As first-time cruisers, we were a little apprehensive after reading all the reviews on this site, particularly about the food. But we had nothing to worry about.
We chose Costa because we wanted a Latin/European experience to cruise the Med. We didn't want to be on a ship full of Brits, Americans and Australasians. This cruise appeared to be good value for money, and WAS. Balcony cabins appear much more expensive on most other cruise-lines, and choosing the balcony cabin was the best thing we ever did.
A couple of bits of advice from this website, prior to the cruise, are just so true.
1. Just go with the flow. The organisation for all the bits and pieces always gets there.
2. If you want 5 star food (as so many seem to expect) then you are on the wrong ship. 5 star food can be found on a five star ship. (and for that, your cruise will be twice the price)
3. If you want lavish American style breakfast/lunch and dinner buffets, with huge steaks and rich sauces - then again, you are on the wrong ship. Book an American cruise.
4. But if you want a true Latin/Euro experience on a large, newish and clean ship, fantastic crew who help you at every turn, excellent activities, heaps to do, lots of space to get away from the crowds, roomy cabins cleaned at least 3 times a day - then this IS the cruise for you.
5. "If it's your first cruise - then make sure you get a balcony cabin" - thanks to whoever advised this. The inside cabins looked great, but for a first-time cruiser, it just was so good to be able to sit outside and watch what's going on.
With Israel and Eygpt dropping off the itinerary, the stopovers became superfluous really. We just ended up having a great time on the boat. Izmir was the best stopover. Limassol in Cyprus was the worst. A really poor alternative to the deleted ports.
Our balcony cabin was just so good. Special thanks to our cabin steward, Kristian who made such a difference. We spent a lot of time just chilling, reading etc. Most importantly, we slept really well. Better than most hotel rooms.
Enjoyed level 5 - the entertainment floor. Something for everyone to do. It's a great ship if you've got teenage kids. Tended to spend a few evening hours in the Latin dancing floor area. Entertainment in the Stardust Theatre was very good most nights. Good talent with excellent production values. Good value for the cruise price.
Used the gym quite a bit. Is spacious and well run.
Suggested at end of cruise, that a small movie cinema would be more than useful. I see some cruiselines are introducing 3D cinemas etc. We sometimes felt like taking in a movie, and didn't use the cabin movie videos available, because the screen was too small.
Lots of chatter online about the cost of add-ons - but it wasn't a problem for us. There was no hard-selling going on. If you intend to drink a bit, then the drinks packages are good value. Re water. Many people just re-filled water bottles in the buffet areas, rather than pay for bottled water all the time.
We upgraded to the Blue Moon restaurant one night only, and it was fantastic. Worth the 20E each to have dinner alone for one night, with a sea-view table.
Food - Breakfast was the same every day, but that was fine. There's an eggs station, which we utilised most mornings, had nice fruit, cereals, hams and cheeses, pastries.
Lunch had varied themes, and enjoyed some nice meals.
Lots of chat about the absence of an evening buffet, but we always made our 6.30pm sitting in the MDR after excursions, without a rush.
Have to say the evening a la carte evening dinner routine just made the trip for us. We had a great table with 2 Polish and Australian families, and enjoyed their company a lot. Great Italian style atmosphere at dinner, which we loved. Wouldn't have been the same, just sitting on our own at a buffet table. Was a classy dinner environment, and I can now see why the cruiseline prefer this system.
Got caught out a bit with the formal nights, especially the Captain's formal night. It was really dressy. Next time, I will be packing a nice suit.
Now - the a la carte routine - and some advice for non-Euros/Italians to work it to your advantage.
1. For some reason, or maybe we just chose the wrong thing, the food for the first couple of nights was nowhere near as good as it became. Serving sizes also increased as the cruise progressed.
2. If you're a fan of seafood, then you can't go wrong anywhere on the menu. When in doubt about any dish, have the seafood. There are 4 standard menu dishes at the front of the menu for every night - and the salmon is great.
3. Dishes don't have added salt and pepper, so utilise you're salt and pepper shakers.
4. Any meat dish that has "wild" in front of its English translation is a must. The wild duck, pork, beef and lamb were the best meals of the trip.
5. Ask for your beef to be medium rare. Your waiter will arrange this. Otherwise you may find it too tough.
6. If there's a dish you don't like, just ask something else. They are very obliging.
7. If you really need some fries - then just ask them if you can also have some fries. They will provide them.
Two unusual, and well documented aspects to the ship's food on offer. The pizza available at the 9pm buffet is really average, and not authentic. I see MSC Cruises have just put a press release out about how they are going to start offering authentic pizza, so I guess Costa will follow. They need to.
Also - the pasta in the MDR was average early on, then became great later in the trip. Not sure how that works.
However - will always remember our MDR experiences. Just be careful with your selections, and don't hesitate to send something back, and get it replaced.
Can't wait for our next Costa cruise. Was really critical of Costa HQ for the poor communication for the itinerary changes. However it's not fair on the great crew, to take this into account for our actual cruise experience.