We booked our cruise at the Cruise Show at Olympia direct through Costa Cruises. What attracted us most was the itinerary, going mostly to places we had not visited before. On paper, everything looked fine - but perhaps we should have read some reviews first.
We had some trepidation about getting to Savona, what with the Icelandic ash cloud and the BA cabin crew strikes, but in the event the flights were fine, as was the transfer from Genoa to Savona. The embarkation procedure was all a bit chaotic, with no clear instructions where to go or what to do, but with a bit of common sense we got through without undue delay.
Once on the ship our cabin was easy to find. We booked the cheapest inside cabin and were pleasantly surprised at its size and how well appointed it was. No complaints there. We were soon greeted by our stewardess, who proved pleasant, helpful and efficient throughout.
The ship is huge, and it takes a while to get used to the layout, and the fact that you frequently have to go up and down to progress along the public decks. Only on deck 5 can you walk from one end to the other without changing levels along the way.
We embarked mid-afternoon, too late for lunch, so we headed for the poolside buffet on deck 9. We had a burger and salad, which was fine at that stage.
In the evening we found our assigned seating in the restaurant and were met by very pleasant and helpful waiting staff. There was a reasonable choice of food and it was well presented and perfectly fine to eat. We were somewhat taken aback by the price charged for wine. 18 Euros plus 15% surcharge for a bottle of house wine seemed rather too much. But we were soon to learn that this over-pricing was common throughout the many bars on the ship.
After dinner we went to see the show in the main theatre, and were really quite disappointed. This amounted to a one-man 40 minute cabaret act - not at all the sort of show we would expect on a ship of this size. Elsewhere on the ship there was dancing in the main ballroom area (though not quite Strictly Come Dancing), there was kids entertainment for adults on the lido deck and live music of one sort or another in each of the bars. This pattern of entertainment went on throughout the week, and remained somewhat of a disappointment. It says something when the best show of the week was that put on by the crew on our last night.
Having been disparaging about the entertainment, perhaps we should balance it by saying that the predominantly Italian passengers seemed to rave about the shows and the multi-lingual announcers. Maybe the cultural differences are showing here.
Having said it was the itinerary which attracted us to this cruise I will not attempt any critique of the ports of call - except to say that half a day is far too short a time to see even the essentials of Barcelona, and a full day in Marseilles is half a day too long. We did our own thing in each port, and at a fraction of the price of the Costa excursions.
Coming back to the food on board, we tried breakfast both in the main restaurant and in the buffet restaurant. There was plenty of bread, cheese, cold meats and fruit, but anyone wanting a cooked breakfast was going to be disappointed by what was on offer. Lumpy scrambled egg, greasy bacon and mini sausages and hard boiled eggs were all that was on offer - not good at all. In the buffet restaurant there purported to be an egg station. You could get a fried egg as you wanted, but their omelettes bore little relationship to the real thing. The mixture they used was ready prepared and had every indication of having come out of a packet.
Lunch in the buffet restaurant was a disaster. On an Italian ship you would expect to get decent pasta and pizzas, but the quality on offer here was abysmal - even Pizza Hut does better. There was not a great deal of variety in what else was on offer either. And as for desserts, you could have fresh fruit salad or pastries - and not even a decent ice cream. Dinner in the buffet (only tried once) was no better.
Another problem in the buffet restaurant was the behaviour of many of the diners. There was little sense of order or queueing. Many just barged their way to the bit they wanted with no thought for those in line. To live in this melee you needed a sharp set of elbows! This sort of behaviour was also common elsewhere on the ship, for example at the customer service desk and the tours office, and we could not believe the pushing and shoving waiting to go into the Captain's cocktail party.
Having said all this, we enjoyed our cruise. The ship itself, although huge, was comfortable and well appointed. One shortcoming was that although there was plenty of lounging space on deck, there was really nowhere in the open to sit and have a drink in the evening. We would have enjoyed it more if the daytime food had been better.
One thing to bear in mind when booking one of these cruises is that this is essentially a bus route, with passengers embarking and disembarking at any port of call. This, allied to the fact that there is a new port of call each day, means that there is very limited shipboard activity during the day. It would seem that larger or family groups could get more out of the cruise than couples.