American Family Sails Serena[IMG]http://www.cruisecritic.com/images/pixel.gif[/IMG]Background: We are a family of five traveling together on this cruise; mom, dad,
three boys, 17, 19 and 21. Our son's girlfriend, 21, joined us. We have cruised many, many times with Princess and RCI, usually mini suites or baloneys, depending on price. In addition to cruising we are a well traveled family. I mention this only so that it may give you an idea of how to judge our review in reflection of our/your experiences and expectations. Our oldest son was studying abroad in Pristina, Kosovo and we took this opportunity to meet him in Venice for a summer holiday before sending him and his brother - soon to be a college freshman - off to school in mid August. We had a very specific time frame to vacation because our son didn't finish classes until early August and we had to be back in the states by Aug 12. Knowing this, and the weakness of the dollar abroad, we decided our best and most affordable opportunity was to cruise from Venice. So the research began. It didn't take long to settle on the Costa Serena. 7 day cruise from Venice with great port stops at an unbelievable bargain. I came back to Costa again and again and ultimately settled on that trip. And decided on three inside cabins because it was such a darn good deal. I have never sailed on an inside, although we always put the boys across the hall in one. Then I began reading the boards. And boy was I worried. But again, how bad can it be? Telling the boys not to expect a Princess experience, and hoping I could adhere to that advice as well, we left the states in great spirits, anxious to meet our son in Venice and begin a family vacation.
Friday, July 31, Overnight Cleveland / Venice with a layover in Paris. After a very long day of traveling, the layover allowing us to see Notre Dame and The Eiffel Tower - yes, LEAVE the airport, it's totally doable - we arrived in Venice without three bags. Mine and one of the boys. Honestly, who cares about his luggage? He has two brothers almost the same size. Missing mine was sending me into a quiet panic that I managed to ignore the first day. After several phone calls to Air France and Continental they assured me it would be on the ship when we boarded on Sunday. Not having a lot of confidence in that plan we proceeded to the port. After turning a corner, in the middle of a frenzied group attempting to check in luggage, there sat our three bags on a sidewalk as though they'd been thrown from a truck. Happily, I grabbed them. Embarkation: Good, not great. Long wait in the terminal. Either get there first, or wait until late in the day. We arrived in the middle and probably sat for 90 or more minutes. No big deal for us, although we started getting anxious to board. Once our number was called, we were on the ship within minutes.
The ship is lovely. Yes, it's done in lots of red and golds. But it's lovely. Clean, clean, clean. Our cabins were wonderful and the shower was larger than any other bathroom we've had on RCI or Princess. And how did I like the inside cabin? I've never slept so well in my life!! Would I do an inside again? On this particular cruise, yes, because of the value. The next category up was more than double what we paid. But I'm looking forward to my next balcony!
Dinner: We bought the x1 cards for my 21 year old and myself. My husband is more of a mixed drink guy. I was really the only wine drinker in the group, so I thought this would be fine for me. So thankful that we did this. Buy the boys and girls card for others in your party. Again, great value. The very first night our waiters brought us a bottle of wine, after asking if we'd prefer white or red, and never stopped bringing beers to our table for anyone drinking them. This x1 pays for itself many times over as long as you're happy with Carlsburg beer (what 21 year old isn't) and house wine. We never tried to have drinks at lunchtime, mostly because we weren't on ship, so I can't comment on how well the x1 works outside the dining room. I might mention here that the drinks on board are really expensive. With the weak dollar most cocktails are in the $10 range, almost twice as much as we're used to on other ships. Drink menus are in Euros so if the dollar was even, it'd be no big deal. We had a wonderful table by the window and were always one of the first to arrive and last to leave. We really enjoyed the dinners. Was the food the best we've ever had? No. But is WAS good. Sometimes even great. I'm the foodie in the group. Everyone else would probably give higher grades than me. The presentation lacked, but many times the flavor was there. My husband tipped our wait staff the fist night, and in addition to beer and wine waiting at our table each night, we were treated to bruschetta, and various other Italian goodies every single night piled high on platters in the middle of our table. An extremely pleasant experience and one of the best overall dining experiences on a cruise ship, but not necessarily because of the food.
Announcements, Languages and Americans: From what I could tell, we were six of maybe 50 Americans (at most) on board. Fine with us. Maybe that's why we were treated so nicely. Having a pattern after dinner of stopping at the piano bar, then playing a little black jack in the casino, the bar and casino staff came to recognize us. They called us 'the family'!!!! We were always greeted with smiles by name, (obviously read our cruise cards when we paid for our drinks) and by the third night, the bar staff knew our order. This was by far the friendliest cruise staff we've encountered. The boys befriended some teenagers from a Spanish family and Tom and I found a group of three English couples that we enjoyed spending time with each evening after dinner. The pit boss would even open a black jack table for us so that we could all play together. Yes, they made announcements in many languages. But honestly, why is that such a big deal? If you don't listen for it, you may miss it. And isn't it kinda cool to try and recognize words from another language that you hear again and again. I mean we are the only country that educates in one language.
The Buffets: Here's the biggest negative on the trip. Hated the breakfast, and even more so, the lunchtime buffets. Unorganized, chaotic, and crowded. Crazy hours; I swear from 12:00 pm to 12:30 pm nothing is open! It took us a while to figure out the buffet areas and we found that the buffet outside by the aft pool had the best overall situation. Different types of pizza type bread with toppings and some other unusual, but tasty, lunchtime food. Salad selections were not good. Or at least I didn't find any. The Italian yogurt was excellent by the way. The itinerary on the ship didn't have us on board many days at lunch which actually was a good thing.
Ports: We never did get off the ship in Bari. The best laid plans……Too much fun the night before prevented us from even feeling like getting off the ship.
Olympia: We hired George; I found out abouthim on these boards, and he met us right off the ship. We had a wonderful day viewing the Olympic ruins and the small town of Olympia. George even took us back to his home to meet his family. Very knowledgeable and friendly I would highly recommend him to anyone inclined to arrange their own excursion. TIP: The duty free shop right outside the ship has a very large 6 pack of water for 1.50E -if you're a water drinker don't pass this up.
Izmir: Because I had trouble arranging our own excursion at this port, on board we booked with Costa for the Ephesus and House of the Virgin Mary tour. This was probably our favorite stop. It's a sleeper!!!! The ruins are incredible and more than anything point out existence of an ancient civilization that's very easy to imagine given the magnitude of the ruins. This isn't rocks poking out of the ground. Let's just leave it at that. Don't want to ruin the awe of it for anyone planning to visit this ancient wonder.
Istanbul: Again, hired a private tour agency recommended from these boards and had a wonderful day touring Istanbul. It's an amazing place and we found the Turks to be so gentle and kind. The grand bazaar was grand! And fun, and loud and crazy!!! I expected it to be like the markets in Bangkok but it wasn't even close. Much crazier!!! But we loved it!
Dubrovnik: By the time we arrived in Dubrovnik, we wanted a restful day. After walking around the city a bit, we found a wonderful café set on the edge of the rocks where we sat for hours sipping local beer while the boys jumped off the cliffs into the Adriatic. Oh, and by the way. I was concerned not having a Costa excursion booked for this port we'd be delayed getting off ship which would severely cut into our already short dock in Dubrovnik. We took the elevator down to the tender floor and walked off the ship shortly after docking. No questions asked. Try it. Leaving the Ship was easy. We took the Costa bus back to Piazza Roma and headed to our hotel for one last night. We left Venice very early the next morning with memories of a fantastic trip. Summary: We had a great experience with Costa. What made it great was the value. Had I paid for a suite on this trip I think I would have been more prone to disappointment with other aspects of the ship. Maybe we would have expected better dinners, or less crowded buffets, or better entertainment. But so many things about this ship were right on. And several experiences that hands down were better than Princess or RCI. But we went in with the right attitude and it paid off. Would we cruise Costa again? Under the right circumstances I think we would. I would probably not sail Costa in the Caribbean. We are booked on the Emerald at Easter time for 10 days and I do prefer Princess or RCI over Costa in the Caribbean. But having said that, give Costa a try. I don't think you'll be disappointed.