by David Cortesi Eastern Mediterranean March 27, 2006
The bottom line: a crowded, noisy, glitzy environment; adequate cabin service; mediocre food; and corporate policies that are both cowardly and deeply insulting to American citizens and to Jews.
Details: The Costa Fortuna is an immense ship. The first problem comes at Costa's Savona, Italy embarkation terminal, where they try to debark 3,200 passengers between 8am and noon; and then embark 3,200 passengers between noon and 5pm sailing time. We arrived on our hotel transfer bus from Genoa at 12:30. We waited three hours in the crowded, boring terminal hall until our number was called; then we stood for another half hour in a security line. We finally reached our cabin four hours after arriving at the terminal.
Debarkation was similar; the ship docked at 8am, and it was 12:30 pm when our bus reached our hotel in Genoa.
Every time you leave the ship for a shore excursion, or return (hot and tired) from a shore excursion, you will spend time in a long queue. The worst was a time on Crete when Costa scheduled seventeen (I counted them) full tour coaches into the same restaurant for lunch at the same time. We stood in that queue for over one hour waiting to reach the one serving line. It was horrible.
The interior of the ship is glitzy and gimmicky, like a second-tier Vegas casino. There is noise all the time -- the only quiet place is your cabin, if your neighbors are out. Even in the ship's tiny library, the PA announcements are at a piercing level. Every PA announcement is repeated five times, in Italian, French, English, Spanish and German. Sometimes Japanese is added. There are constant PA announcements for the many special events the ship uses to separate you from your money: art auctions, fashion shows, etc. When the PA isn't blaring, there's loud Euro-pop muzak going.
There is one casual buffet where all 3,200 people trample each other for breakfast, lunch, and to pig-out on cake and cookies at tea time. However it is not an alternative for supper, if you want to escape the dining room experience: the buffet only provides pizza and salads after 5pm. For anything else you have to go and be sociable at table for 8, and sit through a typical Italian antipasto, primi, secondi, dessert menu. The food ranged from just-ok to inedible.
The cowardly and insulting part is how Costa knuckles under to the Libyan authorities. Costa insists on visiting Tripoli. But Libya requires that (a) NOBODY on the ship carries an Israeli passport (2) NOBODY on the ship has an Israeli visa stamp in their passport (3) no U.S. passport holders are to leave the ship in a Libyan port. Costa took great pains to implement the anti-semitic policies (1) and (2), warning us repeatedly that if we snuck on the ship with an Israeli visa stamp, we'd be put ashore. And they provided no special events or entertainment to compensate their American guests who had to spend a day on ship in port (with the bars closed because Libya doesn't allow alcohol sales either).
Costa also took away everyone's passport and held them for the duration of the cruise. Europeans got their passports back the day before debarkation. Not so U.S. citizens -- our passports were held by the ship until the Italian authorities could "inspect" them -- as if they hadn't already checked them on arrival in Italy and when boarding the vessel -- and we didn't get them back until an hour after the ship docked at the end of the cruise.
There are so many ports that could be substituted for Tripoli -- Malta, Rhodes, Sardinia, any Greek island -- it is just a blatant insult to Jews and to Americans generally that Costa bows to the Libyan's outrageous demands. And infuriating that the Italian police -- or somebody -- wanted to specially "inspect" American passports.
Based on this I absolutely would NOT recommend this ship or this line to any U.S. citizen -- or to anyone of Jewish descent -- or indeed to anyone who likes peaceful or tasteful surroundings.