‘Razzle dazzle ’em’. The words of the show-stopping song drift through my brain as I explore Costa Serena, Costa Cruises’ jazzy new flagship. At 114,000 tons and carrying up to 3,780 passengers, she is sister to Costa Concordia launched just a year ago.
The check-in at Costa’s bright and light Palacrociere terminal at Savona had been remarkably smooth, with promises that our luggage would quickly arrive in our cabin (it did) and, after a stony-faced stare from Security, we stepped on board – and entered another world.
It took a moment to adjust to the light, or rather darkness punctuated by a variety of neon and coloured lights, and take in the scene of the big and busy lobby that would not have looked amiss in a Las Vegas hotel.
Costa Serena is called ‘The Ship of the Gods’, the theme of its interior design and decor inspired by classical mythology, interpreted by Joe Farcus, Carnival’s favourite architect. Throughout the ship, gods, goddesses and demi-gods of Ancient Greece and Rome appear in every form. The decks are named after signs of the zodiac and constellations of stars.
Sailing upwards in the glass-fronted lifts, we pass by 16 ‘sculpture costumes’ suspended among white clouds on the wall of the towering, nine deck-high atrium known as the Pantheon. The work of set designer Alberto Nodolino, we’re told they represent divinities in the style of 17th-century baroque theatre.
We find our double-bedded cabin with balcony on Perseus (deck 8). While not huge, it is extremely comfortable and, with its plain cream walls, quite restful on the eye. The wood furnishings are well made, the wardrobes perfectly adequate for a week or two’s summer cruising.
The room light, rather strangely positioned in the large wall mirror, glares into the eyes of anyone over 5ft 7in. The bathroom sparkles, but is disappointingly devoid of goodies. Surely better for the environment, but there’s not much luxury about wall-mounted containers of liquid soap and perfunctory hair and body wash in the shower.
I like the splashes of colour that enliven but don’t dominate the room – the candyfloss pink ceiling trim and the soft burnt orange upholstery of the sofa, which converts into a third bed and is decorated with big plump cushions striped in orange, peach, turquoise and olive green.
There are also all the things you expect to find in a good hotel room – interactive satellite TV with movies on demand, mini-bar, safe, hairdryer, plus 24-hour room service. The balcony is narrow, just wide enough to place a chair, but definitely worth having for the extra sense of space it imparts.
The attention to detail in the public rooms is extraordinary, though. More than 30 artists and sculptors have been employed to produce the works of art that all, in one way or another, reflect the mythology theme. There are so many of them – 5,990 we learn – the effect becomes overwhelming.
The massive head of a curly-bearded god covers the doors of all the lifts and figures emerge from mythical tales of wanderings and war. Every inch of space is used on walls, hallways, stairs, lobbies, even the outdoor pools (of which there are four, two with retractable roofs), to tell a story.
From floor to ceiling to tabletop, every surface is patterned. Swathes of carpeting play games with the eyes. Thankfully the sea is calm on our cruise. I’m not sure I could cope with so much visual stimulation in rough weather!
The lighting, too, is ever changing. The glass front of the bar in the Atrium that had been icy blue when I first noticed it, was glowing green and then pink when I walked past again. In the Grand Bar Apollo, and throughout the main lounge, I watched the ceiling lighting slip seamlessly through emerald green, shocking pink, sapphire, gold and purple, which it appeared to do constantly, day and night.
HIGH PROFILE COSTA
Costa Cruises’ recent history is one of non-stop growth, in just about every area. Here’s how they got bigger and bigger in 2007 – and beyond:
April 24, 2007 – Costa Cruises’ Palacruceros cruise terminal opens in Barcelona. During the year, Costa ships will dock at Barcelona 126 times and bring 330,000 passengers to the port.
May 19 – Costa Serena, the largest Italian and European cruise ship, is christened in Marseilles with a spectacular inaugural son et lumi�re show. It also has a ‘virtual’ launch online to the Second Life community.
July 19 – Costa announces its millionth guest to have booked a cruise on board its ships in 2007, a first for the European cruise industry.
Costa announces – Costa Romantica and Europa will be based in Dubai during the winter, operating 25 sailings to Bahrain, Muscat, Abu Dhabi and Fujairah (with a new Costa Cruises office in Dubai); Costa Marina will have six 14-day Indian Ocean cruise departures from Mauritius, making Costa the first company to market scheduled Indian Ocean cruises to Mauritius and the Seychelles; for the first time, three ships will be deployed in South America, Costa Magica, Victoria and Classica; Costa Allegra, positioned in Hong Kong, introduces Japan to extend its Far East programme in 2008.
Future news – Two new ships will be delivered in spring 2009, Costa Luminosa (92,700 tons with 1130 cabins) and Costa Pacifica (114,500 tons, 3,780 passengers) a sister for Serena. Another ship is due in 2010, by which time the Costa fleet will number 15 vessels with a capacity of 30,800 passengers.
There are 13 bars, each with its own theme. The Bar Classico Ercole, a small and cosy cigar bar that’s a refuge for smokers, has an elegant Art Deco feel, with big leather chairs around a fireplace, while a scattering of football-shaped seats brings a touch of fun to the light and silvery Victoria Sports Bar, where multi-screens play out international sporting events. Good musicians play in the Piano Bar Minerva.
Ceres and Vesta are the two main restaurants, both with balconies tiered over two decks and equally elegant, with circular and rectangular tables seating four and six. There are two sittings for dinner, at 7 and 9.15pm. The attentive white-jacketed waiters are overseen by traditional Italian Maitre D’s and, while the menu is international, we found the Italian dishes to be unfailingly star options.
Lunch at the Prometeo buffet restaurant up on deck 9 was also Italian in style. We used this restaurant for breakfast and sat at tables around the Lido Urano pool that has a big outdoor cinema screen above it. Plenty of serving stations kept the queues to a minimum.
Situated on Virgo (deck 11), Club Bacco is the � la carte restaurant, utilising Michelin-starred Italian chef Ettore Bocchia’s innovative culinary ideas, including his famous ‘molecular cuisine.’ But it isn’t cheap – a tasting menu of two courses and one dessert costs 20 euros; appetisers, soup and pastas range from 8-10 euros, main courses 9-12 euros, and desserts 6-12 euros.
The Oriental-themed Samsara Restaurant, for guests who have booked Samsara Spa packages, is lovely. Exquisite Japanese kimonos in glass cases decorate the walls, the atmosphere is calm and its set menu with a choice of two main courses is light and delicious.
The Samsara Spa, extending over two decks at the bow of the ship and surrounded by sea views, is billed as one of the largest floating spas ever built. Spa addicts can book one of the 87 Samsara cabins or 12 suites with direct access to the spa area and a package of included treatments, together with a reserved table in the Samsara restaurant.
Other passengers can buy a Spa day pass for 30 euros to use the thalassotherapy pool, rock sauna, Turkish bath and tepidarium. The Spa also boasts a state-of-the-art gym and the Venus beauty salon.
The decor is based on colourful Indian, Indonesian and Japanese influences and many of the treatments are Ayuvedic. Getting carried away with the treatments could seriously dent the finances, though – 50-minute facials for men and women cost 91 euros, massages are from 91-201 euros and Ayurvedic rituals from 99-124 euros.
The Vegas feeling I had when I first boarded intensified during the cruise. Perhaps it was the darkness of the rooms, the neon lights, the surreal decor. Costa Serena is not short on entertainment and the evenings buzzed, from the piano bars to the dance floors, the huge casino and virtual games room to the pulsating Pan disco with its plush red and black bar, zebra-striped carpets and tables in the shape of voluptuously lip-sticked lips.
The amphitheatre-like Teatro Giove, or Jupiter theatre, extends over three decks and the steeply-raked seats ensure a good view and clear sightlines. It can seat almost 1300 people for the shows, which range from full production numbers to cabaret, comic mime to popular singers.
Children’s needs are cared for in the Squok Club, teens have their own environment, and one of the swimming pools has a large twisty slide that looked fun.
For quieter moments, try the Art Deco-style Clio Library, or the Chapel, tucked away through an angel-painted glass door just steps from the flashing lights of the casino. It has modern icons painted in gold niches, Murano glass chandeliers and a pink marble altar. It really does feel peaceful.
Shoppers will find designer names, perfume and skin care products, jewellery, clothing, handbags and scarves in the arcade of shops that promise prices 20 per cent below those on land. The %10.99 shop has a few bargains, and there are daily ‘specials’.
Sometimes big ships can feel impersonal, but we found the cabin stewards, bar and restaurant staff – predominantly Filipino, Indonesian and Indian – so charming, friendly and helpful that we awarded them the stars of ‘the ship of the gods’.
FACTFILE: COSTA SERENA
Speed: 23.2 knots
Passenger decks: 13
Passenger capacity: 3,780
Itineraries: spring, summer and autumn, 7-night cruises from Venice to Bari, Katakolon, Izmir, Istanbul and Dubrovnik; winter, 11-night cruises from Savona to Spain, Morocco, Madeira and the Canaries.
More info: in the UK, call 020 7940 4499 or visit www.costacruises.co.uk