Having been on 21 cruises over the past 8 years with 8 different cruise lines, we decided to return after about 5 years to Costa having been with them on four other occasions, Victoria, Atlantica twice and Europa. We enjoyed those cruises with minor irritations and wanted to see how they now compare with other ships and companies.This time it was Costa Magica, chosen mainly because of the Itinerary.
We were absolutely delighted with our first impressions of the ship's public spaces. In wonderful true Italian style and flare each area was delightful, especially the main lounge deck 5. In fact all the main public lounges, bars, nightclub, piano bar etc were on deck 5 and so tastefully appointed, except the rear lounge, Capri, where the furnishings looked dated and tired.
We had a balcony as usual as my wife does not like having the air-conditioning on and we leave the door partly ajar at night. The cabin was very good and nicely furnished but was a wee bit smaller than others we have had...not quite so wide. The shower was excellent although it kept over-flowing flooding the bathroom on three occasions despite having reported it. The situation was perfect for us, mid-ships deck 9 and very near the lifts. This is important for us as my wife does have some mobility problem. Deck 9 on Costa Magica was for us the most perfect of all our cruises...short walk to the morning buffet; a few steps to the outside pool/spa and even shorter to the lift straight down to deck 3 for the theatre.
Our dining room was on Deck 3, a short stroll from the theatre which was a delight. We were fortunate enough, as always, so far, to get a table for two. This was in lovely small area beneath the balcony with two very attractive very large blown photo pictures on the rear wall. It was almost like being in a small Italian restaurant in Italy. Of recent times, we don't usually eat in the main dining room more than say 3 times as the Alternative dining arrangements have been so good (see below). We ate every night in the main dining room and the food was very good to excellent with the most attentive and charming waiter and wine waiter who actually delivered your wine BEFORE you start eating. Our experience on many ships has been that the busy wine waiter never manages to get the wine to you until you are on the second course! This was a great plus along with others, one of which was a jug of iced tap water immediately came to your table as you sat down.
The reason we ate in the dining room every night is because the Alternative Dining was virtually non-existent, consisting of one buffet area counter no more than 15 feet long consisting of a choice of pizza, pizza, pizza or pizza and some tired looking salad bits. Quite dreadful. Also there was no "Anytime dining for those who like that arrangement and quite clearly Costa have not caught up with the other cruise lines where the alternative dining...buffets are extremely good...for example on the 5 Royal Carribean Ships and 2 Princess ships we have been on, where quite often we have had better meals up in the buffet than in the dining room. And so Costa should take a really close look at what the competition are offering as they will over time, I fear, loose out to those who like a choice. The was just one other place you could eat on a "fine dining" evening and that was in Club Venezia where the ambience, views, furnishings, china, glassware was simple quite stunning. But that cost an extra Euros 20 each person plus wine/drinks etc.
Now to the buffet - breakfast and lunch. I rated these 2 out of 10 for several reasons. The main buffet areas finished serving at 10am....help we are on holiday. The only buffet breakfast area still open after 10am was in the covered pool area at the back of the ship which stayed open until 11am. More often than not we ate there. This was a very pleasant and bright area to have breakfast save for the very limited number of tables and chairs with the main space being given over to loungers by the pool. Kids in the pool could be noisey.
The main breakfast buffets and the covered pool buffet lacked so many things I am used to on other ships and indeed at home.Apart from diced melon and pineapple all mixed together, there was a marked absence of fresh fruit. A few bananas, plums but they went very quickly and not replaced. I saw no apples. The other fruit was TINNED pears and TINNED peaches. No nuts, seeds, raisons, bagels and the most disgusting looking bacon I have seen...crispy burnt dark lean bacon dripping in fat...no English type bacon which we English like!! On other ships there is usually a choice of bacon . No fresh toast but two slices wrapped in greaseproof and often been standing there for half hour or more.
The covered pool area buffet was even worse with a very limited assortment. Bearing in mind they closed at 11am at 10.25 when we got there I asked for some toast, only to be told they were not preparing any more as it was too late. And she was quite rude to. I reported her to the Supervisor who was well aware of her attitude from other guests. Also there was no fresh fruit at all offering only tinned pears...and no yogurts..too late being the answer.
Lunch time buffets were acceptable but nothing in comparison to ALL the other ships we have been on, so again Costa need urgently to address these issues.
A very large theatre seating 1,600 but because of so many different languages, they are rather limited in the choice of performer...no comedians or any act which has spoken word in it. One of the highlights for me was a brilliant tenor singing some lovely music, only to be spoiled because they do not close the doors at the rear of the theatre and we were sitting about three-quarters of the way back and could hear quite loudly the music coming from the central atrium area...rather disrespectful to the artist ...and that happened each night.On other ships the doors are closed at the start of the performance.
Although we knew what to expect through previous travels with Costa, we were just as irritated with the repeat in several languages (usually six at least) of every single announcement throughout day and evening during the entire cruise. One of the worst was when they were trying to get passengers to attend Bingo...and when announced it in a foreign language it comes over even more irritating...as "bingo, bingo, bingo" this happened almost every day and at least twice or three times . They had bingo sessions at 8.30 or 9pm some nights in the main lounges...now I ask you, is that really necessary?
Kids...there were quite a lot of children on board up to teenage level and I was quite surprised and rather annoyed that they were allowed up so late. On other ships there is often a curfew at midnight and I think Costa should consider this. Costa Magica, like the other Costa ships is a late night ship with as many as five different areas playing music for dancing or listening well up to and past 1 am..a real must for the keen dancer. The Animators in the two main lounges were just brilliant and always managed to get many people dancing and with such enthusiasm.
Excursions. We don't usually do many of the ships' excursions these days and prefer to do our own thing, which where available is the Double Decker Hop on and Hop Off City Sightseeing buses. These are excellent value BUT and a real big BUT , no ship we have EVER been on EVER tells you about them and yet on this particular cruise in at least three ports they stop right outside the ship. I even mentioned this to one of the bus reps who was most surprised saying that he will tell his boss because they pay , in this case , Costa to advertise them. Well they don't and nor do any other cruise ship as far as we have experienced. Life is all about choice and I feel that Costa and indeed other cruise lines should do the decent thing and give their passengers a choice. On one cruise I went on I asked how far the railway station was from the ship...she told me it was quite a long way. It was in Cobh and I wanted to go to Cork and she obviously wanted me to buy an excursion through them. I didn't and to my amazement as you step off the ship in Cobh right opposite on the other side of the road is the railway station..Just another example of being aware of alternatives to the ship's excursions.
Gratuities. These were added to your bill at the end of the cruise and no choice but to pay them. Although having no choice, we did find it refreshing that we were not bombarded with reminders almost daily (on Royal Caribbean) of the need to pay gratuities. In fact it was never mentioned in the whole trip with Costa nor did it appear in the Information Booklet in our cabin...so, well done Costa. We still decided to give a small token to our waiters and cabin stewardess.
Embarking and Disembarking. Embarking was just amazingly quick...in fact the quickest, walking straight on. This itinerary is rather unusual in that passengers are taken aboard on several ports of call...Dover, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Oslo, Copenhagen , Edinburgh and Le Havre and because only about 120 passengers got on at Dover, it was exceedingly quick and easy. At some ports it was a bit chaotic when returning to the ship and unless you sussed it out, it was quite easy to get behind the new guests who were having their passports and documents checked ...there was no clear sign at any port to show you the entry line for existing passengers.
Overall we thoroughly enjoyed our cruise bar for the points I have mentioned and would again go with Costa as we know what to expect and not expect.There is a lovely atmosphere on board their ships, which for some, can be a bit too noisy at times.