If U.S.-based cruise lines are slowing down the rapid fleet expansion that occurred over the late 1990's and into the first few years of the 21st century, Europe-based cruise lines are a different story.
Costa, a member of the huge Carnival Corporation family of cruise lines, is taking the lead. Costa Fortuna, launched in November of 2003, represents a continued evolution. The strategy of the Genoa-based company, as it unveils its new ships, is to provide a mostly European passenger base with the same amenities -- high balcony ratio, an alternative restaurant, and a splashy decorating scheme -- as those that North American travelers now demand.
What's particularly interesting about Costa Fortuna is that it's actually built on the same platform as sister company Carnival Cruise Line's Carnival Triumph and Carnival Victory, and also resembles Carnival Destiny and Carnival Conquest in many important ways. Add to that an American touch on the decor -- this ship, like Costa Mediterranea before it, was designed by Carnival's uber-design-master Joe Farcus. What you get, ultimately, is a pan-European cruise experience mixed with American-style comforts.
Onboard, the ship's decorating theme pays homage to classic Italian vessels (every public room is inspired by -- and named after -- a particular ship) and Farcus has blended a bit of elegance with a defiantly whimsical flair. Costa Fortuna is not as neon-flashy as Carnival and yet is definitely more lively, in color and texture, than traditional European cruise ships.
Mealtimes on Costa Fortuna generally follow cruise traditions rahter than set the pace for new innovations. At breakfast, expect casual fare in Restaurant Buffet Colombo 1954 -- the usual suspects, including omelets made to order, along with cold cuts and cheeses, which are generally more appealing to a European palate.
We loved the breakfast service in the ship's dining rooms more than in the ship's lido buffet. Along with order-off-the-menu items, there was also a dining room buffet featuring continental choices (from danish to cereals), so you could combine the convenience of the buffet with the more elegant and relaxing atmosphere of the traditional dining room.
At lunch expect more of the same, with the addition of an outdoor grill out by the pool, where you can get twice-cooked burgers and grilled chicken and French fries. There's a daily "tea time" in the buffet venue. Lunch in either of the dining rooms (though Restaurant Michelangelo 1965, located aft, has three sides of windows) is a fantastic treat -- particularly on sea days. The menu offers daily specials (the risotto quattro formaggia was divine), and you can always get grilled chicken or steak.
Dinner, as befits a European-style cruise, is the big event on Costa Fortuna -- and most of the attention is focused on a more formal-style meal that can last three hours. Alternatives are basically limited to the Restaurant Buffet Cristoforo Colombo 1954, which is transformed into a candle-lit pizzeria from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m., and the chic-chic Club Grand Conte 1927, at the top of the ship, which is quite swish (and has a piano player) -- the ultimate onboard restaurant for a romantic experience. The latter has a 23 Euro service charge.
Room service is limited, as is fairly typical on European ships. Continental breakfast (cappuccino and cafe Americano, pastries, juices, cereal and yogurt) is available. There is also a space on the breakfast request form where you can write in a hot dish -- though there's no menu from which to select. Otherwise, the 24-hour service is limited to a snack selection -- a choice of three sandwiches. For a "snack," there's a service charge of 2 Euros.
As Costa Fortuna's design scheme pays homage to classic Italian ships, cruise history fans will be intrigued by the public rooms. Some are literal interpretations of rooms found on some of these classic vessels (whose provenance ranges from 1921 - 1965), like the gorgeously elegant Conte di Savoia 1932 Grand Bar, a terrific dancing venue, and the Classico Roma 1926 Bar, for after-dinner cognac and cigars. Others are more whimsical; the fabulous Conte Rossi 1921 Piano Bar is decked out in a red color scheme (as befits its name), and naturally, the Neptunia 1932 Casino and the Vulcania 1927 Disco are much more contemporary than the originals.
A couple of interesting notes about the casino. First of all, slots take Euros. Since there's no bank machine onboard, you can charge a cash advance to your cabin card (and pay with a credit card at the end of the cruise). Second, this casino is somewhat smaller (though to this non-gambler's eye didn't appear to be lacking in any key options) than the usual American-owned ship casino. That's because Europeans aren't as interested in gambling as their North American counterparts. The space saved from downsizing the casino was used to elongate the Conte di Savoia 1932 Grand Bar, which is focused around a huge dance floor -- larger than the usual secondary show lounge on American-owned ships because European cruisers really like to dance (and we mean beyond-the-disco types of dancing, from samba to waltzing).
Other features of the "inside" portion of the ship, which spans Decks 4, 5 and 6, include a dynamically designed library-card room (with so few books we urge you to bring your own), the Virtual World arcade (designers didn't even try to come up with a vintage ship inspiration on this one) and the three-tiered Rex 1932 Gallery, which is the ship's main show lounge. The shops and photo gallery are also located here.
Note: the Costa Atrium, located on Deck 3 and stretching up to Deck 9, is a great meet-and-greet spot (not to mention a superb place for people watching). Definitely don't miss the ceiling that covers part of it -- cardboard (you can't tell, though) models of every one of Costa's ships through history (we counted 26) hang upside down.
Of Costa Fortuna's 1,358 cabins, 522 come with balconies. Sizewise, they run about average -- inside and staterooms with a window are fairly basic, with a queen that converts to twins, one chair, a vanity/desk and a mini-fridge. Standard verandah cabins boast one extra amenity -- the balcony. All of these feature compact bathrooms with shower. This is a ship where, if budget allows, it's a good idea to upgrade to a mini-suite, which features a pull-out couch (same bathroom); even nicer are the suites which have separate seating areas, marble bathrooms with whirlpool baths, and a double-wide balcony.
In Europe, 6 Euros a day are added to your shipboard account as gratuities for the staff; in the Caribbean, the rate will be $10 per day. Most people give an extra tip on the last night to their waiters, the wonderful maitre d's and especially the hardworking stateroom staff.
|Fitness and Recreation|
Costa Fortuna has four pools (including one that's kid-dedicated). The main pool area features two pools, a waterslide, three huge whirlpools, a theater area with professional-style lighting and tiered levels of lounge chairs. We loved that when weather got cool, crew members decked each chair with a variety of wool tartan rugs in different colors and plaids.
Our favorite pool area -- we appreciate peace and quiet -- is the Lido Colombo, which can be covered in inclement weather. It's got two huge whirlpools.
It must be admitted -- the spa is rather utilitarian. If you've been on a Carnival Destiny-class ship you've seen it, down to the whirlpool in the center of the fitness facility that appears as if carved out of rocks (that's the most interesting thing about it). The fitness area is well-enough equipped.
More interesting is the ship's tennis court -- it comes with stadium seating (for big-audience events), unique to Costa Fortuna. There's also a running track.
We were less than wowed by Club Squok, the ship's kids' facility. There's no breaking down of rooms per age category (kids from 3 - 12 head to one room), although teens do have their own rather utilitarian area next door. We're told that Club Squok counselors go to a great deal of effort to involve kids onboard in various events, so activities are fairly wide-spread. There is a dedicated toddler pool area with a mini-jungle gym.
Expect to find that about 15 percent of passengers hail from North American; the rest are primarily from Italy, Spain, France and Germany (and, as a result, on important announcements and during the muster drill each message is repeated in five different languages).
Casual during the day, smart casual in the evenings, with one formal night and one semi-formal night on a seven-day cruise.
One of Costa's most distinctive qualities is the diversity of entertainment. On this ship, because lounges tend to run cozy rather than large, there was something for everyone -- from big venues like the Conte di Savoia 1932 Grand Bar, designed for elegant dancing, to the Bar Conte Verde 1923, for jazz.
Costa Fortuna's elaborate theatrical productions are aimed at its European passengers, particularly on European itineraries, but are unusual and fun diversions.
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