Costa Atlantica has a huge number of lounges, bars and other private rooms for a 2,000-passenger ship. What is notable -- and a departure from lounge architecture on American ships -- is that every lounge has a stage and a large dance floor. Even the main entry lobby has a wood-inlaid dance floor at its center.
Three notable venues are Caffe Florian, Dante's Disco, and the Coral Lounge. Florian, a total clone of its Baroque-era namesake in Venice's St. Mark's Square -- down to the floor tiles, wall and ceiling artwork, upholstery and table placement -- is a nice spot to meet for a glass of wine or cappuccino and one of the more intimate lounges onboard. The Coral Lounge, placed far forward and on the very bottom deck, is a wonderfully evocative alternate performance nightclub, which carries the sense of being at the bottom of the sea. Dante's gets our nod as cruisedom's most atmospheric disco. On the entrance level on Deck 2 is the bar, cocktail tables, and a countertop overlooking the dance floor one full deck down, where at random times, special effects machines fill the dance area with dense, smoky fog. Descending the spiral staircase feels like descending into Hades itself.
All lounges come into play for Atlantica's prodigious range of activities, day and night. The three-deck Caruso Theater is the ship's main show lounge. The auditorium is foreshortened, achieving seating quantity through vertical extension (a three-deck showroom for a maximum seating of a thousand is unusual). Though no seat is far from the stage in terms of number of rows, sightlines are seriously compromised. Moreover, there is a claustrophobic feel to the lowest deck seating, as all but the forward-most seats are well under the balcony's overhang. Seats on that level have fixed position tables; the upper levels have deeply cushioned plush theater seating with fold-up cup holders in the armrests. Our recommendation is to go for the front row in the first balcony; it seldom gets filled until right before show time and has the best sightlines in the room. Costa presents the usual combination of individual performers, variety shows and two major production revues in this room.
Daytime activities include bingo, art auctions, horse races, port and shopping talks -- typical cruise ship fare.
Where Costa Atlantica really shines (and the asset that, on its own, would make sailing this ship worthwhile) is with the entertainment and activities produced by its own cruise staff. Compared to industry norms for a ship this size, the cruise staff is quite large. There are 11 members on what is called the "animation" staff plus a cruise director plus selected dancers from the production company, so that on major events there are as many as 20 or more staffers in action.
In some cases this means more activities; instead of one trivia game per day, for example, Atlantica has as many as five or six, even on port days. Poolside games and contests occur two or three times a day.
At night there are themed games and entertainment, such as Mediterranean Night with passengers experiencing a series of four games or shows, one each from France, Greece, Spain and Turkey. "Festa Italiana," an Italian street festival at sea, features Bocce ball, mask making, Italian karaoke, Tarantella dance lessons, and the indescribably hysterical Mr. Pizza contest.
The ultimate entertainment event, occurring on the final night of the cruise, is "Roman Bacchanal," where passengers dress in togas fashioned from bed sheets (provided), and Caesar (a k a the cruise director) presides over the wackiest passenger talent show afloat, charging the toga-clad passengers in the audience to pass thumbs up or down on the performers, sending them either to the midnight buffet, or to the lions. In all cases these cruise staff antics are as zany and over the top as those on a Carnival ship (there are Mr. Sexy Legs contests and belly flop competitions), but what makes them different here is the Italian factor, a kind of a sweetness and innocence that is hard to describe, but is quite endearing. Think of Roberto Benigni crawling over peoples' heads to get to the stage to accept his Oscar for the film, "Life is Beautiful."
Shore excursions are efficiently handled, and there are Costa shore excursion staffers at the gangway, at meeting places, and in some cases on the excursions themselves.
Nearly all of the public rooms on Atlantica are situated on Decks 2 and 3. Based on this arrangement, Costa Atlantic should have superlative passenger flow, but it is seriously degraded by three totally unnecessary self-inflicted detriments. On each of these two public decks, the problem area is smack dab in the middle of the path of heavy traffic from the aft restaurant to the forward show lounge. On Deck 3, it's the Via Della Spiga shops, situated on both sides of a sinuously curving polished marble walkway. Unfortunately, the width of the pathway is as little as six feet.
Worse, half that width is taken up by the nightly placement of sale tables arrayed with hundreds of rings, watches and the like. Since literally hundreds of passengers tread the route from bow to stern and vice versa each night through a space as narrow as three feet, it makes for a serious bottleneck. The alternative is Deck 2. However, following the same path on that deck forces the passenger to walk through the casino, as this room stretches the entire width of the ship, and the casino is far and away the most smoke-polluted spot on the ship. The third problem is Atlantica's inadequate signage. Though there are little lighted signs over doorways to tell you what's in the very next section, the directional information does not extend further along the length of the ship, except in the case of the most major venues -- restaurant, casino and show lounge. Worse, the public decks are devoid of any deck maps, (i.e., "You Are Here"). They do exist, but only on cabin decks, where, presumably, passengers, having at least found the right floor, should be able to find their cabins by simply reading the cabin numbers on doors. As a result, even six days into the sailing, it was not uncommon to find passengers on public deck stairway landings looking lost and adrift.
Atlantica's library on Deck 3 is incredibly small given the size of the ship and the fact that its book collection includes separate sections for numerous languages, even Japanese. Though the library doors are open around the clock, the bookshelves are only unlocked for one hour twice a day. The library also serves as the Internet cafe. Internet access is sold at the rate of 50 cents per minute. Be forewarned though that hookup onboard seemed as slow as or slower than land-based dial-up, and proved to be a frustrating and costly experience.
Costa Atlantica's top three decks are devoted to fitness, spa and sun. Hearkening back to the style of classic liners there is much open space on all three decks, and an ample number of chic, modern chaises fashioned from brushed aluminum and stretched fabric. On Deck 9 (Ginger & Fred Deck) the centerpiece is the twin pools, one of which has a retractable dome, though we could never get it straight whether it was Ginger or Fred that was the domed one. At the aft end is the open fantail with a third pool, the Aurora. At the very forward end is the lower level of the two-tiered Olympia Gym and the Ischia Spa. There are four whirlpools: one inside the gym, one with the Aurora Pool aft, and two with the main pools amidships.
It is possible to make a complete circuit of the teak decking on Deck 10 (E La Nave Va Deck), but there is a designated jogging track on Deck 11 (La Voce Della Luna Deck) circling the miniaturized tennis court, about 3.25 circuits to the mile. Deck 11 is also the location of the children's pool area, and a twisty, two-deck waterslide.
Steiner of London maintains the spa, beauty and fitness facility. The gym is one of the best we've seen, descending aft in terraces from Deck 10 to Deck 9, affording all exercisers a view over the stern through the glass wall. All the machines are produced by Technogym Italy, and are part of a self-guided circuit training system, kind of a personal cyber-trainer. Users insert an electronic key in each machine and then in a computer at the end of the workout, which summarizes the workout and makes suggestions for future sessions.
In the great tradition of famed Italian lines of the past -- notably Sitmar and the Italian Line -- Costa places a high premium on families, and the friendliness of "Cruising Italian Style" carries over to the kids' program. Costa Kids Club offers extensive programs for youngsters, and guaranteed relaxation for parents. Though the kids' facility, the Pinocchio Children's Room, is smaller and less extensively appointed than those of cruise lines known for catering to families (such as Carnival and Royal Caribbean), the physical shortcoming is more than made up for by the large children's "animation staff," made up of from four to seven kids' cruise directors. The Kids Club is broken into two groups, Mini Club, (ages 3 to 6) and Maxi Club, (7 to 12). In addition there is Costa Teens Club, which continues through age 17. For teens there is the Mondo Virtuale (video game room), and teen hours at the disco (through midnight each night).
Each age group has hourly games, tournaments, treasure and scavenger hunts, arts and crafts (t-shirt painting, animal balloons making), special snacks, treats and parties.
In addition, Costa offers two Parents Night Out evenings (gratis), where kids enjoy supervised group activities and special buffets or pizzas while parents enjoy time alone from 6 through 11:30 p.m. Additional nights of group babysitting are available on request for purchase (age 3 and up; must be out of diapers); check current rates onboard.
There is a special children's dinner menu, with pasta, soup, fish, chicken, hot dogs and burgers, pizza, sandwiches and desserts. There is a fountain card available for purchase at any bar, entitling kids up to 20 alcohol-free drinks at a flat rate of $35 (plus a 15 percent service charge).
Besides suites, for families traveling together -- and wishing a bit more space and privacy -- there are 28 pairs of adjoining cabins with connecting doors, including two Grand Suites which connect to standard ocean view staterooms.