Carnival Cruise Line has for many years been the most popular cruise line around, carrying millions of passengers and promising a fun experience and celebratory atmosphere - “the fun ship”. In recent weeks however, the line has revealed a number of details about what will be their largest ship to date, and it shows the line is looking to compete in new ways. Let’s dig into the ship’s details, some photos, discuss what makes it unique, and even talk history before getting Billy’s take.
Carnival Mardi Gras - The Ship
Debuting in 2020 and homeported in a new terminal at Port Canaveral, Florida, Carnival Mardi Gras will offer a number of firsts, including being the first ship homeported in North America to run on liquified natural gas (LNG), something Carnival and other have been planning on for some time. She’ll also be the largest Carnival ship ever built, with 20 decks, over 5200 lower berths, and coming in at 180,000 gross registered tonnes. The aptly (though not terribly creatively) named XL-class vessel is being built at Meyer Turku in Finland and will feature six themed “zones” (don’t call them neighborhoods, the term Royal Caribbean uses for this concept on their giant Oasis-class ships).
One of the most stunning renderings we’ve seen so far is of Mardi Gras’ atrium, which will serve as the hub of the ship, and entertainment space, and looks to offer incredible views (a choice we very much support), but we’ll talk more about what’s inside the ship in just a moment.
“When our guests Choose Fun and book a vacation on Mardi Gras, they are going to find many firsts and exciting experiences, all enhanced by the fun atmosphere our great Carnival crew deliver on every cruise,” said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line. “We’ve specifically designed Mardi Gras to invite everyone to create their own personalized fun vacation experience with options to suit every age, mood or taste.”
That Name Sounds...Familiar (History Time)
In the early 1970’s, Ted Arison split from Norwegian Cruise lines (a business he started with Knut Kloster), and started Carnival Cruise Line. Carnival’s first ship was an 11 year old English-built ocean liner previously named “Empress of Canada”. She was refitted and named Mardi Gras.
At 27,000 GRT she was just 1/6th the size of the XL-class Mardi Gras, but a step toward the future of cruising at the time. On her maiden voyage she pulled away from her berth at PortMiami and sailed away...for several hundred meters. Mardi Gras ran aground at Government Cut (a notoriously tricky spot), in view of the port. She was stuck there until hightide.
As a tribute to Carnival’s nearly 50 year history, they’ve decided to name their first XL-class ship Carnival Mardi Gras, and we’re confident her maiden voyage will offer smoother sailing.
“Our first ship Mardi Gras was a historic vessel, introducing a brand new style of cruising to the vacationing public. What better way to pay tribute to our company’s nearly 50-year history of creating wonderful vacation memories than by naming this groundbreaking vessel after our original and beloved ‘Fun Ship,’” said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line. “The new Mardi Gras will follow the trailblazing lead of her predecessor, introducing features and technological innovations that have never been seen before on a cruise ship while setting a new standard for seagoing vacations.”
Six Distinct “Zones”
When building a ship of this size, it can help with theming and guest sanity to break things into easier to remember (and design) pieces. Carnival Mardi Gras will feature six areas, Grand Central, French Quarter, La Piazza, Summer Landing, Lido and The Ultimate Playground. Below you can find Carnival’s descriptions of each of these “zones”.
Grand Central (Decks 6-8, mid-ship): Creating a sense of wonder the moment guests step on board, the transformative Grand Central takes the traditional atrium concept to new heights, combining a day-to-night entertainment complex with spectacular three-deck-high floor-to-ceiling windows and a bar overlooking the starboard side of the ship that will be the perfect venue for socializing and people watching amid sweeping ocean vistas. Steps away are Bonsai Sushi and Bonsai Teppanyaki which are being expanded from designs on existing ships to reflect their popularity with guests. There’s also the first-ever dedicated Punchliner Comedy Club where guests can enjoy nightly shows, and the always popular Piano Bar 88 for sing-a-longs that bring guests together in an intimate feel-good setting.
French Quarter (Deck 6, aft): In a nod to the New Orleans’ culture that combines lively entertainment with an unparalleled food scene, French Quarter will be lined with new bars, music and eateries that perfectly capture the festive spirit of the Big Easy. And since the spirit of New Orleans is so closely tied to the jazz scene, this neighborhood is linked via a two-deck-high promenade leading to a traditional New Orleans jazz club with live entertainment and refreshing hand-crafted libations. More details on these new dining and entertainment choices and the introduction of a new Carnival celebrity partnership will be revealed this spring.
La Piazza (Deck 8, mid-ship): At La Piazza, guests are transported to Italy where they celebrate the rich heritage of Carnival’s senior officers with authentic cuisine from the casual family-style Cucina del Capitano and 24/7 Pizzeria del Capitano to a new Mediterranean-themed seafood restaurant. There’s also a bar where guests can savor cappuccino by day or classic Italian cocktails at night, while roaming musicians keep everyone entertained.
Summer Landing (Deck 8, aft): Designed as the ultimate chill spot, Summer Landing will be home to an expanded Guy’s Pig & Anchor Smokehouse Brewhouse with smoked-on-board barbecue favorites created by longtime Carnival partner Guy Fieri, along with the line’s exclusive ParchedPig craft beers brewed right on board. For outdoor summer-inspired fun, there will be a pool and whirlpools, a new bar, the lunch counter for the Smokehouse Brewhouse along with ample lounging spaces and hang outs, making this the ideal spot to enjoy all the fun that a Carnival vacation experience delivers.
Lido (Deck 16-17, aft): Carnival is already known for its varied casual poolside restaurants and Mardi Gras’ expanded Lido will take this to a whole new level with existing Carnival favorites like Guy’s Burger Joint, the New England-inspired Seafood Shack, and BlueIguana Cantina Mexican eatery, along with some new concepts to be announced at a later date that are sure to inspire foodie fans.
The Ultimate Playground (Decks 18-20, aft): The aptly named Ultimate Playground will span Decks 18-20 and offer guests amazing sea vistas as they soak up the sun and the fun in this spacious family-friendly play area highlighted by the largest and most elaborate Carnival WaterWorks aqua park in the fleet, along with an expanded SportSquare. The Ultimate Playground is also where guests will find the much-anticipated BOLT: Ultimate Sea Coaster, the first roller coaster at sea announced in December 2018, where riders race along an 800-foot-long track achieving speeds of nearly 40 miles per hour.
Don’t Forget the Classics
Carnival Cruise Lines satisfies over five million passengers every year, and there are things that many guests have come to love - and many of those favorites will be around on Mardi Gras, though the line promises some new exciting twists. These favorite spots include Alchemy Bar, Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse, and the Serenity adult-only retreat, and others.
A Roller Coaster at Sea?
Another of the firsts guests (including us) will be excited to see is the first roller coaster on a cruise ship. Built by Munich-based Maurer Rides, BOLT™: Ultimate Sea Coaster™ will offer almost 800 feet of twists, turns and drops with riders reaching speeds of nearly 40 miles per hour (well, maybe 60 if you count the forward motion of the ship). Much like Mardi Gras will be powered by new technology, so too will BOLT, as this will be an all-electric coaster, propelling two riders in a motorcycle-like vehicle to race along a track 187 feet above sea level with 360 degree views of the sea.
Riders will start off by selecting their maximum speed before an action-packed launch with, “race car-like levels of acceleration”. As shown in the photo below, they’ll then be rocketing through a hair-pin turn around Carnival’s iconic red funnel. After the ride lucky guests will be presented with a photo taken during the experience and they’ll see their max speed.
“Mardi Gras will be our most innovative ship ever with some truly special features and attractions, highlighted by BOLT, the first roller coaster at sea,” said Duffy. “BOLT will continue the tradition of Carnival providing exciting new ways for our guests to ‘Choose Fun.’ We are so thrilled to introduce this one-of-a-kind, game-changing, exhilarating attraction – our guests are going to love it!”
Ready to Book - Here Are the Options
As soon as she comes out of the shipyard, Mardi Gras will offer six to 15-day sailings throughout Europe before heading to her home in the Caribbean.
“For Mardi Gras, we’ve developed some truly exciting and diverse itineraries that will provide our guests with opportunities to experience and explore top destinations in Europe and the Caribbean,” said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line. “These itineraries will serve as the perfect complement to the unique shipboard experience that Mardi Gras will offer. We’ve begun releasing some of the new stateroom designs to our guests and travel agency partners as part of today’s announcement and plan to share additional details over the coming weeks.”
Initial voyages include:
A nine-day maiden voyage from Copenhagen to Southampton Aug. 31 – Sept. 9, 2020 calling at Kiel (Hamburg), Germany; Gothenburg, Sweden; Oslo, Norway; Rotterdam, The Netherlands; Zeebrugge (Brussels), Belgium; and Le Havre (Paris), France.
·A 14-day trans-Atlantic crossing from Southampton to New York Sept. 9-23, 2020, with stops at Las Palmas and Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain; and Funchal (Madeira) and Ponta Delgada, Azores, Portugal.
A six-day cruise round-trip from New York to Portland, Maine and Saint John, New Brunswick Sept. 24-30.
A 15-day Carnival Journeys voyage departing New York Sept. 30, 2020 and arriving in Port Canaveral, Fla., on Oct. 15, 2020, calling at Amber Cove, San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, St. Kitts, Aruba, Curacao, and Grand Turk, positioning the vessel for year-round voyages to the Caribbean.
Once home in the warm waters of the Caribbean she’ll sail a special eight-day Caribbean cruise from Port Canaveral on Oct. 16, 2020 and on October 24th start alternating Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries out of Port Canaveral on Florida’s Space Coast.
Eastern Caribbean cruises will visit San Juan, Amber Cove and Grand Turk.
Western Caribbean sailings will stop in Cozumel, Costa Maya and Mahogany Bay (Isla Roatan).
For many years Carnival focused on being “the fun ship”, and that has proven to be both accurate and successful for them. Over the past decade though, other lines, especially Royal Caribbean (though certainly others, including MSC and NCL) have received great acclaim for ships that are massive, and ideas that are even bigger. Not only have guests enjoyed some of what these giant vessels have to offer, but they also operate at an economy of scale that more modestly-sized vessels can’t. When you see the competition doing something that works you look to take those ideas and improve on it.
One idea clearly borrowed from Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class ship is the idea of neighborhoods, or “zones” as Carnival is calling them. Despite these ships being 225k+ GRT we find them the easiest ships at sea to get around, and that’s partially due to this concept. It’s easy to know what section of the ship you’re in, and easy to remember which section you need to get to. We’re glad to see others adopting this and hope that Carnival does it even better.
Another big deal is the fact that this ship will run off LNG - because there are positive environmental reasons to do this, but also, because we’d bet that some guests will be a bit apprehensive (though we’d bet even more don’t notice anything is different). It’s important to note that, while new for the North American cruise industry, there are non-passenger LNG ships, and AIDAnova, another cruise ship under the Carnival Corp & PLC umbrella is sailing as the first fully LNG powered cruise ship in the world. MSC Meraviglia and others are already powered partially by LNG. With over 20 LNG powered ships on order for 2019 along, we’d wager that by this time next year, it will simply be a given that any new passenger ship of size is at least partially powered by this cleaner fuel source.
One somewhat new pain point for Carnival will be the fact that like some of the other really large cruise ships out there, Mardi Gras will be somewhat restricted in terms of ports she’s able to visit - however one saving grace is that Carnival’s popular Grand Turk and Amber Cover destinations are not tender ports, and should be able to accommodate XL-class ships.
It’s What’s on the Inside That Counts
Until Carnival Vista, Joe Farcus was the main creative mind behind Carnival ship’s interior design. Whether you like the looks or not (check out our Carnival Paradise photo tour to get an idea) he was extremely influential to the line’s character. In the past year we’ve seen Oceania’s fleet revitalization, Celebrity Revolution, and Celebrity EDGE boasting cooler colors, with greys and a more modern look, and we can see a little of this in some of the Mardi Gras renderings, though in other public spaces the distinct Carnival character is still there. Watching design trends change is always interesting when appealing to so many people, and on ships built to sail for decades.
Of all the renderings though, the one that strikes us the most, as mentioned, is that of the atrium. It appears that in addition to an impressive look, there could be significantly more function to this atrium than many other ships - a great idea since it’s often the largest non-functional part of the ship. We love the idea that focus is off to the side views with massive windows, and while it reminds us a bit of Royal Caribbean’s 270 venue, we think it person this will look quite different - but still beautiful
Lastly, while Carnival does mention multiple suite categories we do suspect that on such a large ship they’ll full embrace the ship in a ship concept that has become so popular for suite guests. This ship will have over 20 stateroom categories, more than any other Carnival ship - but how will the line find ways to offer a plussed experience for those willing to pay quite a bit more to enjoy enhanced amenities while still enjoying what will be the world’s biggest “fun ship”?
Our imaginations will continue to run wild, but we’re confident that the smart people at Carnival will continue to feed us just enough information to remind us how much more we want to know between now and her 2020 launch. Oh, and in case that’s not enough, there’s always the second XL-class ship in 2020 to start thinking about.