I sailed from Miami on February 27th for 10 nights in the Western Caribbean on COSTA Atlantica. Let me start with the few good things about the ship. First, its a beautiful boat especially the 10 deck tall main lobby...very impressive. Second, the price was right. For an inside cabin the base cost of this cruise was about $70 per person per day. Third, the beverage package offered on board was a very good deal. For a total of $520 two people had unlimited drinks for 10 days. It excluded some premium liquor and only allowed a limited selection of house wines, but the drinks were good and very cheap. That exhausts the good things I have to say about COSTA.
If I had to summarize my experience in one word that word would be incompetence. Let me be specific.
Embarkation - We arrived at the boat quite early because of our flights from the northeast to Miami. We were at the pier by 10:30 am. i knew that we could not board by then but was hoping we could drop off our luggage. There was mass confusion, with no one able to tell us when and where we could leave our luggage. Multiple COSTA employees on the pier gave us conflicting information, and suggested that we stand on the sidewalk and wait for an announcement. After we did that for quite a while and no announcement was made we saw some porters who were taking luggage. Finally we were able to drop off our luggage so we could walk to a near by shopping area and kill some time prior to boarding. When we returned and went through the boarding process the facility had very little seating available (less than 5% of the people waiting could sit down). When we finally got on board I knew the experience would be less than what we had come to expect when cruising on lines such as Celebrity. There was no one to greet you with champagne and no one to offer to show you to your room or to offer to help with carry on bags. Instead you were directed to go to deck 9 where the buffet was open. The whole experience was disorganized and reeked of being treated like cattle.
Your Fellow Passengers - My estimate is that 70% of the passengers were Italian, about 20% were French, and the balance was German, Canadian, and American. There were MANY children. I deliberately booked at this time of year to avoid the U.S. school vacations, but it didn't occur to me that there would be so many European children on board. This meant that it was basically impossible to enjoy the pools on board, since they were almost always mobbed with lots of loud and unruly children whose parents seem to let them do whatever they want. There was virtually no attempt by the crew to control children running in the pool area on the decks or in the corridors. Also, I must say that in virtually all the public spaces on the ship the din of very loud conversation (mostly Italian) was overwhelming.
In fact the whole atmosphere was one of course rudeness. People routinely cut in front of you in lines, smoked in non-smoking areas, and were generally unpleasant with no attempt by the staff to control this or enforce the rules. When I spoke to the "English Language Host" on board and told her that I wish the staff would try to enforce the smoking rules she herself expressed frustration with it but did not offer to in any way intervene.
The Food - The food was, at best, fair. The variety was poor, particularly in the buffet room. Many items from the steam trays were cold. Don't expect high end items on this boat like sushi, lox, eggs Benedict, lobster, artisan breads and pastries, or other things which you have come to expect on quality cruise lines.
Tipping - In conversations I had with staff I was told they they do not get any of the tip which the cruise line routinely adds to your bill. For two people on a 10 night cruise COSTA automatically adds $220 to your bill. If you know enough to dispute this they will take it off your bill, but otherwise you just pay it and it does note effect the pay of the stewards, or waiters at all. This seems like a scam to me.
Debarkation - This was as much a nightmare as embarkation. Instead of lining the luggage up by color code in a large space and allowing people to claim their luggage in an orderly way (like Celebrity does) they had hundreds of people jammed in a small luggage carousel area struggling to pull their bags off the line. There was pushing, shoving, yelling and a general sense of disorganized incompetence.
If this cruise was an example of the management oversight of COSTA I must say that I am not surprised that the COSTA Concordia ran aground in the Mediterranean! The take home message is....spend a couple hundred dollars more and sail on a Cruise Line like Celebrity, or Princess, or Royal Caribbean where they treat there customers right, and where the focus is on quality