Well, we have no-one to blame but ourselves really. After our experience on Costa Classica from Dubai to Singapore in March 2009 (reviewed on this site), we said no more Costa small, older ships. We weakened, however, when we saw the Costa Romantica itinerary from Singapore to Makassar, Komodo, Bali, Jakarta, Malacca, Phuket and Port Klang (for Kuala Lumpur) and unfortunately we did live to regret it!
The flight (booked via a Costa package) was the first bone of contention. Rather than flying direct for about 14 hours, we went via Dubai with a touchdown in Colombo, Sri Lanka, adding another 7 hours to the trip each way. We did know we had this flight home, but when we booked, the original outward flight was direct from Dubai to Singapore, saving about 4 or 5 hours, but that got changed. Having said that Emirates were very good, with good food and service and adequate leg room.
We arrived on the ship at about 10.30 pm to find covered plates with two filled rolls and a few pieces of fruit in our cabin. This was all the food available on the ship at the time, not even a cup of tea could be found other than via room service (sandwiches and hot drinks) with a charge! Not very welcoming!! The cabin itself appeared fine, and our Chinese stewardess was very good throughout the cruise, apart from inexplicably throwing away our Today magazines and menus that we were keeping as souvenirs - that was a new one on me! She was very apologetic and did her best to replace them, but how long had she been throwing away passenger's belongings other than those in the rubbish bins? The cabin itself was fine, and reasonably spacious, but we had an ongoing issue with the toilet not working, and were reporting it once or twice a day at some points. Customer Service response varied from the fairly concerned to the totally indifferent, and it was usually mended fairly quickly, although only to break down again within a few hours. On one day, most of the passenger toilets failed for a period and there were areas of the ship with very unpleasant smells, plus a cabin along the corridor from us was being dried out using dehumidifiers/fans for several days.
The toilet issue would not have been so bad, except that we were both ill with acute diarrhoea during the trip, and needed it in working order. My husband fell ill after two sea days (so no he couldn't have got it, whatever it was, anywhere else). I followed three days later and we subsequently found that many of those in our area of the dining room had had similar troubles. We tried to report this to Costa, but they were in total denial. Customer Services were just not interested, while the English-speaking host just kept repeating that there was no problem and we must have had too much sun! We felt that perhaps some additional measures should have been taken, although more basic ones, like ensuring the hand cleansing machines weren't empty most of the time in the buffet, would have helped.
Generally, the food in the main restaurant was very good and our waiters were excellent (although we missed several dinners while ill). The buffet was another story - totally inadequate for the number of passengers, totally overwhelmed with people, tables seldom cleared of their dirty crockery, cutlery, etc. Also no alternative dining except for two evenings (Singapore before we arrived on the first evening and the evening in Phuket). Not even a hot drink after they closed at about 5.30 pm, or not after the hot water ran out anyway. We did try room service when I was recovering from my stomach troubles, which was mainly a selection of sandwiches, and despite having to pay EUR2 for the privilege we were much amused by my husband's order of a sandwich and two teas arriving as a sandwich and 2 plates of cheese!!!
There appeared to have been staff cuts since our last voyage with Costa and this was evident in most areas - too few waiters, limited buffet openings, fewer animators and virtually no daytime entertainment, fewer pool attendants, fewer bar staff on deck and inside, and fewer evening shows (films on a couple of nights). The supply situation was also very poor; cruise ships often seem to run out of things on the last day or so, but this started early on Romantica, with butter being in limited supply the whole cruise and disappearing altogether on the last day; at dinner the silver dishes with ice were there, but empty!!! Other things absent for the last three or four days included water melon, bananas, yoghurt, skimmed milk and decent tea bags (other than herbal and Chinese black tea).
But what of the itinerary, I hear you say! It was exceptional, but was rather spoilt by Costa's organisational abilities or lack of. Most significantly, you are on your own if you don't want to go on their excursions. I am sure this is true of other cruise lines, but sometimes we didn't even know where we were going ashore (staff didn't know or gave the wrong info if asked) and the maps were incredibly, with the Bali map showing the whole island (but not where the ship was!) perhaps the best example!! We did take two Costa excursions - one on Komodo and one in Jakarta and I have to say that they were both fairly good, although on Komodo there was no choice of excursion, just a 1.5-hour, 1 km trek to see the Komodo dragons, and we would rather have done something more ambitious, which was available privately, although Costa's tendering of those on excursions meant that independents would not have had enough time ashore to do any longer treks.
Tendering was another issue. According to the itinerary we were only tendering in Bali, but in fact we also tendered in Komodo, Malacca and Phuket (for two days). As usual, Costa excursions went first (that is generally the same with all cruise lines), but the organisation of the independents was pathetic and on one occasion bordering on the dangerous. Hordes of (mainly but not exclusively) Italians mobbed the table where the tender tickets were being handed out and some even just took tickets, with no-one sending for security and no-one trying to stop them. Apparently down on Deck 3, a group was also trying to push past the excursion groups onto the tenders, although apparently they were turned back successfully. Knowing the Continental dislike of queuing, you would think they would have instigated a proper system rather than allowing such conduct, which was more like a riot than anything else! It was only the next day that they started a proper queuing area roped off and adequately staffed.
Anyway, all this meant that the time ashore was very limited, particularly in places where we only had a half day stop, such as Malacca. In that case, the departure time was moved from 1.30 to 2.30 pm because of the delays, but many of those going ashore were not told, so we all had to rush round in about 1.5 hours (it was a fascinating place) only to return to the pier to find that we could have had had another hour.
The excursions in Phuket were weird, as we arrived at 2 pm, and then there were excursions of up to 8 hours going out, meaning that parts of these trips, including beach trips, tours of temples and elephant rides, were carried out in the dark! Not sure what all that was about, but if I had been on them I would not have been happy!
The stop in Port Klang for Kuala Lumpur was cut from a full day to a half day. This was announced the previous evening after we left Phuket, with technical problems blamed, although a rumour did go round that it was to save money on fuel by going more slowly. Personally I doubt that, as the amount of money lost on their excursions, with full-days going down to a limited number of half-days, would probably have cost far more than the fuel. It does illustrate many passengers' disenchantment and distrust of Costa by this stage, however. There were quite a few first time cruisers on the trip, and we tried to emphasise that Costa was not typical of cruising and that they should try with another company before deciding whether cruising was for them. The cut down time was still disappointing for those wanting a reasonable time in Kuala Lumpur, however, although we had been before so were not personally too concerned.
The last day in Singapore, most flights left at or just after midnight. In 2009, after our cruise on Classica, we did not have to leave the ship until 8 o'clock, but that has all changed and we had to leave at 4.45 pm, giving us over 6 hours to wait at the airport, so we had plenty of time to contemplate the coming 21-hour flight!!
So, although we saw some wonderful things, it was overall a very disappointing and exhausting trip - the ship was poor, which we suspected in advance, but there appear to have been additional cuts and problems even over Classica 18 months ago. And they shouldn't keep using a ship where the plumbing is so problematic!! Also, we didn't get enough time to see the fantastic destinations properly. Although you may say this is always an issue on cruise ships (and I would agree), we lost far more time on this trip that we should have, leaving the feeling that we had not seen the best of things, which is a great pity as we are unlikely to return to any of them.