Carnival Cruise Lines has been around since the 1960s, and their Mardi Gras Ship is celebrating 50 years of cruising in 2018. The company has seen a lot of changes over the last five decades, but one thing remains constant: the party never stops.
The Mardi Gras retired cruise ship is a type of Carnival Cruise Ship that has been retired from service. There are 50 years of history behind this name.
Nearly 50 years ago, Carnival Cruise Line’s inaugural Mardi Gras actually kicked off the “Fun Ship” celebration. A freshly constructed Mardi Gras is now the fleet’s flagship and the life of the party.
A few things — in fact, pretty much everything — have altered along the road.
San Juan welcomes Mardi Gras (Photo via Carnival)
The elegant ocean liner was completed in 1961 as the Empress of Canada and would ultimately become Carnival’s first vessel.
It was the last of Canadian Pacific Lines’ once-dominant transatlantic service, operating the popular route between Liverpool and Montreal at the time. She was 650 feet long, with a beam of 86.6 feet and a draft of 29 feet, with a gross registered tonnage of 27,284 tons.
The Empress was designed to carry slightly over 1,000 people, with 192 in first class and 856 in tourist class, with a crew of 470. The ship would provide leisure trips throughout the Caribbean and abroad during the winter season.
Private amenities were available in all first-class cabins and 70% of tourist-class staterooms, which was a significant luxury at the time. The hotel’s highlights included an indoor pool, a theater, and a two-story-high Canada Room. Rich woodwork, etched glass, and nickel and brass accents characterized the décor, which was a pleasant mix of classic postwar design and sleek 1960s modernism.
The Empress of Canada, despite her many virtues, was not immune to the fast speed of change. She and other ocean liners were losing money by the late 1960s as air travel took over.
The Empress was lay up in 1971, and Ted Arison bought her for Carnival Cruise Line in January 1972.
The First Sailing Didn’t Go As Expected
With limited money for repairs or improvements, Carnival renamed the old Empress the TSS Mardi Gras on March 11, 1972. The ship was headquartered in Miami, where it was the port’s biggest passenger ship.
(Photo courtesy of CCL)
Mardi Gras was sleeker and in better physical shape than many of her rivals while the cruise industry was still in its infancy, so she attracted a lot of attention.
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The first voyage did not go according to plan. The Mardi Gras went aground on a sandbar off the coast of South Beach, just out of the port. The crew worked for 24 hours to release the ship while keeping the passengers properly fed and hydrated.
So, what happened next? The passengers boarded the ship again, and the celebrations resumed. Competitors mocked the ship as “Mardi Gras on the Rocks,” but Arison and his crew had learned an important lesson: if your guests are having a good time, nothing else mattered.
On its first voyage, Carnival’s first ship, the Mardi Gras, went aground off the coast of Miami’s South Beach. (Photo courtesy of CCL)
Carnival’s subsequent policy of emphasizing onboard pleasures above destination delights was a success, and by 1975, the corporation had made enough money to buy the Empress of Britain and rename her Carnivale.
Before being converted into a Carnival Cruise Line ship, the Empress of Britain was a British warship. (Photo courtesy of Carnival)
After undergoing a thorough makeover, the Carnivale was reborn. (Photo courtesy of CCL)
The original TSS Mardi Gras lasted almost two decades with Carnival, dressing up in more gaudy décor and soft products but remaining fundamentally unaltered.
At sea, the TSS Mardi Gras (Photo via Carnival)
After more than four decades of service, she was sold in 1993 and passed through many owners in her latter years until being destroyed in 2003.
READ: Where Are 11 Former Carnival Ships Now?
The New Mardi Gras Wasn’t Off To A Good Start, Either.
The Mardi Gras parade is departing the shipyard (Photo via CCL)
The new Mardi Gras had a rocky start as well, albeit without the embarrassment of being stranded. The ship’s construction started in 2018 with a first voyage planned for August 2020, however yard delays and the pandemic forced her to postpone her formal debut until July 31 of this year.
While the enormous differences between the two ships exceed any similarities, Carnival claims that its original ship continues to inspire the line’s spirit.
ARCHIVE: Mardi Gras Sets Sail for New Homeport in Florida
“We made cruising a lot less stuffy, a little less sophisticated, the sort of pleasure everyone could enjoy when we launched our first ship, the TSS Mardi Gras, in 1972. Nobody predicted that this ship would revolutionize the cruise industry, yet here we are!” According to Carnival’s website.
Carnival stated of the new Mardi Gras, “So here’s a brand-new ship with a familiar name.” We’re not only paying tribute to our first ship with this Mardi Gras; in cruise circles, this name connotes innovation and heralds the beginnings of something big.”
In more ways than one, the new Mardi Gras is ‘something huge.’ With 181,808 gross tonnage, it is the biggest ship in Carnival’s fleet, many times larger than its namesake. It’s almost double the length at 1,130 feet.
It’s also the first cruise ship in North America to run on LNG, which emits less pollutants (liquefied natural gas).
She can transport up to 5,282 people (double occupancy) and has a staff complement of 2,000, which is greater than the TSS Mardi Gras’ entire capacity of guests and crew.
This ship is unlike any other you’ve ever seen.
“This Mardi Gras still screams ‘fun!’ at the top of its lungs,” Carnival says. BOLT, the world’s first shipboard roller coaster, has self-propelled vehicles that can reach speeds of 40 mph.
There’s also a large waterpark and sports center, as well as six themed zones with themed features and places for activities and events, as well as a variety of eating and retail options.
Doug Parker of Cruise Radio was on board the new Mardi Gras for the first time. “You’ve heard myself and others speak about how this is a ‘game-changer’ for Carnival, and it’s not an exaggeration,” he says. “This ship is unique in every way.”
“One thing that hasn’t altered is the fact that you’re still aboard a Fun Ship… and that was particularly true today,” Parker adds. We were going up the gangway and aboard the ship after an extremely smooth embarkation procedure that included just one stop to present our papers. It was like returning home the moment we walked on board.”
The old ultimately swings back, like a pendulum, and it will continue in 2022 with the launch of sister-ship Celebration, the first of which was a now-retired Fun Ship built in the 1980s.
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Carnival Cruise Lines was founded in 1972. The company began its first cruise ship, the Carnival Mardi Gras with a fleet of five ships. Reference: carnival mardi gras 1972.
Frequently Asked Questions
What happened to the original Carnival Mardi Gras?
Carnival Mardi Gras is a separate entity from the original Mardi Gras. The original Mardi Gras was held in New Orleans, Louisiana and ran from 1857 to 1965. In 1966, all of the floats were destroyed by Hurricane Betsy, and it was decided that a new celebration would be held in New Orleans with different themes.
Who owns the Mardi Gras cruise ship?
The Mardi Gras cruise ship is owned by Carnival Cruise Lines.
What happened to the Carnival Imagination?
The Carnival Imagination was one of the attractions at the now-defunct Kings Island amusement park. It was a ride that had a virtual reality component in which riders were transported to a carnival setting and could interact with other guests in a 3D environment.
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