|The 10-deck Dolce Vita atrium features Murano glass chandeliers, glass elevators and frescoed wall scenes of Pompeii.|
For your clients seeking a fun, affordable voyage and looking to meet and mix with guests of different nationalities, Costa Cruises may be a good choice. This Italian-style line fields a decidedly international personality for its contemporary cruise product.
During the 2011-12 Caribbean winter season, the 2,114-passenger Costa Atlantica will sail 10-night roundtrip Caribbean voyages from Miami. Port calls for one of the ship’s prime itineraries include Nassau, the Bahamas; Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos; Ochos Rios, Jamaica; Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands; Roatan, Honduras; and Cozumel, Mexico.
Travel Agent magazine sailed on the ship during its most recent Caribbean season. Here is our firsthand report.
Clientele: While we met fellow Americans and Canadians onboard, many of the guests hailed from France, Brazil, Germany, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Venezuela, Japan, Korea and elsewhere. It was common to hear the chatter of French children in the elevator, people conversing at the pool in Spanish or adults in the buffet line instructing their kids in Japanese. A French film crew was seen shooting a movie onboard.
That said, Costa’s official languages are English and Italian. Most staffers are multilingual. To fully enjoy a Costa cruise, tolerance of other cultures is crucial, as is being comfortable with fellow guests who “aren’t like me” or don’t speak the same language. Agents say clients who appreciate an international onboard atmosphere are the best fit for this cruise product.
Wow Factors: Launched in 2000, the 85,619-ton Costa Atlantica was refurbished in 2010. Its 12 passenger decks were absolutely spotless. That’s not surprising, based on the ship’s history. Inspected six times between 2005 and 2011 for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vessel Sanitation Inspection Program, Costa Atlantica earned four perfect 100 scores, as well as a 99 and a 96; the last perfect score was in March 2011.
|This L-shaped balcony cabin, #8232, is one of Costa Atlantica’s1,057 accommodations.|
Equally engaging on Costa Atlantica is its decor, which exudes the locations and emotions associated with Italian cinema, art and culture. It’s fanciful fun thanks to Joe Farcus’ frenetic design, yet it’s distinctly Italian in flavor. The 10-deck Dolce Vita atrium boasts Murano glass chandeliers, glass elevators and frescoed wall scenes of Pompeii.
Costa Atlantica’s decks are named in honor of Federico Fellini’s films. Guests who enjoy a before-dinner drink at the Paparazzi Lounge will see large wall photos of the 1960s movie stars in those films. Guests who savor coffee or a Bellini, a drink created in Venice, at the re-created Caffè Florian will enjoy period-style furnishings and artifacts from the original Venetian restaurant.
Accommodations: Costa Atlantica has 1,057 accommodations. These include 58 suites, four of which are Wellness Suites; all have private balconies. The ship also has 620 balcony cabins, 167 oceanview staterooms and 212 inside cabins. Our balcony cabin, #8232, was an L-shaped, B-8 Category, and a bit larger than standard balcony cabins; the balcony itself was much longer. The small bathroom was essentially the same as those in similar categories on sister Carnival Cruise Lines. Agents may know those as having blue hues, a shower, toilet and one sink.
We appreciated this cabin’s size, privacy and proximity to the elevators. It had a small stuffed chair, a small table and a TV that, unfortunately, wasn’t positioned in the best way for viewing. We had plenty of storage space, though, in myriad drawers and shelves within a large combination desk/dressing unit/armoire, as well as within another cabinetry unit and several closets. We did, at times, hear sounds of chairs being moved around on the deck above us, but overall, we liked this cabin and would book it again.
Dining: Costa provides two fixed seatings each evening in the main dining room. Cuisine and service were both quite good here. The maître d’ was exceptional—friendly, professional and very eager to please. He also called guests by name and worked his way throughout the dining room, not just a few select guests.
|The seemingly underwater Corallo is among the ship’s 12 bars and lounges.|
Dinner entree choices included roasted royal pheasant, grilled tuna steak, roasted tenderloin of dry-aged beef, oven-roasted chicken, crepes roulade, halibut and veal loin. We loved Italian night and the Farewell Gala Dinner, during which guests and wait staff danced, waved napkins and sang together.
For casual buffet dining, the ship’s Botticelli restaurant has Italian decor and the usual buffet items, some Italian specialties on certain days and excellent pizza choices daily. Two alternative restaurants, Club Atlantica and the Wellness Restaurant, carry an added fee. However, lunch and dinner at the Wellness Restaurant are included in the cruise fare of guests booked in Wellness Cabins and Suites.
For dinner at Club Atlantica, guests may pick Ahi Tuna or buffalo mozzarella and ripe tomatoes with basil dressing as an appetizer. For the pasta and soup course, choices may include fettuccine Alfredo or spaghetti with crabmeat. All guests select from three different kinds of olive oil for their bread. We recommend Toscana.
An entree sauce list includes green peppercorn, béarnaise, lemon butter, garlic and herb butter, fresh plum tomatoes or hollandaise. Among the entrees on our sailing were roasted rack of lamb, Chilean sea bass and rib eye steak of Wagyu beef, to name a few.
For dessert, we wholeheartedly endorse the yummy dark chocolate pyramid or the cannoli. Complimentary room service for breakfast includes juices, pastries, cereals, breads, and drinks like cappuccino and espresso.
Costa Atlantica has 12 lounges and bars, including the seemingly under-water Corallo Lounge. Guests often enter by taking the stairs down from the theater, and once there, are surrounded by blue and white coral decor.
Onboard Diversions: Water lovers will discover four whirlpools, as well as four pools, including one with a retractable cover and another for children. The dark blue Toboga waterslide is positioned near Costa’s signature yellow funnel. A jogging track, basketball court and shuffleboard are other sports diversions.
|Botticelli, the casual buffet restaurant onboard Costa Atlantica, serves diverse cuisines, including Italian specialties.|
The two-level Ischia Spa is a well-being center with spa treatment rooms, a gym, sauna, Turkish bath and UVA-ray solarium. During our cruise, Costa offered an hour-long sampler of treatments for $99 that included three 20-minute massages: one for the scalp, neck and shoulders; one for the back; and another for the feet and ankles. We enjoyed the sea views from the gym.
The three-level Caruso Theater boasts rich, red decor and robust production numbers. The singers performed in a mix of tongues, but music seems to be a universally accepted language. Costumes, dancing and singing for the shows were professional, and guests from a wide range of nationalities applauded enthusiastically.
Among the other entertainment choices, clients may participate in or enjoy a guest talent show, Circus Night, games/quizzes, casino play, disco, virtual world, a fashion show, fitness activities, team games and ring contests. Onboard classes on our cruise included decoupage, napkin folding and dancing; the mambo and tarantella lessons were a hoot, especially after guests had first relaxed with a drink or two.
Music from solo acts or small combos wafts continually each evening from the onboard lounges. Ballroom, easy listening, country, soul and international styles of music were on tap at different points. Costa is also distinctive among contemporary lines in that it also stages operatic performances, such as The Barber of Seville on our cruise.
When it comes to fun, though, where else afloat can passengers regularly don a line-provided toga for Roman Night? Instructions are provided in staterooms so guests understand how to tie and wear the togas.
|Costa Atlantica guests disembark at Grand Turk island.|
Parents may also sign up children aged 3-12 for supervised fun at the Squok Club, which boasts PlayStation Entertainment. A Teen Zone program for those ages 13-17 has activities such as a pizza party and speed dating.
Could be Improved: Given the multiple languages, the required onboard safety drill took forever to be completed as announcements were made in English, French, Italian, Russian, Korean, Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese and so on. As a result, the clearly bored guests, along with some crew and a few officers, talked loudly among themselves throughout the drill.
We also wish Costa would hire more waiters to handle the dining room’s first seating; clearly frazzled—and yet very friendly—waiters raced here and there to keep the meal moving so we’d be out in time for the second seating. At times, the atmosphere there wasn’t all that relaxing.
Shore Trips: The line offered a full range of shore excursions, most of them typical of other contemporary and premium lines in the Caribbean. If clients book these online in advance, the tickets will be waiting in their cabin—at the latest, the day after embarkation. Clients may also purchase shore excursion tickets onboard at interactive kiosks on deck #3, La Strada; they just insert their Costa Card, choose the excursions and receive tickets instantly. Or, tickets can be ordered from the cabin through the interactive TV system or in person at the shore office on deck #2.
Costa allows parents going on excursions to leave their children 3-12 in Squok Club. On our cruise, the line fielded a shore trip incentive: if guests booked three excursions per person to different destinations at the start of the cruise, they were entered in a drawing for prizes.
Pluses for Costa Atlantica: The ship seemed exceptionally clean, even by the normally high cruise industry standards. Its size was easily navigable for most guests. The Italian decor was attractive and helped immerse guests in an international experience. Themed nights were great fun. Dining was savory and entertainment diverse.
This is a good product for clients who enjoy mingling with people from other cultures and nations. We loved the international ambiance, although it may not work for some clients. This is a product that definitely needs an agent to qualify the client. Affordable fares offer great value for money; one 10-night February 2012 sailing, for example, starts at $749 per person double. The line pays agent commission on shore trips for groups of 20 or more.