Because I’ve always thought of summers in Las Vegas as too hot to bear, I never thought I’d be able to participate in Carnevale. But I recently took a chance on a July trip, which meant I got to see what Carnevale is all about. Carnevale is hosted by the Venetian and Palazzo during the summer months as a celebration along the lines of Carnevale in the real Venice, Italy. That celebration is centuries old. This one, two years old.
There are a whole slew of special events affiliated with Carnevale, though your trip may or may not coincide with any of them. (Mine did not.) Examples of special ticketed events are the Samuel Adams Beer Dinner (July 27), the Tour d’Italy Wine Walk (August 9), and Cook and Dine with Wolfgang Puck (August 31).
But there are daily events as well, so no matter when you’re visiting, you’ll be able to get a little taste of Carnevale in one form or another. It was one of the things I was most looking forward to checking out while I was in town, since much of Carnevale falls into my favorite category: FREE. Also, it’s a fun theme, and we all know how much I love themes.
So, what’s it like?
If you’re checking into the Venetian, you may see masked and costumed characters wandering around the lobby, posing for photos with guests. Or you may be lucky enough to be serenaded by an accordion-playing gondolier. According to their website, daily activities during Carnevale include the nightly Ciao Bella Welcome Reception, “which includes a mixology session and cocktail” and Masquerade, a “Cavalcade Show that runs through the Palazzo Waterfall atrium and restaurant row nightly at 6pm and 8pm.”
On three different nights, I made my way to the Atrium a little before 6pm. There is a stage set up there which unfortunately blocks any wide-angle shots you might be hoping to take of the Palazzo Waterfall, but is necessary for the entertainers. A trio of pianists entertained the audience with an eclectic mix of rock-and-roll and classical music.
Then at 6pm, the costumed characters of the Masquerade come parading in to upbeat Italian music, wearing masks and bold, frilly costumes of red and gold, black and white. Some wave streamers on sticks, some just preen. One character had a giant puppet on his back in sort of a reverse-puppet show. They all stick around for photo opps.
A puppeteer then takes the stage in a quiet little show that seemed quite popular with families with children. He was undeniably talented at his craft. He has a little boy marionette who blows up a balloon and tries to use it to fly—a nifty trick since he’s only touching the puppet with strings. (He later transitions to creepy little skeleton figures that dance; I didn’t understand that part.)
My favorite thing about the Cavalcade were the Living Vines. If you’ve ever been to Disney World and seen DeVine, you know what I’m talking about: Stiltwalkers buried under layers of (fake) grapevines, with green face paint. They seem like grapevines that have magically come to life.
They may strike a still pose up against a column and startle passers-by when they move, but they also like to stretch a lot. The first time I saw them exit via the Palazzo casino, they reminded me of the Ents marching on Isengard in the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. I got a kick out of that.
As for the Ciao Bella welcome reception, I somehow missed the mixology session (which takes place daily except Thursday and Friday). I spied a pop-up bar beneath one of the escalators selling beer for $6, wines for around $13-14 and a specialty cocktail for $10 (all in a small plastic cup). People took advantage of it being there (because this is Vegas and people like their booze to go).
Nightly at 9:15 and 10:30pm during Carnevale, you can also catch the “Light of Venice” at Doge’s Palace (out in front of the Venetian). I caught the 10:30pm light show one night. It wasn’t well-attended. I may have been the only person there who was there on purpose.
Some people who were walking by noticed it once it started and stopped to watch. Of course, it was still very, very hot outside and at a time of night when there are numerous options for entertainment. On a scale of free attractions in Las Vegas, it doesn’t come close to the Bellagio Fountain Show, but is far better than the thunderstorm in the Miracle Mile Shops. In other words, I wouldn’t go out of my way to see it, but if you’re there anyway, why not?
With the exception of the bar, the free nightly entertainment of Carnevale is very family-friendly. Most of those gathered at the base of the Waterfall for the shows seemed to be families with children. If you prefer your Vegas vacations to be child-free, try watching from the railing on the second floor or behind the stage, closer to the Palazzo casino.
I have to admit that while I enjoyed elements of Carnevale, I still prefer the singers in St. Mark’s Square who perform year-round. They are a must-see for me. But I love the idea of live entertainment in the Palazzo Atrium, and Carnevale provides a perfect excuse for that. I hope they continue the tradition annually, because I think it has the potential to grow into something bigger and even more festive. I do think they need to work on the light show though; it’s a little too understated for Las Vegas.
Carnevale runs until September 8 this year. Be sure to check the calendar to see which special events may be going on during your trip. Though they’re not free, some of them look like they’d be fun and definitely something different to do on your Vegas vacation.
Disclaimer: I was generously hosted by the Palazzo during my stay there. All observations, thoughts and opinions expressed in this article, though, are 100% my own.