We booked this cruise primarily to escape the usual Christmas hype and also to experience the brand new Costa Diadema ship. We spent two nights in Barcelona prior to joining the ship on 22nd December 2014 and must admit to feeling some trepidation as we had never before cruised on a ship with so many passengers, however, we went with an open mind and were determined to enjoy the holiday.
The embarkation process:
We arrived at Barcelona cruise port early as we were in company with two other passengers we had met on route from Belfast. There were few passengers around at that time so the actual check-in process was quick and efficient. We were given a numbered card to be used for the boarding process later so we decided to sit back and relax with a coffee/ beer. Boarding commenced around 2pm and was done in numerical order according to the cards issued during check-in and, considering the number of passengers involved, it was also a fairly quick process.
Once onboard, the sheer volume of passengers passing through the lobby area made it a bit chaotic , however, we quickly made our way to the lifts and found our cabin where we made contact with our Steward and were able to put valuables in the safe and unpack our hand luggage. We were impressed that our suitcases arrived very soon afterwards and we were soon unpacked and ready to explore the ship and have lunch.
As a brand new ship, naturally everything was very new and fresh and it soon became clear just how big it was. We did a tour of the ship to get our bearings and also to ‘sus out’ the places where we might spend our evenings. The overall décor is undoubtedly ‘bling’ in style; however, we expected this and sometimes just marvelled at how much the interior designers had managed to cram in. All the public areas were large with plenty of seating so there was never any real problem; however, the Diana Lido pool area always seemed to be crowded although we only ever passed through it on our way to other parts of the ship. The pool seemed to be used mainly by children and I imagine that it might be unbearably busy in the summer when the retractable roof is back.
There were plenty of elevators around; however, my vertigo prevented me from trying the scary glass lifts which seemed to go up forever from the main lobby area. The signage around the ship was generally good, however, for the first few days it was difficult to find the public toilets as they were not signposted and hard to miss unless you knew where to look. For instance we found no toilets near the lobby area on Deck 3 and the nearest ones were on Deck 4 hidden beside the entrance into the Emerald Theatre. Also, the automatic door opening mechanism in the toilets was a bit alarming at first as you were at risk of being seen by passing fellow passengers.
We felt that the Concierge Desk seemed very small for the size of the ship and the number of passengers who would be likely to use it. It was only after standing in the queue for quite a time that we realised there was a ticket machine for issuing ‘next in line’ tickets, similar to those in large supermarket counters. This machine was strangely located in a corner away from the queue so most people did not even know it was there until they had reached the front of the line – it would have been better sited near the start of the queue where passengers could see it from the outset. This would dispel any possible arguments about who was next in line. The Concierge staff were very helpful and efficient and spoke many languages.
We had been allocated open dining in the ‘Corona Blu’ restaurant for dinner each evening and the experience on our first night was not too encouraging. We expected to have to wait to get a table and this was not a problem , however, once seated the service was very slow and the family seated adjacent to us complained to the waiter who explained that there was a problem in the kitchen. Personally we were not unduly worried as we were not in any real rush to go anywhere; however, we could appreciate that it might be a problem for families with young children. To be fair, the service did improve on subsequent nights and we never had too long a wait. We did not particularly like the ‘Corona Blu’ restaurant itself and found the layout and décor very uninviting and dull when compared with the other restaurants onboard and it did not have a great ambience. ‘Corona Blu’ has very dark décor, furniture and carpets and on a few occasions we were seated in the side arms of the room which made us feel very cut off from the rest of the passengers – it felt like being relegated to an overflow part of the room and did not enhance our dining experience. On subsequent nights we specifically asked to be seated in the main body of the restaurant and this did not make us feel so isolated and it improved our experience. Given the large number of passengers onboard we felt that the standard of food was fairly good in the restaurant, if perhaps a bit ‘hit and miss’ at times, but we never had anything we could not eat and never went hungry. It was interesting that one of the Maître D’s told us he felt that the optimum number of passengers would be around 4,000 in order to be able to give the best level of service. To us, the ‘Corona Blu’ restaurant was simply a place to go and eat and then leave – it was not a place to linger too long afterwards.
We had lunch a few times in the Diana Lido buffet and the food was excellent, especially the pasta dishes, even though it was just a bit chaotic at times due to the sheer number of people around. We always managed to get a seat and have a chat with our fellow passengers.
Although we usually prefer a buffet style lunch, we also had lunch a few times in the ‘Fiorentino’ restaurant as it was easier to get a seat, and less frantic, if you went early enough. On one occasion only the ‘Adularia’ restaurant opened for a self-service buffet lunch which we really enjoyed and it was a pity this had not been an option every day. The light décor and layout of both the ‘Adularia’ and ‘Fiorentino’ restaurants was so much better and more welcoming than ‘Corona Blu’ and they both felt more like proper adult restaurants. We also heard from fellow passengers who had been assigned to the ‘Adularia’ restaurant each evening that there was a great atmosphere there with ad-hoc entertainment provided by the waiters and a much better rapport with passengers.
We went to the ‘Club Diadema’ restaurant on one occasion and thoroughly enjoyed both the food and the relaxed atmosphere.
On a second night we went to the ‘Teppanyaki’ Asian restaurant with two fellow passengers who had now become friends and we all had a really fabulous evening of food and entertainment provided by the chefs. We finished the night off with a few glasses of champagne in the Bar Bollicine. Both speciality restaurants were well worth the additional cost and we would certainly recommend them to anyone.
Bars: We had purchased the ‘all inclusive drinks’ package at the time of booking and this proved to be a very good deal. We both drank mostly wine or beer and the system worked very efficiently in all parts of the ship.
We quickly found that our favourite watering holes were the bar in the main lobby area on Deck 3 and the Piano Bar on Deck 5. The bar and waiting staff in both locations were excellent and we soon became friends and looked forward to seeing them each evening. It is perhaps unfair to single out individual staff; however, we particularly enjoyed the craic with Barry and Jaydnash (Piano Bar) and all the staff in the Lobby Bar. Two waitresses named Xian and Joy in the Piano Bar also made us feel very welcome.
The evening entertainment in both the Piano Bar and the Lobby Bar area was first class and was a real draw for passengers of all ages. From what we could see, the entertainment throughout the rest of the ship was equally good with something to suit all ages and tastes.
On Christmas Eve there was even snow falling down into the lobby area which was a lovely touch and the children loved it – along with many adults. Kudos to Costa!
Our only criticism would be the lack of an ‘adults only’ bar as the constant presence of young children running around a crowded bar, or being wheeled around in prams, was a bit off putting and perhaps not the best environment for them late at night.
The crew: We have only the highest praise and respect for the crew throughout the ship for their efficiency and friendliness, despite the huge number of passengers they have to deal with on a daily basis. They all worked very hard and we often felt sorry for them and wondered how they coped, particularly with embarkation day which seemed to be every day!
Other facilities: It would have been nice to have access to a guest laundry/ironing room in order to freshen up creased clothes; however, we appreciate that this may not be possible given the passenger numbers on the ship. On a longer voyage this would be even more desirable.
Unfortunately our upgrade to the Samsara Deck did not automatically entitle us to access to the Samsara Spa, however, on the first day we decided to pay for the voyage spa package as we knew it would provide us with a means of escaping the crowds and somewhere to relax. It was money well spent (€105.00 per person for 07-days) and we looked forward to going there every afternoon and enjoying one of the many therapy rooms or just reading quietly in the large, and usually empty, relaxation area with a pot of herbal tea ~ heaven! The Spa staff were also friendly and courteous, especially Tereza and the Spa Manager, Pavel.
On the penultimate day of our cruise (28th December) we were unfortunately bombarded with constant tannoy messages over a number of hours which were obviously lifeboat drill instructions for new passengers who had just embarked in Marseille. Not only were these messages’ intrusive but they were repeated in at least three or four languages every time and we struggled to understand why they were being constantly transmitted into the cabins of passengers who had joined days earlier and who had already undergone the necessary lifeboat drill. These new passengers were presumably being put through the lifeboat drill at their allocated locations (as we had done when we embarked in Barcelona) so what was the point of all other passengers having to hear it all again, and again, and again? We fully appreciate the need for safety drills; however, this was perhaps a bit OTT. It really spoiled our last day onboard.
The interactive portals provided on some decks were very useful for making speciality restaurant reservations; port transfers …etc. and avoided unnecessary queuing at the concierge desk.
Ports of call: Unfortunately we visited most of the ports during the Christmas period and in most cases the shops were usually closed, however, we did get off in them all (except in Marseille) if only to stretch our legs and get a coffee.
Palma de Mallorca was our first stop and we spent a pleasant couple of hours just meandering around the impressive Cathedral and the seafront.
Naples was the port we had most looked forward to visiting; however, it proved to be a real disappointment. We felt it was very down at heel, neglected and dirty and everywhere was ruined by graffiti. Prices in the cafes were exorbitant compared to the rest of the ports we visited. Not somewhere we would wish to visit again.
La Spezia was a fairly small town and we had a quick walkabout and a coffee before heading back to the ship for an early lunch. It has a nice walkway along the seafront leading into the town itself.
Savona was a much larger town and had more of interest and a nice atmosphere.
We had previously visited Marseille on another cruise and not been too impressed with the place so we decided not to visit on this occasion and to relax on the ship while it was a little quieter.
We actually did enjoy the cruise, due mainly to the friendliness of the crew. We quickly found those venues where we felt most comfortable and which suited our choice of entertainment. There was certainly something every night to suit all tastes and ages. Having cruised previously on ships with much smaller passenger numbers it took a while to get used to the sheer volume of people onboard - especially the large number of small children, however, we soon adjusted and learned to ‘go with the flow’. We would recommend the ship to others, provided they were prepared to wait in queues at meal times, and we could certainly give them some tips on where and when to go in order to avoid them.
Overall very good Costa Diadema.
Our cabin #12041: We were fortunate to have received a complimentary upgrade to a verandah cabin on Deck 12 just around the corner from the Samsara Spa and our Cabin Steward, Roderick, looked after us very well during the trip. We were impressed with the cabin space, décor and layout and particularly liked the shower room which had plenty of room to accommodate two adults and all their clutter. Perhaps we would have needed more clothes hangers if we had been on a longer cruise; however, those provided were sufficient for our needs on this occasion.We did not spend a great deal of time in the cabin during the day, however, the lack of English channels on the TV was a bit frustrating – we could only find one BBC news channel, whereas, there seemed to be multiple channels in every other language providing music , films etc.We loved the bed in the cabin as it was very spacious and comfortable.