All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2015 unless otherwise noted.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Two days in Naples would be a perfect prelude to boarding Costa Cruises’ newest, biggest ship, the 132,500-gt, 3,724-passenger COSTA DIADEMA, for a short cruise to Barcelona via Corsica, Savona and Marseilles. After our exhausting red-eye flights, it was tempting to succumb to the insistent pangs of sleep but far wiser and more rewarding to spend the damp and drizzly afternoon exploring.
Italy’s third largest city and with a population of nearly 1,000,000, Naples is the capital of the Campania region. Although it has its share of dicey urban areas, it boasts some stunning architecture and a setting framed by the ominous slopes of Mt. Vesuvius and the turquoise waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. On a clear day, there are distant snow-capped mountains, the jagged Sorrentine Peninsula (with Sorrento flanking one side and Amalfi on the other) and the rocky islands of Capri and Ischia. Despite its allure, visitors tend to bypass the sprawling city in favor of the Roman archaeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum or tours of its renowned vineyards.
From the Romeo Hotel, which is on the waterfront directly across from Stazionne Marittima, it was a short walk through the historic center to the utterly magnificent, glass-domed Galleria Umberto, which was built between 1867 and 1891. Steps away, we partook of one of Naples’ specialties: a pizza margherita topped with the green basil, white mozzarella and red marinara of the Italian tricolor.
Although the weather deteriorated somewhat, we continued through the Piazza del Plebiscito and beyond the harbor breakwater past the imposing pastel facades of some of Naples’ finest hotels, and along the seaside promenade to the Castel dell’Ovo, which was originally built by the Romans in the first century BC and rebuilt several times over the ensuing millennia.
From the ramparts of the Castel, we enjoyed fantastic views of the Gulf before slowly heading back to our hotel via Stazionne Marittima, where the recently rebuilt COSTA NEOROMANTICA beckoned.
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
My companion Rob DiStefano rented a car and drove us into the mountains north of Naples to pay a nostalgic visit to the village of Acquafondata, where his father’s family lived before emigrating to America nearly a century ago (aboard the steamer LIGURIA). He was warmly received by the mayor and members of the city council, who dusted off the old city register to look up his ancestors and led us on a short walk through the now mostly empty town.
After returning to the hotel famished, we headed off in search of more pizza. To our dismay, we learned that all trattorias and pizzerias are shuttered between 5:00 and 7:30 PM in the city center. It was akin to being stranded in a lifeboat: “Pizza, pizza everywhere and not a bite to eat!”.
Later that evening, we regrouped and navigated Naples’ narrow streets, discovering yet new facets of the historic city. Finally, our appetites were more than amply sated at Pizzeria di Matteo, where I enhanced my margherita with some breaded eggplant.
Thursday, February 26, 2015
I spent the morning looking in vain for an attachment to my tripod and finally succumbed to purchasing a second (soon to be discarded) tripod at a camera shop in the Galleria Umberto. I made it just in time to the observation deck of the Castel Nuovo (built in 1279 by Charles I of Naples — admission 6 Euros) to capture the COSTA DIADEMA’s arrival.
As the ship spun around and berthed on the inner side of the pier, I raced back to the hotel to gather my luggage and join our small press group in the lobby for the transfer to the ship.
A half hour or so after checking in, we were stepping into the vast Farcusian fantasy-land of the COSTA DIADEMA.
Miami-based, former Carnival Cruises architect Joseph Farcus is probably the most prolific and well-known of all maritime interior designers, having applied his vibrant, eye-popping decorative hand to dozens of ships since his first full commission, the transformation of Safmarine’s SA VAAL into Carnival’s FESTIVALE in 1978.
There are rumors that Mr. Farcus is retiring and that the COSTA DIADEMA will be his last sea-going commission. If that is the case, he is going out with a bang.
One thing I will say in defense of the Farcusian style is that it is both memorable and dynamic. I actually prefer it to the toned-down, slightly generic look of the last few Carnival ships. These towering mass market vessels are meant to be over-the-top-glitzy and excessively stimulating decor is a vital part of their appeal.
The DIADEMA (Italian for “crown” or “tiara”) was completed by Fincantieri’s Marghera shipyard late last year. Her profile and layout are essentially the same as Carnival’s MAGIC class, which is an evolved, enlarged version of the CARNIVAL DESTINY blueprint first realized in 1996. Like the MAGIC siblings, she has a cantilevered promenade that fully encircles the ship and a pleasingly curved superstructure topped with Costa’s distinctive yellow and blue “paint can” funnel versus Carnival’s winged fixture.
After dropping off our hand luggage in Samsara Spa Balcony Cabin 12043 on starboard Deck 12, I headed off to explore and document as much as I could before the safety drill.
With nearly all of the public spaces filled, I focused on the upper deck areas.
New to Costa are the DIADEMA’s Grand Prix simulator, Cinema 4-D (think 3-D with spray mists, vibrating seats, etc.), the Starlaser gaming room, a beer garden, a wine bar and a new array of specialty eateries.
After the sun fizzled out somewhere off Capri and Naples’ lights flickered on, we headed off to first seating dinner in the upper level of the aft-situated, double-deck Ristorante Fiorentino.
We began our multi-course meal by dipping freshly baked bread in a sea of delicious olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
By the time we indulged in our perfectly prepared, Reggiano Parmesan-drenched main course of spaghetti pomodoro, the DIADEMA was well on her way to Ajaccio…
End Of Part One. Much more to come.
Special thanks: Diana Arellano, Anne Kalosh, Rich Turnwald
Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea. With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications. Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India. He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."