The Italian Caribbean

| March 18, 2005

Hey, look at me: I'm learning the Tarantella, playing bocce ball, and tossing pizza dough. I'm also attempting a belly dance, wearing a gorgeous Venetian mask (that I made myself!) -- and is that really me with a toga fashioned from a bed sheet and a garland of grape vines on my head?

Something strange is going on, because I'm also riding a Conch Train through the tree-lined streets of old Key West; swimming with fat, happy dolphins in Cozumel; trying to keep from breaking my neck climbing the famous (and slippery) Dunn's River Falls in Ocho Rios; and feeding huge, hungry Stingrays in the crystal blue waters of the Cayman Islands.

The reality is that I am enjoying the Caribbean as well as the flavors of Europe—and Italy, in particular-- because I am sailing Costa Cruise Line's Atlantica on a seven-night voyage from Fort Lauderdale.

Costa Atlantica
Art Everywhere

The romance of the Atlantica began for me the moment I entered the soaring 10-deck atrium, its dazzling colors enhanced by the flashing lights of gleaming glass elevators gliding up and down. Carrara marble, Murano glass accents, inlaid mosaic tile, along with a collection of sculptures, paintings, murals, wall hangings, and hand-crafted artisan furnishings all personifies the elegance of European style with the sophistication of American comforts.

On Caribbean sailings (the Costa Atlantica repositions to Europe from spring through late fall), 80 percent of the passengers are American, with the average age probably in the mid-50s. Although the crew was multi-national, I found no language barrier whatsoever. Cruise Director Max Bertolotto attributes this to the fact that an English teacher is onboard; he also said that Costa operates language training schools in the Philippines and the Dominican Republic for newly-hired employees.

As singles editor for Cruisemates, I was naturally interested in the average number of solo cruisers the Costa Atlantica attracts. Mr. Bertolotto estimated the number to be around 40 on any given sailing, with the average age between late 30s and late 50s. I noted that the singles party the first night was well-attended and well-organized by the staff, so I would recommend this ship for singles.

Italian Festivities

The onboard entertainment was some of the best I have experienced on a cruise. In addition to terrific singers, outstanding concert pianists, and spectacular dancing production numbers in the huge, three-deck Caruso Theater, there were also special activities elsewhere onboard with a different theme nightly. "Festa Italiana," an Italian street festival at sea, features bocce ball, Italian karaoke, and Tarantella dance lessons.

On "Serate Tropicale," activities take place on an outside deck with a tropical flare and a Mediterranean twist. Cultural dancing is capped by a huge midnight buffet alfresco.

"Notte Mediterranea" was a unique experience to say the least. Passengers visit Spain, France, Greece and Turkey…without ever leaving the ship, of course. Lounges are decorated to reflect a particular country's history and culture, offering a variety of games and activities. The "visit" to Turkey was my first—and last—attempt at belly dancing!

Toga! Toga! Toga!

My favorite night was the last night of the cruise, when, in true Italian style, the popular "Roman Bacchanal" is featured -- an authentic toga party at sea (remember the film Animal House?). Cabin stewards pass out extra-long bed sheets, and it's up to the passengers to use their imagination to fashion and decorate their "toga." The highlight of the evening is the passenger talent show, where the audience decides who wins or loses, with the losers being fed to the lion—a cruise staffer dressed in a furry lion's costume, which was hilarious. Truly this was the perfect way to celebrate the end of a week "Cruising Italian Style."

Other features of the ship: three swimming pools, one covered by a retractable magrodome; a fully-contained spa at sea with Technogym® fitness equipment and jogging track; five lounges and bars; an Internet Café (50 cents per minute); library; card room; the "Costa Kids Club," featuring daily activities to entertain children; the two-level Dante's Disco that kept us dancing until dawn; a full—and busy—casino; and for the shopaholics, the "Via Della Spiga" shops, offering duty-free Italian designer goods.

Pasta Plus

Tiziano Restaurant
The two-level Tiziano Restaurant is the main dining venue, while the Boticelli Buffet & Napoli Pizzeria with its floor to ceiling windows offers breakfast, lunch, and dining buffets. The 158-seat, reservations-only Restorante Club Atlantica is the fine dining alternative and has a $20 service charge plus a $3 gratuity, but the "Tuscan Steakhouse" a la carte menu is well worth it. Tip: Dine early, as the balcony above becomes a designated cigar smoking area at 10 p.m. and the room quickly clouds with smoke.

Designed to accommodate 2,680 passengers, the Costa Atlantica has 1,057 staterooms including 58 suites. Of the total accommodations, 78 percent offer ocean views while 678 have verandas and 68 offer French balconies. The smallest inside cabins measure 160 sq. ft.; ocean-view with verandas are 210 sq. ft., and suites measure 360 sq. ft. There are four handicapped-accessible cabins. Most have twin beds which convert to queen and all staterooms have televisions, direct-dial phones, hair dryer, safe deposit box and mini-bar. Rates fluctuate by itinerary and season.

The Costa Atlantica departs Fort Lauderdale April 10, 2005 for Savona, Italy to begin its summer season of "Cruising Italian Style" in Europe.

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