After reading all the harsh reviews on the net prior to embarking on the cruise, I must say I was pretty much concerned about whether I had made the right decision to cruise with the Costa Romantica. However, after having spent 22 fabulous days cruising on the Costa Romantica, I felt that I owed to write this review.
Here goes my itinerary and cruise dates - 22 days of cruising from 20 November 2010 to 12 December 2010 - Singapore, Port Klang (Malaysia), Langkawi (Malaysia), Phuket (Thailand), Colombo (Sri Lanka), Cochin (India), MalE (Maldives), MahE (Seychelles), Reunion Island and Mauritius.
Embarkation - The embarkation process in Singapore was fairly quick but clearly not well structured. Three ladies were standing in front of a very small desk trying to check the passports and get people to fill in a health declaration form. After the formalities were completed, we then proceeded to the gate and had our souvenir picture taken. Upon arrival in the main deck, we were handed over our Costa Card, cabin key and our identification picture was taken. We then proceeded on our own to our cabin which was fairly easy to find. Our luggage was delivered to our front door within 30 minutes.
Cabin - we had an outside stateroom with a porthole. It was great to be able to see outside especially when we were nearing land. Our room was tidied every night and day and towels were changed. Our cabin steward was always very nice and discreet. Every night, our cabin steward would make a different bed decoration with the bed cover. Very nice! We read that some people had noise issues or blocked toilets. We never had any flushing issue with the toilets and apart from particularly noisy neighbours, it was just fine. The daily programme "TODAY" was delivered to our cabin every night along with a map of the next port. As far as air conditioning was concerned, we were not even using the air conditioning in our cabin as the air extractor was largely sufficient.
Food - Breakfast was served either in the Giardino buffet (buffet style) or in the Botticelli Restaurant (formal table seating). There was a wide variety of food ranging from eggs, bacon, cereals, pastries to fruits. Late breakfast was available in the buffet for late bed risers till around 11.00. Lunch as well was served either in the Giardino buffet or in the Botticelli Restaurant. We mostly went to the Giardino Buffet where we had a variety of food to choose from. There was a new theme everyday for lunch in the buffet area (Mediterranean, Chinese, Creole, Indian, etc). On some sea days, we had special lunch "Chef Surprise" by the poolside or in the corridor leading to the Piazza Italia when it rained. On the Terrazza, there was also an outside grill with French fries, on the spot hamburger and hotdogs for lunch. The Terrazza was my favourite place on the ship in the afternoon when it was not too crowded. Loved the views and the sea breeze there. The buffet area was always like a beehive, always opening up and closing up for something else - breakfast, late breakfast, lunch, teatime, kids buffet, teens buffet and sometimes alternative dinner. One can imagine how big an organisation this must be to run the buffet everyday all day. The buffet supervisors and the snacks stewards worked really hard to keep the place always up and running and always attended to guests' requests (even the most eccentric ones) with a smile.
Dinner was served in the Botticelli Restaurant with the first seating being served at 18.15 and second seating at 20.45. The first seating was served by far too early taking into consideration that we always had to rush to shower after a full day out. Service by our charming waitress and assistant waiter was always excellent. The daily menu consisted of appetizers, soup, pastas, main course, salad, cheese and dessert. One could choose as much courses as one wanted. We had a number of very good and appetizing courses. On two occasions, we were entertained by a nice waiter show. Everyday at 23.30, snacks were served in the Tango Ballroom and on some nights, we had midnight buffets. Food arrangement was always very nicely done. The midnight buffet in the kitchen was also truly amazing. We felt like visiting an art gallery. The kitchen was decorated with very nicely and finely carved fruits and vegetables which had been done by talented Filipinos. Due to the weather, we only had one midnight party and a midnight buffet by the poolside. There was a live ice carving demonstration and we had so much fun at the party. Coffee, tea, chocolate and a wide variety of infusions were readily available until midnight at the Giardino buffet area.
There was so much food on board but so much waste as well. I have read other people reviews complaining about the lack of food or lack of variety. Personally, I have never ever in 22 days felt hungry because there was not enough food onboard. On the contrary, the food was so plentiful that we felt we were eating all day long! We have however been appalled by the fact that all remaining good food on the line is thrown away as the majority of the crewmembers do not have the right to eat the same food as passengers. Such a waste and such a pity! Only a happy few arrogant crewmembers had the right to eat at the buffet. The English host kept saying: well, anyway we're not wasting food. We use it to produce steam and it is much cheaper than diesel! Oh come on! The buffet area was cleaned spick and spine every night and it was a pity to see some people making such a mess in the buffet area. I often wondered whether they behave like that in their own house. Some people filled their plates with monstrous portions of food as if with the fear that they would starve to death on the ship and then obviously, left aside terrible heaps of leftovers.
Gala nights - We had a total of 4 gala nights on our cruise with formal dress code being required. The first one, the captain conveyed everybody in the Opera Theatre for a free champagne toast and a very short address to the public. We would have appreciated that the number of gala nights be communicated to us prior to embarking on the cruise in order to bring appropriate outfits and in sufficient number. Maybe next time!
Night Entertainment - The night shows at the Opera Theatre were of a good level and varied. The best shows were the Romanian acrobats, Rob & Miky and the Flamenco dancers, Trio Mulero. Thumbs up! The worst shows: Singer Jo Lis and Tenor Alberto Jelmoni. The Costa Romantica dancers were very good as well. I missed the crew show as I was too exhausted after going out that day.
Daily activities - Daily activities were conducted by the animation team. The dance lessons with the Brazilian dance instructor were always excellent. (Bachata, cha cha cha, latin dance, mambo, merengue, tango to name a few). This was among the few things that kept us alive during sea days and I must say probably one of the things that helped us not take on any extra weight. However, generally speaking, there were repetitive animation activities such as quiz, manual works and lectures. Other one-off activities included live fruit carving demonstration, kitchen visit, chef culinary demonstrations, spa demonstrations or Chinese lessons. Roman catholic religious activities were performed daily by the capellano.
Information desk - I was not particularly impressed by the information desk staff. It was usually very crowded with lots of people queuing up. The staffs, mostly Italians were not very welcoming in their approach.
Spa and Beauty Centre - The spa and beauty centre was a total waste of time. The spa staff never seemed to know whether they had to run spa activities as mentioned on the TODAY and almost always seemed to be annoyed to have to conduct these activities. The activities were also mostly repetitive. The spa staffs were also almost always using the spa for their own personal benefits/grooming.
Excelsior Casino - opens at sea only. Did not use that one
Photo - On gala nights, a team of photographers would go around in the Botticelli Restaurant to take individual or group pictures of the guests and they would also set up several photo booths with various accessories near the Piazza Italia so that people wishing to take professional pictures could do so. I had a couple of these and the photographers were always so friendly and talented. However, the minus point was that the photos were really expensive (Around EUR 20 each).
Duty free shops - Duty free shop was open only at sea. Everyday, there was a different array of goods on offer. We certainly made some good buys and it was always nice to do some window-shopping in the night.
Cruise Excursions - The cruise excursions were really overpriced. So, we mostly did our own thing which was by far cheaper and applied a simple rule whereby we only took excursions requiring boat transfers (e.g Phuket and Seychelles). The excursions were hassle free and well organised. However, we did not understand why the tour office had such limited opening hours. This was very frustrating. This resulted in endless queues and chaos since the tour officers were so overwhelmed with passenger queries. No explanations were given as to why the volcano tour in Reunion was cancelled. We eventually learned it through hearsay. However, for the excursions that we booked through the cruise, I must say we were very satisfied with our day. The local tour guides were very friendly, professional and did their best to please the guests.
Crewmembers - I must say I really enjoyed this cruise for the friendliness, smile, openness, simplicity and courtesy displayed by Costa's crewmembers. The bartenders, waiters, assistant waiters, buffet supervisors, snacks stewards, cabin stewards, animators, gym instructor, duty free shop attendants, photographers were so great. They were so easy to talk to. Very open and generous people who work damn hard. We found out that they work extremely long hours 7 days a week for a not so great pay and most of them have a first bachelor degree. We were appalled to see the waiters carrying trays of dining wares endlessly. But despite them being tired, they were always there with a smile on their face, happy to be able to help. With such an international crew, I was so glad to get to know people from the Philippines, China, India, Honduras, Peru, Romania, Croatia, Latvia, Brazil, Morocco and Spain. Generally speaking, I noted that crewmembers originating from these countries were far more friendly and open than crewmembers coming from Italy or UK. Moreover, as a general rule, the ship's admin staff and higher officers were arrogant and almost never smiled to passing by passengers in the corridors. They would also almost never exhibit any sign of friendliness or courtesy towards the guests. The English host was damn arrogant. Not to say the least about the doctor! At first, we thought he was the captain. Walking around with his superior looks! The photo manager had such a bad look in the eyes that he almost certainly frightened all the guests away from the photo exhibit area.
Fellow cruise passengers - we made countless number of friends of all age groups coming from countries as diverse as Switzerland, UK, USA, South Africa, France, Reunion Island, Spain, Croatia and Mauritius. Generally speaking, the passengers were very open and friendly and it was always very interesting to meet so many people coming from so many different countries. All we had initially in common was that we either spoke English and French. It was on the cruise that I realised how lucky we were to be able to converse in both languages. And 3 weeks onboard the same ship certainly creates some ties. The bad side of it was that there were many grumpy passengers as well. Passengers complaining for as little as why it is raining or complaining about why they lost the little funny games organised onboard. It was such a pity! It was only a game after all! Why bother?! We were on holidays! There were also a bunch of rude passengers as well who seemed to be annoyed to see people around. I often wondered why they left their home to come on a cruise where obviously you will get to see a lot of people.
Disembarkation - Upon arrival in Mauritius, we were required to have a face-to-face meeting with the Mauritian customs in the Tango Ballroom and this was really bad! Monstrous queues. We had to queue up to collect our passport and then queue again to have it validated by the Customs officials. Costa should really take care of that. Disembarkation guidelines by the French hostess were also not very clear. We were asked to vacate our cabin at 7.00, which was by far too early and we were required to wait in the Opera Theatre at 8.30 perhaps for some more formalities but at 8.30, we were told we could get down freely whenever we wanted. This took a matter of minutes. Luggage could be found very easily and there were luggage personnel to assist.
Issues with Costa Romantica -
Smoking - Smoking was the main issue we faced onboard. Costa should really cater for this issue and should have a segregated smoking area in the open air. This was totally unfair towards those not smoking. I am particularly sensitive to smoke and on several occasions, I felt unwell with the smoke. This issue was particularly acute in the Piazza Italia and the Tango Ballroom (the two main common rooms) and with children and non-smoking people around, this was really awful.
Tendering - We had to use tenders in Phuket and Maldives. The tendering process was not always very well structured. People were rushing in and out of the tenders and we often wondered whether the tender was not filled well above capacity and frowned at the idea of an emergency. I do not believe that the tenders were fully equipped with life jackets for so many people.
Pool - Did not use the pool at all. The pool was definitely too small for such a big ship and for so many passengers.
Great itinerary - The itinerary was the primary reason why we chose to do this trip and it certainly paid off. We definitely think it was well worth value for money. We certainly had the best time of our lives and we really did not want to get off the ship.
Reflecting on our cruise, I must say we were very lucky. We almost always fell on nice taxi drivers (except in India) who spared no efforts to show us around. Plus we had such a beautiful weather during the days at port. On several occasions, it rained at the end of the day when we were back on the ship or nearing the end of the day and one whole day at sea. Many passengers groaned about it. But we took it well. Mother Nature had been good enough to give us the entire day out, well, it was fair enough that she should take the night. Throughout our journey, there were never any signs of pirates and we never felt insecure. We had rough sea from Phuket to Colombo while crossing the Bay of Bengal and from Seychelles to Reunion Island. Some passengers were seasick when the ship rocked. Fortunately, I was spared. Plus point is that seasickness pills are available free of charge at the information desk.
All in all, if I were to do the cruise again, I definitely would!