First of all, embarkation was extremely easy. Check-in was a breeze. Even though you cannot board the ship until 3:30 PM, there are shops, a restaurant where you can eat and plenty of seating. Tip: Do purchase as much bottled water as you can carry. It is extremely cheap compared to the price of water on board. In addition, there is a liquor store and we were allowed to carry our purchased liquor onboard without incident. No other port offered the water and liquor onsite as this one did so stock up.
We received a friendly greeting as we came aboard and our pictures were taken for identification upon leaving and reboarding the ship. We were directed to our room where we found the cabin door open and our room keys and the daily program of activities called "Costa Today" on the bed. We had a balcony room for four which was well appointed and very comfortable. Our luggage arrived very quickly. I had a portable curling iron in my luggage and it arrived onboard without a problem.
One negative re our cabin was that the only English news channel was from Britain so it was difficult to get any news from the US. Costa should have at least carried CNN for it's English speaking guest. They did provide a printed paper each day entitled "The International" that had world news information.
We used the Kiosks that were located conveniently around the ship to register our credit cards for our onboard account. Couldn't have been any easier and no standing in long lines. In addition, you can get the balance on your account at any time throughout the cruise.
We had asked to be assigned to early dinner but somehow our booking agent assigned us to late dinner. Early dinner is at 7:00 PM and late dinner is at 9:10 PM. We tried to change our reservation earlier in the day but the concierge was not available. We then just went to the dining room at 7:00 and with no problem at all, our late assignment was changed and we were seated for dinner immediately. We had an excellent English speaking wait staff the entire cruise. They even started making us pitchers of real iced tea!
I might add that the dining rooms are difficult to locate because the kitchen is in the middle of the ship.
For those of you who wish to purchase the wine package, you can do it at dinner through your wait staff and it will be charged to your account at that time. There is really no need to fret about these drink packages before hand as they can be so easily purchased onboard. In fact, purchasing a package on board was cheaper by about 20 Euros than through the website.
Most of the staff was fluent in English. They even have one ship director assigned just for English speaking tourist. So the language barrier was no problem at all.
The ship itself was very colorful and nicely decorated. They changed the lights in the ceiling of the atrium from green to red at night.
We found the shows to be excellent on this cruise. You might wonder how they could put on a show for a multi-language and multi-culture ship. I'm going to say, no problem at all. Dancing is dancing, music is music and magic is magic. We were pleasantly surprised to find that half the songs were sung in English anyway and English was spoken often throughout the shows. One minor thing annoying to us was when the Cruise Director appeared at the end of the show and said goodbye in about seven languages (which when you think about it is quite something) then ending with ciao.
The currency on this ship was in euros, which made everything onboard and shore excursions more expensive for Americans, but we knew this before we went. Once onboard, there were charges for most everything. Example, charges for the racecar simulator, the Cinema 4-D and for all food delivered via room service (except breakfast.) Keep in mind that alcoholic drinks are in euros, which makes them more expensive. Just be aware of the extra charges and spend accordingly.
We had two young men in their early twenties with us who were disappointed that the Lisbona Disco did not have an age limit and was overrun by young teens each night. So basically, there was no place for young adults to hang out except bars. Had some great bartenders, however.
We dreaded the smoking onboard but found it not to be as bad as we expected. There were smoke free bars such as the Grand Bar Berlino, Chocolate Bar Helsinki, the theater and the dining room. I understand they allow smoking in the rooms but we could not tell our room had been smoked in. We did have to walk through the casino to get from one side of the ship to another, which you could not avoid, and other smoking bars. However, I would not let the smoking issue be a deterrent to not cruising on this ship.
The cruise line stopped at very interesting ports (which is why we booked this cruise with Costa) and offered a wide variety of excursions that we found a little pricey and somewhat crowded. We booked some shore excursions in advance through Costa and the rest privately. We booked private tours in Barcelona; Tenerife; Funchal, Portugal; and Rome.
For those of you interested, I highly recommend Barcelona Day Tours in Barcelona http://www.barcelonadaytours.com/barcelona-city-tour.html; Carlos Miles in Tenerife email@example.com, who provided an excellent tour of the island; Daniel Madeira Taxis, Funchal, Tour of Western Island, www.danielmadeirataxis.com, an excellent tour and most reasonably priced at 140 euros for 4 and 160 euros for 6 for an 8-5 private tour; and Maurizio Nataloni, all day Tour of Rome firstname.lastname@example.org. You can share the cost of private tours with other passengers on your ship.
There was never a problem bringing either food or alcohol back onto the ship after a tour. It went through x-ray and was not confiscated.
Regarding the quality and quantity of food onboard the ship, we found the food in the Milano dining room good. However, we found the food in the Lido Mediterraneo only fair. The selection and quality of food stayed pretty much the same day-to-day and the deserts were few and of poor quality. The wait staff there appeared to be unhappy and seating was often difficult to find during sea days. In addition, as we had read, Europeans did push ahead of you in the line. After a day or so, we learned how to stand our ground in the lines. At lunchtime, they offered several buffets by the pool--a Beer Festival and a Seafood Festival, which were good but crowded. The hot chocolate at the Chocolate Bar Helsinki was to die for.
So all in all, we found this cruise far better than we expected and we had an enjoyable time. Would I cruise on Costa again, maybe.
However, if you are searching for a reasonably priced cruise that visits great ports, Costa is a good choice. Just know the facts before you book.