Here's the detailed story of our cruise aboard of the Costa Fortuna, January 10 through January 17, 2010.
DAY 1 - FORT LAUDERDALE & EMBARKATION: We live only about 2 hours away from Fort Lauderdale and arrived at Port Everglades around 11:20 am on an extremely cold (at least for us Floridians) morning. The Costa Fortuna was anchored at Pier 19, where I dropped off our luggage and proceeded to park the car in the parking garage right next to the pier. We proceeded into the terminal at about 11:30 am and had no lines at the security screening. Once security screening is completed, you are asked to complete a "Health Questionaire" mainly geared towards the question if you have any symptoms of H1N1. It's only a short form, and has to be completed before you check in (it's NOT part of your online/web check-in form!), so to make it easier for you, make sure to bring a pen. Once completed, you have two options: You can either use one of the self check-in kiosks (similar to airline check-ins), or proceed into the next hall, where you have Costa staff members checking you in at the counter. There was some confusion amongst some travelers, who thought they HAD to check in at the kiosk. We skipped the kiosks and proceeded to the check-in counter. Suite customers, as well as Costa club members of Coral status or above will have a separate check-in line, which we took advantage of. My parents did not have a suite, and they proceeded towards the "regular" check-in line. We experienced no wait and were promptly greeted by a Costa staff member, who checked our passports and reviewed the web check-in form I had printed at home. In less than two minutes we were ready and proceeded towards the ship. Due to the large amount of Costa check-in staff, my parents were done with their check-in in similar time. A small line formed, as a picture is being taken before you go onboard, followed by another security/I/D/ check point. We boarded the Fortuna, and before you enter the main lobby, your mug shot/head shot will be taken (used for identification when exiting/entering the ship at ports). We were all set and ready to enjoy the welcoming buffet at around 12:00 noon, even though the cruise documents state, that the check-in time starts at 1:30 pm. We enjoyed the buffet, which offered a variety of cold and hot specialties, salads and desserts. The buffet was quite busy. Apparently a lot of people checked in early, plus there were a lot of back-to-back cruisers still onboard. The poolside grill in the aft of Deck 9 opened around 12:45 pm, offering hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries and other "domestic" food. The state rooms were ready at approximately 1:15 pm.
Our Grand Suite #7289 was almost as home to us, as we had the exact same cabin on the Magica and the Fortuna once before. Room stewardess Merlina and our butler Jacob stopped by shortly after our arrival to introduce themselves to us and to inquire if we needed anything. If you are new to the ship or new to Costa, they will gladly give you a brief introduction about the cabin and the services offered. Our luggage arrived in our cabin at about 3:40 pm, which was great, as it gave us plenty of time to unpack before any scheduled activities and before leaving port. I noticed that somebody had locked the safe in the cabin and it was not possible to open it with our card. Jacob contacted somebody from the customer service and with 10 minutes the problem was solved. Upon check-in you are asked to register a credit card, in order to charge your expensed to your onboard account. This is now being done with kiosks, which you can find throughout the ship on Decks 3 and 5. Remember, you need your Costa Card (which you will find in your room) and your Credit Card in order to complete this process. There was a line at the kiosk on Deck 3, so I went to Deck 5. There are several kiosks just passed the Casino, which never seemed to have any lines. At the kiosk you simply select your language, swipe your Costa Card first, followed by swiping you Credit Card (within 60 seconds). If you are travelling with somebody else in your cabin, you have either the option to include or exclude that person from your onboard account. At the end of the process (less than 2 minutes) you will get a confirmation message on the screen and you are ready to go. We relaxed in our cabin, unpacked our suitcases and strolled around the Fortuna for the remainder of the afternoon. As we had second sitting dining, our first show "Welcome Aboard Variety Show" was scheduled for 7:00 pm, the time we were actually supposed to leave Port Everglades. Except for the Welcome Gala Night (Night 2), second sitting passengers will always enjoy a pre-dinner show, whereas first sitting passengers will enjoy their entertainment after the dinner. Due to a cocktail reception in the theatre on the first formal night, both sittings will have their show after dinner (9:00 pm for first sitting and 10:45 pm for second sitting passengers). The show was a great kick-off for our vacation and featured an acrobatic duo, Gaby & Norbi from Europe (Czech Republic if I'm not mistaken), as well as two really talented singers Umberto Noto from Italy and Liz Roxburgh from England, and of course the always fabulous Costa Fortuna dancers. Due to extreme weather conditions around the country and also internationally, our departure time was pushed back from 7:00 pm to 11:00 pm, as we were still missing quite a few passengers. After the show we were ready for our first dinner. We were assigned to table # 68 on deck 3 in the Michelangelo Restaurant (aft restaurant). The table was located along the side, and was a table for 4, with a bench and two chairs. Our waiter Edgar and assistant waiter Steve were great, but seemed a bit shy at the beginning. Dinner was wonderful (see separate post about Fortuna Menu's) and we were just getting up, as the ship started to pull away from the pier at about 10:20 pm. We were told that even with the delayed departure time, we would still be in St. Thomas on time.
DAY 2 - AT SEA: We woke up to a sunny morning and had put in an order for breakfast in the cabin the night before. On the breakfast order forms which you will find in your cabin, you can determine a time frame, e.g. 8:00-8:30, 8:30-9:00, etc. We ordered our breakfast for 9:00-9:30, and promptly at 9:00 am, our butler Jacob knocked on the door with a huge tray of breakfast items. We had ordered some breakfast rolls, croissants, coffee, hot chocolate, espresso, butter, strawberry and apricot jam and enjoyed every bit of it in our wonderful cabin. We went to the sundeck on deck 12 (forward), where it was nice and quite, although it was a bit breezy and a bit cool from time to time, when the sun was hiding behind some clouds. At around noon, I had to check out the lunch buffet on deck 9. The assistant chef had a station with some fresh mussels in marinara sauce. The sauce had a nice little kick to it, and the mussels were simply outstanding. I lost count, but I think I had three plates or so. Of course I had to try some of the other items from the buffet too, such as the fresh mozzarella with tomatoes (Insalata Caprese) and some fresh Tuna-Tomato salad, some pasta, etc. I walked out with a nice sample platter of pretty much everything. It was fantastic! At 3:15 pm it was time for our muster/lifeboat drill. We went to the cabin around 3:00 pm and were ready. Make sure that you bring your Costa card with you, when you proceed to your muster station. The staff will scan your card, to make sure you're accounted for, as the life boat drill is mandatory. There were quite a few people who did not bring their cards, so the staff members had to manually put them in their scanner. Not a big problem, but it hold up the process. So bring your card! Yes, the lifeboat drill will be conducted in five languages (English, Italian, German, French and Spanish), which for whatever reason apparently upsets some passengers. We personally enjoy such things, as it makes your cruise vacation even more "international". After the lifeboat drill we enjoyed the remainder of the afternoon on the sundeck and our balcony. Max, the Cruise Director, mentioned that the ship had about 3000 passengers onboard... it really didn't feel like it. The evening offered the first formal night, the Welcome Gala Night. Costa has improved and streamlined the process of going to the cocktail reception in the Rex Theatre tremendously. If you like, you can have your picture taken with the Captain on deck 5, which is voluntarily. In the past, they took the pictures right by the entrance of the theatre, which caused a tremendous back-up of people in the lobby area. During the reception, you still receive champagne and non-alcoholic cocktails, as well as appetizers, although Costa has scaled back a bit on that. Of course, dinner was superb and excellent once again, with many delicious dinner choices. If you are curious what's for dinner that night, you may want to watch "The Breakfast Show" with Cruise Director Max, which is broadcasted on channel 12 on TV. Max usually visits Veal and Allessandro in the kitchen, and will give you an inside look of what the specialties and chef recommendations are for the day/evening. Buon Appetito! The later evening/night offered a 70's/80's Boogie Night at the Leonardo Lounge and Disco Fever in the disco with DJ Matteo.
DAY 3 - AT SEA: We got up around 8:00 am and due to the wonderful food, decided it was time for us to get some exercise in. It was a nice sunny morning and we went running at the jogging track on deck 11 (midship/aft) for over an hour, before hitting the breakfast buffet on deck 9. The breakfast buffet offers a wide variety of items, from fresh breakfast rolls, different kinds of bread, croissants and turnovers, pancakes, muesli, cereal, fresh fruit, sausage links, bacon, eggs, smoked salmon or fresh tuna, yoghurt, boiled eggs and custom made omelets to your liking. After breakfast and a refreshing shower, we decided to give it a shot at "Super Bingo", where the guaranteed prize money was $ 750. If you got a full card with the first 46 numbers, the prize is $ 5000, with 47 numbers it'll be $ 2500, and with the first 48 numbers, it'll pay $ 1500. Not bad at all. The entry fee is either $10 for a single card or $ 20 for a triple card. I came close with two numbers left, but didn't win. At least it was a try. The lunch buffet offered delicious Mediterranean specialties, such as Greek Salad with Feta cheese, Dolmades (stuffed wine leafs - Greek), Tortellini in a creamy cheese sauce and flambEed peaches with vanilla ice cream. By the way, the ice cream machines on deck 9 were always working and always produced good soft ice cream as well. The wind started to pick up again in the afternoon and it started to sprinkle, so we went back to our cabin and took a short nap. The theme for the night was Tropical Night. As we were booked in a Grand Suite, a dinner for two at the Tuscan Steak House (Club Restaurant) is complimentary. We tried to get in for tonight, but it was already fully booked for the evening, so we made our original reservation for Thursday. I asked Jacob (our butler) if you could check once again, to see if anybody canceled. After a short time, he came back to our cabin, and said that it was still fully booked, but he would go upstairs and check with the restaurant manager himself. A few minutes later Jacob returned, and said that the restaurant would be glad to have us tonight at 8:30 pm. Awesome! Thank you Jacob, for making it possible for us! It started to rain before we went to the evening show "Blue Fantasy", which also features a small segment of laser show. I really wish they would have a longer, more exciting laser show, such as on the Magica. The show was fantastic. We also had a cocktail reception with the Captain that night, which is reserved only for suite passengers. There were only about 40-50 people who attended. They served us lots of champagne and plenty of delicious hot and cold hors d'oeuvres. The Captain, Massimo Garbarino, which we sailed with before on the Costa Mediterranea, took time to sit down with each passenger, talked and chatted leisurely. He's an amazing person, with a long career with Costa (he's with Costa since 1978, and back then become the youngest Captain within the organization). He was born in Genoa, Italy, which is also the home of Costa and is known for the history of navigation, seafarers and ship builders. He fluently speaks all five languages and it's a pleasure talking to him. Until that night I did not know that he is actually actively involved in the design and building of new Costa ships. After the cocktail reception it was time for our dinner experience at the Tuscan Steak House. All I can say: If you're not cruising in a suite, spend the extra $ 30 per person and have a dining experience of a lifetime. You'll experience magnificent service and food, which goes beyond your imagination! The piano player and low lighting improves the ambience of the entire experience. Due to the rain, the Tropical Night was moved from the pool deck to the grand lounge Conte Di Savoia, but the ice sculpture demonstration was cancelled.
DAY 4 - ST. THOMAS: Even though we departed Fort Lauderdale almost 4 hours late, we arrived in St. Thomas even a little bit early and the Captain was able to secure us docking space # 1 in Heavensight. We got off the ship around 8:30 am, and had made a reservation with Budget for a Jeep rental. Budget was always located on the main street, just outside of the cruise ship area, but has relocated since January 1, 2010. The new office is now located within the port area, just off the cruise ship pier towards docking space # 2. When you get off the ship, exit the fenced area, then immediately walk along the cruise ship towards your right. There is a large "Budget" sign on the building. You will pick-up and drop off your vehicle there, which makes it even more comfortable for cruise ship passengers. We picked up our 4-door Jeep as reserved and we were off to explore the island. Just as a reminder: Although St. Thomas is part of the US Virgin Islands, you are driving on the LEFT. All rental vehicles are left-steered vehicles with automatic transmission, but if you've never driven on the left, it takes a bit to get used to, especially when turning! Just make sure you watch out for animals, especially on less travelled roads. Donkeys, chicken, pigs, dogs and other animals are roaming freely. There are a lot of winding roads on St. Thomas, with a lot of blind spots... just reduce your speed accordingly and watch where you're going. Our first stop was Coki Beach, which we knew from previous times. It's a nice little beach, with a lot of local vendors, offering anything from food and drinks to various merchandise. The beach is located right next to Coral World, if you have problems finding it on the map. The beach gets usually crowded later, as a lot of tours drop their passengers, before returning to the ship. We bought some good mixed drinks "The Bomb", which has a nice fruity taste, with lots of rum! Yummy! The beach is ideal for snorkeling, but watch for currents, which can be strong at times. We had some dog bisquits to feed the fish. A nice colorful selection of fish will surround you quickly, as soon as you start crumbling the bisquits. The beach got crowded by noon and we decided to move on with our island tour. Toured the remainder of the island, with nice stops along the way to take great pictures of this beautiful island. We stopped at one more local beach, which is the most relaxing and quiet beach you can imagine. We dropped our Jeep off around 4:45 pm, did a little bit of shopping around the harbor and went back on the Fortuna at around 5:20 pm. We set sail promptly at 6:00 pm as scheduled. The theme for the night was Italian Night, which you don't want to miss. It's a casual night, but you're encouraged to wear red, white and green outfits, which resembles the Italian national colors (tricolore). At 7:00 pm Antonio Colamorea performed a tribute to Andrea Bocelli. He is an amazing tenor, and probably drew the largest crowd in the theatre I had seen all cruise long. His voice is amazing... so if he's still on the ship performing, you don't want to miss this show. During the evening, the cruise staff will put on all kind of "Italian" entertainment, from Tarantella and Taccopunta Dance lessons to the "Election of Mister Pizza", which is absolutely hilarious - all these "shows" are audience participation, especially Mister Pizza. Don't miss it! Dinner that night was - of course - even more Italian than usual. It was fantastic as always, but I had to order multiple main courses, just because I could not decide what I wanted to try... so I tried them both! After dinner we attended the "Newlywed and Not so Newlywed Game", which was hosted by Max and took place in the Rex Theatre at 11:15 pm. I was surprised by the very low turnout. Usually that show draws quite a crowd, but not this time. It was still fun and entertaining. If you rather go dancing, at 11:30 pm the Excalibur Band perfomed the Most Beautiful Italian Songs in the Leonardo Da Vinci Lounge, followed by the Glamour Nigth of the 80's and 90's in the disco.
DAY 5 - SAN JUAN: As soon as we woke up, I noticed it was dark and rainy outside. We had made a reservation with Enterprise Rent-A-Car to rent a Jeep, as we had planned to visit the rain forest and the Bacardi Rum Factory. We got off the ship at around 8:45 am and contacted Enterprise, who kindly offered to pick us up from the pier. Their office is about 10 minutes away from the cruise ship terminal. Within 10 minutes we got picked up and by 9:30 am we were on our own, and off to Bacardi, as we decided to do the rain forest later in the day, if it would stop raining. Everybody from Enterprise was extremely friendly and helpful. So if you're renting a car in San Juan, I can highly recommend the Enterprise office, which is located at 999 Ashford Ave. Just make your reservation online, and give them a call if you need a pick-up. If you decide in San Juan however, expect heavy traffic. This becomes even more of an issue when it rains, as the drainage is insufficient, and roadways are getting easily flooded, which brings traffic to a snarl. If you are used to road sign and direction signs from the US, Canada or Europe, don't expect it in San Juan. It took us forever to eventually select the correct turn to find the Bacardi Rum Factory... hardly any signs to get you there. The factory tour is in my opinion very interesting and informative. Even though you don't see the actual manufacturing process or bottling process, it provides you with a lot of history about Bacardi. And as an added bonus: the tour is absolutely free and includes two free drinks at the end of the tour... yummy! Due to the extreme heavy rain, we decided to bring the car back early, and returned to San Juan at about 2:00 pm. Enterprise arranged for us to be dropped off at the pier, and we had enough time to take a stroll to Old San Juan, which we had seen several times before. We bought some local cigars and stopped by "The Bonbonera", a locally owned baker/eatery in the heart of Old San Juan for some pastries and coffee, before heading back onboard at about 3:15 pm. The Fortuna departed as scheduled at 4:00 pm. This evening's theme was Circus night and was an informal night in the dining room. Michael B. Levin performed "Sinatra, Bennett and Me". He has a great voice and does a great Sinatra and Bennett, but was in my honest opinion the weakest performer in the entire lineup of entertainment throughout the week. Also, the Election of Miss Costa Fortuna took place at 10:30 pm, followed by "Blue's & Rock'n'Roll Session" with Max and the Excalibur Band. Don't miss out on the Galley Tour and Buffet. The chefs of the Costa Fortuna put an amazing array of ice carvings, food carvings and of course a huge selection of appetizers, desserts and other fine specialties together. Keep in mind, that there is no more "Buffet Magnifico" (Grand Buffet) on the second formal gala night. This kitchen and galley tour and buffet is the replacement! It's fantastic to take a peak behind the scene of the usually busy kitchen. Amazing and a must see! The galley opened at 11:45 pm. You will enter the galley through the center restaurant (Restaurant Rafaello) on deck 3, tour the kitchen, and exit in the aft restaurant on deck 3, where you can sit down and enjoy your culinary treasures.
DAY 6 - GRAND TURK: We got up around 9:00 am and went to the breakfast buffet on deck 9. We relaxed afterwards on our balcony until we arrived in Grand Turk. We actually arrived and docked early at about 11:20 am. The Fortuna was the first ship to arrive, followed by the Emerald Princess, the other ship for the day. We got off the ship quickly at around 11:45 am. The cruise terminal Carnival built is very nice and appears still brand new. Just off the ship there are two beaches visible, with plenty of beach chairs. All facilities are free of charge, including the pool and the beach chairs. So take advantage, if you don't want to wander far from the ship. We decided to rent some motor scooters to explore the island, and had done some research prior to our cruise. Tony's Rental is set up just OUTSIDE of the cruise terminal, just passed the gate. Took us a minute to figure that out, but we found him. Rented two scooters, which includes the helmet and gas. All you have to bring is your driver's license and cash, as the renal place is not yet accepting credit cards. There is no security deposit necessary either... kind of interesting, but how far could you run with a scooter on this roughly 28 square mile island. The driving is on the left and the maximum speed limit around the entire island is 20 mph or 32 km/h. Traffic is extremely light, which makes it even more enjoyable to ride around with the scooters. Just watch for wild animals. You see wild horses, donkeys, chicken and other creatures just standing in the middle of the roadways. Not all roads are paved, but even the gravel roads are very passable. You can still see the results from Hurricane Ike, which hit this island, as you still see some ruins around the island. We found some beautiful beaches, which huge conch shells. We weren't sure if you're allowed to take them, so we took pictures of them and left them on the beach. We stopped at a hilltop bar ("The Bare Naked Conch") for some traditional conch fritters, and a nice cold local brewed beer. It's not cheap though, as everything has to be brought to the island. A local woman told us, that a gallon of milk is about $ 12.00. Wow! After touring the entire island, we settled on Governor's Beach, which is not far from the cruise ship terminal. The beach is sandy, with no rocks in the water and the most beautiful place to snorkel. The water is crystal clear, and you will find several reefs, just off the beach. There are also artificial reefs, which lots of colorful fish and stingrays. Absolutely amazing! I can just imagine to go diving off Grand Turk... it must be stunning! After returning our scooters and a brief stop at the duty free store, we returned to the Fortuna at about 5:20 pm. The duty free shop had really great deals, especially in regards of alcohol. The prices were a lot lower than in San Juan or St. Thomas! Tonight was the second formal night, the Farewall Gala Night and Dinner. The production show "H2O" was a fast-paced show, with lots of costume and scenery changes, and of course the always fabulous Costa Fortuna Dancers, and singers Liz Roxburgh and Umberto Noto. The show reflects a musical tribute to water and navigation, from Noah's Arc to the Costa Fortuna. Dinner was - as usual - wonderful and absolutely delicious. During the Farewell Gala night, Costa used to serve Baked Alaska, but replaced it with a layered cake with frosting. The cake is unique, but absolutely delicious. Michael B. Levin was scheduled at 11:15 pm and was advertised as Late Night Comedy. There was hardly any comedy, just singing. About 10 minutes in the show we left, as this was the weakest and most boring show of all. Not worth going to... I'd rather see more of the Costa Fortuna dancers!
DAY 7 - AT SEA: On our final day we decided to order breakfast in our cabin. And as ordered, our breakfast arrived promptly at 9:00 am. I also ordered some smoked salmon from the restaurant menu, which is absolutely wonderful. Besides the coffee, espresso and juices, we had fresh rolls and croissants, jams and cream cheese. We went to the sun deck to enjoy our last day of the cruise. The lunch buffet was another hit, with lots of Italian and Mediterranean specialties. Costa also offered a Happy Hour that day, with 2 for 1 drink specials between 4 pm and 6 pm. It's good for all mix drinks, draft beer and wine by the glass. Don't miss the Costa Fortuna crew show "I have a dream", which only has one showing at 4 pm. Crew members show off their talent! This was an absolutely great production, with awesome music and great effects! The evening was dedicated Roman night! Bed sheets and "crowns" were delivered to your stateroom in the afternoon, to be used to make a toga. Don't use the sheets off your bed though! Your room steward/stewardess will not appreciate it. This is an absolute fun night. Where else can you go to dinner in a toga, without being questioned by law enforcement. Although not everybody is getting into the spirit, it appeared that the second sitting passengers were much more involved in wearing togas compared to the early sitting. You'll see all kind of creative togas! Funny, just to watch. We had our own togas packed and got right into the spirit of dressing up... so much fun! The Roman Night/Talent Show is at 10:45 pm (one show for both sittings). You may want to go to the theatre a little bit earlier than usual, if you want to have good seats, as it gets crowded. Max, the Cruise Director, did another great job as Julius Caesar. Apparently they had some guests dropping out of the talent contest, as there were only five participants. Usually they had at least eight or so... but it was a fun night. Very talented people on board, and nobody was sent to the lions! LOL... You'll see! The luggage has to be outside of your cabin door no later than 1:00 am. So if you're still wearing your toga, make sure you'll put a change of clothes aside. Otherwise you might have to explain to Customs & Immigration, why you're wearing a toga... Also at 1:00 am all Costa card accounts will be closed. If you are still up and want to get a drink at one of the bars, you have to pay in cash. The final account statement will be delivered to your mailbox outside of your cabin door by around 3:00 am.
DAY 8 - FORT LAUDERDALE/DISEMBARKATION: Unfortunately our cruise is coming to an end and we're back in Fort Lauderdale. We got up around 7:00 am and went for breakfast one final time to the buffet on deck 9. We collected our belongs from our cabin, said good-bye to our room stewardess Merlina and our butler Jacob, and made our way towards the lobby. We had red colored luggage tags, which called for a disembarkation between 8:00 am and 8:15 am. At about 8:10 am they called for all red luggage tags. We scanned our Costa card one final time, before exiting for good - or at least for this cruise. Once in the terminal, our luggage was easily found. We did not experience any wait at the Customs & Immigration counter and were out of the terminal within minutes. Another wonderful Costa cruise has come to a conclusion.
IN CONCLUSION: Costa has done it again and both, my wife and I, can't wait to board a Costa ship again. Despite negative comments and posts, I would give the Costa Fortuna a 5+ rating in every aspect, from cleanliness, entertainment, food, comfort, cabin, public areas, itinerary and friendliness!
Gracie Mille, Costa!
I would like to take a moment to express a SPECIAL THANKS to the following Costa staff members:
Commandante Massimo Garbarino - for being an outstanding and personable Captain
Max Bertolotto - for being (once again) such a wonderful and high energy Cruise Director
Manuela Vaccalluzzo - for having so much fun with all passengers throughout the cruise and for being a great Assistant Cruise Director
Edgar Cortez - our head waiter, for being attentive and for having so much fun with us... "Cheese Please!!!"
Steve - our assistant waiter, for always keeping up with Edgar
Merlina - our room stewardess, for keeping our cabin, clean and spotless, and for such cute towel animals!
Jacob - our butler, for taking care of pretty much everything for us, from small to big.
Veal, Allessandro and all other chefs and kitchen staff of the Costa Fortuna, for providing such excellent and wonderful meals throughout the week. Thanks to you, I definitely have to go on a diet now.
The rest of the Costa Fortuna staff, for keeping the ship spotless and clean, for keeping us safe and for making our cruise truly memorable and outstanding!
Following now, is a brief overview of certain events, rather a day by day review, starting with the embarkation:
EMBARKATION: We arrived at Port Everglades around 11:20 am on an extremely cold (at least for us Floridians) morning and dropped off our luggage in front of the terminal of Pier 19, where the Costa Fortuna was anchored. The parking garage is right next to Pier 19 and 21, where I parked the car. We proceeded into the terminal at about 11:30 am and had no lines at the security screening. Once security screening is completed, you are required to complete a "Health Questionaire", which is geared to find out if you have any symptoms of H1N1. It's only a short form, and has to be completed before you check in (it's NOT part of your online/web check-in form!). But to make things quicker and easier for you, bring your own pen! Once you've completed the form, you can either use one of the self check-in kiosks (similar to airline check-ins), or proceed into the next hall, where you have Costa staff members checking you in at the counter. There was some confusion amongst some travelers, who thought they HAD to check in at the kiosk. We skipped the kiosks and proceeded to the check-in counter. Suite customers, as well as Costa club members of Coral status or above will have a separate check-in line, which we took advantage of. My parents did not have a suite, and they proceeded towards the "regular" check-in line. We experienced no wait and were promptly greeted by a Costa staff member, who checked our passports and reviewed the web check-in form I had printed at home. In less than two minutes we were ready and proceeded towards the ship. Due to the large amount of Costa check-in staff, my parents were done with their check-in in similar time. A small line formed, as a picture is being taken before you go onboard, followed by another security/I/D/ check point. We boarded the Fortuna, and before you enter the main lobby, your mug shot/head shot will be taken (used for identification when exiting/entering the ship at ports). We were on board by 12:00 noon! It was the most efficient and smooth check-in so far yet! Costa has done a great job improving the check-in procedures over the years!
THE SHIP: Even though the Costa Fortuna was build in 2003, she will not show that she is 7 years old. We were familiar with the Fortuna from our last Costa cruise in 2007 and have also sailed on her younger sister, the Costa Magica before. The interior of the ship is spotless, elegant, colorful and full of surprises. The Fortuna — named for the mythological goddess Fortuna, daughter of Poseidon, god of the sea — has a refined, occasionally whimsical, decor. Every public room is nostalgically inspired by, and named after, famous liners that provided trans-Atlantic service between Italy and America, such as the Rex Theatre, the Michelangelo and Rafaello Restaurant and the Grand Bar Conte Di Savoia. My favorite part is the open and colorful main lobby, with the glass elevators and "upside down" Costa ships, which are represented at the ceiling. Each area of the ship has it's own unique flair and flavor and represents a warm and vibrant Italian flair, in the style of Joe Farcus.
THE CABIN: Our Grand Suite 7289 appeared like home to us, as we occupied the exact same room twice before, once on the Magica and once on our last cruise with the Fortuna. The Grand Suite offers an impressive open layout, with a large sitting area with couch, chairs and table, a marble desk, an impressive 3 closets, a dresser, a make-up/dressing area, a huge bathroom featuring a whirlpool tub/shower combination, bidet (yes, it's an European thing), a double sink with marble countertop and marble bathroom floor, and of course an oversized balcony with 2 chairs, a table and 2 loungers. The wall above the bed has a full length and height mirror, making this room appear even larger. This suite also features dimmable halogen lights and offers the most comfort you can imagine. Suites and Grand Suites enjoy a few extra perks, such as butler service, complimentary dinner for 2 at the Club Restaurant (Tuscan Steakhouse), a special cocktail reception with the Captain, bathrobes and slippers for your use, a pillow menu, full in room dining opportunities for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as priority embarkation and disembarkation privileges. If you want to cruise in comfort in style... this is the ultimate luxury!
THE CRUISE STAFF: I saw posts here, where people are complaining about rude and unfriendly staff members. With all honesty, we did not encounter ONE staff member, who was not friendly. No matter where you went on the Fortuna, everybody is smiling and greets you promptly. From bar service staff members to the waiter in the restaurant and buffet areas, from the cruise entertainment staff to the casino staff/dealers, from the maintenance workers to the customer service staff, from the housekeeping staff to spa staff... during our week long cruise we did not encounter one unfriendly or rude staff member. Just walking along the corridor, you'll be promptly greeted, "Good Morning, Sir", "Good Afternoon, How are you?", or "Good Evening, Sir". Even though your cabin is not in their area, housekeeping staff will always greet you promptly and with a smile. Max, our cruise director, did another wonderful job. He is very people oriented and high energy and is there for you if you should need him. The assistant cruise director, Manuela, is doing an outstanding job with all kind of activities around the ship, including Super Bingo. Most of the entertainment staff is from Italy and is high energy 24/7. The Captain, Massimo Garbarino, seems to have the Fortuna fully under control. He's quite an amazing person and we had the opportunity to talk to him personally for some time during the special Suite cocktail reception. He is with Costa Crociere since 1978 and was born in Genoa, Italy, a city known for seafarer and ship builders. His ability to speak fluently five languages is amazing and it is a please to just sit down with him and "chat".
THE FOOD: With most posters on Cruise Critic, this seems to be one of the most fought about issues when it comes to Costa cruises. Both, my wife and I, have always enjoyed the international flair of Costa, which is also represented when it comes to food. Please understand, that Costa is an Italian cruise line, which serves Italian style food, which may not appeal to all, especially to Americans which are not familiar with international cuisine, and may think that Pizza Hut or Olive Garden is as Italian as it gets. No offense, but we've seen it first hand this week, where fellow cruisers stated, they did not like the food and stated that Costa definitely needs to change and cater to the Americans... At this point I had to interfere and made my point clear as well: Costa is Italian. If you don't like it, cruise with Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Norwegian or Celebrity, where different food will be served. It would be the same as going to Italy and demanding that they need to change the way they cook pasta or bake pizza, just because I like it the American way. I hate when I read posts like "The food is horrible" or "Lost weight during my cruise". Just because the food is not the way YOU LIKE it to be, doesn't make the food horrible. The food on Costa is outstanding, and I'll post a complete menu from our cruise in a separate post. The dishes are mouthwatering, and I had a hard time to decide which main course I should choose... so I usually got two. Probably the main reason I have to go on a diet now. Most amazing is the pasta, which is always cooked al dente. Don't know how Costa does it, but it is always cooked perfect. The Italian specialties, such as lamb and veal are outstanding, the soups unique and flavorful and the appetizers are different and tasty. Costa offers Italian culinary delights from start to finish from appetizers to desserts, from the buffet restaurant to the formal restaurants and the specialty restaurant. The "Tuscan Steakhouse" or club restaurant is not to be missed. It offers a true culinary experience and is well worth a visit during your cruise. Just make sure to put in your reservation as soon as possible, as only 50 people per night will be served in the restaurant. For Suite/Grand Suite customers a visit for two is included, otherwise the dining experience will be $ 30.00 per person. Well worth it in my opinion! I will also include the menu for the specialty restaurant with the separate post!
ITINERARY/PORT OF CALLS: Our port of calls were St. Thomas, San Juan and Grand Turk for this cruise. I liked the itinerary, as it provided mostly full day stops, instead of only a few hours. We've been to St. Thomas several times in the past, although there's always something new, we've seen San Juan several times, but usually only by night, and Grand Turk was a new stop for us.
St. Thomas: As in the past, we've rented a Jeep to explore the island on our own pace. We visited Coki Beach, which provides excellent snorkel opportunities, but will get crowded quickly, as the day goes on. It's not a big beach, and will get overrun by people in the early afternoon, as excursions end and people have time to hang out. Magans Bay is another beautiful and large beach, but can also get crowded, as it is one of the most famous and popular beaches on the island. Overall, St. Thomas is a beautiful spot and great stop on the Eastern Caribbean itinerary.
San Juan: We rented a Jeep from Enterprise which are not located by the piers, but are about 10 minutes away. They picked us up and we were off exploring the San Juan area, although it was raining all day long. We drove to the Barcadi factory, enjoyed the tour (and the sample drinks!) and were planning to drive to the rain forest, but weather changed our plans and returned the car in the early afternoon. Driving can be difficult, especially with very little or confusing signage. When it rains, everything seems to come to snarl, as drainage is backed up in the streets, causing flooding, even over major roadways. Strolled through Old San Juan, did some shopping and returned to the ship.
Grand Turk: The most beautiful stop on this itinerary in my opinion. The island only has about 2500 permanent resident. The population easily doubles or triples when big cruise ships like the Fortuna roll in. The entire cruise center was build by Carnival and provides shopping opportunities, bars, a free use of a nice swimming pool and beach chairs. We rented two motor scooters from Tony's Car Rental. He is located just outside the gate of the port area and does NOT accept any credit cards. So make sure to bring cash along. Included in the scooter rental is the helmet and gas. Due to the size of the island, traffic is very minimal and makes it ideal for riding. The speed limit throughout the island is 20 mph, but remember, as Grand Turk is part of the British West Indies, you'll have to drive on the LEFT. Watch out for wild animals, such as horses, donkeys, pigs, chicken or dogs. They seem to roam freely throughout the entire island. This island offers the most beautiful places to snorkel, with crystal clear water and lots of marine life and reefs. You'll find plenty of large conch shells along the shorelines of Grand Turk as well. An absolutely stunning island; quiet, not touristy and the most beautiful turquoise water in the Caribbean!
ENTERTAINMENT: The entertainment on the Fortuna offered a variety of different venues. I read some posts about an Elton John impersonator, but he must have gotten off the ship already, as we did not have a show with him.
Costa Fortuna Dancers: We had several variety/production shows with the Costa Fortuna Dancers. Great productions and a pleasure watching the dancers! Bravissimo!
Singers Umberto Noto and Liz Roxburgh: Both singers are awesome and both singers are extremely talented! They usually appeared as part of the production shows with the Costa Fortuna Dancers. Great variety, great voices and great performances! Always a pleasure to watch any of the production shows!
Acrobats Gabi & Norbi: They appeared a couple of times and are two extremely talented acrobats from Europe. I would not even want to attempt any of their stunts... Absolutely amazing!!!
Tenor Antonio Colamorea: The Italian tenor Antonio Colamorea performed during the Italian night and featured a tribute to Andrea Bocelli. He drew one of the biggest crowds for the second seating passengers. What a great voice he has! Outstanding!
Singer Michael B. Levin: He performed a show "Sinatra, Bennett and Me", which was okay, but kind of got old very quickly. Probably the least exciting performance. He also had a comedy show the following night at 11:15 pm. Thought it would be like stand up comedy, but instead he was more singing than anything else. Left about 10 minutes into the show, which was extremely weak. Rather see more of the other performances.
Crew Show "I have a dream": This showcases some of the talents hidden within the staff members of the Costa Fortuna. From housekeeping to bartenders, singers to dancers, this is a show you don't want to miss. It took place on the last sea day at 4:00 pm in the afternoon. It was a great tribute to all Costa employees. The show was very well put together, with a Costa introduction! One of the highlights, really!!!
Roman Night / Guest Talent Show: This is a most see event. Just make sure you wear your toga, it's even more fun! They must have had some drop outs of performers, as we only had five guests performing. In the past, I remember it was at least 8 or more. Max and Manuela, the entertainment staff and the Costa Fortuna dancers are doing an outstanding job with this "party"! Awesome!!! Don't miss it!
DISEMBARKATION: Make sure you'll have your luggage outside of your cabin by no later than 1:00 am the day you are scheduled to arrive, and make sure you don't still wear your toga! LOL Disembarkation is easy and organized. Costa offers an early disembarkation at 7:00 am, for the first 500 passengers who are registering with Guest Services. Keep in mind, if you are signing up for early disembarkation, you MUST be able to get your entire luggage off the ship yourself, as the staff members are not cleared to go off the ship at this point. If you have only limited amount of luggage, this might be for you, but you must sign up with Guest Services. All other disembarkation is done in order by colors. You will receive color coded luggage tags in your cabin. According to your luggage tag color, you will be meeting/assembling in certain areas of the ship awaiting disembarkation. Here are the estimated disembarkation times, luggage tag colors and meeting points: 7:00 am - BLACK (Rex Theatre - Deck 3) 7:45 am - PINK (Rex Theatre - Deck 3) 8:00 am - RED (Grand Bar Conti Di Savoia - Deck 5) 8:15 am - WHITE (Leonardo Da Vinci Lounge - Deck 5) 8:30 am - YELLOW (Grand Bar Conti Di Savoia - Deck 5) 8:45 am - GREEN (Rex Theatre - Deck 3) 9:00 am - BLUE (Leonardo Da Vinci Lounge - Deck 5) 9:15 am - ORANGE (Rex Theatre - Deck 3) 9:30 am - PURPLE (Rex Theatre - Deck 3) 9:30 am - BROWN (Leonardo Da Vinci Lounge - Deck 5)
THE CONCLUSION: Another memorable and enjoyable Costa cruise came to an end for us. Both, my wife and I, will be back for more Costa cruising. We enjoy the international flair and touch of Costa, its crew members and international passengers. For some, announcements in five different languages (English, Italian, German, French and Spanish) might be annoying, but for us it is enjoyable. It makes it even more of an international vacation than usual. Thank you to all the hard working Costa crew members, which made our 5th Costa cruise another exciting and memorable one.
I truly hope that Costa will remain its course with keeping their cruising experience the Italian way and will not "Americanize". For now, it's time for me to start planning on the next Costa cruise (2011?).
Until then... Ciao!