For winter 2008/09, Costa Victoria and Costa Classica will be sailing seven-night cruises from Dubai around the Gulf, calling at Oman, Fujairah (one of the United Arab Emirates), Abu Dhabi and Bahrain.
That's the same itinerary and same number of ships as last winter -- but with about 200 more cabins a week. More to the point, Costa Victoria has balconies -- only 242, but it is a much-needed addition, according to U.K. managing director Marco Rosa.
"Having ships with no balconies has always been a handicap in this area," he said. Rosa added that about 28 percent of bookings for these cruises are from the U.K. "The British recognise this region is a safe place to holiday."
Costa is also expanding in the Far East, where Costa Allegra, based in Singapore, is being joined by Costa Classica, which will be sailing mini-cruises from Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tianjin in China. These short cruises have been designed for the local market, while the longer sailings from Singapore attract more international cruisers, some 45 percent of them from the U.K.
The Quebec-based cruises will be on the 2,112-passenger Costa Atlantica. There are two cruises between Quebec and New York in October 2009, ending with a repositioning cruise from Quebec to Ft. Lauderdale that calls at New York and overnights in Bermuda.
The fact that Costa isn't launching any ships this year seemed somewhat of a relief to Rosa, especially in view of all the new tonnage that is coming out. But it's only a temporary breathing space as two Costa vessels come out of the shipyard next year so close together that the cruise line is holding a dual christening in Genoa, Italy, in June 2009.
The 2,828-passenger Costa Luminosa will be on its maiden voyage for the naming ceremony -- passengers can attend at no extra cost -- alongside the 3,780-passenger Costa Pacifica, a sister to Costa Concordia and Serena, which launched in 2006 and 2007 respectively.
Both ships are being designed by Joe Farcus, the man behind Carnival Cruise Lines' wacky interiors.
Luminosa, meaning light, promises shades and colours that will transport you into a fantasyland -- which sounds about the norm for Farcus designs -- while Pacifica will be music-themed, with music symbols and instruments in the atrium and music throughout the ship.
Both ships will have Costa's by-now-trademark Samsara Spa, Grand Prix racing car simulator and big poolside movie screens. Luminosa will also have a 4D cinema and roller-skating track.
With these two launched, there are still another three ships to come from the Costa stable by 2012, which will give the line 17 ships and 50 percent more cabins to sell by that same date.
Interestingly, although Costa wants to get more Brits onboard -- at the moment they account for less than 5 percent of Costa's total passengers, which hit one million last year and is expected to reach 1.5 million by 2010 -- they won't be following arch-rival MSC Cruises and launching cruises from the U.K.
He said: "P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises and now Carnival are sailing from the U.K. and they are part of the family so we don't want to compete with them. Anyway, this is a very different product. Costa is international. It is for people who want an international cruise, away from other British passengers."
--by Jane Archer, Cruise Critic contributor