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How about a winter getaway to Venice for Carnival?

It’s not surprising that the travel deals you’ll hear talked about most often in late January (and into February) are for sunny destinations, most often involving tropical beaches and umbrella-clad cocktails. But why do winter getaways have to be in warm climates? What about the people for whom winter is the best time of year, when the white fluffy stuff falls and they’d be on the slopes every day if they could be? What about the people who relish the low off-season prices and smaller crowds in top summertime destinations – and who aren’t afraid of a little rain as they rush from museum to museum?

I’m not a summer-aholic, and in fact I’m not really into beaches at all. So when I think winter getaway, I just think about the same places I’d normally like to go – only I’m going in the winter. Which means, for me, I’m thinking again about Italy. And specifically, I’m dreaming of a visit to Venice.

carnivalI love Venice. I love her when she’s sunny and crammed with camara-wielding tourists, and I love her when she’s densely packed with nothing but fog. Of all the times I’ve been to Venice, perhaps the most memorable was a February visit a couple of years ago when the mist was so thick – through almost the entire day – that I shivered for my whole visit. And yet I still loved my dear Venice.

One of the things people who have seen Venice often complain about are the crowds – and I can totally understand that. But despite the fact that I know the tiny city is jam-packed with people during its annual Carnival celebration, someday I’d like to experience it for myself. If you’ve got the Venice Carnival on your to-do list, too, here are a few things to keep in mind about making the trip without spending a fortune.

Even when it’s not Carnival time, I’m a big proponent of making Venice your starting point for a trip to Italy, and flying into Venice’s airport. It’s not one of the country’s major international entry points, but it is an international airport – and Venice airfare is usually competitively priced with airfare into Rome and Milan (and sometimes it’s even cheaper than either of those big hubs). Prices on airfare may go up right before and after the Carnival celebration, but the change isn’t usually too dramatic.

Accommodation in Venice is definitely a huge expense, there’s on denying it – and during a big celebration like Carnival the rates skyrocket. Even more distressing, there are very few actual hostels in the city. To say the market is dominated by hotels in Venice is an understatement. There’s one huge HI hostel in the city, but other budget accommodation options include renting an apartment for a short-term stay (with friends, or if you’re traveling as a family), or staying on the Venetian mainland (I don’t generally recommend this because I think you’re missing out on Venice if you don’t stay on the islands, but if the choice is between staying on the mainland or not going to Venice – go to Venice).

Once you’re there, assuming you want to do things besides Carnival events, it’s a good idea to check out some of the Venice discount cards that are available. Most of them include transportation and some sights in Venice, so you can get a discount on entry fees to museums (or, in some cases, get in for free) and get a reduced fare on the water buses (or, in some cases, get a certain number of hours of free water bus usage). You do need to pay attention to what they include, to make sure that you’re getting your money’s worth, but if you’d be riding the water buses often and visiting most of the museums and other sights on the card anyway, then it’s usually a good deal.

As with any special event or holiday, you’ll also see Venice Carnival travel deals come up sometimes, especially with regard to package tours. These can be a good deal, or they can be overpriced. You’ve got to do a little bit of math to see if you’re getting a bargain or not, but it never hurts to look. Plus, you can get an idea of what tour providers are offering for itineraries to get an idea of a good itinerary to mimic!

I won’t be in Venice for Carnival this year, but one day I’ll have to brave the crowds and get into the spirit with a mask and costume. Because even though I love Venice, I’m not sure she’ll really love me back until I do.

photo by Alaskan Dude