Editor's note: Costa Allegra was sold for scrap in October 2012.
Costa Crociere -- the most global brand in the Carnival family of 11 cruise lines -- is not content simply on expanding in Europe with big new ships. The company embarked on a daring venture in China: an attempt to offer Asia cruises for Chinese travelers.
Though Costa clearly did its homework -- and we'll go into details shortly -- the challenges of attracting these passengers since the ship began sailing from Shanghai last year were a bit more difficult than anticipated. First, Chinese don't take long vacations. And second, few have been out of their own country, so some of Costa Allegra's itineraries, which included calls at ports in Japan and South Korea were a bit ... exotic.
For Westerners, the good news is that while Costa's still committed to attracting Chinese travelers to its Allegra cruises, it's also now marketing them worldwide. And for cruise travelers who want to visit Asian ports and also feel as if their ship reflects Asian cultures and decors, Costa Allegra's an excellent choice.
The 28,000-ton, 800-passenger ship was already considered small when it was built in the early 1990's, and as a result it offers a cozy, intimate ambience. Upon its move to Asia, the ship underwent a major $12 million refurbishment. Public rooms got a fresh new look and signage was replaced so that Chinese, along with English, was included.
Other adaptations made to appeal to Chinese passengers included dining tables set with chopsticks and cabins outfitted with mini water heaters (for tea-making). Onboard cuisine and entertainment, by and large, is tailored to Chinese tastes but, interestingly, Costa's Italian roots have been a big draw as well. That's because China loves all things Italy.
Despite many changes onboard, varying from open-seating dining to a larger emphasis on gambling, Western passengers will still be able to feel quite comfortable onboard. Crew members are sourced from China (many had been working at the country's top international hotels) and from other Costa ships (which means they'll contribute a Western dynamic). English is the official language onboard and every crew member is required, at least technically, to be capable of communicating with Western passengers.
Whether Chinese travelers will interact much with Westerners is another story -- but because, culturally, the Chinese are rather reserved they don't "overtake" public areas in the way some nationalities do.
On the shorter cruises, Costa Allegra predominantly carries Asian passengers, most of whom hail from China. The longer voyages carry more Western passengers because Asians tend not to take long trips.
On the five-night cruises there are only informal nights. Asians prefer "smart casual" dress codes over formal ones.
There is no tipping onboard, but a 15 percent gratuity is added to bar bills.
The currency onboard is U.S. dollars, and Visa, MasterCard and American Express are accepted credit cards.