Costa Cruises invited me on almost consecutive European cruises and I learned a lot. I visited some of the most desirable and beautiful cruise ports (Rome, Barcelona, Istanbul, Athens) and was also one of less than 25 people from the United States on board. Talk about an immersive vacation! I’ve traveled extensively and have never been in situations where English wasn’t the primary language or not spoken at all, and you know what? It was actually cool not having the upper hand for once.
Here are nine tips for a Costa Mediterranean cruise that will ease your concerns and help you get the most out of your cruise vacation.
1. Expect full immersion
To repeat. If you’re from the US, Costa Cruises will take you a little bit out of your comfort zone. You will be fully immersed in a group of like-minded, cruise-loving, multi-cultural passengers who will at times have language barriers. 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 a handful of other languages as well.
On my cruises, Costa was just starting the itineraries and they hadn’t been back to work long after COVID. Ships were only about 33-60 percent full, meaning cruises and excursions were limited. Keep in mind that Costa cruise excursions are offered in multiple languages, more than any other cruise I’ve been on.
Once I had to do a port tour in Barcelona that was in two different languages, neither of which was in English. I’ve been there before and just wanted to take better pictures, so I took a chance and went anyway. One of the two tour guides spoke some English so he was able to tell us when and where to meet at our leisure. I couldn’t understand any of the details told, but I got what I wanted.
Another time we had three different languages on our bus and on our tour. This meant that the time spent at churches and sites was longer than expected as the guide had to change hats and explain the scenery to each group, but I took the time to wander around and take photos on my own.
2. We are no longer in Kansas
Being an American on a cruise ship based in Europe means adapting to the way they do things in this country, in this case Italy. Meal times in the main dining room were 7:00 p.m. for early seating and 9:30 p.m. for 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 american. We eat around 6 p.m., which took some getting used to.
Pro tip: There is no buffet dinner on Costa cruises. Because the Italians prefer to have dinner in the name of family and sitting together as an experience rather than quick service.
There are many other restaurants, many of which require an additional fee. We ate at our favorite restaurants (namely Heineken Star Club & Bistro) at earlier times most nights.
Nightlife is a big part of Italian culture, so expect the ship to be rocking around 11pm and continuing into the wee hours. That doesn’t mean loud obnoxious drunks walking around; But on the contrary. There were people of all ages (some even old enough to be my grandmother) dancing and having a great time. Seeing Europeans enjoying the ship activities, DJs, dance parties and celebrations was a beautiful thing.
Pro tip: I never had trouble understanding the Costa staff, nor did they have trouble understanding me. I met someone in the reception area who didn’t speak English but she kindly and quickly got a colleague to answer my question.
3. Add the pre or post cruise
If you’re flying from the United States, it’s a long way to Europe. I’m on the west coast and have flown to Rome once and Istanbul another time. That’s an 18-22 hour day, depending on the flight connection. I strongly recommend you to add the days before and after the Costa cruise. Not only does it give you time to tour the embarkation city on your own, but the price of the extension is reasonable. This also applies after the cruise.
In Rome we disembarked at 8 a.m. But if you stayed for the post cruise you could hang out on the ship and enjoy the food, pool and activities before being taken by coach to the amazing hotel. However, we had to leave our cabin. The hotel was within walking distance to the Vatican, Trevi Fountain and Pantheon. Transfers were included.
When we disembarked in Istanbul, we didn’t leave the ship until around 1 p.m. It was fantastic to have Costa Venezia almost to ourselves. We had free meals, our drink cards still worked and we just enjoyed the scenery. I felt it added some much needed relaxation before our tiring journey 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) come with a fee. It could be $5-10 for a great meal at the Heineken Bar, $2 for the fries my daughter and I addicted to daily, $3 for a bowl of gelato, a Nutella banana crepe, or $25-30 for a four-course, hibachi-style meal.
I recommend researching the Costa Cruises website (or searching my website for a Costa food and restaurant guide) and checking out Cruise Critic to see what’s available. You can book some restaurants online before your cruise. If this is not an option, book it 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 spa
Some people like me are spa junkies, others spa shy. If you don’t know the Thermensuite, you should check it out. There is a free inspection on the day of embarkation.
Pro tip: New to the spa? A hot stone massage is good for beginners.
You can purchase a day or week pass for the thermal suite to enjoy what the Solemio Spa has to offer. Amenities include heated mosaic chaise longues (a personal favourite), rainfall showers, a fabulous sauna and steam room, a huge thermal pool and…get that…a snow room.
Yes, my Costa Toscana cruise ship had a freezing snow room that you could step into to cool down immediately. I’m never a fan of cold winter weather, but for some reason it was a refreshing way to end my spa day after daily soaking in the hot thermal baths. Can you imagine how incredible the photos were?
I can’t remember the exact cost but I think it was $50 per day or $199 per week cruise. However, they had a special offer where you could get the weekly pass and spa service for $130. I always schedule a facial or body treatment that is almost the same price so this was a big score for me.
Pro tip: The thermal pool and heated lounging area have floor to ceiling windows, an excellent spot for ultimate relaxation and watching the world go by.
6. Use of the Costa App
Costa has a nifty smartphone app to keep track of your cruise days, reservations, and the like. However, the app was not available to travelers from the United States during my cruises. Fingers crossed they get this fixed soon.
7. Bring a converter
Our cruise cabin had USB outlets and European outlets (220-240) but no 110 volt outlets (Standard American). Luckily we brought a plug adapter converter from home.
8. Catering in several places
You can board Costa ships in more than one location for the same cruise. Costa uses a ferry schedule, which is the term used to describe your round-trip cruise from multiple ports that the itinerary visits. So if you prefer to spend more time in Naples or Savona you can do the Mediterranean cruise I did from Rome but hop on and off there.
9. Bring the family
Multi-generational cruises are the best; I experienced them and made family memories for years. Costa has the Squok restaurant (the name of the children’s program) for families traveling with children. While I did not have my granddaughter on these cruises I would have loved a family day out that catered to her age group.
fun fact: Carnival Cruises will bring Costa Venezia to North America for cruises departing from New York beginning in 2023. The Costa Firenze will follow in 2024 for Long Beach routes.
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