Costa Crociere is painting a cautiously optimistic picture of its start-up venture in China. "We sailed full in July and August," said Costa's President Gianni Onorato. "While the summer months are the easiest months, it was very encouraging," he added. The passengers so far have been mostly families.

The challenges are plenty, however. "We have to build up continuous support in the market, also during the fall," Onorato said. "And we need to educate travel agents and consumers about our cruise experience so that we will not be confused with the typical gaming ships that the Chinese are familiar with. We are working to present our cruise as a new vacation option to Chinese consumers who are attracted by a lifestyle product," he added.

In addition, Costa has to contend with a booking trend that is the closest in that Onorato has ever seen. During the summer, passengers booked one to two weeks before their cruise. Meanwhile, cmise feedback has exceeded expectations, according to Onorato.

Also, the Chinese passengers do not lounge by the pool on the sun deck. So the onboard programming is different - offering more activities and entertainment throughout the day.

After starting up in Shanghai in July, sailing five-day cruises to Cheju, South Korea and Nagasaki, Japan, the 820-passenger Costa Allegra moves to Hong Kong for the winter, sailing five-day cruises to Sanya, China and Halong Bay, Vietnam.

The move also means that the Chinese market changes from Mandarin in the north to Cantonese in the south, Onorato explained, adding that Costa must take into account that consumer preferences are different between the two regions.

China is part of Costa's larger international sourcing strategy. With offices in Shanghai and Hong Kong, Onorato said that the Hong Kong office will be managing all of Costa's sales efforts in Asia, also generating passengers for the line's cruises in Europe, the Caribbean and South America.