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9:20am on Saturday, 18th July, 2015:
This has been our third sea cruise (we went on a river cruise in 1989). The previous two were with Celebrity, but this one was with Costa. So, how do the two companies stack up?
Celebrity wins hands-down.
Costa nickel-and-dimes you. On our Celebrity cruises, if we wanted a soft drink or a tea or coffee, we could get one any time of day from assorted stations dotted about the ship or from wandering waiters. On Costa, you have to pay for every drink outside meal times — even water. Celebrity also has other stations around the ship where you can go to get snacks and free ice creams; Costa doesn't even have a place to get ice creams — and it's an Italian ship! Celebrity had free excursions round the kitchens and other normally out-of-bounds areas of the ship, whereas Costa makes you pay. Celebrity has free movies on its TV and Costa only has pay movies.
Worst of all, Costa charges €8 per person per day in "hotel services" that you don't find out about until you get your bill at the end. Well, if you read every page of the contract you'll see that they do implement a hotel service charge, but they don't say how much it is. This is outrageous: that's a fixed charge, it's unavoidable, and it should be included in the headline price for the cruise. I'm not happy about it at all.
Costa is also very bad at giving people information. Cruise ship journeys are planned in minute detail, so they know exactly what's happening to their passengers and when. Celebrity explains to its passengers well in advance what it is they need to do and when they need to do it; Costa leaves everything late and when you ask the guest relations people they deny that they know anything at all. We weren't even told where the restaurant was or given a ship map by Costa. Right now, for example, I'm waiting in a (closed) bar area because I had to get out of my cabin, er, stateroom by 8am but the bus taking me to the airport is at noon — for a 6pm flight! I could have gone and looked around the Vasa Museum if they'd organised the transfer better, but we didn't find out until 9pm last night when our bus was coming — far too late to contest the timing.
The food on Costa is good, although again I'd say Celebrity shades it in both quantity and quality. I may have formed this impression because I'm pickier than most people with my food, though, so when I see a choice of starter between seafood, seafood or mushrooms I get crosser than other people might. The waiters we got were good, though, just as friendly and helpful as on Celebrity. We had some good people on our table, too, which always helps.
The ship's layout isn't great, but that varies from ship to ship so it's not a general Costa thing. Calling a ship this dark "Luminosa" isn't going to make it brighter, though.
Tours: we only booked one in advance, a two-day extravaganza in St Petersburg. We didn't book for Helsiki, Tallinn or Stockholm. This is just as well, because almost all the English Language tours to Helsinki and Tallinn were cancelled and literally all of them were for Stockholm. I knew there were lots of nationalities aboard Costa cruises, so I expected that there would be dual-language tours; apparently there weren't, though. One person on our table at dinner had all her cruises cancelled, and found out at 9pm the previous day at the earliest and when she was collecting her tour group sticker minutes before departure at the latest. That's not good. Our St Petersburg guide said that there had been a decline in English-speaking visitors; if they keep getting their tours cancelled, I'm not surprised. If I were Italian I'd probably find nothing wrong with Costa's attitude; I'm English, though, so to me it looks like poor service you're being fleeced for.
Having more than one English language channel on the TV doesn't sound as if it should be hard, either. Celebrity has multiple channels in multiple languages; Costa has a bunch of Italian ones, but only one or two for other languages. We had BBC World News and that was that.
Oh, talking about tables at dinner (which I'm sure I was somewhere back there), on Celebrity we got to choose when to eat and whether to share a table or not. On Costa, we got no choice — it was just pure luck we got 7pm and not 9pm. We also had no choice over what cabin, er, stateroom to have: we chose the category but couldn't choose which one of those that were available to have. We only found out its number from a piece of 6-point text buiried in our boarding documents. Oh, and the Costa web site is so uninformative that even knowing the room number didnt help us, as there was no ship map (I had to look it up on another web site that carries maps of cruise ships).
Now it may sound from this that I don't exactly like Costa. That's not how it is, though: it's just not as professional as Celebrity. Although some of the other people on our table said they wouldn't travel Costa ever again, I certainly would. However, I'd look at other cruise operators doing a similar set of destinations first.
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