Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Names, vouchers and discounts

Dear old Costa, seemingly oblivious to the irony, has asked its 'customers' for help in naming its next two ships. Perhaps realising that not all of its former passengers can be relied upon to play the game properly Costa hasn't given us the option to put forward our own names - booooo!

So, what names would those of us who were victims of this year's Costa Europa nightmare cruises in the Indian Ocean choose? Mine would be 'Packet' and 'Fortune', but I'm sure that my fellow victims, sorry, 'customers', could be more imaginative!

Meanwhile, rumour reaches us that Costa have accepted a fellow passenger's vouchers against one of their cruises advertised by Thomas Cook, discounts and all, one assumes. So, I suppose that might encourage some of us to consider one more Costa cruise if only to claw back some of the money that they declined to refund to us earlier this year.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A matter of honour

Well, we're still here and still pushing for recognition from Costa that they wrecked many people's legitimate holiday expectations and have still failed to appropriately recompense their customers.

It's probably worth bringing ourselves up to date with a few developments, none of which do anything to improve Costa's dismal reputation amongst those of us treated with such disdain following the disastrous February 'Jewels of the Indian Ocean' cruise. This was when engine failure slowed the Costa Europa so disastrously that ten days on shore and four days at sea became ten days at sea and four days ashore.

Whilst still at sea we were initially offered EITHER €300 off our on-board accounts OR €600 off a future Costa cruise, valid until the end of 2010 and applicable to any Costa cruise. This inadequate offer caused such uproar during the seemingly interminable sea days between Mombasa and Réunion that a virtual mutiny was only calmed by the offer being immediately amended to include both the €300 now and the €600 later. We were then rushed off the ship in Mauritius at dawn.

In May, one of our shipmates decided, having been ignored in his demands for further compensation, to 'bite the bullet' and book another Costa cruise in order to use up the €600 vouchers. His travel agent spoke to Costa and accepted the vouchers. Costa subsequently got back in touch with the agent and said that they would not now accept them because the cruise he had booked was a promotional deal.

When we were given these vouchers we were told that they could be used against any Costa cruise up to the end of 2010 - there were no provisos at all. Worse was to come - our shipmate was incensed and said that he'd cancel his booking, only to be threatened with a £300 cancellation fee. You just couldn't make it up, could you?

This was just one of a number of instances of Costa seemingly attempting to claw back the €600 by ensuring that it could only be redeemed against full price cruises, thus making the vouchers effectively valueless since you could book their cruises elsewhere with discounts greater than €600.

During the summer one shipmate after another started to take Costa through the Small Claims process. It might be no coincidence that rumours have since started to circulate that Costa has now started to accept their own €600 vouchers in certain cases, even against discounted cruises and even to offer further financial compensation. It would therefore seem that it's worth continuing to challenge Costa legally in order to get more appropriate recognition of their dreadful management of that cruise, or at worst just get them to honour their own promises.

My wife and I still can't agree on whether to trust Costa ever again, even to use their vouchers. Her view is that a combined €1200 could buy us a nice little cruise on which we'd spend little of our own cash - we'd then never ever sail with them again. My view is that having been treated disgracefully by Costa once leaves me determined not to allow them the opportunity to blithely do it again.

Shipmate Terry, who'd himself worked on cruise ships long ago, said over dinner on only the second night of the cruise on the Europa and having observed the staff at work around us that 'This is not a happy ship'. How does that come about you might ask. Having just come back from a very successful cruise I now have some insight into this, I believe.

The captain of Azamara Quest was reall quite young for so senior an officer - he can only have been around 40, perhaps less. In his daily tannoy updates to the passengers he displayed earnest enthusiasm, good humour and a determination to make sure that we had the best possible cruise. He and his senior officers were often seen on deck, meeting passengers and joining us for the post-dinner entertainments.

He also displayed a clear understanding of what all of his staff did on board, to the extent that I'm certain that when the passengers were ashore he was making behind-the-scenes tours to check standards and to keep up morale. I certainly have never before seen such permanently cheerful crew on a cruise, right across the job spectrum, and I'm convinced that this was largely down to his very effective leadership.

So, Costa selling off the Europa is a good thing in that another cruise company will give it the overhaul it so desperately needs and squeeze some more fruitful years from it. However, its disaffected staff will be scattered throughout the fleet. And what about its captain, who spoke hotly of 'honour' when cornered? Desk job in Genoa, one would imagine.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thomson Nightmare?

Guess what? Costa has offloaded the Europa to Thomson who propose to rename it 'Thomson Dream'. I sincerely hope that no money changed hands for that tub, given the total re-build that it'll need, starting with its knackered engine.

And indeed it does seem that Thomson recognise the reconstruction task they've taken on, as the 'Dream' won't enter service for a full year.

There have been a number of developments since the last posting, but I'm still away from home at the moment and will catch up when I get back. However, my wife and I have just taken a cruise in Costa's home waters on the 'Azamara Quest' and now know precisely what excellence in cruise ships looks like. Azamara - part of Celebrity - makes Costa look amateurish. More on this later too.

I've always had a soft spot for Thomson since my first cruise with them, on the 'Destiny'. They could teach Costa many, many lessons on customer service alone. Let's hope that, in the dreadful 'Costa Europa' they haven't taken on a white elephant that will turn their 'Dream' into a nightmare.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Insult upon injury

While still on the Costa Europa and having each just received the no-strings €600 vouchers for use against a future cruise we were warned by an English lawyer who was a fellow passenger that these vouchers weren't worth the paper they were written on.

Although at the time I was burning with anger at Costa's dreadful treatment of its customers I was persuaded by the captain's personal word to all of us, given in several languages, that the vouchers were as good as currency as far as Costa was concerned. It seems that I was naive.

Last week one of our fellow passengers on the disastrous 14/2 to 28/2 cruise decided to bite the bullet and book another Costa cruise, using his €600 voucher to do so. Having presented his voucher and booked his cruise his travel agent came back to him and said that Costa refused to accept the voucher. Why, you might ask? It seems that Costa will not accept their own voucher where any promotional deals apply, i.e. they make you pay the full whack, which arguably wins them back their €600.

This restriction was not declared until now, which is far from surprising, when you bear in mind the barely contained anger of literally hundreds of passengers of all nations even after the original no-strings offer was made. If this chicanery had been carried out on a British ship I'd have felt extremely embarrassed.

Worse than this, insult was heaped on injury when he said that he was now no longer interested in taking this cruise - Costa now declared that there would be a €300 cancellation penalty charge. You just couldn't make this up, could you?

It is against this background that passengers are now starting pursue legal remedies, either through ABTA or directly in the courts against Costa and/or their agents.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

To summarise ...

This blog was set up during Costa’s problem-plagued ‘Jewels of the Indian Ocean’ cruise that set off from Mauritius in Saturday 14th February 2009.

Its primary purpose was to act as a central point of reference for the many English-speaking passengers who were dissatisfied with the huge changes made by Costa to the itinerary during the cruise, thus giving them a means of staying in touch once they had left the ship and returned home.

In the intervening weeks many other complaints were raised about Costa’s management of a large number of aspects of life on board, but without the itinerary changes these would probably have been less contentious and might well have been left unreported.

So, the purpose of this posting is three-fold:

- to summarise the vast discrepancy between Costa’s published ‘Jewels of the Indian Ocean’ itinerary and the one that passengers subsequently experienced

- to explain why Costa’s compensation of €300 per passenger for their failure to provide the promised itinerary was desperately insufficient and why, weeks after the end of the cruise, there is still bad feeling against Costa amongst passengers.

- to demonstrate that it was engine problems and not political instability that denied us the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see Madagascar

The details of the ‘Advertised’ and the ‘Actual’ cruises were published here. Briefly, we lost four advertised ports of call, i.e. all of Madagascar and also Réunion (reduced from ten hours to just one). For those of us who weren’t told in advance there was also a fifth missed port of call; Mayotte. It also meant that instead of around four days at sea and ten ashore we had about ten at sea and only four ashore.

In the explanations provided to individual customers who returned home and wrote letters of complaint Costa has majored on a ‘Force Majeure’ defence, i.e. the political instability in Madagascar, and has played down the engine failure that slowed the Europa to half speed. In other words, on the one hand they have focused on an element of the cruise for which they have no obligation to provide compensation, and on the other haven’t appropriately addressed a key failure that fell entirely within their own control, i.e. the crippling engine failure. However, as will be shown, a far more likely reason for the loss of all the Madagascar stops was the faulty engine.

Shortly before our departure many of us received a letter from Costa that warned us that, ‘we could be forced to modify the cruise itineraries … by cancelling all the scheduled calls in Madagascar in order to protect the safety and tranquility of the Guests.’ The promise was made that, should this be necessary Costa would schedule, ‘an additional overnight in Mahé (Seychelles), in Mombasa (Kenya) and in Réunion St. Denis (Réunion) thus offering to guests the possibility to experience a Holiday discovering these wonderful and fascinating destinations’.

On joining the ship we were delighted to see that two Madagascan ports of call, Nosy Bé and Diego Suarez, remained on the schedule. Indeed, Costa was selling several excursions for those ports, so clearly there were no problems there in the first week of the cruise. There was no warning that Madagascar would be missed out altogether until the afternoon of Monday 23rd February. By this time, it was subsequently apparent, there was barely enough time to limp back to Réunion at little over ten knots to hastily disembark passengers who had joined the cruise there and then to dash for Mauritius to disembark the rest of us.

The fault in the starboard engine became apparent the day after we left Mahé. On the Friday morning the decks and sunbeds were covered with oily ash, and it subsequently became obvious when black smoke started belching from the funnel that there was a major problem with one of the engines. We then arrived in Mombasa a day late, thus demonstrating the reduced speed of the ship on only one engine. Repairs in Mombasa meant staying there for an extra night before we set off for Réunion, missing Madagascar entirely.

And while all this was going on what exactly might have been happening in Madagascar that made Costa decide not to call there? Not a lot, really; nothing that hit the international headlines, anyway. If the situation in Madagascar was so dire from 23rd to 25th February how was it that in the intervening fortnight things returned so completely to normal that the Europa was able to call at all three ports there in perfect safety from 9th to 11th March. What’s more, how was it that on Friday 20th March the Europa visited Nosy Bé with a coup d’état having taken place only three days earlier and with the African Union that day suspending Madagascar and threatening sanctions?

If the northern Madagascan ports were so dangerous to visit then we should have been told this categorically before departure and been given the option of canceling our cruise plus a full refund. Demonstrably, the position in the north of that country remained safe and stable throughout the political crisis, for why else would Costa Europa have repeatedly called there after the disastrous 14th/28th February cruise and throughout the coup d’état?

So, to summarise and make things crystal clear, the loss of the two stops in Madagascar was due to the engine problem, with one day lost at sea on the way to Mombasa and the other in Mombasa itself. Nothing to do with ‘sociopolitical problems’, merely engineering failure. It is for this reason that we continue to hold Costa responsible for our ‘ruined cruise’, to directly quote Comandante Donato Salvatore.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Those engines again

A quiet few days on this blog but a fair amount of behind-the-scenes contact between shipmates.

One interesting point that has cropped up concerns the engines. Those of us who have had replies to our letters from Costa and their agents will have found that blame for the horribly truncated cruise is being pointed at 'the sociopolitical situation in Madagascar'.

If the situation in Madagascar was so dire from 23rd to 25th February and we're currently witnessing what seems to be a coup d'état in that country how it was that in the intervening fortnight things returned so completely to normal before spiralling out of control again that the Europa was able to call at all three ports there in perfect safety from 9th to 11th March. What's more, at this very moment (midday GMT on Friday 20th March) she is sitting happily in Nosy Be. That's right, in Madagascar. Funny how those pesky 'sociopolitical problems' bounce backward and forwards so very rapidly. One could become so very cynical.

No, the main problem has to have been the Europa's dodgy engine, i.e. the one that seemed to have blown a piston ring one night in our first week leaving the deck and the sunbeds littered with oily smut the next morning. We have been assured that this problem was 'not foreseeable' and was 'beyond Costa's control'.

However, word is now reaching us that the Europa 'encountered severe weather travelling from Savona to Mauritius in November when the damage to the propulsion system had occurred'.

Can this possibly be true? Might the Europa had been 'limping' during our cruise due to a known and unresolved problem?

Maybe the Costa staff who read this blog might like to comment?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Package Travel, Package Holidays & Package Tours Regulations 1992

UK residents might like to take a look at the above legislation.

Quite apart from the failure to call as scheduled at Madagascar let's look at the case of Mayotte. We booked a cruise that featured Mayotte, and it was only when we boarded the Europa that we found that it had vanished from the itinerary.

In other words, our contract included Mayotte and we were not informed of its removal from the itinerary.

Here's what UK law says:

Significant alterations to essential terms
12. In every contract there are implied terms to the effect that—

    (a) where the organiser is constrained before the departure to alter significantly an essential term of the contract, such as the price (so far as regulation 11 permits him to do so), he will notify the consumer as quickly as possible in order to enable him to take appropriate decisions and in particular to withdraw from the contract without penalty or to accept a rider to the contract specifying the alterations made and their impact on the price; and
    (b) the consumer will inform the organiser or the retailer of his decision as soon as possible.

The rest of this Statutory Instrument can be referred to at:

Hypothetically speaking

Imagine this hypothetical letter, received ten days before Europa's departure:

Dear Customer X,

We regret to inform you that due to various operating difficulties, the itinerary for the 'Jewels of the Indian Ocean' cruise will be severely truncated. You will not be visiting Mayotte under any circumstances, and given that we've rarely called anywhere in Madagascar on the previous three or four cruises we don't expect to be able to call there either. Additionally, your call at Réunion will be cut from over nine hours to less than two.

Please also be advised that, instead of ten days ashore and four days at sea, as advertised, due to the above-mentioned operating difficulties you'll be spending ten days at sea and only four ashore.

Naturally, we regret these changes enormously but have no wish to be anything other than completely frank with our valued customers. Recognising that the cruise that you booked can now in no way be delivered we are making you an offer of a reduction of €300 per person on this cruise plus a further €600 against the cost of a future cruise.

However, we also recognise that you might instead prefer to cancel your cruise altogether and receive a full refund, including air fares, no matter whether you booked it through Costa or through any of our affiliates. If you choose this option we undertake to fully refund you within fourteen days.

Yours etc etc.

This is of course a hypothetical letter.

My wife and I spent several thousand Euros booking this cruise and for us the highlight was to be to see lemurs in Madagascar. If the cruise hadn't featured Madagascar we wouldn't have booked it in the first place, and if on being told we wouldn't get there at all we'd then been given the opportunity to cancel we'd have taken it immediately. Visiting Madagascar was the central purpose of this cruise, as far as we were concerned.

Could we book another holiday that'd get us to Madagascar for €300? I don't think so. Would we re-book with Costa in the hope of perhaps getting there next time? Hardly. For these reasons alone Costa's interim compensation in no way makes up for what we lost.

What's this blog for?

There's been a little avalanche of comments in the past day or so from a couple of people who seemingly disagree with the general direction of this blog. They apparently have been offended about our policy of deleting insulting and/or childish comments, and I think that we need to be clear about why we do this.

This blog was set up during the cruise to bring together the comments of all those passengers who were angered by Costa's alterations to the itinerary and their attitude to compensation. As it subsequently transpired there were also quite a few subsidiary issues over the quality of the ship, its management and the cruise, and many of them have been covered here.

As you will gather, this blog is not for those few passengers who were perfectly satisfied with everything, or even those who were upset but preferred to let things be. My justification for saying that the number of passengers falling into these camps was small is to direct everyone's attention to the irritable crowd of passengers of all nations who packed the theatre on at least two separate occasions.

If you are a passenger who was entirely or even broadly happy with the cruise then I am happy for you. However, I must say that this blog is therefore not for you. If you wish to protest that Costa's people don't deserve the waves of criticism that they are fending off, not only here but in individual complaints made directly to them or indirectly via agents such as Virgin, then you should start up your own site and explain your own position just as we are doing here. Don't expect us to visit it or comment on it, though.

This, apart from the simple issue of good manners, is the reason why we remove comments that obstruct our objective, i.e. to keep the dissatisfaction of very many passengers in the public eye whilst Costa decides what to do to meet our legitimate complaints. In the next posting I'll describe in the clearest English that I can manage why Costa's initial offer of compensation was inadequate.

But let me first say this; Terry, I and the other commenters on this site do not claim to represent anyone who doesn't want to be represented. If you were happy with the cruise as a whole then we do not speak for you. If you feel that we speak only for the British (or English-speaking contingent) and are unhappy with that then we do not speak for you. If you are angry with Costa but still want to proceed against them alone then of course we do not speak for you.

If you think that by continuing to speak out against Costa then we intend in some way to insult Italy then you are quite wrong. My wife and I are very fond indeed of Italy and its way of life and visit often. It's precisely because we see Costa's inhospitable treatment of its passengers on our cruise as entirely untypical that we feel impelled to carry on.

Reply to Gerard Leblanc re;.. Management input etc..

Thank you Gerard for your welcome input to the discussions on our blog...
I have removed my answer to you. If you wish to take up your comments further, then I am more than happy to hear from you via my email address
I think this would be better than to exchange opinions so loosely on this blog. This is a blog for comments and opinions on the fail;ings of Costa not a forum or discussion board for commenting on the good people that have spent good money on a disastrous cruise
Kindest regards

Europa Position Reply to comment by Dieter Herk

Thanks for your comments Dieter posted March 17, 2009 on "Eoropa position"
I have removed my reply to you from this Blog.
If you wish to continue your discussion, I am happy for you to contact me via my email address
This blog is for the purpose of all the unhappy passengers who endured a disastrous cruise of Costa.
It was not intended to be a discussion board, purely a blog for all the unhappy passenger, of which they are many.

Kindest Regards

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Departing guests

Europa actually made it to Réunion yesterday and is now in Port Louis, Mauritius as she's was scheduled to be.

Lucky passengers. They visited all of the scheduled ports of call (except Mayotte, which is a bit of a grey area) and stuck pretty much to schedule, unlike the two previous cruises and quite possibly all those before it. After all, we were told whilst still on board that only on one previous cruise had the Europa called at Madagascar.

So, her departing passengers have nothing to complain about concerning the itinerary. As they return home over the next 24 hours perhaps we might hear about other customer care issues, but not about the one that so incensed the paying customers on the two earlier cruises.

I find myself wondering whether her customers were as badly treated this morning as we were on the morning of departure, i.e. by being driven from their cabins at 4am (staff rapping on cabin doors to wake passengers) and told to get off the ship no later than 6.30am as we were? As it happens, most of our fellow passengers understandably took exception to this unusual treatment and took their time.

Leaving cabins by 8am is the general rule on previous cruises, as I'm sure most of us would confirm, with departures from 9-ish onwards. Of course, cabins have to be prepared for arriving passengers on the next cruise, but convention here seems to be to either ask them not to arrive before 2pm or to explain that cabins will not be available before that time. That seems entirely reasonable to me.

When you're a guest staying with friends it's inevitable that a crucial element of the way that you remember your stay will be your departure. Did they seem glad to have met you? Had they been courteous hosts, taking an interest in you while you stayed with them, making it clear that they were glad you'd taken time to come to see them? And did they come to the door, and even outside to the car, to see you off with waves and hopes that you'd come again soon?

That sort of hospitality counts and sets a tone for the future. Imagine if instead they said that they were leaving for work at 7am and, frankly, wanted you gone before then so that they could strip your bed and ensure that you didn't raid their fridge or make the house untidy? You'd remember that forever and you'd probably take them off your Christmas card list.

Just because we suffered poor treatment doesn't mean that we should wish it on others, so let's hope that the passengers who are presently on their way home feel that they were treated like old friends and have fond memories of their cruise.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Costa Management input ????? or Costa disclaimer, or Costa avoid the subject. Or PLEASE CONTACT ME TO SETTLE THIS IN A DIGNIFIED MANNER COSTA

Dear Sirs (Costa Management)

We do sincerely thank you for your input regarding our previous Blog postings...

We do sincerely apologise if in fact you have considered recent entries inflamatory, and we shall be very careful on future entries, and we take careful note of your comments regarding these.

We very much appreciate the fact that you have taken time to view the comments of your past, present and future passengers on your cruise ships.

I for one have recieved a reply to my claim for a larger compensation claim, which I have emailed to every passenger that has emailed to my email address with their past experiences with your Company..

In my claim for compensation I have reiterated everyones feelings about the drastic change of itinery, (partly due to the unrest in Madagasgar).
I have also stated the many other complaints that I, and many of your disgruntled passengers had during this voyage.
In your letter that I have recieved (which I shall post later), you only disclaimed any responsibility for the reasons for the withdrawal of various ports of call. This I was partly expecting from you, as I and everyone know from your contracts we all recieved.
You did not address any one single other complaint that I have put forward, and have not at any one time apologised for these.
I have to say that this amounts to one of the main things that your senior management staff (i.e. Captain down to other on board staff). That is lack of information, and no follow up to complaints actually stated on board.

I thank you for the courtesy of an early reply, although it really was worthless.
The insult that your company made to us was E300 or E600 voucher towards another cruise. This was then upped to E300 plus E600 voucher..
Of all the ports of call that was on the itinery we had Sechelles, Mombassa and a brief stopover in Reunion Island, and this was only for transfer of passengers. The 10 hour intinerised stop was only for approx 1 hour. The added insult to injury was that majority of passengers who tried to get ashore had to stand around for up to an hour for a transfer bus to town, giving in some cases only 50 minutes ashore. Dont you think that we deserve better than what we got.

We appreciate that the unrest in Madagasgar caused you a problem for Passenger safety, and we appreciate that. Nobody wants to risk life. But the complaint dont stop there and you HAVE NOT REDRESSED THAT SUBJECT.

Please put your hands up and admit the cruise was a total disaster. Even your own Captain admitted that " our cruise had been ruined"

We are not looking to be unreasonable in our request for a sensible compensation offer from yourselves.

Come up with something a lot more acceptable and you will find your desk with less letters of complaint on, or maybe even the demise of this blog.

Bad publicity is not good for any business in this economic climate. And you must realise that there are a lot of very angry people out there who will not let this drop.

All we ask is that you be reasonable with your offer of compensation towards this "unforgettable" cruise.
You also state in your letter to me that your "business is to ensure that you provide an EXCELLENT service to your customers whilst on the cruise".
This has not happened either.

It doesnt appear to be the case either in some of your other cruises prior to this

I have several hundred emails from passengers on this and other cruises, which I will gladly send copies to you as proof of what I say, you only have to ask and I will send.

IN FACT WHY DONT YOU AGREE TO MEET A SMALL CONTINGENT OF YOUR PASSENGERS TO DISCUSS THIS IN DEPTH. This would be a more appropriate way forward without all the threats of litigation from either side. This will create a better relationship between you and your past, present and future customers. My email address is and you have my address and contact numbers if you prefer.

I and all the unhappy customers look forward to your response and early contact
Terry Croarkin and all the other ship mates

Views from the inside

We've now had a couple of welcome comments from Costa employees. These help us to understand the pressures that they're working under.

I think it's fair to say that most passengers appreciate that staff work long hours in sometimes gruelling conditions (I'm thinking 'engine room' here, in particular!) for rewards and recognition that most of us would call 'inadequate'.

Probably the main complaint that most Europa passengers would level at Costa would relate to on-board leadership and direction/support from Genoa. If we'd been dealt with truthfully and punctually throughout as far as the itinerary was concerned then maybe, just maybe, our anger and frustration might have been contained.

Can any other Costa representatives offer insights into their working conditions and problems? Feel free to do so anonymously.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Any advice for new Costa 'customers'?

I've now been contacted by a Costa 'customer' who is joining 'You'reOpeless' on Saturday for the cruise back to Europe. I've been delighted to have the chance to 'mark her card' so that she's prepared for the various highs and lows of the cruise.

Some might be surprised that I had a few pleasant things to say about the ship, but I believe in being fair, especially when it concerns people who are looking forward to their cruise and have yet to be disappointed.

Here is my reply. If anyone has any tips or advice for this anxious passenger perhaps for her benefit they could comment below.


First of all let me say that it's quite possible that the most serious complaint that we have against Costa, i.e. unannounced itinerary change, won't apply to you. I say this because the cruise that ends in Mauritius on Saturday has run exactly to schedule, even making the planned three calls in Madagascar. At this very moment Europa is halfway between Madagascar and Réunion, just where she's scheduled to be. I can only imagine that this is because the dodgy starboard engine is holding up. You can keep an eye on her at

We left Port Louis on schedule at about 1pm on the Sunday, so I suspect that you've already been told an untruth about the departure time :o( We'd arrived in late afternoon the previous day, too late for excursions, so all we had time for before departure was a 2 hour walk around Port Louis.

The hostile comments on the blog - I routinely delete them ;o) - are probably from Costa employees. Nevertheless, thank you for your support!

As far as the fresh water is concerned it's absolutely fine. My wife has a very sensitive palate, and even she thought it was perfectly drinkable. We drank it in the buffets every day and had a jug of iced water with our meal every night, so we'd have noticed very soon if something had been wrong. My tip to you would be to buy a 500ml bottle of water once you've cleared security at your UK departure point, keep the bottle during your cruise and keep topping it up on board each day. I was outraged to see that Costa were trying to sell water to passengers as they went off on excursions - €2.50! Get round this by taking your own.

Yes, Costa make it very clear that they don't want you bringing any liquids on to their ships that they could sell to you more expensively. However, the people we shared our table with several times brought back alcohol from their shore visits and were never challenged on re-entry - lack of joined-up thinking by Costa, I'd say.

A couple of things:

1. Please take my e-mail ID and the blog address with you. If you have on-board problems just drop me an e-mail and I'll post details (anonymously) at and/or offer amateur advice.

2. Have you been told that there's a compulsory service charge/gratuity of €5 per person per day? We weren't, but Costa resolutely stated that we were.

3. Keep an eye on the ship's speed. On one of the TV channels there's a webcam and details of course and speed. The top cruising speed of the Europa is 20 knots, and if you see it dropping to 10/12 knots it's either because they don't want to arrive in the next port too soon (extra dock charges, I assume) or because the engines are playing up again. If you're told that speed is slow because of 'counter-currents' that's because they're covering up something else.

4. Watch out for the 'English-speaking host', Simon. I'm not sure where he's from, but it might be Canada. To him, everything is a joke. Also, he's deep in the company's pocket and will always, seemingly, back Costa over you. I can't really see why nobody's physically attacked him yet.

5. One good point though - the excellent lectures of Richard Wünsch about the next port of call. They were part history lesson, part geography lesson, part politics illustrated with photos. After each one I felt very enlightened and looked forward even more to the next port. Do try to catch all of them :o)

6. Excursions.

- if you're calling at Mahé in The Seychelles do try the excursion that goes to Praslin and La Digue. It's expensive but worth it to see those bright white beaches and turquoise seas.

- the excursion from Mombasa to the Tsavo East game reserve is great as far as seeing animals (mainly elephants) in their natural surroundings is concerned, but be prepared for an uncomfortable, hair-raising two hour drive each way in shaky vans. Definitely take water for this one.

- there's an evening excursion in Mombasa itself called 'Sound and Light'. You get taken on a brief bus trip after dark to Fort Jesus for a tolerable sound and light show and a nice meal. Frankly, this is how to see Mombasa, as the place is too unsettled to wander around it on your own.

7. We wanted to be on the second sitting for dinner but were put on the first. However, it wasn't a problem to get switched over straight away. But don't expect hot food in their restaurants. Every meal we had seemed to have been sitting on plates for 10-15 minutes before we got it.

8. The evening shows in the theatre are patchy. Some are half-decent but some are pure rubbish. You should be able to work out which are which from the descriptions in the daily 'Today' publication - we did :o)

9. If you want to sit on one of the comfy hard wood loungers at the sides of the ship on the buffet deck you'll need to be up VERY early :o( We used to pick a position right at the stern by the pool - generally there were sunbeds left at 9am. By the way, the sunbeds are dreadfully uncomfortable, with a bar right under your bottom, so take a couple of extra towels to sit/lie on.

10. Be aware that the quoted bar prices (even for fresh orange juice) DON'T include the 15% service charge.

11.Watch out for the published buffet opening times, as they close very promptly, even if there's stacks of food still on display.

12. Expect poor service from demotivated staff. Also in the buffet expect them to try to clear away your plates and cutlery before you're finished - very, very irritating.

13. If you like English tea you might be disappointed to see it's Lipton's Yellow Label. Two ways round this: either put two bags in each mug (works quite well) or better still take some from home (even better!)

14. Take plenty of reading material in case of engine problems that lead to itinerary changes and unplanned 'sea days'!

If you have any other queries please let me know. In the meanwhile, I truly hope that you have an enjoyable cruise and that Costa finally get their act together. To be fair, most of the time things are OK.

Very best wishes,

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Gratuities - the inside story

We now seem to have a source at Costa who's confirming our suspicions about the distribution of those 'gratuities' that Costa charged to our accounts without our prior permission and in spite of express instructions that some of us gave not to do so

Our source says that, 'Costa makes it sound as if 100% of the gratuities goes to the crew. It does not, at least not as a gratuity on top of the salary Costa pays. The majority of this income is in fact being used to pay the salary of the service crew.'

He goes on:

'As an 'incentive' for 'professional service' it is true that good comment form ratings are used to pay the so called 'incentive', but this amount is set, i.e. no matter how good the rating achieved, you get no more than what is set as the 'bonus'. It is for this reason that the service crew, above all the Maitre Ds, are not motivated to give good service.'

'Other cruise lines might charge your account, but they give you the opportunity to opt out and make your own arrangements with individual crew members. This used to be the case with Costa as well until December 2006, when they introduced the present system.'

Our thanks for this to our anonymous correspondent. He has confirmed my suspicions that the crew are unhappy at the distribution of their 'gratuities', and this surely explains why there is so much unhappiness and slackness amongst them. Perhaps Costa might like to publish auditable accounts on these gratuities and thereby demonstrate that 100% of what is taken from passengers against their wishes does in fact go to the low-paid staff who we are assured will be the beneficiaries.

2009 starts badly for Costa

In January my wife and I were on the Ruby Princess from Fort Lauderdale to the Eastern Caribbean when we heard about the other cruise ship in the same area where a passenger had gone overboard and not been found. Because we were travelling more or less the same route it seemed all the more horrific.

Which was the ship in question? The Costa Magica.

That brings to four the number of Costa ships with major crises in 2009 so far. Clearly Costa can't be blamed for the probable crime that took place on Magica, but reading that report brings back a whiff of the organisational chaos that seems to attend any on-board crisis on a Costa ship.


Doug commented on my last post that the Europa - should that now be You'reOpeless? ;o) - didn't reach the dockside in Diego Suarez. One assumes that they transported passengers to the quay by tender in that case, otherwise why stop there.

Having been away this weekend can anyone confirm that the ship definitely called at Nosy Bé? If it did then maybe it's a sign that the furore caused amongst their paying customers for having missed Madagascar altogether on two successive cruises has seeped through a few thick Costa skulls and that they've realised, too late for us, unfortunately, that you can't fool all the people all of the time.


Guess what? Europa's just docking right now in Tamatave. It seems that in the past fortnight all of those civil disorder problems have been solved and it's now safe for Costa's brave captain to dock there.



On 17th June 1972 five burglars were caught in the Democratic National Committe headquarters in the Watergate building in Washington. With luck, and in the absence of a free investigative press, we might never even have heard of it. However, thanks mainly to the Washington Post, the murky facts behind the crime were dragged into the daylight. Two years later, after mounting a vicious rearguard defence, the President himself and the majority of his administration had been driven from office for their complicity in the cover-up of an illegal campaign against their political opponents.

Why does this seem relevant to Costa, you might ask? Well, Terry and I have received a couple of attacks for this blog by people (who weren't on any of the cruises affected) who seem not to be able to see beyond the itinerary issues. I think we need to make it crystal clear to anyone reading this blog that our main cause for anger with Costa was its unannounced itinerary changes; to this day we've not been told that Mayotte had been removed from the schedule, we just happened to notice that we didn't call there ;o)

Just as the Watergate break-in led to a cascade of revelations so Costa's cavalier attitude over a single issue has led to a crescendo of complaints over other issues. Anyone who says that we're 'cry-babies' for complaining about something that couldn't have been avoided either hasn't read this blog properly or is a Costa employee - maybe both.

As complaints mounted towards the end of our cruise we were told that Genoa had their attention focused on another problem in their fleet, so we shouldn't expect to hear from them. It's now clear that this problem was; one of their other ships had caught fire! A fire broke out in the engine room of the Costa Romantica, leading to passengers, after great delays and chaos on board, being removed from the ship at sea by ferries and taken to the nearest port.

If you Google 'Costa Romantica Fire' you'll see a whole host of reports, but all of them have the fingerprints of Costa's PR department all over them, e.g. this one. Notice the absence of critical comment, despite the name of the blog? If you would like to see how things really were for the unfortunate passengers on board then take a look at the comment made on one of our earlier postings. - thank you Patricia! Notice the similarities with our own experiences? e.g. chaos and disorganisation amongst senior officers and crew. You couldn't possibly have an confidence in Costa's crisis leadership that in an emergency evacuation of the ship there wouldn't be unnaceptable loss of life.

So, to those anonymous critics who thinks that we've been complaining unnecessarily the response should be:

1. The leadership of Costa is appalling, from ship's officers right up to Genoa
2. Their ships are poorly maintained and simply break down, e.g. Europa and Romantica
3. Management of routine cleaning on board is apparently non-existent, e.g. Classica
4. Passengers across the board give Costa calamitous ratings
5. Costa as a corporate entity fail to take responsibility for their failures and say they were unavoidable.

On that last point, how else could one explain how Costa could put the Romantica's passengers through Hell and still expect them to be satisfied with '
2 days discount plus 20% off on any future cruise' - simply laughable. They just don't get it, do they? They think that all of us are such mugs that we'll take a pittance and then go back for more of the same.

So, returning to the Watergate theme, if the moral of that story was:

1. Tell the truth from the start and at all times
2. Make recompense early and honestly
3. Clear out the incompetents

then that seems like good advice for Costa if they don't want their cruise line to become a pariah of the seas.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Breaking news!

While we were on the Europa we were told that the reason why we were getting zero response from Head Office in Genoa was that there were major problems elsewhere in the fleet. We now have full details and I'll be posting them tomorrow.

Suffice it to say that our contention that Costa have major corporate problems with both ships and their management now seems to be well and truly proven.

Compare and contrast

Just back from Madeira and a long-arranged four day break there with old friends.

My thoughts kept returning to Costa and their shabby treatment of their 'customers' as I made direct comparisons between their 'customer service' and that which everyone else provides.

We stayed in a four star hotel in Funchal, and the degree to which our experience there soared above our time on the Europa was striking. "Ah", you might say, "Costa doesn't offer a four star standard, so that's not a fair comparison." Well, just take a look at the Europa on their web site and see what you think of their hype, e.g.

'class with refined international taste', 'intimate places', 'elegant lounges', 'extraordinary art collection'.

Then look at their general claims for their fleet as a whole: ' comfort, entertainment and pleasure in unmistakable Italian style', 'elegant, comfortable and beautiful', 'spectacular', 'personal and intimate ambience.'

Those sound like at least four star claims to me.

Our hotel in Funchal, the Porto Santo Maria, is so incredibly good that we've just returned for our third visit in eighteen months, and once again we found our expectations to be exceeded. It seems that the Portuguese really do understand how to delight their customers, unlike Costa's Italian leadership.

Yesterday there were two cruise ships in Funchal harbour; the Aida Bella (centre in the above phot) and the Thomson Celebration (to the left). My wife and I have no experience of the former, but I'm fairly confident that German efficiency wouldn't tolerate a Fred Karno outfit like the Europa, its officers and its Head Office. As for the Thomson Celebration, I'm sure that Costa would claim to be vastly superior to their competitor. However, my wife has incredibly fond memories of her cruise on that ship, and having had one holiday with her on the Thomson Destiny I can well understand why she feels that way. Simply put, Thomson offers that wonder ingredient, Value For Money, does exactly what it says on the tin, and then a bit more on top.

And there are no compulsory gratuities.

My congratulations to Terry for having learned how to update this site and kept everyone up to date in my absence!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Email addresses Please....

Good evening Ship Mates....

I have had many requests for information and copies of letters etc.. Lots of the correspondence comes via this blogsite, and is not accompanied by an email address..
I do need an email address so that I can respond please
I would please ask that anyone should email to me at with any questions and requests....
Please also comment on the blog also..

I have been contacted by a passenger on a previous cruise with lots of other issues, who was also standing for most of the passenger list.. There is lots happening and we need to know about it. Please contact me with all the issues after you have made a comment on the Blogg...

This latest issue gives us extra strength and look out Costa this is just beginning...
Get your act together Mr Costa cos our campaign has now spread to other cruise passengers you have treated shabbily if not fraudulantly...

Its Time you replied instead of cutting off from this, or buring your head in the deep blue Indian Ocean. WE DESERVE BETTER... AND WE ARE GOING TO GET IT

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Europa position

As of this time the Europa seems to be fairly on time sailing between Mombassa and Nosey b Madagasgar.
I am pleased for the sake of the new passengers currently sailing on her....
I just hope that all the other complaints have been rectified for them too.

The current position is Latitude 10* 7' 4" S
Logtitude 44*58'7" E

Costa Claim....

I have been asked by a number of passengers (ship mates), whether we are to just wait until we have had an answer to our demands.

The answer is NO

What I am draughting and will be sending to Costa is on behalf of the 1800 (maybe 1 or 2 less) our claim for compensation in bulk.....

We cannot stop there...
We must all as individuals send in our own claim for compensation to our own travel arranger, plus a copy direct to Costa, listing all the complaints we have about the Cruise..
If anyone is in any doubt how to word this, please email to me on and I shall send a couple of ideas to you by return...

I have heard from 1 ship mate that their arranger has washed their hands of any claim saying it not their position to claim on behalf of their customer...... then who is ?? (this was vacations to go).. I have recieved copy of their letter staing this...
I for one have sent an individual letter of complaint and claim for compensation and refund to (my travel arranger) and had recieved a phone call same day from them clarifying certain points, with the promise of following this up for me. I recieved an email from Costa the next day confirming reciept of this.... Hooray for the reliable travel agents in the UK.
Thanks 1st4cruising

Please contact me on if you have any other questions or other stories..

I await your comments
From your ship mate, Terry

Costa a Lot in gratuities......

Apologies first for not being quite as fluent as our ship mate David, who set this blog up and has managed it since, with his very eloquent additions......
We seem to be acquiring lots of different other complaints and observations....
I am still working on the demand to Costa for nothing less than a full refund from our Cruise..
An anon commentator has told us about the complaint they made and subsequently cost the staff (crewmember), £200 in lost wages... Yes, where indeed have these gratuities gone.... It makes you wonder about the honour that Costa work to.... Unhappy crew = unhappy passengers!!
So far the Europa has kept pretty much to schedule....
Have you noticed that next season the Costa Europa is sailing the Dubai run... Obviously Costa have no intention of upgrading the ship again or maybe even scrapping her... Lets see how she fairs for the rest of this season and into next..

Mr Costa..... I am still waiting for your reply you promised us prior to leaving on the 28th February...... You will be recieving another request for a reply on Monday.... I have this in writing from you and would have hoped that you would have had the decency to at least tell me on behalf of the 1800 passengers some information... I guess that as the information was dearly lacking on board then this must be your company policy......... "KEEP EVERYONE IN THE DARK WITH THE HOPE THEY WILL GO AWAY...... WELL GUESS WHAT .... YOU HAVE GOT 2 HOPES OF THAT, AND 1 OF THEM IS BOB (HOPE).....

You may have noticed that we had a small feature in yesterdays (Saturday) Daily Telegraph, travel section... Please Mr Costa , dont think this will be the last, cos it aint gonna be

I will continue to contact the media worldwide until you both have the decency of a reply with a very much increased offer of compensation, and you look to the future of your other passengers booked for future cruises. Cos you are not inspiring confidence for people to sail with you...

Our complaints are not a one off, these are may from your previous cruises too.

I have today contacted the BBC news programme and will keep you updated as we progress..

This blog will continue and will probably grow into other bloggs until we recieve the compensation we deserve... not the insult Costa have given us already. This I promise....
We shall remove or deactivate the blogg when we are satisfied and recieve what we deserve, until then ............. watch this space

Friday, March 6, 2009

Change of command

I'll be away from home now until Tuesday evening, but Terry will be 'on the bridge' in my absence.

Can I please ask people to keep checking the Europa's position at and recording the latitude and longitude so that we can keep track of its adherence to the itinerary. If you can e-mail it to while I'm away I'll collate it all when I get back on Tuesday.

Best wishes Ship Mates!

Not a happy ship

We've all been outraged more than anything else by Costa's hacking back of our itinerary to virtually nothing, but my wife and I had issues with them from the very first night.

I initially thought that the food in the Orion restaurant was quite good, actually, although it was far from hot. On the first night (Valentine's Day) for dessert she chose melon, and to our amazement and disgust it was 'off' - not just a bit off but completely rank. I had no idea that melon could deteriorate like that.

It transpired that this melon had been on display in the afternoon in one of the upper deck buffets, had been left over and had been transferred downstairs. Talk about dreadful food handling standards.

We complained to one of the senior restaurant staff who really wasn't interested. He shrugged, offered neither an apology nor a replacement and walked off with the plate. He was always too busy to come back to us on subsequent nights and check if everything was OK, but he was never too busy to miss out on a chat with an attractive passenger on the next table that he clearly had designs on. Unprofessional and, frankly, sleazy.

Every single night we were on board the food arrrived barely luke warm, indicating that it had been waiting on plates for 10-15 minutes before being brought out of the restaurant. Sometimes it was congealed. We could have complained every night, but in the end, when there's no improvement, you just give up. Terry and I asked for a tour of the kitchens so that we could understand the whole process. At first it seemed that this would be agreed to, but then it became clear that they were stalling for time and had not the slightest intention of letting us see behind the scenes.

Terry, who has experience of working on cruise ships, said early in the cruise, 'This is not a happy ship', and one of the restaurant managers agreed with him. The reason for this has subsequently become clear, as follows.

Remember that mandatory €5 per person per day gratuity? How do you think it's distributed? Good question, eh? Well, it looks as if the distribution depends on those questionnaires that we completed at the end of the cruise. If the consensus of cusomers is that a certain area performed poorly then the tips distributed to staff in that area are cut correspondingly.

And what if customers are so outraged about the cruise as a whole that they mark everything savagely - I know that I tended to do this. I suspect that the distribution of the compulsory gratuity is slashed all round meaning that it doesn't all get handed out. And who keeps the excess one wonders? I think we should expect to see how the share-out works given that it was supposed to be a tip over which the right to decide was taken away from us.

The compulsory gratuity stinks, both in its collection and its distribution. Because, I suspect, the poorly paid staff think it's all a scam, they are correspondingly demotivate, which is why the Costa Europa is not a happy ship.

Quite apart from the engines ...

and the food quality...

and the ship's leadership ...

and the ship's generally poor state ...

etc, etc ...

'Passengers pick their worst cruise lines'

On 7th February The Daily Telegraph published an article entitled, 'Passengers pick their worst cruise lines'. Tomorrow, in the Travel section, there'll be an article about our cruise - make sure you buy a copy to reward the journalist, Oliver Smith, for his interest in our plight!
The 7th February article quotes passenger ratings on the most popular cruislines, and this is how they came out (ratings are out of 5): Cunard 4.36; Royal Caribbean 4.15; Princess Cruises 4.08; Thomson Cruises 4.06; P&O Cruises 3.93; Celebrity Cruises 3.93; Fred Olsen 3.90; NCL Cruises 3.56; Costa Cruises 3.25; MSC Cruises 2.83. The last two are Italian. It's been put to me that maybe they should stick to Operas and Pasta *, and leave cruising to the experts, i.e. the British.

* Actually, judging from the Orion restaurant, even Italian pasta isn't up to much - meal after meal it arrived luke warm and congealed

Vacations To Go duck out

A fellow Costa victim, sorry, customer has gone back to Vacations To Go, through whom he booked his cruise and with whom, therefore, he had a contract.

Disappointingly, they have declined to accept any responsibilty for the 'ruined cruise' (© Salvatore Donato), saying, 'They (i.e. Costa) are not going to work with us about shipboard issues so I encourage you to continue to work directly with them.' In other words, Costa have told them to get knotted and they've said, 'OK, fair enough'.

I've complained direct to Virgin through whom my wife and I booked. Let's see if they take a more ethical and more assertive stance.

Piracy and the Europa

On the subject of piracy, a member of the Costa crew told one of our fellow passengers that when the Europa was sailing from Italy to Mauritius it was actually chased by a Somalian pirate ship in the Bay of Aden.

The Europa easily outpaced its pursuers, but it's hard to avoid wondering what would have happened if the starboard engine had given up the ghost at that stage? Quite chilling to contemplate, don't you think?

This crew member also pointed out a cargo ship docked just behind the Europa in Mombasa. It was the MV Faina, and it was the ship carrying Russian weapons and tanks that had been actually captured by Somalian pirates. It was released on payment of a ransom, the captain having died on board, and only arrived in Mombasa on 12th February, just before we left Mauritius.

Half speed

An anonymous commenter has just drawn my attention to the fact that the Europa is currently crusing at half speed. Here's where the Europa was at 9am GMT today.
This all looks a bit odd. Europa was scheduled to leave Mauritius at 1300 hours local time on Sunday, and as far as I can tell she did. She was due to arrive in Mahé at 1500 hours local time on Tuesday, i.e. 50 hours later, and again she seems to have been on schedule.

In our travel documents the stretch across from Mahé to Mombasa is scheduled to take 58 hours, and it looks as if Europa is on time. But compare the distance from Mahé to Mombasa with Mauritius to Mahé. Do Costa deliberately take their foot off the gas on their way to Mombasa?

Why is Europa currently dawdling along at only 11 knots when its 'cruising speed' is 19 knots? Have the latest passengers also been showered with oily smuts from a suddenly smoky funnel? It's so tempting to imagine those Danish engineers wearily packing their cases for yet another emergency flight to Mombasa.

Mind you, to be fair to Costa (shock, horror!) maybe they're struggling eastwards against those pesky 'counter-currents' that delayed us so badly as we sailed south to Réunion ;o)

I've been tracking the Europa daily, recording its Lat/Long from the website at Unfortunately, I shall be away from home from early tomorrow morning (Saturday) until Tuesday night. Could someone keep recording Europa's position and e-mail details to me at ?

Europa is due to arrive at Mombasa at 0600 local tomorrow morning, i.e. 0900 GMT. Can someone check on this? Also, she's due to depart for Madagascar at 1800 local (2100 GMT), i.e. after a stay of only 12 hours.

Then she should arrive at Nosy Bé, Madagascar at 1000 local (0700 GMT) on Monday and leave at 1900 local (1600 GMT).

Then it's an arrival on Tuesday at Diego Suarez at 0800 (0500 GMT) departing at 1700 (1400 GMT) followed by an arrival on Wednesday at Tamatave at 1400 (1100 GMT).

If you want to convert a Lat/Long to a map position and see EXACTLY where Europa is simply type it (or Edit/Copy/Paste) into Google Maps -

I think we all know that the poor people currently on board won't get to Madagascar. Apparently, ever since this cruise started last December the Europa's arrived in Madagascar only once, and that was oprobably just so that Richard Wünsch could take some photos to use in his lectures and show us where we wouldn't be calling ;o)

They still don't realise

At 9am GMT today the Europa was about 400 kilometres east of Mombasa and pretty much on schedule. Even though they'll be 'stir crazy' on their second consecutive day at sea (and their third in the six days since they joined the ship!) they'll probably still be cheerful about what's ahead - poor things :o(

Thursday, March 5, 2009


While we were cruising in the Mombasa area I did wonder how likely pirate attacks might be, given that we were just south of their hunting grounds. Then today I read the Daily Mail article about about the attempted assault on the Balmoral cruise ship off Somalia. It seems that the British ship had effective pre-set strategies for protecting itself and its passengers and that these maintained the safety of everyone on board in a nerve-racking incident.

It made me wonder how Costa's leadership might have handled such an event. The way that they harrassed individuals who tried to organise and coordinate the passenger protests and yet hid away from the mass meetings gives me little confidence that they'd have been much use at all when confronted with real pirates, i.e. they're strong with the weak and weak with the strong.

For some reason, that ludicrous waving of white napkins that they get up to at mealtimes when they play 'Volare' came to mind. And volare, research now tells me, means 'to fly'. Well, well, well.

Not just the Europa

We've been contacted by a fellow passenger who's had the misfortune to have been stung twice by Costa in 2009 alone!

She and her husband booked the 'Jewels of the Indian Ocean' cruise last year when the itinerary looked fantastic. Having booked and paid for it they then decided at short notice to go on the Dubai and Emirates cruise as a short break in January 09 on the Costa Classica.

Their experience was that the cruise was fine in terms of the itinerary but the Classica was a bit shabby. Their cabin when they arrived had Christmas debris around the bed (this was 4th January!) and the bathroom floor looked a bit grubby. Attempting to clean it they discovered that the mess was excrement. They immediately called the cabin steward and complained. The cabin was then cleaned as it should have been previously.

Later in the week on two separate occasions she attempted to use the public restrooms in two separate areas. Each time she was confronted with the sight of toilets overflowing on to the floor with excrement. Both times she reported this health hazard and stressed the need for regular inspection of the toilets. There were no disinfectant hand gels available anywhere and she was understandably worried about infection spread amongst people in a confined environment.

When she got home she wrote to Costa's Customer Services regarding the issue of cleanliness and expressing her misgivings about their next cruise with Costa (if only she had known!). Costa's reply was that that antiseptic hand wipes were always available at the gangways for passengers returning from excursions and that Costa had a very good hygiene record. She also received €100 on board credit for the Europa!

On joining the Europa she made a point of looking for these hand wipes and did see them, positioned at the far side of the lobby on a table furthest away from the X ray machine and in such a position that most passengers would not even see them. I certainly was unaware that there were any such hand wipes anywhere on the entire ship. As she points out, it should be absolutely mandatory for all passengers to clean their hands antiseptically before entering any food service area. This is common practice on all other cruise lines, and I thought that they were obliged to make such hand cleansing facilities available - obviously not Costa.

She also made an excellent point concerning the mandatory service charge and I'll return to this later.

So, as suspected, Costa's poor management practices have spread around the fleet - it's not just the Europa.


The three of us look very cheerful at dinner, don't we? To anyone who'd suggest that this shows that in reality we had a wonderful cruise and just have it in for Costa I'd simply say, 'Wartime Spirit'.
Terry, the coordinator of the English-speaking group but who's now representing a far wider constituency than this as more and more offended Costa 'customers' get in touch with him, is on the left - I'm sure that many if you will recognise him.

David (that's me) is in the middle. I'm collating the horror stories and posting them here so that people can compare experiences and see that they were not alone in having issues with Costa over and above the massacred itinerary.

Bill is on the right, and it was his lovely wife Jean who took this photo. As the cruise progressed we and our wives became good friends and managed to find humour in the dreadful food that kept finding its way out of the kitchen and on to our table.

More about the food later.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The dodgy pint analogy

You're drinking in a public house and you see another customer go up to the bar with his pint. He holds it up to the light and speaks to the barman. What do you do? That's right, you hold your own pint up to the light and check it. Hmmm! Yes, it is a bit cloudy. Within a minute you're at the bar too, and a queue is forming behind you.

How should an intelligent, customer-focused publican handle such a situation? Simple. As soon as customer 1 starts to raise his pint to query its appearance the publican should take it, empty the glass down the sink and draw a fresh pint from a different barrel before anyone else in the pub realises what's going on. Customer 1 is satisfied and withdraws. The publican then tours the bar, casually checking other pints and speaking to anyone whose drink looks anything less than perfect.

To carry on with this analogy, what apparently is the equivalent Costa approach?

Firstly, make sure that there's no one at the bar who this irritating customer can pester with his miserable, worthless complaint. Let him stew. Then, when the whole bar is congested with complaining customers who've spotted the first complaint, pretend to listen, even pretend you'll call the brewery, but do absolutely nothing. After all, it'll soon be closing time and they'll have to leave, unsatisfied. Will they come back ever again? Who knows and who cares. After all, the publican is only a paid manager and it isn't his reputation on the line.

Things then start to escalate, with customers starting to become aware of the wide range of the pub's other faults and then start airing their other grievances, none of which are ever resolved, for example, the stale sandwiches, dirty glasses and the faulty hand drier in the toilet. As a result, customers become convinced that both the pub manager and the brewery just couldn't care less, and a downwards spiral of anger begins.

Costa's major problem, having taken this approach, is that their dreadful management of legitimate customer complaint has now led to a widening of the issues that are being raised. This isn't because passengers are inventing problems; it's because any reasonable person will accept that no cruise is perfect and will make allowances for smaller shortcomings. In Costa's case, having been treated with contempt passengers are now bringing forward everything else that was wrong.

Let's list a few of these things:

- food served consistently luke-warm in the ship's premium Orion restaurant, in spite of repeated complaints
- the imposition of a large compulsory gratuity, applied in spite of some of the worst service most of us have seen on a cruise ship
- the careless mislaying by Costa of several passports
- the loss of luggage removed on the last night to the quayside (still not traced days later)
- attempted fraud during the cruise on a customer's credit card ... in Genoa!
- being told to get out of cabins by 4am on the final morning, even those transferring to the airport in the afternoon
- being told to get off the ship by 6.30am on the final morning, regardless of transfer schedule
- the smell of sewage on deck late at night - one wonders why
- only having plastic picnic mugs and cups for tea and coffee
- unpleasant attempts by ship's management to suppress passenger dissent
- the repeated subordination of customer wishes to the convenience of Costa and its staff
- reading in the cruise documentation after a particularly unpleasant excursion experience that Costa takes no responsibility whatsoever for any excursions that it arranges - see section 15. Excursions

One could go on ad infinitum, and as more and more passengers get in touch with their horror stories we probably will.

But let's be clear on one thing: it's entirely reasonable to assume that many of these failures are systemic and apply right across the Costa fleet, even on ships that aren't crippled and past their sell-by date. And it's for this reason that the offer of €600 per person against a future cruise was a careless insult.

And all of this simply because the metaphorical barman didn't deal with the dodgy pint immediately, thoughtfully and efficiently

British Foreign Office Travel Advice

When we booked our ill-fated cruise on the Costa Europa it included a stop in the Comoros at Mayotte as well as three ports in Madagascar.

By the time our cruise documentation arrived Mayotte had mysteriously vanished, with no explanation. Some days into the cruise two of the Madagascar stops were cancelled as well, with stories that these changes were due to the 'socio-political situation'. All very laudably safety-conscious, you might think.

And yet what does the British Foreign Office have to say about Kenya? I quote:

'We advise against all but essential travel to within 30 kilometres of the border with Somalia. There have been recent attacks by Somali militia into Kenya and the recent kidnapping of two Western nuns. There is a high threat from terrorism in Kenya. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers. While there have not been any terrorist attacks in Kenya since 2002, we know that Al-Qaeda has the potential to carry out attacks against Western targets. Muggings and armed attacks by gangs can occur at any time, particularly in Nairobi and Mombasa. Avoid walking around after dark as attacks can occur anywhere, but especially in isolated areas such as empty beaches. There have been a number of armed attacks on golf courses around Nairobi, be extra vigilant while playing in remote areas away from the Club House of any golf courses. Be alert at all times. Do not accept food or drink from strangers as it may be drugged. Only stay in tourist camps with good perimeter security. Do not carry valuables or wear jewellery in public places. Do not carry credit cards or cash cards unless you must: people have been forced by thieves to withdraw cash. Beware of thieves posing as police officers; always ask to see identification. In 2008, two British nationals resident in Kenya were killed during robberies at their homes. The most recent incident occurred in April 2008. In October 2008, two British and one Irish tourist were attacked and robbed by a six man gang near Nyeri (central Kenya) whilst on a guided tour.'

Given this authoritative advice I'm staggered that Costa were so determined to get to Mombasa AND to let us go ashore on potentially hazardous excursions. But then again this might have something to do with the tired old Europa's crippled starboard engine and the need to get emergency repairs carried out in a big port.

By comparison, the Comoros advice is:
'As a result of its colonial history and the ongoing political debate regarding the separation status of Mayotte, there have been a number of reports of demonstrations and anti-French sentiment throughout Comoros. All foreigners should remain cautious and monitor events through the local media, and avoid all demonstrations, rallies and other large public gatherings.'

Sounds like far less of a problem than Mombasa!

The Madagascar advice is:

'We advise against all but essential travel to Madagascar. There have been a number of demonstrations in Madagascar since 24 January 2009 as a result of tensions between the government of President Ravalomanana and opposition leader and former mayor of Antananarivo, Rajoelina. There have been violent incidents and lootings in Antananarivo and regional centres across the country, and more than 125 deaths have been reported. On Thursday 19 February 2009, the opposition took over four ministries which were subsequently retaken by security forces. We strongly advise British nationals in Madagascar to avoid any political rallies, demonstrations or large gatherings and to monitor the situation in the local media. A curfew is currently in effect between 22:00 and 04:00. We advise all British nationals in Madagascar to abide by this curfew.'

Under these circumstances you'd have expected that ALL Madagascar calls would have been abandoned long before our cruise, that extra, compensatory ports of call would have been arranged and that we'd have had more than an hour in Réunion. To be as charitable as possible, it sounds as if Costa dithered in indecision, which again comes back to the quality of decision-making at the top of the company.

So, in summary,

a) if the abandoned ports of call were so predictably hazardous
b) if the ailing Europa's engines were so much in need of maintenance (or replacement)

why wasn't the whole cruise cancelled, thus sparing Costa's paying customers needless expense?

I'm still amazed that we limped up and down the Indian Ocean at snail's pace, wallowing in light seas, missing ports of call and periodically belching smoke that showed the dreadful state of Europa's engine maintenance, and yet Costa blithely allowed the next lot of suckers, sorry, customers, to board in Mauritius and then set off yet again, doubtless crossing their corporate fingers and smiling innocently.

Against this background of corporate muddle it looks like a bit of a gamble to cruise on ANY Costa ship. I'm pleased to say that I met a friend last night who'd been considering Costa's Dubai cruise and that my explanation of events on the Europa has led him to abandon the idea.

Caveat emptor.

The calm before the storm?

It's funny how the Europa's cruises start out OK and then unwind horribly.

At the moment she's heading from Mahé to Mombasa, exactly on schedule. Interestingly, we were given an extra day on Mahé because the calls in Madagascar had been slashed from three to one, so does the current adherence to schedule mean that she'll actually visit Madagascar? Hmmmm!

Adding comments

It would be really helpful if everyone could add comments to postings. Of course, comments need to avoid being libellous and should keep to facts, even if we're all still furious with Costa's incompetence.

To add a comment simply go to the bottom of the relevant post and click on 'n' comments where 'n' is the number of comments received so far. A box will open up in which you can type. I have enabled anonymous comments so that you don't first have to register with Google if you don't want to.

An honorable man

When he was cornered at the public meeting on Thursday 26th February the captain said, "I understand everything. I understand that your cruise has been ruined'. This comment was recorded at the time by a passenger.

Later, he stoutly maintained that, as a Sicilian, he was a man of honour *

Chairmen and Chief Executives often resign their position in recognition of the failures that have taken place under their leadership, even if these were the direct, personal responsibility of subordinates. It's hard to see why the man most closely associated with Costa's huge failure to offer anything like the advertised cruise shouldn't follow their example and resign his command.

As a man of honour, of course.

* Like Brutus, perhaps? Julius Caesar, Act III Scene II

The incredible shrinking cruise

Let's remind ourselves of what we were offered and what Costa actually delivered.

Day Advertised location
Sat 14/02/2009 Port Louis, Mauritius
Sun 15/02/2009 Port Louis. Depart 13.00
Mon 16/02/2009 At sea
Tue 17/02/2009 Mahé, Seychelles. Arrive 15.00
Wed 18/02/2009 Mahé, Seychelles. Depart 20.00
Thu 19/02/2009 At sea
Fri 20/02/2009 At sea
Sat 21/02/2009 Mombasa, Kenya. Arrive 06.00, depart 18.00
Sun 22/02/2009 At sea
Mon 23/02/2009 Nosy Be, Madagascar. Arrive 10.00, depart 19.00
Tue 24/02/2009 Diego Suarez, Madagascar. Arrive 8.00, depart 17.00
Wed 25/02/2009 Tamatave, Madagascar. Arrive 14.00, depart 19.00
Thu 26/02/2009 At sea
Fri 27/02/2009 St. Denis, Réunion. Arrive 08.00, depart 17.30
Sat 28/02/2009 Port Louis, Mauritius
That meant about four and a half days at sea.

What did we get in the end?
Day Actual location
Sat 14/02/2009 Port Louis, Mauritius
Sun 15/02/2009 Port Louis, departed on time
Mon 16/02/2009 At sea
Tue 17/02/2009 At sea. Arrived Mahé, Seychelles, on time
Wed 18/02/2009 Mahé, Seychelles
Thu 19/02/2009 Mahé, Seychelles, departed about dusk
Fri 20/02/2009 At sea. Starboard engine failed
Sat 21/02/2009 At sea. Heavily reduced speed
Sun 22/02/2009 At sea. Arrived Mombasa, Kenya, at dusk
Mon 23/02/2009 Mombasa, Kenya
Tue 24/02/2009 Departed about midday. At sea
Wed 25/02/2009 At sea
Thu 26/02/2009 At sea
Fri 27/02/2009 At sea. Arrived Réunion about 3.30pm. Departed about 7pm
Sat 28/02/2009 Port Louis, Mauritius. Arrived about 3am
That meant that instead of four and a half days at sea we had four and a half days ashore.

We lost five advertised ports of call, i.e. Mayotte, all of Madagascar and also Réunion (reduced from ten hours to just one). A €300 credit doesn't even begin to make up for that.

In Costa's cruise documention they say that they 'are sure that your holiday will be unique and unforgettable'. It was hardly unique as the passengers on the previous cruise also missed ports of call, but it certainly was unforgettable, for all the wrong reasons.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The previous Europa cruise

By good fortune we now have had contact with passengers on the previous Europa cruise. And guess what? They were treated almost as badly as we were.

Their cruise ran to schedule up to Mombasa until, on the Sunday while supposedly sailing towards Nosy Be, things started to unwind. Around 11.30am the ship slowed noticeably and shortly afterwards changed course perceptibly. It later became apparent that this was the point at which the ship's senior management decided to abandon all calls in Madagascar.

At 4.30pm, at Richard Wünsch's presentation on Madagascar for English-speaking passengers but seemingly before he'd delivered it, a passenger took the microphone, said that he'd heard that the ship would now no longer be calling at Madagascar and demanded an explanation from the captain. This all sounds horribly familiar, doesn't it? By 6pm a letter was delivered to cabins announcing the new, non-Madagascar schedule and containing neither apologies nor explanations, i.e at least 6-7 hours after the change in course and after rumours had swept the ship - maybe the 'Communications Officer' was busy doing more important things.

At Monday's lecture by Richard Wünsch he gave a short speech about what had gone wrong, how the decision to scrap the visits in Madagascar had been made in Genoa and the limited choices available to the captain. It wasn't clear whether this was an 'official explanation' or whether Mr Wünsch was simply trying to be helpful on his own initiative. I believe the latter, althought cynics amongst the passengers believed that he was doing the captain's dirty work.

By noon on Monday anger had built up and it was announced that there would be a meeting at 3.30pm in the theatre, attended by the captain. The meeting started early and was a shambles, with no control, angry words from the 'Hotel Director' and the captain standing back in Pontius Pilate mode. There was no translation going on at all.

Eventually, an English passenger took the microphone, gave a reasoned speech and asked that the 'hosts' provided translation. Another passenger, who sounded like a lawyer, did the same in French and Spanish and also did a good job. The hosts did do some translation, some better than others. The English-speaking host tended to reduce everything to a brief summary to the effect that the captain was aware of everyone's feelings and had passed these on to Genoa. Head Office, it was alleged, had told him to hold a meeting, canvas the views of passengers and report back.

This sounded far too flimsy to the aggrieved and increasingly irritated passengers. The captain and crew were asked to leave so that a private meeting of passengers could be held. Apparently, you couldn't see Costa's finest for dust as they fled.

In the subsequent meeting, which like ours was hampered by language difficulties, a letter was agreed that asked Costa for compensation. This was passed to the captain who forwarded it to Genoa. Genoa's response? Hard luck, no compensation, get used to it.

So, like us, they missed out on the Comoros Islands and Madagascar, although we also lost Réunion. However, Costa saw no reason for the passengers to be worthy of any compensation whatsoever and took the attitude that they would just have to put up with it all.

At one of the last dinners a feisty French lady went around distributing slips of paper with e-mail addresses and the senior restaurant management tried angrily to stop her. To her credit she persevered, and we should thank her for giving us this link to the 1500+ customers of the cruise before ours and for demonstrating to us that we weren't hit by unavoidable problems. Costa's whole management structure, from the Europa's pathetic leadership right up to the top in Genoa, lacks customer focus in a truly dreadful way.

I been in touch already with, I think, the nice lady who stood up to Costa's bullying managers, and I will ask her if she would like me to publicise her contact details here.

Monday, March 2, 2009


I've been contacted by a passenger on the cruise before ours. They also had dreadful treatment from Costa but were offered no compensation whatsoever. I'm asking permission to repeat what this passenger has told me and will post it here if he agrees.

I've also e-mailed the main coordinator of the passenger protests on this previous cruise in the hope that maybe it will work to the advantage of us all if we combine our efforts. There are a number of things that we can do to fight back against Costa's apparent institutional failure to respond appropriately to customer complaints. For example, take a look at this example of an ordinary consumer fighting back and landing some very heavy blows.

Watch this space.

Passengers unite for compensation

The anger of the Europa's passengers began to erupt on the evening of Monday 23rd February.

As my wife and I returned to the ship after an excursion, minutes before the time we were due back before sailing, my suspicions that we were about to be fleeced were aroused by the sight of other passengers leaving the ship to, presumably, wander around Mombasa.

We then checked the sailing time advertised at the ship's 'check-in' and saw, to our immediate fury, that our departure had been delayed until the following day and that we'd be taken straight to Reunion, missing Madagascar entirely.

On our return to our cabin we found the Captain's letter on the bed, offering either €300 off our bill OR €600 off a future cruise. Unfortunately, this was no joke but was an entirely serious offer.

Public meetings of the passengers over the next few days showed that none of us were happy at such a pitiful offer. Some of the Italian contingent were content to demand that the two offers should be combined, i.e. to give us both the money off now AND more against a future cruise. Many of the English-speaking customers felt that this was insufficient.

With the help of a lawyer amongst us a rather polite letter to the captain was composed. It was given to the Services desk to pass on to him, also with a copy for the Services Director. To the best of my knowledge no reply was ever received.

This is the text of the letter:

The Captain
Costa Europa Cruise Ship
26th February 2009

Dear Captain Donato,

This letter is written on behalf of all of the undersigned, who are all English-speaking passengers on the Costa Europa.

It is written in response to your circular letter dated 23rd February sent to all passengers in which you apologise for the disappointment and inconvenience caused by the further itinerary changes which were necessary as a result of the ship’s engine failure.

Your letter offers a €300 on board credit per person or, alternatively, a €600 discount on any future Costa cruise taken by 31st December 2010.

We are aware that there are other proposals being put to you by another group of passengers in which they are suggesting that you should combine the two offers that you have made.

For a variety of reasons however (predominantly involving the travel required to reach the cruise departure locations) the future cruise discount option is less attractive for most English speaking passengers than other European passengers.

In relation to the €300 on board credit, we do not consider that this represents an adequate proposal having regard to all the circumstances and the fact that the cruise itinerary has been significantly reduced from its original format.

We consider that a sum of €600 per person for both adults and children would represent a more appropriate and realistic amount on the basis that it should be paid as a cash sum on or before disembarkation in Mauritius that can be used in full or in part settlement of individual on board credit arrangements. According we invite you to agree to this counter proposal as an appropriate interim arrangement.

Since the itinerary changes have affected all passengers in different ways, this counter proposal is made on the express understanding that it is to be regarded as an interim arrangement and that in no way does it affect or limit the rights of the signatories below to pursue their own individual claims for compensation against Costa (or their travel arrangers) on their return to their respective home lands.

It is however hoped that, should you agree to this counter proposal and therefore accept responsibility for your failings, this will mean that there will be significantly fewer claims for compensation that Costa will have to deal with in the future.

Yours etc.

Of course, when insult was added to injury by the visit to Reunion being cut to an hour only, and that only because some of the passngers had to disembark there, our position hardened considerably, as I'll explain later.