It seems most of the reviews on this site are from couples, and not very many Americans on Costa. So I thought I would post our impressions and some thoughts in particular regarding kids. Spoiler alert: we loved it! But I can see that Costa might not be for everyone.
My family (me, my wife and two girls aged 11 and 13) went on a one week cruise on the Costa Diadema sailing form Savona on April 8. Basically a different port every day, with only one sea day. I was trying to expose my kids to as many places as possible within our time constraints. While we succeeded in seeing a lot, we may have overdone it, as we were rushing around the whole week.
Timing. Our cruise was scheduled around my kid’s spring break from school. This seemed like a great idea to me. I thought it would be less crowded than the summer. I’m not sure it was. Our spring break coincided with Easter week, so there were tons of people everywhere but especially in the Vatican and other cathedrals in Italy. We were at the Vatican the day before Good Friday. At our school, if Easter comes particularly early or late, they will not schedule spring break around it. If you have a situation like that, I would say go for it on spring break. I would not recommend the Vatican during Easter Week. Our kids break was only one week. We flew out of San Francisco on Thursday night and returned a week and a half later on Monday afternoon. Kids had to miss two school days and were actually not happy about that – they are serious students and didn’t want to miss any school, so we tried to minimize it. It was really a lot ground to cover in that time. If we do it again I think we will try the summer.
Kids on Costa. On our cruise, there were tons of kids, so you will have lots of company. Our girls are 11 and 13, so we were a little surprised when we were told on check-in that the initial organizational meeting for the kids club would be at 11:30 p.m.! Italian kids stay out later than their American peers, and Italian families like to eat late. Our kids never participated in any of the organized kid’s club events. Aside from the somewhat inconvenient hours, we were just too busy.
Ambiance. Hard to explain. The ship was loud and bling, bling, bling everywhere. Lot of excitement, music, shows, kind of crazy. We actually liked it, but if you are looking for peace and quiet it’s hard to find. It was sometimes hard to figure out where things were, how they worked, or what was going on. All of the crew spoke adequate English for their jobs, but not always adequate to give directions, and there seemed to be a lot of confusion on their part about how things actually worked. So if you are a control freak and expect there to be some resource somewhere that finally and definitively spells everything out, I expect you are going to be disappointed. If you can kick back and go with the flow, you will have a great time.
Dress. Not nearly as formal as we expected. I had only been on one cruise before, on Norwegian years ago. On that trip, I actually brought two tuxedo jackets, one black and one white, for the two gala nights. No need for that on Costa! Diadema had one gala night. I wore a blazer and tie for it and my girls (big and small) wore cocktail length dresses. Most people didn’t bother. I would say maybe 10% of the men were sporting a jacket and tie that night, and maybe another 10% jacket no tie. We actually packed pretty heavy for the trip as my girls were kind of into the idea of the theme nights (all white, tricolore, black and red). But when we saw how casual everyone else was, they didn’t want to bother to dress up. We could have packed a lot lighter and if we go again we will. The only theme night that had a high percentage of participation was the White Nights. Most of the people that actually went to the White Nights party were wearing white.
You often hear in the US that “Europeans are better-dressed than Americans.” There is a lot packed into that statement, not least of which that “Europeans” is a pretty broad term, that includes diverse populations that are not homogenous. I will leave that aside and address only the Europeans on our cruise (practically everyone on our cruise except us was European.). The second nuance is just what you mean by “better dressed.” This can be used to mean either (i) “more formally dressed” or (ii) “more stylishly or fashionably dressed.” I can say that, with respect to the Europeans on our cruise (i) was not true at all. It used to be that you seldom saw adults in Europe wearing jeans, shorts or sneakers unless they were American tourists. This is absolutely no longer the case. I do not think people were dressed more formally than they would be at, say, a resort in the US. However, with respect to (ii), dressing more stylishly, it is true. Everyone you saw just looked better than the average American in terms of their clothes. They were wearing the same general kinds of clothes, just wearing them better. Even families with little kids managed to have everyone clean, matching (where appropriate or desirable!), newish and somehow just together and well turned out, all the time. So I would say, don’t worry about dressing up too much, but do try to bring your “A game” in terms of not wearing worn out clothes or mismatched outfits unless you want to stand out as a schlub.
Dining. Fabulous. I actually thought the food alone was worth the price of the cruise, like they were throwing in the accommodation and travel for free. We were assigned to the main dining room, Fiorentino, for the early seating for dinner, which was supposed to start at 6:30. Our biggest challenge of the whole cruise was getting there on time! We basically never were on time. The first night, it was about 8:00 when we were ready for dinner, and they wouldn’t let us in. We went to the Corona Blu for dinner that night, which had open seating with the same menu as the main dining room and had a great meal. We tried that again later in the cruise but were rebuffed, and told that this option was only open for those who had been assigned it as their dinner choice every night. Second night we got to the dining room around 7:30. We bypassed the Maitre D’ by entering through the upper level and going down the internal staircase to get to our table. After we were seated, the Maitre D’ came back to our table and started yelling at me very animatedly in French. I speak French well enough to know what he was saying, but not really well enough to go toe-to-toe with him in real time. He was actually justified at being annoyed at us – we were an hour late after all – but I thought the way he went about it was more than a bit rude. So, I responded with my best Gallic shoulder shrug and a casual “D’ac” while I returned my attention to my aperitif (vermouth, light on the ice, with a lemon twist, not a wedge – I already had the bartender at the Stella del Sud trained!). This turned out to be the perfect response, as he sort of ran out of steam and stomped off, still in a huff. The rest of the week we struggled to get there on time, and ate at the Adularia one night, which also had open seating, and at the buffet one night when we were really late. Although we only made it there half the time, the waiter at our assigned table in Fiorentino (Ahri) was great. Very attentive, perfect English, he would leave wine and water on the table so we could help ourselves (Piu Gusto drinks package is supposed to be by the glass only). He was the only waiter we really talked to much or got to know anything about on the whole ship. He was from Jakarta and was very interested that I had been there recently on business. He was also the only person on the ship that we tipped separately. I figured Costa’s 10 Euro per person per day could take care of the rest of them. On any given day you would likely receive service from literally dozens of people, not necessarily the same from one day to the next, and I don’t see how you could tip them all individually. In general, the whole ship is run pretty efficiently, but it’s kind of an assembly line operation. You are waited on by tons of people, so it’s understandable if the service is not very warm or personal.
Overall, I thought almost everything we ordered in the main dining room was good quality, with a thoughtful menu, well presented and served hot. There were usually two to four choices for the main course, two for the other courses or maybe three for desert, along with several “always available” items. It was basically all an Italian menu, although varied and tending towards Northern Italian and a mix of more original dishes and traditional ones. It was not just spaghetti marinara all week, have no fear. My wife was a little disappointed they did not also feature more French or Spanish dishes but overall we were very satisfied.
My kids ended up loving the formal dining. I was sort of surprised by this since normally they prefer buffets. They would bring a book or an iPad to dinner and did not mind how long we took. My wife and I would kick back, have a couple (or more!) glasses of wine and really enjoyed the pace, which would be considered very slow by American standards. We had a great table with views out big windows on the stern and a couple nights were able to see the sunset from it. I helped my kids order and encouraged them to order most of the six courses on offer. They would try things and if they liked it they would eat it. I never pressured them to eat anything. This worked great – they tried a lot of things they would not have otherwise, and ended up loving some of them. It was successful in getting them to broaden their palates a little.
Breakfast. The buffet selection was pretty big. As many others have noted, it did not include eggs. But for a “continental” breakfast, there was a lot on offer. I prefer complex carbs and protein for breakfast so usually selected whole grain bread, cold cuts and cheese. My wife likes fresh fruit for breakfast and there were always several good choices including fabulous and fresh melon. My kids love pastries and sweets for breakfast and they were in absolute heaven. There was some really good prosciutto, which I liked to have with the melon. In the US, and I suppose in Italy as well, this is usually eaten as an appetizer at dinner, but it worked just fine for breakfast. I think even the pickiest eater should be able to find something they liked here. It’s crowded, but manageable after you learn your way around. If you absolutely have to have bacon and eggs, it is only available in the main dining room. We did this on the one sea day. I had an English Breakfast, which was awful. My wife had Eggs Benedict, which she thought was barely edible. My kids ordered the Belgian Waffles with chocolate sauce and whipped crème, which they pronounced delicious. We didn’t bother with the cooked breakfast after that.
Lunch. We only had lunch on the ship two days, the day we arrived and the sea day. The buffet both days was vast but insanely crowded. The food was good, especially the roast suckling pig, but the mob scene sort of detracted from it.
Drinks. We got the “Piu Gusto” drinks package and I highly recommend it. Everyone in your cabin or traveling together has to get the drinks package if anyone does, and I wasn’t sure if my kids would get the value from it. I needn’t have worried. Kids enjoyed a steady stream of hot chocolate (including multiple flavor variations from the “chocolate bar”), smoothies and Shirley Temples and other virgin cocktails. They really liked being able to get whatever they wanted whenever they wanted (I liked that too!). They normally are not allowed to drink soda or other sugary drinks at home, so this was a treat. One funny thing about the drinks package is that it included almost anything you could want to drink, but you could only get water by the glass, not a bottle. This was inconvenient if you wanted to have water in your cabin. I would basically stop by the nearest bar and get four glasses and carry them back to the cabin. Kind of silly.
Cabin. We booked last minute, and we had no flexibility on dates due to kid’s school schedule. We got what I was told was the very last four person cabin on the ship, and that may have actually been true as I got on a waitlist to upgrade but did not get an opportunity. The ship was very full due to Easter holiday. The only cabin available was an interior one, with one queen bed and two bunk beds to the sides over it. Really cramped for four people! My only prior cruise experience was with two people in a suite with a balcony on, if I recall, the top deck of the ship, so this was a different experience.
Having said that, the cabin was laid out very well and efficiently with lots of storage. We hardly spent any time in the cabin, literally just sleeping, showering and changing clothes, and my family cooperated and made the best of it. If we do it again we will upgrade to balcony cabin at a minimum, and maybe a suite. The best part about the cabin we had? I kept reminding myself what a great price we got!
Shore excursions. We went on shore at every opportunity, and most days stayed as long as we could. On three days, the days where we had more ground to cover, we booked tours through Costa. On two days we toured on our own. I thought the Costa tours were well run, interesting and packed a lot in. I was aware that we could book tours independently and save some money. I was afraid that if we toured independently and were late returning to the ship, we might get left behand. If we were on a bus full of people who were all late on a Costa-booked cruise, I figured they would have to wait for us or at least put us up and get us to the next port or something. This theory got tested on our day in La Spezia. It was Good Friday, and we did the longest, most jam-packed tour available, going to Florence and Pisa (In one day! This is probably a criminal act, and if not it should be.). Every place was swarming with tourists, and the bus was quite late getting back. But they waited for us!
Price. I thought the whole thing was very reasonably priced, and if you spend a few minutes pricing cruises on websites you will see Costa is consistently competitive or lower than the competition. I felt we got good value for money.
Travel Tips. We flew into Milan via Istanbul on Turkish Airways. I think a lot people, especially Americans, are afraid to go through Istanbul, and many of our friends scrunched up their noses when we said we were flying Turkish. I think this is misguided. Although there have been terrorist incidents in Turkey, nowhere is immune from this in today’s world, and when you factor overall crime rates, I believe you are safer there than in many American cities. Because of this skittishness, Turkish Airlines is offering great fares right now. It is an old school “flag carrier” which means service is far superior to what you will get on an American airline in the back of the plane. I chose the longest layover in Istanbul offered, 24 hours. We booked a hotel in the Old Town, toured some historic sights, had a great meal and overall had a wonderful finale to our vacation. Highly recommend both Turkish Airways and a stop in Istanbul.
We had access to airport lounges in Milan and Istanbul through “Priority Pass” which is offered as a perk through many credit cards in the US (and I assume worldwide). This is a very valuable bonus and made the layovers much less stressful. My kids normally get pretty cranky waiting in airports, but with a clean, comfortable place to sit, wifi, snacks and drinks, they really didn’t care when the plane left! If you don’t otherwise have lounge access you should look into it.
Bottom Line. If you want a high energy, fun-packed experience that covers maximum ground in a limited time in a part of the world rich in history, Costa Diadema, should be on your list. You should think twice before going to Rome Easter Week, however. If you want to kick back and relax on spring break, I suggest you might want to look into Club Med in Mexico! For us, I think we will do it again, likely Eastern Mediterranean next time, but will probably go in summer, book a bigger cabin and not try to do everything in one week. Read Less