Saturday in the French port city of Marseille, Costa celebrated the inauguration of its newest vessel, CostaSerena, with a music, light and fireworks display rivaling any stateside 4th of July extravaganza.
Costa's known for its extravagant (and expensive) inaugurals, and its latest for Serena -- sister ship to CostaConcordia and now co-holder of the title of Europe's largest cruise ship -- was no exception. Thousands of guests aboard, including Costa executives and celebrities, as well as thousands of residents and tourists in France's largest port city, were on hand to witness the "Mediterranean Serenade."
Blending fireworks and projections of light that illuminated the night sky with explosive colors, the show was centered around Marseille's four most famous monuments (known as the city's "four wonders"): Pharo Cove and Palace, Sainte Marie Majeure Cathedral, Entrecastaux Castle and the Fort Saint-Jean. Each site was individually lit up, and the fireworks exploding overhead offered a joyful visage. CostaSerena too was ablaze with lights.
The point of such a show? If only for a night, CostaSerena became the fifth wonder of Marseilles. And, indeed, "Mediterranean Serenade" was a magnificent introduction to the ship.
The official christening ceremony, which took place earlier, was designed in a more traditional maritime fashion. Godmother Marion Cotillard (a French actress who's starred in "Big Fish," "A Good Year," and most recently as Edith Piaf in a biopic about the French singer's tragic life) possessed an actor's excellent timing (and great instincts). She successfully hacked a rope in one swipe, allowing for a Champagne bottle to smash against the ship's hull. Two cannons fired confetti into the air, and the Chorus of the Marseilles Opera burst into song.
You may be wondering why the Italian cruise giant Costa, Europe's largest cruise operator, would choose the French city of Marseille to hold its inaugural. As noted at an earlier press conference, Costa is an extremely popular cruise line with the French (some 14 percent of its passengers hail from here). So the choice to hold the celebration in Marseille was repeatedly characterized as a "thank you" to Costa's very important French clientele.
And of course Marseille itself has long been important to Costa. The city, which many North American lines bypass for glitzier South of France towns, such as Nice and Cannes, is a longtime port of call on many of the line's itineraries.
Saturday's series of events went beyond the dramatic light show and the official Champagne smash. The sunset ceremony also featured speeches from Costa Crociere Chairman and CEO Pier Luigi Foschi, blessings from religious dignitaries, and a welcome from Marseille Mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin.
CostaSerena will spend its maiden season sailing seven-night summer/fall Eastern Mediterranean cruises roundtrip from Venice, with stops in Bari, Izmir, Istanbul and Dubrovnik. The ship will then focus on 10- and 11-day fall/winter/spring cruises roundtrip from Savona to Spain, Morocco and the Canary Islands, before returning the Eastern Mediterranean next spring.
Ironically, there are no plans for Serena to call in Marseille as part of its official cruise regimen. Instead CostaFortuna will make regular Saturday calls there through summer 2007.
--by Dan Askin, Assistant Editor