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I am a 55-year-old American professor of literature who has been working in Dubai for eight-and-a-half years. My wife is a 47-year-old high-school math teacher from the Philippines. The local schools are closed for three weeks during the holidays and we wanted to get away for awhile. We travelled extensively last summer by plane and will do so again next June: the time-saving convenience of taking a cruise from Dubai appealed to us. We live in the UAE and had no interest in the destinations: we would be cruising only to enjoy the ship. My wife found an advertisement for this cruise last fall in the local newspaper, the Gulf News, and suggested we give it a try. I was apprehensive about cruising with Costa because of the mixed reviews I had read on this site. On the other hand, my needs were very limited: I simply wanted to get away from my villa for a few days on a luxury cruise ship, be able to use the Jacuzzi when I wanted, have a few exotic rum drinks, enjoy decent food whenever I was hungry, and read a few novels on my Kindle on our balcony. For the most part, my list of needs were met. This was my eighth cruise and my wife’s second. Our last cruise together was two years ago on NCL’s Pride of America: that earlier cruise served as my wife’s only yardstick. Embarkation The ticket indicated an embarkation time of 8:00 pm. This is when passengers may enter their cabins: guests may board the vessel as early as 3:00 pm. I decided to drive to the terminal rather than take a taxi as we live only 15 minutes from the Port. We arrived at Port Rashid at around 5:30 pm to an empty terminal. I was initially convinced that I was parked in a restricted zone because there were virtually no other cars in sight. I finally spotted a grounds attendant and verified with him that I was parked legally before leaving the car. Terminal parking is free. We entered the terminal station and immediately spotted the Costa check-in desk. We were the only passengers in sight, which was a bit eerie. I mentioned to the customer service representative that we were residents of the UAE and she replied “That makes it a lot easier.” We were waived straight through the moment she examined our residency permits. Costa collects passports upon check-in as a way of assuring all passengers pay their final bill before disembarking. At least this is what we were told by customer service. They said they would return the passports to us when we disembarked for tours. We had no plans to leave the ship until the end of the cruise anyway. The ship was relatively empty when we arrived (800 passengers) and remained so until early the next day. About one-third of the guests arrived between 1:00 to 3:00 am the following morning. When I entered the Vernazza Buffet at a quarter-to-three, I couldn’t believe how crowded and active it was. Food was served until four in the morning I was told. Disembarkation was just as smooth one week later. Passengers must vacate their cabins by 3:00 pm and may remain onboard until 6:00 pm. We walked off by ourselves at 2:30 in the afternoon and were back home a few minutes later. Fellow Passengers In another review of a different Costa ship, the author commented that “This is an Italian Cruise Line for Italians.” I agree with that conclusion. There were 1200 passengers with exactly seven native English-speaking guests: three British couples and me, the sole American. My wife was the only Filipino national according to the predominantly Indonesian and Filipino wait staff. The vast majority of passengers were Italian, followed by Germans and a spattering of other central Europeans: French, Belgians, and Dutch. Throughout the week we spotted one Indian family but not one Arabic-speaking passenger: that makes sense given the ship serves pork and alcohol (most Arabic-speaking countries are Islamic). Cultural composition is important to consider because it informs you about the kind of onboard experience you can expect in terms of entertainment, cuisine, social milieu and interaction. Westerners who prefer speaking with only their travel companions might find the language barrier to be a relief: others like me—who view meeting new people as an advantage of cruising—will perceive it as isolating. Europeans apparently enjoy song and dance productions (in Italian): I don’t care for musicals even when they are performed in English. The Italian corporate office couldn’t hire an American stand-up comedian? The line is owned by Carnival after all. We never bothered to attend the shows after the first night. My wife and I both commented on how unusually fit the Italian passengers were on this cruise. I am guessing that no more than 15 percent of the guests were overweight: this is in stark contrast to cruises from American-based departure ports where more than 30 percent of the passengers are overweight or obese. There were often queues for the use of the treadmills and stationary bikes on this cruise. Finally, European palates and appetites are different from those of Westerners. A lot more on this below when I discuss the ship’s food and beverage offerings. Cabin and Ship We had a aft balcony classic (BC) cabin on deck nine, cabin 9227. The cabin is very well designed and spacious, barring the bathroom. The shower curtain does not provide an adequate seal and I don’t see how anyone with a BMI over 27 (more than slightly overweight) could fit in that tight semi-circled corner (we are both height to weight proportionate). Nevertheless, we enjoyed spending time in that cabin. The mattresses were the most comfortable I have ever experienced on a cruise ship and, combined with the rhythm of the ship, I slept better on this cruise than I have at home in months. I am also guessing that the four to six glasses of Planter’s Punch I consumed everyday may have helped to relax me as well. Still, the bed was fantastic. The 22-inch flat screen HDTV provided a clear picture and offered two English language stations: BBC and Fox Movies. The mini-fridge is adequate for storing drinks that have been carried down from the bars and for midnight snacks that have been requisitioned earlier from the Buffet. The public areas of this ship are beautiful and inviting. I particularly enjoyed having coffee at the Café ‘Eze, a venue that easily rivals Starbucks in the scope and taste of concoctions offered (just don’t ask for a simple cup of American coffee). There are two adult pools with accompanying Jacuzzis. As the ship was nearly filled to capacity, they were heavily used on sea days and even when the ship was docked. We had to wait until 6:30 to 7:00 pm (dinner time) to soak in the hot tub. Food and Beverage I need to preface this section with the admonishment that I consider cruise ship food reviews to be virtually worthless. Think about it for a moment. I write “The crème brûlée was to die for!” What does that tell you? Unless you are able to spend a few days living with me, observing my food preferences and idiosyncrasies where you can acquire a reliable sense of how my taste buds compare with yours, it tells you absolutely nothing. (This is not an open invitation. My brother-in-law is currently staying in our only guest room.) Food reviews are just far too subjective to have any reliable and valid meaning at all unless one is a professional food critic and knows how to describe and explain dishes in measureable terms. In addition to the considerable variability there is in food tastes within families and other homogeneous groups, there are even greater significant differences in food preferences across countries, regions, and even social classes. I never knew what Spam was until I married my Filipino wife and I had never heard of grits or chicken-fried steak until I moved from New York City to Atlanta, Georgia (and I never did acquire a taste for either of them). Greg Straub, Cruise Critic contributor, in his review of Costa neoRomantica’s dining venues (which he rates as three out of five), writes “As for quality, think ‘Olive Garden,’ and you won't be disappointed.” This comparison does not apply to the neoRiviera: maybe there were a total of three or four items that came close to Olive Garden quality. There were two meals where I couldn’t find anything that I thought was appetizing. I filled up on salad and fruit instead of eating a complete lunch or dinner. Much to my amazement, the pasta dishes were among their greatest misses. On Thursday night, my wife went to the carving station and walked away with a one-inch slice of roast beef. It looked good so I asked her for a bite. After chewing it three to four times, I had to discriminately spit it into my napkin: it was that tough and foul-tasting. My wife then cut a piece for herself and ended up spitting hers out as well. There were a few food items I thought were very good to excellent. All imported cheeses were of the highest quality as were the Milano salami and prosciutto. The grilled lamb chops were large, juicy, and cooked to a perfect medium. The baked jumbo shrimp were tender and the sautéed mussels were succulent. On three separate occasions they served a German bockwurst that was reminiscent of a New York Nathan’s hotdog and it brought tears of joy to my eyes. The chopped meat used for their hamburgers was an excellent quality, an 80/20 mixture of ground chuck and fat: the hamburger was juicy and tasty and reminded me of a Fuddruckers hamburger. Unfortunately, for a fare of slightly more than 4,000 dollars for a seven-night cruise, I expected more than good hot dogs and hamburgers. The truth is that Europeans and Asians simply do not eat or think of beef in the same way Western people do. For them, an average-tasting, one-eighth-inch slice of what we would call a minute steak is what they consider to be a good steak dinner. I tasted one of these thin, overcooked minute steaks and thought the taste was okay but not worth wasting calories on. In all fairness and in the interest of full disclosure, my Filipino wife thought the overall quality of the food was “excellent.” She compared the quality of the food on this Costa cruise to that of the food served on the Pride of America (POA). Her only complaint was that there wasn’t as much choice on Costa as there was on her first cruise with POA. I also need to add that during the week I informally surveyed a Belgian fireman and a Russian copyeditor (who were able to communicate in English) about how they felt about the food. The fireman commented that he thought the steak had an “excellent flavor” and the Russian girl told me that the food was “very good.” Meanwhile, the night before disembarkation, I drove my wife to the Ramada Plaza Hotel in Jumeirah Beach (Dubai) so we could have Churrasco (Brazilian barbecue) at the Foqueira Restaurant. There they serve black Angus beef, real beef. I literally had to leave the ship before the end of the cruise to enjoy a good meal. Friday night, while I was waiting at the poolside bar for my drink, chatting with the bar tender, a distinguished-looking gentleman about my age interrupted to comment that he overheard I was speaking English. He asked if I was an American, I replied that I was, and immediately recognized his dialect as British. We were both thrilled to have found another native English speaker in the midst of little Naples. During the course of our brief discussion, he told me that he had been on this same cruise with Costa, precisely one year ago, and felt that the product has declined considerably in value since then. I specifically asked him what he thought about the overall quality of the food: he told me that he was “very disappointed.” He did qualify that comment by adding he thought the food had been much better on the previous cruise. When asked if he planned on sailing with Costa again, he answered that he would not. We then discussed how Royal Caribbean International will be sailing the Splendour of the Seas out of Dubai next winter and how this might be a much better value. Finally, the drink package is a great value even if you don’t drink alcohol. You will need the neoCollection drink package at 28.75 EU per day just to enjoy a decent cup of coffee: the free coffee served in the Vernazza Buffet and main dining room is swill. Summary As we pulled away from the terminal, my wife commented that I looked more rested and relaxed than I have in months. From that perspective, I definitely received what I came for. Service was the best I have ever experienced on any cruise. The Filipino and Indonesian stewards, bar tenders, and waiters were exemplary. I congratulate Costa for their quality of staff training. Food tastes are entirely subjective. Do not book a cruise with Costa if your idea of good cruise food is a juicy half-inch thick cut of Angus porterhouse or ribeye or a sweet Maine lobster tail. These are not served on Costa cruise line. At least on this cruise, there were no midnight buffets although I had read that Costa still offers them. It’s safe to conclude that if you enjoy decent all-you-can-eat cafeteria style buffets, you will find something on this cruise to eat that you like. I think Costa should offer more inclusive dining options after 9:00 pm. Hungry passengers on the neoRiviera, during the late evening and early morning hours, are limited to a pizza and salad combo snack at the pizza station for an additional 5 EU per person (available from 9:00 pm to midnight) or ordering a pre-frozen sandwich or salad from the room service menu at a surcharge of 2 EU per person. I probably will not book another cruise with Costa not because of the food but because of the language barrier: I do like socializing with other passengers and that was not possible on this cruise. My advice is that Westerners should only consider this cruise if the fare is significantly discounted and they are living in the UAE or a neighboring country and can drive to Port Rashid. I would not pay to fly to Dubai from the United States or England for the neoRiviera unless I was able to spend an additional week or two in this emirate.  

Relaxing... but Where's The Beef?

Costa neoRiviera Cruise Review by LitDoc

6 people found this helpful
Trip Details
I am a 55-year-old American professor of literature who has been working in Dubai for eight-and-a-half years. My wife is a 47-year-old high-school math teacher from the Philippines. The local schools are closed for three weeks during the holidays and we wanted to get away for awhile. We travelled extensively last summer by plane and will do so again next June: the time-saving convenience of taking a cruise from Dubai appealed to us. We live in the UAE and had no interest in the destinations: we would be cruising only to enjoy the ship.
My wife found an advertisement for this cruise last fall in the local newspaper, the Gulf News, and suggested we give it a try. I was apprehensive about cruising with Costa because of the mixed reviews I had read on this site. On the other hand, my needs were very limited: I simply wanted to get away from my villa for a few days on a luxury cruise ship, be able to use the Jacuzzi when I wanted, have a few exotic rum drinks, enjoy decent food whenever I was hungry, and read a few novels on my Kindle on our balcony. For the most part, my list of needs were met.
This was my eighth cruise and my wife’s second. Our last cruise together was two years ago on NCL’s Pride of America: that earlier cruise served as my wife’s only yardstick.
Embarkation
The ticket indicated an embarkation time of 8:00 pm. This is when passengers may enter their cabins: guests may board the vessel as early as 3:00 pm. I decided to drive to the terminal rather than take a taxi as we live only 15 minutes from the Port.
We arrived at Port Rashid at around 5:30 pm to an empty terminal. I was initially convinced that I was parked in a restricted zone because there were virtually no other cars in sight. I finally spotted a grounds attendant and verified with him that I was parked legally before leaving the car. Terminal parking is free.
We entered the terminal station and immediately spotted the Costa check-in desk. We were the only passengers in sight, which was a bit eerie. I mentioned to the customer service representative that we were residents of the UAE and she replied “That makes it a lot easier.” We were waived straight through the moment she examined our residency permits.
Costa collects passports upon check-in as a way of assuring all passengers pay their final bill before disembarking. At least this is what we were told by customer service. They said they would return the passports to us when we disembarked for tours. We had no plans to leave the ship until the end of the cruise anyway.
The ship was relatively empty when we arrived (800 passengers) and remained so until early the next day. About one-third of the guests arrived between 1:00 to 3:00 am the following morning. When I entered the Vernazza Buffet at a quarter-to-three, I couldn’t believe how crowded and active it was. Food was served until four in the morning I was told.
Disembarkation was just as smooth one week later. Passengers must vacate their cabins by 3:00 pm and may remain onboard until 6:00 pm. We walked off by ourselves at 2:30 in the afternoon and were back home a few minutes later.
Fellow Passengers
In another review of a different Costa ship, the author commented that “This is an Italian Cruise Line for Italians.” I agree with that conclusion.
There were 1200 passengers with exactly seven native English-speaking guests: three British couples and me, the sole American. My wife was the only Filipino national according to the predominantly Indonesian and Filipino wait staff.
The vast majority of passengers were Italian, followed by Germans and a spattering of other central Europeans: French, Belgians, and Dutch. Throughout the week we spotted one Indian family but not one Arabic-speaking passenger: that makes sense given the ship serves pork and alcohol (most Arabic-speaking countries are Islamic).
Cultural composition is important to consider because it informs you about the kind of onboard experience you can expect in terms of entertainment, cuisine, social milieu and interaction.
Westerners who prefer speaking with only their travel companions might find the language barrier to be a relief: others like me—who view meeting new people as an advantage of cruising—will perceive it as isolating.
Europeans apparently enjoy song and dance productions (in Italian): I don’t care for musicals even when they are performed in English. The Italian corporate office couldn’t hire an American stand-up comedian? The line is owned by Carnival after all. We never bothered to attend the shows after the first night.
My wife and I both commented on how unusually fit the Italian passengers were on this cruise. I am guessing that no more than 15 percent of the guests were overweight: this is in stark contrast to cruises from American-based departure ports where more than 30 percent of the passengers are overweight or obese. There were often queues for the use of the treadmills and stationary bikes on this cruise.
Finally, European palates and appetites are different from those of Westerners. A lot more on this below when I discuss the ship’s food and beverage offerings.
Cabin and Ship
We had a aft balcony classic (BC) cabin on deck nine, cabin 9227. The cabin is very well designed and spacious, barring the bathroom. The shower curtain does not provide an adequate seal and I don’t see how anyone with a BMI over 27 (more than slightly overweight) could fit in that tight semi-circled corner (we are both height to weight proportionate). Nevertheless, we enjoyed spending time in that cabin.
The mattresses were the most comfortable I have ever experienced on a cruise ship and, combined with the rhythm of the ship, I slept better on this cruise than I have at home in months. I am also guessing that the four to six glasses of Planter’s Punch I consumed everyday may have helped to relax me as well. Still, the bed was fantastic.
The 22-inch flat screen HDTV provided a clear picture and offered two English language stations: BBC and Fox Movies.
The mini-fridge is adequate for storing drinks that have been carried down from the bars and for midnight snacks that have been requisitioned earlier from the Buffet.
The public areas of this ship are beautiful and inviting. I particularly enjoyed having coffee at the Café ‘Eze, a venue that easily rivals Starbucks in the scope and taste of concoctions offered (just don’t ask for a simple cup of American coffee).
There are two adult pools with accompanying Jacuzzis. As the ship was nearly filled to capacity, they were heavily used on sea days and even when the ship was docked. We had to wait until 6:30 to 7:00 pm (dinner time) to soak in the hot tub.
Food and Beverage
I need to preface this section with the admonishment that I consider cruise ship food reviews to be virtually worthless.
Think about it for a moment. I write “The crème brûlée was to die for!” What does that tell you? Unless you are able to spend a few days living with me, observing my food preferences and idiosyncrasies where you can acquire a reliable sense of how my taste buds compare with yours, it tells you absolutely nothing. (This is not an open invitation. My brother-in-law is currently staying in our only guest room.)
Food reviews are just far too subjective to have any reliable and valid meaning at all unless one is a professional food critic and knows how to describe and explain dishes in measureable terms. In addition to the considerable variability there is in food tastes within families and other homogeneous groups, there are even greater significant differences in food preferences across countries, regions, and even social classes. I never knew what Spam was until I married my Filipino wife and I had never heard of grits or chicken-fried steak until I moved from New York City to Atlanta, Georgia (and I never did acquire a taste for either of them).
Greg Straub, Cruise Critic contributor, in his review of Costa neoRomantica’s dining venues (which he rates as three out of five), writes “As for quality, think ‘Olive Garden,’ and you won't be disappointed.” This comparison does not apply to the neoRiviera: maybe there were a total of three or four items that came close to Olive Garden quality.
There were two meals where I couldn’t find anything that I thought was appetizing. I filled up on salad and fruit instead of eating a complete lunch or dinner. Much to my amazement, the pasta dishes were among their greatest misses. On Thursday night, my wife went to the carving station and walked away with a one-inch slice of roast beef. It looked good so I asked her for a bite. After chewing it three to four times, I had to discriminately spit it into my napkin: it was that tough and foul-tasting. My wife then cut a piece for herself and ended up spitting hers out as well.
There were a few food items I thought were very good to excellent. All imported cheeses were of the highest quality as were the Milano salami and prosciutto. The grilled lamb chops were large, juicy, and cooked to a perfect medium. The baked jumbo shrimp were tender and the sautéed mussels were succulent. On three separate occasions they served a German bockwurst that was reminiscent of a New York Nathan’s hotdog and it brought tears of joy to my eyes. The chopped meat used for their hamburgers was an excellent quality, an 80/20 mixture of ground chuck and fat: the hamburger was juicy and tasty and reminded me of a Fuddruckers hamburger. Unfortunately, for a fare of slightly more than 4,000 dollars for a seven-night cruise, I expected more than good hot dogs and hamburgers.
The truth is that Europeans and Asians simply do not eat or think of beef in the same way Western people do. For them, an average-tasting, one-eighth-inch slice of what we would call a minute steak is what they consider to be a good steak dinner. I tasted one of these thin, overcooked minute steaks and thought the taste was okay but not worth wasting calories on.
In all fairness and in the interest of full disclosure, my Filipino wife thought the overall quality of the food was “excellent.” She compared the quality of the food on this Costa cruise to that of the food served on the Pride of America (POA). Her only complaint was that there wasn’t as much choice on Costa as there was on her first cruise with POA.
I also need to add that during the week I informally surveyed a Belgian fireman and a Russian copyeditor (who were able to communicate in English) about how they felt about the food. The fireman commented that he thought the steak had an “excellent flavor” and the Russian girl told me that the food was “very good.”
Meanwhile, the night before disembarkation, I drove my wife to the Ramada Plaza Hotel in Jumeirah Beach (Dubai) so we could have Churrasco (Brazilian barbecue) at the Foqueira Restaurant. There they serve black Angus beef, real beef. I literally had to leave the ship before the end of the cruise to enjoy a good meal.
Friday night, while I was waiting at the poolside bar for my drink, chatting with the bar tender, a distinguished-looking gentleman about my age interrupted to comment that he overheard I was speaking English. He asked if I was an American, I replied that I was, and immediately recognized his dialect as British. We were both thrilled to have found another native English speaker in the midst of little Naples.
During the course of our brief discussion, he told me that he had been on this same cruise with Costa, precisely one year ago, and felt that the product has declined considerably in value since then. I specifically asked him what he thought about the overall quality of the food: he told me that he was “very disappointed.” He did qualify that comment by adding he thought the food had been much better on the previous cruise. When asked if he planned on sailing with Costa again, he answered that he would not. We then discussed how Royal Caribbean International will be sailing the Splendour of the Seas out of Dubai next winter and how this might be a much better value.
Finally, the drink package is a great value even if you don’t drink alcohol. You will need the neoCollection drink package at 28.75 EU per day just to enjoy a decent cup of coffee: the free coffee served in the Vernazza Buffet and main dining room is swill.
Summary
As we pulled away from the terminal, my wife commented that I looked more rested and relaxed than I have in months. From that perspective, I definitely received what I came for.
Service was the best I have ever experienced on any cruise. The Filipino and Indonesian stewards, bar tenders, and waiters were exemplary. I congratulate Costa for their quality of staff training.
Food tastes are entirely subjective. Do not book a cruise with Costa if your idea of good cruise food is a juicy half-inch thick cut of Angus porterhouse or ribeye or a sweet Maine lobster tail. These are not served on Costa cruise line. At least on this cruise, there were no midnight buffets although I had read that Costa still offers them. It’s safe to conclude that if you enjoy decent all-you-can-eat cafeteria style buffets, you will find something on this cruise to eat that you like.
I think Costa should offer more inclusive dining options after 9:00 pm. Hungry passengers on the neoRiviera, during the late evening and early morning hours, are limited to a pizza and salad combo snack at the pizza station for an additional 5 EU per person (available from 9:00 pm to midnight) or ordering a pre-frozen sandwich or salad from the room service menu at a surcharge of 2 EU per person.
I probably will not book another cruise with Costa not because of the food but because of the language barrier: I do like socializing with other passengers and that was not possible on this cruise.
My advice is that Westerners should only consider this cruise if the fare is significantly discounted and they are living in the UAE or a neighboring country and can drive to Port Rashid. I would not pay to fly to Dubai from the United States or England for the neoRiviera unless I was able to spend an additional week or two in this emirate.
 
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Cabin Review

Cabin 9227
The cabin is very well designed and spacious, barring the bathroom. The shower curtain does not provide an adequate seal and I don’t see how anyone with a BMI over 27 (more than slightly overweight) could fit in that tight semi-circled corner (we are both height to weight proportionate). Nevertheless, we enjoyed spending time in that cabin.
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