Costa Luminosa, a twin to Costa Deliziosa, is a warm, whimsical ship with a simple layout that's easy to navigate. The ship, which debuted in May 2009, represents a "retro-style evolution" for Costa. What do we mean by that? The Italy-based and European-influenced cruise line, like many other major cruise companies, has been on a ship-building binge that produced mega-sized models like Costa Pacifica and Costa Serena, representing the biggest-ever in its fleet. But, Luminosa -- and Deliziosa, too -- are built on a new, smaller design for the line.
The sister ships are actually built to Panamax specifications, which means they're not only smaller than their new fleetmates, but they're also more flexible. Since Luminosa can slide through the Panama Canal, it has more itinerary possibilities, and, indeed, Costa has it visiting exotic destinations like the Middle East in winter and Northern Europe (including Norway, Iceland and Greenland) in the summer.
The balance of exotic itineraries and a slightly smaller size illustrates Costa's desire to orient this pair of ships to the line's higher-spending clientele. It's also meant to appeal to new-to-cruise travelers who want to visit unique destinations on manageable ships -- albeit ones that still offer all the features and amenities -- from vast spas and kids clubs to Formula One simulators and an extensive variety of entertainment options -- of Costa's larger ships.
While Costa may be well known to European travelers, the line has only recently begun expanding awareness about its style of cruising to other markets, including North America. For the uninitiated, the most important thing to know about Costa is that the line, part of the Carnival Corporation, most resembles Carnival Cruise Lines in its design. (Its jazzy interiors are created by Joe Farcus, who's Carnival's longtime decorator.) Its ship layouts are also similar. (Costa ships, by and large, follow the same architectural patterns, so a favorite lounge or dining room on a new Carnival ship will likely be in the same place on a Costa vessel.) Interestingly, there's a little bit of Holland America (also a part of Carnival Corp.) on Luminosa; the layout has some unique HAL touches, such as a similar main-pool design.
Those who've cruised on the American-oriented Carnival and Holland America and are intrigued to combine a sense of familiarity with a bit of the exotic will find that Costa offers a refreshing option.
Luminosa has the range of stateroom sizes and styles you'd expect on a big ship. Of 1,130 cabins, 662 come with verandahs, and 106 are suites.
The most gorgeous suite, if you're in the mood for a splurge, is the Panorama. Located aft and measuring 320 square feet, its best feature is its wraparound balcony with chaise and dining table, but there's plenty to like inside, as well. The suite is about the width of two standard cabins, so it feels spacious. It includes a vanity, desk, queen bed that converts to twins, seating area and lovely bathroom with Jacuzzi tub and two sinks. Suite-dwellers have access to lots of perks, from concierge service to priority embarkation.
The available mini-suites are also nice. At close to 200 square feet, they're nearly double the size of standard balcony cabins and have upgraded furnishings.
Standard cabins, from insides to those with private verandahs, are reasonably roomy. Each has a private bath (shower-only, minimal toiletries), a queen bed that converts to twins, a sofa (some fold out to create additional sleeping areas), a desk/vanity and a flat-screen television.
Those with balconies have two chairs and a small table.
Costa was a pathfinder when it began offering a destination spa onboard through the creation of a "neighborhood" of cabins, situated around the spa area; these specially directed suites and cabins are meant for travelers who want to focus on health and wellness while cruising. The collection of staterooms on Deck 8 includes perks like private access to the spa, via a glass elevator, and really gorgeous maroon-colored, Asian-inspired hallways. The cabins themselves are the same size as standards but have different decor and some extra toys, such as scented diffusers and kettles for tea.
Costa's main dining is called the Taurus Restaurant; it's a beautiful, two-deck-high venue that's tucked into the aft of the ship. It features gorgeous views from the wall of windows along the back. But, one of the best things about the dining room layout is the way that the large room is designed into smaller, cozier areas, each with different ambiences.
Taurus is open for breakfast and lunch on an open-seating basis and for dinner with a set-seating, set-time scenario. Breakfast is excellent; there's a vast buffet area with meats and cheeses, delicious pastries, cereal and yogurt; you can complement that by ordering off the menu. (The eggs Benedict was prepared perfectly.)
Lunch is lovely, too -- a low-key alternative to the busier buffet. The menu offers a handful of selections for appetizers, salads, entrees and desserts.
Dinner is the big event onboard, and preparation of dishes is definitely ambitious -- a sort of contemporary melange of European cuisines with Italian definitely standing out.
The ship's buffet restaurant, Ristorante Buffet Andromeda, is open for breakfast, lunch and tea (or a late afternoon snack). It offers a range of stations that feature European favorites and North American ones, too. There's a pizza counter, which, disappointingly, offered a more American version of the staple than an Italian one. (Think thick, heavy crust.) At night, a small portion of this eatery is transformed into a pizzeria, and the personal pizzas are superb -- a vast improvement over the daytime offerings. There is no additional charge for pizza.
One nice spot for breakfast or lunch is the main pool, Lido Dorado. There are small buffet stations out there and lots of tables. The pool has a magrodome, a glass roof that can be closed in bad weather and opened to the elements on sunny days.
The Luminosa Club Restaurant, located in a scenic spot on Deck 10, is the ship's boutique restaurant. A meal there might just rank in the top-five of all time! The Club concept throughout Costa's fleet is overseen by Ettore Bocchia, a Michelin-star chef at the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni in northern Italy. His menus are described as "avant garde," and a few of the items did strike me as pretentious. But, most of the menu is a perfect blend of adventurous and simply delicious. On our visit, the starters were actually a disappointment; the crispy scampi was tasty, but its portioning was stingy, and the experimental "cooked eggs at 65 degrees with a dollop of caviar" was tasteless. But, the rest of the meal was superb, with entrees like a gorgeous Maccheroni pasta with veal sweetbread ragout and mains that included filet of sea bass and filet of veal. There's a cover charge of 20 euros to dine there.
The Samsara Restaurant is the ship's spa eatery and is primarily meant to serve residents of its spa neighborhood, though others may dine there, for a 20 euro cover charge, if space is available. It's open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
One don't-miss spot (always crowded) is the ship's decadent Caffeteria Sugar, a chocolate bar, serving both sweets and sweet drinks.
Grand Old Favorites
Costa has always done an exceptional job with evening entertainment, and each night, there was a head-spinning array of choices, from musical productions to fantastic vocalists. I loved that the piano bar was an enclosed spot with its own bar and lots of room, and the two-deck Altari Disco was the ship's primo late-night destination.
The Samsara Spa, already a strength on Costa's newer ships, just keeps getting better. It's a playground for the holistic-minded, with a thalassotherapy pool, an array of aromatic steam rooms, all sorts of spa services (from massage to acupuncture), a row of sunbeds and an Asian-inspired retreat where you're served tea after treatments.
New & Nifty
Like many other contemporary cruise lines, Costa aims to please kids and recreationally restless travelers, and on Luminosa, we love the ship's collection of fun-oriented offerings. While not exactly new (but most certainly nifty), the golf simulator is highly sophisticated and offers 37 different courses to virtually play. Also a reasonably new Costa staple is its Formula One driving simulator, which gives you the chance to simultaneously thrill and scare yourself at rapid speed. (The competitive among us will, no doubt, skip the first three levels of difficulty -- test, rookie and professional modes -- and move right onto championship challenges.)
PlayStation World is an elaborate program that includes video gaming on demand in your cabin (and in the kids' Squok and Teen Clubs) and "PlayStation Nights," which are held on the huge poolside screens. (You can also buy PlayStation products onboard to take home.) My favorite of all the recreational possibilities is the Skorpion Quadline Roller Skate option, found outdoors on one of the top decks. The skates are elaborately designed with a funky and very retro look. The onboard skating is harder than you imagine (and, indeed, tougher than the skating tracks on ships like those in Royal Caribbean's Voyager class because the skates themselves are both more sophisticated and more challenging).
Another pretty new addition to the ship is a scattering of "totems"; these are self-service areas where you can check your onboard account, make restaurant reservations, learn about the crew, figure out what's in the daily program and book spa treatments. One afternoon, experimenting with a totem, I learned that the ship's alternative restaurant actually had open tables for that evening, and I quickly booked a reservation.
Despite its more upscale leanings, this is an outstanding ship for families -- with some qualifications. The Squok Club and the TeenZone, not to mention outdoor pools and recreational facilities, are well-designed and well-executed, and the kids on our voyage clearly were engaged. However, this ship is designed for Europeans, so clubs are less elaborate than on North American ships because European kids and parents tend to do a lot of activities together onboard.
I love the idea of the Samsara Spa -- the facilities are definitely superior to nearly all others on cruise ships -- but the design oddly requires spagoers to lock and unlock doors to get to different parts of the spa.
Another jarring spa detail is the decor in the spa cabins. These staterooms are attractive, but the colors are way too jazzy for the serene vibe they're meant to convey.
And, if Luminosa, like its sister Deliziosa, is meant to represent a more upscale vibe for Costa, I'd love to see the line get rid of the neon signage in public spaces that simply screams "mass market."
I'm not convinced that travelers wanting a European ambience onboard will find Costa Luminosa (or Costa Deliziosa) notably more upscale and sophisticated than the ships in the fleet's Concordia class. (In fact, the European-influenced MSC genuinely offers a better luxe experience with its Yacht Club ship-within-a-ship concept.) Where Luminosa shines is in its size -- it's big enough to offer dining choices, a handful of pools and plenty of options in entertainment and recreation, but it's not so large that it can't pass through the Panama Canal. That means it can offer far more daring, interesting and exotic itineraries than its mega-ship counterparts.
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