COSTA ATLANTICA Operates First World Cruise From China
Shawn J. Dake
The phenomenal expansion of cruises specifically designed to target Chinese passengers reached a milestone this spring with the most ambitious voyage to date departing from a port in China. The first ever Around-The-World cruise from China left Shanghai on March 1, 2015 aboard the 85,700 gross ton COSTA ATLANTICA. The ship sailed for 86-days calling at 28 ports in 18 countries on five continents. Visiting North America, the cruise berthed in New York City for three-days beginning April 14th, called at Miami on April 19th before transiting the Panama Canal for the first time. A two-day stop was made in the Port Of Los Angeles on May 3rd and 4th prior to a midnight sailing for San Francisco arriving on May 6th. The ship then ventured across the Pacific with stops in the Hawaiian Island ports of Hilo, Kahului and Honolulu. Sailing westbound the voyage continues through the South Pacific before heading home to China.
In preparation for the World Cruise and entry into the Chinese market, the ship was given an extensive US $21.26 million (19 million Euro) refurbishment that began in January. Lasting 18-days, the work was carried out at the Huarun Dadong Dockyard in Shanghai, one of the top-ten shipyards in China. This is the first restyling project done by a Chinese Shipyard for an international cruise ship already in service. Late last year, Carnival Corporation & plc, signed a memorandum of understanding with China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC) and the Italian Fincantieri shipyards to develop the potential of building ships specifically designed for Chinese tastes and expectations. Of the nine new ships that were recently announced for the various Carnival brands, most likely at least one will be built in Europe by Fincantieri and destined for the Chinese market. It could serve as a prototype for other new vessels to be built in China within the joint venture. The restyling work on the COSTA ATLANTICA represents a significant step moving toward future Chinese cruise ship building.
All of the signage aboard the COSTA ATLANTICA is now in Chinese, English and Italian, in that order. Keeping with current preferences among the overwhelmingly Chinese passenger contingent the refurbishment work altered several interior spaces. Most notably, the spa was significantly reduced in size and 48 additional new cabins were built in its place. While not big on spas or sunbathing the Chinese do enjoy shopping and reconstruction included the expansion of duty-free stores selling high-end goods. Some underutilized public areas all the way forward were rearranged including the addition of a crew gym with jacuzzi. Real Italian pizza can still be found aboard but it is now paired with selections of noodles. The theme of the COSTA ATLANTICA is an homage to Italian cinema and arts and the original decor by designer Joe Farcus has been retained throughout the public spaces.
Costa expanded their presence in China by 74% in April, 2015 with the addition of the 3,004-passenger COSTA SERENA cruising from Shanghai. At 114,147 gross tons it is the largest Costa ship yet deployed there. The slightly smaller 102,587 gross ton, 2,718-passenger COSTA FORTUNA will move to China in 2016. Already established in the market are the 1,928-passenger COSTA VICTORIA and COSTA ATLANTICA. Costa began their ties with China in 2006 initially with the small 820-passenger COSTA ALLEGRA (ex ANNIE JOHNSON, REGENT MOON, ALEXANDRA) becoming the first western cruise line to offer voyages exclusively to the Chinese market, then building on that success with larger ships over the past nine years. Costa is the first cruise line to base three ships in China year-round. Carnival claims to currently have 2.5 million cruise days in China with their two brands of Costa and Princess Cruises compared to Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. with 1.8 million. However, China remains at the forefront of Royal Caribbean’s expansion plans. Not ready to relinquish their position in the market Royal Caribbean has announced that the new 167,800 gross tons OVATION OF THE SEAS will join her sister QUANTUM OF THE SEAS and three other ships of the line, giving them a five ship fleet sailing from four different Chinese embarkation ports seasonally by the end of 2016. Competition for passengers in the rapidly expanding Chinese market is growing fierce.
On the first world cruise from China the atmosphere aboard is serene. Among the passenger contingent, 657 are aboard for the full voyage. That amounts to less than a third of the ship’s double-occupancy capacity. Needless to say, the ship seems uncrowded. The upper level of the two-deck height restaurant is not being used for dining. Most Chinese passengers have been predisposed to cruises of five days or less and it must take a major adjustment in thinking to plan a long cruise throughout the world. This first experiment with an Around-The-World voyage will go down in the history books as another step toward China becoming one of the most dominant forces in cruising within the next few years.
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.