Costa Atlantica! Debut in Venice

| Tuesday, 05 Mar. 2013

See a Video of this amazing christening ceremony in Venice!

Inaugural Ceremony in Venice
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Costa Cruise Lines unveiled the Costa Atlantica last week in Venice, Italy. The christening ceremony, featuring Italian film star Claudia Cardinale as the ship's godmother, had the rapt attention of the European media. Witnessing the gaggle of reporters and photographers on hand for the event it's easy to understand why the Italian word "paparazzi" entered the English lexicon.

Costa Atlantica is a first for many reasons. At 85,000 gross registered tons and 960 feet in length it is the first Costa ship in three years and the largest cruise ship yet to enter the European cruise market. It is the first Costa ship designed by Joe Farcus, designer for most of the ships in the Carnival fleet, and it is the first ship of a new model that will serve as the next generation of Carnival ships beginning with Carnival Spirit to be introduced in early 2001. (Costa is owned in the majority by Carnival Corp. and is a member of the "World's Leading Cruise Lines" group of Carnival umbrella companies).

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This new design is not only different, it is better. The majority of public rooms on the ship have been moved to the lowest decks; 1, 2 and 3. The first payoff in doing this is a much taller and more spectacular atrium, 10-decks high for a stunning open expanse with glass elevators and grand stairways. The atrium is located mid-ships rather than in the forward position (as on other ships designed by Farcus), and the advantage is increased accessibility to more public rooms directly from it.

But the biggest payoff in moving the public rooms to the lower decks is the ability to provide an abundance of balcony cabins -- filling out five full decks (decks 4 through 8), and comprising the majority of the total number of cabins available.

CRUISING ITALIAN STYLE "Buongiorno." One hears it often aboard Costa ships; Italian is the lingua franca, and the lira is the shipboard currency while the ship is in Europe. And although Costa Atlantica will spend the winter season in the Caribbean where English and the dollar replace the Italian standard, the Costa motto, "Cruising Italian Style" still applies.

As designer Joe Farcus explains, "There are two Italys, yesterday and today," and experiencing Costa Atlantica brings the dichotomy to light -- there is a lot more to Italian style than Renaissance paintings and opera - not to diminish the importance of those things, but the Italians are a proud society who cherish their modern contributions to culture just as much as the traditional ones.

Indeed, the immersion in everything Italian, from the live classical music in the Caffe Florian to the Ferarri sunglasses worn by crew, is such a large part of the Costa experience that it is tempting to redefine the experience by turning the phrase around to say "Italian style- and a cruise," -- with the emphasis on the word "style."

The main shopping area on Costa Atlantica is called "Via della Spiga," after the famous shopping street in Milan -- fashion capital of the world. You will see outfits by Versace and Armani, and baubles by Gucci.

The entertainment in the Caruso Theater (main show room) is designed to appeal to an international audience by sticking to largely visual productions with lavish costumes and lively dancing. But the theme is still "Italian Style" from the Roman centurians fleeing Vesuvius to the dancing paparazzi singing "Volare".

The Italians tend to clap loudly and often, and though I suspect some of them probably cringe during the show the same way we Americans do upon seeing Uncle Sam marching in place with a sparkler in one hand and a salute in the other, it is still apparent that the Italians have something we Americans don't have -- Italian style. Who else can put a gal in a platinum wig and drop her on a Vespa, and not only does she not look cliche, she looks downright classy and sexy, too.

SHIP FEATURES Atlantica is the first Costa ship to have its own theme, and they chose to celebrate one of their own unique modern artists, film-maker Federico Fellini. At first blush the question arises, "what does Fellini have to do with cruising?" It is only after one has become immersed in the Costa experience that you realize the answer is "niente."

But this is Costa - and now you are experiencing "Italian Style." They will tell you about his 1984 film "E La Nave Va" (translation: "The Ship Sails On") about an Italian luxury liner during World War 1. But there is little left to the story except the conclusion that Fellini is Italian and that is reason enough.

In the long run it doesn't matter, the ship is awesome in the way that only Joe Farcus can create one. Would I say beautiful or elegant? Not exactly, it is "Farcusian," -- full of awe is more accurate. There is nothing understated or subtle here unless one is comparing it to one of the even more audacious Carnival ships like Destiny. The atrium soars deck over deck with Tivoli lights and baroque escarpments. The best way I can describe it is "Italian Carnival without the neon." Not that that is bad, far from it. The ship is delightfully entertaining.

Each deck on the Atlantica is named after a different Fellini film, La Dolce Vita, La Strada, Clowns... The two swimming pools are named Ginger and Fred after his critically acclaimed satire about a dance team reunited for a TV program.

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Even the choice of Claudia Cardinale as the ship's godmother, charged with christening the ship and blessing her with good luck, is in keeping with the Fellini theme -- Cardinale starred in the 1963 Fellini classic "8 1/2" about a film director struggling to find inspiration. Carrying the surrealism of Fellini to its extreme, the Costa people chose to name the eighth deck after that film, so deck eight carries the name "Deck 8 1/2" which can lead to amusing chat during dinner.

Although Fellini is the underlying theme for the ship, it is by no means the only inspiration used in designing her. Caffe Florian is a beautiful respite modeled after the original 18th century landmark cafe in St. Mark's Square in Venice, probably the epitome of European sidewalk cafe experiences. Here one can enjoy a glass of wine or espresso amidst beautiful classical Italian decor and listen to the same music by live musicians as one hears sitting in the square in Venice. The cafe was designed with the approval and help of the owners of the original cafe - aided by Farcus who captured the dimensions of the original on computer and translated them to the ship.

The "Paparazzi Lounge" is the meeting place to "see and be seen" just outside the Tiziano Restaurant (main dining room). The lounge features blown-up photos of various stars of Fellini films caught unaware. In a few, the stars are caught in "flagrante delicto."

The Caruso Theater is the main show lounge - a beautifully equipped theater with three decks of seating. Somewhat anachronistic is the Madame Butterfly Piazza, a large lounge with an Oriental theme, but Farcus explains it is modeled after the Puccini opera by the same name.

What is obvious is that Farcus enjoyed the challenge of designing this ship with input and inspiration from the Costa company. Farcus says he was more than aware of the skepticism in having an American design the Costa flagship "in the Italian style," so in addition to using a lot of input from Costa CEO Foschi, he chose to pay homage to his own favorite Italian designers by featuring their works throughout the ship.

A glass staircase was commissioned from Luciano Vistosi -- it actually spans over the top of the 10 deck high atrium so passengers get a sense of walking on air at a considerable height to reach the alternative dining venue Club Atlantica on the "E La Nave Va" deck. Glass sculptures by famed Milano glass-blower Carlos Moretti adorn every deck in each stairwell.

Much of the furniture is art in itself. There are freestanding chairs with backs 10 feet tall, and table-chair combinations with beautifully flowing lines, simple yet functional, in perfect proportion.

Several nooks and crannies become secret passageways to beautiful and elaborate rooms one hardly expects to find. The children's center is at the end of a long hallway filled with large portholes and quiet tables of solitude, and the alternate entertainment venue "Coral Lounge" hidden all the way forward on deck one -- is so remote that it is unlikely anyone would ever find it unless they had a specific reason to go there.

The Ischia spa offers a two-level, state-of-the-art fitness center with the ability to provide a customized personal fitness regimen for each passenger. A personal trainer can provide you with a computer designed workout complete with a keycard that keeps track of your progress on each exercise machine. Your regimen can be tracked throughout the cruise. There are also basketball, tennis and volleyball courts and a jogging track.

The library also serves as an Internet Cafe, price and hours of accessibility yet to be determined. The Fortuna Casino features slots, blackjack and, of course, roulette. Kids and teens will enjoy the Virtual World and for small children there is the Pinicchio Children's room with games and toys.

ACCOMODATIONS 79% percent of the cabins offer an ocean view. There are 616 veranda cabins, 68 cabins with French Balconies, 44 suites and 14 penthouses. The inside cabins are 160 sq. ft, and the oceanview cabins with veranda are 210 sq. ft. Panorama suites are 360 sq. ft. All of the standard cabins feature generous showers, ample closet space, comfortable queen-size beds, full-size couches and mini-refrigerators. There are large televisions and radios in each cabin. Americans might encounter problems trying to use the automated phone system in Italian, especially the voice-mail and wake-up call service, but by carefully reading the cabin literature these things are manageable.

There are many triple and quad cabins on board to accomodate families. The number of berths on the floor is 2,114 but total passenger capacity is 2,680 when the extra beds are included. The ship carries 920 crewmembers.

DINING Dining is one area where Costa varies from what most North Americans have come to expect aboard ship. In the Tiziano Restaurant (the main dining venue) the norm is long meals with as many as six or seven courses. Dining times in Europe are 7:00 or 9:00 p.m. to accomodate the European tradition -- in the Caribbean the times are moved up by 1/2 an hour. Expect to spend the full 2 hours for the meal. Each meal will feature a pasta and a course of cheese and fruit before dessert.

Unfortunately, if you are not inclined to enjoy such repast room service offers very few options for you. You have a choice of three sandwiches; tuna, turkey & swiss, or ham on buttered white bread (Oy!) and they even have the audacity to charge you a 4000 lire service fee (about $2.00) to bring it to you. There is no mention of side dishes or desserts. Only suite passengers can order from the restaurant menu for in cabin dining; but continental breakfast is available for all cabins every day.

The alternative dining venue Club Atlantica features the cuisine of Italian chef Gualtiero Marchesi serving haute cuisine on plates designed by Versace. The restaurant has limited seating and a striking view looking down from the top of the atrium. There is a $17.50 service fee per person to dine there.

ITINERARIES Costa Atlantica is currently sailing a European itinerary round-trip from Venice and calling at Bari, Italy; Katakolon, Greece; Kusadasi, Turkey; Istanbul and Piraeus (Athens).

On November 13 the ship begins a "Route of Columbus" crossing to the Caribbean from Genoa. Port calls are Barcelona, Tenerife (Canary Islands), Barbados, Martinique, St Maarteen, and Nassau.

The Winter Caribbean sailings from Ft. Lauderdale (marketed largely to North American cruisers) feature alternating Western (Key West, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Ocho Rios and Grand Caymen) and Eastern Caribbean (San Juan overnight, St. Thomas, Catalina Island - Costa's private island, and Nassau) cruises.

For North Americans: Cruising with Costa can be very rewarding, especially for seasoned travelers who are already familiar with the cruising experience, but keep in mind that Costa caters to Europeans first when the ship is in Europe. The ship conducts most business in Italian. Announcements are made in Italian first and then followed by other languages. English may be the fourth or fifth language. There are English-speaking hosts on board who will accompany you on many activities and help you out with translations and information when necessary. Tours will be conducted in your language, but unless there are enough guests to fill an entire bus then your tour will be bilingual.

For the crew, English is often a third language after their native language first and Italian second. This can make communicating with waiters and others difficult at times. The officers, casino, spa and shop personel are all very adept at English. Costa has proven successful for groups of American cruisers traveling together - there is strength in numbers, and one is much less likely to feel alienated when accompanied by others who speak the same language. But otherwise, an American cruising in Europe will probably be more comfortable on a ship marketed to North Americans first.

Smoking! Europeans have much more relaxed rules about smoking than North Americans do, and the Italians in particular love to smoke. The only areas on the ship restricted from smoking are select areas in the dining room and the buffet area. Bars, the card room, library and entertainment venues can be smoke-filled, especially when the ship is in Europe.

In the Caribbean, however, the Costa passenger mix is 80% Americans - the slot machines are re-configured to take US currency, and all announcements are made in English. Because of greater competition, and because Costa is still struggling to gain the respect of the North American market for its Caribbean sailings it is possible to find cruises of tremendous value, especially for a ship as modern and unique as Costa Atlantica. For example, the inaugural season is featuring a "Balconies Are On Us" promotion where a balcony cabin can be had for the same price as a standard ocean view cabin.

Electrical outlets in the cabins are both US (110 volt) and European standard. The television features a feed from BBC in London. The computers in the Internet cafe are in English.


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