Neil Porten sails aboard the Costa neoRomantica, from Tokyo to Fukuoka.
The Costa neoRomatica is owned by Carnival Corporation and operated by Costa Crociere. Genoa, in Italy, is her home port.
The numbers: She's 221m long, and carries up to 1800 passengers in 789 rooms, with a crew of 622.
How old: Built, in Italy, in 1993. Relaunched after a complete restyling in 2012.
Based in: Japan (sailings from Tokyo and Fukuoka) from April to November.
The price: You can get deals on cruises aboard the Costa neoRomatica between Japan and Korea from April to August from Cruise World.
Boarding: In Tokyo, this is usually at the Harumi Passenger Terminal, about a 5km taxi ride from Tokyo Station, but for some unexplained reason this one sailing was from the Oi Container Terminal, a further 5km south. Check-in experience: Passports and tickets are checked in a friendly and efficient manner. Your passport is taken from you — don't ask me why — and delivered to your cabin later in the day. Your luggage is delivered to the cabin within an hour or two of embarkation. In your room you'll find your Costa Card, a keycard for your room and the means by which you make all payments onboard. Your Costa Card is required to be scanned whenever you leave or return to the ship. In my cabin was a bowl of fresh fruit, and the restaurants were already open and serving lunch.
Payment onboard: Prices are in US dollars. A per-day service fee is charged, instead of tipping your cabin steward or the waiting staff.
Surroundings: Italian elegance. Plush furniture, dark wood, deep carpets, chrome and cascading light fittings. It all gleams. A remarkable 3.25m sculpture of an embracing couple, wrapped in corten steel, stands on a raised deck near the rear of the ship.
Food: You will never go hungry eating the food included in your fare. If you miss breakfast, lunch or dinner at the formal Botticelli Restaurant or the buffet Giardino Restaurant there are a couple of smaller eating spots which provide a "late breakfast", afternoon tea, or late evening snack. Then there are the payable options: a cafe; a pizza bar with the only woodfired pizza oven on a cruise ship; the Steakhouse; and Casanova, a collaboration with an Italian chef whose restaurants have earned a total of six Michelin stars. The payable options are all very good value. In the Italian style, lunch and dinner usually consist of several courses, including starter, soup, pasta, main, cheese and dessert.
Drink: There are per-day all-you-can-drink packages ranging from soft drinks at US$15 to the whole shebang at US$49. Or you can pay as you go. There is a happy hour in the Disco Tango Bar from 11pm to midnight, when you can drink as much as you like for US$10.
Room: My cabin was a Classic oceanview room on Deck 4, Amsterdam Deck. The view of the sea was through a pleasingly round porthole. There's plenty of wardrobe and shelf space, and enough large mirrors to conjure a feeling of extra space.
The bed: Very comfortable and firm, thank you.
Toiletries: Just one small cake of soap and a body wash dispenser in the shower.
Bathroom: Spare, but utterly clean. There are two big mirrors. A nice touch is the floor, which mimics an outside wooden deck. The shower was occasionally temperamental, but mostly flowed hot and strong.
Noise: Though my cabin was right by the stairs and lifts, I was never troubled by noise outside the door. The rumble of the engines is noticeable but didn't bother me. In the public areas the carpets and furnishings subdued all sound.
Wellness: An amazing two-level spa, with all the treatments you can imagine. For US$35 a day, or US$135 for the whole cruise, you get access to the thermal suite (sauna, steam room, ice room, heated ceramic loungers), thalassotherapy pools and a serene tea lounge. The gym has more than a dozen exercise machines, plus free weights. There are exercise classes too. On Deck 12 you can suck in the fresh air on the 150m jogging track. And, of course, the two swimming pools and two jacuzzis.
Entertainment: With the wide range of nationalities on board and the mix of languages, the entertainment is skewed towards the visual and musical. Latin dancers, an operatic tenor, a magician and a classical music duo featured. There is a parade of themed events: Italian Night, the White Party, Carnevale. The Dance with the Senior Officers and the Latin Dancers was immensely popular with a particular section of the guests. The DJ was always playing somewhere. Not enough quizzes for my liking, but I sat in on a couple of Italian language lessons.
Price: A 7-day cruise from Tokyo, departing June 16, starts from about $1000pp twin share.
Perfect for: Those who want a European cruising experience in an Asian destination and are happy to share it with a multinational cast of guests and crew. And those who enjoy good food and relaxing.
Would I return: Yes, I would, for a special trip with a loved one, and for more five-course lunches.