This was my first cruise. I have friends who enjoy cruises and its something that I have wanted to do for a while. I had some annual leave I needed to use up before the end of the year, so was looking for a last minute holiday to book. I had a look on the Cruisecritic website looking a cheap last minute cruise and saw the Mediterranean Spirit cruise offered via IdealCruising; however googling around a bit I found the same cruise available on cruisedeals.co.uk for more than Â£100 cheaper. I suggested the idea to a friend of mine who was also looking for a cheap winter holiday and he was up for it, so I phoned CruiseDeals and spoke to their agent Lorraine who was very helpful and arranged the cruise for us. The total price was as advertised. This was Â£519 per person including flights. This was for an Oceanview stateroom. A real bargain, especially as the flights were with BA.
The itinerary was a seven day circle of the Western Med on board the Costa Concordia, beginning and ending in Savona:
Day 1: Savona
Day 2: Barcelona
Day 3: Palma de Mallorca
Day 4: At Sea
Day 5 Valletta
Day 6: Palermo
Day 7: Civitaveccia (for Rome)
Day 8: Savona
Travel To Port of Embarkation (Savona)
Early flight from Heathrow on BA. The day before loads of flights had been cancelled due to fog and it was still foggy on the morning of departure. Luckily the plane took off as scheduled. We were met at Milan airport by a Costa representative who told us that we had to wait a bit for passengers from other flights. This was about for about 1.5 hours, so we grabbed some lunch. We then boarded a coach that took us to Savona. This journey was about 3 hours including a half hour stop. (Longer than our flight!) Arriving at Savona was fun as the town is dominated by all the huge Costa ships in port. The coach took us straight to the modern terminal building where we quickly ushered on board. No waiting about - very quick. It turned out we arrived 45 minutes before the ship was due to sail! We found our cabin and were amazed to find our luggage already there! In the cabin were our "costa cards", a welcome pamphlet and an excursion booklet. Excursions could be booked using the interactive TV. The costa cards are plastic cards with a bar code which is scanned every time you leave and re-board the ship. You can also register it with a Credit Card (or a cash deposit) and then use it to pay for drinks and services on board. Before we had barely caught our breath, it was time for the Ship Emergency drill - basically a case of finding your life jacket, working how to wear it and then following the signs to the life boats and be counted. Fairly straight forward and didn't take too long.
The Costa Concordia is a medium to large ship. Has a capacity of about 3500 passengers and 1000 crew. The ship's decor is generally quite OTT, and in some ways reminded me of a Las Vegas hotel on water, what with the casino, camp musical shows in the theatre, buffets and bars. But I love Vegas, so this was a good thing :-) The ship has 12 public decks, 3 pools and several hot tubs including 2 on deck next to a water slide! The 2 main pools both have sliding roofs, which as we were in November remained closed for most of the trip. They were opened on the last morning and this completely changed the feel of the pool areas.
The number of passengers throughout the trip varied from day to day as people can embark/disembark at different ports on the trip. Mostly the ship felt about 75% full though on the last night it was probably only about 33% full and the ship felt pleasantly quiet. It never felt overly crowded at any time. Always plenty of room in buffet / theatre / Spa / On deck.
Speaking of deck - there is plenty of deck space. Had the weather been warmer, I don't think finding a lounger would have been a problem. On the deck there is a jogging track and basketball court as well as the aforementioned water slide.
We had cabin 2443 a category E2 outside stateroom. This was bigger than expected with plenty of room and storage for 2 adults. A decent side window provided good views of each new port. The bath room was a decent size with a shower that had good water pressure and temperature and where the water stayed within the shower with going all over the bathroom. The beds were very comfortable. Perhaps slightly too much use of the colour peach for my liking!
The cabin steward was very friendly and helpful and spoke excellent English. And he kept the cabin spotlessly clean for us.
Food was pretty good. Frighteningly, I put on 5lbs in one week!
Generally we had breakfast bedside the the aft pool (Lido Mediterranea) as this was served till 11.30am.
This consisted of a buffet with all the usual UK, US and Continental favourites - bacon, scramble eggs, waffles, pancakes, french toast, sausages, beans, tomatoes, a selection of pastries, breads, fruit and cereals, along with tea, coffee and juice. There was also an omelette bar where you could have omelettes cooked to order. If you ate in one of the main restaurants - the food was similar but here were
more things you could have cooked to order.
Lunch was another buffet - various things to choose from, including salmon pork chops, pizza and some good salads. Most days we ate lunch in whichever port were at.
Also, it seemed that at whatever time of day more or less, there were pizza slices and salad available in the buffet. The pizza was good, but toppings were a bit unimaginative. There was also a late night pizzeria where pizzas were made to order, however I didn't get round to trying this.
There was also an afternoon tea buffet, with a nice selection of cakes and sandwiches. On the sea day, there was a more formal afternoon tea in the Club Concordia restaurant, with some really good loose tea. Speaking of the Club Concordia restaurant - this was another restaurant which you could book and pay a â‚¬20 premium for top notch italian food. However we thought the main restaurant was pretty good so didn't think it was worth trying.
For dinner, you are assigned a table in one of two large restaurants at either an early (6.45pm) or late (9.15pm) sitting. We opted for the late sitting and were seated a table of 10 in the Milano restaurant, conveniently close to the cabin. You choose which sitting you want at the start of the holiday. We were sat with a nice bunch and we all became friends during the week. Are group consisted of 3 brits, 3 americans, a couple from Dehli and a honeymooning couple from Japan. They obviously make an effort to match tables by language and approximate age. The food was generally very good. There was no issue with the food coming out cold, which I have seen mentioned by some reviewers.
Every night there 5 courses (6 if you had cheese as well) : appetiser, soup course, pasta/risotto course, main course and desert. And plenty of bread rolls. The drinks cost extra. The house white was very drinkable and not too expensive. If you wanted more than one of each course, you could have it. One of our table had 3 deserts one evening. I'd rate the quality 7 out of 10. Considering the number of meals being served this is pretty good. (and given how much the holiday cost!)
At midnight, snacks were served in the bars. And several evenings, there were extravagant buffets at midnight by the Lido Magica. Consisting of Cakes and Fruit mostly (delicious pineapple and watermelon.) Once night they had an ice carving race between 2 chefs, and the tables were adorned with animals made of carved fruit, which was a nice touch.
Service throughout was mostly attentive and friendly, especially from the Filipino and Indian staff. Our cabin steward was very helpful and friendly and kept the cabin and bathroom spotless. We didn't get towel animals though, unlike some of our dinner friends. Our table waiter (we had the same guy each night) was also friendly and obliging.
A service charge of â‚¬7 per person is added to your final bill. This is more than reasonable given the level of service we got.
The entertainment was mostly cheesy, but entertaining none-the-less. Each night was a show in the large theatre in the bow of the ship. The theatre was very well equipped, with excellent sound, lights and some of the best laser effects that I've seen. There were 3 shows of dance and singing. These were extremely cheesy, but the dancers were excellent. These were just about the only British crew on board it turned out! Most of the songs were in English, with the odd crowd-pleasing italian number thrown in. There was also a recital from a concert pianist, a ventriloquist and Magic Martin - a magician who specialised in the big vanishing women variety. Very entertaining.
There was also the animation team - a bunch of guys who would dress up and wander the bars / disco trying to get people to dance! They also hosted a very entertaining karaoke one evening. There are a wide selection of bars, each with their own atmosphere and each with singers or musicians. Some of which were quite good. There was also a classical duo who played in the Vienna Ballroom in a complete contrast to the rest of the ship!
The casino was fun - I won â‚¬30 on roulette overall! Drinks in the bars are quite cheap compared to London prices, especially the cocktails. There are also various drinks packages which would be good value if you drink more than I do.
I spent a large part of the Sea day in the spa, which was very nice. A huge hydrotherapy pool, several steam rooms of varying temperatures, a relaxation room, treatment rooms and a winter garden where you can lie on loungers looking out to sea, with a calming sound track and remain warm even though it was mid november! As a bonus they server you green tea! A day pass was â‚¬38. Slightly pricey but I got my money's worth. There is also a well equipped gym attached with saunas in the changing rooms. The gym/saunas are free to use without paying for a spa pass. Only negative is that robes weren't provided - only towels.
On the deck, there is a jogging track, sports court and water slide.
Each evening you receive a news letter called "Today" in your own language detailing activities for the following day and information about the Port.
Port & Shore Excursions
We didn't really go on any Costa excursions - just explored the cities on our own. The only exception to this was the Costa coach trip to Rome ( it turned out to be a good move that day as the trains from Civitaveccia were not running because of industrial action.) Once in Rome, we explored on foot. The coach dropped off/ picked up at the Vatican.
Valletta and Palermo are easily explored on foot directly from the ship. A shuttle bus is provided to/from the port at Barcelona (and there are plenty of taxis,) and there is a regular bus service from the port at Palma to the town centre.
A top tip is to head to the local tourist information office and ask the agent to mark on a map the top things to see if you only have a few hours.
All the ports are interesting, but my favourites were Valletta and Palma. Rome and Barcelona are great too, but a day isn't enough to do them justice really. In fact Rome is a stunning city.
Disembarkation was easy. The night before we get a copy of "Today" giving details of where to meet. You have to pack and leave your luggage outside the cabin by 1am. During the night it is magically whisked away by the luggage elves.
Those taking the transfer to Milan didn't have to be ready to 10am, so this gave time for breakfast and a last stroll around the Concordia. At 10am we met in the Grand Berlino bar and were directed to the luggage pickup point and then onto a coach which took us to Milan. We had to wait a while on the coach for more dutch people just like the first day! They were actually on a different ship from us. The only negative was that we had 3 hours or so to hang around at Milan airport - probably one of the worlds most boring airports that looked like it hadn't changed since 1976.
To summarise, we had a fun week, saw some interesting places and enjoyed a lot of nice food for Â£519 each - including British Airways flights and a decent cabin with a window. In my opinion, an absolute bargain. We did book last minute and it was mid-November, but still very good value. That's cheaper than a weeks rent of a studio flat in central london!
I've seen a lot of negative reviews on cruise-critic, which mostly seem to be from people who (imho) have unreasonable expectations (for the money) or who don't like the European, multi-lingual nature of Costa. Personally I think this added to the experience. You'd think these people would do a bit more research before booking.