This took about 40 minutes end-to-end, which was much faster than other cruises I have been on.
Disembarkation at ports was well managed and fast, aside from one occasion when it was complete chaos after a docking delay, as passengers were not provided with revised timings. Timely information was provided on the procedure at ports, plus advice on local customs, tourist vulnerabilities etc. Immigration officers were invited on board to process visas on the way to India, which was an excellent arrangement, providing a smooth transition and additional time in port.
Costa predominantly use images of people aged 30-50 in its’ advertising, which is misleading.
About 90% of the passengers on this cruise were aged 65 – 85 and vast majority were Italian. These factors heavily impacted Costa offerings in terms of food, entertainment, activities and excursions.
An on board Costa Cruise Consultant confirmed that passenger age group, activities, entertainment, and excursion types are broadly similar in nature from ship to ship and cruise to cruise.
My cabin was serviced every day with a bed linen and towel change, for the mandatory fee of 10 euros. All the cabins I saw of the same grade as mine, were of a slightly better size and similar specification to other cruise lines I have sailed with. Some passengers had problems with blocked toilets or broken air conditioning, but these were remedied very quickly by the maintenance team.
The cabin minibar had sweets, snacks, soft drinks and beer. 1 litre of mineral water was 2.90 euros, so people filled their empty bottles from the machines in the restaurant, although there were labels telling them not to. A 45g tub of crisps cost 2.75 euros, but you could also buy crisps from the main bar on deck 5. 24/7 room service food and drink charges were very reasonable. Breakfast in the cabin was huge, delicious, and excellent value for money at 5 euros.
The staff were a multi-national lot, generally very efficient, keen to please and all spoke some English, how much they understood was another matter. Some of the staff at Customer Services had developed a patronising attitude, which was really infuriating. This was probably from dealing with an endless line of people who could not work out how to access WIFI on their phone despite comprehensive instructions everywhere, or who were irate when staff served queue jumpers and told those queuing to wait their turn. Attitudes were better at the Excursion Desk, where passengers could often not operate the excursion information point. When making a complaint or trying to change or cancel something at either desk, the first response was often ‘we can do nothing’. You needed to be very determined to get past this.
From Oman to Malaysia, taxi drivers, those touting goods and tourist trap shops usually took US dollars, but local shops only accepted local currency. Customer Services dispensed and changed dollars, but not local currencies, even to credit your Costa account.
There were several errors with my onboard account. I was charged for minibar items I did not consume and debited twice for excursions.
As Internet access at sea comes via satellite, it is very expensive. Most people seemed to have bought an advance package. The speed was extremely poor and the only time I could logon to Internet banking due to online security time outs, was when most passengers were ashore.
Drinks were on the expensive side at 5 euros for a large lager and 7.70 euros for a G&T, plus a 15% service charge. I was glad that I only drink alcohol occasionally. I spoke to people who had bought alcoholic drinks packages only to find that water was not included, and soft drinks packages that only included certain soft drinks, often not their favourites.
THE BUFFET RESTAURANT
Food was always plentiful at the buffet, though it was not very imaginative.
At breakfast the buffet was open for around 3 hours. On offer were bowls of watery flavoured and what they called granola, which was oats already soaked in watery yoghurt mixed with chopped fresh and dried fruit. There were usually bowls of separate dried fruit and on rare occasions nuts. Cereal wise I saw rice pops, cocoa pops and sometimes cornflakes. On the hot counter you could find crisped up, greasy, fatty, bacon and strong-tasting chipolatas (I never worked out what was in them), together with scrambled eggs, hard boiled eggs in shells, or fried eggs. There were slices of griddled beef and pork (sometimes bloody), for breakfast too, which weren’t bad, if a little chewy. Usually, these appeared at lunch and dinner too. Pancakes were always on offer. Bread-wise there was a lot of choice, from 2 slices of tasteless, cardboard like white toast wrapped in a paper napkin, to delicious pizza bread, crunchy bread sticks and lovely sourdough. There was also a range of sweet spreads. One counter was arrayed with delicious cakes doughnuts and pastries, another had cold processed meat slices, and a third had a selection of fresh fruit. These 3 were transferred to the rear pool area for an hour after full breakfast finished. Free tea and coffee were provided. Black tea was the usual European tasteless dust, and fruit teas were weakly OK. Coffee came from urns or machines and I found it foul. You could buy extremely good barista coffee and lovely ice cream outside the deck 9 buffet.
At lunchtime the buffet was usually open for 2-3 hours. There was one active cooking station, which reheated precooked pasta in a deep fat fryer and added sauce or heated up sauced versions in a wok. There were also a couple of daily pasta bakes with bowls of grated parmesan, herbs, garlic and chili flakes – the only hot food fix I got on board. There were lots of griddled meats with minimal or no sauce. Only roasted meats always came with gravy, the lamb was hideously glutinous and the chicken dry, but the beef was very pink and delicious. Sometimes there were meat casseroles, stuffed meats or meatballs in gravy. Fish and seafood were often breaded and deep fried or deep fried in their shell if soft shelled and fiddly to eat. Mussels in tomato sauce were always good and ran out very quickly. There were very limited fresh and frequently overcooked vegetables, plus rice. In addition to hot food there was a salad bar, together with cheese, packs of biscuits (and butter if you asked), plus a couple of tiny desserts and fruit. Alcohol and branded soft drinks were on sale in the buffet at all meals, and a lot of people had wine or beer. Tea or coffee were not on offer. There was an included burger/hot dog bar outside the main buffet restaurant open for most of this time. If you could get the chefs to toast the buns, the beef burgers and hot dogs were fair, less so the reconstituted chicken. The salad bar had less choice than the main buffet but, there were often lovely mixed green leaves and rocket. This also was the only place you’d find chips/French Fries.
Between 4 and 5 in the afternoon, cakes and the same desserts as for lunch and dinner were on offer with tea, coffee and water.
Dishes at dinner were the same as at lunch and similar from day to day, except that the burger bar was closed. The buffet was only open for 1 hour in the evening and no tea of coffee were provided.
My mother would call the buffet food plain. I would call the buffet food bland. Considering the destinations, I had expected a world food approach as provided on previous cruises. I also missed fresh cook stations for things like stir fries and omelettes/pancakes.
Temperature measurement at hot buffet stations was noticeable by its’ absence, and meat was often tepid. Thankfully, food turnover was usually fast so there wasn’t much time for bacteria to develop. I heard of no food poisoning incidents on board.
Table clearing was very enthusiastic, which made it difficult to eat all your meal in the same place. Plates were whisked away if no one was sitting at a table. The only alternative was to get all courses and drinks at once, or for one person to get food for two, which was not easy as trays were not provided.
MICHELANGELO RESTAURANT 1965
Breakfast at my included sit-down restaurant had the same self-service items as the main buffet but, offered less choice. Italian lunch was 12-1:30 every day, which I didn’t bother trying. I ate dinner in the sit-down restaurant 8 days out of 26. This was because the 18:30 sitting was too early for me, especially if I had been off the ship and ate lunch late, or only managed to make afternoon tea. The 20:30 sitting would have been a better choice. The dinner menu was usually 5 courses, starter (3), main (3), salad, cheese and dessert (3). Soup, salad and pasta portions were a bit larger than fine dining. The menu changed nightly with a country, or a chef’s special theme. Limited house wine and water were provided. There were also some standard alternatives if you did not like anything that day, plus others at additional cost. In general, the food looked much better than it tasted, although service was excellent.
PIZZERIA PUMMID’ORO & CLUB RESTAURANT
The pizza restaurant on the level above the main buffet was open lunchtime and evening. It got busy at lunchtime towards the end of the cruise, when people became bored with repetitive nature of the buffet food and were willing to pay a little something. I did not try this or the reservation only Club Restaurant.
The majority of activities lasted half an hour.
Holiday camp style games took place around the mid ship plunge pool or in bar lounges. These were run by enthusiastic staff called the ‘Animation Team’ usually in silly costumes shouting in Italian. A small number of the same people seemed to really enjoy them. The Animation Team also ran bingo, super bingo, morning bingo, midnight bingo, dance contests, karaoke, singing contests, card and board games, general knowledge quizzes, music quizzes, picture quizzes, video quizzes and encouraged dressing up in different colours or themes for the evening. Members of the Animation Team were very friendly and outgoing but, doubt if any of them would make a living as a professional presenter or entertainer.
Some basic language lessons were on offer. These were run by Costa staff who spoke the language in question, rather than a qualified teacher. There was forethought or structure, even about where to place the whiteboard in the room. A few useful phrases were provided and sometimes a bit of information on places we were due to visit. The Italian course was of the longest duration, the most organised and comprehensive. There were a lot of different types of dance lessons, which were OK to fair, as they were often far too crowed. I assumed the teachers were dancers. The lectures were about ports of call and included a lot of interesting information. Unfortunately, they were designed and delivered in a far from engaging manner, which made it very hard to pay attention. Creative sessions for adults were run most days for an hour or so, making things such as masks for evening events. The free fitness sessions were good fun (though in Italian), and over attended, so it could be difficult to participate. There was one shelf of old, tatty English books in the ‘library’, which consisted of a couple of locked bookcases in the Internet area, opened once a day from 15:30 to 16:30.
The spa ran daily beauty seminars, the gym fitness competitions and the bars frequent alcohol tasting sessions, many of which were designed to get you to buy something. There was even a charge for a behind the scenes tour of the ship!
The on board shops sold branded goods at fancy prices and nothing practical like toothpaste or shampoo. These had to be bought ashore if you ran out, which was difficult on most Costa excursions. It was not possible to buy newspapers or magazines on the ship, but cigarettes could be purchased from one of the bars. Quite a lot of people smoked, but this was confined to designated external areas. There were a couple of pop-up shop days, with cheaper clothing and accessories. The huge photographic gallery on deck 4 was usually empty, most passengers making use of the cameras on their mobile phones. Some people had their arm twisted into having portrait shots by roving photographers, but I have no idea how much they cost.
I never visited the spa, as I was told that treatments were much more expensive than at home. I saw a special offer for 1.5 hours of relaxing treatments at the spa for 139 euros. I also did not visit the gym as I was nursing a minor injury during the trip.
There were occasional exhibitions of things like ice carving and fruit carving by chefs which were quite interesting.
In the evening, the lounge bar on deck 3 usually had a singer/guitarist or singer/pianist (also in the deck 5 piano bar) - mostly Italian numbers or cheesy oldies. It was often difficult to have a normal conversation as the volume was so high. I only saw people dancing Strictly Style. The large lounge bar on deck 5 had a great duo when we left Genoa, but they were replaced by a band mainly playing Italian numbers I had never heard of and singing in Italian. They were also extremely loud. Dancing was Strictly Style unless more popular music was played or it was a 70s, 80s 90s night etc.
The theatre hosted twice nightly shows of a maximum of 45 minutes. These were single act or on board dance troupe performances, rather than variety shows. A tenor billed as opera/pop performed, but after just one aria he launched into lounge singer numbers. This was a shame as the guy had a great voice, although very little stage presence. Another singer played the theatre performing a set which included some more modern music. Hardly anyone went to see his second performances and attending one myself, I understood why. Google had never heard of him, so perhaps he was a moonlighting member of the crew? In the last week, the Mario Rosini Trio and Talia Alexis joined the ship providing better quality entertainment, albeit still with an Italian bias. The dance troupe, often performed in the large lounge bar on 5 too, contriving performances around themes, such as the circus, the sea, Romeo and Juliet, Bollywood etc. People told me that these were of a very good standard. There were also other events such as a cocktail party, dance with the officers etc.
The disco only played club dance music. The age profile in there was lower than I had expected on the cruise, but this was because it included off-duty Costa staff. I very much enjoyed the disco from midnight to 2am on Saturdays and during the week from week 2. On Sundays it hosted a Single Party, which I did not attend as I was not interested in grabbing a great granddad.
There was only one TV channel in English, BBC World News, plus a German news and a French news channel broadcast in English. Reception of the BBC and the German channel in English was lost completely about 2 weeks into the cruise. The Costa English Movie Channel had films on a loop, but I never managed to work out when they changed or got repeated and no schedule was available. After two weeks I had seen all the films on offer (where were mainly released in the last 2 years), which I thought was extremely poor. The TV music channel was international, up to date and very enjoyable.
Ports of call: Genoa, Rome, Olympia, Crete, Salalah (Oman), Mumbai, Mormugo (Goa), Colombo (Sri Lanka), Phuket (Thailand), Langkawi (Malaysia), Penang (Malaysia), Klang (Malaysia), Singapore.
On other cruises, I have explored independently from the docks, and did so at a couple of early ports on this cruise. From Mumbai onwards, places of interest were often over an hour away and/or involved heavy traffic. I investigated local alternatives but, decided to go with some more expensive Costa offerings as they guaranteed return in time for embarkation. This was a good decision as the ship was delayed for over 2 hours on a couple of occasions due to Costa excursions stuck in traffic. In general, Costa excursions were sight-seeing or relaxing somewhere, there was nothing much more challenging than walking tours (other than one trek), which were at a snail’s pace. Excursions I joined often featured one souvenir shop, selling the usual trashy tourist tat at exorbitant prices. Most tour guides allowed no time to get money from an ATM, find WiFi or to get lunch if it was not included in the excursion. Some passengers told me that their guide had not planned any toilet visits during their 7-hour trip. Excursions I booked in Port Klang and Singapore (finishing at the airport), were cancelled by Costa because there were not enough people to run them in English. Luckily, I could join German speaking tours instead.
They say travel is about the journey not the destination. For me the destinations were great, but the journey was extremely boring, particularly the 6-day and 3-day navigation. Had some of the most interesting ports not been at the end of the trip, and if I could have changed by flight, I would have flown home early.
I do not enjoy sunbathing but, could amuse myself during the day by taking part in some of the activities or reading a book, evenings were the worst. I could choose between sitting in a bar on my own (I rarely drink alcohol), gambling (not my thing), poor quality entertainment (aside from a couple of decent artists the last week), very loud inaccessible entertainment (I had no earplugs or Babelfish), a dance troupe show (not my thing), or a movie (reruns from week 3), in my cabin. Annoyingly, I often nodded off waiting for the one place I enjoyed to open - the disco at midnight.
For sole use of an interior cabin of Costa’s selection, with no extras I paid £1638. Others I asked paid 1638 euros or 1638 Australian dollars, so got more of a bargain. Hotel service charges of 10 Euros a day amounted to 250 euros, a BA flight from London to Genoa cost £45 and a Qantas flight from Singapore to London £420. Excursions came to 660 euros and Internet packages 220 euros (= 1 G&T a day with 15% service charge). Including spending money for additional food and drink on board, the 26 day cruise cost £3250.
Things are usually cheap for a reason. I future I would be happy to pay more and get everything included on board, plus a pool I could actually swim in, a movie theatre with current films, a proper library/resource centre, more exciting world food, quality international entertainment with a programme of shows, and properly qualified people delivering enrichment activities. I will also ensure that I match the typical passenger profile more accurately.