MIAMI -- Carnival Cruise Lines will offer a series of summer cruises in the Mediterranean in 2005, a first for the mega-cruise line.

Carnival will use its 2,974-passenger Carnival Liberty, which is under construction at the Fincantieri shipyard in Italy.

The Liberty will sail eight 12-day Med cruises roundtrip from Civitavecchia, Italy, the closest port city to Rome. The cruises, which call in seven ports, include an overnight in Venice.

The ship is scheduled to debut in the Med July 20, 2005. It will reposition to Fort Lauderdale on Oct. 24, 2005, via a 16-day transatlantic voyage.

Carnival first tested the European waters in 2002 with a 12-day northern Europe cruise on the Carnival Legend from Harwich, England. But the line has not deployed another ship there since, instead using its new capacity to expand U.S. homeports, either by inserting new ships directly into new ports or shifting tonnage to new cities.

The Liberty cruises will be Carnival's first Mediterranean offering, as well as its first European season. The Liberty will be the largest cruise ship to be deployed in the Med: Princess' Grand-class ships -- all three will sail in Europe next summer -- each carries 2,600 passengers.

A spokeswoman for Royal Caribbean International said the line will not deploy any of its Voyager-class ships to the Mediterranean in 2005.

Reservation books open on the Liberty's summer season June 22. Carnival said prices begin at $1,499 per person.

To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].

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