First time cruisers from Canada, celebrating a milestone birthday with family. Our boarding was in Rome so we could potentially see this great city both before and after the cruise. We loved the itinerary, didn't know much about Costa so I read lots of reviews. Don't believe half of them, any cruise is only as good as your preparation and expectations. Yes, this is a very European cruise line, so expect children everywhere, lots of hustle and bustle. However the staff were great, the food was amazing, the shows very enjoyable. Boarding was smooth - we told the very first person we met that it was our first cruise and we didn't know anything. The desk staff were so friendly and helpful, and it was a smooth process. They even told us to try and hurry and we might still be able to get lunch, as we were just boarding right at 4pm. We made our way to Corona Blu (buffet) and the food was amazing! What's more, as they started to clear the staff told us we could go to the other side if we still wanted more food, as the Tea time was starting - sandwiches, desserts, tea and coffee. I had read the reviews complaining about lack of coffee and water, I can only assume they didn't buy a package. Coffee and tea were available at breakfast, tea time and dinner; however, we had the Intenditore included in our package at booking and we enjoyed espresso/cappuccino anytime. As others have said, we expected to know when we were departing but we didn't feel a time - after that first time, I made sure to head to the proper deck and enjoy "Con te Partiro" with each departure (as well as a new drink each time). We lost track of time after enjoying a great show, and the maître d' was gracious in allowing us into the second seating, which we set as our default after that! Wine selections provided by the friendly staff were amazing; food was plentiful with excellent choices, quality comparable to a Michelin restaurant. We were fortunate to dine at the Club Diadema, again was part of our booking, and we felt no interest in dining anywhere else. The staff got to know us and our preferences, and we had a constant supply of anything we'd want. One evening our mother was not feeling well and asked for a simple rice dish - staff went to another restaurant just to accommodate her request.
As for excursions, we had quite a mix. In Savona, we simply milled around port and town, did some shopping and enjoyed the lovely town. Marseilles we took the Easy Bus Tour, loved it! Did same in Barcelona, Mallorca, and Sardinia - nice to have a half day tour, not have to get up too early, saw many sights while not stressing too much. I'd read a review that said (especially for first timers) to not try to do too much and end up stressed out by the end of your 'vacation'. Took it to heart. We have raved about this cruise to many people and hope they will enjoy as much as we did. We've caught the bug and will try another cruise sometime, maybe a different cruise line, and then we'll have something to compare. But don't let a few negative reviews impact your choice - find the points that are consistent across reviews and go with a positive expectation!