While cruise ships do visit Dubai as a port of call, Costa's decision to deploy Costa Classica there for a full season last winter was a first in modern-day cruising. This year, Costa Romantica and Costa Europa are sailing a total of 25 cruises (15 and 10 respectively) from Dubai throughout the winter season. Both ships will operate the same seven-night itinerary Costa Classica did last winter, calling at Muscat (Oman), Fujairah and Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), and Bahrain.
Meanwhile, Costa Marina began sailing 14-day Indian Ocean cruises from Mauritius -- an island nation off the coast of Africa in the southwest Indian Ocean -- on December 21, marking that port's debut as an international cruise destination. Costa Marina will set sail from Mauritius every Saturday on six sailings. The ship overnights in Mauritius' Port Louis before departing; ports of call include the Seychelle's Mahe (two days), Kenya's Mombassa, Mayotte in the Comoro Islands, Madagascar's Nosy Be and Tamatave, and St. Denis on Reunion Island.
Mauritius is known for its spectacular beaches and fishing, and boasts a culturally diverse population made up of Hindus, Creole, Chinese, Muslims and Europeans. Costa's shore excursions include highlights further ashore, including the Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens (the oldest botanical gardens in the southern hemisphere). Passengers can also take safaris in Kenya, dolphin-watch in Mayotte, or daytrip to Madagascar's Parc Ivolo to see lemurs and other wildlife.
Costa expects that the majority of the passengers on the Mauritius-based sailings will be European, though guests will also come from North America and Asia -- where Costa set up shop (with offices in Shanghai and Hong Kong) in 2006.
--by Melissa Baldwin, Managing Editor