Costa Cruises invited me on almost back-to-back European cruises, and I learned a lot. I visited some of the most desirable and wonderful cruise ports (Rome, Barcelona, Istanbul, Athens), and I was also one of under 25 people onboard from the United States. Talk about an immersive vacation! I’ve cruised a lot, and never had I been in situations where English was not the primary language or not spoken at all and guess what? It was actually cool not having the upper hand for a change.
Here are nine tips for cruising the Mediterranean with Costa that will ease your apprehension and help you get the most out of your cruise vacation.
1. Expect Full Immersion
To reiterate. Costa Cruises will take you a bit out of your comfort zone if you are from the U.S. You will be fully immersed in a group of like-minded cruise-loving multicultural passengers, where there will sometimes be a language barrier. Of course, you won’t have trouble finding menus and newsletters in English, but often, activities are only in Italian (this is an Italian cruise line) and French. There are also a handful of other languages, too.
On my cruises, Costa was just starting itineraries, and they hadn’t been back to work after COVID for very long. The ships were only running at about 33-60 percent capacity, which meant that the cruise tours and excursions were limited. Remember that Costa cruise excursions are in different languages, more so than any other cruise I’ve been on.
Once, I had to take a port excursion in Barcelona that was in two different languages, neither of which was in English. I had been there before and just wanted to get better pictures, so I took my chances and went anyway. One of the two tour guides spoke a bit of English, so he could advise when and where to meet during our free time. I couldn’t understand any of the narrated details, but I got what I came for.
Another time, we had three different languages on our bus and tour. That meant the times spent in churches and points of interest were longer than expected, as the guide had to switch hats and explain the scenery to each group, but I took that time to wander around on my own and take pictures.
2. We’re Not In Kansas Anymore
Being an American on a European-based cruise ship means adjusting to things the way they do them in said country, which in this case is Italy. Dinner times in the main dining room were 7:00 p.m. for the early seating and 9:30 p.m. for the late seating. The first night I went to the main dining room with a group of other cruise friends; we didn’t leave until almost midnight. I’m an American. We eat around 6 p.m., so that took some getting used to.
Pro Tip: There is no dinner buffet on Costa Cruises. The reason being is that Italians prefer to make the evening meal all about family and sitting down together as an experience, so to speak, rather than quick service.
There are lots of other restaurant options, many of which require an additional fee. We dined at our favorite restaurants (namely Heineken Star Club & Bistro) at earlier times on most nights.
Nightlife is a big part of Italian culture, so expect the ship to get rockin’ around 11 p.m. and last until the wee hours of the night. That doesn’t mean loud, obnoxious drunks running around; quite the opposite. There were people of all ages (some even old enough to be my grandmother) dancing and having a grand time. Watching the Europeans enjoy the ship’s activities, DJs, dance parties, and festivities was a beautiful thing.
Pro Tip: I never had trouble understanding the Costa staff, nor did they have difficulty understanding me. I did encounter someone in the reception area who didn’t speak English, but she kindly and quickly got a colleague to answer my question.
3. Add On The Pre Or Post Cruise
If you are flying from the United States, it is a long way to Europe. I’m on the West Coast and flew to Rome once and Istanbul another. That is an 18-22 hour day, depending on flight connections. I highly recommend you add on Costa’s pre and post-cruise days. Not only will it give you time to sightsee on your own in the embarkation city, but the price for the extension is reasonable. This goes for after the cruise, as well.
In Rome, we disembarked at 8 a.m. But, if you were staying for the post-cruise, you could hang out on the ship and enjoy the food, pool, and activities before being bussed to the fantastic hotel. We did have to leave our stateroom, though. The hotel was within walking distance of the Vatican, Trevi Fountain, and the Pantheon. Transfers were included.
We didn’t leave the ship until around 1 p.m. on our Istanbul disembarkation. It was fantastic having Costa Venezia almost all to ourselves. We had complimentary meals, our beverage cards still worked, and we just enjoyed the scenery. I felt it added some much-needed relaxation before our taxing trip back home.
4. Book Your Restaurant Reservations Early
Costa Cruises include the main dining room and buffet with your cruise. The other restaurants (there is an abundance) have a fee associated with them. It could be $5-$10 for a great meal in the Heineken Bar, $2 for the fries my daughter and I were addicted to daily, $3 for a bowl of gelato, a nutella and banana crepe, or $25-$30 for a four-course hibachi style meal.
I recommend you research the Costa Cruises website (or go to my website for a Costa food and restaurant guide) and check Cruise Critic to see what’s available. You can book some restaurants online before your cruise. If that isn’t an option, book them as soon as you board the ship. That way, you can be sure to eat at all the places you want to try; they will fill up.
5. Familiarize Yourself With The Thermal Spa
Some people like me are spa junkies, and others shy away from the spa. If you aren’t familiar with the thermal suite, you should check it out. There will be a free walk-through on the day of embarkation.
Pro Tip: New to the spa? A hot stone massage is good for first-timers.
You can purchase a day or a week-long thermal suite pass to enjoy its offerings in the Solemio Spa. The amenities include heated mosaic chaise loungers (a personal fave), rainfall showers, a fabulous sauna and steam room, a huge thermal pool, and… get this… a snow room.
Yep, my Costa Toscana cruise ship had a snow room with temperatures below freezing, where you could step inside to get cooled off instantly. I’m not a fan of cold, wintery weather at any time, but for some reason, after being in the hot thermal pool every day, it was a refreshing way to end my spa day. Can you imagine how incredible the photos were?
I can’t remember the exact cost, though I think it was $50 per day or $199 per week-long cruise. However, they had a special deal where you could get the weekly pass and spa service for $130. I always schedule a facial or body treatment, which is nearly the same price, so this was a major score for me.
Pro Tip: The thermal pool and heated lounger area have floor-to-ceiling windows, an excellent place for ultimate relaxation and watching the world go by.
6. Using The Costa App
Costa has a snazzy smartphone app to keep track of your cruise days, reservations, and such. However, the app was unavailable for those from the United States during my cruises. Fingers crossed they will get that fixed soon.
7. Bring A Converter
Our cruise stateroom had USB plug-ins and European outlets (220-240) but no 110-volt outlets (standard American). Luckily, we brought a plug adapter converter from home.
8. Board At Multiple Locations
You can board Costa ships at multiple locations for the same cruise. Costa uses a ferry schedule, which is the term to describe making your round-trip cruise from multiple ports that the itinerary visits. So, if you’d rather spend more time in Naples or Savona, you could do the Mediterranean cruise I did from Rome, but board and disembark there.
9. Bring The Family
Multigenerational cruises are the best; I’ve experienced them and made family memories for years. Costa has the Squok (the name of the kid programs) Restaurant for families traveling with children. Though I didn’t have my granddaughter on these cruises, I would have loved a family outing that catered to her age group.
Fun Fact: Carnival Cruises is bringing the Costa Venezia ship to North America for cruises sailing from New York starting in 2023. The Costa Firenze will follow in 2024 for Long Beach itineraries.
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