After having read several bad reviews on the internet about this ship, I tried to not have any high expectations of the Costa Classica. However, even my low expectations were not met.
We arrived on 2nd January for a 14 day cruise around South East Asia. The first disappointment was the embarkation process. Instead of us completing the relevant forms and documentation inside the Cruise Terminal in Singapore, we were forced to head to a set of poorly arranged marquees. This was because another ship was using the Cruise Terminal for their passengers, so Costa passengers had to use a makeshift area. This was very poorly organised - being in Singapore, it was extremely hot and humid. Only a handful of chairs had been provided, and there were no tables to lean on to complete the relevant documents. The majority of people seemed to have no idea where they were going or what they were doing and the Costa staff on the ground were not doing a good job of organising them. We were out in the heat for almost an hour (first figuring out where to go, then waiting for ages in the line), and in all this time we were not offered so much as a cup of water - my grandmother was beginning to feel faint, and there was not even anywhere for her to sit during this time (as was the case for several other elderly people who I saw standing around in this area).
Once registration was complete, we were told to board a bus. We assumed the bus would be filled before leaving, however, this wasn't the case (not all seats were occupied), and several customers who had not yet boarded the bus seemed to be highly annoyed about being left behind in the heat. The bus took about 30 minutes to reach the industrial port where Costa Classica was docked.
Excited to finally be in a cool, air conditioned area, we went to find our rooms and drop our handbags etc off before grabbing a bite to eat. Our room (interior, towards the middle/back of level 6) was rather cramped (3 people), especially compared with other 3 people rooms we have had on other ships. This, we could live with. What we could not stand was the horrible smell that seemed to be in our room, the passageway, and our parents room (next door to ours). (We later found out this smell had plagued a number of other rooms in the area). It smelt like sewerage. We immediately informed our room steward, who, by the way, was extremely friendly and helpful, coming in straight away and introducing herself, explaining bits and pieces, and promising to do what she could about the smells. At this stage we were pleased as we thought we were in good hands.
We went upstairs to the buffet for lunch and were rather disappointed at the lack of variety of food, and the small amounts they were serving. We had extreme difficulty communicating to (without meaning to be racist) an Asian waitress that we wanted 5 cokes. This same waitress had problems the next morning understanding what 'toast' was (I had to spell it out for her, then she had to check with another person what this word meant).
After lunch I went downstairs to see if I could get my card and room key hole punched so I could hang them off my lanyard (the way we usually do on cruise ships). Staff at the information desk were most rude and unpleasant, informing me that this wasn't possible (though they couldn't explain why it was not possible). Later, when my dad asked the same questions, and got a similar response, he asked to speak to a supervisor or manager, and the cards were punched and pouches provided - no questions asked.
The first night's show was rather disappointing - a bit of everything that was to come, but I didn't find any of it very impressive - dancers were out of time with each other and the main singer, Jolis was not very engaging. The acrobat was also nothing wonderful (though perhaps in this age of technology we have all been spoiled by the amount of amazing things you see on youtube!!).
I cannot provide a day by day summary (I have neither the time, nor memory to do so), so from here on I will try my best to note our general experiences of the ship.
The bad smell I mentioned previously persisted in our room and got progressively worse. Our cabin stewards were extremely helpful - they appeared to have tried everything to fix it, but nothing worked. Their final solution was to turn the AC up so high that I was shivering under two doonas and a blanket. This was clearly not a solution - I couldn't spend two weeks in extreme cold. When we turned off the air conditioning, or turned it down, the foul smell returned. It got to the point that I was almost vomiting - the smell was that bad. We noticed passengers across the passageway from us moving cabins, and heard other passengers later talking about a 'pipe' that was broken.
Over the first four days, I think we must have spent at LEAST half a day (and by this I literally mean 12 hours - if not more) all up standing in line to talk to people at the information desk requesting something be done about the smell. At first they tried to deny that there was any smell, which, to us, was just insulting. They then told us they could move us to cabins one level down. We were not at all happy about this, as we did not want to move down a level, especially as some of us were concerned about sea sickness. We were told that these were the only other cabins available at this time (which we did not believe at all, as we knew that the ship was not sailing at full capacity) and we could either choose these lower cabins or stay in cabins that (we believe) were not safe for human habitation. After a lot of argument, we agreed that these cabins would only be temporary until Costa could find an acceptable solution for us. This was really annoying as we had to move the things we had unpacked in our original rooms, all the way down the corridor and down another floor. However, we had no other option. Thinking about it now, one of the most annoying things about all of this mess was the completely unapologetic and unconcerned attitude displayed by the staff.
After two days of excuses from the staff about why they couldn't find us another cabin (eg "we have to call the head office in Italy, because we don't know which cabins are occupied or free, and we need to find out from them") we were sick of living between two rooms on a cabin which was on a lower level than the cabin we had paid for. We were also sick of dealing with snooty staff and having no real solution. We asked for them to allow us to disembark (yes, it was this bad) and cover the cost of return airfairs and refund the cost of the cruise. Very soon after this (surprise, surprise) we were offered cabins on the same level we were originally on. While this was good news, it was highly annoying to have to move things once again (with little help from staff). Highly embarrassing to have your clothing and underwear carted through the passages by staff...and very time consuming to repack it all yourself. Anyhow, we were just relieved to have decent cabins that we could breathe in!
In terms of entertainment, we were unimpressed. In relation to the shows, they were very average when compared with those on other cruise ships. I would not, however, go as far as saying that they were bad. If this was your first cruise, you would have probably been very impressed by them.
Other entertainment, however, was extremely disappointing. Firstly, the bands. They were, at best, average, at worst...unbearable. They had three main singing/band acts: one was a soloist, Ricardo, who played guitar and sang in such a way that it (literally) put passengers to sleep. Then there was another band who had a lead singer, a saxophonist and another member (can't remember what they played). This band was better, but also no good to watch. The lead singer pranced up and down when she wasn't singing, staring at people with a sultry look on her face. She also didn't know the words to any of the songs and was reading them from a laptop screen - her singing had no emotion to it at all. The third group (from memory a female singer and male guitarist) was ok. None of the groups were versatile at all. They all played the exact same music every single night - and often in the exact same order too. They all had very small repertoires. None of them seemed to play to the audience's likes eg they might play a song that got people up dancing, then they would play something of a complete different style which would empty out the dance floor.
Speaking of dancing...Costa had a group called the "animation crew". These were the guys that ran the competitions and were meant to get people involved in the night's dancing, etc. When I first saw this group, I thought what a great idea! However, as time passed, it seemed clear that this group had made friends with certain passengers, and regularly went around talking to select groups of passengers, and not others. Similarly, they would go to these selected groups of passengers and pull them up on the dance floor, to do "group dances" (ie not partner dancing, so that everyone could be involved). While in theory such dances are a good idea, as everyone can do them, this soon became monotonous, with the same moves being repeated night after night after night...similarly, it became almost intimidating to enter the dance floor, when you knew that certain people were invited up to dance and the majority of others were not. As the cruise progressed I witnessed crowds getting smaller and smaller where the Animation Crew were. It is never a good idea to exclude people from activities. While I certainly had no need to be asked by a staff member to dance, I did not appreciate the deliberate exclusion that occurred. It made me feel like I didn't even want to be upstairs in these times or at these places. It was just plain rude, and, while I can accept such behaviour from other passengers, you do NOT expect the crew to act in this manner (and dominate the dance floor, so that you had no option to do your own thing, but had to follow their moves in much the same manner that children follow children's performers).
On the topic of rude staff, we found the majority of staff on the ship to be extremely rude. We knew, before boarding, that this was an Italian ship and that Italian was the main language spoken on board. But this rudeness went well beyond language barriers: many of the staff did not even smile or greet when you approached them and had a terrible attitude, as though you (as a paying passenger) were annoying them by asking them for anything or asking simple questions eg 'are there tongs available to dish the salad with'. This was one of the more disappointing aspects of the cruise - the bad attitude and rudeness displayed by the staff did not create a friendly atmosphere that we had experienced on all past cruises. It actually made you feel like you were intruding on the staff's territory - not a good way to encourage future cruises with the company!
The food, I found to be average at best. The selection of foods for breakfast was very limited and was repeated every single morning - both at the buffet and the 'formal breakfast', which, unlike formal breakfasts on other cruise ships where waiters take your order, involved a buffet set out in the main dining room. I personally found a lot of the foods (especially breakfast foods) to be extremely oily. It got to the point where I was so sick of eating the limited selection of oil, that I was skipping breakfast or just eating bread rolls by the end of the cruise. Juices offered tasted like cordial more than real juice. Breakfast was only served til 9am, and waiters started clearing things away before this time arrived. The 'Today' program said breakfast would be served til later (I think 10am), but this did not include the full breakfast menu, and only had a limited selection eg cereals. This was really annoying if you wanted to sleep in one day and missed the early deadline - you'd have to wait til 12pm for lunch. Lunches seemed to have a bigger variety and a changing menu. However, again, the times were limited - food was not served after 2pm, at the buffet, MDR and grill. I found the grill to be most disappointing - instead of making burgers up freshly, burgers would be cooked in bulk and then tipped into a tray of oil to get cold while people dished up from there. If you were lucky you might get a fresh batch, but again, they would be very oily.
Dinners, I must admit, were nowhere near as bad as the reviews suggested. There was a decent variety, and plenty of courses to choose from. To be honest, the dinners in the MDR were the highlights of the day for me. This was the only place where we were truly made to feel welcome on the ship. Our waiters were excellent, catering to our every need, asking if we'd like variations, and even bringing us food that was not on the menu, or sneaking us fruit outside of meal times. They went well beyond the requirements of their job to please us, even trying to help us save money on drinks etc. Similarly, the Assistant Maitre D' (his name was Marco) was excellent. Each and every night he would go to every table in his section to talk to passengers - in his native tongue of Italian, but also in English and (I think) French. He went out of his way to help with any problems, and made an effort to make every passenger feel happy. He was one of the only staff (aside from our waiters) who actually seemed to make an effort for customers and did not have a snooty attitude. He would also be friendly during other meals (breakfast, lunch and the midnight snack), and wouldn't hesitate to act on passenger's problems (unlike other staff who brushed them off, or defended the crew against passengers).
Perhaps it was because of the bad service we had received from other staff, but the Assistant Maitre D' and our waiters really stood out and were probably the only parts of the cruise that I would rate 100%. And I think that is due to them, personally, as opposed to Costa as a company.
I didn't think the fixtures or decore was impressive on the ship at all - in fact many areas needed repair, or were not properly maintained eg window sills were often seen to be dusty, our shower floor had chips all over it, or paintwork or the finish on our tabletop (the one under the window in the cabin) was peeling VERY badly.
In terms of activities, I didn't think the program was great. No activities ran AT ALL between 12 and 3pm. Some activities were scheduled quite late in the day, which meant that those who had first sitting dinner could not attend them, especially on formal nights. There were no movies or anything like that. What was most disappointing was that some activities were scheduled but never actually ran. One would turn up to the venue and no-one would be there, no staff would be around to explain, and no announcements were made as to why the activities weren't running. I could understand this kind of thing happening in cases of rain or bad weather, where activities are scheduled on the top deck, but the mysterious disappearances of activities happened often on sunny days, where we were in port or were sailing smoothly.
I think Costa made very poor use of the PA system for announcements of activities or details about getting off the ship. Actually, their communication system was very poor altogether: no-one ever made clear which level you were to get off the boat (passengers found this out by following others). Sometimes announcements about the need for tender tickets weren't made, and you would get down to the boat, only to hear that you had to go up again, get a ticket and wait.
The tender services were very poorly organised, with not enough boats running to cope with the demand from passengers. You often had to wait for ages in the ports to get back on the ship (especially at the end of the day), and Costa often seemed to use other ships to transport the passengers, rather than their own tender boats. We were on one tender boat for 50 minutes - 40 of which were spent hovering near the ship, while we waited for another tender boat to be emptied!
One of the other good points about the particular cruise that we did is that we did get to see a lot of south east Asia in a relatively small amount of time. The schedule was good for this cruise (only 2 sea days out of 14)...however what was (once again) disappointing was that a) very little information about the ports was offered by Costa; and b) little or no shuttle services were offered to most places, especially when we docked outside of the main cities. You had to hire local taxi's etc to get to where you wanted to go, and as most places we docked at were quite far from the main city, this was the only option. While I don't mind this factor too much, as we had organised a few of our own tours, it would have been nice to know that the ship had a regular shuttle bus (even if it was for a small fee), that you could get in and out of town. I think only one city had a shuttle bus service for 6 euros (we personally didn't make use of this service, as the cost for changing any currency to euros was 5 euros on the ship, so we would be paying pretty much double the fee).
We did not make use of the excursions offered by Costa, as we found them to be excessively expensive compared to what you could book privately, so I cannot comment on these. We did book one tour on the last day which allowed our luggage to be taken to the airport at the end of the cruise. This was mainly done out of convenience (a very large taxi would be needed, possibly two, in order to fit 5 people's luggage, if we had gone ourselves). The tour itself was ok, however, at the airport, our luggage had been left unattended at the wrong terminal (Singapore has 3 main terminals). This was really concerning to us (and lucky we had noticed it - otherwise we would be running around like crazy trying to find our luggage before our flight out). Highly irresponsible of Costa, and I wouldn't suggest anyone does a tour like this, unless they want to risk luggage being stolen or lost!!!
I know that this review has been long, but I have tried my best to share my experiences on the Costa Classica. I am not writing this to have a whinge, but more to "give back", in a sense, to this community. Before embarking on this cruise, I contributed to several forums posts, and asked many questions about the Costa Classica. I also read very bad reviews of it, and I thought, surely, this ship can't be that bad! Having sailed on it myself, I can honestly say that I would not wish the same fate upon anyone else, and would issue severe warnings to those planning a trip on this ship. I'm not sure if my experience is reflective of Costa as a company, or if it is just the case that this is one of their smaller ships, so it has the worst of everything. Either way, I would never ever cruise with Costa again.