I am writing this review to give you our experience of the Costa Serena. If you like to travel with well mannered British passengers and speak English all the time then I suggest you read no further and travel on a British ship from the UK. However if you want a more European style fun ship and an amazing itinerary then this might be the ship for you!
We have travelled with Costa before and booked this trip at fairly short notice. If you fly to Marco Polo (Main Venice airport) then you can get an ACTV bus to Piazzale de Roma, Venice and then Costa run a regular shuttle to the ship. As we arrived around noon there were still passengers disembarking but we were able to board immediately with minimal fuss. In less than half an hour from arriving in Venice we were on deck having lunch and looking down over the city. Luggage was in the cabin by 1pm and my aunt had her swim suit on and beat the Italians to the Jacuzzi!
Costa Serena is a large modern ship which is easy to negotiate and has pleasant dEcor. The theme of the ship is ancient mythology so apart from the atrium the colour schemes were pleasant to the eye. Despite the sailing being full there was still plenty of space inside the ship although the outside decks were busy on sea days.
The Dining room was very good and open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We had a lovely table for 4 and very good service there. The quality of the food was very good with nice sized portions, good variety and 7 courses every night if you can eat that much. There were 2 formal nights but there were not black tie. My Dad just wore a shirt & tie but we girls were still able to dress up. In Europe anything goes.
The buffet on Lido deck was open most of the day. I preferred Room Service for breakfast but the early risers in the group were up at 7am for their full English. The lunchtime buffet caters for Italians/Europeans so there was loads of fresh sea food, pizza, amazing pasta and grilled meat/burgers & chips at the outside grill. Although there's greater variety on the American ships we all managed nice meals every day. There was afternoon tea with sandwiches from 4-5pm. We ate in the Dining room every night although buffet was open and then Pizzeria open from 9pm-1am. There were at least 2 big outdoor gala buffets at midnight and they also served snacks around midnight in the lounges.
As Costa club members we also got a basket of fruit, champagne and chocolates in the cabin plus free photo and reception with the captain. Drinks are quite expensive and the packages are probably best.
The ship is Italian so all announcements will be made in Italian then in around 6 languages. All literature we received was in English and we had a daily newspaper. The guests were mostly Italian, Spanish and French but there were groups from Russia, USA, Japan and Turkey so Costa did a good job in catering for everyone. It is different to being with mainly British or American tourists so you just have to get your elbows out, join in with the crowd and have a laugh. Although there were 350 English speaking guests on our sailing we rarely bumped into them! However there is a hostess, called Helen, for English speaking guests who was very friendly and really helpful. Although we didn't need to ask her much she frequently came to our dinner table to check if we were OK and went out of her way to chat to us all.
The shows in the theatre were not great and after a few we stopped going. In the evenings we loved to people watch and join in some of the activities in the lounges. Lots of dancing, music and catering for holiday makers from 2-102. The entertainment staff (Animators) were very lively and we joined in on a lot of activities. Dad loved the daily quiz and even though it was multilingual he still won a few prizes. He also tried out the formula one simulator which he really enjoyed. On sea days Mum & I tried out the Arts and crafts which was fun and Mum even tried the Brazilian line dancing. In general we didn't have time to try most activities and I didn't even get to open the novel I bought at the airport!
From the cabin attendant to the captain we experienced friendly efficient service from all the staff on the ship.
PORTS OF CALL
This was a fabulous chance to experience some historical sites in the eastern Mediterranean from the comfort of a European ship. We travelled 2500 nautical miles past amazing coastlines and across 2 continents.
I am an intrepid explorer and just love the challenge of finding my own way so we used public transport or explored on foot in most ports. Costa have a good range of tours ranging from 50euros
VENICE Words can not describe the view you will see from the ship as she goes through the Guidiccea canal and you look down on Venice. Be sure to reserve a spot on the left hand side of the ship and you will not be disappointed as you glide past St Mark's square. We cracked open some bubbly and congratulated ourselves for choosing this itinerary.
BARI This is a small town in Puglia right at the heel of Italy. As you walk off the ship you can jump on a local tour bus. My mum & aunt took that 2 hour trip for 10 euros whilst Dad and I walked the same itinerary: Norman fort, main piazza, opera house, city walls, Basilica of St Nicholas and the beach. It's a compact little town with friendly locals so you can't get lost.
KATAKALON (Olympia) There was a group decision not to visit Olympia as our time in port was limited and the beach seemed more attractive. As you walk out of the port turn left and there is a small beach with umbrellas, chairs and a beach bar. It is pebbly like many beaches in Greece but you can't beat the location. There is also a sandy beach about 20 mins walk on the other side of town. The ship provided us with beach towels so we had a great relaxing morning at the beach with a nice swim. The town in small, but some nice souvenir shops and lovely tavernas overlooking the harbour. We just wished we had longer in port
IZMIR This is a large industrial harbour but the dock is only 5 mins walk from the city. Our group split here with 2 hitting the shops and 2 of us taking an organised tour to Ephesus and Virgin Mary's house. If you like Greek history and archaeology then this is the place for you. It takes about an hour's drive through beautiful countryside to reach Ephesus. Our bus was only for English speaking guests and the guide was very knowledgeable about the local history. Ephesus is HOT but well worth the visit and the journey up to Selcuk to the site of early Christianity and Mary's house was very peaceful and interesting. On returning to the ship the shopaholics had bartered with their euros and filled the cabin with shoes, handbags and sunglasses and also had a fab day.
ISTANBUL The journey through the Dardenelles and sea of Marmara is wonderful and as you see the minarets in the skyline it does feel as though you are approaching a new continent. After some research I opted for public transport. There is a tram stop close to the port but you need Turkish Lira to buy tokens. It takes 5 stops to the Blue Mosque (Sultanamhet). Get off here and you can enjoy the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and Hippodrome with beautiful gardens and views over the Bosphorus. 2 tram stops further is the Grand Bazzar but we just walked there. It's truly amazing to visit these sites and the day just flew by. After a day's walking and weary legs we enjoyed the view leaving Istanbul from the Jacuzzi on deck with Bocelli playing-magical.
DUBROVNIK After a full day at sea we were refreshed and ready to go again. The ship anchors at sea so you have to be tendered in. I was expecting caos but we only waited about 10 mins in one of the lounges to be escorted in an orderly fashion to the tender. The views of Dubrovnik harbour and the old city from the sea were picture postcard. You can explore this city on foot very easily and mingle with the locals and other tourists.
IN SUMMARY We will definitely travel with Costa again and would even do the same itinerary on their new ship. This cruise gave us a chance to see places we might not visit independently from the luxury of our big white ship. We felt Costa gave us excellent service and very good value for money. As a family of different age groups we like cruising Italian style. However if you want 5 star luxury or British etiquette then it's probably not for you. Look at the price, the itinerary and it's a great deal.