I booked this cruise for my friend and I, based on (a) the sailing date, as we could only sail on a specific day, (b) the itinerary, which had some interesting ports of call and (c) the price, which was very reasonable for a 'mini suite' cabin.
Booking was made online and quite straightforward, similar to other cruiselines, and we were able to customise our cruise by selecting our dining preferences as well as book the optional all-inclusive drinks package (at EUR 19.50 per day) etc.
We boarded the ship in Venice. We had no idea where we had to drop off our luggage and when we finally found a Costa crew member, they quite rudely pointed us in the right direction (which was quite far from the actual ship!). Thanks to the fact that we had booked a mini suite, we were saved the horror of having to queue for hours to wait our turn to go through the check-in formalities and board the ship. There's a priority lane for suite cabins (although this isn't mentioned to you by any member of the crew so you have to work it out for yourself by looking for the small signs!).
We found our own way to the cabin and the cabin steward was there to greet us and give us our ship passes, which were inside the cabin (they don't hand them out when you board the ship).
We opted for a mini suite, at the back of the ship (cabin #8459) which was on the starboard side. The cabin was a decent size, with plenty of cupboard / wardrobe space for clothes, a large double bed, decent sized bathroom, plenty of light thanks to the 3 windows, and a huge L-shaped balcony (which had a table and 2 chairs and a lounger for sunbathing). The ship is only one year old so the cabin was in very good condition. There were however several drawbacks to this cabin (and probably to most cabins situated on this deck) :
(1) Deck 9 is a public deck, and passengers above were always looking down on to our balcony, and were often smoking, which made it very unpleasant. Cigarette ash was all over the balcony floor and hand rail and furniture, and the cabin steward didn't clean it as often as he could have done. In hindsight, I should have opted for a mini suite on decks 7 or 6, which were further away from the smoke and overlooking passengers of deck 9.
(2) We were woken up every single morning at 6am by a loud 'clanging' noise, which came from the crew stairway which was located next to our cabin door. Unfortunately, there were crew stairways on both the port side and starboard side at the rear of the ship, so there would have been no way of avoiding this disturbance, even if we could have changed cabins.
Apart from the above, the cabin was well soundproofed and you could rarely hear any noise from deck 9 above, which is where the adult pool is located, and there was virtually no noise from adjacent cabins or from the outside corridors. Plus, we were oblivious to the noise of the ship's engines, and could hardly notice that we were moving (the sailing was very smooth for this cruise).
The cabin was kept relatively clean throughout the cruise. However, the steward would frequently forget to replenish the pool towels (on this ship, 1 shabby-looking pool towel per passenger is given per day, in your cabin, unlike other American ships where they're readily available on the pool decks...). The bedding wasn't changed throughout the cruise, and the balcony was infrequently cleaned.
Costa Fascinosa is just over one year old so it still had a 'new' feel to it and was very clean and well maintained throughout. The public decks seemed to get cleaned on a daily basis and public toilets etc were clean. The automatic sliding doors for toilets / public areas work well.
You can find all of the facilities that you expect to find on a ship of this size (several swimming pools, gym, spa, several dining options etc) and surprisingly there always seemed to be enough sun loungers for everyone to enjoy the sun (although the back of the ship was always jam-packed with passengers, so we always opted for the front of the ship which was quieter but cooler because of the breeze).
Smoke - everywhere !
One of the biggest and most offputting things we noticed on this ship is that passengers can smoke almost everywhere ! With the exception of the restaurants, we could smell smoke throughout all of the public decks (in the bars, the casino, the lobby, and around all of the pool areas). It was really noticeable for two non-smokers and something we've never experienced on the American cruiseships. As mentioned previously, we could smell the smoke from our balcony whenever we went outside, and the inconsiderate passengers who would lean over the edge of the ship above our balcony would let their ash fall down onto our floor, which was really unpleasant.
The dining was probably one of the most disappointing aspects of this cruise. We would have breakfast and lunch at the buffet restaurant (on deck 9, just above our cabin) and dinner in the restaurant (2nd sitting).
The buffet for both breakfast and lunch was more limited in choice than the other cruises I've taken. You could tell that the vast majority of the food was taken from the freezer and reheated by microwave, so the taste and appearance was pretty disappointing. You had to go either very early or very late to avoid the hoards of Italian passengers battling their way to the serving counters. Costa should try to come up with a smarter queuing system. Service was appalling, unpleasant, unfriendly, and you honestly felt like you were an inconvenience to the crew.
You have to pay Eur 5 per person if you wish to have room service breakfast in your cabin, so we just decided to go and get the food and occasionally bring it back to our cabin so we could eat in relative peace (despite the cigarette smell / ash) on our balcony.
The lunch choices were always the same, with a couple of pizza options and pasta options, some salad and a few hot dishes, but the options didn't vary much throughout the week.
We were sat at a table for 6 at dinner time, however only 4 of us used that table. We had to find the table ourselves on the first night (which isn't an easy task). The worst aspect of the evening dining 'experience' was the appalling service. Our waiter and assistant waiter were very unfriendly: for the first 4 evenings (i.e. up until the moment when we went to complain!) they didn't come to greet us (i.e. a simple 'Good evening'!), there were no explanations given about the evening's menu, we had to ask several times for water, the wine would be served well after the first course had been finished, and food was basically 'thrown' at you and you felt like you were a huge inconvenience to them. It was by far the worst service I've ever seen on a cruise ship. The Head Waiter was non-existent, until we decided to make a complaint at the customer service desk.
On day 5, we went to complain at the customer service desk, where we were 'greeted' (for want of a better word' by an extremely surly and rude Italian crew member (who looked like she had lost the will to live). She refused to help, so we tried another customer service officer (this time, Brazilian) who was slightly more attentive and took note of our complaint and called the Maitre d' to pass on our feedback. That evening, and for the remaining 2 evenings, we received a better level of service. However, don't expect to receive any kind of proactive service in the dining room. Not once were we offered tea or coffee after the meal. We had to beg for water, and the waiters failed to grasp the concept of you wanting to eat your meal at a relaxed pace. Instead, your fellow passengers would be served their main course whilst you were still having your appetizer, etc.
We concluded at the end of the cruise that the crew were taking the automatic (and compulsory) daily onboard gratuity for granted (which is EUR 7 per passenger per day, i.e. EUR 49 per cruise, which is added to your account onboard).
The vast majority (I would say 85%+) of passengers onboard were Italian, meaning that the entertainment was geared towards them and not towards any other nationality. Therefore, music and any other performances were generally in Italian. The musicians and singers were quite poor, and we decided to go elsewhere to try and get some peace and quiet.
The bars onboard were so full of smoke that we would usually just go for a walk on the open deck of the ship after dinner, to get some fresh air. There were no late night performances in the theatres. Those passengers who had second sitting dining were expected to attend the performance at 7.30 pm, which was too early for us.
The ports of call were one of the main reasons for choosing this cruise. The ship stuck to its original itinerary, and was cleared by the port authorities promptly. We didn't experience any issues getting off the ship, even in Dubrovnik where we required tenders to shore (but this was because we got up at 6.30 am to ensure that we had tickets to get on the first tender boat, which are handed out on a first come first served basis!)
We felt that the ship could have stayed longer in most of the ports of call, particularly Dubrovnik and Izmir, as each time, we were only given 4-5 hours max ashore. Istanbul is also an amazing port of call, but we had to be back onboard by 5, which was slightly too early, considering that this was probably one of the highlights of the cruise.
We went on one ship excursion in Greece (to Olympia), which was generally well organised and interesting, and we were provided with an English speaking guide. However, it was not good value for money (EUR 42 per passenger), and as soon as we got off the ship, we saw local tour companies providing a similar tour for less than half the price!
Despite the mini suite being fairly good value for money and the decent itinerary, I would never take a Costa Cruise again (not even if they were giving me the cruise). This is mainly because I am used to receiving a much higher standard of service from the crew (on Costa, the service was consistently poor), and because I would prefer to take a ship that caters more towards English-speaking passengers in the future.