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December 2011

Barging from Venice: the beautiful life, a.k.a. 'La Bella Vita'

La Bella Vita in Venice

ABOVE: La Bella Vita in St. Mark's Basin, Venice. INSET BELOW: A stateroom, and dinner on deck.

Stateroom on LA BELLA VITAVenice is one of Europe's leading cruise ports, and you'll often see large ships cruising up or down the Giudecca Canal. If you're alert, you may also see another kind of vessel amid Venice's megaships, vaporetti, and tour boats: the luxury hotel barge La Bella Vita of European Waterways Ltd., which cruises in the Venetian Lagoon and the Po River Valley from early April through late October.

La Bella Vita is a 20-passenger vessel that was  refitted in 2010 to the standards of European Waterways, which markets upscale barge cruises in Italy, France, Germany, England, Scotland, Ireland, and the Benelux countries.

The barge, which looks like a downsized river cruiser, has eight staterooms, two junior suites, a lounge, a dining room, and a large sun deck. Other amenities include a PC with Internet access, 10 touring bicycles, and an air-conditioned bus that follows the barge to provide transport for shore excursions.

LA BELLA VITA - Dinner on DeckThe crew of seven includes a chef who prepares Venetian and other Italian specialties throughout the cruise. Fares cover six nights of cruising, meals, wine and other beverages, and shore tours in Venice, Chioggia, Ferrara, Mantua, and other locations in the Venetian Lagoon and the Po River Valley.

For more information, see the La Bella Vita pages at the European Waterways Web site,

Note: We haven't cruised on La Bella Vita, but we did spend a week on the European Waterways hotel barge La Renaissance in 2008, and you can read our in-depth review here.

BELOW: This view of La Bella Vita shows the large sun deck, the upper deck (which houses two junior suites and the public rooms), and windows of staterooms on the lower deck. 

La Bella Vita - barge in Venice

Photos: European Waterways Ltd.

Should Venice have an offshore cruise terminal?

Celebrity cruise ship in Venice

ABOVE: A Celebrity cruise ship looms over Venice's waterfront.

SeaTrade Insider, a Web newsletter for the cruise industry, asks if "green or greed" is behind a scheme to build a new offshore cruise terminal in Venice. In an article datelined December 12, SeaTrade Insider reports that the proposal--which involves moving cruise operations to a future container and oil terminal outside the Venetian Lagoon--is backed by Italy's new Minister for the Environment and a number of Venice citizens' groups.

The cruise industry isn't enthusiastic about the proposal, and neither is the management of Venezia Terminal Passeggeri (which operates Venice's existing cruise facilities). The VTP's director acknowledges that air pollution from cruise ships may be a problem, but he points out that the port authority is already developing a shorepower or "cold ironing" system that will make it unnecessary for ships to generate electricity by running their diesel engines in port.

Our thoughts:

  • One of Venice's attractions as a cruise port is the proximity of the terminals to the historic center. If ships arrived and departed from a distant terminal outside the lagoon, Venice would be less appealing to shipborne tourists and cruise lines--and that could mean a substantial loss of income for hotels, shops, restaurants, and other local businesses.

  • Venice has been a maritime city for centuries, and watching ships go up and down the Giudecca Canal is one of the pleasures of being in Venice (whether as a tourist or as a resident). Not too many years ago, millions of euros were spent to reinforce the walls of the Giudecca Canal against underwater wave action, so the argument that cruise-ship movements cause damage to the the city's infrastructure is less compelling than it was in earlier decades.

  • Critics of the proposed offshore cruise terminal suggest that the scheme is "an old tale based on a combination off snobbery, ignorance, and the desire of a cash-strapped city hall to wring fresh funding from the cruise sector." The city already soaks tourists with high transit fares and a new hotel guest tax, and skeptics can't be blamed for thinking that the proposal for an offshore cruise terminal is merely the first step in a plan to squeeze more money from cruise lines and cruisers.