Costa just released new cruise prices for Autumn 2009 in Europe. We present a compendium on the best Costa values.

Iwidth=272 got an email from Costa Cruises today with good values on European cruises. I haven't written much about Costa lately because I hadn't been on a European cruise ship in years. Well, I had a chance last June and I have to say they have everything American ships have, but at better prices to boot.

So, I'm not about to tell you to jump on these deals right now, but I am going to say that Costa has first quality ships and cruises in Europe at prices similar to a Caribbean cruise on Carnival. That's a pretty good deal.

If you don't already know, Costa ships are identical to Carnival's. Not only did parent company Carnival acquire Costa in 2000, but Costa is the only line in the entire mega-corp where Carnival threw away the blueprints for the existing fleet. They decided to remake it in their own image. Essentially, any Costa ship built since 2000 looks just like a Carnival ship with a fedora on it.

The only differences between Carnival and Costa ships are in the décor, which tends to be more Euro-stylish than on the whimsical Carnival ships. If you like Carnival Splendor you should also like Costa Concordia, or if you like Carnival Spirit you should also like Costa Atlantica.

Costa has cruises on Costa Fortuna - essentially the same structure as Carnival Conquest - starting at just $449 for a 7-night cruise from Venice with stops in Bari (Italy), Katakolon (Olympia), Santorini, Mykonos, Rhodes and Dubrovnik. This cruise sails November 9.

Not only is this a really a good itinerary, the cruise starts in the ideal place. Venice is even more beautiful when the sidewalks are not jammed with visitors and the vaporetto, the local canal boats that serve as busses are not busting their brims.

I suggest you fly into Venice and spend at least three nights before you hop on your cruise to the Greek Isles. By traveling in non-peak November you will get a much better deal on a hotel and save on airfare - would you believe I found an Alitalia JFK to Venice roundtrip for just $665 per person?

Santorini is a beautiful Greek island which you have seen in pictures a million times, although you may not have known it. The island was round until a volcanic eruption, circa 1500 BC, blew half of it away leaving the crater to fill with sea water. Your ship will anchor inside this crater and you will take a funicular cable car up the cliff to the town of Thira high above. Or you can blaze the switchback trail on the back of a donkey, just don't look down.

Dubrovnik is one of the most intriguing historic city-states in the Mediterranean. In the Middle Ages it rivaled Venice as a regional power. More recently it was closed off to American visitors for decades until the iron curtain fell and the regional war ended in Croatia.

That $449 price is for an inside cabin. The cost for a balcony is $889 per person. Costa Cruises Web site

The one thing I noticed about Costa is that they tend to pack a lot more ports of call into a 7-day cruise than most cruise lines. I also did some price checking across a lot of lines for balcony cabins to see how Costa prices hold up, and I have to say the line is very affordable most of time, but the main determining factor is the sail date. For example; the same cruise on the same ship any other date can be far more expensive for the same accommodations.

This is essentially true of all cruise ships - the best cruise values come from being date flexible. The exact same cruise can vary as much as 50% within weeks, but not always. The same cruise as above but earlier in the season, October 19, has the next lowest prices with a balcony costing $979 per person. Yes, it will likely be warmer so this is a better choice for a small difference in price.

Maybe you prefer to see the Western Mediterranean instead of the east? You can try Costa Concordia, one the line's brand new ships just christened a few months ago. A 7-day cruise from Barcelona to Marseille, Genoa, Naples, Palermo, Tunis and Mallorca sails October 23, 2009, also just $979 per person for a balcony.

On this cruise you get to see Barcelona and Mallorca, Spain. I just returned from these ports and both are just brimming with young people. The shopping opportunities are amazing, as well as the great Spanish lifestyle where you dine at 10:00 pm and sleep until 10:30 in the morning. I had been to both places before, but I didn't remember having so much fun. London used to be the swinging city of Europe, but now it is Barcelona.

You also get to see Tunis on this trip, the North African city known as Carthage in Roman times. Today it is a thriving Arab-culture city with an ancient marketplace, beautiful architecture and intriguing locals. You also get the bragging rights to say you have been to Africa.

In Naples you can take a trip to Pompeii, the ancient Roman city where Mount Vesuvius erupted to capture a glimpse of Roman civilization at its peak - preserving it in piles of ash over a very short period of time. There are even bodies that were recovered mummified by natural processes. Imagine the look of surprise on their faces. You don't have to imagine, you will meet them in person.

Want a little of this and a little of that? Costa Pacifica starts a 7-day cruise in Rome - where you also want to arrive a few days early to see the local sights. You then sail to Genoa, Barcelona, Mallorca, Tunis and Palermo, Sicily. This cruise departs Oct 25 and balcony cabins are $1022 per person. 

10-nights and Longer Cruises
Looking for longer European cruise bargains? There is 10-night cruise on Costa Pacifica sailing from Civitavecchia (the port for Rome) to Genoa, Katakolon, Athens, Rhodes, Cyprus and Alexandria, Egypt.

This is a wonders of the ancient world cruise. First you get to see Athens, the site of the Parthenon, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Katakolon was the site of the original Olympic Games and many of the original facilities still exist. Then you visit the pyramids in Giza, near Cairo, Egypt - just a short bus ride away from the port in Alexandria. You can even visit Cheops and the Collossus of Ramses II.

Rhodes is the island where the apostle Paul was held prisoner by the Romans. 1000 years later it was the site of a medieval castle, still fully intact, which served as the gathering place for European knights traveling to the Crusades. Rhodes also has its own acropolis from the Hellenic empire and a small but beautifully preserved Greek ruins city called Lindos high atop a cliff overlooking the sea.

How about an 11-night cruise on Costa Mediterranea sailing out of Genoa to Naples (port of Pompeii), Sicily, Alexandria Egypt, Cyprus, Marmaris Turkey, Santorini and Katakolon, Greece? This cruise sails Nov. 15 for just $1544 per person, balcony cabin. Costa Cruises Web site

Marmaris in Turkey is not a well-known stop for Americans but it is renowned to Europeans for its natural beauty and ancient history dating back to 3000 B.C.

That's my summary on Costa Fall cruises. Remember that Costa is a European cruise line so you will be sailing with Italians, French, Spanish and Germans. The staff onboard will speak English, and so will your waiter and room steward, but most of the passengers will use their native tongue. Many of them speak some English but you won't hear them using it spontaneously. Embrace the difference and enjoy it.

Costa is not a luxury line, but it is a fun cruise in the spirit of Carnival. I wouldn't go alone and expect to meet a lot of new people, nor would I expect the kids' programs to have English-speaking activities, but retirees or young couples who want to see Europe without spending a bundle can have a great vacation. Costa Cruises Web site