Best For: Fun-seekers who embrace the new, from theaters and dining, to cocktails and roller coasters
Not For: People who hate crowds
Bottom Line: Carnival's biggest ship yet, Mardi Gras has supersized many popular experiences, while adding new ones that should appeal to everyone.
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 lots of dining and entertainment options built into the fare.
With significantly more real estate than the other Fun Ships -- Mardi Gras 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 Bolt, the first roller coaster at sea -- a genuine thrill ride you need to try at least once. 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). 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 two parts -- one a dark lounge where you can hear live music, the other a lofty botanical bar complete with mixologists; and the Fortune Teller Bar has a kooky, spooky velvet lounge feel.
By contrast, the Patio at Summer Landing area on Deck 8, goes for an outdoor BBQ vibe. There's a lovely outdoor pool here, along with games like cornhole, Guy's Pig & Anchor Smokehouse & Brewhouse and another new bar called The Watering Hole. Classic rock and country bands play here late into the evening.
One downside to the ship is that while there are lots of venues, some are too small to handle a rush. The traditional theater, for example, does not have a balcony level and can only seat 900 at a time. The popular Piano Bar is laughably small, as is the Punchliner Comedy Club, where people start lining up 30 minutes in advance for a seat. The fitness center is overly packed on sea days. And on Elegant Nights, the main dining rooms have long lines, as people eschew the many alternative venues for 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. The casino is by far the largest on Carnival, taking up a significant portion of Deck 7. The adults-only Serenity Deck now has a full pool, as well as two hot tubs, a bar and a salad bar. Kids will love the waterslides, splash park and mini golf, not to mention the free pizza and -- new on Mardi Gras -- paninis.
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.
Off the Ship
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