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Why Carnival's giant new cruise ship is a game-changer for the line

July 29, 2021
5 min read
Carnival Mardi Gras
Why Carnival's giant new cruise ship is a game-changer for the line
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It'll be a Carnival Cruise Line ship like no Carnival Cruise Line ship you've ever seen.

Scheduled to sail with paying passengers for the first time on Saturday, Carnival's much-awaited, 15-deck-high Mardi Gras will break new ground for the brand -- and the entire cruise industry -- in more ways than one.

For starters, it'll be by far the biggest ship ever to operate for Carnival, the world's second-biggest cruise line -- and not just by a little bit.

At 181,808 tons, Mardi Gras is nearly 35% bigger than the biggest Carnival ship currently afloat, the 19-month-old Carnival Panorama.

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It'll also hold more passengers than almost any other ship at sea -- up to 6,630. That's just a tad below the 6,780 passengers that can fit on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas, which currently holds the record for passenger vessel capacity.

Mardi Gras is one of the 10 biggest cruise ships ever built, though not quite as large as Allure of the Seas or Royal Caribbean's three other Oasis Class vessels, which still are the size leaders.

But it's not just Mardi Gras' enormous size that is notable. It's what Carnival is doing with all the extra space on the vessel.

Perhaps most notably, the line has adorned the extra-wide top of Mardi Gras with the first roller coaster at sea -- and no, this is not a joke.

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Dubbed BOLT: Ultimate Sea Coaster, it won’t be the longest or fastest roller coaster in the world. Its track is just 800 feet long, and it’ll reach speeds of just 40 miles per hour — give or take. But it's the sort of once-unthinkable-for-a-cruise ship attraction that Carnival rivals such as Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line have been adding atop their bigger ships in recent years with much success (cruise fans seem to love over-the-top attractions on ships).

Mardi Gras also will have Carnival’s largest waterpark ever -- along with the roller coaster, a nod to the growing number of cruise fans looking for a "megaresort at sea" experience.

Other standout features will include a far broader array of suites than earlier Carnival ships and new dining venues such as the first Emeril Lagasse restaurant at sea.

Carnival Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras during sea trials in the Baltic Sea. (Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line)

In addition, Mardi Gras also will be notable as the first ship from a North America-based cruise line designed to operate on liquid natural gas. The fuel is touted as being cleaner than traditional ship fuel.

Related: The four new giants of the cruise world

The development of a ship on the scale of Mardi Gras is a big deal for Carnival. The line until now has resisted the trend among major brands to build ever-bigger vessels that offer a super-sized megaresort-at-sea experience. Carnival's last new vessel, Carnival Panorama, didn't even crack the top 40 list of biggest ships.

But Carnival now isn't just reversing course on a long-held "bigger isn't necessarily better" philosophy when it comes to new ships. It's entering the Big Ship Wars with a splash that says it's ready to play at the very highest level in the megaresort-at-sea space.

In short, it's a whole new Carnival Cruise Line.

The ship's name -- Mardi Gras -- is a signal as to how much Carnival sees the ship as a new chapter in its nearly 50-year history. Mardi Gras is named after Carnival’s first ship, which sailed for the line from 1972 to 1993.

Mardi Gras originally was scheduled to debut in August of 2020, but its unveiling date was pushed back several times due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The vessel is scheduled to sail six- to eight-day voyages to the Bahamas and Caribbean out of Port Canaveral, Florida. Fares start at $479 per person, not including taxes and fees.

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Featured image by The soon-to-debut Carnival Cruise Line ship Mardi Gras departs Turku, Finland, on Sept. 28, 2020 for sea trials in the Baltic Sea. (Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023