Review of the Costa Classica

We have recently returned from the 2/29/92 sailing of the Costa Classica, which was the sixth sailing of the ship. The itinerary was the Eastern one--from Ft. Lauderdale on Saturday, almost 2 full days at sea, Monday evening in San Juan, Tuesday in St. Thomas, Wednesday in St. Martin, Thursday and Friday at sea, then Saturday back to Lauderdale. We loved the itinerary, with almost four full days at sea and found the trip the most restful of any of our nine cruises, since we had been to all the ports before. We won't be specifically talking about the ports, as they are the standard eastern ones. If you have any specific questions about the ports, please feel free to ask.

For comparison, following are the ships we have sailed before--NCL Seaward, NCL Sunward II, Carnival Celebration, Dolphin SeaBreeze, Regent Star, Regent Sun, Carnival Fantasy, Crown Princess.

EMBARKATION--This certainly could have run more smoothly and with not that big a change, as far as we could see. Representatives from Costa met us at the airport. We claimed our luggage, whereupon Costa reps placed all baggage on large baggage carts. Thereafter, Costa reps led passengers to the busses. This is where things went awry. You were not required to deal with your luggage after you initially claimed it at the baggage claim. You did not have to worry whether your bags made the same bus as you did. However, luggage was loaded on the same bus as the passengers. It took an extraordinarily long time for the bus drivers to load the bags on the bus (underneath the bus, in luggage compartments). It was over an hour from when we claimed our luggage until we got onto a bus, primarily because we missed the first bus, then we had to wait while the bus driver loaded the first bus with luggage before leaving. Apparently, we were relatively unlucky, as we checked with at least four other couples, who all said that they were on the bus within 30 minutes of claiming luggage at the airport. Overall, it seemed to us that things would have run much more smoothly and quickly if the luggage was loaded on separate trucks and transported separately from the passengers.

Once at the cruise terminal, passengers were taken into one room to have a seat, and then waited there until the room where check-in was done was relatively clear. There were around 10 check in clerks, and check in lines were divided by your cabin number. At check-in, we were issued our cruise card, which was plastic, like a credit card. Much better than some of the standard paper ones, and much more resistant to water. One very good idea, which we had not seen previously, is that at check-in, clerks took an impression of your credit card to charge your shipboard purchases. Therefore it was not necessary to stand in line once on board just to sign up for the drink card. All purchases on board ship could be charged to the room. Credit cards accepted for the "cruise card" were Visa, Mastercard and American Express. Shops took AmEx, although I don't know about any other charge cards. Except for the last FULL day (in which you had to pay cash, which was kind of a pain), drinks had to be charged to the room.

Once on board ship, there was supposed to be a card with your table seating arrangement in the cabin. However, when we got on board (which was approximately 3 P.M.), they had apparently not been finished yet, even though the table assignments had in fact been made. Everyone therefore headed to the Puccini Ballroom to get their table assignments, thinking that they had not yet been made. My husband, who is an enterprising person, approached one individual who was standing on the side, to find out if he could confirm our second seating reservation. Finding that we did in fact have second seating, we could have cared less from there. Therefore he did not stand in line further. Thereafter, when our table reservations appeared in the cabin around 5 P.M., we were satisfied with our second seating and in fact, had a nice table. More about food and service later.

CABIN--We had an outside cabin on Venice deck, with a queen bed. The bed was a regular queen, not two twins pushed together, and seemed to be a regular queen sized bed to us. Cabin layout was as follows: Entering the cabin, to the left was a closet, with half rack for clothes, four small drawers underneath, then a full hanging rack to the right of that, with a shelf on top all the way across. To the right of that, there was a large cabinet at the top for life jackets (which we removed and put under the bed and used the space for clothing). Under that, the safe (which was relatively large--electronic, as opposed to a dial-type safe, with a 6-number combination which you determined yourself), under that, apparently (?) a set of four trays to use when ordering room service, and under that, 3 small drawers. To the right as you entered the room was the bathroom, which is the nicest bathroom I have seen for a standard cabin. There was a marble vanity with 1 sink, around 4 feet long, stretching the whole side of the bathroom. Cruise line provided 2 small bottles each of bath gel, shampoo, and hand creme. These were NOT replaced by our cabin stewardess during the trip, although I did not ask for refills. I presume that these would have been provided if I had asked for same. Towels were light green, not standard white, as on most ships (more on the subject of GREEN later), and much larger than on other ships. Towels provided were two large bathtowels, a bathmat, 2 hand towels, and 2 washcloths. Shower was the European type--with the nozzle coming loose for a hand-held shower. Shower was small, but adequate. The shower was basically circular, and we had some difficulty securing the shower curtain. A hook to secure the shower curtain around the stall would be a good addition. There was no line in the bathroom for swimsuits, etc., although they could be hung up on the metal bar which ran the full length of the marble vanity. Two items which I regarded as an oddity, and not necessarily an inconvenience, there was no specific place provided for the kleenexes (the box was just sitting on the vanity), or, more importantly, no indentation or holder for the soap. It wasn't really an inconvenience, it was just odd that there was no place to put the soap.

The room was relatively large, with the closets to the left, as stated, and bathroom to the right, then you entered into the bedroom per se. To the left and against the wall of the closet was the TV, around 12 inch TV. There were several channels, one which was the Costa channel, and played shore excursion talks, debarkation talks, etc., and when not playing those, gave a list of what was on the other channels. Unfortunately, the radio was not working. Apparently, they have been having problems with that and was not working yet. One channel was movies in English, one seemed to be old TV shows, and the 4th was a channel which showed U.S. movies, but dubbed in Italian or German, etc. The other channel, which was sometimes not available, rotated between CNN Headline News and the big three networks.

We ordered room service twice. Once, for breakfast, and meal was delivered within the 1/2 hour time frame specified. The items ordered were delivered, and coffee was hot. Items available for breakfast from room service were juice, coffee, tea, danish, croissants, and cereal. The only other items available from room service were a cheese tray, a ham and cheese sandwich, a corned beef sandwich, a roast beef sandwich, and a prosciutto sandwich. I ordered the cheese tray one afternoon and it was delivered within 20 minutes.

On the short wall backing up to the bathroom (from the bedroom side), there was a small vanity with a stool, a mirror and two small drawers. On either side of the bed were two SMALL bedside tables, which had a small drawer. However, they appeared to be useless to me, other than to put your glasses or watch or small travel alarm on. We used one bedside table for storing used film. It could only hold around 10 rolls. All windows in the cabins in the Classica are "portholes", although they are around 2 1/2 feet across. There were two chairs with a small table between in front of the window. Directly under the window was a counter which ran the entire width of the cabin. In the middle of the counter was a pull-down door, which opened to a mesh basket. I have no idea what it was designed for, but we used it for dirty clothes, and it worked very well.

FOOD AND SERVICE--We had heard many complaints on the BB regarding food and service on the Classica and were therefore apprehensive in that respect. However, we were very pleasantly surprised, particularly with food and service in the dining room. There had been some staffing and turnover problems with dining room staff, and this was evident at our table. Our "waiter" had been a busboy the previous week and go what he had been told was a temporary promotion for the week. He was an excellent waiter, however. He was very personable and very knowledgeable about the menus, i.e., he knew which items were good and which were not so good on the menu. He and the busboy worked together admirably, particularly in view of the fact that the busboy was working under someone who had been his peer the week before. We learned on the last night that the waiter had been permanently promoted to waiter, in some part because of our table's constant praising of his efforts to the head waiter.

Our head waiter was on his first cruise with the ship, but had been a waiter with Costa for many years. Despite the newness of these people to their positions (or maybe because of it?) we had the best service of any ship to date in the dining room, in terms of promptness of food delivery, refilling water glasses and coffee cups, removing dirty dishes, etc. The waiter, busboy AND head waiter all took it upon themselves to make sure we had excellent service. Our head waiter even cleared dirty dishes from time to time and served some of the plates. There were a lot more head waiters on the Classica than on other ships we have sailed--12 for the dining room. Our head waiter became a good friend, as well as preparing an absolutely fabulous (different) pasta dish each evening, along with special desserts on, I believe, three nights.

We had also seen on the BB that the chef was fired after about the first week and the chef from the Horizon hired. We thought presentation and food quality was excellent. Pastas and desserts were fabulous. Pastas were so much above the quality of those offered on our September cruise on the Crown Princess as to not be in the same league. Other entrees varied, usually good, although sometimes fish dishes were overcooked, as they often are on ships. Desserts were varied and wonderful.

Menu selection in the buffet restaurant, particularly at lunch, was not what it should be. There was a different pasta available every day at lunch and they were uniformly great. However, other than that, the luncheon menus varied little from day to day, with the standard hamburger/hot dog usually being supplemented by only one or two other hot items. There was usually two kinds of ice cream available at the lunch buffets, pistachio and one other kind.

MIDNIGHT BUFFETS--We can't say that much with authority about the midnight buffets, since we only attended twice. We had second seating dinner, and almost always had the pasta dish in addition to the regular entre' plus, of course, the dessert. Therefore, even though we usually make a big deal of midnight buffets, the very thought of more food around an hour and a half after finishing dinner was revolting. One night that we did attend, the midnight buffet was in the main dining room and was basically all desserts, except for some assorted fruit. It was wonderful! The array of desserts was amazing and everything which we had was delicious. One thing which really nice was that there was an entire table of diabetic sweets! The buffet was arranged over several tables and there was no problem with long lines. The only other buffet which we attended was held in the main outdoor/indoor buffet area up on deck. Offerings that night included chicken, pasta, desserts and fresh fruit. On that evening also, there seemed to be very few lines.

There were two lines in the main indoor/outdoor buffet up on deck and we never waited in a line more than a dozen or so deep, and usually only a few people were in line in front of us. Buffet lines seemed to be basically well designed and the (plastic) plates, bowls and cups all had the same, attractive circular design. The outdoor section of the cafe (called the Alfresco Cafe', of course) was a really wonderful place to sit. It was a beautiful teakwood deck, about 90 percent of which was covered with a fabric sun screen. Normally there was very little wind here and it was a wonderful place to eat breakfast or lunch on deck.

One thing which was a major irritation to me, which I hope was just a matter of supplies not yet being delivered, was the glasses in the buffet restaurant. The only glass available in the buffet restaurant was a small juice glass. Obviously, this works great for orange juice, not so well for iced tea. Since the juice glasses were so small, most people used the plastic (but attractive) coffee cups for cold beverages also. Which means that the buffet lines regularly ran out of coffee cups. Unfortunately, this also happened at breakfast, so it seemed that there either were problems with the dishwashers or there weren't enough cups, period. Hopefully, this is a shake-down kind of problem which will be corrected soon.

DESIGN AND DECOR--My impression of the ship was that the designer wished to emphasize circles, particularly in window design, not large, square windows. As a result, all cabin windows, windows in the dining room, in the coffee bar and the wine bar, and in the indoor/outdoor buffet area were round. The design seemed to be that windows on the sides of the ship were round, windows on the bow and stern were square. Overall this gave the impression that many of the public rooms were not nearly as light as they would have been, had the design called for large, square windows.

One place which it seemed to us that the designer had goofed was the indoor section of the indoor/outdoor buffet. For some inexplicable reason, which we determined to be that the designer forgot until he was almost done, that he had to put lifeboats somewhere, lifeboats hung in front of the windows of the indoor buffet. Therefore, there was absolutely no view of the sea from the room. Also, since the windows were relatively small (round) to begin with, it made the room darker.

I think that these round windows are one of the main reasons why the coffee bar and the wine bar were not used much. Those rooms are too dark during the day and offer almost no view of the sea. Therefore, people do not elect to spend their time there. One word here about the wine bar. It was advertised in the brochure as a pizza restaurant. A pizza restaurant it was NOT. I wandered in there one day, to find the place empty, as usual. I questioned the bar waitress about how I could obtain some pizza. I particularly enjoyed the pizza restaurant on the Crown Princess last fall, and hoped to repeat that experience on the Classica. The lady behind the bar reported that (provided I ordered a drink!!!), she would be happy to MICROWAVE me a piece of pizza. Needless to say, I told her "no thank you". It's odd that Costa should do this on this ship, as many other passengers we talked to indicated the other Costa ships had a real pizza restaurant and were disappointed also.

One thing which I noted and objected to somewhat was the almost continuous use of green. Let me say first that green is my least favorite color. Stairwells, which ran basically all the way from deck 3 to deck 12 (and which were open all the way, which made some kind of interesting photo opportunities) were all panelled with a light green material which looked like marble but probably was not. Our cabin was all in shades of green. I'm ashamed to say I didn't think to check the other cabins for the presence of green bedspreads, carpets, etc. The main bar--which again, was a very attractive room over all, was almost exclusively shades of green. The indoor/outdoor buffet had (very comfortable) wicker chairs, with nice comfy cushions, again, green.

The dining room had green walls, light yellow chairs, with the now infamous marble floor. Regarding that matter, we had a table for six at the right rear of the dining room, almost to the galley. We noted the noise level, but we certainly never had any problems communicating with our tablemates. However, if there were any plates dropped by any of the waiters, busboys, etc., certainly everyone in the dining room knew it immediately. There were no dividers at all in the dining room and no different levels, as on many ships, to break up the room. I think those factors contributed to what I considered to be a higher than normal noise level, but not unacceptable.

Our opinion of the design of the ship is one area in which Eric and I differed. Eric generally liked the decor and design and I thought it was kind of plain. The decor reminded me a lot of several older ships that I had sailed on--rather plain and unpretentious. The only areas of the decor that I absolutely did not like were the main lobby area and the stairwells. The main lobby by the purser's desk contained only a large round metal sculpture, sitting in the middle of a marble floor. There was an atrium of sorts coming up from that sculpture up to the main bar area. I thought that was a waste, as I did not want to come up next to that sculpture at ground level, let alone look down on it from three levels above!

The Colosseo Showroom is a very nice room and designed much differently from normal showrooms on other ships. There was a very steep pitch of the seats, which made for generally excellent sightlines. The Puccini Ballroom is a beautiful room with a marble bar and a wall of windows aft. This was a wonderful place to sit and watch the ocean, as it was generally deserted during the day. The Galileo Club and Observatory is patterned after RCCL's distinctive 360 degree bars. This is a wonderful place to sit and watch a sunset with an appropriate libation.

The pool deck was rather different from other ships and very nice. The center area of the ship contained one pool and the fountain. Down the center and to both sides, against the wall of windows facing the sea, were small tables with chairs. These chairs were wicker and metal, and I thought, uncomfortable. Between the rows of tables were the lounge chairs. Roughly half of the lounge chairs were flat, which is to say that the backs were not adjustable. Deck attendants brought very comfortable cushions, along with neck pillows, for anyone who wanted them. However, I doubt anyone would have used the neck pillows if the chairs had all been adjustable. The pool aft of the ship was surrounded by terraced teak decks and was very nice also. There were two whirlpools aft, behind the pool. For families, (which there were very few of on this trip), both pools were at least 6 feet deep all over and there was no wading pool at all.

The spa, fitness center, health bar and beauty center occupied one of the most attractive areas forward of the ship. The fitness center was very well equipped, with a full range of circuit weight machines, three bicycles, three stairmasters, and two rowing machines, along with a small aerobics area. The machines face a full wall of windows on the sea. The only problem with this arrangement is that, with the sun streaming in those windows, it gets much too hot to exercise there! We went in for a workout on the first day around 11 A.M. and stopped before we completed our normal workout, as it was very hot. To be fair, we probably visited at the warmest part of the day, and did not visit the area again, say in the evening, to find out whether the heat was a problem at that time. There were no fans in evidence, which would have helped to alleviate the problem. However, water was available.

We did not pay to use the spa facilities, which meant that you could not use either the sauna or the indoor whirlpool. I do not know how much the spa was used, as we did not get back up to the area after the first day. The juice bar was a really attractive sitting area, with wonderful views of the sea, but we did not have anything to drink there, as they served nothing alcoholic! The beauty salon seemed to be well equipped and had really wonderful windows looking out on the sea.

BAR SERVICE--As described earlier, service in the dining room was wonderful. Bar service was one area which needed improving. One of the bartenders told us that they were short on bartenders. I could believe this, as the bartenders often appeared to be overworked. Bar service (or lack thereof) provided the only really aggravating episode of the otherwise very restful week. On Thursday evening around 12:30 A.M., we were in the Casino, along with at least 30 other people. The bartender in the casino CLOSED the bar, with all those gamblers still there, and told us that the roving bar waitresses would be around to serve us. We then went down to the main bar, which then CLOSED at 1 A.M., again with at least 30 people sitting in the vicinity of the bar and more just coming out of the midnight buffet. We were told that the Puccini Ballroom (at which there was nothing going on at all!) was open for drinks, as well as the disco. We were amazed that a money-making proposition like the bar would close with potential customers sitting there. I would love to have an explanation for this one.

ENTERTAINMENT--We saw the production show in the main showroom only one night. We found nothing to complain of with that show and enjoyed it thoroughly. It just seemed that other nights we either ended up in the casino, up on deck, in the bar or in the Puccini ballroom, listening to the caribbean band. Live entertainment, other than the shows, consisted of a pianist in the main bar (who was good, but I thought played music too old for my taste), the orchestra and the caribbean band. The latter was a little different than the normal steel band, as they also played light rock tunes. They were very enjoyable. The cruise director was very young, although he seemed to be a very nice fellow, even though he told some really awful jokes. There seemed to be very little of the normal "pool games" nonsense, which I did not miss at all.

Wednesday night up on deck was Caribbean night, with the band playing, limbo contests, conga lines, etc. It was great fun. Thursday night was "New Year's Eve", with noisemakers, hats, streamers, and champagne. Some of the statutes in the main bar area looked funny with streamers hanging from them!

The best night, we thought, was TOGA, TOGA, TOGA! The line provides a toga, as opposed to a sheet, but some opted to pull the sheet off their bed and use it instead! The toga for the women is a one-shoulder dress with gold elastic belt. For the men, toga was a little shorter than for women, with a red sash. The only problem with the get-up is that it is extremely see-through. It was kind of interesting walking around to see what people had on underneath those things, as there were not many that dared to go without a pair of shorts or pants on underneath. There was no charge for the togas. You just picked them up at the Concierge desk and left them in the room on the last day. I would say probably around half of the passengers opted for the Toga, and those who did had a great time. I think it was a good idea to have that the last night at sea, as kind of a last fling of a good time. One of the funniest things was seeing some of the men in the casino, sitting on their casino stools with their togas still on, gambling away! Make sure that you take your camera to dinner the last night and take some pictures of yourself and your new friends in the main bar, preferably with one of the lifesize statues there. They make great memories.

IN SUMMARY--We noted some organizational problems which I hope are being addressed. To be fair, the earliest we had been on a ship after it started sailing was the Seaward, which we sailed three months after it started sailing, and it was our first cruise, so we probably would not have noticed the organizational problems we noted here. We had wonderful food and service in the dining room, but kind of indifferent bar service. Costa's "Euroluxe" concept of marketing the ship, with it's "Euroluxe" brochure prices, is a mistake, because it promises more than the ship can deliver. If they ditch the Euroluxe concept and continue the current pricing (which is basically half the Euroluxe brochure), they will place the ship in the mid price range, which is where it belongs. It should be able to compete well with other ships in that price range.

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