I have just returned from a weeks Cruise on board Costa Atlantica, which commenced on Sunday 18th January, cabin was inside on floor 6. I purchased this cruise as a Christmas present for my sister-in-law. Destinations were Key West, Cozumel, Jamaica, and Grand Cayman.
I am a very keen traveller. I spend at least 7 weeks every year travelling. I have visited over 50 different countries in the last 12 years, and in the last 5 years I have been on 12 different cruises. This was my first experience with Costa .
Unfortunately this has to be my worst travel experience ever.
I would like to share with you my week on board Costa Atlantica. I hope this helps you to make the right decision if you are contemplating a Costa Cruise. I have sailed many times before with Celebrity, RCCL, NCL, and Princess, all of which have been fine.
When we arrived at Port Everglades it was 13:30 and there was already a queue of at least 200 people outside the terminal building. There were no porters ready to take our luggage when we got out of the taxi. We found a Costa representative and asked her what to do. She told us to leave our luggage with the big pile of luggage and get in line.
We were approached by a luggage handler who told us that our luggage labels were not correct. I told him that these were supplied directly from Costa . They had the Costa logo and had our cabin number on. He said we would have to join the long queue of people to get new labels. I asked him to check this information with another luggage handler. The other luggage handler said that the labels were ok. Then to our surprise the first luggage handler said "Where is my tip. I usually get a tip?"
We went to stand in the line and after 40 minutes we saw Costa assistants waving immigration forms, saying we must get these and fill them in first. After 40 minutes of queuing, I did not feel like starting again. So we ignored the person who told us to fill them in and waited until we got to the reception desk. The lady at the reception desk said we didn't need to fill in the immigration form because she already had the required information in our registration details. I noticed that when we registered we were not able to leave details of our credit cards. The receptionist told us we had plenty of time to register our card details when we got on board. We later found this to be a huge disadvantage. I wanted to register our credit card on day 1, but the queue was so long we decided to go back the next day. We stayed in the queue for 15 minutes on day 2, but then got fed up with waiting. We eventually registered our credit card details on day 3, after queuing for 20 minutes.
I also noticed that when we registered, we did not have to give our passports in. This also turned out to be a huge disadvantage. We were forced to take our passports with us every time we wanted to get off and on the ship. All other cruise ships I have been on, take a photo-id picture when you first come on board so you don't need your passports. I really do not like walking around everywhere with my passport. It meant we were unable to go jet ski-ing or feel comfortable leaving our beach bags unattended when we were on trips or swimming at beaches.
After we had registered at reception we were told to wait in a large hall area until our number was called. This didn't happen for at least 40 minutes. All other cruise ships offer a complimentary cold soft drink whilst you are waiting to get on board. There were no drinks available, which I found a bit strange.
Some people approached us and asked us where our Jazz badges were. We said we had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. Then we discovered that the cruise we had booked was a 'Smooth Cruise Jazz Tour'. No-one from Costa had advised us. Our booking agents hadn't advised us. We were devastated, because we both love jazz, and found we were not included in any of the events. We later discovered that Costa had filled half the ship with Jazz customers. The other 50% seemed to have no idea that they were on a cruise which had devoted 50% of the ship to jazz activities and concerts. We had all booked with different Cruise agents, but not one of them had identified that this was a jazz cruise. I was so angry that I phoned my husband at home and ask him to contact my cruise agent to see why they hadn't advised us. They told him that Costa had not advised them. As with all other cruise ships the photographer was available to take your photo when stepping on board. But there was no way of getting past if you didn't want the photo. This really slowed down the process of getting on board. And I noticed that the first ship photograph featured a picture of yourself plus a long queue of people waiting behind you! Not very personal. In general, the ships photographers created photos of a very poor quality, and they took the photographs in positions where you could see other people in the background, or there could be a shop sign above you, or the photos were not centred properly.
We eventually got on board at 16:00pm. This is two and a half hours after getting out of the taxi. Not a very good start.
We headed immediately for the buffet. There was only one station open. There were some variations on pasta but it looked very dried out and there wasn't much left. But we were hungry so we tried. The pasta was dry and luke-warm so we left it.
We went back to our cabins and discovered that our dining card indicated first sitting. I was absolutely horrified, because I had confirmed 3 times with my booking agency that I was on second sitting, in writing, via email, and verbally. I absolutely hate first sitting and it would be good enough reason for me to cancel a cruise. I immediately went to see the Maitre D. The Maitre D on board this ship has to be the rudest, most arrogant and unhelpful person you could ever come across. He said there was absolutely nothing he could do. I told him that I was absolutely 100% sure that my request for second sitting was confirmed before I left the UK, but he simply would not believe me. He took my name and number but said that he couldn't do anything else until tomorrow.
First seating dining was due to commence at 18:00pm. By 18:15pm our bags had still not arrived. I went out to the corridors to see what was happening. There were probably at least 20 people on every single floor waiting for their bags by the lifts. Most people were absolutely furious and really fed up. After checking every single floor to make sure our bags had not been mis-delivered we decided to go to dinner. We were dressed in shorts and beach shoes. It was very embarrassing.
I don't know what time our bags eventually turned up, but it must have been after 9pm. We heard later that some people didn't get all their bags until midnight.
On day 2, I went to find the Maitre D. I was told he was unavailable so I spoke to his assistant. Another unbelievably rude man. He was dealing with an American couple who wanted to swap from 2nd to 1st sitting. I said I would be more than happy to exchange my card with theirs, but the Maitre D had already torn up their card, and wouldn't let me change with them. I asked him to check the seating change plan to make sure that I was included. He said that my new 2nd sitting card was being prepared at the moment and that he didn't have the lists. He told me to go back to my room and wait for the card to be delivered. I told him that I wanted to see the lists straightaway. After five minutes of begging with him, he simply pointed me in the direction of a staircase and said, "Go upstairs and speak to the Maitre D".
The Maitre D was sitting with all his assistants sorting out the change of seating plan. He lied to me and told me no-one had been swapped. I told him that I knew he was lying because I had just stood downstairs next to an American couple who had swapped about 3 minutes ago. He told me that was not possible. After another long argument he asked me to identify the assistant Maitre D who had made the swap. Eventually they tracked him down and then they both lied saying no swaps had been made. I told the Maitre D that from day 3 onwards I would simply turn up at second sitting and I would expect to be seated. He simply waved his arms in the air and said that if that's what I wanted to do then so be it.
About an hour after this incident I was walking along some corridors to get back to my cabin, and I noticed that some cabins had cards posted in their letterboxes. These cards were for change of dinner seating to second sitting. I was furious. The Maitre D on the Costa Atlantica, together with his assistants are rude, arrogant, liars. They need to go back to school to learn how to handle difficult situations with courtesy and respect, not arrogant superiority and a total disregard for customers needs.
On night 3 we turned up for dinner about ½ hour after the scheduled commencement. There were large notices outside saying that second seating was full. In fact there were many completely empty or half empty tables. We asked the assistant Maitre D to seat us. He said he had a perfect table that we could sit at all week. We were horrified to be seated next to the bus-boy counter. Throughout our first course all we could hear was plates, knives and forks being thrown into the bowls, plates being scraped, waiters continuously bumping into us from behind. The assistant Maitre D asked us how we liked our table. I said I was disgusted. I said how would you like it if you brought your wife on board and you were seated next to the bus boy counter. Then he replied very strangely "Madam, I would not bring my wife on board because the ship is full". We had no idea what he was talking about. I told him that second seating was half empty and there was no reason he needed to seat us where he did. He said "Madam I have tried my very best and there is nothing more I can do". He walked off and so did we. We were too angry to finish our dinner.
On night 4 we turned up late again and he attempted to sit us on our own again. We spotted some newly made friends with some empty spaces so we moved there.
Second sitting was almost always only 2/3rds full for the entire cruise.
After speaking to many people on the cruise it became obvious what had happened and why there was such a mix up with the dining arrangements. There were many people who had confirmed 2nd seating dining before arriving on the Cruise. But in fact what Costa had done was to move all the Jazz participants and the Jewish Kosher party to second seating and put everyone else on first sitting. This was to accommodate the entertainment time slots. There was only one main show per night so if you did not go on first sitting you would miss it. My belief is that if Costa would have told people in advance that this was a jazz cruise with very limited entertainment and first sitting dining only, then people would have chosen another week or another option.
Now on to the quality of the food. It was very poor. The choice was very limited. It was almost always luke - warm and sometimes even cold. The pasta dishes nearly always looked dried up. The vegetables reminded me of school dinners in the 1960's when they served up mixed diced vegetables (carrots, swede and beans). The salad bar was the worst I have ever seen any where in the world. Here are some of the choices : a tray of plain lettuce leaves, a tray of whole raw carrots, a tray of plain raw cauliflower, some plain sliced cucumber.
The buffet area was totally disorganised. No-one ever really knew if the buffet stations contained the same food or if they were different. There were always long queues. The cutlery buckets were regularly empty. Breakfast choice was disgraceful. At lunchtime there was only ever a choice of two deserts. Usually these were sugar free jelly and a horrible square of sponge cake with synthetic cream. The ice cream was watery. The drinks machines were very often out of action. On one occasion I had to try five drinks stations before I could find an orange juice dispenser that worked. One day I had squid from the buffet, but the chef had left razor sharp bones in it. They were like glass.
The description of food in the buffet was terrible. The signs only ever said (for example) Fish, Lamb, Chicken etc, which meant you had no idea how the dish had been prepared or you had no idea what kind of fish you were eating. Even if you asked the assistants didn't always know. The buffet staff all looked very bored and weren't very helpful. Dishes weren't cleared away from tables very quickly.
In the evening main dining the food was slightly better, but still not hot. We had to send two plates of food back on one occasion because the food was actually cold to touch. I am not exaggerating. The waiter simply took the dinner plates away, put them in the microwave and handed them back again. So now everything was piping hot but the herbs and salad had wilted! I noticed that everyone struggled on lobster night. Usually, on other cruise ships, the lobster tail is loosened by the restaurant staff, so that people don't have to struggle. The lobster was served still attached to the shell with no dressing or butter. It is the blandest lobster I have ever tasted in my life. Most other dishes were lacking in flavour.
There was no wine waiter ever available. Once the wine had been served by the assistant waiter, you then had to continue to serve yourself all night.
So to the entertainment. The first day was encouraging. The show (of which there was only one performance) was at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. We had an ex member of the Platters (not one of the originals I hasten to add who must all now be long gone) - second generation. He was very good.
Second day was a really bad 3 man circus act. I couldn't watch them again after this performance. My sister-in-law struggled through their second show for a short while but gave up after the juggler kept dropping things and after she heard them try to sing. She said it was awful and walked out long before the end. The dance shows were just average. Not bad, but not good. But the show that really took us by surprise as the worst cruise entertainment we have ever witnessed was the night the poolside steel band were given the prime spot as the main evening entertainment. They didn't say a word. They just performed tune after tune. A plaque was displayed with the song they were currently playing. It was awful. Most people had walked out before the end. I lasted until song number three.
To try and cheer ourselves up we went in for the slots tournament. On my last two cruises with Celebrity and Royal Caribbean I have won both a first and second prize. The whole thing with Costa was a shambles. We had enough people for a single round, which went quite well. Then the original organiser walked off and left us in the hands of a young casino lad who didn't speak hardly any English, and who had NO idea what he was doing. He was letting people play just as and when they pleased. One woman had the top three scores, and couldn't understand why she wouldn't be allowed to play three machines in the final! It wasn't really her fault. This boy hadn't explained any rules. Then we discovered that one of the tournament machines hadn't been set up correctly. It was locking out for about 30 seconds after every major win. So people started screaming that they wanted to take their turn again. We were screaming for this boy to get a technician but he just stood there looking gormless. So we screamed for a manager. In the end I had to call someone over myself. Altogether three different casino personnel got involved. In the end, by general consensus, we allowed the lady with the three top scores to play two machines in the final, and we had to play the final as two separate rounds because two of the machines became faulty. I would have loved the Gaming Board regulators to have witnessed this experience. It was simply dreadful. And the prize money? $200 for one and a half hours of screaming and shouting.
We had a couple of problems with the excursion desk. We had booked a Sea Helmet Diving trip, but had received no confirmation by way of tickets delivered to our room. However we had heard from other people that they too had booked trips where the tickets hadn't arrived. But not to worry, they would have a note of our names. So we turned up at the pierside to be told that the trip was off due to lack of participants. This was the first we had heard of it! I can't believe we weren't notified on the previous evening.
Another trip which appeared to be totally disorganised was the Dolphin encounter & Dunn's River falls. We were walked by a Costa guide to a taxi waiting in the car-park which promptly dropped us off 10 minutes later at Dolphin Cove. When the Dolphin experience was complete we went to find our taxi which had gone. We were told to jump in any taxi, which we found a bit confusing. Then we were taken to Dunns River falls which was also a bit chaotic if you didn't want to climb the falls. We weren't really sure where to go or how we were supposed to get back to the ship. Some pre-information would have been useful.
On the two days at sea we sat by the pool. We sat by the main pool and wanted to have a dip in the hot tub, but decided against when we saw one adult with 5 children all under the age of about 8. What really put me off was that the youngest child had been allowed into the hot tub with a nappy on. YUK!!! There was no control over children in the hot tub, despite the signs saying no children under the age of 12 allowed. Children were also running riot in the Adult Only pool and hot tub. They were also left to play with the life saving rings.
Something else I found very distasteful around the pool is that men were smoking cigars. This is not usually allowed on other cruise ships.
Continuing on the poolside theme, Costa must win the award for the most uncomfortable deckside beds ever. The padding was rock hard, and felt like you were lying on wood. It gave me a really numb backside and made my back ache. I saw some people were trying to make themselves more comfortable by putting two of these rock hard cushions on top of each other, or by laying on four towels at a time. I tried the 4 towel technique myself but it didn't work!
There were a couple of other disturbing incidents which really summed up my Costa experience for me. I was sitting by the pool early in the morning. There was only one other lady looking after three very young children. There were 4 poolside bar staff just standing by the bar with their trays waiting for custom, having a good chat. One of the female bar waitresses went over to the mother and said "Can I get you a drink". The lady said "I would love a drink of water". The waitress pointed to the other side of the deck and said "the water machine is over there". Then she walked back to her bar staff friends and continued to chat. Now how is that for friendly and helpful?
The second incident happened after the captains cocktail party. We were leaving the theatre and there was a mother attempting to get her wheelchair bound daughter down a couple of steps. The ships priest was standing next to this. One of the Entertainment staff rushed to help. She was wearing a very lavish long ball gown and obviously found it difficult to help but she did her best. Some guests close by came to her assistance whilst the priest just stood and watched. I was really shocked at this.
I spoke to many many people about their cruise experience on Costa Atlantica. I am not lying when I say that NOT ONE PERSON was complimentary. For most it was their worst cruise experience ever. We also spoke to a lot of staff who were on their first Costa contract. They were very clear to tell us it would be their last. Most of the jazz people seemed to have a great time. But this was nothing to do with the services provided by Costa . It was because their jazz entertainment was superb. They were in agreement about the poor quality of everything else.
One of the few things which I could not fault was the cabin and the cabin steward. Both were excellent. It would be nicer to get some fancy chocolate laid on your pillow at night (as with most other cruise companies) rather than a boiled sweet. But such is life!
The cabin TV had very limited channels. There was no free film channel as with other cruise companies. There was no CNN. The most hilarious channel was the one with the tour director. He was the most boring lifeless unenthusiastic tour director I have ever seen. He gave his commentary slumped over a desk for the full duration. He made you feel really depressed.
The daily newspaper was lacking in detail. There was no weather forecast, no destination overview, just a map with recommended shopping. It was not that well constructed.
There were always long queues at the Excursions desk and at Guest relations. All times I went to Guest relations I had to queue for just under forty minutes.
And the icing on the cake? Well I just happened to overhear that a family were travelling on the same organised trip as us on the last day after disembarkation, and so they had been sent specially coloured Pink luggage labels, so that their luggage could be outsorted. We had booked the same trip. On the last day I was expecting to see pink luggage labels, but they were purple. I stood for the regular 40 minutes at guest relations to discover (purely by chance) that we had got the wrong luggage labels. On the last night, I passed a couple of other families having discussions with their cabin boys, because they appeared to have the wrong luggage labels too.
We were first in queue to get on to the coach for our final Fort Lauderdale trip. But somehow this seemed to be totally chaotic as well. It took about 15 minutes before we finally got our luggage on board the coach.
My conclusion? Costa cruises are regularly discounted and always seem to be a good deal. I cannot comment on other Costa ships but as far as Costa Atlantica is concerned, avoid it. Pay an extra £100-£200 for another cruise line. You will be grateful in the end. This was certainly my first and last Costa cruise.