Costa Crocire has become Carnivals Corporation's long-awaited entry into the Asia/Pacific with the deployment of the 1,000- passenger Costa Allegra on five-day cruises out of Shanghai starting July 3, 2006.

With 24 cruises scheduled so far, the Allegra will call at Nagasaki and Cheju (South Korea). Costa said its goal is to attract 55,000 Chinese passengers a year.

Carnival Chairman and CEO Micky Arison said that Carnival has been exploring a strategy for entering the Asian marketplace for some time and has indicated that the entrance would be through one of its existing brands. He described Costa's deployment as a first step in this initiative and will serve as a platform for future expansion into other areas of Asia. He said he chose Costa because the brand already is international in nature, serving guests of many different nationalities, languages and cultures.

The Allegra will also undergo a 12 million euro refurbishment, creating what Costa called an "onboard product specifically tailored to the preferences of Chinese vacationers but with a European flair."

To oversee its entry into Asia, Costa has created a new division, COSTA ASIA, with an office in Hong Kong and an office in Shanghai scheduled to open in April. Plans also include opening a call center in mainland China.

The Asia division will also market Costa's entire fleet in 10 different countries.

While the Allegra's deck and engine officers, along with key departmental managers, will be Italian, more than 230 Chinese professionals will also be hired from local hotels and resorts, according to Costa. The Chinese crew will undergo training at Costa's hospitality management school in Manila before joining the ship.

The Allegra will be refurbished at T. Mariotti in Genoa. Changes will include the expansion of the current gym and spa; doubling the size of the casino; a 50 percent increase in the shopping area; while the current theater will be converted into a lounge with a dance floor and seating for 250.

 Four new restaurants will also be created on a pay-as-you-eat basis: a sushi and noodles bar with 114 seating capacity; an Italian a la carte restaurant seating 76 indoors and 52 outdoors, including a dance floor; and two restaurants separated by a glass wall, one a la carte featuring a refined Asian-Italian menu, with seating for 130 and a view of the sea; the other, with open seating and an international menu, seating 130.

The China deployment follows Costa's recent announcements that the Costa Marina will be sailing from Singapore from December through February, while the Allegra will also be sailing two cruises between Hong Kong and Mumbai in April and May of this year and two repositioning cruises. In addition, the Costa Classica will be sailing from Dubai during the winter months.