were trying to encourage the Australian market and were offering reasonable fares considering the lateness of our booking. We decided to give it a go.
I will be making some negative comments in this review, but I must preface them by saying that the weekend we left for Singapore was the very same weekend that left thousands of people stranded all over the world. This was to create some problems for Costa, and may have had an influence on some of our complaints.
I should also state that Costa also had many good points, so I do not wish to have people perceive that this is a negative review, just an honest one.
We availed ourselves of the on-line check in pages to record our basic data, and when we arrived into Singapore, the bag drop and check in procedures were handled quite well.
We walked down the gang plank and onto the deck 5 reception area, only to be met with the pungent smell of stale cigarette smoke. What have we done, we asked ourselves. We did not realize that smoking was allowed inside the boat in every area, except for the Juliette bar and the restaurants. For non smokers this can be a nasty surprise. Australians have now become used to smoking restrictions in public areas, and even the Australian smokers we spoke to, were surprised at the lack of restrictions. This freedom to smoke was to restrict our involvement in many activities that were held in lounges that allowed for smoking.
Continuing on the theme of the pursuit for fresh air, leads us to the outdoor areas. The Romantica does not have a promenade deck, only a sun deck (on two levels). There is very little usable shade on these decks, and in essence I expect that the boat was purpose built of Mediterranean cruising, that involved daily port calls. It is more of a floating hotel with a roasting deck on top.
To emphasis the "hotel" comment, the non smoking Juliette bar, where we spent most of our time whilst at sea, had port holes, but so high that we could not see out them.
Meals and seating. The buffet restaurant delivered both breakfast, lunch and afternoon teas. Whilst the food was palatable, it's menu items were generally of a lesser quality than the main dining room. Hot breakfast selections never seemed to change, and by day 3, cereals and pastries seemed to be the only appetizing items.
Conversely, the evening meals were very well presented and of a much higher quality. One looked forward to the evening meal.
However, there was one negative, and that was the set seating arrangement. The first sitting was usually at 6:30pm and the second at 8:45pm. We had booked for the first sitting, but were told on day one that we were on the second. We never eat that late, so we complained. We were asked if we could accept the 2nd sitting for that night and it would be sorted out the next night. We complied with the request, knowing the problems that the volcano had caused. (Costa allowed disembarking passengers to stay on the cruise if they could not get back to Europe). Anyway, we actually had room service instead.
The next day we were place on a table where no one spoke any English. That was their offer for the remainder of the cruise. We found an unused table in entry to the restaurant and insisted that we use that one, and they obliged.
The cabin was wonderful, with a very spacious feel (we had a 2 berth double). The bathroom was equally spacious and was quite a surprise based on our other cruise experiences. The cruise line quoted a refurbishment in 2005, but the room did appear to be much older, but non the less it was very comfortable.
The entertainment (after dinner) was also very good, with a much larger variety that most cruise lines we have been on. If you do not like cultured entertainment, like classical piano, opera, etc then you might have a different opinion, but we enjoyed it. It came with the obligatory, dancers and acrobats to boot. Great stuff.
We cannot comment the extra activities that were arranged as they were held in a smoking lounge, and so we did not participate.
Excursions were handled with great efficiency, and we never had to wait too long to place our order for the next day. They were fractionally more expensive than we expected, and were in Euro's which made it worse. Not terribly good value, but that is more an effect of the poor exchange rate.
Because of the smaller numbers disembarking in Hong Kong, the whole process was quite painless, although, they wanted your suitcases out for collection by 1am, which was a bit of a nuisance - just had extra hand luggage for our personal items until we retrieved your baggage quayside.
Other comments. The majority of the passengers were Italian, German or French, with some Spanish and about 100 Australians. We never encountered any cultural issues or conflicts other than the smoking one. We were told that Europeans in general do not regard smoking as the health hazard that we have been educated to understand.
So, if you don't mind the smoke, and don't mind the exposure to the sun when outside, and don't mind if you cannot speak to your table guests at dinner, then you will love it. Others will find it a compromise.