Costa Cruises' ships fall into two categories that I call "Before Joe" and "After Joe" -- the Joe in question being Joe Farcus. Farcus is best known as the designer of Carnival Cruise Lines
' famously wacky and theatrical ship interiors. He's been importing the Carnival sensibility to new-builds in the Italian fleet since the debut of Costa Atlantica
Costa Victoria, however, is a ship from the cruise line's "Before Joe" era and, as such, its decor is more Spartan, lacking the neon-tinged "wow" factor for which Farcus is known. It's an older ship -- launched in 1996 -- and, even though it had a major refurbishment in 2004 (adding 242 balconies and mini-suites), it's still a bit behind the times.
The layout is strange by today's standards, with the spa and gym buried on Deck 6 and what passes for a theatre -- it's more of a lounge with a big stage and terrible sight lines -- at the back of the ship.
The balcony cabins were an excellent addition in this day and age, but it's a shame they didn't spend a bit more money on modern conveniences while they were at it. Passengers are given both a room key and an onboard charge card; we would have preferred to have one digital room key that doubles as a charge card, as is available on many cruise ships. A programmable in-cabin safe with a numbered keypad would also have been nice. Costa Victoria's safes are locked and unlocked with a charge card -- if you're lucky. It took 10 minutes of frustrated swiping to lock mine one day.
It would also be nice if Costa invested in a new machine to swipe you on and off the ship -- one that brings up your picture when you insert your card, so you don't have to carry around a photocopy of your passport. It's not heavy, but it's just another thing to forget -- as, indeed, I did once.
On the plus side, the ship has so much open deck space and so many sun loungers that I can't imagine you'd ever need to do a dawn dash to grab a bed.
Because this is a multinational ship -- mostly Italians, but there were at least seven other nationalities on my cruise -- you should be prepared for endless announcements in different languages (which makes for an especially tedious boat drill) and a few cultural howlers.
The Italians' inability to queue upset some Brits, and Mediterranean laissez-faire
attitude takes some getting used to. "Just coming" invariably meant a 15-minute wait.
That said, the international crew were friendly and efficient -- three nights running, a bucket of ice was delivered to my cabin, less than 10 minutes after I had called room service -- and crew members' abilities to switch between languages never ceased to amaze me.