Glitz, glass and colorful neon lights reminiscent of Miami's South Beach -- there's never a dull wall or unadorned ceiling aboard the 3,724-passenger Costa Diadema. If a space isn't pulsing with lights, it's decorated with ceramic or glass tile murals or eye-catching artwork. Even the cabin corridors sport colorful art from floor to ceiling. It's exactly what you would expect of Joe Farcus, renowned designer of many flamboyant ships for the Carnival Corporation.
It's also what you would expect from Costa Cruises' newest, largest and most innovative ship, one dubbed "Regina del Mediterraneo" -- Queen of the Mediterranean. The name Diadema means tiara, and there's more than enough razzle-dazzle onboard to call this Costa's crowning glory, at least for now. For starters, there's an art collection of more than 7,000 works, most falling under a royal motif, as in jewels, gowns or pop princesses. As we said, there's never a dull space. Even so, those familiar with Farcus' previous designs will find Costa Diadema less brash and more, shall we say, regal.
The theme of the ship is showcasing the best of Italy from pizza, pasta, Prosecco and gelato to dazzling entertainment and fashionable decor. Celebrating la dolce vita means such new features for Costa as the 1,640-foot open-air Promenade, considered to be akin to a real Italian seaside terrazzo (terrace). The 16-foot-wide promenade surrounds the ship from front to back on Deck 5. Not only can you stroll completely around the ship, you can stop to relax in one of six outside cabanas linked to various restaurants and bars, and even take a dip in the two whirlpool tubs extending out from the ship's sides.
Also new and novel to Costa are splashy, innovative food and drink venues such as Tavola Teppanyaki. While knife-tossing chefs may be the standard of teppanyaki restaurants on land, spatulas make better juggling material at sea. You can sample hard-to-find Italian wines in the new wine bar, or taste a flight of Italian (and German) beers in the two-level beer garden. Fancy a night of country or rock music? Give the new Country Rock Club a spin.
This is a party ship that comes alive from cocktail hour well into the wee hours. Italians (the majority of the passengers) and their fellow Europeans know how to live it up, including families with small children who go everywhere at all hours. Either you love being immersed in the European lifestyle onboard, or you're pining for familiar American ways of doing things, including dining. In any case, we wonder how the Europeans all manage to stay up so late and still head off on morning shore excursions on the port-heavy itineraries.
Speaking of weeklong Mediterranean itineraries, cruisers have the option of embarking and disembarking at nearly every port of call. In other words, several hundred (or thousand) cruisers board and leave the ship on any given day. We overheard one Canadian passenger describe it as a floating hop-on, hop-off tour. The good news is you can choose the air gateway (or train station for Europeans) that's most convenient for you. And, there's less crowding in each on/off port. The bad news is there's a lifeboat drill almost daily, accompanied by shipwide announcements in multiple languages, and there's little first-day sailaway fanfare. Other traditional cruise activities may be out of sync. The captain's welcome, for example, could happen on the last day of your trip, rather than the usual second night out.
Smoking, which can be an issue for North Americans when there's a large European passenger base, is allowed indoors only in the Cigar Lounge. Outdoors is another story. Smoking is OK in deck areas where there are ashtrays, and while it's not allowed in cabins, you (or your neighbor) can smoke on the balcony.
As the ship sails in the Mediterranean, Europeans make up the majority of cruisers, primarily Italians followed by Germans, French, Spanish and Brits. North Americans are conspicuously in the minority. Among the Italian crowd, many are families with small children. The age range, therefore, is wide, especially during school holidays. Announcements are given in at least five languages -- Italian, Spanish, French, German and English -- and sometimes Portuguese and Chinese, as well. Fortunately, announcements are few and far between.
The ship has no set evening dress code, only suggestions posted in the daily program. These are casual (no shorts), informal (jackets for men) or formal/gala which means cocktail dresses for women and jackets and ties for men. Tuxes are not needed. Most nights are casual. The late-night White Night deck party is the time to wear an all-white outfit. During the day, passengers are asked not to wear swimsuits at the buffet. Beyond that, anything goes. However, European adults tend to dress less casually than Americans.
The onboard currency is the euro. A mandatory service charge or gratuity is automatically added to your shipboard account. It's 8.50 euros per day, per adult; 4.25 euros for kids ages 4 to 14; free for children under 4. The amount will increase in 2016 to 9 euros per day, per adult, and 4.50 euros for kids 4 to 14. A tip of 15 percent is added to bar bills. At the Samsara Spa, your tip is included in the treatment price.