NAPLES, Italy -- Chances are most U.S. travel agents have never
heard of Ines Sastre. Ditto for Cristina Parodi. But having
attended the June christening ceremony of Costa Cruises' newest
ship, the 85,700-ton Costa-Mediterranea, I can tell you that they
are, respectively, the Julia Roberts and Katie Couric of Italy.
Sastre, a Spanish model and actress, christened the ship, and
Parodi, an Italian television broadcaster, served as master of
ceremonies for the event. The Italian paparazzi buzzed around the
two women like bees looking for nectar.
Chances also are good that many U.S. travel agents are not
familiar with Costa's fleet of nine ships, as a large portion of
the company's business is mined from outside North America.
I'm a case in point: Although I've sailed on more than three
dozen ships, I had not sampled the Costa product until my sailing
The stylish christening ceremony served as an apt analogy for
the line, and for that matter, the ship. Just as Sastre and Parodi
are virtually unknown in the U.S., they positively rule in Europe,
just as Costa does.
The line has been "Cruising Italian Style" for 30 years, said
Dino Schibuola, president of the North American division of
"If you like Italy, and Italian restaurants," he said, "you'll
enjoy a Costa cruise."
Those agents who are not all that familiar with Costa's ships would
be well-served to pay attention to the line. This is a company that
really wants your business -- and has become particularly
aggressive in capturing more of the group market.
"We find the best way to address this [group] market is through
agents," said Schibuola.
He has set ambitious goals for his sales team. By year's end, he
wants 50% of Costa's North America business to come from groups.
Currently, 30% of the line's business is derived from groups.
Travel agent incentives, featuring commissions that can top 17%,
include a commitment on the part of Costa to help agents find group
prospects. The line will provide sales leads, make joint sales
calls and help create cruise nights.
That's not to say that the CostaMediterranea is right for any
For instance, prospective passengers who might be uncomfortable
when English isn't always the first language spoken have no
business on a Costa ship. Conversely, those travelers interested in
a multicultural experience are apt to love sailing on Costa.
It's virtually impossible to provide an in-depth critique of a
cruise ship during a three-day preinaugural cruise, when industry
folk, rather than paying passengers, are sailing. Bearing that in
mind, this is what I found: The CostaMediterranea has all the
trappings of any number of megaships from other cruise lines.
And yet the ambience is distinctly Italian -- a mood that was
exactly what Carnival Corp. architect Joe Farcus was aiming
Farcus, who is best known for creating the interiors of the
ships in the fleet of sister company Carnival Cruise Lines, said he
used Costa's marketing slogan, "Cruising Italian Style," as a
"literal motivation in designing the ship."
The design thread that ties the ship together is the palazzi
(palaces) and castles of Italy.
"I drew inspiration from palazzi and Italian art," Farcus
Passengers also will find allusions to history and mythology.
For instance, the CostaMediterranea's decks use such mythological
names as Narcissus, Prometheus, Pegasus, Pandora and Medea.
When I first embarked the ship and entered the 10-deck-high
atrium, I was struck by the liberal use of Murano glass. The ship
was, figuratively, dripping with it. The entire atrium area is
decorated in shades of tangerine and paler oranges, with mirrors
and metallic surfaces creating a baroque effect.
Palazzo-themed public areas include:
• Salone Giardino Isolabella. This 355-seat saloon is modeled
after the palazzo that Count Carlo III Borromeo built for his wife,
Isabella d'Adda, in 1632. It is decorated with richly textured
Flemish tapestries and black marble mirrors.
• Canal Grande Casino. This gaming venue was modeled on the
design of the 15th-century Palazzo Barbaro on Venice's Grand
• Osiris Theatre. Sitting on three levels, this Egyptian-themed
room is inspired by the Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne in Rome,
renowned for its Doric columns and courtyards.
• Perla del Lago Buffet Restaurant. This casual dining
restaurant was inspired by Villa Melzi d'Eril in Bellagio, a 19th
century neoclassical structure appointed with Greek accents and
My favorite public area was the dining room, the Ristorante
Degli Argentieri, which can accommodate 1,320 guests in two
seatings on two decks.
The best thing about this restaurant is that it feels like many
diminutive eateries in one grand space. There are 66 little nooks,
so passengers get the sense that they are actually in a much more
Guests opting for an a la carte dining experience should try the
123-seat Club Medusa, which charges $20 per person per dinner.
Here, tables are set with stunning china designed by Versace.
If the preinaugural cruise is any indication, passengers should
be pleased with the quality of food on board. Service in the dining
room and Club Medusa was also excellent.
The ship features 58 suites and 999 staterooms, 684 of which
have balconies. Seventy percent of the staterooms are outside.
Although Costa's officers are Italian, the crew is a melting pot
of nationalities, with a large contingent hailing from the
Philippines. Because of the multicultural guest complement, many
crew members -- particularly the bar and wait staff -- must be
prepared to converse in a number of tongues. One bartender told me
he speaks five languages.
The vessel will operate on seven-day Mediterranean itineraries
through October, sailing roundtrip from Genoa to Naples, Italy;
Palermo, Italy; Tunis, Tunisia; Mallorca and Barcelona, Spain; and
The CostaMediterranea will reposition to the Caribbean from
November to March, sailing seven-night alternating eastern and
western Caribbean itineraries from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
For more information, call (954) 266-5600 or visit Costa's Web
site at www.costacruises.com. For information on booking
groups, call (800) 33-COSTA.