Background Information: We are a family of five, but only four of us were on this cruise—DH and myself (early-mid 40s), and two boys ages almost 16 and 11 years. This was my 7th cruise, DH's 6th, and the boys' 3rd-4th. We have previously cruised with NCL and Carnival on itineraries ranging from 3 to 7 days (3, 4, 5, and 7 days). We had previously done Western Caribbean itineraries and the Bahamas/Florida. We have previously sailed out of Miami, Tampa, Port Canaveral, and Charleston, SC. This was our first cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale, as well as our first try on an Eastern Caribbean itinerary, (with the exception of the cruise I did with my parents when I was about 12 years old). DH and I have now been on 6 cruises in 7 years, both with and without kids along.
This was a "southeastern" itinerary on Costa Fortuna March 16-23, 2008, out of Ft. Lauderdale. The ports were San Juan, St. Martin, Tortola, and Nassau for 7 days. We purchased our cabins through an online cruise agent that we had used before with good results. There was a group on this cruise—rock and roll group there to see Three Dog Night and the Lovin' Spoonful. We were not part of that group, but they seemed to be having a good time, and their presence had no affect whatsoever on our experience of the cruise (other than meeting many of them through Cruise critic—great people!). I guess what I mean is, the fact that this was a themed group cruise did not change our cruise experience for the negative. Hardly knew they were there.
Costa is an Italian cruise line, owned by Carnival. The Italian/European flair was different from previous cruises with Carnival and NCL, but was a positive aspect for us. If I do mention negatives in my review, it is only for the sake of objectivity. Any negatives were very minor, and did not affect our overall cruise experience.
Pre cruise: We drove from Ohio to Florida beginning the Friday evening before the cruise. There were 5 of us in a mini-van with all our luggage. It actually wasn't too bad. We have been driving to Florida about once/year forever, and we prefer to drive all night while the kids sleep. Works out great for us! We spent the night Saturday with relatives in Melbourne Beach, FL, and drove to the port Sunday morning. I had booked parking via "Airpark" through my online TA's Website. It was "Continental Airport Parking" very close to the port. We paid $46 for the whole week. They had a shuttle bus to the port. The whole thing took about 30 minutes from check-in to drop off at the pier.
Embarkation: I felt this went fairly smoothly. As I mentioned before, we have cruised from Tampa, Miami, Port Canaveral, and Charleston prior to this cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale. The shuttle driver went a bit too far past the porters to drop us off though! The porter I went to get was a bit rude about the whole thing...acted like he wasn't going to come get our bags. I gave him a look like, "I guess you don't want my %#* money then," and another porter saw this exchange and said he'd do it. However, then the first guy comes and gets the bags, complaining all the time about how the shuttle driver should have known where to stop...LOL! Whatever! This was day 1 and I was not about to let a hot grumpy man ruin my cruise.
Next, we went inside to start the lines. Security line took about 10-15 minutes, and the check-in line about the same. We had an issue with our DS not being listed on the docs because we added a cabin at the last minute and had to switch me to the second cabin with one kid while DH was still listed in the first cabin with the other kid. Well, we had two sets of docs...both of which listed me, but neither of which listed DS #2...long story that I won't get into here, but we were told by Costa on the phone not to worry about it. We made it to yet another security point, upon which this was finally questioned. We then had to wait for an on-board Costa customs person to escort us onboard and get it cleared. This process slowed us down by about 20 more minutes, but at least we got to wait inside in the ship's atrium on deck 3.
Muster Drill and Sail away: Muster drill was at 4:00 PM. Despite the 5 languages, it went very smoothly. A first for us was they had children stand in front, then women, then men…I guess chivalry is still alive in Italy! It was kind of strange though because we were separated from DH a little (a bit Titanic-esque for me). The crew had handheld computers with which they checked-in everyone at the muster drill…so, they will know if you do not show up!
After muster, we returned life vests to the cabins and went to the deck 9 aft area to meet our fellow Costa Rosta members from Cruise Critic! What a great group of people! We met many of the folks we'd been chatting with on our roll call for quite a while. Michael made beads with Costa Rosta pendants on them for everyone. Most of us wore our Costa Rosta t-shirts, so we were easy to find. We had a meet-and-greet planned for the next morning. Since we had the 5:45 dinner, we didn't hang around too long. This was the first of many memorable times with fellow Cruise Critic roll call members! Love you guys!!! I highly recommend joining your cruise's roll call on Cruise Critic before your trip.
Cabins: We were in two cabins, one inside and one outside, on deck 7, very far forward. In fact, our outside cabin is one of the four in the very front, right where the "secret" door is located. This was a handicapped cabin, and was oddly shaped (almost triangular). It had a huge bathroom to accommodate wheelchairs. The cabin was also spacious with plenty of storage space. The two twin beds could not be pushed together to make a queen. The window looked out onto a little-known front deck right under the bridge. We went out often on port days, but not so much on sea days as it was extremely windy! I would not recommend a cabin this far forward if you can avoid it--lots of motion, and too far to walk to most public areas. Why on earth they would put a handicap cabin up there is beyond me.
Our second cabin was a standard inside cabin. I found it to be very much on the small side—especially the bathroom! I think the shower in there was about 3 by 3 feet at most. There was, however, ample storage space, and beds made into a queen, as well as a mini-fridge. I don't think I would book an inside cabin for more than 2 people on this class of ship. We have done insides on the older Carnival ships with 3-5 of us together---but would not do that here. The regular outsides and balcony cabins looked a bit more manageable, although I only saw them from the hallway.
There were no towel animals. However, there were cookies one night, chocolate mints another night, and a wonderful chocolate Easter egg with a small stuffed animal inside on Good Friday night! What a wonderful surprise. Luggage arrived by 3:00 PM. We unpacked and got ready for muster and sail away. There was plenty of closet, drawer, and under the bed space for storage. You might want to bring extra clothes hangers.
Public areas: The Fortuna was immaculate at all times! It was definitely the cleanest ship on which I have been. There was ample deck space if you were willing to look around and were not bent on having a lounger right by the pools. There are nice areas on decks 12 and 13 that are less used and much quieter. We liked Deck 12 forward on the port side (aft of the kiddy pool area). The same deck on the starboard side also had a bar.
The buffet areas were large and there were many stations from which to choose, so lines were never very long (practically non-existent lines). Deck nine is where the action is, as well as the outdoor covered tables. The smoking area was on the port side on this deck (as far as outside table seating goes). The Columbo pool on deck 9 aft was completely non-smoking, and the pool and hot tubs were for adults only there. There were plenty of bars, drink stations, and places to get buffet food during the day from 6:00 am until maybe 9:30 pm. Late food was hard to find. You could get pizza until 1:00 am, and they had midnight snacks...no traditional all-out midnight buffets here. I'm pretty sure you could order limited room service all night, but we never did. We used it only for breakfast on three mornings.
Inside areas of the ship were beautiful, clean, and varied. There were several areas from which to choose for hanging out at night. If you like music at night, this is your ship! Many opportunities for dancing of any kind, or just listening to a pianist or singers. Many smoking and non-smoking areas were available.
Public restrooms were very clean! In my case, I got a bit annoyed at how often they were cleaned because it always seemed to happen when I needed to be in there! Maybe they should have female crew attend to the women's restrooms so passengers could use them while they are being cleaned. I am definitely nitpicking here, so keep that in mind. Also, the restrooms are quite hidden from view…took me a couple days to figure it out. Once you find them, you'll be good.
The shops on Deck 5 were a bit annoying with the tables set up outside, causing a bottleneck in that area. The atrium was nice. The Rex Theater was 3 decks tall and seemed to have good views from most places. The dining rooms were each 2 decks and were very nicely laid out and decorated. Getting around could be tricky on decks 3 and 4 because the galley separates the dining rooms. You cannot traverse these decks on the inside from front to back. One just needs to remember to use any other deck to get from front to back—not decks 3 or 4. No big deal.
There are three main pools and a kiddy pool area. One pool has a nice water slide. There were 2 hot tubs in the middle and two in the adults-only pool area. There are hot tubs in the spa as well, but we didn't use them. The aft pool also had a retractable roof in case of bad weather.
A note about the ship—the largest ship we'd been on prior to this was the Carnival Sensation. That said, this ship was huge! There were several areas I never even got to see. Yes, there are issues on decks 3 and 4 as far as getting from one end to the other, but other than that, navigation was easily done and I knew my way around pretty well by the end of the 2nd day. Also, it is hard to find your family/friends if you do not have exact plans laid out as far as when/where to meet. We found our post-it notes very handy for letting each other know where to find us. It also helped to set up specific meeting times.
The food: What can I say but Magnifico!!! This was by far the best food we've had on any cruise. I really don't understand the people who complain about the food on this ship. There is a wide variety, and everything is done pretty much perfectly. The buffets were all over deck 9 and there were many, many different stations to choose from. Salads and fresh fruit were plentiful. The pizza was great. They had steak and chicken on the hamburger/hotdog line!!! The pasta was always the best. One thing we missed was a lack of "free" drink choices. Only iced tea, water, milk, and coffee are available all day. Orange and grapefruit juices were available free only at breakfast (which goes until noon at one of the areas by the way…). Tip: make your own lemonade using lemons (always available) water, and sweetener.
Now to the dining room…what a fantastic meal we had every night! Almost everything was excellent. I am one of those evil people who order steaks well done, and I know how hard it is to cook it that way without making it tough. They did an excellent job all around! We had crab legs on the second formal night. They were very good, and had been cut lengthwise in half so there was no need to fuss with the shells. Great fish and seafood choices each night. Soups and salads were excellent, as was the pasta every night! The desserts I tried were average to good. I can see where people might be disappointed with the dessert selection. Many in our group opted for the mousses and sherbets after dinner in the dining room. There is a dessert called Chocolate Delight that is available every night that was delicioso! It was a chocolate mousse covered in a chocolate shell…yummy. If you like Carnival's chocolate melting cake, this is a viable alternative (although not nearly the same). I had the cheesecake one night, which was good. Overall, best dining room dinners we've had on any cruise!
Service: Again, service was excellent. Bar servers remembered your preferences fairly quickly. Bar servers on deck were available but non-obtrusive (no "special" drink hawking like on other lines). The buffet areas were well staffed, and tables were cleared relatively quickly.
Our cabin stewardess, Anna from the Philippines, was very gracious. They are assigned WAY too many rooms, but do a good job keeping them clean and stocked. We asked to have the fridge emptied on the first day and used it to keep our personal beverages chilled. We also obtained ice for our cooler from Anna the day we went to St. Martin. I liked the system of using a red card on your door for do not disturb, and a green card when you are ready for them to make the beds or do the turndown in the evening. We don't keep regular cabin hours and I think that helped the staff know when it was safe to come in and do their work.
Front desk staff was efficient and informative. No wait there ever, and they helped us get extra room keys, printouts of onboard accounts, etc. in a friendly, efficient manner. Photographers were un-obtrusive and professional…they actually made an effort to get several poses on the formal nights with the backdrops. However, it wasn't forced upon you at all times (ports, dinner, everywhere else) as we had experienced on past cruises.
Our dining room waiter, Mario and assistant Guillermo (William) were excellent! They did a good job with keeping the courses coming, even though we had a pair of tablemates who were consistently 10-30 minutes late for dinner. The four of us were at a table for 8 with the two couples we knew. Yes, dinner was long (about 1.5 to 2 hours), but it was designed to be done European style. If you can't handle it, eat in the buffet. We had early (5:45) service in the Michelangelo (aft) restaurant. Basically, everything was done with class on this ship. No real complaints here!
Entertainment: This is the one area we felt could be improved upon. The shows were just average. DH and our youngest DS went to a variety show one night and said it was just OK. The comedian was funny, but was mostly an impressionist, and his "adult" show was not adult at all. The acrobat show was cancelled due to rough seas (you would think acrobats could handle rough seas). I was disappointed as this was the one show I was really looking forward to.
The kids program got mixed reviews from our boys. Our teen had a blast, but the activities were scheduled very late (e.g., disco from 10pm-midnight), and rather sporadically throughout the day. The programs for kids ages 11-13 or so were pretty much non-existent. However, I find this "black hole" on other cruise lines as well—there tends to be better programming for little kids and teens, and not so much for "tweens." However, our son found lots of other boys in his age group to hang out with. They enjoyed the arcade, pools/slide, and playing card games in the card room.
Toga night was the last night, and was a lot of fun! Maybe half of the people wore togas. The show that night looked like fun, but I did not stay long as I arrived too late to find a seat, and could not find my friends. The casino was small. The slots were fun, but seemed tight. I did not really notice any big winners there. Same with DH at the blackjack tables.
Disembarkation: All good cruises must come to an end. Since we used cash to pay our onboard account, I had to get up early and go pay the piper. You have to be there between 6:00 and 7:30 AM or something like that. It actually went very quickly. They had you take a number and there were chairs, but it honestly took only about 5 minutes. And, I'm happy to say we only owed $101 in addition to what I had already put down at the beginning. We did really good this time!
We had yellow luggage tags which meant we were to go to the Rex Theater at 8:30 for debarkation. We got there around 8:40, and they told us we could go ahead and go. So we went to the atrium area of deck 3 and proceeded to follow the line out. The line was long, but it kept moving the whole way through customs and out of the building. We found a spot outside near where we'd been dropped off a week ago, and called our shuttle company. They were there within 10 minutes for the 5 minute drive to the parking facility. All-in-all, a fairly painless debarkation!
I could go on and on! In fact, I did go on and on in my review posted on the main Cruise Critic Costa board here: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=741915.