Carnival Cruise Lines celebrates its 50th Anniversary with a flagship named after the company’s first ‘funship’

The Bolt, Carnival Mardi Gras

Cruise Director Mike Pack piloting The Bolt, the first roller coaster on a cruise ship

The Mardi Gras is the newest ship in Carnival Cruise Line’s fleet of Fun Ships. This ship holds a special significance in this family-owned business, as it has taken the name of the company’s first ship when the company founder Ted Arison and his son Micky started the cruise line in 1972. Passenger capacity on the original Mardi Gras was for 906 guests, and the 2021 model comfortably accommodates 5,200 guests on a ship that is six times the size and light years ahead in accommodations, dining, entertainment and technological sophistication. What hasn’t changed is the company’s original understanding of how to create a family-friendly holiday environment. Company President Christine Duffy noted; “The Mardi Gras is the flagship of Carnival Cruise Line, and a symbol of our company’s re-start, and she is named for our company’s first ship and dedicated to guest services.”

As the company approaches its 50th Anniversary, the Mardi Gras marks a new chapter for Carnival Cruise Line. This is the first eco-friendly cruise ship in North America to be powered by Liquid Natural Gas (LNG), along with numerous initiatives to reduce the ship’s environmental impact. While still available, paper menus and daily activity programs have been replaced by QR codes that open menus and activity timetables on guest smart phones, enabling a tremendous reduction in paper consumption. Single use plastics have been eliminated, and on-board digesters are used to ‘consume’ unused food.

At the top of the ship, Mardi Gras has the first roller coaster at sea! Between the engine room and the top deck, the ship is designed for guest comfort, wall-to-wall fun, multiple dining options and non-stop entertainment.

Grand Central, Carnival Mardi Gras

Grand Central is the magnificent performance area with dynamic stage shows that include aerialists

Grand Central

In a unique design feature, the midship atrium Grand Central is three decks high with a window-wall opening to the surrounding ocean and horizon. Three decks of seating provide excellent views of the stage from every vantage point for the spectacular evening shows that include live music, dancers and even aerialists. Grand Central is just that – action-central for the ship and nearby shops, casino, restaurants and bars that include JavaBlue Café, the Grand View Bar, Bonsai Sushi and Bonsai Teppanyaki. The nearby Piano Bar 88 and The Punchliner Comedy Club were immensely popular during our week onboard.

Excel suite, Carnival Mardi Gras

A luxurious and spacious Excel suite


The Mardi Gras offers the next generation of stateroom design and guest-friendly features; beginning with ample cupboard, drawer and closet organizers that will provide out-of-sight storage for even the fullest suitcases. Staterooms have clever roll-out storage bins, shelving units, device chargers, directional bedside reading lamps, and glass-fronted mini fridges.

The Mardi Gras has been designed for families and intergenerational holidays; and the accommodations meet the expectations of each generation. Grandpa and Grandma may opt for a luxurious suite, while Mom, Dad and the grandchildren can enjoy their stateroom closer to the action.

Shaquille O'Neal

Basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal is Carnival’s Chief Fun Officer and owner of Shaq’s BIG Chicken

Carnival Mardi Gras loves kids

Speaking about family vacations, Carnival President Christine Duffy stated; “Our founder Ted Arison had a vision to provide affordable vacations for families. We hold true to that vision today. We carry more kids than any other cruise line, and our multigenerational bookings continue to grow – especially on this ship!” The new Mardi Gras is well-designed for families and multigenerational get-togethers. Its slogan is “happy kids make happy parents”.

The “Family Harbor” 4th floor is restricted to families, and offers extra- large nautical themed staterooms, and a separate lounge for breakfast, teatime, and cookies & milk at bedtime. It’s a surefire way for kids to meetup and form new friendships.

On the same floor, “Camp Ocean” has large, dedicated spaces and activities for age groups of 2-5, 6-8, 9-11, 12-14; and teens 15-17, who also have their own unique outdoor lounge area.

With a big selection of fast-food type restaurants – from Shaq’s Big Chicken, Guy’s Burgers, Pizza, Paninis and three Street Eats trucks by the pool; there is something for every youthful palate. Family dining is a cinch, with simplest and surest way is to gather all the family together at breakfast and dinner in one of the two formal dining rooms or three specialty restaurants. And… Mardi Gras has two self-serve soft ice cream locations that operate 24 hours a day.

And of course, there is the BOLT – the unique top-of- ship roller coaster that takes guests on a hair-raising ride over the Mini Golf, Water Parks and walkways… Great for crazy kids and the young at heart.

Fahrenheit-555 Steakhouse

Fahrenheit-555 Steakhouse and Seafood is everything you’d expect in a high end steakhouse

Mardi Gras Dining Options


Table-side preparation of Edible Art Dessert at Fahrenheit-555

Cruise vacations are famous for dining options that range from a hamburger to gourmet cuisine. Guests on the Mardi Gras can have it all – with sixteen restaurant choices; from The Palm, a traditionally elegant main dining room, to Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse, Rudi’s Seagrill, Mexican-Chinese at ChiBang!, a New Orleans menu by Chef Emeril Lagasse at Emeril’s Bistro in the French Quarter, delicious Italian cuisine at Cucina del Capitano, Guy’s Burger Joint, Shaq’s Big Chicken, foodie truck style at Street Eats, 24-hour pizza at Pizzeria del Capitano, pub grub at Guy’s Pig & Anchor Brewhouse, Bonsai Teppanyaki, Bonsai Sushi, New England summer fare at the Seafood Shack and of course the Lido Marketplace. Guests will enjoy the convenience of open seating, and when necessary, reservations can be made from your smart phone or by stateroom phone.

Guy Fieri

Guy Fieri has partnered with Carnival since 2011 and has a Guy’s Burger Joint on all Carnival ships

In a seven-day cruise, we were able to enjoy evening dinners at Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse, Cucina del Capitano (twice), Rudi’s Seagrill, ChiBang! and The Palm. For lunch we tried several other less formal restaurants. Shaq’s BIG Chicken features several southern fried chicken recipes tried and approved by his mom. They were delicious and Shaq’s was in a friendly competition with Guy’s Burger Joint for the most meals served. We happily sampled both and they were delicious. Deep-fried French Toast for breakfast at Emeril’s Bistro was sinfully decadent. Emeril’s also offers classic New Orleans fare such as Po’boy sandwiches and other calorie-rich indulgences.

Chef Emeril Lagassé

Celebrity Chef Emeril Lagassé brings New Orleans cuisine to Emeril’s Bistro

Emeril’s Bistro

The immensely popular Emeril’s Bistro serves up authentic New Orleans cuisine

Emeril’s Bistro is part or the New Orleans-themed French Quarter. We enjoyed a terrific jazz quartet in the Steel Magnolia Bar, just a few steps from the Fortune Teller Bar – all part of the French Quarter.

La Piazza is an Italian-themed destination where we enjoyed two lovely dinners at Cucina del Capitano. You can get a pizza 24 hours a day at Pizzeria del Capitano, which also offers outdoor dining on a wind-sheltered terrace. Next door, Piazza Panini was also immensely popular.  It wouldn’t be a slice of Italy without an expresso bar, and Bar Della Rosa serves up authentic Italian expresso, switching to Italian cocktails during the evening.

La Piazza, Carnival Mardi Gras

Dining Al Fresco at La Piazza

555 Fahrenheit Steakhouse is everything you’d expect in a steakhouse and more. The menu features a selection of delicious steaks; and mine was cooked to perfection and served with panache. Other menu items included lobster and lamb. Wine pairings are available to complement this first-rate cuisine.  For dessert we enjoyed a unique art form edible dessert created at your table by the artist/waiter on a giant platter. Lots of fun and then shared family-style.

Chef Rudi Sodamin

Master Chef Rudi Sodamin of sister line Holland America created the elegant
Rudi’s Seagrill for Mardi Gras

Rudi’s Seagrill was another gastronomic treat, set in an elegant nautical blue and white décor. The fish and seafood menu is extensive, and I enjoyed the largest and best crab cake I have ever consumed. If fish or seafood doesn’t appeal to you, the menu also offers free range chicken, a Berkshire pork chop and a 14-ounce prime New York Strip Steak. Austrian-born and trained Chef Rudi Sodamin is also the Master Chef for Carnival’s sister cruise line, Holland America. Our dining experience at Rudi’s Seagrill was one of several culinary highlights.

Summer Landing and Hero’s Bar

Where would you rather be; on the ‘pool deck’ or a more welcoming place called Summer Landing? The latter is the place to be if you’re looking for sun and fun at the aft portion of Mardi Gras. Just a few steps from your deck chair, you’ll find BBQ at Guy’s Pig & Anchor Smokehouse | Brewhouse. This is also the home of Hero’s Bar, a tribute to active and retired military service men and women.Carnival hosts a special tribute to military members every week, on every ship in the fleet. I attended the tribute, and it was an emotional and uplifting salute to veterans and active military personnel from the U.S and other countries such as Canada and Great Britain.

The Ultimate Playground

The Ultimate Playground is a major attraction for families, and it starts with BOLT, the first rollercoaster at sea, an all-electric thrill ride that puts the power of speed in the driver’s hands. In the interest of journalistic reality experience, I actually went on this rocket, travelling at 40 mph and higher! Popular Science magazine has recognized Carnival Cruise Line with its “Best of What’s New” engineering award for the innovation and design work that resulted in the July 2021 debut of BOLT, the first roller coaster at sea on board the line’s flagship Mardi Gras. Popular Science Magazine described BOLT as a “marvel of maritime engineering”.

The Loft

The Loft is one of two an adults-only areas and offers
private cabanas and deck chairs
Photo: Peter Kerr

The BOLT is only the beginning — this playground has the largest Carnival WaterWorks ever with three huge spiraling slides, plus SportSquare for basketball and an entire mini-golf course. There is also a ropes course which isn’t as easy when you’re up there looking down.

Adults Only Quiet Zones

Serenity and The Loft: If you’d like to enjoy a quiet and restful time in the sunshine, Mardi Gras has an Adults Only area on Deck 18 Forward, called Serenity and The Loft on Deck 19. Serenity has a generous supply of deck chairs, a ‘private’ pool, and a fully stocked bar. Private daybeds are available on Deck 19 for a modest fee.

Ports of Call

As the cruise industry develops more on-board activities and features, the ship you select is now a significant part of your cruise destination. The Mardi Gras sails from Florida’s Port Canaveral where the Port Authority has constructed a new port terminal to accommodate Carnival’s newest ship.  Mardi Gras offers alternating Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries. There are four Eastern and five Western Caribbean and itineraries, plus two 8-day Southern Caribbean cruise routes. There is so much to do on this ship that booking a two-week, back-to-back voyage could be an attractive option.

Vivo Beach near San Juan, Puerto Rico

We enjoyed a terrific day at Vivo Beach near
San Juan, Puerto Rico

Having already visited San Juan, Puerto Rico several times, we opted for a Vivo Beach excursion and enjoyed it thoroughly. The golden sand beach stretches for over a mile, and the facility provided lounge chairs, great beach food and beverage service. The operators also happen to own an on-site micro-brewery, which was very popular with our fellow guests.

Amber Cove is a popular Dominican Republic destination that is common to the Eastern Caribbean itineraries. Carnival Corporation constructed the facility that includes swimming pools, a shopping plaza, restaurants and bars. It’s a family friendly oasis that services other cruise lines owned by Carnival Corporation; Holland America, Princess, Cunard, Costa, the luxury Seabourn brand, UK based P&O, Germany’s AIDA, and P&O Australia. In addition to the waterpark and shopping, Amber Cove has a distinct advantage in being adjacent to the ship.

Dominican Republic's Coconut Cove

The Dominican Republic’s Coconut Cove has great swimming, zip lines, a restaurant and bar service – all included

On the day that we moored at Amber Cove, Beverley took a cooking class in the Mardi Gras show kitchen. It’s a daily activity and a fun way to meet some fellow guests. I opted to take an all-inclusive beach tour to Coconut Cove. It was a good decision. The crescent-shaped beach surrounds water so calm that it’s like a saltwater lake. There are activities for everyone, including paddle boards, kayaks, snorkeling, zip-lining across the water and of course – great swimming. Lunch included BBQ chicken, ribs, burgers and a wide assortment of salads. Alcoholic beverages and soft drinks are complimentary. Our guide provided an informative and entertaining commentary during the 30-minute ride to and from the ship. I’d recommend Coconut Cove for couples and families with teenagers.

Carnival Cruise Line’s Mardi Gras is a fitting salute to the company’s 50th Anniversary. Our seven days onboard went by way too quickly. With a diverse itinerary, and so many onboard experiences to enjoy, we’d give serious consideration to a back-to-back sailing. And for intergenerational family cruising – Mardi Gras will be a hit with all ages in the family.

The current health protocols require all passengers to provide proof of being fully vaccinated. Masks are worn in the common areas of the ship. 50% of the crew is tested every week in the fully equipped on-board medical centre. Cleaning and disinfecting of the ship are done constantly. With these protocols in place, a cruise ship is arguably a safe holiday option.

For more information about Carnival Mardi Gras, please contact your travel agent or visit the company’s website: Bon Voyage!

Carnival Cruise Line and Miss Universe

Miss Universe

(left to right) Miss Universe, Andrea, Meza Carmona; Chris Dikmen, President of; Miss Dominican Republic, Kimberly Jiminez, Godmother of Mardi Gras and Miss USA, Aysa Branch

Carnival is one of the sponsors of the Miss Universe Pageant, which has evolved from being a beauty pageant. For the official inaugural sailing that we joined, Miss Universe, Miss Dominican Republic and Miss USA were all onboard. Miss Universe, Andrea Meza Carmona (Miss Mexico is a Software Engineer who was one of five females in her university graduating class in 2014) noted; “We use this platform to promote women’s Rights and empowerment. We shine a light on violence against women. We all have careers.”

Miss Dominican Republic, Kimberly Jimenez was selected to be the Godmother of Mardi Gras. Kimberly is one of seven children, and she works in an orphanage in La Romana, Dominican Republic.

Asya Branch was Miss USA, is a graduate of the ‘Ole Miss (University of Mississippi) with a degree in Integrated Marketing Communications. She works with the Criminal Justice system to help provide support for families and wrongly accused inmates. Her participation in the pageant helped her to overcome stage fright, so that she is able to be more effective in her work. Her commitment comes from her own situation of being from a disadvantaged family and having a family member incarcerated for 10 years for a crime that he did not commit. Her objective is to be a role model for other disadvantaged children.