In a series of captivating ceremonies that combined Chinese tradition with Italian style, Costa Cruises, Italy largest tourism group and Europe’s nr 1 cruise company, today celebrated the maiden call of the Costa Classica to the city, its second ship to be permanently stationed in Asia.

Welcomed by a glittering dragon dance and dozens of drummers along the Avenue of Stars, and accompanied by the Duk Ling, the iconic traditional Chinese junk, the Costa Classica graced Victoria Harbour for the first time ever.

The 1,300 Guests on the Costa Classica, who had just completed an eastbound journey from Dubai, which included port calls in India, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Hainan Island, were surrounded by the cheer of Hong Kong; as a silver band and local students in Chinese costumes welcomed them at the cruise terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui.

At the official welcoming ceremony onboard the Costa Classica, Massimo Brancaleoni, Vice President, Pacific Asia Operations of Costa Cruises, presented Mr. Patrick Kwok, General Manager, Business Development of the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB), with a crystal replica of the Costa Classica, as a symbol of Costa Cruises’ continued commitment to Hong Kong’s tourism industry.

Mr. Brancaleoni said, “Despite the economic downturn, Costa Cruises continues to record encouraging performance and we strongly believe in Asia’s long term potential. We will continue to further develop this market to ensure that cruising becomes the number one vacation choice for travellers. The arrival of the Costa Romantica in March 2010 to the Asia-Pacific region is a further testament of our ongoing commitment to the industry.”

With a second cruise ship now deployed permanently in the Asia market, Costa Cruises will offer nearly 55,000 additional berths with over 60 cruises, thus bringing its overall capacity in the region to 85,000 berths. The Costa Classica will offer itineraries lasting between four and fourteen days, with departures from Singapore, Shanghai, Tianjin and Hong Kong – which include visits to the finest Asia destinations from March 27 through November 7, 2009.

“Since we began operations in the Asia-Pacific approximately 100,000 guests have experienced true Italian-style cruising with Costa Cruises. We will continue to explore and cater to the numerous markets in the region,” Mr. Brancaleoni added.

Mr Patrick Kwok, General Manager, Business Development of the HKTB said, “The HKTB welcomes the Costa Classica’s maiden call to Hong Kong, and we look forward to the return of the vessel in the near future.”

“To attain strong visitor satisfaction is always one of the key missions of the HKTB. By offering an array of hospitality programmes to passengers of Costa Classica, we aim to provide the passengers with a unique experience during their stopover in the city, fostering Hong Kong’s appeal as the preferred cruise hub.” said Mr Kwok.

Also joining the celebrations on board the Costa Classica today were Commissioner for Tourism, Miss Margaret Fong, the Consul General – Head of Mission, Consulate General of Italy in Hong Kong, Alessandro De Pedys, Michelin Chef Ettore Bocchia, world-renowned Tenor Warren Mok, local singing sensation Kay Tse and key members of the Hong Kong travel industry.

Mr. De Pedys said, “Costa Cruises is committed to creating an authentic Italian cruising experience for its guests. I am proud to have witnessed the arrival of the company’s second ship in Asia, which will extend the Italian cruising experience to more passengers while they enjoy a culturally rich and diverse journey around the region.”

The celebrations culminated with Hong Kong’s first ever ‘floating’ operatic performance in Victoria Harbour which featured Warren Mok and Kay Tse in the ship’s Coloseum Theatre. Their debut as a duo, Warren and Kay performed a repertoire of popular italian classic songs including “Nessun Dorma”, “O Sole Mio” and “Con Te Partirò” for over 300 guests.