Costa Cruises is a Carnival Corp. cruise lines. The ship designed are virtual carbon copies of Carnival, but different decor.
Having begun in the mid-19th century as a fleet of freighters carrying fabrics and olive oil between Sardinia and the Italian mainland, Genoa based Costa Crociere S.p.A. started carrying passengers some 60 years ago. Today, including the AIDA Cruises brand for a total of 15 ships in active service and five more ships on order, the company has grown into the biggest and most modern fleet in Europe. Acquired by industry giant Carnival Corporation in 2000, the itineraries and onboard experience of the Costa Cruises' fleet have remained largely unchanged, but the way they look inside and out is a completely different story, beginning with the Costa Atlantica introduced in July 2000 and characteristically decorated by Carnival's fanciful interior designer Joe Farcus.
Costa Atlantica was the first in what is now known as the Carnival Spirit-class vessels, an upside-down deck-plan that put all the public rooms on the lower decks making way for an abundance of balcony cabins on the upper decks like the cruise industry had never seen before. In November 2003, Costa Fortuna, then the biggest Italian passenger ship ever, entered service followed closely by sister ship Costa Magica in fall 2004. Those ships are basically sister ships to the Carnival Destiny class. The new flagship; Costa Concordia (a sister ship to the Carnival Conquest-class); entered service in July of 2006 and is now the largest in the fleet carrying over 3,000 passengers year-round in the Mediterranean. Costa Serena and another yet to be named ship to be launched in 2009 will follow.
Though it is indisputable that Costa is blazing the trail towards state-of-the-art cruising in Europe, if you are American you might want to temper your enthusiasm if you see a Costa cruise steeply discounted, especially in Europe. The fact is, these ships are operated for the European market, which means they do many things in a manner that is familiar to denizens of that continent, but "ain't the way we do it back home," as Americans are known to say.
Costa Cruises, or Costa (pronounced long-'o') Crociere, as it is known in its native Italy, is the European version of Carnival Cruise Lines, and not by accident. The company is owned by Carnival Corp. and the parent company is shrewdly using the Costa brand to introduce U.S. style cruise vacations to the rapidly growing European cruising market. That fact is, cruising is now catching fire as a vacation option in Europe, just like it did in the U.S. ten years ago, but because Europeans in general take three to five times as much vacation time every year as Americans do, the potential is huge.
So, what is the downside? If you have ever seen the pan-continental European television networks where everything that happens gets translated into German, Italian, Spanish and French as you stare at faces as blank as your own waiting for all the translation to finish, then you understand how Costa works. The primary language onboard is Italian, with other European languages following. English may come in at third, fourth or even fifth when it comes to announcements and to the linguistic abilities of the staff and crew. Hence, not only will you not understand the announcements being made in four foreign languages, there is a good chance your waiter or room steward will not understand you very well, either. Europeans are quite used to this sort of behavior, but the linguistically isolated Americans are not.
Now, Costa staff does a great job of organizing the various nationalities into groups, keeping track of which dining room tables and cabins receive written material in what language. But on shore excursions, expect guides to say everything in at least two languages (and if in Europe, you will be lucky if English is one of them). On board announcements will be repeated thoroughly in up to four languages. In addition, to seasoned Europeans who are not on the ship to "see Europe" as most Americans would be, the time spent in port will likely be frustratingly short.
Some onboard entertainment simply will not be translated. One notable exception, however, are the Moulin Rouge-style stage shows, which because they are largely comprised of hit songs (the vast majority of which are sung in English no matter where in the world you happen to be), are fun and so cleverly produced they can be enjoyed by any nationality.
And, what is the upside? How about sailing on what is essentially a Carnival ship at a hugely discounted price? Since there are not many places for European cruise ships to go in the winter, many Costa ships are repositioned to the Caribbean every year. If you are adventurous, like exotic food, and don't mind cigarette smoke, you will find simply great bargains on modern cruise ships that are basically identical in floor plan and decor to the modern Carnival Cruise Lines fleet. The truth is, Costa is a bargain in the Caribbean. So, if you can go with the flow and want to save some money, a Costa cruise is worth a try.
In the Caribbean, English becomes the primary language, and announcements are not repeated in several languages (though they might be repeated in one or two depending on the passenger mix). Your fellow passengers will be mostly Canadians, Americans, South Americans, and a few Europeans. However, the crew communication is still difficult at best, with crew members greeting you with "Buon giorno!" in the morning. The food will still be somewhat unpalatable to Americans, unless you regularly eat beans for breakfast and squid for lunch. Add to this that the line's food has been somewhat inconsistent since Costa replaced its all-Italian crew mostly with South Americans. (The line has opened a facility in the Dominican Republic to train service personnel).
Another matter is the smoking policy. Especially in Europe, but in the Caribbean as well, the policy is much more open that U.S. marketed cruise lines, meaning smoking will be allowed if not almost everywhere, then basically just everywhere. In Europe, there will be a persistent smoke cloud hanging through the entire ship.
Costa cruise ships - having basically the same floorplans as Carnival ships have very similar dining rooms and Lido restaurants. There are two two-story dining rooms where about 80% of the patrons choose open seating/anytime dining.
There are fine-dining steakhouses like on Carnival ships.
One true advantage to Costa cuisine is the fact that the line must please dibers from a variety of European cultures. For example; while the Brits are generally happy with beer, the Italians will be irate if the pasta is not cooked perfectly.
And the French? if the baguettes are not fresh they will be livid.
The meat selection tends to include more lamb and duck than American cruise ships - lamb chops are available with almost every lunch.
The Brits expect beans and bacon for breakfast, and sometimes also beer.
These ships offer the same cabins as Carnival - identical down to the lighting sconces. This is good, since Carnival offers some of the roomiest and most accomodating cabins available on mainstream cruise lines.
The important thing to remember about Costa is that there are "two Costas." The first is a Costa ship sailing in Europe and marketed to Europeans. These ships have primarily Europeans on board which means announcements, productions shows, menus and tours are offered in several languages, sometimes separately, sometimes consecutively. Then there is the Costa ship in the Caribbean marketed to Americans, where English is the primary language on board for everything. On many of these cruises, they also use Spanish as a backup to market to South Americans.
In Europe, you'll be surrounded by mature European smokers of pungent European cigarettes. All main dining rooms and show lounges now forbid smoking.Shore Excursions
In Europe, ask if there is a tour where English is the only language spoken, if not ask if it is the first language. Otherwise, on the multilingual ones, you'll have a tough time understanding your guide's accent. In the Caribbean, this should not be a problem just don't get on a Spanish bus.Kid's Excursions
Costa features "Parents Night Out," on formal nights which includes dinner buffet for kids while Ma and Pa put on the Ritz. "Costa Kids Club," includes supervised activities and programs for children aged 3-8, 9-12, 13-17. Babysitting is subject to staff availability. Cribs may be reserved.Attire
The Europeans tend to be even more casual than Americans, solely because they took to cxruising later than the Americans; mostly after the industry adopted looser dress codes over-all. Its OK not to pack a neck tie, they are uncommon in Mediterranean countries; especially Italy and Greece.Tipping
In Europe they will add a charge of 7 euros per person, per day for cruises up to eight nights, or 6 euros per person, per day for longer cruises to your shipboard account.
For Caribbean cruises they charge $11 per person, per day. For 4-6-night Far East cruises there is a charge of $9 a day.
South America or transatlantic cruises charge $9 per person, per day.
All gratuities are added automatically to each adult's onboard account. There is no charge for children under 14. Guests 14 to 17 will be charged 50 percent of the gratuities.
I took a cruise on the Costa Fortuna departing from Copenhagen. She is 10 years old and looks her age.
The good things:
Size of the cabin was very convenient. Lots of cabinets and a large bed which was very comfortable.
Many shelves in the bathroom and safety measures not to fall or slip.
The balcony we booked was small but with a table and two comfortable chairs and it was nice sitting there.
Staff was very friendl, the steward efficient ,the elevators speedy and lots of them.
Evening performances at the theater were quite entertaining despite lasting only 45 minutes.
5th floor has several bars with singers and dance floors. quite enjoyable.
Before going on the cruise we were often in contact with the company's representatives and they did their best to help us with anything.
The bad things:
The air conditioner was very weak and hardly noticeable. And it was hot.
In the bathroom we had almost no hot water and it was very unpleasant.
TV was huge with a small screen (TV not even LCD).
Both the TV and the remote only allowed to jump forward one channel or change volume.
The picture quality was poor and unclearand that could not be improved.
There were a lot of the ship's channels and the rest were Italian. There was only one news channel in English, the BBC.
We talked with the steward on these issues and we were told that's that.
Room's water room had terrible taste, no way we could drink that.
We had to buy the ship's water, each liter for 3 euros!!!
Even that had very funny taste.
When I talked to other passengers who were on other companies' cruises no one has encountered such a problem. I understand the ship is 10 years old but is that an excuse for such disregard?
Breakfast and lunch were very scarce and very poor selection. The same the whole seven days/. Other people from other cruises were just amazed. For example, there were only two Yellow Cheese kinds, throughout the voyage.
Everyone is familiar with the disaster that happened last year to the Concordia. I'll have to assume that because of fall in demand Costa is looking for every way to cut expenses and get passengers to pay more...
Another example of that would be the outrageous cost of 10 euros for one hour for the ship's Wi-Fi!
The ship was not sailing to Bergen although most other tours do.
In Geiranger we had to get off not directly to the harbour but through a boat and on return everyone had to wait half an hour in the heat for our turn to get back to the ship.
On the third day we came to Skjolden from nine in the morning till five thirty. It's a tiny place with nothing realy to do if you wanted to go ashore. We took a tour of the glacier and drove for three hours there and back ond then only saw him From afar. There was no nice scenery on the way as well.
At Oslo we arrived at seven in the morning and stayed only until 12 only which wasn't enough for a proper tour. We were told the reason for that was that the ship wanted to get in time to the next stop, Warnemunde, so that people wanting to do a tour in Berlin could get there in time.
As we didn't need that tour and there was nothing to do in Warnemunde we had to stay in the ship from nine and a half to eight in the evening!
Another annoying problem was that in each of the docking points there weren't any taxis or other means of transporatation besides that of the ship's. Friends who had other companies in this area told us that wasn't the case in their cruises.
In conclusion, this was my first cruise and next time if there is one I'll be wiser in choosing the right cruising company.
Costa Mediterranea is a fine vessel. Good crew and good food. However Costa as a company appear to have DOUBLE STANDARDS. E.U. citizens are compelled to pay a daily service charge which varies between 6 euros per day per adult and 11 US dollars depending which part of the world you are sailing in.
This service charge is optional if you are a US, Canadian or South American citizen!!! Why the difference? No one on board the Costa Mediterranea was prepared to say. With over 2000 passengers on board and about half paying a compulsory service charge and the other half being able to opt out of paying there was much dissent on board.
COSTA SHOULD GET ITS ACT TOGETHER AND ALL PASSENGERS SHOULD BE TREATED THE SAME
Third Costa Cruise, may very well be our last!
This ship when brand new must have been spectacular, too bad they don't seem to be able to keep it clean. Dirty windows, dirty carpet, dirty drapes, furniture, Sticky tables to eat or just read or play games on. But it had some good points as well and I'll discuss them first but it will be hard to do considering the limitations and exceptions we noted.
Our dinner waiter and bus boy were outstanding! They always remembered to bring my wife and I a pitcher of Iced tea at dinner and plenty of cream (not just milk) for our coffee. The Dinner entree choices were very limited, and no steak or lobster was ever offered to us. What they did make available was generally very tasty, though often the meat was overcooked and tough. The limited choices available for appetizers, soups, salads, pasta and desserts, however, were generally very good. Just don't count on Haute cuisine or many options.
The cruise staff, those people who provide daily activities, danced with the passengers in the ballroom dancing lounge and participated in a few of theshows, were probably the hardest working group we've ever had. They did their best to keep us entertained. That said, however, there were many long periods during the day when no planned activities were available on the ship. Thank goodness they provided us with a scrabble game to use while on board.
If you love Ballroom dancing either as a participant or as a watcher, this is your ship. All evening long, every evening you could dance your night away. Unfortunately that was about all you could do. Don't get me wrong, they did have shows every night but not all were worth attending. For example, the first night they showed a Frank Sinatra concert movie. That's it, a 45 minute movie of a 1970's concert. There was the obligatory crew show, the passenger talent show, three song and dance shows performed by the on-board troupe (who were good but not spectacular), and only three "professional" acts (one magician, one soul-gospel singer who sang as loudly as she could to make up for her merely adequate voice, and an Italian crooner who couldn't hold a long note.) In ten days only three (two mediocre) professional acts? That's what you might expect on a seven not a ten night cruise. The cruise staff did on several evenings put on games for the cruisers and did their very best to make them amusing and fun events. Overall, there was little to do in the evenings unless you like to dance or if you like to spend a lot of money drinking, drinking at the many bars on the ship where they did provide musicians and sometimes singers to entertain you. But for those who don't or can't drink a lot, all you were left to do is gamble in the casino.
The rooms, we had an inside room. were adequate in size, larger than on some ships we traveled and the water pressure of the shower was among the best we've experienced. The TVs were relics of the 80's or 90's and were both poor in visual and audio quality. The cabin steward did an adequate job, but did nothing exceptionally well and had to reminded several times to bring us extra towels. The level of cleanliness was barely adequate, as ground-in dirt was evident everywhere you looked.
This is an international ship. Those of us from the US were in the minority. 80% (or more) of the passengers were European, with Italians and Germans accounting for the majority of the European passengers. Hence all announcements had to made in FIVE languages, Italian (this is of course an Italian ship) German, French, Spanish and English. Problem was the crew, who is mostly Italian, when speaking in English, did so with a hard Italian accent, putting emphasis on the wrong syllables and often speaking English at the same very fast rate Italian is spoken (English and German are among the slowest spoken languages) AND to complicate matters more, once the Italian and German messages were read, those passengers would begin to engage in conversation thus drowning out the messages spoken in the other three languages. Only when the made the announcement first in English, or right after the French and/or Spanish language messages were spoken, did we have a decent chance to hear our English spoken messages. PS most of the English speakers on board were Canadian. They were a great group of people to hang out with and we often formed teams of "North Americans" to compete against the Italians and Germans during the games of skill and knowledge put on during the day light hours. If it wasn't for our Canadian friends we would have had difficulty in finding any English speakers on board, though Costa did their best to try to seat people at the restaurants by the language they spoke, and organize the excursions similarly. Then there is one more observation we made about our Italian and German shipmates. Many, many many of them were rude, often pushing and elbowing you out of the way to get to something they wanted, to get a head of you, cutting in on lines, etc. Generally they were both obnoxious and unaware of the words "excuse me" (or the German or Italian counterparts which sound very much like excuse me). If those of us from the US are the so called "Ugly Americans", then the Germans or Italians should be known as the "Medusan Europeans!" Be prepared. I'm originally from the NY metropolitan area so I know how to apply defensive skills when I have to and I found myself resorting to them way too often.
We had two life boat drills while on board. I wonder why? Could the Concordia incident have anything to do with that?
Food other than dinner. Breakfast - unless you waited on line at Omelet Station in the buffet restaurant the eggs were usually runny and undercooked. The bacon was dead the sausages undercooked and everything was luke-cool (luke-warm would have given it more credit than it deserved) to downright cold. The restaurant was no better for breakfast. No cream only milk or skim milk for coffee. No pancake syrup for the cold tough pancakes and french toast. An overall underwhelming experience. Lunch - In the Restaurant was not bad. Food often was warm. Variety was very limited but it was warm. At the buffet, well it often looked as bad as it tasted. Best lunches we had were off the ship in port! Midnight buffet - what buffet? There was none! They served the leftover pastries from Dinner and only at the Casino. Wonder why they make you go to the casino to get them, hmm, could it be they wanted you to gamble! There was a pizza station at night, but usually it was a simple cheese pizza or vegetable pizza, rarely did it contain any meat toppings. Oh, if you wanted ice tea at night, you had to hunt for it and often there was none. So your choices were plain water or Soda at $2.75 plus tip (added automatically to the cost) per CAN of soda!
There was no soda package for adults and if you wanted a drink package each member of your party, whether they drink or not, had to buy it at $26/day for every day of the cruise. This was considered an 11 day cruise and that meant shelling out over $275 per person. Or you could buy individual cocktails at $7.80 (plus the mandatory tip) per drink.
Despite the above, we liked the ports we went to and we meet some very nice people on board which made the journey a pleasant one despite the shortcomings of the ship.
One final point and it is a personal issue that upset me and may or may not seem to be a big deal to others considering cruising on a Costa ship. On the 7th day of the cruise my foot was injured when the plastic drainage grate surrounding the hot tub collapsed as I tried to enter the hot tub. I believe that the individual 8" long grate pieces which were held in-place by plastic male connectors fitting into the female receptacles of the next piece of grating had broken repeatedly before I tried to enter the hot tub. Each time breaking of more and more of the male connectors until there weren't enough to maintain the structural integrity of the grates. My foot was cut in two places and pieces of the few remaining male connectors broke off and punctured my foot. I had to receive medical attention by the ship's doctor who had to remove these pieces of plastic where they punctured my foot. The medical treatment I received was very good.
I understand accidents can happen, but the ship's crew needed to have repaired this grate long before I stepped on it. Even after my accident, they merely shifted the pieces of the grate around, leaving gaps in the grate, where another incident like mine could happen. What upsets me the most was at first the ship's Purser told me that I would be charged for the medical treatment I received (which turned out to be wrong as I was reassured 12 hours later by the Ship's Chief Medical Officer that I would not be charged since my injury was not my fault), but even worse, neither while on board the ship or to this day (6 days after I disembarked) has anyone from the ship's crew (company) or from Costa (or its parent company Carnivale) contacted me to ask me how I was feeling or doing!! Even though I filled out the ship's Security accident report, not one word!! Its as if they simply don't care. Maybe they don't!