Carnival Corp has announced the deployment of two Costa ships into the North American cruise market under a new sub brand Costa by Carnival.

The transfers highlight how Costa, which hitched much of its pre-pandemic growth plans on the Asia market, especially China, has perhaps become Carnival Corp’s problem child.

The 135,200-gt Costa Venezia (built 2019) will be commercially operated by Carnival Cruise Line (CCL) from the spring of 2023, while the identical Costa Firenze (built 2020) will follow in 2024. Both, however, will retain the Costa branding, crews and onboard management.

A third Costa ship, the 92,700-gt Costa Luminosa (built 2009) will transfer across to CCL as the Carnival Luminosa, a permanent unit of the North American flagship brand’s fleet ahead of its deployment out of Australia this coming October.

Carnival Corp’s spin doctors have been painting these transfers as a positive move, bringing “a unique experience to those who love the culture, food and vibe of Italy,” according to CCL president Christine Duffy, with “Costa providing the beautiful ship with its Italian design and Carnival delivering FUN, Italian Style,” according to Costa president Mario Zanetti.

All the hype aside, Costa appears to be Carnival Corp’s biggest headache at present, and with China still a no-go zone for cruise, it has more ships than it knows what to do with.

Carnival brands that target North American and European cruise passengers have almost all returned their entire fleets to service, but Costa still has five ships idle - the 102,700-gt Costa Magica (built 2004), the 113,300-gt Costa Favolosa (built 2011) and the 114,300-gt Costa Serena (built 2007), together with Asian exiles, the 85,600-gt Costa Mediterranea (built 2003) and 85,900-gt Costa Atlantica (built 2000), both of which are owned by Chinese joint venture CSSC Carnival Cruise but managed and operated by Costa.

Given that Costa operates a fleet of 14 ships, it means that a full 35% of its fleet is still idle.

The fact that the company is redeploying ships built specifically for the Asian market into North America as far ahead as 2024 can be taken as a strong sign that Costa does hold much hope that the Asian cruise market will rebound anytime soon.

Carnival Corp, according to one industry observer, is moving tonnage into the brand it thinks is most likely to make money, although this means CCL is absorbing a lot more capacity than it lost with the disposal of six Fantasy class ships.

And, despite having its entire fleet back in service, CCL is having to resort to heavy discounting to fill its ships. Prices shown on travel wholesaler websites show the company discounting ticket prices by as much as 88%, with some week-long cruises scheduled for August priced as low as $225.

However, the fact that two of the three ships being transferred will effectively remain Costa ships, and only marketed by CCL, does suggest that Costa eventually hopes to take them back when the Asian cruise market finally recovers, whenever that may be.