Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Cruise Review -- Costa Fortuna

First of all, I have to point out that we got a very good deal on this cruise. I also have to point out that this is the only reason we booked it. AIDA is sailing the exact same route but is stubbornly three times more expensive. The AIDA cabin would have been without a balcony; the Costa Fortuna cabin has one.

Every time a balcony door shuts, either yours or your neighbors' on either side--actually they sort of slam--there's a boom that rocks your entire cabin. This happens twenty or thirty times a day and many times during the night as well when your neighbors come home drunk at all hours of the night and want to have a smoke on their balconies. You might even start slamming your own door harder . . . for revenge. Of course I don't. OK, I do.

Some passengers on the Costa Fortuna might find it an elegant ship. I find its interior design overwrought and heavy. The art is heavily symbolic, nostalgic and just plain heavy-looking. I keep thinking about how much all these enormous globes and chunky banisters weigh. And then there are the ships plasterd upside down on the vaulted ceiling in the middle of the ship. Haven't these people seen The Poseidon Adventure? Upside down is just wrong on a cruise ship.

"How heavy are we?" I ask Oxsnard the Buffalo Horn Collector.

"Well," he considers, "You are an insignifcant blip and I weigh exactly 91 kilos." He continues to consider, to calculate blip plus 91 kilos.

"Not us, you warthog. This behemoth of a boat."

"Ah, that would be in the informational flyers."

"The ones housekeeping threw away?"

"Yes. Those."

See, housekeeping--a guy named Roberto--simply threw away the stack of daily newsletters that I was keeping so that I could write a detailed account of our trip. That's why we're on our way now to the customer service desk. I've just tried to call customer service from our cabin, but after 20 minutes on hold (I don't give up that easily), I give up and trot down to the desk.

But while I'm trotting, I'll tell you a bit about the food aboard the Costa Fortuna. We've sailed with various ships, so I feel confident in telling you the food aboard the Costa Fortuna is by far the worst I've had on a cruise ship. Where do I start?

The Dining Experience

Scrambled eggs should taste like eggs. Wouldn't you say so? We are astounded by how odd this pile of yellow goop tastes. No idea what it is. The bacon is greasy and rubbery--everything bacon should not be. The orange juice is orange water. The coffee, while nothing special, does indeed taste like coffee. On the breakfast buffet you'll find some fruit and some meats and cheese, but there is nothing here that lives up to the AIDA breakfast buffet. The Costa breakfast buffet is breakfast on the cheap, and it doesn't get any better I'm afraid.

In the formal dining rooms, clunky architectural spaces, you have around five courses to choose from. It all looks good on paper, and some dishes turn out to be good. I enjoy my carpaccio, gluten-free pasta and pork loin, but I am generally disappointed with every other dish. The saffron swordfish appetizer could use a lot more saffron and a lot less nasty fish taste. The risotto is bland and ungarnished, a big bloop of gray rice. (When serving a big bloop of gray rice, it's always good to put something green on it.) Whoever makes the soups should, well, learn how to make soup. My vegetable soup tastes, and is the consistency of, baby food.

If you don't want to dress up, you also have the option of grabbing a bite from the buffet restaurant. And if you've ever been on an AIDA cruise, you'll notice a big difference. The AIDA buffets--there are THREE to choose from--are incredibly good with so much variety that dinner is a grand pleasure; the Costa buffet--there is only ONE if I'm not mistaken--is like an elementary school cafeteria. The difference couldn't be bigger.

If you like pizza, you'll hate Costa. Why, you ask. Costa serves massive amounts of pizza. There's a pizza buffet that runs almost all day. This ship should be called Costa Pizzeria. Well, the pizza--I was told since I can't even eat pizza--is boring. It's the simplest slab of pizza you'll ever see. But this is an Italian ship, and the Italians pride themselves on their simple cooking. Giusto.Va Bene.

Simple doesn't have to be boring, though. And gluten-free doesn't have to be taste-free. The cooks could put a little wine in the soup. Sherry? Madeira wine? Marsala wine. Wine makes soup taste yummy. And babies don't drink wine. That's what sets soup apart from a pureed bowl of vegetables.

Let's talk about wine. On AIDA ships, wine and beer are complimentary at lunch and dinner. As much as you want. And it's perfectly acceptable table wine. We never had one headache on any of the cruises we took with AIDA. On Costa ships, you have to pay for alcohol. When booking your trip you're told all or none of the people in the cabin must buy the unlimited alcohol package, which costs around 20€ a day. We are three people on a seven-day cruise, so that's 420€ plus gratuity.

"We can't drink that much wine in a week," Oxsnard the Buffalo Horn Collector says.

"Yes, actually we can, but that's not the point."

"The point is . . ."

"The 420 smackeroos plus tip?"

"Ah, yes. Good point."

Once on board, you're suddenly told that you can book other alcohol and drink packages. There are lots of choices--which Costa doesn't really want you to know about until you've already forked out the 420 smackeroos, plus tip. We book a modest package of 4 bottles of wine and 7 bottles of water for around 80€ plus tip. I keep saying "plus tip" because, as with most cruises, a service charge is added to your bill. On AIDA ships, NO SERVICE CHARGE IS ADDED TO YOUR BILL, although of course you are encouraged to leaved a tip at the end of your cruise.

The Atmosphere

Yes, I'm a fan of AIDA. Seriously. Let's get very serious for just a second, and I hope someone from Costa Cruises is reading this. AIDA has a concept that Costa simply hasn't understood. Sailing with AIDA is an event. It's emotional. The Costa Fortuna is nothing more than a hotel. The deck is a tourist bake. These people have come to lie in the sun. That's it. That's the program. When AIDA sails out of a port, Enja sings "Orinoco Flow", setting the perfect mood. Call me a sap, but this sort of thing is the extra touch that sets a cruise apart from a floating hotel.

Be sure to listen to the second song in the video above. It's the AIDA song. You have to imagine leaving a magnificent port and weeping uncontrollably over the rails and thinking how wonderful life is. Yeah, OK, I saw people doing this. Um . . . moving along.

The Staff

On the Costa Fortuna the bar staff swarm everywhere. There is always someone within a couple of meters who'll get you a drink. There must be hundreds of them--because this is how Costa Cruises makes money. But try getting a customer service staff member on the telephone. I try this twice and never make contact. I wait in the queue at the customer service desk on deck three forever before I finally get to share my complaint with someone.


"Ragu. Do you have any newsletters left? I need one for each day. Housekeeping threw mine away."

"Oh. No problem, sir. We have more." No problem, sir? Housekeeping threw my things away. This is a problem, for which I get no apology.

She begins to rummage through some papers. Coming up for air a few minutes later, she says, "What other languages do you speak besides English? We don't have any more English newsletters."


"Si. Tedesco." She dives down into her papers again to retrieve the German newsletters. Five minutes later she hands me what I need.

"One more thing," I say.


"See. We haven't vacated the room yet." It's the last day of the cruise a couple of hours before we have to be out of the room. "But housekeeping has already made the bed for the next occupants."

She looks confused.

"I find that odd."

She still looks confused. "Oh, it's OK, sir. If you want to lie down on the bed, it's no problem. Housekeeping will make the bed again."

"That's not really what I'm worried about," I say. "I don't really need to lie down on the bed, but I feel now I have to."

She looks confused. She may always look confused for all I know.

"It's not hygienic to prepare a room for the next guests before the previous guests have left. I actually feel obliged to rip the sheets off that bed so that Roberto has to make the bed again with new sheets."

She truly doesn't understand my point, but she does reply with "The bed is prepared for the next guests?"

"Yes," I say, "complete with that nasty bed spread and leather mat for the luggage. Our things have all been th
rown on the sofa--two hours before we have to vacate the cabin. It's like Roberto is sending us a resounding message." I don't mention Roberto's name because I don't want to get him in trouble. I have since changed my mind.

I must be off,

 PS: I Must Be Off! is hosting its second annual Travel Essay Contest! Go HERE to learn more. Deadline for entries June 30, 2014!


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, Crack the Spine, Feathertale, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen.