The Mistral was laid down for the French company Services et Transport, but still during building, the ship was taken over by Festival Cruises. In the USA, this company was known as First Choice Cruises. The ship was built at the Chantiers de L'atlantique wharf in Saint-Nazaire, France under yardnumber J31. She measures 47.276 tons, is 216 meters long and 32 meters wide. Her maximum passenger capacity is 1667, on double occupancy it is said to be 1196. These passengers are taken care of by 450 crewmembers. Her normal speed is very moderate, 22,5 knots.
In the last decade of the former century, Festival Cruises was planning to modernize their older fleet. At that time, they sailed with three ships, the Flamenco that was built in 1971 as Spirit Of London for P&O, the Bolero that was built in 1968 as Starward for Klosters (Norwegian Caribbean Lines) and then the thirth ship was The Azur, built in 1970 as Eagle for the General Steam Navigation Company, a part of P&O. To compete with more modern lines, Festival had to built up a new fleet themselves.
Mistral floated out on the 2nd of january 1999 and was named at the 25th of june that same year. Her name is that of a strong northwestern wind that can truly affect the southcoast of France, between the cities of Marseilles and St.-Tropez. This part of France was a really important place from where the ships of Festival Cruises set sail. After her naming, the ship started making some introduction calls in northern Europe, as Festival mainly catered for European passengers. Her first official cruise started from Genoa in Italy at the 17th of july 1999. She was just in time for the celebrations of the new millennium, when she was at the tropical Caribbean port of Tortola. Her millennium celebrations on board included a large lottery for her passengers, with the main prize being a car, not just a car, but 'the best Maserati model', the Mistral. The winner was also crowned as the 'King Of The Ship', with all royalty that it brings. The second prize was a full restitution of the price of the cruise itself.
At the 20th of february 2001, the Mistral ran aground near Saint Kitts & Nevis. She got stuck on a sandbank some 900 feet from the shore and local residents used this misfortune for a good day out to see the ship. None of the passengers or crew were injured and damage was not too severe, although there had been reports that the ship took on water. She was pulled out of her mooring one day later and continued her cruise.
During the first years of the new millennium, Mistral operated cruises out of Cuba, being homeported in Havana. As a European line without connections to the USA, Festival wasn't restricted in contacts with Cuba. At the 23rd of march 2002, Fidel Castro himself (the reason that the USA is annoyed with Cuba...), visited the ship when Mistral was docked at the Havana cruise terminal. It wasn't a planned, official visit, Fidel came on personal note as a recognition of the cruise program Festival was offering from Cuba. Normal sailings included stops at Progresso, Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Juventud. Welcomed by passengers and crew, Castro visited the ships bridge and public spaces, before leaving after a few hours.
The Mistral was not the only way to update the fleet, as there were more ships ordered to the same design as the Mistral, although these were enlarged versions. Two ships entered service for Festival in 2001 and 2002 respectively, the European Vision and the European Stars. But there were dark clouds ahead, as the company was getting into financial troubles during these years too. During 2003 and 2004 the companies ships were laid up, sold and finally Festival was declared bankrupt. Their newest ships went to MSC Cruises, another European company that was trying to renew their older fleet. Only the Mistral was sold back to the building company Alstrom Group and after this chartered out by Alstrom to Iberojet of Spain. For them, the ship was marketed as the Iberostar Mistral, but she was not officially renamed. In 2004, the ship was finally sold at an auction to Iberojet. For them, she was now renamed Grand Mistral, in line with the naming style of the company. Her first cruise for the Spanish operator as such started at the 30th of may 2005. Because of the growth of the company, since 2011 the ships are no longer limited to the Mediterranean and also seen in other parts of Europe.
The pictures of Grand Mistral were taken at Velsen Zuid during her passage through the Northsea Canal from Amsterdam to IJmuiden at the 5th of september 2011.
When the year 2013 came to an end, Carnival Corporation announced big changes in the fleet of Iberocruceros. The Grand Mistral, for example, was replaced in the fleet of Costa Cruises under her new name of Costa neoRiviera. A small ship for Costa, she joined Costa neoRomantica in a new naming style. The ship was painted over in Costa colours during november of 2013 and also her interiours were updated in the style also seen aboard the other 'neo' liner in the Costa fleet. During her rebuilding for Costa, the Italian company launched the 'Costa neoCollection, in which the ships would be placed. This neoCollection is not a new company within the osta fleet, but a new concept for the smaller ships within the fleet, offered next to the large megaliners.
Within neoCollection, passengers can customize their cruise by optioning their own activities next to the general ones, like sign up for special evenings or small-group excursions. Also, the ships within the neoCollection offer longer stopovers in ports visited and the cruise will be more customized to the 'local cultures' in the regions that are visited, mainly through the cuisine served.
Costa neoRiviera will sail the first cruise for the neoCollection starting on february 9th 2014 departing Dubai. She will then take up Mediterranean station sailing from Marseilles and Toulon, a region very familiar to her from her days as a Festival Cruises ship.