Planning for an upcoming cruise vacation is always an exciting time! I found that a little bit of research can go a long way when you are looking to book a cruise. Choosing the best cruise ship for your travel style and budget is one of the most important considerations when planning a cruise.
I recently returned from a seven-night sailing onboard one of Carnival’s newest ships, Mardi Gras. This modern, innovative cruise ship is one of the best in the business for offering an incredible cruise vacation.
As someone who hadn’t sailed with Carnival for many years (until last year), I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I stepped onboard. My prior experiences with Carnival had been on older ships, such as Carnival Ecstasy. Older ships are more simplistic in terms of technology and overall things to do.
Mardi Gras is the second newest (and biggest) ship in the cruise line’s fleet, meaning you have more places to eat, drink and relax than ever before. With only so much time on your cruise, you’ll want to make the most of each minute of your vacation.
Here are 10 things to know before you book Carnival Mardi Gras so you can decide if this ship is right for your cruise vacation.
1. Mardi Gras, the flagship vessel of the Excel-class, represents a new era of ship design for Carnival Cruise Line.
Carnival Cruise Line is one of the most popular cruise lines in the world, offering some of the most fun cruise vacations at affordable fares. However, the cruise line had resisted change for many years while the industry shifted towards building mega-ships and floating resorts.
Carnival chose to build medium-sized vessels with little differentiation between classes. These ships lacked overall innovation and advanced ship design. I’d argue that Carnival’s ship design was the curve in comparison to other cruise lines.
This all changed with Mardi Gras, which is the flagship vessel of the new Excel-class of cruise ships. Meant to be more advanced and modern than anything before, Carnival launched Mardi Gras in 2021 with much excitement from the cruise industry.
As such, you’ll be sailing on the best-of-the-best if you book Carnival Mardi Gras with more space for eating, drinking, entertainment and overall relaxation.
2. Be prepared for crowds, as Carnival Mardi Gras is 40% bigger than anything Carnival had built before.
Some people have the mentality that bigger is always better when it comes to cruise ships. However, others find that the crowds can be overwhelming if a ship is simply too big. If you’re the type of person who prefers a smaller cruise ship without all the frills, then Carnival Mardi Gras might not be the best choice for you.
Carnival Mardi Gras can hold around 6,500 passengers - that’s a LOT of people. I personally don’t mind sailing on bigger ships, even if it means I have to deal with more people onboard and crowds. However, this isn’t the case for everyone.
Mardi Gras is a very big ship, meaning you will occasionally run into crowds and lines of people. This is unavoidable when you have that many people sailing on a single cruise ship.
Personally, we found that Mardi Gras was well designed to accommodate the massive amount of people onboard; in fact, we didn’t have to wait in many lines for food most of the time because Carnival did an excellent job with distributing popular venues across the vessel.
Popular events were a different story. Crowding seemed to be more of an issue for events like the headliner shows and certain deck parties, such as the Sailaway Party.
With thousands of people crowding onto the pool deck, this did feel a little bit cramped. If you’re someone that prefers a smaller ship because you don’t like dealing with 6,000+ other people, then you might want to consider booking a smaller cruise ship.
3. You can find some of the best entertainment in the cruise line's fleet on Carnival Mardi Gras
Before sailing on the Excel-class ships, I had never been super impressed with Carnival’s onboard entertainment. While I’ve always enjoyed the Punchliner Comedy Club, the production and headliner shows always fell a bit flat for me.
With Carnival Mardi Gras, the cruise line has really upped its game in terms of entertainment. With the inception of Center Stage - an outward facing atrium in the center of the ship - Mardi Gras has debuted some incredible headliner productions.
On our sailing, we were able to enjoy shows like VooDoo Moon, Vegas Nights, We are One and Celestial Strings located at Center Stage. These shows included an electric-orchestra, flashy productions, gravity-defying acrobatics and plenty of singing and dancing.
You can also find tons of other entertainment onboard, such as Production Playlist shows in smaller, more traditional venues onboard. Mardi Gras also features a piano bar, comedy club and live gameshows, such as Family Feud and Deal or No Deal.
4. When cruising on Carnival Mardi Gras, you’ll indulge in some of the best casual cuisine at sea
One area where Carnival Mardi Gras shines in comparison to other cruise ships is the number of complimentary dining options onboard. While these are not necessarily the healthiest or fanciest meals, everything onboard Mardi Gras is undeniably delicious - and best of all, almost everywhere you eat is included in the cruise price.
For us, Big Chicken was the best eatery onboard, serving up crispy chicken tenders and sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We ate here multiple times during our cruise on Mardi Gras and agreed that it gave other land-based chicken restaurants a run for their money.
Of course, you can also enjoy juicy burgers from Guy’s Burger Joint thanks to a partnership with celebrity-chef Guy Fieri. In fact, you’ll find a second complimentary restaurant onboard called Guy’s Pig & Anchor Smokehouse for some delicious BBQ at sea.
You’ll also find BlueIguana Cantina for tacos, Street Eats for food-truck style snacks, Pizzeria del Capitano for round-the-clock pizza and Piazza Panini for freshly-made sandwiches.
5. Carnival Mardi Gras has a wide range of modern staterooms available, including some uniquely-themed cabins
As someone who typically sails in an inside cabin, I was intrigued to see all of the different staterooms that were available on Carnival Mardi Gras.
Although we tend to book the more affordable inside cabins, we were impressed by the prices for entry-level suites and opted to book an Ocean Suite for our sailing. This suite was super spacious with a separate living room, extended balcony and extra-large bathroom. We found our Ocean Suite to be worth every penny that we spent, even if it ended up costing us double of what we would have spent for an inside cabin.
Mardi Gras featured some other uniquely-themed staterooms that you might not be able to find on other ships. For example, Havana Suites are available with special access to the Havana Club and an exclusive sundeck with a private pool.
Additionally, Family Harbor cabins are available for those looking to have special access to a family lounge onboard, which serves up chocolate cookies and PB&J sandwiches around the clock. These cabins are conveniently located right next to Camp Ocean, which is Mardi Gras’ onboard childcare program.
Finally, you can choose to book a Cloud 9 Spa cabin with convenient access to Mardi Gras’ spa onboard and a pass to the thermal lounge.
6. Be prepared to use Carnival’s app to make dining reservations
Cruise lines are starting to heavily rely on their apps to improve the onboard experience - and Mardi Gras is no exception. We found that we needed to use Carnival’s app each day to request our dinner table, along with Sea Day brunch.
We were slotted for Your Time Dining, meaning we didn’t receive a designated time and table for dinner throughout the cruise. Instead, we had to request a table each night on the app starting at 5:30. The app provided an estimated wait time after requesting a table, which proved to be fairly accurate most of the time.
Once your table is ready, the app will alert you of your table number. At this point, you have 15 minutes to get to your table before it’s forfeited.
This was also the case for Mardi Gras’ popular Sea Day brunch, which serves up some delicious brunch items from Carnival’s signature menu. Although we didn’t have to wait long, it can be difficult to plan your evening around if you are wanting to eat at a certain time. Since we were staying in a suite, we supposedly received priority for dining reservations.
7. The internet service on Carnival Mardi Gras was very reliable and top-notch
Internet onboard has become a necessity for me, as I work remote jobs and need access even while cruising. This isn’t the case for most people, but as someone who cruises for a job, it’s a must for me.
I always get nervous about the internet speeds onboard cruise ships. I’ve had some really great experiences and others that left me downright frustrated. For this cruise on Mardi Gras, I booked the Premium Wi-Fi plan to use throughout the cruise, which is the highest tier of internet you can purchase.
While at sea, I spent my mornings checking emails, calling into meetings and getting some work done. Again, this isn’t typical for most cruisers on vacation, but some might need to send the occasional email or call into an important meeting.
I was blown away by Mardi Gras’ internet service. I hardly experienced any buffering or lagging during our cruise, even while streaming. I had reliable access throughout the cruise, which was a huge relief.
8. Cucina del Capitano and Chibang are specialty-style restaurants that are included in your cruise fare
With so many places to eat onboard, I was surprised to find that two specialty restaurants were actually included in the cruise fare.
The Italian restaurant, Cucina del Capitano, serves up authentic and fresh Italian dishes on Deck 8 in La Piazza. This is a sit-down restaurant where you can request a table using the Carnival app. We even came here for lunch on the last day of our cruise because we loved it so much (and bonus - they serve pizza and a pasta bar during sea day lunches!).
Another fun spot for dinner is Chibang, which is a restaurant featuring Asian and Mexican dishes. This isn’t necessarily a fusion of the cuisines; instead, the restaurant has two separate menus for Asiana and Mexican entrees. You can mix and match each course of the meal if you’re wanting to try a little bit of both. I've only ever tried the Asian dishes and I'd love to try the Mexican entrees next time.
While the first dinner visit to Chibang is complimentary, Mardi Gras has since started charging customers for secondary dinner visits at $8 per person. You can still enjoy unlimited lunches in Chibang, however.
9. Bolt is the first rollercoaster at sea - and it’s worth the hype
If you’re an adrenaline junkie, I would highly recommend reserving a slot on Bolt: The Ultimate Seacoaster. This was the first rollercoaster to ever debut on a cruise ship - and this ride is no joke!
Although you have to pay $15 per person to ride Bolt, I would argue that it’s worthwhile. There is no other experience like this at sea. The coaster does not feel like a kiddie ride; in fact, I was really surprised at the rollercoaster’s speed while we twisted and turned around the ship’s aft.
You have to reserve a time for Bolt and it is very popular. I would recommend making a reservation early during your cruise if this is something you want to ride.
10. Carnival Mardi Gras is a fun, family-oriented cruise ship with something for everyone
While it might sound cliche, Carnival Mardi Gras genuinely has a little something for everyone. The ship was designed to offer the ultimate family cruise vacation with entertainment and activities to appeal to your entire family.
Kids will almost certainly enjoy all of the onboard thrills at the Ultimate Playground, where they can play miniature golf, ride the waterslides and climb around the obstacle ropes course. Camp Ocean is also available for youth programming and babysitting services.
Adults without kids (or looking to enjoy some time away from their own kids) can also enjoy Serenity, which is the adults-only space on Mardi Gras. Here, you’ll find plushy loungers and daybeds in a quiet space, along with a dedicated bar and pool just for adults.
Into the evening, the party really starts with a lively nightclub and special deck parties hosted by the cruise director. If you’re someone who loves to let loose, then Mardi Gras is the ship for you!