Costa Cruise Lines's newest ship, the Costa Classica, will start seven-day cruises from Fort Lauderdale on January 25, 1992. The 50,000-ton, 1,300-passenger ship is being completed at Fincantieri at a construction cost of $325 million.

With the Costa Classica, Costa Cruise Line is committed to a dramatic upgrading of its product, and has also launched a $17 million ad campaign to get its message across.

"We intend to offer the first luxury seven-day Caribbean cruise that is also fun and exciting," said Robert Mahmarian, Executive Vice President of Marketing, Sales and Passenger Services. He said the typical new Costa passenger would be in the 45 to 50 age bracket with annual income of $60,000 and more. Brochure rates for the new Costa range from $172 to $442 per person, per day, giving an average per diem of $314.

In a visual presentation, Costa showed how it intends to move its product from nearly the "bottom level" of the market near the top, "below" Seabourn Cruise Line, Royal Viking Line, and Crystal Cruises (in that order), but above Holland America Line.

Mahmarian said that Costa's new product would embody the best from Europe hence the term "Euro-Luxe Cruises," the company's new tagline.

Euro-Luxe got off to a bumpy launch, however, as Costa first presented its new concept as Euro-Class, but was forced to change as the term has been used by Scandinavian Airlines some time for its transatlantic business class.

While the Euro-Luxe tagline was hatched some ads still made it into magazines presenting Euro-Class.

The Best from Europe

According to Mahmarian, Costa will feature European cabin stewardesses and Italian table captains trained at Switzerland's International Culinary Institute who will prepare dinner specialties and desserts tableside. Other European features include a French-styled Patisserie serving cappuccino and croissants in the morning, traditional high tea on Limoges china every afternoon and crepe suzettes and aperitifs in the evening.

Mahmarian promised that 1,300 passengers will be pampered by a crew of 650. He also said that a concierge desk, offering custom tailored shore excursions and airline confirmations, will "bring to cruising that special touch found in the finest hotels." Moreover, upon boarding, passengers will be welcomed and escorted to their staterooms by white gloved attendants.

In addition, the Costa Classica will feature theme nights in the 720-seat main dining room, the Tivoli Restaurant, providing a "different and new experience every night", while the 600-seat Colosseo Showroom will present major production shows. The casino will resemble the gaming rooms of the French Riviera and will include 124 slot machines and 12 tables. Catering services are provided by Zerboni Catering, while the casino is operated by Casino Entertainment.

Informal meals can be had in the 395-seat La Trattoria serving breakfast and lunch buffets with indoor and outdoor seating.

Staterooms will average just under 200 feet and 65 percent are outside. They will include amenities such as designer fabrics and linens, hair dryer, safe and television sets.

The Costa Classica will also feature a 6,500-square foot fitness center claimed to be the first fully-contained spa at sea.

On the very top deck is the "Galileo Club and Observatory", a unique lounge offering panoramic 360-degree views of the ocean by day and doubling as a night club in the evening.

Overlooked Market

"The cruise industry has grown quickly in this country, but the operators have not been improving their product," said Lorenzo Pellicioli, President and CEO of Costa.

Speaking at a presentation this week in New York, Pellicioli said that in the mass market, operators have been focusing on attracting more passengers and have not been paying attention to the product.

"I realized that nobody offered a seven-day luxury Caribbean cruise," Pellicioli said.

"Nobody was seeking to attract the younger, upscale, sophisticated passenger who is willing to spend a little more," Pellicioli added.

Calling it the "rich niche", Pellicioli said that Costa developed a new product and a new marketing campaign.

Mahmarian said that they could not bring the "old" Costa up in the market, instead they decided to introduce a new Costa in order to position Costa on a new market level.

Mahmarian also said that new ships often are more like hotels than ships; that rates have come down; and that cruise lines have resorted to national advertising. Still, he said, only five percent of the market has ever taken a cruise.

Also, according to Mahmarian, mega ships often represent a hassle to some passengers, while the "older ships can't keep up." He said that there were some disenchanted passengers out there and "we want those," he emphasized.

A visual presentation included interviews with several cruise passengers, assumingly on different ships, complaining about long lines and lack of service.

"We do not want to be one in the crowd," Mahmarian said, "instead we are developing a brand new market segment." He compared the new Costa to exclusive hotels that he said were usually sold out and to expensive cars that people are willing to pay more for on the basis of perceived value.

"We know that you cannot get a higher price on product alone, you need perceived value too," Mahmarian said. "We have created perceived value that will separate us in the market, and we will deliver real value," he said.

Mahmarian also said that Costa will take a strong stand against discounting imagery. "If you train consumers to look for cheaper product, they will not come back," he said.

Mahmarian also noted that all the new beds coming into the market now are in response to an earlier market situation. Now, the market is tough, he said, affected by over-capacity and the recession, and the cruise lines have bad to resort to discounting.

Euro-Luxe Fleet

Pelliciolii said that the new Costa will have a totally new fleet of ships. He said that the company has transferred the older vessels to service in the Mediterranean, targeting the European market and to a joint venture, Prestige Cruises, with Sovcomflot.

The new Costa Euro-Luxe fleet will include the Costa Classica; the 30,000-ton, 800-passenger Costa Allegra, scheduled to enter service in late 1992; and the 50,000-ton, 1,300-passenger Costa Romantica, scheduled to enter service in late 1993.

The 25,000-ton, 772-passenger Costa Marina, which was launched last year, will operate separate from the Euro-Lux fleet and only a few weeks of the year in the Caribbean, according to Mahmarian.

He also said that no decision has been made yet about the Costa Riviera. although the company is looking at "investments to re-do and upgrade that ship's interior."

The Costa Classica will be sailing seven-day cruises from Fort Lauderdale, departing on Saturdays, on alternating itineraries in the Western and Eastern Caribbean. Ports-of-call Westbound include Ocho Rios, Grand Cayman, Playa del Carmen/Cancun and Cozumel and Eastbound, San Juan, St. Thomas/St. John, St. Maarten.

Mahmarian also said that Costa planned to add an out-island to its Eastern itinerary.

It has previously been announced that the new ships will also sail from Ft. Lauderdale, while the Costa Riviera will be positioned in San Juan.

Rates range from $1,194 to $3,125 per person, double occupancy, including air. The pricing is based on 13 cabin categories and value-, super value and peak seasons.