Costa Cruises is creating a sub-brand for two of its older, smaller ships and giving them a distinctive style of cruising.

The ships, the NeoRomantica and NeoRiviera, will be marketed as part of the NeoCollection, offering longer, more leisurely itineraries with more time in port — what Costa has labeled "slow cruising."

There will also be an emphasis on locally sourced food and customized shore excursions.

The first slow cruise is scheduled to depart Feb. 9 from Dubai.

A growing number of cruise lines are adopting some or all of the ideas behind slow cruising.

For example, Azamara Club Cruises last year revamped its brand to emphasize longer stops in port, more overnight stays in destinations and exclusive evening shore events.

In launching his new ocean cruise line in June, Viking Cruises Chairman Tor Hagen said his research showed guests wanted more time in port. When Viking's ocean product debuts in 2015, one feature will be an average 12-hour port stay.

The NeoCollection appears to be a home for older ships that are smaller than those ordered by Costa recently. Itineraries will include ports that are inaccessible to Costa's larger ships.

In one example, the NeoRiviera's core 12-day cruise in the Mediterranean next summer will depart six times from Savona, Italy, and stop in Toulon, France; Salerno and Livorno, Italy; Valletta, Malta; and Porto Empedocle, Sicily, before concluding with an overnight call at Barcelona.

'More intimate and exclusive'

Another hallmark of the brand will be a "more intimate and exclusive onboard atmosphere," Costa said. The Riviera accommodates 1,248 passengers, and the Romantica carries 1,578.

The Riviera's interiors are meant to invoke the Italian and French rivieras, while the Romantica's design is more modern, with extensive use of glass and wood paneling, Costa said.

The ships were built in 1999 and 1993 respectively. The NeoRiviera had been sailing for Ibero Cruises as the Grand Mistral and is being transferred to Costa starting next month.

Costa didn't say if other ships will be added to the NeoCollection in the future. Unlike Azamara, which stands apart from other lines at Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., the NeoCollection remains under the roof of the Costa brand.

Once in port, shore excursions for groups of 25 or fewer guests have been designed to highlight cultural and natural attractions in each destination. New menus developed with Universita delle Scienze Gastronomiche in Pollenza, Italy, feature local food and wines.

An onboard concierge will help guests take advantage of special amenities, such as a candlelit, gourmet "Dinner Under the Stars."

The focus on exotic destinations, shore excursions and overnights may extend the competitiveness of the NeoCollection ships even though their hardware and features are not state of the art.

The first voyage of the NeoRiviera under the new concept will be a 62-day journey leaving Dubai for the coastline of India and the islands of the Indian Ocean before circumnavigating Africa to visit Senegal, Cape Verde, the Canary Islands and Morocco, then ending the cruise in April in Savona.

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