Costa Cruises is a line with a very troubled and very public past. There is no getting away from the fact that in 2012, the 3,780-passenger Costa Concordia ran aground, leaving more than 30 people dead. The PR fall-out was huge and, unsurprisingly, the whole industry suffered as a result.
The three years that followed have not been easy. However, while numbers have started to climb, there is still some reticence when it comes to Costa Cruises itself. In many ways that’s not surprising. The line catered for its native Italian market and was never serious competition for the likes of P&O Cruises or Royal Caribbean. However, Carnival Corporation, the parent company of Costa, was not prepared to let the line fail. Instead, they embarked on a massive fleet revitalisation programme and built the Costa Diadema, a gigantic vessel that can hold just shy of 5,000 passengers. Was it a brave move? Brendan O’Connor, of Travel Max Worldwide, went on board to see whether the ship was suitable for his customers.
We booked this cruise primarily to escape the Christmas hype, but also to experience the brand new Costa Diadema ship. We spent two nights in Barcelona before joining the vessel on December 22, 2014 and I must admit to feeling some trepidation. We had never before cruised on a ship with so many passengers, however, we went with an open mind and were determined to enjoy the holiday.
The embarkation process:
We arrived at Barcelona port early, in the company of two other passengers we had met en route from Belfast. There were few passengers around at that time so the actual check-in process was quick and efficient. We were given a numbered card to be used for the boarding process later so we decided to sit back and relax with a drink. Boarding commenced at 2pm and, considering the number of passengers involved, it was also a fairly quick process.
Once onboard, the volume of passengers passing through the lobby made it a bit chaotic, however, we quickly made our way to the lifts, found our cabin and made contact with our steward. We were impressed that our suitcases arrived soon afterwards and were soon unpacked and ready to explore the ship, and have lunch.
As a brand new ship, naturally everything was very fresh, and it soon became clear just how big it was. We did a tour to get our bearings and figure out the places we might spend our evenings. The overall décor is undoubtedly bling in style; however, we expected this and sometimes just marvelled at how much the interior designers had managed to cram in. All the public areas were large with plenty of seating so there was never any real problem; however, the Diana Lido pool always seemed to be crowded although we only ever passed through it on our way to other parts of the ship. The pool seemed to be used mainly by children and I imagine that it might be unbearably busy in the summer when the retractable roof is back.
There were plenty of elevators around; however, my vertigo prevented me from trying the glass lifts which seemed to go up forever from the main lobby. The signage around the ship was generally good, however, for the first few days it was difficult to find the public toilets as they were not signposted and easy to miss unless you knew where to look. The automatic door opening mechanism in the toilets was also a bit alarming at first, and risked you being seen by passing fellow passengers!
We felt that the concierge desk seemed very small for the number of passengers that would be using it. It was only after standing in the queue that we realised there was a machine for issuing next in line tickets. This was located in a corner away from the queue so most people did not even know it was there until they had reached the front of the line. However, the concierge staff were very helpful and spoke many languages.
We were fortunate to have received a complimentary upgrade to a verandah cabin on deck 12 just around the corner from the Samsara Spa and our cabin steward, Roderick, looked after us during the trip. We were impressed with the cabin space, décor and layout and particularly liked the shower room which had plenty of room to accommodate two adults and all their clutter.
We had been allocated open dining in the Corona Blu restaurant for dinner each evening and the experience on our first night was not too encouraging. We expected to have to wait to get a table and this was not a problem, however, once seated the service was slow and one family seated nearby complained to the waiter who explained that there was a problem in the kitchen.
We weren’t overly worried as we were not in any real rush to go anywhere; however, we could appreciate that it might be a problem for families with young children. The service did improve on subsequent nights and we never had too long a wait.
We did not particularly like the Corona Blu restaurant itself and found the layout and décor uninviting and dull when compared with the other restaurants onboard.
The furniture and carpets were dark and on a few occasions we were seated in the side arms of the room which made us feel cut off from the rest of the passengers – it felt like being relegated to an overflow part of the room.
Given the large number of passengers onboard we felt that the standard of food was fairly good in the restaurant, if hit and miss at times. We also had lunch in the Diana Lido buffet and the food was excellent, especially the pasta dishes.
Although we usually prefer a buffet style lunch, we also ate in Fiorentino as it was easier to get a seat, if you went early enough. On one occasion only the Adularia restaurant opened for a buffet lunch which we really enjoyed and it was a pity this had not been an option every day.
The décor of both Adularia and Fiorentino was much more welcoming than Corona Blu and both felt like proper restaurants. We also heard from fellow passengers that Adularia had a great atmosphere, with ad hoc entertainment provided by the waiters
We went to the Club Diadema restaurant on one occasion and thoroughly enjoyed both the food and the relaxed atmosphere.
On a second night we went to the Teppanyaki restaurant with two fellow passengers who had now become friends. We all had a really fabulous evening of food and entertainment provided by the chefs. We finished the night off with a few glasses of champagne in the Bar Bollicine.
Both speciality restaurants were well worth the additional cost and we would certainly recommend them to anyone.
We purchased the all inclusive drinks package at the time of booking and this proved to be a good deal. We both drank mostly wine or beer and the system worked efficiently in all parts of the ship.
We quickly found that our favourite watering holes were the bar in the main lobby area on deck 3 and the Piano Bar on deck 5. The bar and waiting staff in both locations were excellent.
The evening entertainment in both the Piano Bar and the Lobby Bar area was first class and was a real draw for passengers of all ages. From what we could see, the entertainment throughout the rest of the ship was kept up to the same standard.
On Christmas Eve there was even snow falling down into the lobby area which was a lovely touch and the children loved it – along with many adults. Kudos to Costa!
Our only criticism would be the lack of an adults only bar, as the constant presence of young children running around a crowded bar, or being wheeled around in prams, was a bit off putting and perhaps not the best environment for them late at night.
It would have been nice to have access to a guest laundry/ironing room in order to freshen up creased clothes; however, we appreciate that this may not be possible given the passenger numbers on the ship. On a longer voyage it would be even more desirable.
Unfortunately our upgrade to the Samsara Deck did not automatically entitle us to access to the Samsara Spa, however, on the first day we decided to pay for the voyage spa package as we knew it would provide us with a means of escaping the crowds and give us somewhere to relax. It was money well spent (€105.00 per person for seven days) and we looked forward to going there every afternoon and enjoying one of the many therapy rooms or just reading quietly in the large, and usually empty, relaxation area with a pot of herbal tea – heaven!
On the penultimate day of our cruise (28 December) we were unfortunately bombarded with constant messages over a number of hours which were obviously lifeboat drill instructions for new passengers who had just embarked in Marseille. Not only were these messages intrusive but they were repeated in at least three or four languages every time and we struggled to understand why they were being constantly transmitted into the cabins of passengers who had joined days earlier and who had already undergone the necessary lifeboat drill.
We actually did enjoy the cruise, mainly due to the friendliness of the crew. We quickly found those venues where we felt most comfortable and which suited us. There was certainly something every night for all tastes and ages. Having cruised previously on ships with much smaller passenger numbers it took a while to get used to the sheer volume of people on board – especially the large number of small children, however, we soon adjusted and learned to go with the flow. We would recommend the ship to others, provided they were prepared to wait in queues at meal times, and we could certainly give them some tips on where and when to go in order to avoid them.
Overall very good Costa Diadema.
For more information please contact Brendan O’Connor directly on 02890 799 775 or send your email to Brendan@travelmaxworldwide.co.uk