My partner and I recently undertook the Mumbai-Civitavecchia leg of Costa Allegra's repositioning cruise. This was our first time on a cruise ship, and we booked it because some friends were doing the full Singapore-Civitavecchia trip and suggested we join them, and because the itinerary was very appealing.
Prior to making our booking we had heard little of Costa or the Allegra, and after reading some of the reviews on this site we wondered what we had done. Our friends, though, had sailed on the Allegra previously, and kept telling us to expect a 3 star ship, and we would be happy. It was good advice.
We travelled to Mumbai independently, and spent a couple of days there prior to embarking. What a fascinating, almost overwhelming city.
This then was our honest experience as 53 year-old first timer cruisers:
This was by far our worst experience of Costa. At no stage, on the website or in our cruise documentation, were we informed where we could board the ship. We understand that perhaps Costa does not regularly dock in Mumbai, but we had to rely on our on-board friends to text message us to tell us where to go to embark. Not a good start.
At the "Green Gate" to the port we were met by Indian immigration officials who couldn't (or wouldn't) understand that we were new passengers boarding the ship, not existing passengers returning from a day in port. We didn't yet have our Costa cards, nor the immigration card issued to disembarking passengers, and despite our tickets and booking advices the immigration officers wouldn't let us pass. There were no Costa personnel in attendance.
After a 10 minute stand-off we were "rescued" by some returning passengers who pretended that they knew us, and with the sudden force of numbers the immigration officers relented. We were lucky; we later heard some horrendous stories from other embarking passengers, from bribes paid to long hours spent in the shocking heat arguing with police and officials. We felt that a Costa officer should have been on hand at the gate to ensure we were able to pass.
Once past immigration our embarkation was smooth, and trouble-free. There was no-one else boarding when we did, and our luggage arrived in our cabin almost before we did.
The Allegra is one of the two smallest ships in the Costa fleet, with just 399 cabins. Converted from a cargo ship in 1992, she was apparently last renovated in 2006. The small size of the ship was a major drawcard in our opinion. Within a short period we knew our way around, and we kept meeting the same guests and staff members. It is an intimate feeling.
The public areas of the ship are decorated in an "Italian style". They are colourful, shiny in some areas, filled with interesting fittings, prints and statues. It is perhaps becoming a little tired, but it is comfortable decor and suits the small ship ambience.
We had expected a less than smooth ride after reading previous reviews, but this didn't eventuate. Perhaps we were just lucky, but our passage was almost universally smooth, and most times we scarcely knew we were afloat.
One aspect of Costa which we didn't particularly appreciate was their smoking policy. Half of the main Murano bar is reserved for smokers, plus a section of the Flamenco Lounge, and we understand that passengers may smoke in their cabins. We soon learned which parts of the ship to avoid if we didn't want to walk through a smoke screen, so it wasn't a major issue for us.
Ours was an outside cabin, number 5047 (category E4) on the Modigliani deck and we were pleasantly surprised by the accommodation. It was larger than expected, nicely decorated, we had two large portholes, and it was spotlessly clean. The bed was very comfortable, and the bathroom was more than just a cupboard; the shower was always hot.
Carla, our room attendant, was a gem. She serviced the room twice daily, providing fresh towels etc on each occasion. The cabin was maintained in spotless condition throughout the cruise, and on the couple of occasions we requested something extra (like a blanket, or a pillow) it was quickly delivered.
Many previous posters have mentioned the quality of the water, and we were expecting something like rust to erupt from the taps. As it was, there was a slight tinge in the hot water, which was only visible when the basin was filled. Early in the cruise it was mentioned that considerable lengths of piping were being replaced throughout the ship as we sailed, so perhaps previous guests' comments have been acted on.
We took most of our meals in the Montmartre dining room. This is a large space broken into three smaller areas by low level glass partitioning. It has a comfortable feel to it, and if you're lucky enough to be in the rear area (as we were for dinner) there are full length windows looking over the sea at the rear of the ship.
Breakfast is served for 1.75 hours at varying times, earlier when the ship is in port. It is a hot and cold buffet style meal, with a further selection of cooked dishes able to be ordered from the egg-chef or from the menu. We found the choice and quality of food to be very good, although unchanging; in particular the bread products and pastries from the ship's own bakery were excellent.
Lunch and dinner are taken from a menu offering six to seven courses, with a choice of two to four dishes in each course. The overall flavour is unmistakably Italian, however there are usually a couple of Asian style options, and at lunch there are several snack type offers such as burgers, hot dogs or club sandwiches. We felt spoiled for choice, and we cannot imagine a situation where passengers could not find dishes to their liking.
We found the food to be almost uniformly good - in 17 days of cruising there were only a couple of occasions on which we didn't particularly like a dish we'd ordered (and that can happen in the finest of restaurants). In our experience the food was always served hot (as appropriate), and all diners at the table received their meals at the same time. Our waiter Conrad and wine waiter Sandra provided excellent service, and we looked forward to their cheerful welcomes at the end of each day.
There were four formal nights during our 17 night cruise. Not many of the passengers wore full formal attire, but most made an attempt to dress more formally than normal. There was also an Italian night, during which the waiters wore costumes in Italian colours, and the food was more "Italian" than usual.
The other dining option is the Yacht Club buffet, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as afternoon tea, and tea/coffee at any time. It is a more casual area, and offers a good spread of cooked and cold dishes from the same kitchen as the dining room. We ate here on a few occasions, usually before or after a long excursion, and were happy with the offerings. However, we are not generally buffet people, and preferred the dining room experience.
The performers in the Follies Bergeres ballroom tried their hardest, and some performances were very entertaining, but most were average. Kiko Martin and the flamenco dancers were great, as was Laszlo's classical piano performance, and we really enjoyed Yolanda Lis's concert. Going to the evening performance after dinner was something we did most nights, but it tended to just be part of a routine rather than something we necessarily looked forward to.
The musicians in the Flamenco Lounge and the Murano Bar were very good, and we enjoyed their performances, but by the end of 17 nights we had heard their repertoires many times.
A range of activities is offered each day - things like craft sessions, bridge lessons, dancing lessons, bingo, quizzes, language lessons. Many passengers seemed to be enjoying these sessions. We enjoyed always being able to find a quiet place to read a book or enjoy a game of Scrabble (from the library) with our friends.
One thing we had expected but were disappointed with was lectures on the countries we were about to visit. Apart from a virtually unintelligible lecture by the Italian hostess (in English) on Yemen, these just didn't happen.
We booked Costa excursions in four ports (Muscat, Safaga, Aqaba and Alexandria). Without exception these were excellent. The departure from the ship was organised and orderly, the tour guides were knowledgeable, we saw what we had been told we would see, lunches were included, and we had the assurance that the ship would not sail without us (which was almost an issue on one occasion).
We have read all the reviews which say that the Costa excursions are expensive. Our personal conclusion is that you get what you pay for. Yes, in every port there are taxi drivers milling at the gate who are willing to take you around for a fraction of the price you pay Costa. You might be lucky, and find a driver who can speak good English, and can actually tell you what you are seeing - maybe even give you some history. We tried this in Salalah and Aden, and were sadly disappointed; we paid a pittance, and received like value.
Published drink prices on board the Allegra are not cheap; however on this particular cruise "happy hour" lasted from 11am to noon and 5pm to 11 pm in various bars, which was excellent value - two drinks for the price of one. Our usual order was two glasses of wine, which cost us 4.86 euros (including service charge). The cocktail of the day is also excellent value at 5.75 euros for two. We don't know if the extended happy hour is ongoing, or was just for this cruise.
In the restaurant we took advantage of the wine packages, which offered vouchers for good quality Italian wines and bottled water. The packages can be purchased before the cruise, or while on board, and the vouchers can be used anywhere on ship; we used the water ones to purchase bottled water from our cabin steward each day.
The laundry service is efficient, if not cheap. We washed out our smaller items each day in our cabin, and used the laundry to wash some larger items mid-cruise. Five shirts and a pair of trousers cost about 20 Euros. They did offer a special deal towards the end of the cruise where 25 pieces of laundry would be looked after for 19 Euros, which was a bargain.
Costa Allegra is not a five star ship, but doesn't pretend to be and isn't marketed as such. She is cosy and comfortable, and we very much enjoyed cruising on her, particularly when we consider the price we paid and the fantastic itinerary we enjoyed. The crew was terrific, ever smiling, and even the officers (so often maligned in these reviews) were polite and friendly in our experience.
Our cruising companions came from many different backgrounds, which we lumped broadly into English, German, French and Italian speakers. From our perspective the interaction between the various groups was always happy - on the occasions we were seated for breakfast or lunch with people from another language group, we always found common ground with some schoolboy French or Italian. That is part of the joy of travel.
On the basis of this cruise, we would be very happy to sail again on the Allegra, and other ships in the Costa fleet.