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Everything You Need To Know For Your First Costa Cruise

Are you planning your first Costa Cruise tour and you are looking for the things that you need to know beforehand? Well, today, we’ll tell you everything we have learned from our many cruises on Costa that will make your vacation even more fantastic.

So, if you’ve been searching about Costa, you may have found it has a not-so-great reputation online—at least outside Europe. Passengers from North America and England tend to complain much about Costa on places like Cruise Critic and other online forums. In our opinion, this reputation is totally undeserved because these passengers compare Costa with the North American cruise lines that they are accustomed to.

Sailing on Costa Smeralda

For context, we’ve cruised on Princess, MSC, and NCL, and yes, Costa is different in many ways. So we will cover all the main differences about Costa so you will be prepared and have a wonderful time on board!

In this article, you’ll learn how: 

  • Despite its undeserved reputation, Costa Cruises offers an enjoyable and authentic Italian experience, emphasizing regional cuisine, lively nightlife, and cultural diversity.
  • English is not the primary onboard language, although almost every crew knows how to speak it, along with different languages. Passengers must manage tasks like credit card registration and loyalty program enrollment to maximize their cruise experience.
  • The best way to make the most out of your first Costa cruise is to prepare appropriately and calibrate your expectations. 

Reasons to Experience Costa Cruise

Before we get to the core of this discussion, let me explain why you should experience Costa Cruise.

Authentic Italian ExperienceCosta fully embraces Italian culture with food, language, and entertainment which makes you feel immersed in the destination.
Value for MoneyInclusive packages and low-cost shore excursions provide exceptional affordability
Family Friendly AtmosphereOutstanding supervised kids clubs and nonstop activities appeal to young families.
Lively NightlifeFestive late-night parties epitomize Italian zeal for celebrating la dolce vita.
Regional CuisineRotating menus in dining rooms highlight various provincial Italian and Mediterranean specialties.
Cultural DiversityMulti-language announcements and passengers from around the globe create an international onboard community.
Convenient European StyleEmbark/debark at multiple ports, no set arrival/departure times, and everything utilizes the metric system.
Relaxed UpsellingNo pressure tactics to purchase extras, so you can vacation at your own pace.

Language Differences Onboard

One of the first things you need to know for your first Costa cruise is the language.

If you are used to cruising on North American cruise lines, the first thing you will notice when traveling on Costa is that English is not the primary language on board. Announcements are often made in Italian, French, German, Spanish, English, and sometimes other languages like Portuguese, Russian, etc. All the staff members speak English, and many speak several other languages so that the language barrier won’t be much of an issue. 

One very important thing to know is that Costa has a dedicated host on board for each one of the languages spoken. This person is there to help you, in English, with anything you need—so we recommend using that service to the maximum extent possible. So, if you need help with anything, just contact your English host. And make friends with them as soon as you get on the ship!

Another important thing to know regarding the language is that the excursions are also in different languages, and when you book an excursion, you can select the language you want. There is only one little catch: if there are not enough people to book the excursion in English, it will most likely get canceled. 

This problem was more common during the pandemic when few English-speaking passengers were on board. Today, there’s more, but be aware that it might still happen.

Lastly, remember that all the service staff must deal with several different languages, which is sometimes quite challenging. A little patience and empathy go a long way!

Distinctive Food and Dining

Another thing you will know immediately when on a Costa cruise for the first time is the food. Portions on Costa are much smaller than those on North American cruise lines. But here’s the thing: lunch and dinner service is meant for a four-course meal. That means an appetizer, first course, second course, and dessert. So, you won’t get big plates on these courses, but you can always ask for more!

Appetiser on board the Costa Favolosa

Also, the quality of the food on board is exceptional. I think it’s very similar to a Michelin Star restaurant. It’s no wonder Costa collaborates with some of the world’s best Michelin Star chefs to create the food you eat on board. The selection is excellent, and the presentation is always Michelin-perfect.

Another thing that you will find very different on Costa is that no place serves food 24 hours a day—well, other than room service. You’ll have your breakfast in the morning. Lunch between 12 and 2 pm. The buffet serves snacks between 4 pm and 5 pm, which the Italians call Merenda. Then you have your dinner, with the first seating at around 6:30  pm and the second seating around 9 pm.

A couple of venues on board serve food until very late, for a fee, at night in particular, the Salty Beach burger joint and the pizza place called Pummi d’Oro. Lastly, some parties often have a huge buffet around midnight. So, the first seatings at 4:45 pm will not happen at Costa. 

We have to mention that the desserts in the main dining room on Costa are the best we have ever had. They are incredibly tasty, beautiful, and very innovative. During one of our many trips, we learned from the corporate pastry chef that Costa is using natural ingredients and trying to develop recipes that use less refined sugar without compromising the taste—and this means a healthier dessert that’s still delicious.

And if you want a taste of good Italian food while on a trip here, you may also check out Italy’s best restaurants

Things Passengers Must Do For Themselves

Unlike cruises where everything gets handled for you, Costa leaves three critical tasks up to passengers:

1. Register Credit Card: Costa lacks automated payment systems that link to your online profile or boarding information. You must visit onboard kiosks to register any credit or debit card you intend to use for purchases and expenses.

2. Join Costa’s Loyalty Membership (C-Club): Membership benefits like member-only sales are not automatic. You have to intentionally enroll in Costa’s C-Club to reap advantages like coupon savings plus discounts on specialty dining, spas, excursions, and other amenities.

3. Review Costa App: Since English announcements are not guaranteed, reading the daily onboard schedule (“Oggi a Bordo”) becomes critical for activities, entertainment, and port/dining hours. Downloading Costa’s app unlocks mobile access to this itinerary, ship maps/menus, and more. Unfortunately, the app remains unavailable in North America as of early 2024 but should appear on its own later this year.

Purchase All-Inclusive Package

We highly recommend purchasing the all-inclusive package when booking your Costa cruise. This package offers the best value compared to paying for drinks individually. Without the all-inclusive package, you must pay for every drink on board, including tap water, which Costa does not provide free of charge despite its portability.

The all-inclusive package includes unlimited water, coffee, specialty coffees, tea, juice, soda, wine, beer, digestives, and most cocktails at no additional cost. Housekeeping services are also covered. 

Important PSA: you can’t bring water on a Costa cruise. While some guests carry a refillable water bottle and avoid the package, this approach is impractical for an entire cruise. With the all-inclusive package, you don’t have to worry about tallying costs for basic necessities.

For non-alcoholic drinkers, Costa offers individual water, soda, and coffee packages at additional expense. However, these limited packages fail to match the comprehensive value of the all-inclusive.

Cost Of Upgrading Your Drinking Package 

Upgrading to the all-inclusive drink package runs about 21 euros per day when purchased on board. Still, it costs significantly less if booked before your cruise. For this added fee, you can access superior alcoholic beverages, juices freshly squeezed on demand, and specialty coffees.

And hey, since we’re talking about drinks, knowing the legal drinking age in Italy might be useful. 

Lots of Young Families and Children Onboard

Compared to North American cruises, you’ll immediately notice Costa attracts a much younger passenger demographic. There are hordes of children and teenagers aboard, especially during summertime and holidays when school is out. Costa excels at engaging kids and teens with outstanding youth centers and non-stop entertainment. Young families in their 20s and 30s with children represent many travelers.

If you prefer an adults-only atmosphere, consider sailing in spring or fall when schools are in session. Families tend to book shorter one-week cruises, so embarking on longer 14+ day itineraries can also sway demographics older. But if you enjoy multi-generational travel, kids clubs, and a lively atmosphere, Costa’s family orientation makes it an ideal choice. Just be aware that summer, holidays, and quick getaways disproportionately draw youth due to the exceptional children’s programs and competitive pricing.

Epic Nightlife

Fellow travelers describe Costa as Italy on the sea, especially regarding nightlife. The ships’ late-night revelry epitomizes Italian zeal for la dolce vita. Parties typically kick off around 11:30 p.m. once dinner wraps up, but the fun rages on well into the wee hours.

We’ve never witnessed such ebullient, crowded dance parties as those that regularly occur on Costa’s ships. Even passengers not keen on huge social events can discover smaller-scale entertainment from 10 p.m. onwards, whether karaoke, dancing, or activities.

Now, we’ve had many people ask, “Do you dress up every night on a Costa cruise?” The answer is no. Costa cruises do not require formal attire or dressing up every evening. Formal nights are optional for those who wish to participate. Smart casual clothing suffices for specialty dining venues, with no obligation to wear formalwear unless desired. Just maybe don’t rock up to dinner in your tighty-whities. 

Booking Excursions in Advance

Booking shore excursions early applies to every cruise line, as the best and most popular tours sell out fast. Costa allows you to pre-reserve all your tours in advance without requiring upfront payment. 

You simply settle your excursion bills once onboard the Costa ship and have the flexibility of canceling minus penalty up to 3 days pre-departure. So, securing your ideal itineraries promptly is the best option and will make your cruise experience much easier. 

Moreover, Costa ships will wait for lagging shore groups, so you needn’t stress about tardy returns delaying departure. You can venture freely, knowing your floating hotel won’t desert you. 

Speaking of independent exploration and activating an international eSIM before sailing enables seamless cell and data coverage throughout your travels, sidestepping punitive roaming charges. You can purchase full-trip access for around $10 or under, or you may consider options like tourist phone plans in Italy

Adapting to European Style Onboard

As an Italian cruise line, Costa maintains European standards and conventions onboard. Cabins have European electrical outlets, requiring travel adapters for devices from North America, Australia, and the UK. Moreover, all posted times use the 24-hour clock rather than 12-hour AM/PM, so 17:30 translates to 5:30 PM. Before your cruise, acquaint yourself with the 24-hour format to avoid confusion checking schedules.

Further European influences mean Celsius temperatures and metric measurements for distances, weights, and volumes. Menu listings for a 500-gram tomahawk steak equate to a 16-ounce cut by American scaling. 

As you explore the ship and make reservations, mentality prepares for metrics. Though the differences seem subtle, these European touches lend Costa its regional authenticity so guests can fully immerse in la dolce vita at sea.

Tip: Knowing some basic Italian restaurant etiquette can be helpful down the line.  

Download the Costa Mobile App

The Costa app proves essential for navigating your cruise. View daily menus and schedules, make restaurant reservations, connect to the internet, track your expenses, and message fellow passengers. 

Most critically, the app streams the mandatory safety drill to your device, sparing you from queues and crowds at the lifeboat muster stations. You must still register attendance at your assigned muster area, but the process goes quickly.

Regrettably, at the time of this article’s writing, the app remains unavailable for download in North American app stores. 

However, Costa’s onboard app manager assured a full North American rollout by the end of January 2024. This news is a relief since the app greatly enhances the cruise through its many functionalities. Relying solely on the printed daily program, “Oggi a Bordo,” delivered to your stateroom or cabin, seems antiquated compared to what the app offers.

Until the app launches stateside, the Oggi a Bordo program plus the welcome packet from your cabin containing ship details, internet codes, and purchasable ship packages will suffice for planning your days and discoveries aboard. 

But, once released, we highly recommend downloading the Costa app to maximize your cruise through smarter scheduling, simplified reservations, and streamlined shipboard life.

Relaxed Upselling Environment

A refreshing aspect of Costa is the lack of aggressive upselling onboard. You won’t face high-pressure sales tactics to purchase add-ons or upgrades—something we highly appreciate.

The crew modestly informs passengers of the special packages, activities, and ship offerings but ultimately leaves decisions up to the individual. Costa’s laid-back Mediterranean approach lets you vacation at your own pace without constantly fielding invites or sales pitches.

Frequent Embarkation/Disembarkation

A notable aspect of cruise ship travel (not just for Costa) that first-timers need to know is that passengers often embark and disembark at multiple ports along an itinerary, which is especially common on Mediterranean and Emirates cruises. Costa Cruise carries an average of 12.4 million guests every year. This frequent embarking/disembarking procedure carries several advantages for passengers.

First, boarding is expedited since procedures repeatedly occur at various ports instead of just once for all passengers. There are fewer bottlenecks and queues during boarding with this method.

Second, the choices of boarding ports expand, allowing passengers flexibility to embark from whichever is most optimal. No single port bears the full brunt of boarding all at once.

Third, passengers can typically remain on board later, often until noon, rather than mandatory pre-dawn disembarkations. There is less crack-of-dawn hustle or abrupt exits.

The main drawback is repeating safety protocols like lifejacket drills while new passengers cycle on. You may hear the safety spiels more frequently, too. But overall, frequent embarkation smooths passenger transit, expands options and relaxes rigid disembark timetables that rush travelers off ships.

Quick Tip: Don’t Forget Your Essentials

There’s only a limited selection of toiletries and feminine products available. No problem if it’s port-intensive, but it would be a different story if you have several sea days. So, prepare as needed!

Trying Specialty Dining and Activities

While Costa’s inclusive main dining rooms serve exceptional rotating regional Italian cuisine nightly, we strongly recommend branching out across the diverse specialty restaurants, too, to round out your immersive culinary education. 

Our favorites include the dedicated pizzeria whose Naples-style pies outshine any found stateside and the teppanyaki grills presenting dinner as chef-directed theater. The sushi bars and steakhouses onboard also compete favorably with upscale venues on land.

Likewise, we suggest sampling various evening entertainment and late-night offerings in addition to stage shows and lounge sets rather than just your habitual favorite types of fun. Sing karaoke one night, laugh at the comedy club the next, then dance til dawn at raging discos. Attend a classical concert, blackjack tournament, or wine/food fest too! Say “yes” to exploring fresh adventures and meeting fellow global cruisers outside your native language and culture.

Great Value for The Money

Overall, Costa offers exceptional value for your money. In fact, the cruise we are on right now costs us €120 (approximately USD120) per person per day with the all-inclusive package, meaning the drinking package and gratuities, which is a really good price for a truly all-inclusive experience.

Not only that, it is worth mentioning that excursions on Costa are very well priced, and you can also purchase a package that includes four half-day excursions that you can choose from and a 25% discount for all the other excursions.

Make Sure to Sign Up For The C-Club

The C-Club is Costa’s loyalty program, and as we mentioned before, you have to sign up yourself; you are not automatically enrolled, as is the case on other cruise lines. Signing up for the program is very important because it allows you to have some great discounts on board that only members get. For example, the Gourmet experience is 50% off if you belong to the C-Club, independent of your status level in the program.

Well, we hope that we have answered all your questions about what you need to know for your first Costa cruise. If you’d like some help booking a cruiser, let us know, and we’ll help you out. We hope you’ve learned how to maximize your trip in this wonderful Italian Cruise line guide!


How much luggage can I take on Board?

If you travel for seven nights or less, you can carry one suitcase plus carry-on luggage per person. If you travel 8-14 nights, you can carry two suitcases + carry-on luggage, and if you travel over 14 nights, you can carry three suitcases + carry-on luggage per person. The recommended maximum weight per bag is 23 kg (approximately 50 pounds)

How Many People Can Fit into a Costa Cruise Cabin?

Most Costa ships offer cabins suitable for up to 4 guests. The Costa Diadema features larger cabins accommodating up to 5 guests.

What Do You Wear on a Costa Cruise?

During the day, casual lightweight clothing like cotton, swimwear with coverups indoors, and weather-appropriate items like sweaters and rain jackets suffice. More formal evening wear is only required in the ship’s restaurants. 

Can You Wear Heans on a Costa Cruise?

Yes, regular (non-distressed) jeans are acceptable daytime cruise wear. Costa maintains a relaxed dress code, allowing jeans in all areas except the main dining rooms, which require casual business attire in the evenings.

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