neoRomantica Cruise Review by pirasea: Good Itinerary, but It's Costa
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Good Itinerary, but It's Costa
We chose this cruise based on itinerary. Having been on the Romantica before, and having been with Costa in the Indian Ocean before, we had very low expectations for the level of service, the quality of food, and our fellow passengers. Everything was a little better than we expected, but we still wouldn't have chosen Costa except for the itinerary. Also, this was the first time I've ever been bored on a ship - if you don't speak Italian, there's not much for onboard entertainment.
This was a 21 day repositioning cruise from Mauritius to Singapore, with stops in the Seychelles; the Maldives; Cochin, India; Colombo, Sri Lanka; Phuket, Thailand; Langkawi, Malaysia; and Port Klang, Malaysia and overnight stays in Mauritius and Singapore.
Getting to the Port
We booked our own airfare. Having sailed out of Mauritius with Costa last year, we expected to be able to buy a Costa transfer to the pier at the airport. That turned out to be the More case, but the price had tripled. In 2009, we paid 10 Euros a person for the transfer, which takes close to an hour. This time, we were told it would be 30 Euros per person. That seemed so outrageous that we asked three different Costa reps before we were convinced they were serious. Unless you're traveling alone, the transfer is a rip-off - we paid only 35 Euros for a taxi for four people and all our luggage.
We arrived at the ship around 8:45AM. Embarkation was fairly quick, but quite odd. There were no signs and no humans to tell us what to do with our luggage or where to go. There were 2 very nonchalant women at desks. One slowly flipped through our papers and then said that we hadn't filled out some additional forms that no one had given us, so we were sent over to sit at some tables and fill out some more forms. Then she slowly flipped through the papers again and sent us to wait in a line to get on the ship. The line moved fairly slowly since a single member of the ship's security staff was checking documents again at the bottom of the gangway. At the top of the gangway, they took pictures, sent us through security and collected passports. We were told that cabins wouldn't be ready until 11:00 and that we could go to the buffet in the meantime, but the buffet was closed. Once we got to our cabins, one of the four people in our group did not get her cruise card - the card in her cabin belonged to someone else. Registering credit cards was painless with an ATM-like machine. It took almost 6 hours for the luggage to be delivered to the cabin.
We had a minisuite on 11 with panoramic windows, which was fairly spacious and gives you a great view when you want to get away from the crowds - there are virtually no balconies on this ship. Service was a bit spotty - several times we had to leave notes to get glasses, beach towels, toilet paper, etc. We were told that due to crew reductions, the stewards are taking care of a lot more cabins than they were a year ago, and the drop in service was evident. One day we came back to the cabin to find a pile of dirty towels in the middle of the bathroom floor and no new towels - apparently the steward had been distracted by something and never came back. Our bathroom almost always had a sulfur smell and an ominous gurgling noise under the shower whenever we ran water in the sink. The minisuites are also very noisy - they are near the marble stairs and the door to the pool (which is where the band sets up for outdoor parties). On the nights with an outdoor party, you will be able to hear all the action from your bed. There wasn't much to pick from in English on the TV. For three weeks we never had cold water and I never took a shower with the water set on anything other than the coldest setting - that's how warm the "cold" was. A couple of days the water in our bathroom was so discolored I wouldn't drink it.
There is no place to listen to music before dinner if you are first seating (and most of the passengers are European, so second seating is later than on most ships). Similarly, if you eat at first seating, there is nothing to do after dinner until 9:00 on most nights. Many nights featured an Italian language game show in the piazza. The live music was pretty mediocre. One duo consisted of a man on piano who sang and a woman who stood next to him swaying - she almost never did anything except stand there. When she did sing, she sang in English but her accent was so heavy that it was hard to determine what song it was. Giorgio was a man who played electric guitar along with the karaoke version of songs, which was not very exciting but tolerable, but some nights he sang too. Unfortunately, he couldn't sing, and he couldn't remember lyrics, but that didn't stop him from butchering everything from the Bee Gees to George Strait, sometimes playing the same song list in the same order night after night. Poker Band was much more talented, but they played songs that were largely unfamiliar to me (even the English ones).
There's not much for daytime activities. Trivia was played in several languages, and sometimes things got lost in translation, so some passengers who took it a little too seriously complained about some of the answers. There were also cooking demonstrations, which lasted only a few minutes, and some pool games.
The production shows were pretty good (although definitely a step down from RC), but more European in flavor than on the average ship - more suggestive dancing and lots of costumes (for men and women) involving thongs. The acrobatic acts, the classical pianist, the tenor and the boleador were very good. A couple of nights they showed movies, but the English movie was shown at 10:45 - too late for us. The crew show was excellent. Other shows were more of a mixed bag and it seemed that several acts did not have enough material for a whole show, which resulted in variety shows with a couple of different acts, which I didn't enjoy much.
The "performance art" by the cruise director's staff was quite entertaining. Several crew members in costume would follow passengers around the atrium and shops until the passenger noticed, crew would pretend to sleep on the floor outside the shops, etc. We'd never seen that kind of performance on a ship before and it was fun.
This was the first time I've been bored on a ship, but there was generally nothing to do on a sea day except go to dinner and then maybe the show. Since there aren't many English speaking passengers, there aren't many English books in the tiny library or at the book swap, so bring a lot of reading material if that's your thing. The Internet cafe is tiny and very expensive.
Food at the grill was awful. Hot dogs, hamburgers, French fries, etc. were made ahead of time and piled up to be taken buffet-style, so everything was cold. Nothing was made to order.
Dinner is almost always limited to the dining room or the pizzeria, which doesn't open until 9:00. There is no alternative restaurant and the buffet was only open for dinner on a couple of nights when excursions came back too late to eat in the dining room. The food in the dining room was better than we expected, and certainly better than on the Europa, but definitely worse than on most other cruise lines. By the third week the menu felt a little repetitive and some nights it was hard to find anything that really appealed. The seafood options were definitely geared towards European tastes - if you don't care for cuttlefish and shellfish and huge whole shrimp, you'll probably end up eating beef, pork, or the vegetarian option. There were two pasta dishes every night and they were excellent. The vegetables were all previously frozen and mostly overcooked. Service was mostly fine but nothing special - the waiters didn't introduce themselves or try to make any connection with us until late in the cruise. Sometimes dishes were delivered to the wrong people, and we never really succeeded in getting the waiter to bring us enough ice in the water.
Lunch was served in the dining room (open seating, with table service) or at the buffet. Breakfast was served in the dining room (open seating, with table service only for hot items, cold items were buffet) or at the buffet. For breakfast and lunch, service in the dining room ranged from disinterested to poor. Some days, it seemed like there simply weren't enough waiters. Mostly, they just seemed like they didn't want to be there. Breakfast was inconsistent. For example, if you ordered hash browns, sometimes you got one piece, sometimes two, sometimes three. Almost all of the bacon on the ship was badly undercooked and the pineapple was always brown.
The buffet is still the worst I've encountered at sea. The food is always cold. You can see the steam rising from the steam tables, so it's clear that the food isn't hot when they put it on the buffet, and the steam table is insufficient to heat the food to a palatable (or safe) temperature. The setup is also awful, both for the foodservice and the seating, and there's an ice/water machine plunked in the middle of the tables. If you don't arrive very early, it will be very difficult to find a seat.
The coffee card is worthwhile if you like good coffee anytime other than breakfast. Cappuccino is available in the dining room at breakfast for no extra charge.
The gelato, sorbet, pasta, and breads and pastries were consistently good. The pizza at the buffet was good but it was never hot. We didn't try the pizzeria because it opened too late for us. Tea time on the buffet was good, with small sandwiches and cookies.
As we have found to be the case on other Costa cruises, the descriptions of the excursions sometimes bore little resemblance to reality. On one of our trips in Phuket, the English language hostess (who happened to be on our boat), the local guide, and the boat captain were negotiating the itinerary for our day as we went along, after we pointed out that we weren't doing the things we were supposed to be doing. We booked our excursions online far in advance of our trip, and had no trouble getting English language trips. Passengers who waited until they were on board, however, found most of the English trips sold out. We were sent forms to fill out if we wanted to take an excursion on embarkation day, but no one ever asked us for them or told us where to turn them in.
Service & Shipboard Life
I'm not sure how much could have been done about it due to the geography involved, but the pacing of the cruise could have been better. The second half of the cruise was very hectic, with long port days almost every day - it would have been nice to have another sea day or two.
The ship is showing signs of age and there is no prom deck. The tiny area designated for jogging up top means dodging all the deck chairs. The ship was also having intermittent problems with the toilets, which would not flush properly. The wakeup call system stopped functioning properly once we started to turn the clocks ahead. At one point, the call would come an hour and a half after we set it for. After we told the front desk, they adjusted it so the call was only a half hour late. It also appeared that if you wanted a wakeup call on the morning after the clocks changed, you couldn't put in for it until after midnight, or the call would come at the wrong time. We quickly lost faith in it and started setting an alarm clock we had packed.
Air conditioning on the ship is almost nonexistent except for Tango lounge. It was especially unbearable in the dining room and the theater. You won't get as many wearings out of your dinner cloths as you think. It was just very uncomfortable trying to eat dinner in nice clothes with sweat running down your back, and it was unappetizing to be served by waiters dripping with sweat.
There are no paper towels in any of the public bathrooms. This is presumably intended to save paper, but then they only put out s few facecloths to use as individual hand towels, so they quickly run out and everyone resorts to using the boxes of Kleenex.
There is a lot more smoking on this ship than on most others. The smoking section in the piazza filled the air with smoke even if you sat in the nonsmoking area, and the main exit from the piazza for purposes of going on excursions was through the smoking area.
Our butler told us that the fruit bowl in the cabin wouldn't be as good as usual and there wouldn't be any berries because it was a repositioning cruise.
We were on board for Easter, and they decorated the cabin doors and put a big chocolate egg in each cabin. They also decorated the lounges for various theme nights, which was really nice.
The ship's tenders seemed to be in disrepair. All of the tenders I rode in had broken chairs or leaks (either around windows or in the ceiling) requiring you to sit in a puddle. I don't think they were unsafe in an emergency, but the lack of maintenance made me wonder.
There were two English speaking hosts, one for Aussies and one for US/UK. Ours was terrific - she had the perfect personality for the job and frequently made rounds during dinner to see if anybody needed anything.
Our fellow passengers were a much different mix than we had experienced on prior Costa cruises, and it made for a much more enjoyable cruise. This time, we had a lot more English speaking guests and lots more passengers from Germany and France. On the whole, there were a lot more people willing to wait their turn instead of pushing and shoving than we've found on other Costa cruises.
Disembarkation was effortless. We actually got off several hours later than the time assigned to our luggage tag color because our flight had been cancelled due to the volcanic ash, but that did not cause us any problems. Less
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