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America’s cruise line has gone Italian — or has it?

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“I could really go for another slice of pizza,” I thought, as I eyed the gelato along the Lido Deck’s outdoor piazza and hummed, “That’s Amore” — a tune that has seemed to play on repeat since I boarded Carnival Firenze four days ago.

When I first heard Carnival Cruise Line was adopting a couple of ships from Italian sister brand Costa Cruises and trying to pass them off as “Italian style,” I couldn’t help but wonder if it was possible for the experience to feel even a little bit authentic. After all, Costa is used to catering to Europeans, so I figured the ship would know how Italians prefer to cruise.

However, Carnival Firenze — formerly Costa Firenze, which is the Italian name for Florence — was not built for Italians but for foreigners. The result is a ship that seems like an over-the-top highlights reel, packed with nods to Italy that any tourist would understand but which would make an actual Italian wonder, “Is this what they really think of us?”

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Don’t get me wrong: The ship is fun — lots of fun, actually — but it’s Italian in the same way Sacha Baron Cohen is Austrian when he plays Bruno or Kazakhstani when he suits up as Borat (in other words, not at all). As a colleague said when he sailed sister ship Carnival Venezia last year, it’s a bit like being at The Venetian in Las Vegas or in the Italy section of Epcot at Walt Disney World.

Many of the design elements, food offerings, drink options and themed parties feel like an amalgamation of Italian stereotypes, rather than a tasteful ode to one of the world’s most beautiful countries.

Even worse, this floating caricature reinforces the most infuriating cruise tropes: that ships force travelers to settle for a sheltered version of the real thing and that you can’t authentically experience culture when you sail.

I’ve spent the past few days grudgingly leaning into everything Italian I can find on Carnival Firenze. Will the ship give you a true taste of Italy? It won’t. But, that doesn’t stop it from offering the same type of unpretentious, cheerful fun for which Carnival is known — even if it’s a bit Parmigiana cheesy.

An over-the-top naming ceremony

Actor Jonathan Bennett on a stage with people handing him Italian-themed items
Actor Jonathan Bennett accepts several Italian-themed items on stage during the christening of Carnival Firenze, where he served as godfather. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Carnival set the tone for the ship from the beginning with the vessel’s Italian-themed naming ceremony. In keeping with the precedent of choosing godfathers — Jay Leno was Carnival Venezia’s — instead of godmothers for its former Costa vessels, Carnival selected actor Jonathan Bennett to do the honors for Carnival Firenze.

Bennett isn’t Italian, so Carnival decided to make him so. Company executives presented the “Mean Girls” actor with an armful of Italian items he could barely hold: an Italia soccer shirt, a pizza, a wheel of Parmesan cheese, a bottle of Aperol, several packages of pasta and Gucci swag. In an extra cringeworthy display, they squirted him with a bottle of holy water from the Vatican.

Just prior, Carnival Firenze cruise director Joey Boyes and Carnival brand ambassador John Heald sang a hilarious duet of “On Firenze” to the tune of “That’s Amore” but with lyrics about eating meatballs and other oh-so-Italian pursuits.

Two men on a stage in front of a giant screen that reads "Carnival Firenze" with American and Italian flags under the text
Carnival Firenze cruise director Joey Boyes and Carnival Cruise Line brand ambassador John Heald sing a duet to the tune of “That’s Amore.” ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

The event was a little weird, but it was still a great time with tons of laughs. In fact, some elements were downright wonderful. I was stunned, in a good way, by the operatic performance by members of the ship’s Playlist Productions entertainment crew, many of whom are often stuck singing only pop tunes during nightly shows. Unfortunately, though, their “Italian” costumes were so garish they were distracting.

The immensely talented actress Leslie Kritzer — one of Bennett’s castmates from the Broadway musical “Spamalot” — who is also not Italian, gave a phenomenal performance of several Italian-themed songs. Her set was one of the few saving graces of the evening.

Overall, I’m fairly certain the only authentically Italian aspect of the proceedings was when Captain Crescenzo Palomba — who actually is Italian — translated Bennett’s blessing of the ship into his native tongue.

Decor that makes you say ‘hmmm’

Two confused looking women in part of a painting
Artwork featuring two confused women on Carnival Firenze. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

From Carnival Firenze’s sweeping, lavish three-deck Piazza del Duomo atrium with its gleaming gold replica of Donatello’s “Marzocco” lion statue to the Lido Pool, which is set up like an Italian promenade, complete with wrought-iron balconies, the ship is designed to make you feel like you’re in some alternate universe’s version of Italy — and I don’t hate it.

Near the pool, you can grab a fruity tropical cocktail from Rococo, an open-air bar where you’ll find the walls plastered with late Baroque-style art whose subjects have been embellished with modern twists like sunglasses and pithy text. Women in frilly dresses are overlaid with exclamations like “Don’t rush me,” “Dogs before dudes” and, simply, “Swag.”

They’re great for a chortle, and they’re exactly the type of art I can appreciate. What truly makes me laugh out loud, though, are the prints that span the walls in the ship’s aft stairwells. They might seem innocuous at first, but as you look more closely, you can pick out some exceptionally odd characters. They include two women who clearly tested the limits of their drink package, a creepy crone who needs dental work and some Pasties, and a sad dog who stands on top of the table in a chaotic version of “The Last Supper” as Jesus nonchalantly looks on.

A replica of Michelangelo's David statue
A replica of Michelangelo’s David statue stands in the Michelangelo Restaurant on Carnival Firenze. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

On the surface, the above artworks look Italian, but they lend themselves to the less stuffy atmosphere for which Carnival is known.

However, one of the biggest — both literally and figuratively — reminders that this ship is squarely American, despite its Italian theming, is a huge replica of Michelangelo’s “David.” It presides over the two-deck Michelangelo Restaurant, one of the ship’s two main dining rooms.

The statue, which originally appeared in the nude on Carnival Pride, has been moved to Carnival Firenze; it still bears the fig leaf that was added to preserve delicate American sensibilities after prudish passengers complained.

Tasty ‘Italian’ food

A restaurant with tan and blue carpeting, tables with white tablecloths, blue chairs and a curved, wooden wall with fish designs
Il Viaggio on Carnival Firenze. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

As is the case across the Carnival fleet, the food on Carnival Firenze is great, but some of the menu changes have me scratching my head.

On many of its ships, Carnival already has an Italian restaurant, Cucina del Capitano, which offers a homey ambience and family-favorite recipes from the Italian captains across the line’s fleet. Oddly, the restaurant appears on neither Carnival Venezia nor Carnival Firenze.

Instead, it has been replaced by Il Viaggio, an upscale Italian eatery with a $42 per-person cover charge — nearly double what most ships with Cucina del Capitano charge passengers to dine. Il Viaggio’s decor is elegant but understated. It doesn’t drip with red, white and green or stereotypical Italian adornments, offering a refreshing escape from other areas of the vessel where the theming is overkill.

The menu, which is billed as “a culinary voyage through Italy’s diverse regions — one plate at a time,” includes some of the best food I’ve ever had on a ship. I thoroughly enjoyed the house-made burrata; the pollo Parmigiana pizza, which has a crust made of chicken; the gnocchi with goat cheese and truffle oil; and the mile-high gelato pie. Still, I would have liked to see some of the captains’ traditional recipes carried over from the Cucina menu on other ships. It would have been a way to include some additional authenticity.

Another pleasant surprise is Il Mercato, which replaces Carnival’s deli venue found on other ships. It was moved from the Lido Marketplace buffet into an open-air space on Deck 11 to make room in the buffet for a for-fee chicken wing spot. Although the physical setup feels a little cheap and temporary — it looks like a modular stand you’d find at a farmer’s market — the food is complimentary and shockingly tasty.

In addition to standard deli fare like hot dogs and turkey and Swiss sandwiches, you can also choose from more Italian-themed eats like sausage and meatball sandwiches. Despite being a little light on meat, the cheesesteak I had one evening was delicious; as a lifelong Eastern Pennsylvanian, I think it could rival some of the best in Philadelphia. You also can’t go wrong with one of the pretzel rolls.

A cruise ship crew member hands a cheeseburger over the counter to a customer
One of two Italian-themed menu items at Guy’s Burger Joint on Carnival Firenze. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Carnival has also added two Italian-themed options to the menu at Guy’s Burger Joint and replaced the BlueIguana Cantina with a walk-up counter called Tomodoro that purports to be a fusion of Mexican and Italian cuisines. (Really, it’s just BlueIguana, rebranded, and it still serves tacos and burritos.)

I tried both of the options from the former — one burger with mozzarella cheese, balsamic, tomatoes, basil and Donkey Sauce and another with pepperoni, marinara sauce, Donkey Sauce, mozzarella, provolone and Parmesan. Both were just OK, and I was sad to see that my favorite burger, the Pig Patty, is absent from the menu on this ship.

At Tomodoro, the menu lists tacos and burritos, as well as Italian meatball heroes, Sicilian chicken wraps and tortas de Milanese.

My hot take on these two restaurants’ changes: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Drink options

A hand holds a cocktail in front of a seating area with a backdrop of lights hanging from the ceiling.
A Frizzante Spritz from the Frizzante Bar on Carnival Firenze. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

As far as Carnival Firenze’s bars are concerned, I get the impression that the line just picked out singular Italian words for their names — Frizzante, Rococo, Moda, Amari, Pergola — and tossed in some drinks made from Italian alcohol.

The first three are my favorites, with Frizzante offering popular bubbly spritz-style drinks like the Aperol Spritz and — my new go-to — the Frizzante Spritz, as well as a slew of espresso martini variations. You’ll want to sidle up for a predinner drink or two if you’re planning to dine at Il Viaggio.

I enjoy Rococo mainly for its hilarious art, but it’s also a great spot to grab a quick bottle of water or a fruity frozen drink if you’re near the Lido Pool.

Moda has a super-fun entryway that makes you feel like you’re on a runway as you walk inside, complete with fashion-forward furniture. The Moda Lounge is also where people booked in La Terrazza, the ship’s exclusive suite area, can enjoy waiter-served breakfast; the bar and lounge are open to everyone after the morning meal, though. (The adjoining sun deck remains exclusive to suite passengers.)

A round bar with red chairs on a cruise ship
The Amari Bar on Carnival Firenze. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

I have a bone to pick with Carnival because it replaced the Alchemy Bar — Carnival’s apothecary-style bar, which appears on nearly every single Carnival vessel — with the Amari Bar. I’m trying to understand why Italian-style fun involves removing one of the line’s most beloved watering holes. The herbal liqueur-focused Amari is empty nearly every single time I walk past, which tells me it’s not a cruiser favorite.

One saving grace: There’s an Alchemy section on the menu, so you can still order popular drinks like The Remedy and Cucumber Sunrise cocktails there.

The Pergola Bar is hardly worth a mention since it’s little more than a sterile counter on Deck 11 that feels a lot like an afterthought. The seating area around it is nice enough, replete with columns of faux topiary, but it isn’t noteworthy otherwise.

Over-the-top entertainment

Crew members on a cruise ship wave flags and signs in the atrium to welcome passengrs on board
An Italian-themed “welcome on board” party in the atrium of Carnival Firenze. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Ultimately, some of Carnival Firenze’s Italian-style entertainment works, but some made me groan. At embarkation, the first round of passengers was met with a raucous welcome in the Piazza del Duomo, complete with loud music, confetti and enthusiastic crew members waving giant signs that bore Italian phrases like “CIAO” and “BENVENUTI.” That was actually fun, and it fell in line with Carnival’s usual “welcome on board” celebrations.

However, Festa Italiana — a big, loud, cheesy Italian-themed street festival-type celebration — just made me roll my eyes. One night on each sailing, the Lido Pool area is strung with red, white and green flags. The event, which lasts more than two hours, kicks off with a talented violin trio.

Red, white and green flags hanging in the air over a cruise ship pool deck in front of a stage
Flags hanging over the pool deck during Festa Italiana on Carnival Firenze. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Following that, the cruise director moves into what the line calls a “traditional” opening ceremony, involving members of the Playlist Productions cast in cartoonish-looking versions of Italian dress parading around the deck. They perform several times throughout the night, alternating with activities like gelato-eating contests, Italian lessons (where the audience learns a couple of phrases that they scream back and forth at one another) and competitions where participants have to maneuver, blindfolded, around terra cotta pots.

The night ends with a DJ, who plays music while servers walk around with trays of Italian sausage sandwiches and bites of salami and cheese pastry.

Bottom line

Carnival has gone all-in with its Italian-themed vessels. They’re still great at delivering the fun experience for which the line is known, but sometimes, the fun crosses a line into territory that can feel a bit like mockery.

If you love “Jersey Shore” and could see yourself as someone who would pose for professional photos with a Vespa-style scooter, Carnival Firenze might be the ship for you. If not, be warned that a lot of what you’ll experience is likely to make you grimace.

Call it fun, but don’t call it Italian — at least not with a straight face.

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