The REAL Reasons Costa Cruises Are So Cheap!

Costa Cruises are ridiculously cheap. I recently paid just £30 per day for a balcony cabin at solo occupancy. Surely, Costa Cruises isn’t making any profit on that, right?

According to my research about how much cruises cost with each cruise line, Costa cruises cost around 40% less than the average cruise.

The Costa Smeralda cruise ship docked in a port on a clear day, its white and blue balconies visible against the backdrop of a blue sky with fluffy clouds and distant mountains.

So you may be wondering why they’re so cheap. Can you still have a fun time on a cruise this cheap, or will you hate every minute of your time on board?

In this article, I’ll explain exactly why Costa cruises are so cheap. This will help you decide whether to give this cruise line a try, or to save your money for something better.

Costa Cruises ships are pretty nice

I cruised on Costa Smeralda, one of the newest ships in the Costa Cruises fleet, and I thought it looked pretty good. It was clean, modern and well-designed.

Interior of the Costa Smeralda featuring a teal replica of the Statue of Liberty, surrounded by lush green potted plants, under a ceiling of colorful destination signs and digital screens.

Costa Cruises is owned by Carnival Corporation. The hull of Costa Smeralda is the same as other ships owned by the same parent company, like P&O Cruises Iona and Arvia, Carnival Celebration, Jubilee and Mardi Gras, and AIDAnova and AIDAcosma.

Carnival Corporation is a huge company, and using the same design for all of these ships gives economy of scale. The decor is pretty nice too, although there are some weird quirks, like not being able to see the stage very well in the theatre, or having a weird window in the shower!

Costa Smeralda balcony room featuring a unique window looking into the shower.

Costa Cruises has ten ships. If you choose one of the older, smaller ships like Costa Fortuna which is now over 20 years old and around half the size of the newer ships, you may not have the same experience. 

In fact, Costa Fortuna was named as the world’s worst cruise ship according to a compilation of reviews from Cruise Critic, and TripAdvisor.

The Costa Fortuna cruise ship is showcased in full sail across the open sea, captured from a high angle showcasing its white structure, multiple decks with rows of windows, and a prominent yellow funnel with the 'C' logo. In the background, a distant coastline with mountains can be seen under a clear blue sky.
Costa Fortuna

But then Costa Smeralda came in at number six, so booking one of the newer ships won’t guarantee that everything will be okay.

Guests embark and disembark at every port

With Costa Cruises, and also with MSC Cruises, you’ll find that guests can start and end their cruise at various points. So, rather than everyone taking a round-trip from Barcelona, you’ll have guests starting their cruise at each of the ports of call along the way.

Although Costa is an Italian cruise line, the guest demographic is a real mix of Italian, Spanish, German and French, as well as some Brits and some guests from Portugal, the Netherlands and other European countries.

This model means that Costa can attract cruisers from a wider geographic area, but it also means that there are some shorter, one-way itineraries that it struggles to fill. For example, you may find a three-day cruise from Marseille to Savona that nobody really wants.

It’s these cruises that typically have the lowest prices. Costa doesn’t want empty cabins, so they’ll offer low prices to claw some of their money back, even if they make a loss.

The same happens with transatlantic cruises, and you may be able to enjoy two weeks at sea for as little as £300, so long as you’re willing to fly somewhere awkward like Guadaloupe to start your cruise back to Europe.

The Costa Favolosa cruise ship moored in Amsterdam, with its distinctive yellow funnel and multiple decks, set against the backdrop of the city's modern buildings and the calm waters in the foreground.
Costa Favolosa in Amsterdam

Refurbishments may be carried out during your cruise

Cruise ships have periods where they’ll have no guests on board so that they can carry out maintenance. I can only speak from my personal experience, but on the cruise I took, it appeared that they chose to instead carry out those repairs during a cruise with paying guests.

For most of my cruise, the main pool and only outdoor hot tub were closed, as was most of the promenade deck and several other venues such as the outdoor cafes.

An area of the Costa Smeralda's deck is cordoned off for maintenance, with a sign reading 'Manutenzione in corso,' alongside comfortable outdoor lounge seating, with the early evening sky reflecting off the glass panes above.

The guest-to-crew ratio is high on Costa Cruises

Ultra-luxury cruise ships have more crew members than guests. Most mainstream cruises have around three crew members for every guest. Costa Cruises, however, has one of the highest guest-to-crew ratios of all, at four to one.

This means that the crew members have to work extra hard to look after all of the guests. You may experience longer queues at reception, slower service in the dining rooms and it may take a little longer for any rubbish to be cleared away.

After all, with over 1,000 crew members on a typical ship, wages are one of the highest expenses a cruise line faces. And having fewer crew members is one of the ways that Costa Cruises keeps prices low.

A crew member of Costa Cruises attentively making a bed, with a focus on comfort and neatness, showcasing the detailed and personal care provided onboard, complemented by the warm interior colors and natural light from the cabin window.

Costa Cruises pricing doesn’t include gratuities

Some cruise lines include tips for the staff as part of your cruise fare, but Costa Cruises adds this on and you’ll pay it at the end of your cruise. The gratuities are 11 Euros per day for adults and 5.50 Euros per day for kids, so you’ll need to budget for that.

While you can go to guest services and ask for your gratuities to be removed, I wouldn’t recommend doing that. The crew members work very hard for long hours and relatively low pay, so they rely on the gratuities to top that up.

While some people opt to remove gratuities and tip in cash, this can negatively affect the workers behind the scenes who you don’t always have direct contact with.

In addition to that, a 15% gratuity is added on to every drink that you buy. So the price you see on the menu isn’t the price you pay.

Costs Cruises charges for water in the main dining room

Each cruise line varies in terms of what’s included when it comes to drinks, but Costa Cruises has one of the stingiest policies of all, even charging for water in the main dining room.

Water is available free of charge in the buffet (when its open) and you can drink the tap water in your cabin. But there are no water fountains around the ship and in the restaurants, your only option is to buy one-litre bottles for 4 Euros.

Cruise Mummy holds a transparent bottle of San Benedetto still water with a Costa Smeralda receipt attached, indicating a recent purchase onboard the cruise, set against a geometrically patterned pastel background.

You don’t have to drink it all at once though – you’re welcome to leave any unfinished water (or wine) and it will be saved for you and brought back to your table the following evening.

Tea and coffee are free of charge in the buffet, and you’ll also get fruit juices at breakfast time.

On a polished wooden table aboard the Costa Smeralda, a refreshing set of drinks is presented: a glass of water, a mug of black coffee, and a glass of milk, against the backdrop of the ship's cozy interior seating area.

You may be better off with a drinks package, although you do need to drink quite a lot to ‘break even’. The easiest way to find out if you should get one or not is to use my drinks package calculator to work it out.

The food on Costa Cruises can be hit-and-miss

If you’re a foodie, a Costa Cruise probably isn’t for you. Likewise, if you are vegan, have a food allergy or intolerance, or fussy kids, you might want to choose another cruise line.

The buffet is pretty small, nothing is labelled for people who need to know what the ingredients are, and the crew members aren’t the best at helping. This is understandable, given that they have to deal with guests speaking a whole variety of languages!

The main dining room serves four-course meals which is great, because you probably won’t like all of them. I saw pink chicken being served, the soup was usually room temperature and some of the dishes were a little ‘odd’.

That said, the pasta in the buffet is some of the best I’ve ever had, and some of the dishes in the main dining room were really nice. So it’s a bit hit-and-miss. I suggest bringing snacks.

Food that you may expect to be included such as poolside pizza, chips and ice cream all costs extra. It’s not a lot extra, just a few Euros, but it’s one of the ways that Costa manages to make their cruises so cheap.

A casual dining scene on the Costa cruise ship with a paper box of golden French fries open beside a small container of ketchup, and a 'The really Italian street food' paper bag on the table, with the ocean view in the distance.

The entertainment on Costa Cruises isn’t amazing

It’s always a challenge to make entertainment that’s suitable for all nationalities and all ages. Comedians are a no-go, singers can be tricky. Costa Cruises’ solution to this is to have a troupe of dancers that wear jazzy costumes and do the occasional backflip. 

The entertainment is okay, but the shows are nothing compared to the West End-style productions you’ll see in other ships.

Passengers on the Costa cruise ship enjoy a vibrant live performance in the multi-tiered theater, with stage lights casting a glow on the performers and the audience immersed in the entertainment.

The bottom line

If you manage to get a good deal on your cruise, then a Costa cruise can offer fantastic value for money. If your budget is under £40 per day, then your options likely include a cheap Costa cruise or a camping trip, and I know which I’d rather do!

However, not all Costa cruises are as cheap as this. And so if you can cruise with any other cruise line for a similar price, then I would do that. After all, you do get what you pay for, and you may get a more enjoyable experience elsewhere.


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Cruise Mummy

Jenni Fielding is the founder of Cruise Mummy. She has worked in the cruise industry since 2015 and has taken over 30 cruises. Now, she helps over 1 million people per month to plan their perfect cruise holidays.

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