We took this cruise for two reasons: the great itinerary (initially 6 port stops in 6 days, although the last one in St. Maarten was cancelled after the Sept. hurricanes), and the fact that it was one of the only cruise ships departing from the Dominican Republic where we were spending 3 more weeks on this trip. All-in-all, we weren’t disappointed. We expected that the other passengers would be mostly European, but we were flabbergasted to find out that we were the amongst the only English-first-language passengers on the entire ship! (we only heard English being spoken by any passengers between themselves once on the entire cruise). The passengers were about 30% Italian, 30% French (including many from Martinique and Guadeloupe, and some French-Canadians), 30% Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking (I think mainly from South America), and 9.99% Northern European, who mostly had to communicate with the service crew in English, who were mostly Fillipino, Chinese and Indian, and English was their only second language. Anyway, we didn’t view this as a disadvantage since it lent a decidedly European flair to the cruise, and this may have been the reason that they assigned us our own table-for-two at dinner.
The Isla Catalina stop was basically a beach day at a very nice island beach just a few km off the coast of the D.R. near La Romana. The other four port stops were four very interesting and beautiful islands of the Lesser Antilles, St. Kitts, Antigua, Martinique, and Guadeloupe. We were not interested in beach, catamaran or scuba tours and wanted to see the interior, seascapes, and historical sites on these islands. We only took one Costa tour (in St. Kitts) due to the relatively short port stop, and we had previously booked the remainder of shore tours via the internet with private operators, all of which were probably better, longer, and cheaper than those offered by Costa.
The food was generally very good, especially in the main dining room, where the dinners were six courses with fresh plates and the right cutlery for each course, and the service was excellent. It was mainly Italian with only limited pasta, with mainly fresh ingredients in imaginative dishes. However, beef and shrimp offerings were limited, and steak and lobster were never offered except for a significant additional cost, even for the gala dinner. The desserts at dinner, especially the chocolate ones, and also in the buffet at meal and snack times, were excellent. Every day they offered excellent small sandwiches, real Italian pizza, and those excellent desserts in the buffet. However, that was it for snack foods.
The ship was very clean, with handrails and walls being wiped down often.
The entertainment in the theatre was pretty good, as far as it went. The lead male and female singers, as well at the dozen dancers were very good, but most of the shows were limited to 45-60 minutes. However there was no show at all one night, and another night was wasted on “The Voice of the Sea”, basically a corny passenger karaoke show with judges (although this drew the largest crowd from the mostly European passengers – Italian culture at its finest!). However, we had recently taken an MSC cruise which, although no better in other regards, offered far superior, longer, and more varied theatre entertainment. In fairness, MSC seems to be head and shoulders above most other cruise lines in this one cruise feature. The bigger disappointment was the remaining entertainment in the lounges, where the singers and musicians were quite mediocre. In the main dance lounge, I kid you not, they actually sang that classic, great 1960s hit “Itsy bitsy teeny weenie yellow polka dot bikini” in heavily-accented English with a Latin beat with dozens dancing to it! Again, Italian culture at it’s finest!
Drink prices were EUR 5-6 for basic beer/wine/liquor, up to EUR 10 for fancy cocktails. The basic drink package was EUR 188, so you would each have to have almost 6 drinks/day to break even. Like all cruise lines, they state that bringing alcohol on board is not allowed, but we put a bag of wine and a bottle of scotch in a plastic bottle in our luggage and it was not detected, saving us a few hundred dollars. Juice/water/coffee/tea was available free only at breakfast, but only water at lunch/dinner, and they had the audacity to put up a sign saying not to fill your water bottles with the free bulk water (yeah, right!). However, this is a remnant of European culture where one must never stoop to drinking safe tap water, but only expensive bottled water that costs as much as the wine or beer!
As I said, the lower level Filipino, Indian and Chinese staff were generally hard-working, polite, and excellent at their jobs, but some of the mostly Italian senior staff were insufferably snotty. I asked one of them a simple question, which they replied in a haughty and rude tone, and then later it turned out the answer they gave me was totally wrong!
One little thing, however, really showed their attempt to extract every Euro from the passengers: at the port stop in St. Kitts the ship docked at the commercial port some 3 km from the city centre where the two other piers were taken by other cruise ships. I would guess that the port authorities would charge more for the premium central piers, however its not unusual for a cruise ship to have to dock at a more distant pier and run a shuttle bus service to the town centre. What is unusual, however is to have the audacity to charge the passengers EUR 7 to take this shuttle!
However, apart from these minor annoyances, this was a pretty good cruise, and is recommended if you want to see these particular ports and you can get the cruise for a good price.