Europe’s number-one cruise line combines a continental experience, enticing itineraries, and Italy’s classical design and style with relaxing days and romantic nights at sea. Genoa-based Costa Crociere, parent company of Costa Cruise Lines, had been in the shipping business for more than 100 years and in the passenger business for almost 50 years when it was bought by Airtours and Carnival Corporation in 1997. In 2000 Carnival completed a buyout of the Costa line and began expanding the fleet with larger and more dynamic ships.
Italian-style cruising is a mixture of Mediterranean flair and American comfort, beginning with a buon viaggio celebration and topped off by a signature Roman Bacchanal Parade and zany toga party. The supercharged social staff works overtime to get everyone in the mood and encourages everyone to be a part of the action.
Festive shipboard activities include some of Italy’s favorite pastimes, such as playing games of bocce, dancing the tarantella, and tossing pizza dough during the Festa Italiana, an Italian street festival at sea. Other nights are themed as well—a welcome-aboard celebration (Benvenuto A Bordo), hosted by the captain on the first formal night, and Notte Tropical, a tropical deck party with a Mediterranean twist that culminates with the presentation of an alfresco midnight buffet. When it is time to say goodbye, Costa throws a Roman Bacchanal.
There’s also a nod to the traditional cruise ship entertainment expected by North American passengers. Pool games, trivia, bingo, and sophisticated production shows blend nicely with classical concerts in lounges where a wide range of musical styles invite dancing or listening. Italian language, arts and crafts, and cooking classes are extremely popular. Every ship has a small chapel suitable for intimate weddings, and Catholic Mass is celebrated most days.
Acknowledging changing habits (even among Europeans), Costa Cruises has eliminated smoking entirely in dining rooms and show lounges. However, smokers are permitted to light up in designated areas in other public rooms, as well as on the pool deck.
An ongoing ship-building program has brought Costa ships into the 21st century with innovative large-ship designs that reflect their Italian heritage and style without overlooking the amenities expected by modern cruisers.
Costa is noted for themed dinner menus that convey the evening’s mood. Dining features regional Italian cuisines: a variety of pastas, chicken, beef, and seafood dishes, as well as authentic pizza. European chefs and culinary school graduates, who are members of Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, provide a dining experience that’s notable for a delicious, properly prepared pasta course, if not exactly living up to gourmet standards. Vegetarian and healthy diet choices are also offered, as are selections for children. Alternative dining is by reservation only in the upscale supper clubs, which serve traditional Italian cuisine.
While specialty restaurants usually have a separate à la carte charge for each menu item, suite passengers receive one complimentary dinner for two.
Costa ships also retain the tradition of lavish nightly midnight buffets, a feature that is beginning to disappear on other mainstream lines. Room service is available 24 hours from a limited menu.
Fitness and Recreation
Taking a cue from the ancient Romans, Costa places continuing emphasis on wellness and sensual pleasures. Spas and salons are operated by Steiner Leisure, and treatments include a variety of massages, body wraps, and facials that can be scheduled à la carte or combined in packages to enjoy during one afternoon or throughout the entire cruise. Hair and nail services are available in the salons.
State-of-the-art exercise equipment in the gym, a jogging track, and basic fitness classes for all levels of ability are available. Costa ships offer a Golf Academy at Sea, with PGA clinics on the ship and golf excursions in some ports.
Couples in the 35- to 55-year-old range are attracted to Costa Cruises; on most itineraries, up to 80% of passengers are European, and many of them are of Italian descent. An international air prevails on board, and announcements are often made in a variety of languages. The vibe on Costa’s newest megaships is most likely to appeal to American tastes and expectations.
Two formal nights are standard on seven-night cruises. Men are encouraged to wear tuxedos, but dark suits or sport coats and ties are appropriate and more common than black tie. All other evenings are resort casual, although jeans are discouraged in restaurants. It’s requested that no shorts be worn in public areas after 6 pm.
Caribbean sailings feature age-specific youth programs that include such daily activities as costume parties, board games, junior aerobics, and even Italian-language lessons for children in four age groups: 3 (toilet trained) to 6; 7 to 11; junior teens 12 to 14; and teens 15 to 17. The actual age groupings may be influenced by the number of children on board. Special counselors oversee activities, and specific rooms are designed for children and teens, depending on the ship. Children under three years old can use the playroom facilities if accompanied and supervised by their parents.
Organized sessions for all children between the ages of 3 and 17 are available every day, even when in port, from 9 to noon and 3 to 6, as well as from 9 to 11:30 in the evening. Parents can enjoy at least a couple of evenings alone by taking advantage of two complimentary Parents Nights Out while their children dine at a supervised buffet or pizza party and take part in evening and nighttime activities. Nighttime group babysitting for children ages 3 to 11 is complimentary in the children’s area until 1:30 am. Unfortunately, no late-night babysitting service is offered for children under three, nor is there in-cabin babysitting.
Service in dining areas can be spotty and rushed, but is adequate, if not always overly friendly.
A standard gratuity of €6.50 per adult per day for cruises up to eight nights or €5 per adult per day on longer cruises is automatically added to shipboard accounts and distributed to cabin stewards and dining-room staff. The applicable charge for teens between the ages of 14 and 17 is 50% of those amounts; there is no charge for children under the age of 14. Passengers may adjust the amount based on the level of service experienced. An automatic 15% gratuity is added to all beverage tabs, as well as to checks for spa treatments and salon services.
The Costa Club has three levels of membership: Aquamarine (2,000 points), Coral (2,001 to 5,000 points), and Pearl (5,001 or more points). Points are assigned for the number of cruising days (100 points per day) and the amount of money spent aboard (40 points for 52 euros).
Membership privileges vary, and can include discounts on selected cruises, fruit baskets, and bottles of Spumante delivered to your cabin, discounts on boutique merchandise and beauty treatments, or a complimentary dinner in a specialty restaurant.
Choose This Line If
You’re a satisfied Carnival past passenger and want a similar experience with an Italian flavor.
You want pizza hot out of the oven whenever you get a craving for it.
You’re a joiner: there are many opportunities to be in the center of the action.
Don’t Choose This Line If
You find announcements in a variety of languages annoying.
You want an authentic Italian cruise. The crew has grown more international than Italian as the line has expanded.
You prefer sedate splendor in a formal atmosphere. The Caribbean-based ships are almost Fellini-esque in style.
The Italian cuisine is served on Versace tableware in Costa’s alternative restaurants.
Original works of art, including sculptures, paintings, and handcrafted furnishings, are created for all Costa ships.
For dessert, Costa chefs tempt you with tiramisu, crème brûlée, cannoli, Sambuca sundaes, and gelato.
The currency onboard (for European cruises) is the euro.
Good to Know
Mama Mia! Connoisseurs of classical Italian art and design may feel they’ve died and gone to Caesars Palace. Costa’s newest ships try to convey what Americans think of as Roman: gilt surfaces, marble columns, and all. Overlook the gaudiness and pay particular attention to the best details: the Murano-glass chandeliers and lighting fixtures are simply superb. And when you’re packing, don’t forget to toss something in the suitcase to wear beneath your toga; while sheets and accessories are provided, it’s considered bad form to flash fellow passengers during the revelry.