Christine Duffy pictured enjoying the ‘Universe of Fun’ christening celebration held for Mardi Gras at Port Canaveral in summer 2021
Much has changed since Carnival Cruise Line launched with its first ship, Mardi Gras, in 1972. A former transatlantic liner purchased from Canadian Pacific Line, the vessel was of its time but also a pioneer. Refitted by the nascent company, which was one of the first modern cruise lines, the vessel provided a springboard that helped to usher in a new era of holidaying by creating a market for the purpose-built cruise ships that soon followed it.
Fifty years on, Carnival debuted a ship that carries the same Mardi Gras name but holds more than 10 times the number of guests (6,000 compared to 500) and hosts, among many other innovative things, the world’s first shipboard roller coaster, named BOLT. When Carnival first launched, such features would have been unimaginable. One thing that has stayed the same throughout the past 50 years, however, is the brand’s emphasis on enjoyment. The original Mardi Gras was billed as “27,000 tons of fun”, a word that still features prominently in the brand’s ethos today.
Unsurprisingly, the brand, which is part of Carnival Corporation, isn’t letting its half-century anniversary go by without a celebration. “To kick off our year-long 50th birthday festivities, we had a series of 17 really fun ‘Sailabrations’ cruises that featured at-sea ship meetups, special entertainment and programming,” says Christine Duffy, the line’s president since 2014.
“We have also had a number of other celebratory moments in various homeports, port of call destinations and within our in-person and online offerings. And, as the ultimate birthday gift to our loyal guests, everything will culminate with Carnival Celebration’s debut in November as she arrives to her homeport of PortMiami, our long-term partner. The ship features the Golden Jubilee bar that represents the evolution of our Fun Ships over the last 50 years, including mementos from our earlier vessels, weaving our past with our present and looking to our future.”
Duffy already counts the anniversary among one of her highlights at the helm of the cruise line. “There have been so many highlights during my time as president at Carnival, but I’d say being a part of our 50th birthday has been so special,” she says. “The big 5-0, what an incredible milestone! But it’s not just the actual birthday, it’s everything that has happened over the past year – our very successful restart of guest operations, welcoming Mardi Gras to the fleet, getting more than 30,000 team members back to work, and of course, experiencing the many emotional moments as each of our ships welcomed their first guests back onboard. I had the opportunity to visit all of our ships this past year and was on hand for most of the ‘Back to Fun’ first sailings.”
The return to cruise has also seen the fleet grow larger still. Soon joining Mardi Gras, which has been sailing from Port Canaveral since mid-2021, are Carnival Celebration and Carnival Jubilee, both of which will run on LNG as part of Carnival Corporation’s move towards greener cruising.
Carnival Celebration will be home to The Gateway, 820 Biscayne, Celebration Central, The Ultimate Playground, Summer Landing, and Lido zones, and will include BOLT. The ship will debut in November 2022 from the redesigned Terminal F at PortMiami, the third terminal at the port and its largest in South Florida. Carnival Jubilee, which will arrive at the Port of Galveston in 2023, will also share features that guests know from Mardi Gras. It will also have six “fun-filled zones like her sisters”, according to Duffy. She adds: “Two will be brand-new concepts to be revealed at a later date.”
The industry often talks about hardware – new ships with new features – but Duffy says the key to Carnival’s success is simple: its crew. “When we ask our guests why they return to Carnival time and time again, of course they mention our unparalleled food, beverage and entertainment offerings, but in the end, it is always our crew that solidifies the loyalty of a Carnival guest.”
This article was first published in the 2022 Autumn/Winter issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
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