This coming weekend will mark the 65th anniversary of Costa’s inaugural passenger voyage. The line has come a long way since that low key debut with the diminutive Anna C. After years of operating converted, second hand tonnage on liner voyages from Italy to South America, Costa embraced cruising in the early 1970’s.
They met with immediate success, and continued to evolve. The line had already started to build new, much bigger ships before the take over by Micky Arison’s Carnival Corporation. But that buy out provided expansion capital and potential that Costa could never have dreamed of. And today, it is one of the biggest cruise brands anywhere.
Next year will see the line exerting a pretty near global reach. There will be deployments in South America, Scandinavia, the Far East, and the United Arab Emirates, as well as another season in the Red Sea. There will be ships in the Caribbean, as well as the ‘bread and butter’ year round deployments in the Mediterranean, Aegean, and Canaries.
New for 2014 will be overnight calls in ports such as Ibiza and Istanbul- hitherto not something that Costa has been big on. There will also be another epic, 114 day world circling cruise with a fabulous, globe spanning itinerary.
2014 will also see the November launch of the 132,000 ton Costa Diadema, one of the largest single passenger ships ever built for any Italian line. Like many Costa new builds, she will emerge from the legendary Marghera yard, near Venice. The new flagship will operate on seven night ‘Meddy-Go-Round’ cruises from the company’s home port of Savona.
So, at 65 it seems like full steam ahead for the quasi-Italian juggernaut. And yet the direction is shaky, if determined. The catastrophic loss of the Costa Concordia hit the line very hard, indeed. Coupled with the near collapse of the southern European economy, the result has been a massive fall off in earnings from ticket sales.
The Costa ships are still going out full; but with vastly reduced on board fares that must give the company accountants real nightmares. They continue to hope that aggressive on board spending pushes- whether for shore excursions, casino profits or drinks packages- can alleviate the shortfall. As things stand, this looks unlikely.
I spent a week on the Costa Favolosa last summer out of Venice. It was a great week on a comfortable, luxurious ship, brimming with good things. The whole idea of dolce vita afloat on the ocean was, though, a veneer at best. In so many ways, this new generation of Costa colossi is essentially very similar to their Carnival cousins across the Atlantic.
That should surprise no-one. Almost every Costa new build since 2001 has been on the same hull design as Carnival’s original, barn storming Carnival Destiny. Now, by one of those quirky coincidences of fate, that self same ship is undergoing a massive, multi million dollar renovation in an Italian shipyard.
Those kindred Costa ships have the same stunning, whimsical interior design, as well. All of them are products of the amazing mind of Joe Farcus, Arison’s enfant terrible of interior design.
It is all a far cry from the old days of such venerable Costa alumni as the Carla C, Federico C and the truly legendary Eugenio Costa. But no line prospers by standing still, and trying to hang on to the past. And, as already stated, the evolution of Costa as a brand had started long before the Miami buy out came to pass.
Amid the uniformity of the modern line, there are also some bits of welcome individual style. The recent, massive renovation of the pre- Arison Costa NeoRomantica resulted in a ship of fine European style and decor that looks light years different to the interiors of her bigger fleet mates. And, in a move missed by many, the line acquired the petite, 28,000 ton Costa Voyager. Vastly smaller and much more intimate, she spends winter in the Red Sea, where her size and choice of itineraries make her one of the very best buys on sale.
Prices in Europe remain low. With the Mediterranean market still depressed, and about to be flooded with a string of seasonal mega ships, there is no question that Costa- like everyone else- will be looking to cut corners and improve yield where possible. Sometimes, this goes too far. On my Favolosa cruise, the drinks napkins were a complete waste of time, far too small, and completely self defeating.
2013 will be tough for all the cruise lines in Europe, but I expect Costa to plow through this season, and start to see a favourable shift in fortunes next year. Meanwhile, there are bargains galore to be had for the travelling public out there, And, like their Carnival siblings, the standard cabins on the big Costa ships are among the most comfortable and spacious in the industry.
At age sixty-five, it would be truly remiss not to make an effort, and raise a glass of prosecco to a cruise line that has truly become one of the most well known and venerable brands across all the continents. I wish the company better times, and brighter days to come. Costa-salute!