Carrying mostly Italian, French and German
passengers, the Costa Marina is a cultural destination as much as
its ports of call. A sailing on the Costa Marina is a trip to
Europe, even on a Southeast Asia cruise.
By the end of a
recent 11-night cruise out of Singapore to Thailand and Malaysia, I
was smitten with the quirky, cozy, multicultural ship. At full
capacity, the Costa Marina can carry nearly 900 passengers.
However, my early January sailing had only half that.
It was a
comfortable number on such an intimate ship. Most couples onboard
were in their 40s, 50s and 60s.
megaships, where it can take days to figure out where things are
onboard, the Marina's three main entertainment venues are on one
deck, and there are only two restaurants from which to
coexist in relatively close quarters, they're not necessarily
interacting with each other much.
American passenger who didn't seem to mind said, "I love this ship
because I don't have to talk to anyone. I don't understand
It's a different
story for the international crew. Most speak English and Italian,
and many speak French, German and Spanish, as well. Though
announcements are kept to a minimum, they're translated into all
charming Italian Cruise Director Clem Cimini
effortlessly glide between them all (she also speaks Russian and
Mandarin) was entertaining all by itself.
"Costa has had an
international clientele for years," said Augusto Fazzio, the ship's
He added that
Costa understands the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between
instance, tend to like the air conditioning turned on high.
Australians enjoy beer; Italians enjoy espresso. Germans prefer
quiet, but the Spanish don't. And the list goes on.
restaurants, the candlelit Cristallo and the indoor-outdoor buffet,
everyone's tastes were considered.
Good food and wine
offered by far the most impressive cuisine I've had on a Costa ship
At breakfast, the
crusty Italian rolls baked from scratch were addictive. The
Parmigiano cheese wheel and prosciutto at the lunch buffet every
day were imported from Italy.
Sicilian-style pizza was part of the spread at tea time and
appeared on the children's menu.
freshly tossed pastas, from a three-cheese penne to curry gnocchi
to spaghetti with tomatoes, zucchini and shrimp, were available
each day at lunch and dinner. Seafood and meats were also served
corner of the lunch buffet had a different theme each
specialties, for instance, were sweet and sour pork, papaya salad
with crushed peanuts and spring rolls.
At dinner in
Cristallo -- and occasionally on the buffet, when it was open in
the evenings -- appetizers such as grilled eggplant, seafood salad
and baked provolone with soy sauce and oregano were
The Italian wines
were something to look forward to after a long day of touring.
Particularly memorable was a 2005 Beni di Batasiolo
millefoglie, a flaky puff pastry cake layered with cream or
chocolate, was one of the best cruise ship desserts I've ever
Only the tough
chicken and beef were consistently disappointing.
to serve people from a lot of different countries," said Piero
Mezzalama, the ship's executive chef. "But we try to please
One way was by
asking questions. Our Romanian waiter, Valentin, for example,
inquired if we wanted our salad before dinner, in the American
fashion; with dinner, as the Italians prefer; or after dinner, as
is the English custom.
No problem keeping busy
friendly social hosts were pros at figuring out how to engage
passengers of all nationalities. Once or twice a day, a lively
dancing lesson, which ranged from mambo to meringue, was offered by
On sea days, an
arts-and-crafts class was well attended. Passengers were guided
through making everything from batik T-shirts to paper
cooking demo, Italian language classes and port talks were
sprinkled throughout the week, as well, though there were no
enrichment lecturers or live music on the pool deck.
sometimes topless, was a popular pastime, as were card playing,
reading and napping.
In the evenings,
things picked up. The impressive repertoire of entertainment acts
were performed with the festive verve for which Costa is
Even though the
show lounge and small stage were very basic and the music was
taped, the performances were excellent.
troupe included six talented dancers with boundless energy and a
pair of lead singers, who expertly pulled off opera, ballads and
classic evergreens as well as rock 'n' roll.
around the world were worked into their routines, such as "Quando,
Quando, Quando," "Danny Boy," "You're a Grand Old Flag,"
"Memories," "Love Me Tender" and "Another Brick in the
Several nights, a
magician did scarf tricks, made a scantily clad assistant disappear
and performed other sleight-of-hand tricks to the delight of the
audience, despite his occasional mixed-up translations.
A crew talent
show brought down the house, and on two occasions during extended
stays in Thailand, local folk dance troupes were brought
included an island night complete with leis, beach balls, Latin
music and drinks served in coconut shells; a costume night; and a
1950s music night.
denying that the Marina, which was built in 1992 (the hull and
engines actually date back to 1969), has personality. Unlike newer
ships, staterooms have real wood cabinetry and teak bathroom
170-square-foot standard cabin has generous storage; a neat,
little, round vanity table; and quirky nautical wall prints. It's
refreshingly different compared with the generic hotel look of most
retro-style atrium and generous use of wood in cabins are
appealing, while the cluttered children's playroom, paltry library,
dreadfully slow Internet connections and low-tech show lounge were
Few cabins have
balconies -- the eight suites do, but they're open to the deck
above. Most twin beds cannot be pushed together. The oddly
configured gym and small spa didn't get much business on my
cookie-cutter vessel by any means, the Costa Marina has a decor
that includes the typical upholstered cruise-ship lounge furniture
plus more eclectic touches such as leather chairs with chrome
frames; ship models in display cases in the Marina Lounge;
cream-colored leather banquettes and oversized portholes in the
Cristallo restaurant; and an abstract, green, glass atrium
sculpture my 4-year-old son Tejas aptly named "The
At the end of the
day, one of the things that makes a Costa Marina cruise desirable
is the price.
Charlie Funk, co-owner of Nashville-based Just Cruisin' Plus, an
oceanview cabin on a 14-day Marina cruise in the Indian Ocean next
January is going for about $200 a person a day, about half of Star
Cruises' Asia sailings.
cruisers who want to see exotic ports on a smaller ship without
paying a bundle will find the Marina a pleasant experience and an
excellent value," Funk said.
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For more details on this
article, see "Costa Cruises learns by trial and error in the Chinese