I Took A £30 Per Day Solo Cruise! Costa Cruises Review

When I saw a five-night cruise for £151, I couldn’t believe my eyes…

I was even more surprised to see that there was NO supplement for solo travellers (we usually pay double).

And then the third surprise came when I saw that for just £28 more, I could upgrade to a balcony cabin. SOLD!

Cruise Mummy with sunglasses smiling at the camera with the Costa Smeralda cruise ship docked in the background under a partly cloudy sky.

Here’s what I got for £179:

  • 5 nights in a balcony cabin on Costa Smeralda (double room for solo occupancy)
  • Food
  • Entertainment
  • Port fees and taxes

The cruise on Costa Smeralda departed from Barcelona and ended in Savona. The flight to Barcelona was just £27 with Ryanair. Getting back from Savona looked a little tricker, so I opted to leave a day early, disembark at Civitavecchia and fly back from Rome with Easyjet.

I also had a few extras to pay for like gratuities (€11 per day), drinks and speciality dining. I wasted €50 on a trip to the spa (more on that later).

But, I did also win €200 in the casino, which more than covered the cost of any extras. Woohoo!

A hand holding several 50 Euro banknotes with blurred casino carpet in the background, indicating recent winnings from a casino on the Costa Smeralda cruise ship.

Why was this cruise so cheap?

Costa Cruises is one of the world’s cheapest cruise lines. It’s very similar to MSC Cruises, and I had enjoyed a cruise on MSC Euribia for just £99 a couple of weeks earlier. 

Just like MSC Cruises, with Costa Cruises, guests can embark and disembark at any port of call. This means that sometimes, there are gaps to be filled. To fill those gaps, the cruise lines will drop their prices a couple of weeks before departure.

Many people overlook one-way cruises, but really, there’s no reason not to do one, especially if you have to fly anyway.

People also overlook cruises in January, but as I came home from this cruise with a bit of a suntan, I think that’s a mistake too.

Cruise Mummy smiling with sunglasses reclining on a sun lounger on the deck of the Costa Smeralda cruise ship, with a clear blue sky and wispy clouds in the background.

Suggested read: Why Costa Cruises Are So Cheap

I didn’t know what to expect

This was my first cruise with Costa. I had originally booked to sail on Costa Smeralda in April 2020, but we all know what happened there.

I knew that the ship would be big – Costa Smeralda has the same hull as P&O Cruises’ Arvia and Iona, as well as Carnival Celebration. She’s pretty modern, being one of the newest in the Costa fleet.

The Costa Smeralda cruise ship docked at a port, showcasing its white multi-deck structure with distinctive yellow and blue funnel, set against a backdrop of calm blue water and a partly cloudy sky.

But, when I’d done some research into the worst cruise lines according to online reviews, Costa Cruises came out bottom, with an average rating of 3 out of 5.

I wasn’t worried though. At £30 per day, this cruise was priced similarly to a camping trip. And at least I’d have a proper bed. I was sure that I could eat £30 worth of food in a day. So, what’s the worst that could happen?


When I arrived in Barcelona and first saw Costa Smeralda, I was pretty shocked. The midsection of the ship was completely covered by a giant net.

Close-up view of the midsection of the Costa Smeralda cruise ship, partially obscured by a large net, with a focus on the ship's blue-tinted balcony rooms and white exterior.

I had no idea why, so I posted on my Facebook page to ask. One smart person informed me that the net lights up at night to say ‘Sanremo Se Ama’ for the Sanremo Festival. 

While this is lovely, the net lights were installed at least a week before the festival – meaning that people in these balcony rooms had an obstructed view for their whole cruise. I can imagine they won’t have been thrilled about that. My room wasn’t affected though.

As I entered the terminal, I was given a number and directed to a large waiting room where I sat for about an hour and a half. 

Cruise Mummy holding a blue Costa boarding card with the number 10, in a waiting area with seats in the background, indicating the boarding process on the Costa Smeralda cruise ship. The card includes multi-language instructions for boarding.

It wasn’t very busy, but as number 10 was finally called I realised why check-in was slow… Only three people were working at the check-in desk!

As I boarded the ship, a man in a Costa Cruises uniform directed me to speak to a lady at the other entrance. She then looked puzzled and directed me to another person. The third person told me to head to the buffet as it would be closing soon, and then pointed me in the opposite direction to the buffet. Was this a sign of things to come? I was nervous.

My cabin

My balcony room was very nice. It was a bit bright and garish with some very jazzy wallpaper and eight different pieces of carpet patched together. But it was spotlessly clean and very comfortable.

Interior of a balcony room on the Costa Smeralda cruise ship, featuring a large bed, geometric-patterned accent wall, a flat-screen TV, and a window with a view of the ocean.

Unusually, for a cruise ship cabin, there was no fridge. And no kettle either. But that wasn’t too much of an issue for me.

One thing that I found incredibly weird though, was that the bathroom has a window into the bedroom, from inside the shower.

Yes, there is a curtain that you could draw across. But the person with control over the curtain is not the person who is naked. And that’s just strange. The glass is a bit frosted, but if the curtain’s open, you can still see pretty much everything.

The food

Like most cruise ships, Costa Cruises has main dining rooms, a buffet, and some speciality restaurants that you can dine in for an extra fee.

The buffet

I ate breakfast and lunch in the buffet most days. The buffet on Costa Smeralda is pretty small, especially considering the size of the ship. At times, it was impossible to get a seat.

There are plenty of seats outside in the sunshine, but for some unknown reason, the staff wouldn’t let us take food outside, so I had to wander around the hot, cramped buffet some more and pounce once a table became available.

The buffet food is quite limited and nothing is labelled for people with dietary requirements. Being vegan, I was stuck with fruit for breakfast and pasta for lunch every day.

A healthy breakfast plate with melon and honeydew slices, a fresh apple, and a whole grain bread roll, accompanied by a cup of coffee and a glass of water on a wooden table aboard the Costa Smeralda cruise ship.

The pasta was incredible though, so I can’t complain about that, but I was thankful that I packed protein shakes!

A plate of spaghetti with a rich tomato sauce and a sprinkle of herbs, next to a side salad with mixed greens and a glass of amber-colored beer, served on a table aboard the Costa Smeralda cruise ship.

Everything is served to you by crew members and they are extremely generous with their servings. If you ask for one of anything, they will try to give you three, which won’t leave much space on your plate for anything else. I saw people with tables piled high with food, three or four plates each, and much of it went to waste.

The main dining room

The main dining rooms on Costa Smeralda are lovely. There are two set dining times, 6.45 pm and 9.15 pm. I was very happy to have the earlier sitting as I really didn’t want to start eating a four-course meal so late.

But, according to this map that I found on Reddit, Europeans eat dinner much later than us Brits, so it makes sense…

The usual time of eating dinner in Europe
by inMapPorn

I was seated at a table for six, with British female solo travellers. There was another table for the British male solo travellers.

I absolutely loved this as it turned what could be quite a lonely cruise (given the language barrier with most passengers being from mainland Europe) into a very sociable affair.

The main dining room on the Costa Smeralda cruise ship, featuring elegant wooden tables and chairs, decorative lighting, and a welcoming, spacious layout ready to host guests for a meal.

I was really pleased to see that there was a vegan menu with lots of lovely-sounding choices. Some of the dishes were incredible, and others a little less so. But with four courses, I usually enjoyed at least two of them.

I did also try breakfast in the main dining room. There was a vegan menu (yay!), but the food took 50 minutes to arrive and then wasn’t very nice (boo!), so I didn’t go there again.

The speciality restaurants

Given the poor choice in the buffet, I was keen to try some of the cafes that offered poke bowls or healthy wraps for a small supplement. Sadly, these never opened during the cruise, so I didn’t get to.

I did try the sushi restaurant though. On formal night, I wasn’t in the mood to dress up, but I saw that the sushi bar offered takeaway boxes. I headed down wearing combat pants and a sweatshirt, ready to grab a box to eat in my room.

The lady behind the counter said that they weren’t offering takeaway, I would have to eat it in the restaurant. I felt very out of place being so dressed down next to people in their nice dresses, but at least she served me.

An artfully arranged sushi platter on a vibrant orange plate from Sushino aboard Costa Smeralda, featuring avocado rolls with a mango sauce drizzle and uramaki topped with orange fish roe, served with soy sauce and a side of pickled ginger and seaweed salad.

The sushi was incredible, and I didn’t mind paying € for it.

I did also get a burger (€3.50) and fries (€2) from The Salty Beach cafe, which is open all through the night! This is the only place you can get fries on the ship.

A casual dining setup at The Salty Beach Street Food cafe on Costa Smeralda, featuring a box of crispy golden fries with a side of ketchup, and the cafe's branded paper bag on a wicker table with a view of the harbor in the background.

The drinks

I’d heard that Costa Cruises don’t include any drinks, not even tap water with meals. So I scoped out the drinks packages, but after doing the maths, I decided that I would be better off to pay as I went.

At dinner, if you wanted water, the only option was to buy a one-litre bottle for €4. At the end of the night though, the waiter would put it in the fridge for the next day, so I didn’t mind that too much.

Cruise Mummy holding a transparent bottle of San Benedetto still water with a receipt attached, indicating a purchase onboard the Costa Smeralda, against a geometric-patterned backdrop.

The wine was nice, but each serving was very small. Here’s what a full glass of wine looks like…

A stemmed wine glass filled with amber-colored wine on a table, with the warm ambiance of the dining room on the Costa Smeralda cruise ship visible in the soft-focus background.

In hindsight, I should have bought a bottle and they could have kept it in the fridge with my water to be enjoyed over two or three nights.

Drinks are free in the buffet. Here you can get tea, coffee, hot chocolate, milk and water. At breakfast time, you can also get fruit juices. And there’s a whole selection of different plant-based milks that are kept in a secret fridge.

A refreshing trio of beverages on a wooden table, featuring a glass of water, a cup of black coffee, and a glass of almond milk, set against the interior of a dining area on the Costa Smeralda cruise ship.

Drinks in the bars aren’t bad. A beer costs €7 and a cocktail around €10.

I also earned five free drinks in the casino, as the machines have a meter that fills up as you place bets. I only bet €20, but I came away with €220 plus the five drinks, so that was time well spent!

A refreshing strawberry daiquiri served in a rocks glass, garnished with a lime slice and a cherry, on a table with a bar list displaying a QR code menu, aboard the Costa Smeralda cruise ship.

The activities

There weren’t many activities on the daily schedule, but I was fine with that. This ship has a lot of things that you can enjoy with your family, like swimming pools, table tennis, table football and some incredible water slides.

I think that the slides were my favourite thing on the ship. There are two small ones just for kids, then the long one is for ages 7 and up and the bowl slide is for ages 10 and up.

There were some organised activities by the pool. These were very loud, with a lot of shouting in four different languages, so I avoided those!

This ship has a surprising lack of hot tubs. Sister ships Arvia and Iona each have 16 hot tubs, so I was really surprised to see that there was only one outdoor hot tub – and that was closed for most of the cruise.

The indoor pool had four hot tubs, but I didn’t ever go in them because 1) they were always super full and 2) they had glass fronts so the people inside looked a bit like they were on stage!

A comfortable lounge area on Costa Smeralda adjacent to an indoor jacuzzi with a transparent glass front, allowing for a unique view into the water, combining relaxation with modern design elements.

I did book a visit to the thermal suite, which was the biggest waste of €50 ever. You book a whole day, rather than a time slot, and I think that visiting at 11am on a sea day was a really bad idea. It was so busy in there that I couldn’t get in the steam room or hot tub at all.

Half of the relaxation beds were in use, the others had towels on. Of course, I removed one to lie down, but it’s not the most relaxing experience when you’re wondering if someone is going to come back and shout at you.

There was also no access to drinking water at all in the spa. There were multiple water fountains, but they all had signs on saying ‘not in use’. There was a room where you could get tea, but no cups, despite me asking three times.

After a session in the sauna, I left feeling dehydrated.

Annoyingly, much of the ship was under maintenance during this cruise. There were a lot of taped-off areas, which was a little frustrating.

An outdoor pool roped off for maintenance on Costa Smeralda, featuring a calm water surface and a sunny deck area, indicating ongoing upkeep to ensure guest safety and amenities quality.

The ship does have a museum on board though which is pretty cool and makes a nice change from the usual art gallery that you might expect.

Interior of a museum on Costa Smeralda, showcasing a collection of modern art and design items, including vibrant furniture and eclectic decorations, set against a bold red carpet with patterned accents.


Costa Smeralda has two main entertainment venues. There’s the theatre which spans two decks at the front of the ship, and the Colosseum, which spans three decks in the centre.

Both have absolutely awful designs, meaning that most people can’t actually see anything. To get one of the few decent seats, you would have to arrive at least an hour before the show.

This is the Colosseum, with seats behind multiple decorative pillars…

A view from a secluded spot inside the Colosseum on Costa Smeralda, capturing the audience and stage from an upper level, with the spotlight shining and a person in the foreground taking a photo of the performance.

And this is the main theatre, with a bar and some stairs where the seats should be…

The modern and stylish theatre on Costa Smeralda, featuring a spacious stage with dynamic blue lighting, comfortable seating areas with plush sofas and cube stools, and state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment ready for a performance.

The entertainment was mostly dancing, which I suppose is to be expected given that the guests speak a variety of languages. But I would liked to have seen some singers, acrobats or, magicians.

There was a ventriloquist show on at 11.15pm. He did well to speak all of the languages, but it wasn’t really worth staying up for if I’m honest.

A ventriloquist performing on stage with colorful puppets on Costa Smeralda, engaging the audience with his act, as highlighted by the large screen in the background displaying the show for all to see.

I had the most fun in the casino, which was a decent size with a good variety of table games and machines.

The vibrant casino on Costa Smeralda with electronic roulette tables and a variety of slot machines, all set against a decorative blue carpet with golden patterns, creating an exciting gaming atmosphere.

The Itinerary

The itinerary for this cruise was Barcelona > Palma de Mallorca > Palermo, Sicily > Civitavecchia > Savona.

As I mentioned earlier, I jumped off a day early, so the only ports I explored properly were Palma and Palermo.

One thing I love about cruises is that you can spend one day in a place and decide whether you would go there for a longer holiday. Palma de Mallorca = Yes. Palermo = Absolutely not.

I had visions of Sicilian lemon trees, sandy beaches and quaint cafes serving arancini and cannoli. The city of Palermo had none of that. Instead, it gave off apocalyptic vibes.

There are some beautiful old buildings, but the city is very dirty and run down.

The majestic Teatro Massimo in Palermo, Sicily, stands under a bright blue sky with fluffy clouds, with its neoclassical architecture, grand entrance steps, and statues, as people walk and sit in the square in front.

 If I cruise to Palermo again, I’ll book an excursion.

Palma was lovely though, and I’m excited to visit there again and explore more. Most cruise lines offer frequent shuttle buses into the city centre, sometimes for free, sometimes for a small fee.

The Costa Cruises bus cost €15 and only ran every 45 minutes. But I suppose with cruises this cheap, they have to make profit where they can.


Don’t miss these hot cruise offers…

The Verdict

For the price, this cruise was absolutely fantastic. With a total budget of around £300 (with absolutely everything included), your option is a cruise like this or perhaps a shared dorm room in a self-catering hostel.

In fact, one of the people I made friends with on this cruise was a backpacker who was doing just that for the rest of her trip around Europe!

Yes, there are some things that could be done better, but nothing major really. The crew members all did a great job and I’m amazed at how they manage to speak English, Italian, French, German and Spanish!

I’m not in any rush to book a more expensive Costa cruise with my family (I think they would struggle with the food and the crowds). But, if a deal this cheap comes up again, I’ll have no hesitation about booking it.

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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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