Let me start off by saying I am neither a complainer nor a pushover. I like to say things as they are and to hell with what the majority or otherwise might say. Nor am I a happy clapper willing to give out praise where it not due.
That out of the way, let me proceed. As seasoned travellers myself and my wife have been most places in the world and often several times over. However, until now we have resisted the urge to cruise. Don't ask me why, I have no logical reason, other than liking to be in charge of my our own day to day lives and what we decide to do with them, which is best suited to a holiday where we set the daily itinerary. I was often put off by the choice available, the often very high prices, and unfortunately, the high prices upfront to fly to some of the departure ports from Northern Ireland. For instance, the Caribbean felt a good option several times, but paying up to £700 each for flights just to get to Miami and then the cost of the cruise on top was a turn off.
Deep down I also had a fear that I would get cabin fever, and also harboured an illogical feeling that a cruise ship was merely a tarted up ferry and I would know it inside out and back to front within an hour. This proved to be unfounded.
So this year we decided it was time to break our mould and book a cruise. The Western Med seemed a safe bet, and being slightly off season in March we wouldn't have spent a Kings ransom if it turned out we really were not up for cruising at all. If we liked it, then spending a lot more in some sunny summer exotic destination would be less of a worry.
After an evening of internet research, I arrived at the Costa website, and we finally decided on a Western Med 7 night cruise on the Costa Diadema out of Barcelona. We booked an exterior room with a balcony. We also booked the Piu Gusto all inclusive drinks package including Cocktails.
So off we set in early March 2018 In the midst of severe arctic weather as a result of the polar vortex over Ireland and the UK in late feb early March 2018, and we duly arrived in Barcelona on a rather pleasant saturday afternoon. Our cruise wasn't due to leave until Monday night, so we decided it would be good to book a hotel for 2 nights in Barcelona as well. This was a great decision, we had 2 lovely days in the city, and our hotel was right by the cruise port which meant a 2 minute transfer from hotel to Ship on Monday afternoon.
Monday came quick enough and a quick taxi run saw us arriving at a modern fresh Cruise terminal purpose built by Costa. The Diadema in all its spotless glory was tied up alongside. Our labelled bags were whisked away, and an hour later, we were called to board. On entering the ship the lavish design is the first thing that hits you. This was no glorified ferry! The ship is beautifully fitted out and spotlessly clean. We made out way to room 2037 on deck 2 and were pleasantly surprised at the size of the room, the bed and balcony.
Our two Cruise cards were awaiting us on the bed. These act as your boarding card/ ID at port stops, your payment method whilst onboard, and your door keycard for entry to your room.
The idea is you "pair" your credit card to the cruise card at one of the multiple terminals onboard. You then no longer use personal cards or cash on board. Any accrued cost, you settle the night before your trip ends. Of course, the card also holds details of your drinks package, so all your drink 'purchases' are free.
You will be called to a meeting point an hour or two after boarding, resplendent with life jacket for a compulsory drill. All in all it took about 20 minutes. This is taken extremely seriously by the crew members and they expect you to treat it as seriously and pay attention to all that you are told. Common sense, and no more an interruption on your cruise than the flight attendant instructions at the start of a flight.
At this point, I'll explain go back and explain the drinks packages. There are several, from water only, kids soft drinks, meal only wine packages, wine only all areas, main spirits wines and beers, everything inc Cocktails (but not absolute premium brands) this is the package that we had , and the everything you want package including the very top brands like 20 year old Brandys. Note: everyone travelling on the same booking must have the same package for adults. This is to prevent the card holder 'buying' drinks on the all inclusive package, and passing them to others who haven't paid for the package.
Incidentally, I saw this once with a group of 30 something men. The barman saw it happening and immediately refused further service to the whole group. They were then escorted from the bar. I don't know if their cards were confiscated, but on the literature it does say that this could happen if abused. Simply, do the right thing and you are fine, if caught, the bar staff take it seriously and will take action.
All the bars on ship serve the same range of drinks and the extensive drinks menu is at every bar. You simply look at the coloured dot that represents your package on the front page of the menu, and any drink that has your colour dot (yellow in our case) then that drink is included. Our package was hugely inclusive and only about 3 cocktails and a selection of like 20 year old brandies were excluded.
It included dozens of top brands. Martell, Johnny Walker, Baileys, Smirnoff, Gordons, Martini, Bacardi, Canadian Club, and loads of liquors and beers, coffee, soft drinks and juices.. The Cocktail menu was to die for, with about 30 on offer. (Try the Bahama Mama!!) At €8.20 a cocktail, it would be an expensive night if you were paying by drink. Our package was €175 each. We each drank about €70 of cocktails etc on the first night! :-) Suffice to say, the drink package is worth it. When you consider it includes your wine at dinner, soft drinks etc at lunch time, all your Illy coffees on board. I estimate our tab would have been not much shy of €1000 for the 8 days onboard. (you can avail of your breakfast, lunch and drinks package on departure day as well!)
Stay away from the minibar in the rooms as usual over priced.
Now for all said above, heres the anomaly. This company (Costa) has a real bee in its bonnet over drinking water! Yes, the stuff you need to stay alive.
It is not included free in the room (€3.50 a litre from the mini bar.) It is only dispensed from water dispensers to cup in the buffet area, and by glass only in the restaurants. If you want chilled bottled water, you have to pay extra! even with a drinks package, unless you take out the actual water drinks package!
So Martell VSOP brandy and €9 Cocktails are included on your package, but chilled bottled water isn't even though they would likely stock it at about 10 cents a bottle! Very strange, and it seems to irk a lot of people going by comments here and elsewhere. It also seems unique to Costa. So, sort it Costa, really silly policy and one which needs addressed. I cannot for the life of me understand having an all inclusive drinks package and not having the cheapest and most basic form of drink available on it!
However that said, I don't remember gasping for water onboard, it is available from dispensers 24/7 and we kept a litre in the room at all times.
Moving onto dining. I can genuinely say that If I had have believed some of the ridiculous reviews left by some people here and elsewhere, I may have cancelled the trip. What it did do was leave us with some doubts as to what the food would be like. There must be a lot of people out there with very low tolerance levels, or very delicate palettes .
This is an Italian cruise ship. There is no escaping it caters mainly for Italian, Spanish, French and German peoples. In fact English was the 3rd or 4th language translated for announcements.
I am not a picky eater at all, but I admit enjoying the typical UK/ Irish diet. Everything from fish and chips, roast beef, a good curry etc. But I also enjoy rice dishes etc. I wouldn't say I am a big lover of the classic mediterranean diet, but I would have a go anyway. Suffice to say, the food will be different than the UK or Irish traveller might be used to. But its of very high quality.
In a nutshell, both my wife and I were bowled over with the quality of food on offer. The Italian chefs onboard created dishes each night that were just amazing. From basic spaghetti and pasta dishes, to the beef, lamb, chicken and pork offerings. We were blown away. It was so satisfying too, as our expectations had been lowered so much by these reviews!. I have to say to some of the reviewers on this site, some of you must be serial complainers or just unfortunate, because the experience we had all over the ship was of a serious effort to provide top class food and experience and I don't think we were let down once.
You will be allocated a dining room on day one, with either sitting 1 or 2. We were in the Fiorintino restaurant on deck 3/4 for first sitting. Some reviews said staff were nasty and overworked, food arrived cold and took hours. I think you are reviewing the wrong boat.
Our waiter was prompt, wine bottle in hand before you had even warmed the seat. The 5 course menu browsed, a nibble at the constant supply of fresh breads, and the first course arrived within 10 minutes. We never spent longer than 1 hour to 80 mins in the restaurant unless chatting to people. It was a lovely experience in 5 star surroundings. The waiting staff were warm and friendly and nothing was too much for them. The food was superb, resented like a top restaurant and cooked perfectly.
Now, if you didn't want the sit down 5 course meal, or you decided to eat later, the Buffet on floor 10 was available up until well after 9.
If you have experienced all you can eat buffets before, this will be of no surprise to you, but it was no where near the problem some have posted.
Its busy, but we never found it crazy busy. You may well have to look around for 2 or 3 minutes to get a seat in the actual buffet area, but never longer than that. Also the area directly outside the buffet has hundreds of seats and tables to eat at also.
The buffet runs along 3 sides, and is split into Oriental (Chinese type dishes, rice, fried rice, noodles, ribs, chinese chicken pork etc,) Italian, spaghettis, pasta, lasagnes, ravioli, then a big area serving roast beef, chicken etc. A large salad area and a dessert area.
Again, for a buffet, the food is very good and you can have a really nice meal here.
One review I read actually said, "most of the food available in the buffet is cold"! what absolute rubbish!
This is also the location for your continental breakfast. Cooked breakfasts are at your designated restaurants.
In addition to this, there are 3 or 4 "prestige" restaurants, costing about €25 per person per head over and above your inclusive package. There is the Tarayaki, The Ferrari and another. We never bothered, as the food inclusive was so good.
You also have an Italian Pizzeria and a burger bar available (at a cost) to about 1.30am, or room service 24 hours at a cost of course. The Pizza is to die for, seriously.
We had a full cooked breakfast in bed one morning for €10 all in. (Full UK style)
So thats the food aspect. We were really delighted. I expect in review columns like this, it is natural that people will come to complain more than compliment, but I really must say a big congratulations to Costa for service and food.
So on to the ship itself. Wow. Its a bit of an assault on the senses. The sheer size of it is the first thing that hits you. It is vast. 16 floors high, numerous bars restaurants etc. A shopping mall, casino, cinema, theatre, disco, nightclub, 2 pools, jacuzzis, country club, Ice cream parlour, spas. Just about everything you would expect. I understand its one of if not the biggest currently on Mediterranean duty. The shops are typical of cruise liners. Tommy Hilfiger, up market watches, and the typical Boots type perfume and lotions shops. Not really our thing but nice enough to kill an hour or so. Do be aware, they run 'sales and promotions' most nights, but in reality the prices are rubbish and its easy to get sucked in when in holiday mode. You will pay at least what you will pay at home, sometimes a lot more! Suffice to say, ignore the 75% off luxury watches promos. Ripoff.
But I am sure you are not cruising for the shops on board. Each night, you will receive the ships "newspaper" detailing all of the next days activities and the port of call. This is excellent because you know whats on the ship at any time. We enjoyed a show one night in the vast theatre, and shows change nightly. But we found our home in the country club where a terrific cover band called Royal Alligators played Dire Straits,Queen, Toto, Police, and all the old classics until the early hours. They were very talented and pulled big crowds each night.
Other than that, it was nice to just drift about the ship in and out of venues to see what was on, you really can lose yourself walking about the many decks and bars.
The bar and lounge areas are all slightly different but designed beautifully, and its lovely to sit in any of them and just take in a bit of entertainment. And this is non stop. This is a dancing boat! Morning noon and night, there are couple Cha cha'ing or Latin dancing to their hearts content. There are free classes on constantly, with bands, singers, musicians, comedians, and dancers doing different shows every night. The public areas are busy, but not frantic. Italians do tend to converse loudly and shout rather than talk, but I don't remember ever feeling that the Ship was rowdy or boisterous. Just happy!
You would have thought the waiting and bar staff would be trained to slow down the drinks intake of all those all inclusive passengers to save the company money, but its quite the opposite. The staff will arrive as soon as your glass is empty to fetch a refill. The service is excellent. In fact, the attention and service of staff all over the ship is really exemplary. They are courteous, well trained and efficient. There are always people polishing stair rails and glass partitions, cleaning surfaces etc. You will not see a fingerprint on this ship.
I'll not dwell on the ports called at. Suffice to say, we stopped at Palma, Palermo in Sicily, Rome, Savona, Marseilles and back to Barcelona.
I cant comment on the tours, but we booked the bus transfer to Rome and it left and came back on time, and the same in Palma.
On early arrival back at Barcelona, we had breakfast. Our cases were left outside the room the night before to be transferred to the terminal for collection (saves you carting them through he ship on exit). We were told we could stay on board until about 1 pm which we did, availing of lunch and a few more Cocktails!
So an excellent trip with 5 star service board and food. We will definitely cruise on the Diadema again. Read Less