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Cruise Line Review

Costa Cruises - Cruise Line Review provided by Cruise Critic

About

What began as a fleet of freighters transporting fabrics and olive oil between Genoa and Sardinia in the mid-1800's is today the largest and most modern cruise fleet in Europe. Costa Cruises, which became a fully owned subsidiary of Carnival Corp. in 2000, is an Italian company with a modern fleet of ships, worldwide itineraries and a distinct Italian personality.

The Costa fleet sails under the "Cruising Italian Style" banner -- offering a product that combines the sophisticated elegance of a European vacation with the fun and spirit of the line's Italian heritage. Costa's international family of ships spans the globe offering cruises of seven days and longer throughout the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, the Arabian Gulf, Asia, the Indian Ocean and trans-Atlantic.

"Cruising Italian Style" can be interpreted two different ways. Some passengers have disliked Costa because of the extensive smoking aboard their ships, but following Italian government regulations ashore, Costa has severely limited smoking to designated areas in lounges. Dining venues are now smoke-free. Other travellers overlook these factors and enjoy the European atmosphere -- after all, Mediterranean-influenced cuisine, regional wines and warm, rich decor are all part of the Italian tradition.

Alas, Italian stewards, part of the line's heritage, are no more. Cabin and dining room stewards are now as multi-national as the passengers, with Filipinos, South Americans and Indians in the mix. As they speak English, the former criticism of English-speakers that they were not understood has been ameliorated.

Costa is easily Europe's most innovative cruise line, with an aggressive building program. In July 2006, the cruise line launched its newest biggest-ship-ever, Costa Concordia, which was followed in May 2007 by sister ship Costa Serena. Sister ship Costa Pacifica debuted in June 2009. Two more Concordia-class vessels are scheduled to debut, one in spring 2011, the other spring 2012.

In an exciting new move, Costa has designed a prototype ship that actually is smaller -- Panamax sized -- than its Costa Concordia class. The 92,700-ton Costa Luminosa, which was unveiled in May 2009, is the first to launch. Costa Deliziosa, its sister, began sailing in January 2010. These twins represent a more upmarket cruise experience.

The Fleet

The line introduced its North American flagship, the 984-passenger Costa Riviera in 1985. It was this vessel that launched the line's memorable "Cruising Italian Style" theme, which is personified onboard all of Costa's ships.

The nineties proved to be a decade of enormous development for the company, which welcomed Costa Marina to its fleet in 1990, Costa Classica and Costa Allegra in 1992, Costa Romantica (sister ship to Costa Classica) in 1993 and Costa Victoria in 1996.

In July 2000, the 2,680-passenger Costa Atlantica made her debut in Venice as the largest ship ever built by a European company, and the first of Costa's ships to feature balconies. It also heralded the company's new "age." As part of Carnival Corporation, Costa Atlantica was the first to offer the Carnival Cruise Lines design sensibility (indeed it was designed by Carnival's ubiquitous Joe Farcas, who has had a hand in every new build since).

Costa has benefited by its Carnival Corporation ownership in the expanded fleet department. Costa Europa, formerly Holland America's Westerdam debuted in 2002. And as the line embraced its largest-in-history fleet expansion, Costa debuted Costa Mediterranea, a sister ship to Costa Atlantica, in June 2003.

Costa Fortuna was launched in November 2003. The 105,000-ton, 2,720-passenger ship was at the time the largest ever to fly the Italian flag; Costa Magica, its sister ship, premiered in November 2004. Bringing the fleet total to 11 ships, Costa Concordia, a sister ship, was launched in July 2006. Highlights include a wider range of formal and casual dining venues, one of the largest health and wellness centers at sea and four swimming pools (two will feature retractable domes). The ships will also feature plenty of cabins with balconies; approximately 62 percent of outside staterooms will feature that all-important amenity. In May 2007, Concordia was joined by sister ship Costa Serena and in June 2009, Costa Pacifica joined the siblings. Two more as-yet-unnamed sister ships will join the brood, one in spring 2011, the other in 2012.

2009 in fact is an exciting year for Costa because not only did it debut the third in its Concordia series but also the first of a brand new prototype. The 2,260-passenger Costa Luminosa, which launched in May 2009, is actually smaller than its siblings and is meant to be an upmarket twist on the Costa experience. Costa Deliziosa, a sister ship, will join Costa's fleet in January 2010.

Costa's in the midst of an impressive building boom. Two more ships -- which are fleetmates to the Costa Concordia design family -- will join the line in 2011 and 2012. At present they haven't been named.

Onboard Atmosphere

Costa Cruises offers a lively cruise experience -- whether via port-intensive itineraries, with only a handful of let-your-hair-down sea days, or its onboard emphasis on evening entertainment.

In particular, the cruise line's newest ships -- from Costa Atlantica onward -- offer the most diverse nightlife and alternative eating options. Otherwise, a Costa cruise is a traditional style experience -- albeit with its signature Italian flavor.

Art and architecture are an important part of the Costa experience, and all ships feature millions of dollars in original artwork, and hand-crafted furnishings.

Costa Concordia was used to introduce Michelin-star Italian chef Ettore Bocchia's innovative "molecular cuisine." Bocchia, the executive chef at the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, has made a name for himself by studying the physical and chemical properties of food, and using science to devise new ways of preparing dishes -- for example, cooking with liquid nitrogen, which freezes food at minus 196 degrees, but by some miracle of science doesn't make the item unbearably cold in the mouth. Another: heating fish in melted sugar rather than oil cuts the cooking time in half (and because the fish is wrapped in leak leaves, it never touches to sugar ... and maintains its original taste with no fat). The cover charge for this experience is $25. Bocchia's dishes are served in the speciality and Samsara restaurants on Costa Concordia, Costa Serena and Costa Pacifica.

Dining options for smaller cruisers include a Kids Menu and Beverage Card, and ice cream, Nutella and chocolate evening parties. Particularly in its newer ships, investment in the "Club Squok" kids program has helped Costa attract more and more families. The Costa Kids Program includes arts & crafts, sports tournaments, parties in the evening, and two themed dinners per cruise just for kids. Other family friendly features include Italian language lessons, and free babysitting. July and August are the most popular travel months for families with children.

Itineraries

Costa offers one of the cruise industry's most comprehensive -- and diverse -- selection of European itineraries. In fact, it's one of the few lines that sails in the Mediterranean year-round. Regions of Europe include the Eastern and Western Mediterranean, Western Europe and the Baltic.

Costa is also exploring new parts of the world. Its winter cruises from Dubai, calling at Bahrain, Oman, Abu Dhabi and Fujairah, are now well established. New ship Costa Luminosa is being based in Dubai for winter 2009/2010, and the line is launching a new series of cruises between Savona and Dubai, to be operated by Costa Europa.

It has also now positioned Costa Allegra and Costa Classica year-round in the Far East. There are two-week itineraries from Singapore and Hong Kong, sailing to Vietnam, China, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, and short cruises from China that visit Japan, aimed at the Chinese market.

Costa Fortuna, Costa Atlantica, Costa Magica, Costa Mediterranea and Costa Romantica are in the Caribbean and Americas for winter 2008/09 and autumn 2009. Costa Fortuna has seven-night cruises from Ft. Lauderdale calling at various Caribbean islands; Costa Atlantica sails weekly from Guadeloupe for St. Maarten, La Romana and Catalina Island, Tortola, Antigua and St. Lucia.

Costa Mediterranea is based at Santos, Brazil, offering seven-night cruises calling at Buenos Aires, Punta del Este in Uruguay. Costa Magica is based at Santos and sails weekly along the Brazilian coast. Costa Romantica is based in Buenos Aires and visits Brazil and Uruguay on seven-, eight- and nine-night cruises.

Costa Concordia, Costa Serena and Costa Marina sail year-round in the Mediterranean on various eight-, 10- and 11-night itineraries. Costa Concordia is based at Civitavecchia, the port for Rome; Costa Serena and Costa Marina are based at Savona.

Fellow Passengers

On European itineraries, Costa attracts mostly European passengers from Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal and the U.K.. On an average winter sailing in Europe there are 60 to 80 English-speaking passengers. During the summer in Europe, about 20 percent of passengers will be North Americans. On South American and Caribbean cruises, the demographics flip-flop, with Costa attracting about 80 percent North American passengers (vs. 20 percent from Europe).

Costa's ships also appeal to a wide range of ages, from 20-something first-time cruisers to retirees. pixel

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