Twenty-one years ago Costa Cruises set out to update and expand their then aging fleet which consisted largely of liners converted to cruising. The first ship to be completed toward this effort was the 25,558 gross ton COSTA MARINA, which itself was a total transformation of the former containership AXEL JOHNSON, that had remained idle under the names REGENT SUN and ITALIA when earlier conversion plans stalled. Costa succeeded in producing a very unusual looking cruise ship, designed by the Italian architect Guido Canali, that steered clear of the rather sleek lines of other contemporary ships in favor of a rather low, sharp profile accented with portholes and somewhat stark interiors that bordered on the avant-garde. As with previous generations, Italian art and architecture were once again combined at sea. The COSTA MARINA entered service in July, 1990. The next three years would see the conversion of a near-sistership, the COSTA ALLEGRA and two brand new cruise ships, double her size, would be added to the line. It was the start of a building program that continues to this day, resulting in a 16 ship fleet by 2012.
The COSTA MARINA is now the oldest and smallest member of the Costa fleet. It will leave the company in November of this year. Carnival Corporation does not expect to be able to sell the ship at book value and will take a loss of $0.02 a share on disposal of the vessel. Taking her place is the similar sized but much newer, 24,391 ton, 590 foot long COSTA VOYAGER (ex OLYMPIC VOYAGER, OLYMPIA VOYAGER, VOYAGER, GRAND VOYAGER) newly built in 2000 to carry 804 passengers. The ship comes from sister company Ibero Cruceros and is intended for service in the Red Sea. The ship is described in publicity materials as “human sized” and should make a very attractive addition to the company. This vessel was the first new ship to be built for the now defunct Royal Olympic Cruises and in addition to her attractive interior design is notable as being one of the fastest ships in the world, capable of traveling at up to 27 knots.
One of the finest looking ships in the fleet, the COSTA ROMANTICA was built in 1993 when the company was still run by the Costa family. Carnival Corporation & PLC acquired the company in 2000. Since then, all new ships have been based on the same platform as vessels within the parent Carnival Cruise Lines fleet. The COSTA ROMANTICA was designed by Pierluigi Cerri and Ivana Porfiri of Gregotti Associati. The interiors of this ship were simply striking, especially the elegant Grand Bar Lounge. While her older sister COSTA CLASSICA was decorated in predominately red tones, the COSTA ROMANTICA was arguably the warmer of the pair with soothing interiors trending toward blues and greens. The same was true with the two converted vessels, the COSTA ALLEGRA being warmer with more wood trim touches than the earlier COSTA MARINA. One major competitive disadvantage for these four ships was their lack of balcony staterooms which were becoming quite popular by the mid-1990’s. Beginning this month the COSTA ROMANTICA will get the Carnival treatment of tacking on decks and balconies to add revenue. The ship entered dry dock at the San Giorgio shipyard in Genoa for a $124 million conversion that will add 111 new cabins and convert existing outside rooms midship to balcony staterooms, adding about 3,000 gross tons and upping the passenger count to a maximum of 1,808. The Swedish firm Tillberg Design will oversee the design changes to the already magnificent interior. New public areas will include a show lounge bar with dance floor, a cabaret, wine bar, coffee bar and a new nightclub. The 360 degree circular observation lounge/discotheque will be lost to three tiered decks of suites and balcony staterooms, somewhat resembling the design of the NORWEGIAN EPIC, introduced in 2010. The ship will emerge in February, 2012, looking a bit top-heavy forward, with a new gross tonnage in excess of 56,000 tons. Along with the radical changes to her exterior and interior design will come a new name, the COSTA NEOROMANTICA.
In 2012 Costa will add their 16th ship to the fleet with the addition of the 114,147 gross ton COSTA FASCINOSA, carrying 3,016 passengers. In addition the line recently ordered what will become the largest Italian passenger ship in history. That 132,500 gross ton vessel is still unnamed but when delivered will carry 3,708 passengers. Like the earlier ships ordered by Carnival, it will be constructed at Italy’s Fincantieri shipyard for delivery in October, 2014. In all probability it will be of a design very similar to the upcoming CARNIVAL BREEZE due to arrive in June, 2012.
Changes and additions at a glance:
COSTA MARINA Built:1969 Gross tonnage: 25,558 tons Dimensions: 572’ x 85’ Passengers: 776. Former Names: AXEL JOHNSON, REGENT SUN, ITALIA. Note: Originally built as a container ship for the Johnson Line, the ship operated in cargo trades until 1985 when the vessel was sold with the intention of converting her into a passenger ship for Regency Cruises. That company’s plans fell through but the ship was eventually completed as the first of two such conversions for Costa Cruises in 1990. It will leave the Costa fleet in November, 2011.
COSTA NEOROMANTICA Built: 1993 Gross tonnage 56,049 tons Dimensions: 724’ x 102’ Passengers: 1,578 double occupancy. Former Name: COSTA ROMANTICA. Note: Radically redesigned from Oct. 2011 to Feb. 2012.
COSTA VOYAGER Built: 2000 Gross tonnage: 24,391 tons Dimensions: 590’ x 84’ Passengers 804. Former Names: OLYMPIC VOYAGER, OLYMPIA VOYAGER, VOYAGER, GRAND VOYAGER. Note: Built for Royal Olympic Cruises, joining the Costa fleet in 2011 replacing the COSTA MARINA.
COSTA FASCINOSA Built: 2012 Gross tonnage: 114,147 tons Dimensions: 952’ x 116’ Passengers: 3,016.
Shawn J. Dake, freelance travel writer and regular contributor to MaritimeMatters, worked in tourism and cruise industry for over 35 years. A native of Southern California, his first job was as a tour guide aboard the Queen Mary. A frequent lecturer on ship-related topics he has appeared on TV programs. Owner of Oceans Away Cruises & Travel agency, he served as President of the local Chapter of Steamship Historical Society of America. With a love of the sea, he is a veteran of 115 cruises.