You might expect that Europe's largest cruise line would choose to showcase its brand new flagship in a show-off Italian city, and name an internationally-favored Italian movie queen as godmother. And that's just what Genoa-based Costa Cruises pridefully did when it ceremoniously unveiled in Venice the eagerly-awaited seventh member of its fleet, named CostaAtlantica by lovely Claudia Cardinale.
The mid-July fête, in the "Queen City of the Adriatic's" San Marco Lagoon, just down the way from the historic namesake square, preceded the start of a series of seven-night Greece/Turkey sailings that run into November, when she departs from Genoa for a 14-day crossing to Port Everglades, Florida. There she will take over the CostaRomantica's slot on alternating week-long western and eastern Caribbean itineraries (along with the CostaVictoria), returning to the Mediterranean in May, 2001.
Costa loyalists will be surprised and fascinated with the look and feel of this $400-million investment. First-timers will be overwhelmed by her ethnic grandeur, even in contrast to other industry beauties. Not only is she Costa's largest, her interiors are strikingly apart from those of her popular Italian-classic running mates. She is visually softer, boasting decorative themes that transcend the ages, yet quietly blend into a single harmonious symphony of the "boot country's" past and present. The distinctive approach is the brainchild of Joseph Farcus, whose ingenious techniques have long been a (much more vivid) hallmark of Carnival Cruise Lines ships. He told us his aim on the CostaAtlantica was to "create a unique viewing experience that ties in the Italian culture, history and arts."
The Fellini Touch
The 85,000 gross registered tonner's public areas are distinctive and spaciously laid out in an easy flowing pattern. Numerous comfortable nooks and a fresh Winter Garden offer relaxation along the way. Farcus' innovative centerpiece, the sprawling Dolce Vita Hall atrium, epitomizes the Italian grandeur. Its eyecatchers are a wall covered with Pompeii-style frescoes, twin marble staircases, elegant chandeliers, three transparent elevators rising 10 decks to a Murano glass skylight, and Venetian-design open passageways that overlook the colorful setting from each deck. At the base, a semicircular bar fronting an entertainment stage is one of many lounge areas. A piano stylist entertains here and in both the Paparazzi and Via Veneto Lounges, where the striking paparazzi shots spark the décor.
The most elegant lounge (unique to any vessel) is Caffé Florian, a smaller scrupulous reproduction of the 280-year-old still-flourishing landmark in St. Mark's Square (Venice), a place to see and be seen throughout the ages. Coffee, tidbits and stringed music are just like at the original. And linked just below by a stunning two-deck staircase is a typical touch of Farcus whimsy, Piazza Madame Butterfly lounge. As the name implies, it has a strong Oriental flavor, but it fits the overall theme (he explained) because it commemorates the opera's Italian composer, Giacomo Puccini.
The Tiziano Restaurant, dedicated to the Venetian painted Titian, luxuriously spreads along a main floor and balcony. Its design is early 20th century, but decorative touches, like very large reproductions of portraits, canvases and frescoes portraying Italian life during the Renaissance, and window covers depicting the old and new Costa, fit right in. Food and service was consistent with Costa's longtime focus on satisfying the international palate, with Italian flavoring. The international staff, many of whom have served the line 20 or more years, according to Dino Schibuola, president of Costa's North American operations in Miami, were drawn mainly from other Costa vessels.
In a switch from the noted Zefferino-style initiated on the CostaVictoria, the new vessel's alternative restaurant, Club Atlantica, serves "haute cuisine" under the aegis of Gualtiero Marchesi, a noted Michelin three-star chef and principal exponent of nouvelle cuisine. The inaugural press cruise wasn't long enough for us to dine there, but class-ambience, music for dancing, and meals served on tables set with the likes of Versace dishes will be well received. Like Zefferino's on the CostaVictoria, there is an $18.75 per person charge for dinner which, President Schibuola pointed out, does not affect patronage. "Our CostaVictoria surveys told us that it is viewed as a special experience at a bargain price," he explained.
Among other dramatically designed public rooms are the grand Caruso Theatre and (secondary theatre) Coral Lounge. Roomy divans and presidential armchairs, in shades of blue and brilliant red, dot the three-level showroom, where original-choreography evening shows and name talent appeal to an international audience. The Coral Lounge sparkles from walls of encased imitation white coral set in a vivid blue seas background. Also notable, the Via della Spiga, which resembles an elegant European shopping promenade, where elite-named high-fashion goods are prominently displayed.
Other highlights include Costa's first Internet Café, with six PCs and a host of Internet services; a high-tech health club and spa that provides beauty treatments, therapies, and personal trainers. An outdoor jogging track, a multi-sports field and two pools (one with a magrodome), for some reason named Ginger and Fred, and a third pool aft on a lower deck all promote fitness.
Heeding the continually accelerating industry-wide clamor, nearly 70 percent of the ship's 1,057 staterooms have verandas, which Costa Crociere chairman and managing director Pier Luigi Faschi said, "makes CostaAtlantica unique among European and international cruise ships." She can carry 2,680 passengers in finely furnished accommodations consisting of 58 suites ranging in size from 360 to 649 square feet, and 616 210-square-foot exterior units with verandas. Exterior staterooms with and without French balconies measure 175 square feet, and 206 inside standard cabins are just 15 square feet smaller. They are all artistically decorated in subtle colors, have more than enough storage space, and a host of amenities per the particular category.
Cruising 'Italian Style'
Like her Caribbean predecessors over the past 15 years, she'll be "Cruising Italian Style," with the fun Toga and Italian Fiesta parties and other uniquely Italian trappings and food that have been Costa's trademark for more than 15 years. New this year, CostaAtlantica is sailing under the Italian flag. The rest of the fleet is also in the process of being re-flagged, following recent changes in Italian ship registry requirements. The winter schedule has her on weekly alternating roundtrips from Port Everglades (westward), calling at Key West, Playa del Carmen/Cozumel, Ocho Rios and Grand Cayman Island. Her eastern schedule will have stops at St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Catalina Island and Casa de Campo (Dominican Republic), and Nassau. This summer and fall, the European ports include Kusadasi and Istanbul (Turkey), and Katakolon and Athens (Greece), on her weekly roundtrip schedule from Venice.
Photos courtesy of Costa Cruises.
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Jeannie Block is a well-known professional freelance cruise travel writer. Her articles, along with her husband Bernard Block's photographs, have been published in such magazines as Cruise Travel and Onboard Services. Jeannie and Bernie Block are still email holdouts, but we will gladly pass along all of your comments sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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