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Costa Cruises

Costa Mediterranea
by Matt C
Western Caribbean
January 7, 2007

My cruise aboard the Costa Mediterranea was my eighth, and my wife's first. We were celebrating our honeymoon and thought a Western Caribbean cruise would be the perfect way to cap off our wedding festivities. Maybe, maybe not as it turns out. I am 26 years old, but have been lucky enough to have a cousin in the cruise business. Because of that, I have had the privilege of sailing on a variety of cruise lines including Carnival, NCL, and Royal Caribbean. I am not a demanding person, and being from Arkansas would say I am very easy-going. I don't expect the world handed to me on a silver plate, or 5-star dining (some fried catfish and fries suits me fine! haha). Likewise however, I have lived in 4 countries, including 3 in Europe, and know what to expect from Euro cuisine. I know that a good crème bulle isn't made with instant pudding. I knew to expect an international atmosphere with lots of folks from across the pond (even looked forward to it.) I say all this so that my criticism isn't seen as someone who didn't know what to expect, or lacked experience in a European environment, or a prima donna who wants everything yesterday. I'm just a guy from Arkansas who has been lucky enough to experience a good chunk of the world at a young age. With all that said, let me get started with my experience onboard the Costa Mediterranea.

Embarkation We arrived at Port Everglades at 11:30 on Sunday morning, well aware that we would most likely have to wait 2 hours to board. As it turns out the ship was late 2 hours and it would actually be nearly 5 hours later before we would finally get aboard at 3:45. We were directed to a large room to wait with some 2,000 other passengers. The only service in this room was a tiny snack bar selling hot dogs for $5.00 and water for $1.50. I found this outrageous considering we were supposed to be on the ship by 1:30 eating at the free Lido Buffet. The few Costa staffers on hand had absolutely no information about when the ship would arrive or when we would finally get onboard. There was no information given about why the ship was delayed either. I later found out that the ship had come from the Port of Miami were it was held up because of a port closure---not the cruise line's fault, but it would have been nice to have had that information passed along. As it was, tempers were flaring all around us. Not a great start. Once the ship arrived, a line began forming at the very small entry gate.

But once boarding began a new line formed perpendicular to the first, and caused a major traffic jam. The situation was made worse when they allowed only 50-100 people to pass at a time. Before long people were being trampled, shoved, and yelled at by fellow passengers. The Costa staff did nothing to alleve this problem. I can't imagine why Costa would not have some sort of organization in the boarding process. By the time we were onboard, our mood was terrible as was everyone else's. No one ever once apologized for the mess, or helped us in anyway. By far the worse embarkation experience I have ever had. I heavily suggest showing up 2-3 hours after initial boarding if you want to avoid this frustrating experience. Costa gets an F here for lack of information, organization, and courtesy.

The Ship
There are plenty of exhaustive accounts of the Costa Mediterranea, so I won't bore you with every detail of the ship. It is impressively decorated, very clean, and not bad from a layout perspective. It isn't hard to get around, and after an hour or two I didn't feel like I would ever get lost. Public areas are pretty neat affairs, with lots of places to sit and chat or have a drink. Contrary to previous reviews I have read, I never once saw a smoke cloud as much of the ship is off limits to smokers, including most of the lounges. The restaurants are very beautiful and pleasant places to have a meal. The top deck pool areas are nothing impressive, but for a ship of this size, are perfectly acceptable. The staff was very good to keep kids out of the adult pool, although hardly anyone used it because of how cold it was. The hot tubs were a bit small, and usually too crowded, but I have seen this on many ships and so won't complain too much about it.

The theatre was the first place I had a complaint about onboard. The sight lines are horrible. It's a three deck facility that probably should have been only two. The seats on deck 4 (the highest of the 3 decks) had terrible sharp angled sight lines that were blocked by lighting equipment and poles. On deck 3 you had poles blocking the view from the majority of the seats, or the sound booth in the way. Just not a great layout overall.

The restaurant on deck 9 was layed out ok, with the 24-hour pizzeria in the back and a nightly buffet in the middle. But it was disappointing to see that the pizzeria's ice machine was broken and passengers were forced to dig ice out of two Coleman ice chests. After seeing two guests get ice out with their bare hands, I gave up and went all the way to the middle buffet station to get ice. It's more of a haul than you might think; being that this is a long ship. Service was decent, although being constantly hounded by bartenders yelling "bar service?" every 2 minutes got old really quick. We ended up taken a lot of our meals down to the room so we could eat in peace. Why Costa would allow bartenders to ask me if I want a drink 5 times in 15 minutes is beyond me. The water slide on deck 10 is impressive and a lot of fun, if you can ever catch it open. We spent 3 full days at sea on the ship, and the slide was open a grand total of 4 hours (2 hour blocks on sea days). We were finally able to get a ride in on the last day. When I asked the guard at the bottom why it was never open, he said it was because of having to staff it with two people. That is a joke in my opinion.

The basketball court was likewise never open, and the wind at the front of the ship made using the jogging track problematic at best. The track wasn't coated well, and I felt like I might get blown over if I tried to actually get in a few laps. The gym/spa was actually pretty nice though, with fantastic equipment, and its own whirlpool. There was even a place to lay out and tan under UV lights if you wanted. We didn't use the spa services, so I can't comment on that part of the ship. If you a workout type, you will be happy with what you find onboard.

Finally, I have to comment about the movement of the ship. I'm not a ship engineer, mind you, but of all the ships I have been on, the Mediterranea was the worst about rocking and rolling. Often times we would find ourselves stumbling about because of the amount of rolling the ship constantly did. Dinner (served at the stern of the ship) was several times unpleasant because of it. Frequent checks outside would result in confusion as the seas looked relatively calm. I have never gotten seasick on a boat, but the unbelievable amount of motion landed me my first case of it. Comparing the Mediterranea to other ships, I think the problem is that she is too skinny for her length-making her more top heavy than most, and her azipod propeller system. Essentially the boat is pulled, not pushed through the water by two forward facing propellers. I am a licensed pilot and would equate some of the sway to the feeling one gets by shoving the rudder of a plane back and forth. I could be totally wrong, but nonetheless be prepared for feeling every swell along your trip. Bonine is a must.

Overall the ship earns a B-. It's beautifully decorated, and much nicer inside than any Carnival ship I have been on. But layout problems keep this ship from really shining. Since the main activities are all clustered in a relatively few number of areas, the ship always felt crowded and cramp. I have been on smaller ships that didn't have this problem. The constant movement of the ship is also a problem. If we had been sailing through storms, I would be more understanding. But we sailed through calm seas the entire week, and yet felt like we had been shaken, stirred, and dumped out by week's end. Although the boat is pretty, other cruise lines offer ships with more to do, and a much smoother ride.

We were upgraded to a category 9 stateroom with an unobstructed balcony on Deck 6. The room was spacious, clean and for the most part comfortable. Our deck probably saved the trip, as we frequently used it to unwind and ‘escape' the frequent crowding throughout the ship. The TV was old and didn't have much of a picture. You got ABC, NBC, and CBS. Everything else was in a foreign language. Now you are probably saying, "Why would that matter?!" Read on, I'll explain later. The bathroom was pretty small, but standard. The only problem is that the toilet constantly had a smell that would often permeate the entire room. I can't describe the smell that well. Sewage + seawater I guess about does it. We would leave the balcony door open while we were out and while we slept—that kept the smells down to a tolerable level. The beds are uncomfortable as is the case on most ships. Ask for an extra mattress and you should be fine. Other than that, there was plenty of space to put stuff, and the lighting was very good. Our cabin attendant, Michael, was the one service highlight on the entire trip. He was amazing. All in all, the room rated an A for being spacious, clean, and for Michael's work in keeping us comfortable.

This is where things get bumpy. I want to start with the positives, so that you know I'm not out to trash Costa for no reason than to be negative. Far from it! I had hoped that the service level at embarkation would be the exception and not the rule. Unfortunately, such is not the case. First, we booked 3 excursions. One of these was a dolphin swim in Honduras. The order book does not say that swimming isn't part of the experience. When we asked at the excursion desk about it, we were told you did in fact swim with the animals. But during the welcome aboard speech in the theatre later on, it was explained that our particular excursion was not in fact a full swim experience. In short, you got a kiss on the nose for your $112 and nothing more. So of course we wanted to cancel, since we were not made clear of what was actually involved. I went to the same person, who told me a completely different story, and then proceeded to act as though she didn't remember our first conversation. I was made out to be a liar by this staff member, and spent about 45 minutes arguing before finally getting a refund. After the nightmare of getting on the ship, this experience basically sunk the first day for me. Be very, very careful before ordering excursions. Ask at least two people if you have any doubt about what is included in the trip.

Restaurant service was a hit or miss affair. Our first server, Marie, was unfriendly at best. She treated our requests as burdens, rather than with any sort of graciousness. And when I say requests, I'm only talking about trying another entrée or asking for more water. Very standard stuff! We ended at another table where our new waiter, Sherwin, took great care of us the remaining 3 nights of the trip. Nevertheless I heard from many folks that they too had problems with waiter service. Wine attendants were not knowledgeable (or affluent in English)—I ordered a Rossi and received a Rose-colored blush for example. The bartenders onboard were all pretty good, quick with a drink and a smile. The roaming bar service waiters, on the other hand, were annoying and rude. While you ate lunch or lay out on deck, it wasn't unusual to have the same person ask you 5+ times if you wanted a drink. You basically had to tell them to leave you alone to get them to stop.

The staff at the concierge desk were much friendlier and generally more helpful than most. They took care of anything that came up with a smile, so no complaints there.

The casino staff, however, needs a lot of work. I've never seen a group of dealers so unwilling to work as I did here. Dealers at empty tables would flat out refuse to deal, instead sending me to tables across the room that were basically full. You have to watch every thing these dealers do, as well. They would frequently make mistakes, such as pulling money off the table on a push, or not paying a blackjack at 3 to 2. When you called their mistakes, you got a scowl and some sort of rude under-breath verbal response. All of the dealers were Romanian, along with the pit bosses---so complaining did little good. In the majority of complaints I witnessed (there were many, including my own)—the pit bosses would wave off the complaint and even smile at the offending dealer, as though to say they found the whole affair funny. Service was terrible in everyway. Dealers would make rude remarks to players, such as "Make up you mind.", or "Are you stupid?" when a new player made a strategic mistake (splitting 10's for instance) for example. I've never seen such behavior so rampant throughout a casino. After two days, I quit walking in at all. If you are a card player---do not book this boat!!!

The entertainment crew, which I will cover in detail below, was friendly though a bit pushy. If you chose not to participate in an activity, they would often stand in your way, or literally pull you out of the crowd. I understand trying to get everyone to participate, but trying to force people to jump in is ridiculous.

Finally, I can end this part with the one service highlight we experienced while onboard. Our cabin steward, Michael, was fantastic in every way. He was very quick to fulfill requests, kept the room immaculate, was constantly smiling, and makes on heck of a swan with a towel! Many times, after returning angry from the shady casino, or another lackluster show, it was Michael's little touches to the room that instantly made us smile again. Thanks, Michael.

To sum it up, Costa is light years behind the other cruise lines when it comes to service. I experienced everything from incompetence, to downright hostility from members of the crew—something that should never happen. Another problem worth mentioning is the language barrier. The English social host barely spoke the language, and many crew members only had a rudimentary command at best. I would not be surprised by this sailing out of Italy but coming from Ft. Lauderdale—I expect my language to be given the same respect as those of mainland Europe. This was simply not the case. It is one thing to have an international flavor to your boat, and another to flat out butcher the native language of the country from which many of your guests are from. German guests had a German host, Spanish guests had a Spanish host, French guests had a French host---only English speaking guests were stuck with an Italian hostess whose disinterest in our language shown through every time. Costa rates a D- here, saved from an F by the efforts of one crewmember. Well done Michael.

As I mentioned above, the entertainment crew onboard was friendly, but very pushy. I had a chance to talk with a few of them, and found out that most were on their first cruise contract. Perhaps with experience, they will learn more effective ways to get voluntary participation in events rather than forcing the issue. The activities themselves were ok at best---I had high hopes for the German Sausage and Beer Festival, only to find it was little more than a way for the ship to sell high priced German brews. "Sausages" were little more than cheap hot dogs on a bun. No Brats, no sauerkraut, no traditional German music, nada. Just an obnoxious host constantly yelling "Get a beeeeeer! And sausaaaaage!" It was pretty lame. Other activities followed suit---and got little participation from anyone. One event that was a hit, Karaoke was a hit—but was ended just as everyone was starting to have a good time. I understand keeping a schedule, but this was the last event planned for the day and it was the first smash during the entire trip! Let it go for a bit! I think in time this bunch will get better, but as of right now they are the worst group I've seen.

Shows were bland, if not flat out bad. The jugglers frequently dropped their items (maybe because of all that rocking I mentioned earlier), and the singers seemed tone-deaf. There was a comedian who was decent, and the dancers were very good. But the production values were just not there. Maybe I am spoiled by the incredible shows onboard the RCL and Carnival lines, maybe these guys are just terrible. I think everyone would have to decide for themselves on this one.

Lounge musicians ranged from terrific to horrible. At the aft lounge, a violinist impressed us each night before dinner—as did a singer who belted out great songs from Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Jimmy Buffet. But the forward lounge acts were not so great. Singers used karaoke-like machines for background music and would often get un-synched with the music. It was sort of funny, but disappointing when you wanted to get a drink and listen to some good music.

Dancing onboard was basically limited to the aft lounge, where the best music was found. The ship has a neat two-level disco, but most nights it was a complete graveyard. Other nights it was a place for teens only---we pretty much ignored the place. Overall, I have to give another low grade here---D. The shows were mostly bad, the entertainment crew was inexperienced and pushy, and lounge music was hit or miss. If you are the type who enjoys Vegas-style shows, or great lounge music—skip this boat. If you like constant activities that are fun and interesting, you too should take a pass. That is why we ended up watching television so much—there was literally nothing else to do. And that is very, very sad. Make that a D-.

Ah, the food. I read the Finelli's account of the ‘fine cuisine' onboard and have come to the conclusion that they were either on another boat, or crazy. It was uniformly terrible. Breakfast items included beans, eggs with tomato, eggs with mushrooms, eggs with ‘herbs', cold waffles, rock hard French toast, watered down juice, and stale pastries etc. Lunch consisted of bland sandwiches, undercooked fish, tasteless hamburgers, pizza without anything on top, pasta that was either too bland or too cheesy, or obvious leftovers from the previous night's dinner. Speaking of which...

Dinner was a hit or miss (a reoccurring theme onboard) affair. At times I really enjoyed the food. Beef dishes were mostly good, as were the pasta offerings. But fish entrees were terrible each time I tried them, soups were disgusting affairs (colored water was the term we came up with), and the desserts were usually left on the table with only a bite taken out. I understand that the challenge of feeding 1300 people at a time, but is that any excuse for bland, uninspired food that isn't fresh? I have been aboard ships with 1000 more passengers and always found the food outstanding. Here, they use instant pudding for the crème bulle and cheap ice cream found in high school cafeterias for the baked Alaska. It was common to see tables go through 3-4 items before finding something they could stomach. And lobster was never served. First time in eight cruises that has happened—instead they served cheap crab that didn't even compare to the stuff you get at your local Red Lobster.

Not once in the entire week did we eat something that made us say "Wow!" Mostly we were just relieved when we found something we could half way enjoy. Often we just went hungry, or ate some fruit. Remember—I'm not a picky eater, and yet I lost 4 pounds in the week I spent aboard the Mediterranea. Incredible.

Don't let the fancy names of the food fool you, it was the absolute low point of our cruise aboard this ship. Enough folks have said the same thing (along with sources such as Frommers) to validate my opinion. If you want to lose weight on your vacation, then by all means book this ship immediately. Otherwise, take my grade F, to heart.

Another botched affair, which by this time was no surprise. We were told to meet at 7:00 a.m. in the Osiris Theatre for immediate disembarkation (we had opted for the self-assist method, granted only to U.S. citizens.). By 7:30 a.m. we were still waiting. No one ever told us what the hold up was, or offered any information about how much longer we would have to wait. We had skipped breakfast in the hopes of getting off early and heading home, but no such luck. At 7:45 a.m. we were finally told we could leave. Once off the boat, the procedure went smoothly, although that should be attributed to U.S. Customs officials and not the cruise line.

Closing Comments
By now it is probably apparent that I was not impressed by the Costa Mediterranea. It wasn't any one thing that caused me to dislike this boat so much, but rather so many little things coming together. Bad food, bad service in all but one area, and lack of things to do pretty much sum up the experience we had while onboard. Perhaps some of this is attributed to our younger age—I would say that 80% of the passengers onboard where 50+. But I have been on ships before that were catered to an older clientele and still had a great time. Not here. Another problem is the language barrier. It is one thing to have trouble conversing with your fellow passengers, and totally another to be unable to communicate with crew members. But that is exactly what happened here. Do not believe the published guides that tell you to expect a predominantly American crowd while sailing in the Caribbean. It simply isn't the case. Since Costa does all of their advertising in Europe, it doesn't matter where you get on at, you can expect a mostly European crowd. In some ways, maybe that is a plus—but when they are old Europeans with no interest in talking to you, well it is frustrating to say the least.

Lack of things to do while onboard were made worse by a cancelled stop at Grand Cayman (I would avoid any cruise with this port on the list, as crewmembers explained this was the 3rd time in a month the stop was cancelled). In summary, I've never in eight cruises sat in my cabin wondering what to do next. I did many times on this voyage. I've never been hungry on a cruise ship. I was many times on this ship. I've never been insulted by the behavior of crewmembers before. I was daily while on this cruise. I've never had a problem communicating with hotel staff before. I gave up after a couple of days here. I've never been ready to go home while on a cruise. I couldn't wait to get off and go home by day 5. I've never been told that above average = excellent, as I was told by our somewhat English speaking hostess, Melanie, during the disembarkation meeting. She actually tried to convince us that we had a great time, the service was impeccable, and the food delicious. I'm not kidding, she actually told us all of that. Then she explained that if we felt we had an above average cruise, we should mark excellent in each of the boxes on the comment form. I could not believe what I heard. There are several boxes on this card – excellent, very good, good, fair, and poor. Logic would say that above average = good or very good. Apparently not to this staff, who strive for nothing more than "Okay". It really summed up our experience.

I hate to be the negative person, and I know the adage that there is no such thing as a bad cruise. And I wouldn't say this was a totally bad cruise, but certainly not what I expected by a Carnival-affiliated line that is considered the leader in the industry in Europe. So many things disappointed us, that I could probably write another 7 pages. Costa simply does not compare to other cruise lines sailing out of the U.S. Perhaps in Europe, where competition is not nearly as fierce, they match up ok, but not in the warm waters of the Caribbean. No way. I was attracted to the line by the prices being nearly half of competitors like RCL, NCL and Carnival. But the lesson of "you get what you pay for" truly came through here. If you are on a budget and attracted by the low price---push your vacation back, save some more money and go on another line. Trust me on this. My wife is basically turned off to cruising now because of her experience on this ship. When I was studying reviews, just as you are now, I figured that the many negative reviews out there were just people who didn't know how to have a good time. I was wrong, very wrong. Going on a cruise is a rare treat for most of us, so please do not make the same mistake as me and waste the experience on a mediocre ship. You deserve better.

Overall Grade: D