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Deborah Nelson

Age: 39


Number of Cruises: 3

Cruise Line: Costa

Ship: Costa Atlantica

Sailing Date: February 15th, 2004

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

AFTER I booked my cruise I read several negative reviews about Costa on this and other websites and I began to panic. Fortunately I found several of the criticisms to be untrue and I had a fairly fantastic time, despite having what has to have been record bad weather (no sun, no suntan, 62 degrees and raining cats and dogs in Cozumel).

The Falsehoods:

1. The embarkation and disembarkation procedures are a lengthy disorganized mess.

Maybe for those who had the Costa airport transfers, but when I arrived at the dock in my taxi ($15 with tip from Ft. Lauderdale airport) there was no line whatsoever and I'd say I was onboard the ship in about 10 minutes.

I WAS greeted with the bizarre salutation, "Hello. Please go to your room," but that was obviously just due to a language barrier and it made me laugh. Just as when I check into a hotel, I was perfectly capable of finding my room without escort.

The luggage piling up by the elevators did occur, but I think it actually makes sense to use that as a staging area, rather than make the passengers wait hours for their suitcases to be delivered another way. I found my own suitcases sitting by the elevator and just took them to my room myself to save the time and to save the guys the hassle. There's a reason I bought rolling luggage -- it's easy to move myself and I was happy to have the exercise after the plane trip.

As for disembarkation, okay it came about 4 hours before I was ready to leave the ship, but, without the encumbrance of a Costa transfer, it was easy peasy. For $5 we got a porter who helped us find our luggage, marched us through customs, hailed a cab and got our luggage loaded into the trunk. Another $10 or $15 and we were at the airport and the luggage was at the curbside check in. I’d say from the moment of leaving the ship to stepping up to curbside check-in maybe a half hour went by. At most.

I would say that unless you are flying into Miami (and if so, why?) just skip the Costa bus. It costs $12pp each way, ties you to their schedule and just seems to make life more frustrating and complicated than it need be at the start and end of a vacation.

2. The staff on Costa are very unfriendly.

Could not have been farther from the truth. The staff are mainly Philipino (room stewards and restaurant) and English (activities and excursions) and Italian (activities, excursions, guest relations i.e. Purser, and spa). Without a doubt the majority of the staff were extremely pleasant and helpful. By contrast, I cruised on Princess in 1999 and was so upset by the rude treatment I received by the English staff I wrote to the president of the company to complain. (They never bothered to answer and I will never cruise on Princess again.)

The only slightly unpleasant staff were lunchtime waiters, who basically knew they were waiting on you for no tip, b/c all of your gratuities go to your nighttime waiter. Also the dining room drinks waiters were extremely slow and a bit "bitter" whenever they saw a drinks coupon from the Boys and Girls Card (20 sodas for $40) b/c they knew there was no commission for them -- the commission goes to the person who initially sells the card. That is something Costa should work on.

I just basically bypassed them, their speed, and their attitude, by picking up a soda at a bar on the way into the dining room.

A slight aside about the drink’s card: Though at first I was a little bitter that rather than unlimited sodas (which are offered as extras on, I believe, Princess, Holland America and Royal Caribbean) I could only get 20 for $40. But you could also use the card to get virgin pina coladas, daiquiris, etc, as well as juice (within the limit of 20). I actually think having this card deterred me from drinking alcohol (and thus saving money), as I often found myself just getting a virgin pina colada, for example, because it was “free” and I needed to use up my coupons.

Also, I had been sure to visit a grocery store during our ship's first stop at Key West, and so my room refrigerator was already stocked with sodas and water.

Back to the staff: The only truly rude staff I encountered was in the stores, where they (Italians) were rude, grumpy and/or disinterested. Maybe they were on commission so they weren’t too excited by my purchases – a $3 silver chain and a $10 watch.

(I was surprised and disappointed that on a “European” cruise ship all of the candy in the ship’s stores was America. I remember on Princess they had all this great European chocolate, and I’m not sure why Costa didn’t have any. The people in the store were not interested in explaining why.)

The other memorably rude and downright mean person was the Maitre d' on the main floor of the dining room. The one on the second floor was very nice and accommodating, though.

3. The activities and the entertainment were boring

I disagree. Every activity I went to (quizzes, exercise classes and Italian lessons) was fun, friendly and well run.

I didn’t get out much at night for the entertainment but there seemed to be a lot of it and I didn’t miss the tacky faux Broadway/theme park style entertainment of other lines one bit. What entertainment I did encounter was great.

Do you consider sitting in a beautifuly-decorated café (Caffe Florian) sipping a cappuccino and listening to an amazingly talented opera singer accompanied by an equally gifted piano player boring? I do not.

The Italian Extravaganza show in the big theater, which I thought was going to be some silly pizza-tossing, mamma mia, type singing, was actually this amazing drama without words (remember the international crowd – many positions require crew to speak 5 languages).

I’ll confess, I’m not sure exactly what I saw, but I think it was the history of Italy, shown in scenes. I remember the explosion of Pompeii, bizarre female Roman goddess/warriers in shields and THONGS dancing, and again the beautiful opera singing, as well as some very nice ballet dancing. Bizarre? Yes. But boring?? Definitely not.

4. There were too many Europeans and smoke was everywhere.

Well, DUH, it is a European cruise line, so of course there will be Europeans. But given my choice between a ship full of cultured and classy Europeans, and a boatload of drunken folks straight from the all-you-can-eat buffet in Vegas, I’ll take the Europeans any day. No lie – the average size of my fellow cruisers on my Princess cruise was about 3 times the size of the people on the Costa cruise.

All of the Europeans I met were very friendly and appreciated my pigeon attempts to speak their various languages (French & Italian). Yes, there was definitely about a day and a half of culture shock, but after I adjusted to the stimulating environment I really appreciated being able to cruise not only TO other cultures, but WITHIN other cultures as well.

Also there was the benefit of meeting many Italian Americans, and they were all great.

As to the smoking, well one of the reasons we went on Costa is because my boyfriend is a smoker and, since he was paying for half of the trip, I didn’t want him to feel ostracized or alienated on his vacation. But there are plenty of non-smoking locations and smoking is prohibited in the dining rooms, which actually was rather annoying since dinner took so long – 2 hours or so. (I would have preferred my boyfriend to be able to smoke a quick cigarette at the table between courses rather than get grumpy or leave the table to smoke).

If you really hate smoke then don’t go on Costa, b/c I suspect there is a bit more than on other lines, but it really wasn’t bad and I am extremely sensitive to smoke.

The Truths:

Not all of the reviews were completely wrong:

1. The food is bad

Almost uniformly every review I read, including Frommers, panned the food on Costa. And I will say they were right. The food wasn’t bad, just below average, and inconsistent. And the other reason we chose Costa was because my boyfriend loves Italian food. “Luckily” he was seasick for about three days from the bad weather and didn’t need to eat much! As for me, I did expect better food, ESPECIALLY FROM AN ITALIAN SHIP, but I had found the food on Princess to be sub par as well, so I wasn’t too disappointed. Let’s just say I had a lot of great cappuccinos this time.

Two exceptions: Princess, despite it’s other faults, had GREAT Danish and pizza. The Costa pizza was on a par with the pizza served in my junior high school (doughy and gloppy - just something to eat when you're hungry) and, as far as Danish and other breakfast pastries go, Costa really let the passengers down there. Especially disappointing for a European ship. You would think they could at least get a croissant right. Something tells me the pastry must be a LOT better in the summer, when they cruise in Europe and their passengers are 90-100% European. Otherwise I think the French passengers would rally and throw the pastry chef overboard.

Another disappointment was room service. My boyfriend and I really didn’t enjoy the whole dining room experience. We would have preferred to eat in our room and just watch TV. They tell you in the Costa literature that 24 hour room service is available. What they don’t tell you is that only cold food is available, mainly of the salami or tuna sandwich variety. What we ended up doing a lot was going to the buffet restaurant getting trays of hot food and just taking them back to our room. (Let's call it self-service room service.)

I know from my research that on most other lines you can get “normal” food from room service, at least a burger and fries, if not full HOT dinners. A big BOO to Costa for this policy.

I think it’s a Carnival trickledown effect. I heard from a few people who had been on Costa before it was bought by Carnival that the food was much better.

We also went to the premium restaurant twice. Now in the “real” world of dining (a.k.a. when you have about a million restaurants to choose from instead of three and a salami sandwich in your room, I would not recommend this restaurant as being anything special. But we really enjoyed going there on the cruise b/c of the slower pace, more attention, and who can beat taking your champagne out on deck in between courses? (the last night when the temperature finally rose over 70).


Some great things about the Costa Atlantica:

The ship is beautiful and sparkling clean. I even saw staff members cleaning the tops of outdoor speakers.

The cabin was beautiful, spacious and a great bargain ($950 pp for a slightly obstructed view, which actually would have been a plus, in that the obstruction – a lifeboat – would have provided shade out there, had there been any sun to shade us from! One small gripe: The balcony came with two chairs and a table. The table was too big for the space and always got in the way when we opened the door, which opened out instead of in. A sliding glass door would have been best.

Varied activities and friendly and enthusiastic cruise staff.

A great chance to get exposure to, and meet people from, other cultures.

The gym and spa are great. The spa is standard cruise ship expensive, but they have some great specials, especially on port days. I managed to turn my disasterous “Hurricane” day in Cozumel (raining, cold, windy, excursion cancelled) into a great one by spending the money from my cancelled excursion on a relaxing massage!

The fridges for the minibars are not computerized. So you can take all of that expensive ship’s liquor and soda out of there and fill it up with your own! (Technically you are not supposed to bring liquor onto the ship, but it’s pretty easy to get it on. And no one can stop you from bringing your own sodas and bottled water.)

Some not so great things about the Costa Atlantica:

The food is everything and less it is rumored to be

The drinks waiters are extremely slow

Dinner in the main restaurant takes too long and the food isn’t worth it.

The restaurant is too big and impersonal.

The dining room is on two levels. The maitre d’ on the second level is very nice, but the one on the main floor is rude and mean. The service is much better on the top floor than the main one. (We switched tables after the first night b/c in an hour and a half we had only had one course and it had taken 20 minutes to get menus, water and bread.)

The bedspreads are of “Holiday Inn” quality and the only things on the ship that are beginning to show their age.

Other comments:

This was my first, and I will say, last Western Caribbean itinerary on ANY cruise ship. With the exception of Jamaica, I never really felt like I was in the true Caribbean.

Although I enjoyed the Costa cruise I definitely want to try another cruise line. Depending on money, itineraries and desires of traveling companions, I am looking at Celebrity, Oceania, Radisson or possibly one of the Voyager or Radiance class ships of Royal Caribbean. Or possibly Holland America if I want to feel really young!

But I’m glad I booked the Costa cruise BEFORE I read up on the line or else I might have been scared off by all of the negative comments. I think that given the GREAT price on balcony cabins, the cleanliness of the ship and the variety and uniqueness of activities, I it was a great trip.

I WOULD cruise on Costa again, especially if I didn’t want to gain weight on my trip. But I think I would like to try some other lines first.

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