Having begun in the mid-19th century as a fleet of freighters carrying fabrics
and olive oil between Sardinia and the Italian mainland, Genoa based Costa
Crociere S.p.A. started carrying passengers some 60 years ago. Today, including
the AIDA Cruises brand for a total of 15 ships in active service and five more
ships on order, the company has grown into the biggest and most modern fleet in
Europe. Acquired by industry giant Carnival Corporation in 2000, the itineraries
and onboard experience of the Costa Cruises' fleet have remained largely
unchanged, but the way they look inside and out is a completely different story,
beginning with the Costa Atlantica introduced in July 2000 and
characteristically decorated by Carnival's fanciful interior designer Joe Farcus.
Costa Atlantica was the first in what is now known as the Carnival
Spirit-class vessels, an upside-down deck-plan that put all the public rooms on
the lower decks making way for an abundance of balcony cabins on the upper decks
like the cruise industry had never seen before. In November 2003, Costa Fortuna,
then the biggest Italian passenger ship ever, entered service followed closely
by sister ship Costa Magica in fall 2004. Those ships are basically sister ships
to the Carnival Destiny class. The new flagship; Costa Concordia (a sister ship
to the Carnival Conquest-class); entered service in July of 2006 and is now the
largest in the fleet carrying over 3,000 passengers year-round in the
Mediterranean. Costa Serena and another yet to be named ship to be launched in
2009 will follow.
The Costa Experience:
Though it is indisputable that Costa is blazing the trail towards
state-of-the-art cruising in Europe, if you are American you might want to
temper your enthusiasm if you see a Costa cruise steeply discounted, especially
in Europe. The fact is, these ships are operated for the European market, which
means they do many things in a manner that is familiar to denizens of that
continent, but "ain't the way we do it back home," as Americans are known to
Costa Cruises, or Costa (pronounced long-'o') Crociere, as it is known in its
native Italy, is the European version of Carnival Cruise Lines, and not by
accident. The company is owned by Carnival Corp. and the parent company is
shrewdly using the Costa brand to introduce U.S. style cruise vacations to the
rapidly growing European cruising market. That fact is, cruising is now catching
fire as a vacation option in Europe, just like it did in the U.S. ten years ago,
but because Europeans in general take three to five times as much vacation time
every year as Americans do, the potential is huge.
So, what is the downside? If you have ever seen the pan-continental European
television networks where everything that happens gets translated into German,
Italian, Spanish and French as you stare at faces as blank as your own waiting
for all the translation to finish, then you understand how Costa works. The
primary language onboard is Italian, with other European languages following.
English may come in at third, fourth or even fifth when it comes to
announcements and to the linguistic abilities of the staff and crew. Hence, not
only will you not understand the announcements being made in four foreign
languages, there is a good chance your waiter or room steward will not
understand you very well, either. Europeans are quite used to this sort of
behavior, but the linguistically isolated Americans are not.
Now, Costa staff does a great job of organizing the various nationalities
into groups, keeping track of which dining room tables and cabins receive
written material in what language. But on shore excursions, expect guides to say
everything in at least two languages (and if in Europe, you will be lucky if
English is one of them). On board announcements will be repeated thoroughly in
up to four languages. In addition, to seasoned Europeans who are not on the ship
to "see Europe" as most Americans would be, the time spent in port will likely
be frustratingly short.
Some onboard entertainment simply will not be translated. One notable
exception, however, are the Moulin Rouge-style stage shows, which because they
are largely comprised of hit songs (the vast majority of which are sung in
English no matter where in the world you happen to be), are fun and so cleverly
produced they can be enjoyed by any nationality.
And, what is the upside? How about sailing on what is essentially a Carnival
ship at a hugely discounted price? Since there are not many places for European
cruise ships to go in the winter, many Costa ships are repositioned to the
Caribbean every year. If you are adventurous, like exotic food, and don't mind
cigarette smoke, you will find simply great bargains on modern cruise ships that
are basically identical in floorplan and decor to the modern Carnival Cruise
Lines fleet. The truth is, Costa is a bargain in the Caribbean. So, if you can
go with the flow and want to save some money, a Costa cruise is worth a try.
In the Caribbean, English becomes the primary language, and announcements are
not repeated in several languages (though they might be repeated in one or two
depending on the passenger mix). Your fellow passengers will be mostly
Canadians, Americans, South Americans, and a few Europeans. However, the crew
communication is still difficult at best, with crew members greeting you with "Buon
giorno!" in the morning. The food will still be somewhat unpalatable to
Americans, unless you regularly eat beans for breakfast and squid for lunch. Add
to this that the line's food has been somewhat inconsistent since Costa replaced
its all-Italian crew mostly with South Americans. (The line has opened a
facility in the Dominican Republic to train service personnel).
Another matter is the smoking policy. Especially in Europe, but in the
Caribbean as well, the policy is much more open that U.S. marketed cruise lines,
meaning smoking will be allowed if not almost everywhere, then basically just
everywhere. In Europe, there will be a persistent smoke cloud hanging through
the entire ship.
The important thing to remember about Costa is that there are "two Costas." The
first is a Costa ship sailing in Europe and marketed to Europeans. These ships
have primarily Europeans on board which means announcements, productions shows,
menus and tours are offered in several languages, sometimes separately,
sometimes consecutively. Then there is the Costa ship in the Caribbean marketed
to Americans, where English is the primary language on board for everything. On
many of these cruises, they also use Spanish as a backup to market to South
In Europe, you'll be surrounded by mature European smokers of pungent
European cigarettes. (All main dining rooms and show lounges now forbid
In Europe, ask if there is a tour where English is the only language spoken, if
not ask if it is the first language. Otherwise, on the multilingual ones, you'll
have a tough time understanding your guide's accent. In the Caribbean, this
should not be a problem just don't get on a Spanish bus.
Taking The Kids:
Costa features "Parents Night Out," on formal nights which includes dinner
buffet for kids while Ma and Pa put on the Ritz. "Costa Kids Club," includes
supervised activities and programs for children aged 3-8, 9-12, 13-17.
Babysitting is subject to staff availability. Cribs may be reserved.
The $8.50 is charged per person per day the shipboard account covers dining room
and stateroom personnel. Passengers can have the amount adjusted by visiting the
Guest Relations Desk.
A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to all bar tabs. Spa staff and
room service staff may be tipped as service is received.