The Original Mardi Gras: The First Carnival Cruise Ship

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In only a short two months Carnival Cruise Line expects to launch its newest member of the Carnival Family: Mardi Gras. It will be the ultimate fun ship, and one of the most ambitious that Carnival Cruise Line has attempted.

Back in 1972, it was a whole different challenge that Ted Arison was about to undertake when he purchased the RMS Empress of Canada. It would be a ship that changed the history of cruising forever and whose name lives on today.

Ted Arison certainly had an eye for choosing the right ship; the RMS Empress of Canada was a well-maintained vessel and certainly in better shape than some pre-war vessels offering cruises from Miami. 

RMS Empress of Canada was an ocean liner built in 1961 by Vickers-Armstrongs, Walker-on-Tyne, England, for Canadian Pacific Steamships Ltd.  The liner sailed in the trans-Atlantic trade between Liverpool and Canada.

So when Arison bought the ship, there wasn’t much to do. Which, it turns out, was a good thing.

Mardi Gras, Former Carnival Cruise Ship
Photo By: Carnival

Mardi Gras On The Rocks!

The RMS Empress of Canada was renamed Mardi Gras on February 21, 1972. She left for her first Caribbean voyage on March 11, 1972. As Ted Arison had no cash to do major refurbishments when Mardi Gras first sailed, these were done ‘on the fly’. Old wooden furnishings were covered with tin foil, the stuffy restaurant was converted, and thus the image of ‘Fun Ships’ was born.

Mardi Gras Ad

At the time, Miami wasn’t well suited for ‘large’ cruise ships, and Mardi Gras ran aground fully loaded while sailing out of port with 530 passengers and 200 crew on board, which led to some competitors calling the vessel ‘Mardi Gras On The Rocks.’ This didn’t stop staff pouring drinks and ensuring the fun continued!

Changing the furnishings and the general attitude of the staff generated a fun and relaxed image. Cruising was seen as something that old and rich people did, and it was not for young people. Mardi Gras changed that view forever.

Despite the 1973 Oil crisis and costs going through the roof, Mardi Gras was full most of the time. ​​She even did a 40-days and 40-nights cruise to the Mediterranean, Europe, and Israel.

Mardi Gras Set The Tone, The Rest Followed

Mardi Gras
Photo By: (Peter Knego)

Mardi Gras sailed for twenty years under the Carnival Flag. In that time, she set the tone for how cruising would be viewed in the next 50 years. Due to the successes she booked, Carnival cruise line managed to grow from a one ship line to the largest cruise company in the world.

To give you an idea of how far we’ve come, we’ve compared the old Queen with the New Princess. It’s safe to say there is a bit of difference there!

 S.S. Mardi GrasMV Mardi Gras
Cost$5 Million$950 Million
Passenger Number1248 Passengers(as built)6,500 Passengers
Power30,000 HP50,000 HP

It’s a shame Mardi Gras was broken up at a shipbreaking yard in India in many ways. She deserved to be kept as a museum, like Queen Elizabeth and S.S. Rotterdam are. In place of the SST Mardi Gras, we get the MV Mardi Gras, which will do the same for cruising as the first one. It will change cruising as we know it.

Also Read: The Ultimate Guide on Carnival Ships by Age

The New Mardi Gras

The new and much larger Mardi Gras is just around the corner and currently under constriction at the Meyer Turku shipyard in Finland. She’ll be the largest ever Carnival cruise ship and the first in the XL-class for the cruise line.

Carnival Mardi Gras Begins Sea Trials
Photo Credit: Meyer Turku Shipyard

Mardi Gras has already completed two sets of sea trials in the Baltic and is now in the final stages of outfitting. With Carnival suspending operations until February 2021, Mardi Gras will be among the early few cruise ships to begin sailings from Florida.

She’ll debut on February 6 out of Port Canaveral, Florida after already being delayed twice. The mega-ship was originally scheduled to debut on August 31, 2020, in Europe so it’s been a long wait especially as she has the first roller coaster at sea along with tons of new venues that guests will enjoy.

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