When Costa Cruises launched the Costa Favolosa in Italy on July 2, the 3,000-passenger ship it became the largest in its fleet, but there's more that distinguishes the vessel from its sister ships, according to Maurice Zarmati, the line's president and CEO for North America.
Speaking of his new flagship, Zarmati said, "Favolosa is just a tad bigger" -- by just eight cabins -- "but one could refer to it as a modern-day castle."
Costa Crociere Group Chairman Pier Luigi Foschi and industry designer Joe Farcas designed the Favolosa "with the theme of the majestic palaces and museums around Europe and the world," Zarmati said.
"For example, the atrium was designed to look like the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, the Lido is postured around the Forbidden City of Beijing. On Deck 10 there are exclusive royal quarters, as we call them, each with a Jacuzzi out on the verandas," he said.
The ship also sports a high-tech fitness center, with an integrated display of Internet, TV and iPod connections.
"You see that in the U.S., but you don't often see it on cruise ships," added Zarmati. "This is a first for a Costa ship."
Constructed at Fincantieri's shipyard in Marghera, Italy, near Venice, the $600 million ship departed on a three-day cruise from Venice July 4, with calls at Dubrovnik, Croatia, and Koper, Slovenia.
Its 11-day inaugural cruise departs from Venice on July 7 and calls at Bari, Italy; Smyrna and Istanbul, Turkey; Mykonos, Piraeus and Olympia, Greece; and Dubrovnik.
For the rest of the summer season, the ship will offer seven-day cruises from Venice and Bari to Olympia, Smyrna, Istanbul and Dubrovnik before repositioning for a series of Jewels of the Emirates winter cruises.
The Favolosa's 11-day maiden voyage is priced from about $2,100 per person, but the later seven-day sailings start from about $1,229, reflecting some deep discounting that's been going on in the Mediterranean this year.
This fall, for instance, the Costa Romantica's seven-night Greece and Turkey cruise, departing from Rome, is priced from $479 per person.
Price cuts also are reflected in cruise fares in Northern Europe, such as to England, Norway and Finland.
Price cuts in the Med, Zarmati said, are "more aggressive" this year than in 2010. The reason, he said, is the disproportionate amount of tonnage there this summer and fall. And other cruise lines have cut fares, so Costa has to be competitive.
"If cruising was ever a tremendous value, this year it is a fantastic value," he said.
Will the Favolosa ever be deployed in the U.S. for Caribbean cruises?
"There are no immediate plans, but I wouldn't rule anything out," Zarmati said. "We'd love to be able to host her in the U.S. on a regular basis."
Even if the ship eventually makes its way to a Florida homeport, chances are good that the lion's share of passengers will hail from Europe. The Costa Cruises fleet, said Zarmati, attracts about 80% of customers from Europe, regardless of where the ships are operating. On Europe sailings, he added, the percentage of Americans is typically in the 10% to 12% range. It's a little higher in the Caribbean.
"I'd love to have [more] Americans on board in Caribbean, but the reality is that we have to fish in the waters that give us the higher per diem," Zarmati said. "We get a much higher per diem from Europe because the pricing is different. Over there, you're paying in euros, here you're paying in dollars. And discounting typically is not as prevalent."
He added that the tonnage out of Miami also is substantial, giving Americans a wide choice of vessels for Caribbean cruising. One Costa ship, the Costa Atlantica, will be deployed out of Miami next winter for 10-night Western Caribbean cruises.
"We do better with fly-cruise charters out of Europe to South Florida," he said. "Europeans get much more vacation time than Americans, so we can offer a 10-day Caribbean cruise and [our customers] can package that with a few days in South Beach, for example, or New York."