We flew down to Fort Lauderdale the day before and rented a minivan for $44 using a code from mousesaversdotcom. One thing to note is that there is a car rental center at the airport, but unless you come in at Terminal D, you will have to wait for and take a shuttle to it. We had rooms at the Fairfield Inn and Suites Cruise Port. This is a new hotel in Dania Beach, about 10 minutes from the airport. They do have a free shuttle from the airport and also one to the cruise port for $10 per person. We chose to rent the minivan so we would have more flexibility and we had found out that there were no restaurants within walking distance to the hotel. Hotel was fine, clean and basic, also had a free breakfast, though the cruise passengers cleaned it out by 8:00 am. We drove to Las Olas Blvd. for dinner which is a fun place to eat and people watch. Plenty of reasonable parking in either lots or garages, though we had brought our GPS which was handy.
Embarkation Day: We ate breakfast in the hotel, then loaded up the van around 10:30 and dropped off 3 people and all the luggage at the cruise port, which is very easy to do. There were 5 ships in the port that day, and the hotel shuttles were taking people to all 5, which looked like a long process. Two of us took the van back to the airport and then took a $13 cab ride back to the port. We found out when dropping off the van that there is a rental car drop-off at the port, wish we had known about it. Embarkation was a breeze and if you want to bypass the photo line you can. Your ship photo is taken once you are on the ship, room keys are in your room and your credit card must be activated within 48 hours through a kiosk, but that is very easy to do. Sail-away was at 7:00 pm, so we got to watch the other ships leave. If you order a drink while still in port, you will have to pay a port tax in addition to the cost of the drink and the gratuity.
Rooms: We all had inside rooms. They were all the same, typical cruise-ship rooms. One of them (8273) was very loud and next to some machinery that banged alot. We did experience a language problem with the customer service rep. When we asked to have someone come to the room to explain the banging she got very defensive and kept telling us the ship was full and we couldn't change rooms. We tried to tell her we did not want a room change, just a maintenance person to come check it out and make sure there wasn't a problem. She is pretty hateful and her name is Daniela. If you go on this cruise, I would suggest you wait until another rep is available before you try to deal with her. Several people in the line were frustrated with her. I think it would be a good idea for Costa to have service reps who are fluent in English when they are in the Caribbean. This cruise had a lot of senior citizens on board and the language barrier was difficult to a lot of them.
Dining: We had the first seating in the Michelangelo Dining Room, table 109. Dinner is at 5:45 which is a little early, but the second seating is at 8:30 which was too late for us. The food was very good- we especially enjoyed the pasta dishes-Lasagna was awesome! Steaks were sometimes good, sometimes overcooked. The crab legs were great. Desserts were fine, but if you order Baba Rhum you need a sense of humor. The dining room entertainment was fantastic and occurs every night after dessert, so make sure you stay for it. One of the people at the next table had a gluten allergy and he was very well-attended to, the chef even made him a special gluten-free birthday cake, which he shared with us and it was very good. Drink service at dinner was spotty. We did not have a wine package and the wine steward rarely came by. We ended up stopping at a bar and bringing a glass of wine or a cocktail to dinner with us. This was a good solution, especially since the drinks were usually 2 for 1 between 4-6, so we could have one pre-dinner drink and then bring the other one with us. The mixed drinks are pretty pricey and very weak, so wine or beer is a better choice. A nice touch was the free champagne at the farewell dinner, and they were generous with it. Our waiter got better as the week went on, he seemed nervous, but it didn't look like he had more than 2-3 tables and one table was almost always empty. We tried both the buffet and restaurant for breakfast and lunch, both were good- different pastas at each buffet line. Lunch in the restaurant was a little slow and a lot of food, especially with the early dinner. Afternoon tea was everyday from 3:30-4:30 and had good desserts and sandwiches. Pizza was also very good and toppings changed daily.
Entertainment: Entertainment was hit or miss. If you like the welcome show, you will like all of the rest. We liked the Elton John impersonator and the Tenor. The staff talent show was just okay, but the last night Toga Party and passenger talent show were really fun. There was a ballroom dance group on board and they were fun to watch in different areas of the ship. Lounge music was good also. Daily bingo games drew big crowds, with pots ranging from $50-$1000 and you never knew until someone won how big the pot was. We missed the Newlywed Game, but did catch it on the TV the next day and after that no one got near any hot tub based on one of the couples comments about where they last "did it".
The pools were larger than on other cruise ships and not full of kids. There is a water slide, but it was only open a few hours a day. There did not seem to be many kids on this cruise and the ones we saw were well-behaved. The Squok Program got rave reviews from people we met. The spa was nice and we did use the steam room, saunas, gym and showers, as well as spa treatments.
Ports: We did not take any ship excursions, but booked private ones based on Cruise Critic reviews. In St. Thomas we took a snorkel excursion with Captain Mike of the Fury and got to swim with sea turtles. In San Juan we spent the day with Albert Aguirre (surfcabs@yahoodotcom (787)317-6907), he is a great tour guide and we highly recommend him. He took us to the rain forest, a tour of old San Juan and a local roadside lunch stop. If you plan to buy duty-free alcohol, San Juan has excellent prices. Anything we bought did not get confiscated when we got back on board. Grand Turk was a beach day for us, no sightseeing. There were two ships in Grand Turk that day and they were on different time zones, so that was confusing. Also, when we arrived at Grand Turk we took our time getting off the ship which was a mistake because The Emerald Princess came in about 20 minutes behind us and they closed the port until they cleared customs, so we were forced to stay on our ship an extra 30-40 minutes. Plenty of chairs in the shade at Grand Turk.
We really enjoyed our Costa Cruise even more than we expected to. We were a little worried after the lukewarm and negative reviews, but it was a great vacation. We loved the European flavor and the overall experience was well-worth it. The ship was beautiful, clean and comfortable and we would sail Costa again. In addition, we went to a Meet and Greet from this board and that was one of the highlights of the trip.