The Mardi Gras, Carnival Cruise Lines' original "Fun Ship," has been chartered by start-up operator Royal Venture Cruise Line and renamed the Sun Venture to conduct two- and five-day sailings from Tampa.

Royal Venture leased the 942-passenger ship, most recently named the Apollon, from Epirotiki (Marianne Shipping, Inc.) which owns the vessel as part of Epirotiki's short-lived alliance venture with Carnival.

According to Takis Kiriakidis, Chairman of Royal Venture, the longterm charter is for more than five years with an option to purchase which must be exercised before the end of 1997.

The ship will undergo about a $2 million cosmetic refurbishment in Piraeus and is slated to arrive in Tampa in mid-June.

The Sun Venture will go head-to-head with the Royal Seas II, the former Ukraina, which Royal Venture was to originally have chartered from Mineola, NY-based OdessAmerica. Once the deal fell apart, OdessAmerica decided to operate the ship out of Tampa and quickly inaugurated the Royal Seas II in late March.

However, during the first few cruises, the vessel was reportedly plagued with a faulty plumbing system, broken slot machines and ongoing shipboard work. Passengers also complained of substandard food service, sporadic shop hours and generally unclean conditions. The ship was also briefly detained by health inspectors for not meeting U.S. sanitary waste disposal standards.

Kiriakidis expects that the Sun Venture which is "in good shape because it's a former Carnival ship," will draw a passenger audience similar to the clientele of the Regent Rainbow.