If you give a cruise ship the name Mardi Gras, you're setting expectations that everyone onboard is going to have a good time -- and Carnival's newest ship delivers just that. With its own roller coaster and a stunning Atrium, the ship packs a punch with lots of free dining and entertainment options.
With significantly more real estate than the other Fun Ships -- the Carnival Mardi Gras size is 35 percent larger than the class of ships before it -- the line has made sure that all the old favorites are onboard and bigger than ever, and also made room for features that are bound to impress.
The first one on everyone's list is the Carnival Mardi Gras roller coaster Bolt, the first roller coaster at sea -- a genuine thrill ride you need to try at least once. And then there's the Atrium, located on the side of the ship instead of the center, a placement that allows the space to have three-story sea views during the day and become a top-notch entertainment space at night.
Mardi Gras is also the first Carnival ship to be divided into "neighborhoods" -- six to be exact. While it's by no means the first cruise ship to have themed sections -- Royal Caribbean pioneered this with Oasis of the Seas way back in 2008 -- the neighborhoods break the megaship up into segments that are easy to navigate and enjoy.
Cocktail-lovers will flock to the New Orleans-themed French Quarter, which has two of the best new bars we've seen on a ship in years: The Brass Magnolia, which has a dark lounge with live music and a lofty botanical bar complete with mixologists; and the Fortune Teller Bar, which has a kooky, spooky velvet lounge feel. By contrast, the Patio at Summer Landing area goes for an outdoor BBQ vibe with games like cornhole.
Carnival Mardi Gras rooms are more thoughtful in terms of design and storage than other Carnival ships. Unsurprisingly, balcony rooms and Ocean Suites are popular for their views of the sea. If you're an ocean lover, look to the Cove balcony cabins on Deck 5 - we’ve heard of people spotting marine life like dolphins from their cabin.
One downside to the Carnival Mardi Gras cruise ship is that while there are lots of venues, some are too small to handle a rush. The traditional theater can only seat 900 at a time, and both the popular Piano Bar and Punchliner Comedy Club are laughably small. The fitness center is also overly packed on sea days, while on Elegant Nights, the main dining rooms have long lines as people are drawn by the temptation of free lobster.
Still, the sheer number of different free places to eat is astounding; there are so many breakfast and lunch venues, you might never eat in the buffet. Old favorites that used to be overly packed -- such as Guy's Burgers, the RedFrog bar on the Lido Deck and Alchemy Bar -- now have plenty of real estate to handle happy crowds.
Other highlights include the casino, which is by far the largest on Carnival, taking up a significant portion of Deck 7. The Havana Pool is exclusive to Havana stateroom guests, but is more of a hot tub than a pool. The adults-only Serenity Deck now has a full pool, as well as two hot tubs, a bar and a salad bar.
What it all adds up to is a Carnival cruise experience that delivers the affordable Fun Ship experience that people love, with a dash of sophistication that never crosses the line into snooty.
Behind the scenes, Mardi Gras is the first cruise ship in North America powered by liquified natural gas (LNG), making it a cleaner burn (and indeed, you do not see smoke billowing behind the ship when you sail).
The Carnival Mardi Gras ship sails under a requirement to have 95 percent of its passengers vaccinated against COVID-19. All passengers 12 years of age or older are required to be fully vaccinated. At the time of writing, capacity on the ship is being capped at 70 percent. As protocols and requirements are constantly evolving, we recommend consulting the Carnival Cruise website for the most up-to-date information.
Main dining rooms, buffet, and Lido deck restaurants (Guy's Burgers, Big Chicken, Street Eats, BlueIguana).
Sandwiches at Piazza Panini, Pizza at Pizzeria del Capitano.
Sandwiches and select pastries at Java Blue.
A handful of specialty restaurants on a limited basis (Cucina del Capitano, Chibang, Guy Fieri's Pig & Anchor Smokehouse).
Waterslides and splash park
Serenity adults-only pool and sundeck
All pools other than Loft 19 and Havana
All evening entertainment and most daily activities
Fitness center (although not classes) and jogging track
Specialty restaurants (Rudi's Seagrill; Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse; Emeril's, Seafood Shack)
Specialty coffee and some pastries and cakes at Java Blue
Bolt roller coaster
Spa treatments and thermal suite access
Casino games and slots
Automatic beverage and spa tips
All drinks beyond water, lemonade, iced tea and coffee
Photos and artwork
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Second time aboard Mardi Gras, just as good as last time!
All Expectations Met, Some EXCEEDED, but Sept. is HOT