We traveled on the Costa Marina on July 5-July 11 from Barcelona to Monaco, Livorno, Sardinia, Capri, Tunisia and Menorca. We were an American family of six. My husband and I are in our 40s, my parents are in their 70s and our children are 10 and 9. This trip appealed to all of us and we all enjoyed the ship and fantastic itinerary. My parents have been cruising for 40 years and have probably been on almost every cruise line (including Costa several times). My husband, kids, and I have sailed on Royal Caribbean, Princess, Oceania, Regent, and Star Clippers. We love to cruise and think that it is a great value...especially in Europe where accommodation, meals and transport are so expensive. Given the price of this cruise (very cheap...we bought it from a large online agency) we all thought it was a fantastic value! Sure, we have been on more luxurious ships with better food but this cruise was probably one of the better values we have received.
This was my first time on Costa and I thought it was a great European experience. According to my parents, the Costa experience in Europe is a bit more authentic than the one in the Caribbean (where they are trying to appeal to more Americans).
It was hard to find information on this particular ship because it is not marketed directly in the US. According to the official cruise critic review it is marketed almost solely to the German market. Yet, when we got on the cruise the staff told us that they do not get many German visitors. Instead, as our cruise confirmed, it is a split between mostly Spanish, Italian and French passengers. On our cruise there were 36 English speaking passengers (one other American family...the rest were British or Scandinavians) out of 800. Note: our kids kept referring to this cruise as a hop on, hop off cruise b/c passengers would get on/off at different ports. It turns out you could start/end your cruise in any of the ports. Good to know for future reference. If we had known, we might have gotten on in Monaco instead of Barcelona b/c we were in France at the start of our vacation.
The kids were the only English speakers in the Kids Club (Squok Club) and the staff (who speak five languages fluently) really were terrific with all the kids. Our son and daughter had so much fun playing all the games and singing in Italian. We have done summer cruises in Europe with the kids every year and we will never again go on an American cruise ship. This was a much better educational and fun experience for them because they met so many children/people from different countries. Also, it was much cheaper (Costa is great value). Do not be intimidated by the language issue. All the announcements and papers were in English (and the four other languages).
The cabin stewards and wait staff are mostly Indonesian or Filipino so they almost all spoke very good English (better they said than their Italian, Spanish & French). Also, we are not huge fans of the standard cheesy production shows on cruise ships, but if you like them, most of the shows featured songs in English. We liked that the singers in the lounges sang in Italian, Spanish and French.
The ship itself is fairly old and small by today's standards but it was kept clean by the very friendly staff and we liked the layout with a lot more outdoor space than today's big ships. We loved that you could sit outside (under shade) in the buffet for breakfast and lunch and we thought it was fantastic that it was rarely hard to find a seat in the buffet (on some ships you have to spend a lot of time trying to find a table...esp. for six).
Our cabin (we got two a small inside cabins..each a triple) was fine. It was small and minimal, but very clean. Our cabin steward was friendly and emptied the mini bar for us so that we could store our bottles of water in the fridge.
The demographic on this ship was very young. Mostly families with children and some grandparents. I am sure this was because it was in the summer during school holidays and also this is a lower priced cruise (b.c the ship is older and not as big).
We enjoyed the Italian food and great inexpensive wines on Costa (well they seemed inexpensive compared to other cruise lines even though the price was in euros). The buffet was adequate (we have had better) and we always found something to eat. The dinners were pretty good (remember this is a low cost line) and we liked the variety. We also enjoyed the two nights we sang in Italian and the waiters danced. A lot of fun.
Ports (the reason we picked this cruise)
Monte Carlo: beautiful to sail into and sit on the ship and have breakfast/lunch viewing the gorgeous marina. A very easy port to do on your own. We walked to the palace (short uphill walk from the dock) and took the 1 euro bus around the city. There is an information desk right in the cruise terminal...they will give you a map and tell you how to get the bus.
Livorno: We had been here on previous cruises and done Florence, Pisa, and Lucca (great town to visit). So we arranged for a driver in advance (I googled companies that do shore excursions out of Livorno and went with the cheapest...we used Santi, he was great...the email is firstname.lastname@example.org) to meet us at the ship and take us to Cinque Terre. We walked, took the boat and train to visit all five towns. We loved this day.
Olbia, Sardinia: Again easy port to do on our own. We took the free shuttle into the town and then the #4 bus to Pittolongu beach (just go the information office in town to get directions to the bus stop). It only cost us 80 cents per person to do this because the driver had no tickets on the way back so he said we did not have to pay for the return journey. It only took 20 minutes to get to this beautiful beach and the bus runs every half an hour. We all enjoyed our day at the beach. Lots of taxis available if you did not want to do the local bus.
Capri: Tendered into this beautiful island. The funicular was on strike so we left my parents and kids at the rocky little public beach (the kids enjoy swimming a lot) and my husband and I hiked to the top (beautiful walk) and then did a little shopping. The best part of the day was after we sailed (at 2pm) the ship sailed around the whole island very slowly so you had spectacular views.
Tunis, Tunisia Our favorite port. A big surprise. Clean and very easy to do an excursion on your own. The new port terminal in La Goulette is clean with great shops (reasonably priced and they don't hassle you). Also, the taxi tours are all priced out so that you know what you will pay in advance. An English speaking dispatcher walks you to your taxi and then you have to give a form back at the end saying how you liked your tour. We paid sixty euros for a taxi to take six people to Carthage and Sidi Bou Said (beautiful village on the Med with gorgeous white washed houses and blue doors...really worth seeing). We thought Tunisia was clean and more prosperous than we had expected. Our taxi driver spoke excellent English and was very friendly. Our kids also enjoyed taking a camel ride at the dock (fun for ten euros for the two of them). We would love to go back to Tunisia. Don't book a ships tour here...you don't need to!!
Beautiful Baleric island. Get on deck to watch the sail in and you will see beautiful homes. Again, don't buy a ships tour (we never do because they are so expensive and we hate being on a tour bus) because the taxis are reasonably priced and on a meter. We visited on a Sunday so most of the shops in town were closed so we took a taxi (about 11 euros each way) to a gorgeous beach called Es Grau where my husband and kids rented a kayak for 6 euros. It was beautiful driving to the beach b/c Menorca is not over developed like the other parts of Spain. We would love to go back.
Barcelona We had spent a day here before getting on the cruise and then one more day before we flew home. After the other places we visited, this was a bit of a let down (we had been in Paris before the cruise and Barcelona is not as clean or pretty). We took the HOHO bus to see all the Gaudi sights and went to the beach near the marina to cool off because it was very hot. Enjoyed an excellent tapas dinner in the Bari Gothic at Taller de Tapas. We stayed at Hotel Oasis (very basic hotel but cheap and in a great location) which we would recommend.
We would definitely sail on Costa again if we liked the itinerary. Great value!