We recently took a cruise on the Costa Fortuna in Eastern Europe. We chose the Costa cruise line simply because we had no other choices as we had specific dates we could travel in August. We departed from Copenhaugen and made port at Stockholm, Sweden, Tallin, Estonia, St. Petersburg, Russia, and Warnemunde, Germany. From Germany we returned to Copenhaugen.
This was my family’s fourth cruise. We had been on three cruises prior to this one: a Carnival (Caribbean islands) cruise and two Holland American cruises (Caribbean islands and Alaska).
We found the Carnival cruise line to be a party boat with lots of loud music and partying passengers. Our cruise with Carnival also happened to be over spring break so maybe that would have been the norm for any cruise and not specific to this boat. For my wife and two pre-teen children, however, this was not our cup of tea.
We had a great experience on both of our Holland American cruises and this set the bar for all of our expectations of a cruise experience. On Holland American the boats were exceptionally clean and well maintained, all crew members were exceptionally friendly and the food choices and quality were excellent. Overall, we felt that we got what we paid for on the Holland American line and when considering a cruise, we seek them out first.
Now on to our recent cruise on the Costa Fortuna. My wife reviewed a number of blogs regarding this cruise line and this ship. We were particularly interested in learning about this cruise line in view of what happened on the Costa Concordia. Most of the blogs were fairly neutral, though some warned that the cruise clientele would primarily be European and less friendly in regards to our American expectations. Furthermore, we were warned of the expensive beverage policy on the boat, which proved to be quite correct.
I’ll start with the ship itself. Overall the boat was exceptionally clean and mostly well maintained. There was an ice dispenser that was out of service for most of the cruise, though there was a cooler of ice adjacent to it so we were never without access to ice during meals. There was also a window that had been broken in the outdoor dining area of deck 9, but it had been covered over by a piece of fabric which hid the problem quite nicely. Otherwise, the entire boat seemed to be very clean and well maintained.
Regarding the ship’s décor, some in the blogs described it as distasteful and gaudy. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Some of the décor seemed mismatched, such as the backlit glass panes with blobs of green and blue tint above the warm colored inlaid wood panels, or the columns of blue and red splotches mixed in the areas with the warm wood panels. In my opinion it was not objectionable. While some of the color palates seemed mismatched, the colors and panels were not faded, the paint was good and there were no scratches, scrapes or other signs of wear. Furthermore, related to the décor, I’m much more interested in cleanliness, service and food quality.
The service we experienced on the ship overall was very good. Our room steward was friendly and very eager to assist us. He kept our room very neat and clean and always made sure we had ice. On all three of our previous cruises our room steward left towels on our beds in the shape of animals, but this room steward did not do this. We learned from other passengers on this cruise that there were stewards on our ship who did provide this nice touch, but ours was not one of them. Not a big deal…
One down side to our room service was that there seemed to be a lot of service carts and service supplies in the hallway for most of the day and evening. I don’t recall this from any of our other cruises.
Regarding our rooms, we had an exterior room with a veranda as well as an interior room. There was only one electrical outlet in each room by the vanity. It would accept a standard (American) 110 volt plug. I think that it was 110 volts, but all the chargers we brought would work with 110 or 220 volts (look on your wall wart/power supply: the input parameters are printed in fine print on the back). Most modern electrical computer or communications devices will work with 110 or 220 volts, but check out your device before plugging in to a foreign outlet.
Here’s a travel tip: bring a small power strip. We had more accessories that needed to be charged than we had outlets (iPads, iPhones, laptops, etc.). Another tip: the outlet in the bathroom can be used to charge a phone or a tablet, but it is only energized when the light is on, so don’t plug into it at night and then turn the light off, as the light switch kills the power to the outlet, too.
Our room also had a small refrigerator, which was nice. It was stocked with a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages (no diet drinks) and candies, but we did not consume any. Based on the excessive charges of all the other amenities, I’m guessing that the pricing structure of the refrigerated items was exorbitant.
Our bed was two twin mattresses put together to form a king size bed. The mattress was a foam material about 8 inches thick that I would equate to a futon mattress. My wife and kids had no complaints, but I found it to be too firm and uncomfortable. There were no box springs under the mattress and the bed was on legs, so there was plenty of storage space under the beds, which was a big plus.
Regarding storage space, our room had three closets with ample hang up space in two of them; the third had shelves. There were also two sets of drawers/cabinets in the room. In addition, there were also two hooks on the bathroom door as well as the bedroom wall for hanging items. Another tip is to bring coat hangers! One closet had 6 hangers and one had 8 though there was plenty more hang up space in each closet.
The room also had a small safe, which was nice. It operated by swiping your Costa Card. I guess my only question here was that if our room steward had access to our room with his master card key, is it possible that he would have access to the safe, too? I don’t know…
The room came equipped with a color television. We only saw two English language stations, but my view is that if you are on a cruise you shouldn’t be in the room watching TV! When we were in the room, it was nice to have the channel on with the bow and stern cameras. This channel also had classical music.
We had internet access pretty much everywhere on the ship where we tried it, but it was VERY expensive and VERY slow. In most of the hotels I frequent in the U.S. it is generally free, and if I do have to pay for it, it is typically about $15 U.S. per day (24 hours). Not so on the Cost-a-Fortuna! Here internet service is .50 euros per minute. They also had a rate for 20 or 30 minutes, but it was equally expensive. Based on the extra slow speed of the internet service, you might be able to download and reply to about four emails in 20 minutes. If you cruise on this line, don’t plan on getting a lot of work done if it requires a lot of internet connectivity.
One of the blogs we read spoke of the multiple public address (PA) pages that were disruptive in the rooms. We had PA speakers in our rooms and bathrooms but we never heard anything broadcast over them. Instead, we heard the pages through the PA speakers in the hallway (which were plenty loud). All pages were given in 5 languages, so they would last several minutes. There were only two or three pages through out the day. I’m not sure if our in-room PA speakers were disabled by the person making the announcements, attenuated in the room by a control knob somewhere, or just plain didn’t work. Either way we could hear the announcements just fine and they were not excessive.
The food on this trip was average at best, regardless of the time of day. Again, I think that we were spoiled on our Holland America cruises where the food was excellent and the variety was fantastic at every meal and in-between.
For breakfast there was the standard fare that one would expect; a variety of breakfast meats, scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, pastries, etc. Each morning I had an omlette made to order. The omlette chef tended to have a poor disposition. He was also skimpy with the omlette ingredients. My son joked that he would dip the spoon into each of the ingredients and whatever stuck to it was what he would put into the omlette. My observation was that maybe the ingredients he used were deducted from his paycheck. Regardless, the food was well prepared and tasty, though light on the ingredients. This particular chef was replaced by mid cruise; not sure why but we were glad.
I have to add here that we were spoiled on Holland America with eggs benedict and eggs Florentine every day; no such dishes on the Costa Fortuna...
Lunches at the buffet on Deck 9 were good. The hamburger/hot dog bar was great. On occasion there was sushi, which was good (we had it every day on Holland America). At the salad bar the standard dressings were Italian, French and Thousand Island. On one occasion I saw and sampled a very runny Caesar salad dressing. As an American, I’m accustomed to having the options for bleu cheese and Ranch, but these were typically not available. We did have the choice of bleu cheese dressing the last night in the dinning room.
We dined each evening the Michelangelo Dining Room on Decks 3 and 4. Our waiters were attentive and engaging and our table was next to the windows at the stern of the ship, which was very nice. Again, we’ve had waiters on other cruises that did magic tricks or food service tricks (like pulling a cork from inside a wine bottle with just a napkin) but no extras here other than good service.
The food choices were good and the food was average to good. There was always a good variety; seafood, mammal meat (beef, venison, etc.), poultry and a vegetarian dish. Serving sizes were somewhat small, but one could order as many dishes as one pleased, so quantity was never an issue. Hot dishes were warm and cold dishes were cold.
The deserts were generally average, but the ice cream was really good (especially the strawberry)!
Probably our biggest issue with this cruise line is their beverage policy. At our first dinner we paid 46 euros for a bottle of wine and a liter of bottled water for dinner. They DO NOT serve ANY free beverages (including water) in the formal dining rooms! We then learned that they have beverage “packages”, and to save money we would need to buy a package. We bought the smallest wine and water package for 99 euros. This package included (4) 750ml bottles of wine and 7 liters of water, which we felt was fine for our family of four.
I thought that I could apply our 46 euro bottle of wine and water to this “package” after the fact, but was told that the wine we bought was a “premium” wine (and one liter as opposed to 750 ml) and that they could not apply it to our 99 Euro package. We kind of felt like we had been taken.
To facilitate our hydration and in protest of their beverage policy, we always took our empty liter water bottles from dinner and filled them at the buffet so we would have water for the day. The only free water we saw on the ship (water fountains) was in the gym. Also note that there are signs at the water vending area of the restaurants that ask that you do not fill water bottles there. We would fill up glasses and then do the transfers into our liter containers at our table to get around this. We were told not to drink the tap water in the bathrooms, though it was OK to brush teeth with that water.
As a side note, if your kids are addicted to pop it will cost you. The soda water package provided 20 carbonated beverages for several dollars per beverage… what a bargain! There also is no free pop at the buffet: only water, tea, coffee and milk.
The gym was fairly spacious, very clean and well maintained, and it had plenty of equipment. Furthermore, the week that we were aboard I never saw an “out of service” sign on any piece of equipment, which is rare in any gym! The dressing and shower area was well maintained and spotless. We did not sample any of the numerous spa services.
We attended three of the nightly shows. The first one was moderately entertaining. The sound system for the music and singers was very anemic. All the sound came from behind the stage. Normally in a venue like this, one expects a fuller sound system that can fill the entire auditorium. This sound system sounded like the ones used by cheap high school DJs. One the third night there was a talent review using talent from the ship’s staff. It was actually pretty good despite the fact that it was amateur talent. The last night featured singers performing covers of great musical artists, and they were all pretty good and entertaining.
We went on Costa-sponsored shore excursions in Stockholm, St. Petersburg and Germany. The tours were all excellent in terms of the places we visited and the quality of our tour guides. We felt like they were all good values for the money they cost. As a side note, on our Holland America cruise to Alaska, we felt like all of the excursions were a terrible value for what they cost, but everything in Alaska was expensive.
In Sweden we first visited the Royal Palace, which was an interesting fact-filled tour and well worth our time. Then we had a short time for touring the old city square on our own and lunch on our own.
In the old town square we visited the Nobel Museum, which I would give low marks as it was not very well organized an it was very expensive. We had a light lunch there, which was very good. The museum was not a good value for what we spent on it. Also we did not have the time require to really see all of the exhibits.
We watched part of the Changing of the Guard at the Palace, and then took, a quick tour of the cathedral next to the Palace, which was very beautiful and ornate and well worth the price of the suggested admission. They did not take dollars but did take credit cards.
After lunch we got back on the bus and went to the City Hall where we bought three T-shirts and a 4 bottles for about $100! Be wary of the gift shop pricing! Next we went to the Vasa Ship Museum, which was great. We had a little less than and hour there, which was far too little time to see it all. We could have easily spent half of the day (or more) there. I highly recommend it.
In Tallin, Estonia, we decided to self-tour, which was a huge mistake! The streets were VERY poorly marked and with overcast skies it was difficult to get an orientation on our bearings. We ended up buying tickets on the Red Tour Bus, which allowed us to do a driving tour or the whole city in the hour we had left. As this is a get on/get off, narrated tour, this was an excellent investment of our time and what we should have done once we first got off the ship. There are three different tour routes, and between the three routes one can pretty much see the entire city and surrounding area. The only down side to this bus tour was that the bus stopped to let some people off (and we followed) and we returned to that “stop” after touring our site, only to later learn through a helpful local, that the actual bus stop was 200 yards away and no bus would stop where we were waiting. Furthermore, the drive spoke very poor English and unintentionally misdirected us at that particular stop. Traveler’s Tip: Only wait at the marked Bus Stops!
In St. Petersburg, Russia, we took the Hermitage and Palace tour. Our guide was very good. His English was great and his knowledge of the places we visited and the tricks of the trade (which entrances and routes were best based on time of day) were very good. I was amazed at the huge masses of people at all the tourist sites we visited and the lack of order. Fortunately we had a good and aggressive guide who could get us through the log jams.
The Winter Palace Hermitage was the palace constructed for Catherine the Great in 1764 and was room after room after gaudy, gold leaf adorned room full of artwork. If you are an art fan, this is your place! There was little time to stop and really ponder and appreciate the artwork, but we did see a very large number of paintings by Rembrandt, Da Vinci and other famous artists. If you are not a huge art fan or person interested in classical architecture, then skip this tour because this is most of what you will see (along with hundreds of other noisy, pushy tourists).
Our lunch was an excellent four-course meal served in an old palace-turned office building. The meal was very good and included the obligatory shot of vodka and glass of sparkling wine (as well as bottled water). A young man played piano for the first part of the meal, which was very nice.
After lunch we toured the very ornate church in the Peter-Paul Fortress and saw the tombs of the Romanov family as well as other famous Russian Royals. Here the crowd control was most needed, as there was a huge mob of tour groups trying to enter at the same time. The cathedral was absolutely beautiful but hard to take in given our short time there and the pressing crowds. I might also add that flash photography and the use of a camera tripod are prohibited here.
Next we drove to an old cathedral with brightly colored spires and turrets. We were not able to go into it. Our bus parked on the street and our guide escorted us to the “perfect place” from which to photograph the cathedral (his wife is a photographer). He was right about the spot.
Our next stop was a tourist shop where there was a huge variety of very expensive tourist trinkets as well as free vodka shots and coffee and clean rest rooms.
We got back to the boat thirty minutes late, but found that there were still busses that were behind us, so it wasn’t a big deal. Apparently this is the norm in Russia. Clearing customs was a snap and we headed back to the boat.
Overall, I would say we had a very good experience on the Costa Fortuna. With the exception of the beverage policy and internet service, I would say that this was a good ship and a good value.