After cruising with Princess and Celebrity, we decided to book Costa for the western Mediterranean itinerary. This cruise hit several ports we were interested in and allowed us to disembark in Barcelona where we wanted to spend a few extra days; we booked primarily for the itinerary although we were concerned about uneven reviews for Costa.
The most disappointing part of the trip was the embarkation process. We flew into Milan and booked the Costa transfer. The transfer by bus was uneventful but, upon arrival at port, we were in a line of six buses and we had to wait for up to 40 minutes until our bus was able to pull up to the terminal and allow us off. Fortunately, we were booked in suites and so were allowed to board without further waiting.
Our cabin, 6320, a suite on the Rubino deck, far exceeded my expectations. The layout seemed a little strange with a large wall structure dividing the "dressing" room from the sitting/sleeping area, but there was great storage and a very large balcony. One of the best cabins I've had the pleasure to experience. The double sinks in the bathroom were a real plus!
One of the highlights of our cruise experience was the staff. The Maitre'd, Salvatore, and our waitress, Natalia, in the main dining room were among the best I've ever seen. Generally, the quality of our interaction with staff (including our butler and cabin stewardess) was of the highest quality of any of our past cruises.
A perk of booking a suite was a complementary dinner in the Club restaurant (which is normally an up-charge of 20 euro). We were looking forward to the specialty restaurant and expected, if we liked it, to have a few other dinners there. Our meals were (with one exception) probably the worst we have ever had on a ship. Very disappointing. Needless to say, we were more than happy to return to the MDR and our Natalia. Although the menu was not as varied as on Celebrity or Princess (e.g., not as many beef options) the pastas and seafood were generally quite good. There was usually something on the menu that was interesting; a mushroom tart, all the soups, various desserts.
We booked the J2 (all inclusive) drinks package which must be purchased at least five days before sail date. This package included all drinks up to 6.99 euro. The only limitation was on wines. Wines were only available by the glass and were limited to house wines in the restaurants and bars except for the wine bar (Piano Bar Antares) after 7:00 pm. There were some nice wines in the wine bar, but it was kind of annoying that we couldn't access that wine list in the MDR.
On this itinerary it was possible to walk into all the ports and at least see some of the local sites. We didn't book any of Costa's shore excursions although we booked private tours of Malaga, Casablanca and Lisbon. In Cadiz and Valencia we walked or purchased tickets for the hop-on hop-off bus. The scheduled port times were short in Malaga and Valencia so we had to manage our time carefully. I don't understand what passengers are expected to see in Barcelona in only five hours of port time. That is why we elected to leave the cruise and spend a few days there. Costa was quite responsive with our request to disembark early. Fourteen passengers opted to leave the ship in Barca.
As native English speakers we were part of about 20% of the ship's population but that was never a problem for us. There is a cruise director for each major language (ours, from Perth, Merilyn, was wonderful) who was available for questions and information. This was an effective way for us to connect with other English speaking passengers.
Overall, our Costa experience was better than we thought it might be and we're ready to try again, perhaps next time on the Fascinosa which will launch in 2012.