Costa Couture

The Atlantica brings high art to the high seas

By: Mary-Ann Bendel

The Costa Atlantica’s warm Italian ambience surrounded me from the moment I stepped onboard. The ship was alive with color, and the crew was friendly and helpful. A good start to a Caribbean cruise, I thought to myself.

The ship’s weeklong Western Caribbean itinerary stopped in Key West, Cozumel, Ocho Rios and Grand Cayman. I’d visited those ports before, and was mostly interested in how the Italian line (part of the Carnival Corporation family) lived up to its “Cruising Italian Style” motto in the warm Caribbean waters.

The answer is, pretty well.

The first thing I did was to try to find my way around the 86,000-ton, 2,114-passenger vessel. I usually spend most of my time lost on large cruise ships, but the Atlantica is designed for people like me who need help with directions. The ship was extremely easy to maneuver because most everything is located on the second and third decks the restaurant, bars, casino, entertainment lounges and shops. It was well planned for easy access to everything, and that made the cruise all the more enjoyable.

Dining was particularly pleasant on the Atlantica. Tiziano, the main restaurant, has two sittings on two levels with a capacity of 1,220. The restaurant’s touches included tall, red taper candles on each table on formal nights. The food was consistently good (if not great) and service was excellent. The 24-hour pizzeria was always popular, and I definitely recommend the pasta station and ice cream in the ship’s Botticelli Buffet on deck nine.

“Ninety percent of the reason people come on cruises is food, food, food. American passengers like meat,” said Ann Ryan, the ship’s hotel manager.

The Atlantica has nine bars, and my favorite was the Caffe Florian. It is a replica of the world-famous, 18th-century cafe of the same name, located in St. Marks Square in Venice. The artwork in the cafe is awesome, and it had a cozy, intimate feel. Best of all, it was a totally non-smoking venue (most of the bars onboard have smoking and non-smoking sections.) The ship’s main lounge, Piazza Madame Butterfly, features a waterfall, which provided a relaxing backdrop for enjoying a drink or a cup of coffee. The Fortuna Casino, offering slots, roulette and blackjack, was bustling at all hours.

Art is everywhere on the Atlantica. Every time I turned around, I’d catch a glimpse of Carrara marble, Murano glass and inlaid mosaic tile that gave the ship an elegant, Venetian atmosphere. The Tiziano restaurant has dramatic sculptures by Sergio Benvenati. I especially loved a beautiful sculpture of a man with a lute.

The lounge area on the way to the restaurant is full of wonderful black-and-white photos from Fellini movies, and I spent lots of time admiring shots of classic movie actors. In fact, the 12 decks of the ship are named for Fellini’s films. All the corridors have playful drawings by Milo Manara. The glass bottles by Carlo Moretti recessed into staircase alcoves were beautiful. And I really loved the dancing figures by Lucio Bubacco in the elevators. They made me smile whenever I saw one.

The cabins are adorned with colorful artworks, as well. My suite had haunting, whimsical, colorful paintings by Elena Andreecu, a Romania artist whose paintings reflect both her village background and her life now in Italy.

The majority of the Atlantica’s 1,057 cabins are inside rooms, at 160 square feet, or oceanview (including oceanview with veranda) rooms, which measure a roomier 210 square feet. Suites on the Atlantica range from 360 square feet to more than 600 square feet. Each suite has a spacious marble bathroom with a whirlpool tub and a separate dressing area.

I was lucky enough to have a suite on deck six, which provided a panoramic view of the sea from the large private veranda. It was a lovely spot to have breakfast or an afternoon nap. A personal butler attended to my every need and always made sure that my room service order was correct. Passengers in suite accommodations can order from the dining room menu for all three meals, a perk not typically found on other cruise lines.

Each suite passenger also receives a complimentary dinner at Club Atlantica, the alternative restaurant on deck 10. Otherwise, there’s a $20 charge for the gourmet eatery. Reservations are a must, since the Club Atlantica only has seating for 70. I discovered one night that it’s best to book a table for an early dinner at Club Atlantica. After 10 p.m., the area above the restaurant becomes a cigar lounge, and the smoke wafts right in.

For passengers who want to stay fit, there is a jogging track that goes around the ship, as well as a state-of-the art Techno Gym. Machines were plentiful and very popular with passengers of all ages. The Jacuzzi in the gym provided a place to relax after a workout. The ship’s spa was also very nice and provided the usual range of massages, facials and beauty treatments in a tranquil environment.

Dante’s Disco, with its fabulous sound system, was a big hit during the week with late-night disco lovers. The Atlantica also features two lounges for stage shows, the large Caruso Theater and the smaller Coral Lounge. One night, we were treated to a Spanish juggler who was outstanding.

The ship also featured numerous “theme nights” during the cruise, and I enjoyed those even more than the stage shows. The Italian night was a street festival at sea, with bocce ball games, pizza dough tossing, tarantella dance lessons and Venetian mask making. Mediterranean night included fun-filled activities from France, Turkey, Greece and Spain.

On our last night, the ship was the scene of one of Costa’s famous wild toga parties some passengers dressed up in bed sheets, others took to the stage to perform. The audience determined the winners, and losers were “thrown to the lions” in a Costa version of “American Idol.”

Throughout the cruise, there was always something fun going on that kept the ship alive past midnight. The infectious spirit onboard enticed even the shyest of passengers to come out and participate.

“I like people,” said Max Bertolotto, cruise director. “They give me energy to do my job.”


Company: Costa Cruises
Ship: Costa Atlantica
Size: 86,000 tons
Capacity: 2,114
Year Built: 2000
Plugging In: Internet use
is 50 cents a minute.
Hits: Special evenings like the Italian, Mediterranean and Tropical nights. Dining room service offered in suites. Overall fun atmosphere without being corny.
Misses: Smoking is allowed in lounges, and non-smoking sections often provide little relief. Those sensitive to smoke might miss out on some good lounge entertainment.
Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean: San Juan, St. Thomas/St. John, Catalina Island (Costa’s private beach oasis) and Nassau. Western Caribbean: Key West, Cozumel, Ocho Rios and Grand Cayman. (Note: Next year the Atlantica will be sailing a European itinerary.)
Cost: From $599 to $2,549 per person for seven days.
Commission: 17 percent.