Costa Cruises has been transformed since 2000, when it became wholly owned by Carnival Corporation -- the umbrella company for Carnival, Princess, Holland America, Cunard, Seabourn and Windstar. Formerly a successful but undistinguished European line, Costa was reborn with the christening in 2000 of Costa Atlantica in Venice. Although its official motto is "Cruising Italian Style," since 2000 the phrase "Bringing U.S.-style cruising to Europeans" is probably more accurate.
Costa claims to be the largest European-based line, with 10 ships and 15,700 berths. U.S. cruisers know Costa mostly for bargain prices in the Caribbean, especially on balcony cabins; but they also know that even in the Caribbean, Costa still caters to Europeans by offering events, hosts and menus in several languages.
The newest examples of Costa's recent transformation are Costa Fortuna, introduced in November 2003; and sister ship Costa Magica, launched at Barcelona in November 2004. At 105,000 gross registered tons, these are the largest cruise ships ever built for the European market. They belong to Carnival's Destiny class - the biggest of Carnival's fleet.
These two "big sisters" demonstrate Carnival's intent to bring "Fun-ship"-style cruising to the European market. Both ships resemble a Caribbean-based Carnival ship more than any European vessel: They are big, bright and buzzing with activity. Costa Magica was the first Costa ship christened outside of Italy; the company hopes to capture the emerging Spanish market with cruises to favorite Spanish tourist destinations like Palma de Mallorca, Malaga and Barcelona. The line plans further expansion into South America, where Spanish is the primary language.
Décor on Costa Magica See more Costa Magica Pictures Here
The structure of every Costa ship since 2000 is identical to a Carnival ship, with interiors designed by Joe Farcus, the designer for every Carnival ship since 1977. This is an important distinction, especially in Europe where ship interiors are mostly conventional.
In many cases, especially the paintings in the suites, the name "Costa Magica" inspired Farcus to favor mystical and imaginary pieces by modern Italian artists. Many of them are stunning.
Deep red, black and gold dominate the décor throughout Magica, including the Italia Magica Atrium at the heart of the ship. The bottom floor features a large lobby with a long bar and live contemporary music nightly. The entire nine-deck span of the atrium is covered by murals featuring various Italian sites.
The main showroom, the high-tech Teatro Urbino, is decorated in the style of the Renaissance city for which it is named. The showroom is three decks high, with seating for 1,300 on comfortable couches and chairs with tables. The stage features elaborate enhancements like lifts, turntables, laser effects and pyrotechnics.
The Casino Sicilia is graced by 65 handmade marionette puppets by Emanuele Salamanca of Sicily, continuing a 100-year family tradition from a region known for puppetry.
The shops feature selections of Italian art, jewelry and edibles. The ship also has meeting rooms equipped for audio/video presentations.
Cuisine and Restaurants
The cuisine is primarily European continental with the emphasis on Italian, meaning plenty of lamb, veal and seafood. Desserts and coffees are always a treat, and cheese is offered as a separate course nightly.
The palatial Club Vicenza restaurant, primarily featuring cuisine of Northern Italy, surrounds the open deck nine at the top of the atrium. A reservation is recommended. The entrance and the dome surrounding the skylight were inspired by the famous Venetian architect Palladio, creator of the St. George church. The restaurant has a 23 euro (about $30) per person service charge.
The two main dining rooms, Ristorante Costa Smeralda and Ristorante Portofino, are both two decks high and serve dinner in two seatings.
The dining rooms serve three meals a day, and while the restaurant is open for breakfast at 7:30 a.m., lunch is not served until 1:30 p.m. But for breakfast and lunch, the Ristorante Buffet Bellagio is always an option. Lunch selections at the buffet include real seafood salads, freshly-made pasta selections, grilled hamburgers, chicken breasts and lamb chops.
There is a casual dining option for the dinner hour in the buffet area -- your only choice if you aren't in the mood for a formal dinner. Breakfast will be served in your room, but for lunch, dinner or a midnight snack, room service offers little more than snack-size sandwiches and a few desserts -- and it carries a two Euro (about $2.70) service charge per delivery. (The exception: If you are sick you may request a menu from the dining room and receive a hot meal on a tray.)
Even though this is a European ship, the dining room and show theater are designated non-smoking areas. This is fortunate since many European adults do smoke. Smoking is allowed in all the bars, and it can get very thick.
The Sicily Casino features roulette, blackjack, craps and more than 100 slot and poker machines.
Costa Magica and Fortuna have 15 cabin categories, from an inside with two single beds to the Grand Suite with a whirlpool bath, shower, double-wide veranda and separate sitting area. There are 1,358 cabins in all, including 522 with balconies. Every cabin has a TV, but programming is geared to Europeans. The only English-language channel shown in Europe is BBC news. Every cabin has a ship-to-shore telephone, hair dryer, safe and mini-bar. The cabins will look familiar to anyone who has traveled on a Carnival ship recently.
The Saturnia Spa offers 4,600 square feet
Children are offered the "Squok Club," as a playroom for kids age 3 to 12. Teens have a separate area. There is also a Video arcade near the casino.
The Costa ships built since 2000 are so similar to Carnival ships in structure and décor that a U.S. passenger might as well stick to Carnival. For Europeans, it is a treat to enjoy in their native languages what U.S. passengers have been accustomed to for years. But for U.S. passengers, it's a burden to deal with frequent public announcements and other onboard communications in as many as six languages. The cuisine will be somewhat foreign to U.S. cruisers, and the number of smokers on board may be troublesome as well.
Costa Magica is slated to remain in Europe for the near future, but keep inmind that Costa cruises are not planned for Americans who want to see Europe; they attract Europeans who want to "get away." Port stays are typically shorter than ships for U.S. cruisers visiting Europe, and the choice of destinations tends toward resort islands like Ibiza rather than major cultural sites like Athens.
Another drawback for Americans: the shipboard currency is the euro. This makes tips, service charges, tours and everything else relatively more expensive due to the currently unfavorable exchange rate.
The bottom line: For Americans who want to visit Europe, there are plenty of ships catering to English-speaking, dollar-spending U.S. citizens. Costa is a better fit for Europeans who are used to the language complications, late meal times and smoky environments.
Costa will continue to offer tempting bargains in the Caribbean, however, and if you don't mind the Euro-centric environment aboard Costa ships, you can probably find a balcony cabin at a great rate in the Caribbean almost any winter month.