When it comes to Costa Toscana, the newest ship in Carnival Corporation’s Italian fleet, it’s easy to see why it’s gotten so much attention… even from those, like us, who are typically more focused on ships sailing out of North American ports.
This is, after all, a sorta-kinda sister ship to Mardi Gras, which was introduced to a nearly deafening buzz.
Having spent a week on board, I had a chance to really get to know Costa Toscana. Whether you’re thinking of booking the ship or simply curious as to how she’s different from the vessels in the Carnival Cruise Line fleet, here are some of my takeaways.
1. She’s Spacious
Even experienced cruisers — not to mention those who are first timers — can find a ship of this size, carrying this many people intimidating. “Will it be crowded?” they ask… and the answer here is, “Definitely not.” Whether you’re in one of the many indoor public spaces or exploring the open-air decks, there’s always room to move. Want to find a quiet spot? You’ll be able to.
For example, one of my favorite spaces was at the very back of deck 19. Like many cruisers, I can easily get lost in the wake, staring at it and feeling myself de-stress. This particular space gave me that while also offering a variety of different style seating… including swings!
Whether you were in the mood for sun or shade, it was available, and the large glass panels surrounding the area served as great windbreakers. The outdoor promenade on deck 8 also had plenty of spaces for seating, and it proved a popular place for small groups to sit and talk (or, on a nice day, nap).
2. The Lido Deck Is Weatherproof
If you’re used to sailing ships in North America, the lido deck are may throw you off on this one because it’s enclosed, and for a good reason. Costa Toscana spends the year sailing throughout Europe where the winters can get chilly. With the enclosed area, guests can use the hot tubs and pool year-round without having to freeze during the winter months.
It does have access to the open air with huge sliding windows that are open throughout the day and closed during inclement weather. (The roof is not, however, retractable.)
If you’re an all-weather pool person, there are plenty of others on both the forward and aft part of the ship that are under the sun.
3. It Snows Every Day On Board
While not the first line to have a snow room at sea, it was the first time I was able to experience one as part of the thermal package. The spa consultant told me it’s designed to quickly lower your body temperature after spending time in the sauna and at 14 degrees Fahrenheit, it snows year-round.
Other amenities that I appreciated in the thermal suite were the loungers that were in ankle-deep water next to the thalassotherapy pool, the privacy curtains between the heated thermal loungers, and the floor-to-ceiling views of the ocean.
4. Food Is Handled Differently
If there’s one thing that’s very, very different on this ship as opposed to those sailing out of North America, it would be their approach to food in general and restaurants in particular. The buffet isn’t open at dinner time, which we’ll discuss more in a moment. And the only other complimentary venue is the main dining room. The other restaurants, of which there are plenty, come with a fee attached.
Now, it’s important to know that the fees charged for food are pretty minimal, and were, based on the meals I had, totally worth it. I’ll admit, I went into the sailing a little skeptical about the whole pay-for-food thing. But given the combination of low prices and great food, I was very happy.
When it comes to paying extra for food on a cruise, I think of it the same way I do upgrading my seat on an airplane or paying for premium tickets at a concert. If the price is right, and I think it’ll be worth it, I’m in.
Some of the food options with a surcharge that stuck out were the Pummid’Oro Pizzeria with sourdough oven-fired personal pizzas, crepes at Nutella at Costa, a burger at The Salty Beach Street Food, and the Heineken Bistro.
I’m sure there are some I’m forgetting, but out of all of them, the pizza had my heart with five visits on the seven-night sailing. It was so good that on two separate days, I ate there twice!
5. The Theater Is Pretty Small
While there is a show theater onboard, it isn’t used for most of the production shows. And for good reason: The forward main theater is half the size of what you’d typically find on a ship, making it feel more like a lounge than an actual theater.
That’s because the ship is set up in such a way that the big shows are actually staged in the colosseum, which is the central atrium on the ship. With stadium-style seating on decks six, seven, and eight, guests can watch the show from a bar, while eating sushi, or sitting in the stands.
With state-of-the-art audio and visual components, combined with an adjustable stage that both rises and sinks into the floor, you never know what will happen next. Throughout the week, there was everything from acrobatic performances and magic shows to cover bands and live DJs spinning through the night.
6. Skywalk Is The Best Sailaway Vantage Point
At first glance, I had no clue what the Skywalk was. It seemed like an extension of the waterpark or something.
Mid-sailing, I finally got around to checking it out while we were docked in Barcelona. As it turns out, Skywalk is basically an elevated track that starts on the port side and ends on the starboard side. If you were looking at it from above, it would look a big, capital letter U.
The bottom of the U has a platform that overlooks the waterpark, offering stunning views of sail away. If you really want some good photos when the ship is leaving port, head up about 30 minutes before departure because once people find the Skywalk, they go there for every sail away.
7. The Buffet Closes For Dinner
If you’re a buffet person, you’ll have to get your fill during breakfast and lunch because the buffet doesn’t serve dinner.
Why? Well, as it turns out, Italians are very big on the idea of families gathering around a table for dinner, and that concept carries over to their ships. So the buffet basically closes down after lunch, only reopening briefly for snacks before dinner.
The fact that the buffet wasn’t open for dinner actually forced me outside of my cruise comfort zone. Because sometimes, I’ll just head to the buffet in order to graze at dinnertime, basically allowing my brain to shut off.
With that option unavailable, I found myself putting more thought into both where and what I’d be having for dinner. As a result, I had a wider variety of food than I likely would have if the buffet had been open at dinnertime.
8. Technology Is Fully Embraced
Just like on ships sailing out of North American ports, this one makes great use of all the technological advances available. From a cell phone app to interactive digital signage, Costa takes advantage of any opportunity to both make life easier and reduce touch points.
The ship also makes great use of large LED screens which offer crystal-clear images, often featuring visuals of the ports you are visiting.
For example, while we were docked in Rome, there was a feed of the Trevi Fountain being broadcast on the three-level high LED wall in the atrium.
9. The Ship Offers Multiple Embarkation Points
Many cruise ships in the Mediterranean operate what’s known as a ferry schedule, meaning there are several different stops along the itinerary from which you can board and disembark for your seven-day cruise.
This doesn’t mean that people can walk on the ship and take it from one port to another, but rather that while my round-trip voyage might start and end in Rome, yours might start and end at one of the other ports being visited.
For instance, we embarked Costa Toscana in Rome and stayed on for seven nights, debarking in Rome a week later. If we wanted to embark and debark in Naples or Barcelona, that would also be an option.
This also alleviates embarkation and debarkation congestion, because not everyone on the ship is attempting to board (or exit) at the same time.