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 http://www.costacruises.co.uk/B2C/GB/Shopping/Ships/EU/Default.htm
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 costafailure.com 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)
- 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,