I’ve just disembarked a cruise on one of the biggest and most controversial cruise ships in the world where only 4% of guests spoke English.
The ship I was cruising on was the Costa Smeralda built in 2019.
Smeralda actually means “Emerald” in Italian.
The Costa Smeralda actually has the lowest Cruise Critic rating I’ve ever seen! Costa also is Cruise Critic’s overall worst-rated cruise line.
Before I booked the cruise I read different reviews, including some that said:
- There was “no entertainment”
- “Monkeys could do a better job than the crew”
- the ship was “ANTI FOOD”
A big part of cruising for me is eating, so I really hoped that wasn’t the case!
When I saw a Costa cruise advertised for £279 for a week I knew that I had to give it a go!
I wanted to find out for myself if the bad reviews were justified.
From the promotional videos I’d seen, the ship definitely looked exciting.
For £38 per night, I didn’t have huge expectations!
I knew that the cruise would be very different from cruising with American and British cruise lines.
The ship turned out to be so much better in some ways, and also so much worse than I could have imagined in others.
It definitely was an adventure.
We embarked the ship in Barcelona and set sail for 7 nights cruising the Mediterranean.
Embarkation was very easy and as soon as I stepped onto the ship I started to realise what it would mean to be cruising on an Italian cruise, from Spain.
The majority of guests around me were speaking Italian, Spanish, French or German. I’d learn as the cruise went on that there were also a lot of Portuguese and Dutch speakers too.
I hoped that we wouldn’t have any problems speaking to the staff in English and also hoped that we would be able to understand the entertainment.
It would be annoying to be on a ship where we couldn’t take part in anything!
Walking into the central Colosseo (Atrium) area was incredible, It felt so bright and light and modern.
The Colosseo, as well as being the atrium, is also a performance area in the middle of the ship where they have acrobatic shows.
Around the edges were Bars and a Café. We would often sit here during the day, and I was really impressed when walking into this space.
There was one big problem with this central, Colosseo performance area – but I don’t think you’d know from initially looking at it.
Soft Drinks Package
I headed straight to the drinks package desk onboard to buy myself a soft drinks package.
I took a Costa cruise on an older ship way back in 2018 and one of the biggest things I learnt then was that if I was ever to cruise with Costa again, I’d need a drinks package!
Costa cruises don’t even include water in the main dining room as standard – and I didn’t want to be limiting my drinks as the cruise went on.
I decided to buy the soft drinks package for €27 per day – this meant that I could have unlimited soda, juice, tea, coffee and mocktails without worrying about a big bill at the end of the cruise.
Costa Cruise Food
We embarked around lunch time and by now we were getting pretty hungry.
I was happy to find out that the main dining room was open for lunch but was nervous as I’d read so many bad reviews about Costa’s food online.
Outside the restaurant, I found one of my favourite things on the ship.
By the entrance to the restaurants and the buffet, they have hand-washing machines that literally wash your hands for you!
You just put your hands in, the water and soap spins around and the water stops when it is done.
Normally cruise ships will have some hand sanitiser near the entrance to the restaurants, or a sink if you are lucky.
I’d never seen a machine like this before. I hoped that the rest of the cruise would be this high-tech.
If I had the space and money in my house I’d definitely install one of these in the bathroom, it was cool!
Having looked at the menu, I realised that lunch was 4 courses and that the second course was always a pasta dish.
The average Italian eats 23kg of pasta per year, and apparently, 1 in 4 pasta dishes consumed worldwide are eaten in Italy!
It’s amazing how fast you can get used to eating pasta with every meal – we certainly did!
It was very loud in the main dining room and there were lots of families with young children and teens.
People were watching videos on their phones, some were face-timing people who weren’t on the cruise...
It definitely wasn’t a traditional cruise ship dining room, but it felt very relaxed and we enjoyed our meal.
The food was very good – and I hoped that it would be for the rest of the cruise
I did wonder if the rest of the cruise would be this loud but only time would tell.
After this it was time to head to our cabins, I’d booked a balcony cabin way up on deck 15 that looked down onto the promenade deck.
I had chosen to upgrade to a balcony cabin, as I received a refund from my last cruise that was cancelled whilst I was actually onboard!
To find out all about that, check out this video:
I love balcony cabins like this because I love people-watching from up here.
Having a balcony cabin was a real treat for me, and I made the most of the outside space whenever I could.!
Watching Sail-Ins and Sail-Aways from the balcony is just a wonderful experience.
To find out more about the one quirky feature in this cabin, watch the video below:
My parents paid the £279 advertised fare and had a very nice inside cabin on deck 5.
It’s a legal requirement on every cruise that you do a safety drill when you embark the ship.
Costa are a little different from most cruise lines because guests get on and off the cruise almost every day, which means that multiple musters are happening.
I quite like it because it means that not everybody is doing the muster drill at the same time on the same day.
It can be a bit confusing when you hear them announcing Muster drills you don’t have to take part in!
They hold Musters for newly embarked guests most days, once you have done yours at the start of your cruise, you never have to do another.
Many of the complaints I hear are about things like this being different from the American or British cruise lines.
The thing that confused me was that the cabin TV and App seemed to suggest that I had to watch the safety video and then take my life jacket to the muster station.
It’s been a long time since I’ve taken my life jacket to a safety drill – but I did it and the other guests did too.
All we had to do was watch a video on the TV and then check in at our muster station.
After that, we just carried our life jackets back to the cabin. Taking the life jackets seemed a bit pointless but I’m glad that Costa is taking safety seriously.
It was actually an accident on a Costa ship back in 2012, the Costa Concordia, that changed the rules around Muster Drills. Before that accident, they had to be completed within 24 hours of boarding. Now they have to happen on the first day.
First Impressions of the Ship
Wandering around the corridors and up and down the stairs made me realise just how brightly coloured the ship was.
It was bright and pretty and there were so many different styles everywhere.
Each deck was decorated in a different colour, and on the stairs were huge, classically inspired paintings.
On the handrails of the stairs, they also had braille signs.
It’s little things like Braille signage that make a huge difference in making a ship accessible to all. I wish every cruise line did this!
One of my favourite things about embarkation day is when you can finally run around the ship and explore, after doing our safety drill we decided to check out the huge promenade deck and the bars.
The bars and lounges did have proper names, but as the cruise went on I would just give them nicknames.
The bar that was really called the Mastroianni (mas-tro-ya-ne) bar, I just called the trivia bar – as this is where they did trivia.
I also found a museum onboard which was strange. It was very interesting and absolutely massive, and I’d never seen a museum on a cruise ship before.
I think the fact that they have space for this just shows how huge the ship is.
This museum showcases ‘Italy’s Finest’ with themes such as design, fashion, transportation, cinema and memorabilia.
The promenade deck was wide and went all the way around the ship.
At the back, there was a big bar with a seating area. It wasn’t really the weather for sitting outside, but my parents enjoyed a Pepsi Max there on a couple of occasions.
I did test out the chairs though and I had a look at the strange cabins that open out straight onto the promenade deck.
I have booked a cabin like this for research purposes on P&O’s Iona. It’s a controversial one for sure!
At the time of this trip, the Costa Smeralda is the 6th largest cruise ship in the world – and it definitely felt like it!
The Deck 16 Dome Area
On deck 16 we found the huge indoor dome with a pool and some very interesting see-through hot tubs down the sides.
I don’t think I’d like to sit there with everybody below looking at my bum, but plenty seemed to enjoy them!
In the evenings the dome would light up in rainbow colours and they would host parties here too, there were a couple of bars and an impressive water feature.
At this point, I had no idea how the differences in culture between the UK and Italy would affect the nightlife and bedtimes – but later in the cruise, a party here would teach me a lot about how Italians party.
While we were looking around the dome we decided that we would pick up a burger from the poolside grill called “The Salty Beach.”
This grill is a speciality dining venue of sorts because you do have to pay for the food here.
The food in the buffet and main dining room is included in the cruise fare so you don’t ever have to pay extra, but in the other restaurants there is a charge
It was only €5 for a burger, fries and a dessert and I’d much prefer to pay for a really good burger than get one for free that wasn’t nice.
(That is around $5.30 / £4.40 at the time of writing.)
On my Costa cruise back in 2018 the poolside food really was not nice at all, it was stone cold. The veggie burger that I had in the dome was amazing.
I actually went back again during the cruise to buy another because it was so good!
There were loads of seats on the side and I loved everything about this area, it was comfortable, usually quite quiet and the views were amazing.
I have read a lot of complaints about Costa where people complain that things like the poolside grill food aren’t included in the cruise fare – to be honest for the price I paid I’m amazed that there was any food included at all!
I was more than happy to spend a little extra, and that should say a lot because I really don’t do that very often...
Entertainment in the Bars
We ended the evening in the Jazz bar watching an Amy Winehouse tribute act. The service in the bars was always very fast.
Despite being so big the ship really didn’t feel too busy and we could always get a seat anywhere we wanted. (Well, apart from in the theatre and the Colisseu but at this point I didn’t know about that!)
I hadn’t found the theatre at all yet and we hadn’t explored any of the outside spaces.
The ship was so big, there were some places onboard I didn’t find until day 5!
The next morning we headed to the buffet for breakfast.
This space was absolutely huge but was quite busy when I went around 9:30am. This was probably because the buffet closes at 10am and then is completely closed until 12 noon.
There are the speciality restaurants you can pay for of course, but as far as included food goes there is none between 10am and 12 noon, or at least not any that I found. I’m pretty good at finding the food!
On sea days the buffet breakfast is open until 11am instead of 10am, so you can get up a little later for breakfast.
The buffet opening times were actually very different to the ones I’m used to on British and American cruise lines.
I found that out later when I realised what Italians count as “dinner time”.
I was always very impressed with the food in the buffet.
One complaint I see about Costa a lot is that they don’t have any included pizza but they did have mini pizzas at afternoon snack time. If you have a few of those it’s the same as a big pizza.
They also had churros at afternoon tea time which were brilliant.
The food was so much better than on my Costa cruise back in 2018.
Speaking to others onboard and people online, it seems like Costa has improved their food across all of their ships which I’m very glad about!
There was lots of choice in the buffet and it was huge, they have lots of pasta, salad, sandwiches and bread but they also would sometimes have Chinese food, Indian food, roast meats – everything!
The area with all of the desserts definitely was my favourite, that or the bread section.
The buffet was all served by the crew there is no self-service at all, which I really liked
I can’t even imagine how the crew learn the names of the different foods in so many languages!
They didn’t have table service in the buffet but they did have sections on both sides where you could get a drink.
We just showed the person working there our cruise cards and they would pour one for us.
It was usually Coke Zero, but because Costa serves Pepsi too, in some bars you would get that.
Our first port stop was in Mallorca, and our ship docked very far away from town.
Often docking far away from the town is one of the downsides of cruising on big cruise ships.
We had a lovely day walking into Palma city centre.
All in all, we walked for a little over 4 hours, but there are shuttle buses you can buy directly from the cruise line, or there is a local bus just outside the port which I’m sure is cheaper.
When we got back to the ship it was what Costa called “afternoon snack time” in the buffet. I noticed that afternoon snack time went on until 5:30pm which did seem odd to me.
For me, 5:30pm is the perfect dinner time but on a Costa cruise the buffet closes at 5:30pm and reopened at 8pm for dinner. Italians like to eat late and this affects everything about how they cruise.
Apparently, the average Italian dinner time is between 8-10pm – but in the UK it’s between 6-8pm.
We were assigned early dining in the main dining room which thankfully was a little earlier at 6:45pm
That’s right in the average UK time so maybe they knew that we were British – or maybe I requested it pre-cruise, I don’t remember...
I was taking this cruise with my family but as we had made two bookings we were assigned two different tables in the main dining room.
When we went into the main dining room we politely asked if our family could be seated together, rather than at two separate tables. It wasn’t a problem at all!
The staff were very friendly and helpful, and we were given a table for the evening and told that we would be reassigned a table together in the main dining room from the next day onwards.
It was at this meal that I realised just how incredible the staff onboard were.
They would chat with us in English, then move to the next table and speak Spanish, then French or Italian. It was mind-blowing to me and I have so much respect for people who can speak multiple languages.
I did see some other guests getting frustrated, and sometimes being quite rude when their waiter didn’t understand their very complex and odd questions.
Some of the guests let their kids just run around the restaurant the whole time!
This didn’t affect me personally, but multiple times the waiters nearly tripped over them.
Waiters on cruise ships can often be carrying 8 or 10 plates at a time, so that’s very dangerous! I think the waiters should be better protected, and that children should be better supervised.
Dinner was 4 courses and the menus were viewable on our phones. They do still have paper versions of menus if guests need them.
If you can look at the menus on your phone, that’s definitely preferred. This makes sense, it must be hard to print menus in so many different languages when you don’t really know in advance how many you will need.
They also had different menus for people who were gluten-free and I think maybe even vegan – although I didn’t see that one myself.
We always found it easy to scan the QR code and look at the menus on our phones and I liked being able to look at the menus ahead of time on the App. This meant that if I saw something I didn’t like the look of, I could go somewhere else.
The food was good, and I have put together a post with everything I ate on this cruise, and all of the menus if you are interested in that.
Don’t look if you’re hungry, but if you want to see just how much pasta I ate, the post is here:
The menus definitely are aimed at a Mediterranean diet with lots of fish and vegetables.
A lot of the complaints about Costa’s food seem to be from people that don’t understand this.
It’s bizarre to me that people would take an Italian cruise and expect British or American food, but some do. I personally really liked trying a few different things.
The Costa App
The Costa App was pretty good and actually didn’t crash at all.
We used the App for many things, including to:
- Check the daily schedule
- Look at the menus in the restaurants
- Check our onboard spend
- Message each other for free – which was amazing!
Normally on a cruise when you sail out to sea you’ll have to leave notes or use the cabin phones to contact other people.
Being able to send a message in the App like ‘I’m going to the buffet for churros’ was really helpful when on a ship that was so large
You can set your account to private but I left mine public which meant anybody could request to be my friend, I did have a couple of strange messages from other guests, but it made me laugh!
After dinner we decided to watch the acrobatic show in the main Colosseo – and it was around now that we started to notice a problem.
We arrived about 45 minutes early and were just about able to get a decent seat with a view on the top level.
The show was amazing but it was clear that you had to arrive and sit very early if you did want to see anything.
I was determined that later in the cruise I would get a seat on the lowest level, but I thought I might have to get there an hour or more early to be able to do that!
The dancers and acrobats were fantastic and the show didn’t really use any spoken words so the languages weren’t a problem. They had amazing costumes too!
I quickly got used to not being able to understand what anybody around me was saying, and in some ways, it was really nice.
It’s easier to ignore somebody talking through a show when you can’t actually understand them!
There were seats that were just facing straight at the pillars which did make me laugh! Why some of the balcony seats had extra floor space in front of them, I had no idea!
We ended up with kids sitting on the floor in front of us watching the show, and this did become a bit of a theme of the cruise.
If you don’t like cruising with kids or babies- I’ll tell you right now this is NOT the cruise line for you!
I’ve never seen so many babies in one place.
Later on, I discovered a hack of sorts for the main Colosseo area. During the day they actually used this space to rehearse and because it was just a rehearsal we could just wander up and get a great seat.
We saw lots of shows like this, and although it was a bit weird seeing people half in costume and half in their regular clothes, I loved it.
We did try to watch “The Voice” game show in the Colosseo one night.
We arrived about 30 minutes before showtime – and there was no way we could see both the judges and the singers, so we ended up moving to the edges and just watching the show on the TV because that view was better.
The shows were usually broadcast to other areas of the ship and the cabin TVs, so even if you couldn’t get a seat you could still watch it – it’s not the same but better than nothing.
One evening I arrived at the colosseum one hour early, we were able to get a seat to watch the show in the second row on the bottom level.
They did actually let us sit in the front row when the guests with the highest loyalty status who had it reserved didn’t show up.
The show is fantastic and seeing the performers from the bottom level definitely is the best because it shows you just how high they are.
I will say though that because we had already been sitting for an hour before the show started, I had such a numb bum by the end!
Also, I knew that I couldn’t go to the toilet because somebody else would have sat in my seat, still, it was worth it, and the show was great.
The public toilets onboard the Costa Smeralda are probably the best I’ve ever seen. Each one was in a different colour, and the door to get out of the toilets was contactless, which was amazing.
(It’s just contactless from the main room to the rest of the ship. It isn’t like that in the stalls so don’t worry that you’d be sitting there on the toilet and it’ll open. Those have normal door locks…)
I hope that the theatre would have a better design than the Colosseo, but I was absolutely not prepared for the reality.
I did go to see a show in the theatre the next day but I actually left early because I couldn’t see a thing!
Normally when people design theatres they put seats opposite the stage, I think that’s kind of a bare minimum of theatre design – but on this ship, they decided to put a huge staircase opposite the theatre stage and a bar.
The stage did come out into the middle for some shows but that means that almost all of the seats are facing sideways and there are very few seats where you can see everything.
When we sat in the second row of the top level we could only see the singer when they were at the back of the stage. I watched most of the show through somebody else’s phone screen!
One thing I did really like though was that I was able to film all of the shows and it felt like everybody on the ship was filming everything.
It was great for me as a cruise YouTuber to be able to film everything without anybody looking at me.
Normally, I try to be as subtle as possible, but on this cruise, I would just join the line of other people filming.
The Top Deck
At the back of the ship we came across a pirate game happening, and I braved the glass walkway which is 65 metres above sea level.
When I walked off of it a few other guests said well done to me in some other language and clapped a little which was nice, it’s amazing how much you can communicate with people without sharing a common language!
On the top, there’s also another amazing skywalk where you can look down at the sports court and the slides.
I loved everything about the outside spaces and wandering around it felt as though the ship just went on forever and ever. When you’re inside you kind of forget about the scale, but on the top deck, I realised how huge the ship was.
The daily schedule was actually pretty busy with games, live music and trivia.
The music was almost always in English and you could definitely attend every event speaking only English without any problem.
Being an English speaker it was sometimes a bit tricky to take part in Trivia – but some trivia worked better than others!
Sometimes it would be “name the person in the picture” or “name that song” which we could do easily.
Occasionally there would be a really long trivia question – and the crew would read it out in 6 or so languages! I was always very impressed by the crew…
We would often hear the crew talking to each other in English and it felt like English was the go-to language when guests and crew didn’t speak the same language.
We did experience this in a funny way when we visited Marseille later on in the cruise.
A group of French guests pushed in front of a group of Italian guests. I’m not going to repeat what was said, but the nasty words were all in English so that everybody could understand!
You’d expect that on such a big cruise ship where the cruise fare was so low that there would be minimal staff but it really didn’t feel like that.
The crew were always so friendly, and we chatted with more crew members on this cruise than normal.
I’ve been on cruises that cost double or triple the price, where the service was not as good as on the Costa Smeralda.
Costa seemed to have a good system set up in the bars where one person would take the order and somebody else would make it and bring it over. Orders were entered directly into a tablet, so there wasn’t ever any delay.
They would often bring nuts too, which I loved. I did have to pick out all of the Wasabi green peas, I hate those – don’t worry I didn’t put them back!
Some of the crew members said that they liked talking to us as they could practice their English – which was lovely
We never found anybody who couldn’t understand us, at least enough to order a drink or food anyway.
In Marseilles, there is a free shuttle bus that takes cruise guests into the city centre. You can catch it from just outside the port. There is a blue line painted on the floor for you to follow if you are worried about getting lost!
Costa charged €19 for the shuttle per person so there are big savings to be had there if you can walk outside the port gates and don’t mind waiting.
(That is around $20 or £16.75 at the time of writing.)
Of course the free shuttle can be very busy, and some people were pushing and shoving. We are very good at “queueing”- or “standing in line” – in the UK. People from some other countries seem to have no concept of this!
Good fares and Good Entertainment for Children
On a Costa cruise Peppa Pig speaks Italian – which is fun! We bumped into her a couple of times during the cruise without really meaning to…
The kids seemed like they were having a great time and Costa often have “Kids Sail Free” promotions, meaning that kids aged 2-17 sail for free if cruising in a cabin with two adults.
I liked that Costa count children as those being aged up to 17 years. Some cruise lines will charge kids adult prices as soon as they turn 13 – or even 10 – which is bonkers!
English Speaking Representative
I received a call in my cabin, from our English speaking representative, Shannon, inviting us to the loyalty show in the theatre.
Having an English speaking representative onboard was so helpful and Shannon was fantastic.
We could call her anytime if we had any questions or problems – which we did. She was always available and regularly checked with the English-speaking guests that the cruise was going well.
Our flight home from Barcelona at the end of the cruise wasn’t until the evening. Shannon let us know that we could stay on board later if we wanted to.
We were able to stay on the ship until 4pm on disembarkation day!
That was really helpful, and is a perk of sailing with a Cruise line where guests get on and off each day – rather than having just the one change-over day.
We were able to still use our soft drinks packages and eat in the restaurants at no additional charge.
This was only my second cruise with Costa but that was enough to get into the loyalty club. Being a member gave me discounts on so many things across the ship.
I usually say that cruise line loyalty is pretty pointless, but Costa have a really good system there. I saved 50% on postcards in the gift shop and more money on a speciality pizza I had later in the cruise.
Joining Costa’s loyalty program is easy, quick and worthwhile!
At the loyalty show they awarded prizes to some guests, and we had a musical performance by pianist and singer called Matthew Lee. He was great.
There was actually one person awarded a prize who had taken 175 cruises with Costa!
That is crazy and quite incredible!
As soon as the loyalty show finished, we rushed to our cabin to get changed for dinner. Here we found a note that said what our new dining room table number was.
It was formal night so I did put on a dress but even though it was formal night, I’d still describe the dress code as very relaxed.
Costa’s dress codes are more of a suggestion than an enforced code and you will see people wearing all sorts of wonderful and random things, even on formal nights.
There are no daytime dress codes at all – and the only real requirement is that guests wear shoes and a t-shirt when visiting the buffet.
…..It doesn’t actually say you need to be wearing shorts or trousers but I’d hope that that is a given!
We visited Palermo in Sicily. Palermo is one of those places where you really do have to be determined when you leave the ship.
In the port area we were asked if we wanted a taxi at least 15 times – and were also asked if we wanted to do bus tours, train tours, even tours by horse and carriage.
I do find it odd that they bother asking me if I want a taxi when I’ve already said no to 13 other identical taxis – but they are persistent I’ll give them that.
I just keep my head down, politely say “no thank you” and keep walking.
We took this cruise in January and seeing the blue skies and feeling the sun was incredible, the winters do feel very dark and long in England.
We also visited Civitavecchia, which is the port for Rome – but it’s quite a long way away from Rome itself.
We decided to stay in Civitavecchia, as we have been to Rome many times before. We just took a walk along the seafront.
We visited Savona which is Costa’s home port. We had never been to Savona before.
We went to see a Fortress built in 1542. This fortress had actually been used as a prison. We wandered back through the town, it was lovely.
Pummid’Oro Pizzeria Restaurant
I knew that there was lots of the ship that I hadn’t seen yet, and one area that I was determined to find was the pizza restaurant.
In the speciality restaurant the pizzas weren’t expensive and were very tasty.
I have to say our meal was not as good as it could have been, just because of the baby that was sat under my table for most of the meal throwing their toys all over the floor and crying.
The parents of the baby were in the restaurant too, quite far away but they didn’t seem bothered when the baby crawled out of the restaurant or under our table.
I did feel sorry for the waiters who seemed to be almost treated as babysitters as well as waiters!
White Night Parties
I did managed to stay up one night and I went to the “White Night Party” in the main dome.
I hadn’t seen much in the way of parties that Costa are famous for. That is because i definitely couldn’t be described as a night owl.
Most of the parties started at midnight, or some other time after i had gone to bed!
The sound did actually travel down to my cabin on deck 15 – which is why i was awake at 1am!
When I arrived there were lots of babies and young children on the shoulders of adults, who were busy dancing.
Other kids were in their buggies asleep by the side of the dance floor.
It was bizarre for me to see all the little kids up so late. I definitely would have been in bed at about 7pm when I was that age!
Still it is always fun to cruise with people that do things differently from how you do.