Costa Cruises launched its 15th ship with a spectacular ceremony in Trieste that involved stars of screen and stage, ballerinas, fireworks and an aerial gymnast tethered to hundreds of helium balloons. It had the drama and beauty that travellers expect from Italy – and these elements are reflected in no small way in the new flagship, Costa Favolosa.

Costa loves bold statements, loves to entertain – and the ship’s architect, Joe Farcus, loves his bling. There are acres of marble, onyx and alabaster, and thousands of Swarovski crystals dazzle from the atrium. Over the top, perhaps – but there’s a joyousness in Costa’s designs and an infectious exuberance in the way Italians say, “Look at me having fun!”

I was the only Australian at the christening and two-day cruise from Venice in July (a privilege, to be sure), giving me just enough time to walk Favolosa’s very long corridors and sample her offerings.

The huge ship has lots on offer – 13 bars, five restaurants, four pools and amazing virtual-reality attractions – which can, we all hope, absorb its maximum capacity of 3,800 passengers in the height of summer.

Without doubt, Favolosa is a family-friendly ship, designed to suit anyone into high-energy pursuits. Its big boasts are the virtual ‘wonders’: what the cruise line claims is the most advanced golf simulator available, allowing you to play on any of 37 virtual ‘world courses’; an F1 racing car on which to speed around virtual Grand Prix tracks at frightening speeds; an arcade of PlayStation games; and a 24-seat 4-D cinema for viewing 12-minute films. All these cost extra but are reasonably priced at €8 ($10.50) for the movies, €10 ($13) for the racing car and €20 ($26) for 30 minutes of golf.

Each new Costa ship adds something extra while refining the older attractions. This time, Costa has added private jacuzzis to the balconies of four of its Samsara suites, an extra pool (with a giant waterslide) and the wonderful Aqua Park for the little ones. Complete with a wading pool, a pirate’s galleon and a castle tower to climb, this playground fits perfectly into the ship’s ‘enchanted castle’ theme.

Costa pioneered the concept of dedicated spa cabins, in which passengers get free use of the Samsara Spa’s Turkish bath, thalassotherapy pool and separate Samsara restaurant, and the line has added more of this accommodation type on Favolosa. Other passengers pay an extra €35 ($46) a day to enjoy these spa treats and €20 ($26) to dine in the Samsara restaurant.

Surprisingly, the food is very good: two years ago, I joined Costa Pacifica’s christening voyage and was disappointed with the meals in the main restaurant, particularly as the dining rooms are so good-looking. This time I had several excellent meals – notably grilled prawns, seafood bisque, and pasta and clams – and I sampled several tasty dishes from the indoor and terrace buffets.

While Costa Cruises is unknown to most Australians, I imagine they would warm to its many features: chocolate fountain treats and specialty coffees, reasonably priced drinks, a huge choice of accommodation that includes singles and inside-Samsara cabins, and great diversions for kids of all ages.

Party people will love the energetic atmosphere, the knock-out disco that rages all night and the huge 18-metre outdoor screen. Not so likeable are the smoky Atrium bar and the tacky neon signage in public spaces. Costa has spent about €510 million ($670-odd million) on each of its latest mega-ships: it’s a pity these garish touches exist to grate on one’s nerves and spoil a pretty amazing-looking vessel.


Cruise line: Costa Cruises

Vessel: Costa Favolosa

Max. passenger capacity: 3,800

Passenger decks: 13

GRT: 114,500 tons

Entered service: July 2011