We used to travel on Costa but stopped because despite innovative itineraries at good prices, the food was bland and frequently disappointing, and the coffee, always instant, was awful. For this unusual trip to the Norwegian Fjords, which only Costa offered at a reasonable price, we were surprised by the significant food improvement (which is now quite good, except for the coffee) and the many onboard technology innovations. Costa uses an extensive network of hand scanners, kiosks, and interactive TV to take care of administrative tasks – including shore excusions, account monitoring, credit card registration, dinner reservations in the specialty restaurant, and photos. Unlike Costa’s user-hostile and often-not-working website, these technologies worked flawlessly, intuitively, and accurately. Check your balance daily at the kiosks, because staff can and do make data entry mistakes. Take those to the front desk immediately; waiting until the last day will mean 45 minutes or more in a line.
Dinner and lunch food quality in the main restaurants was much better than in years past. The dishes were fresher, tastier, and the service quick and efficient. However, you will see a significant reduction in beef dishes, and almost no steaks; no lobster night; no fresh salmon on the breakfast or lunch buffet; no midnight buffet; no free alternative dinner to main dining except for pizza; chocolate soft serve ice cream which tastes like icy dirt; and the ship’s coffee, while better, has moved from awful to tolerable (it’s still instant). True coffee fans pay per cup for real coffee at the coffee bars. Many of the public rooms, which used to be full of chain-smoking Europeans, are designated non-smoking. Three cheers for the fact there were no annoying “art” sales on board this ship!
The spa is very very expensive. A hot stone massage for 50 minutes, which you can get in any US city for $100 or less, is about $270. The couples massage and hot tub will set you back over $430. Costa Club members (those who have travelled on the line before) get 25% off spa services while in port but be careful; there is lots of fine print where the discounts do not apply. The speciality saunas and pools and other hot and cold rooms are are $50 per person per day. Gym users no longer have access to showers and changing rooms; these are also the exclusive domain of paying spa customers.
For non-drinkers, costa lacks unlimited soda cards. The best available option is 13-750ml bottles of sparkling water for $35. Wine is $35/bottle and up (way up), so wait for the $27 midweek special (two bottles of perfectly reasonable red or white wine and two bottles of sparkling water). The internet can be purchased at roughly 20 cents per minute in a package of 3 hours, down from the standard cruise ship rip-off of 50-75 cents per minute.
Shore Excursions: Take the Flam/Myrdal/Voss rail and bus trip. The scenery is so astonishing, especially from the trains, that you’ll stumble over yourself (and other passengers) taking shot after shot after shot. Large city tours like Bergen are reasonably priced bus/sightseeing/shopping journeys of 2-3 hours. They are not particularly adventurous but good for seeing the highlights quickly. Small city tours in the fjords can be amazing. The Gerainger Views, for example, are breathtaking; stunning; magical scenery; not to be missed! Book tours online; doing it on the ship will cost you time waiting in long lines.
There will around 10% English-speaking passengers on board and about 5% or less from the US, but no worries. Costa handles logistics expertly in five languages including English. The shore excursions are always on time and well-run. Don’t go in May when it tends to rain, or in August when the amazing waterfalls have slowed to a drip. The sweet spot is mid to late June. This Norwegian itinerary is spectacular. You will not be disappointed.
Last but not least; tips for everyone are handled through central billing; about 7 euros per person per day. Still, at the first moment on the first day that your cabin stewart introduces himself or herself, give them $20-$30 and say, simply, thank you. Just do it, trust us, you won’t regret it.