Carnival Venezia's Italian style is a cozy, elevated experience

ONBOARD THE CARNIVAL VENEZIA — It was rare to hear people on the Carnival Venezia say “ciao” or “arrivederci,” but the newest ship in the Carnival Cruise Line family is awash in Italian ambience.

As its name suggests, the Venezia takes its inspiration from Venice, and the three-level atrium, fashioned after the Piazza San Marco, is grand, with white marble columns topped with gold trim, one holding a replica of the Lion of Venice sculpture. There’s a faux canal with a gondola floating under a bridge in the Canal Grande Restaurant.

Crushed red velvet seats give the theater the atmosphere of an opera house, and Italian cocktails are everywhere, including Negronis and a frozen drink layered with the colors of the Italian flag. 

The ship is based in New York and caters to Carnival’s U.S. market. But despite being a Vista-class build, it was designed with a very different market in mind. It was originally built for Costa Cruises to serve the Asian market, until the pandemic hit.

With the Asia cruise market slow to reopen and Carnival in need of additional capacity after shedding some of its older, less efficient ships, Carnival Corp. took the step of transferring the Costa Venezia and its sister, the 2021-built Costa Firenze, to Carnival. 

The Carnival-branded vessel with a Costa-yellow smokestack is the first ship with the slogan “Carnival Fun, Italian Style” across its hull, and Carnival Cruise Line is testing out the concept on American audiences. 

The Venezia will homeport in New York until October 2024, when it repositions to Port Canaveral.

How Venezia differs from other ships

I sailed on the Venezia’s inaugural, four-day revenue sailing from New York. Longtime Carnival guests told me this ship was more elegant, elevated and detailed than the line’s other vessels. 

While guests liked the design touches, at least one said the ship felt tighter with smaller spaces. “Cozy” is how Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line, described it. 

Carnival tailored the ship to American cruisers by replacing retail spaces with restaurants and bars, among other changes, but the intimate layout remained.

“This ship and the sister will feel more elegant and more elevated than our ships, which were designed bigger [with] wide-open spaces — everybody wants to be in the center of the action,” Duffy said. “This ship is designed more for, ‘I’m happy to watch the people in the center of the action from over here.’ So, I think that’ll be a change.”

The waterpark is smaller on the Venezia, Duffy said, and it lacks a Sky Ride, although it includes a ropes course and courts for pickleball, bocce and basketball. The pool areas are smaller, as Asian cruisers are generally less interested in sunbathing than Americans are, and so lounge chairs are also spread across the port and starboard sides.

Food and drink

The Venezia introduces several new experiences to Carnival, including Il Viaggio specialty restaurant, which serves dishes from across Italy, including ziti from Liguria and a grilled octopus and artichoke appetizer from Sicily. The most eye-popping dish was a chicken parmigiana pizza delivered to a table behind us, with long strings of melty cheese that refused to let go of the pie. 

Italian-influenced food was woven throughout most dining experiences on the ship, including the casual poolside eats. For instance, the menu of Guy’s Burger Joint included two Italian-style burgers — think fixings like mozzarella, pepperoni, diced tomato, balsamic vinegar and fresh basil. 

The Amari Bar, the ship’s version of the Alchemy Bar, had a menu of Italian-inspired cocktails, like a margarita made with tequila, blood orange juice, amaretto and lime juice. Our server said it had been our sailing’s most popular drink. 

The Amari Bar serves Italian-inspired cocktails.

Despite guests’ comments that the ship is elegant and elevated, the Venezia is not the start of a push into a more premium space in the market, said Adolfo Perez, vice president of global sales and trade marketing.

“You can have upscale experiences on the ships, but in no way are we trying to move into the premium market,” he said. “We know who we are, and we want to be who we are.” 

The Firenze, inspired by Florence, is expected to begin operations next May from Long Beach, Calif. But Duffy was noncommittal on whether Carnival might adopt additional ships from other lines. 

“That’s the benefit, right? These assets are mobile,” she said. “Leaning into this concept of ‘Fun, Italian style,’ we’ll see where it goes.

“I never say never anymore.” 

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