$15 for 20 seconds: What it’s like to ride the first-ever roller coaster at sea

Jul 30, 2021

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In the past two months, we’ve seen cruise ships slowly trickling back into service, with several now allowing Americans to sail from the Caribbean, Greece and the U.S. On July 31, in the first major new-ship launch since before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Carnival Cruise Line’s Mardi Gras will welcome its first round of revenue passengers.

During a pre-cruise media day, I was able to preview one of the vessel’s most impressive features: Bolt, the first roller coaster at sea.

So, what was it like? Read on to find out.

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Carnival Cruise Line’s Mardi Gras docked in Port Canaveral (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

In This Post

Bolt roller coaster facts

Bolt will set cruisers back a steep $15 per person for one lap around the 800-meter track. The ride lasts about 20 seconds at its fastest, but it can take longer, depending on the chosen speed.

Two electric cars, each carrying up to two people and evoking Jet Ski vibes, operate in tandem at different intervals, with the ability to accelerate at speeds faster than some sports cars. The person sitting at the front of the car is the “driver,” and he or she decides how fast or slow the car goes, up to the maximum speed of 35 miles per hour.

The ride is suspended above the ship’s outer decks, reaching 187 feet above the water, offering 360-degree ocean views and making for a thrilling experience.

A sample car at the entrance to the Bolt Sea Coaster, the first roller coaster on a cruise ship, found on Carnival Cruise Line’s Mardi Gras (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

Things to know before you ride

You must be at least 52 inches (4 feet, 4 inches) tall and weigh less than 300 pounds in order to ride Bolt. The maximum height allowed is 77 inches (6 feet, 5 inches). Because you cannot have any loose articles in your pockets or on your body (think hats, glasses, cellphones and your cruise keycard), cubbies are provided for you to leave your belongings.

Unfortunately, that also means you can’t bring recording equipment, such as GoPros or selfie sticks, with you. You’ll have to ask someone to snap photos or shoot video of you before you ride or as you’re riding from the decks below.

Additionally, passengers are not allowed to wear dresses, skirts or open-toed shoes in order to ride, and they must be in good physical condition and able to hold onto the handrails. Cruisers cannot be intoxicated while riding, and their clothing must be dry (no swimwear allowed).

Ashley Kosciolek wearing too-big shoes she borrowed because open toes aren’t allowed on Mardi Gras’ Bolt Sea Coaster (Photo by Matt Basford)

The entrance to Bolt is on Deck 18, where you’ll find stairs up to the waiting area — an open-air space with corrals to keep people in line. Although it’s covered by sunshades, it can be sweltering, especially if it’s crowded.

My take on Carnival’s Bolt roller coaster

After waiting in line for more than an hour, it was finally my turn. To fit the day’s business-casual dress code for media, I wore a dress with sandals, which was a mistake. Word to the wise: Wear pants or shorts, and make sure you’ve got closed-toed shoes. My wardrobe choice resulted in my tying the dress together to form a type of romper and borrowing shoes (that were several sizes too large) from a friend.

After being weighed and changing my shoes, I was waved through a gate and directed to board one of the cars, which you straddle like a motorcycle instead of sitting inside. An attendant helped me buckle the massive seatbelt and gave my friend, the driver, instructions on how to operate the controls.

The Bolt Sea Coaster is the first roller coaster at sea, found on Carnival Cruise Line’s Mardi Gras ship. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

When the light turned green, we shot forward at an alarming speed, careening around turns and down hills that gave me butterflies. Although it wasn’t quite as intense as most land-based coasters I’ve tried, it was exhilarating enough to elicit a couple of screams from me.

Thirty-five miles per hour doesn’t sound like a lot, but it felt much faster, possibly due to the wide-open surroundings. It was certainly more exciting than I expected, but because you (or your driver) can decide how heavily to use the throttle, it’s also a great experience for people who aren’t afraid of heights but prefer a slower-paced ride.

Bottom line

So, is it worth the $15 price tag? It’s not a “one size fits all” answer. I likely wouldn’t pay it, but if you’re someone who likes the bragging rights that come with exclusive experiences or if you’ve got thrill-seeking kids, it might be money well spent. Just be sure you meet all the safety requirements — shoes included.

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