Mardi Gras™ (2021)
Sail Date: November 20, 2021
Duration: 7 nights
Departure Port: Port Canaveral, Florida
The Mardi Gras is Carnival Cruise Line’s newest and largest ship sailing from its home port in Cape Canaveral, FL. This was our third cruise on Carnival, but our first trip during one of their ship’s inaugural sailing years and our first cruise post-pandemic. Our first cruise on Carnival was on the Tropicale out of Tampa, FL in June 2000. I’ve since learned that the ship, operating as the Japanese NGO Peace Boat Ocean Dream has since been sold for scrap and beached in January 2021 at India’s Alang Shipbreaking Yard—a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our stateroom number was 10358, an extended balcony stateroom on Deck 10 midship. The room was functional but somewhat austere for a new ship. I was also surprised at how tight the bathroom was. The positives for the stateroom were the large balcony, generous closet and drawer space, and the large flat-screen TV. One thing that annoyed me was the bathroom sink’s faucet not extending out far enough into the sink to allow you to wash both hands easily.
As I walked around the ship on the first day, I was impressed by the general lack of aesthetics, that is, the ship’s design favors function over form. The ship gives the impression that it was designed by someone who specializes in corporate office cubicles. By comparison, the Carnival Conquest is adorned in a French Impressionist motif.
Given the overall length of the ship, I was expecting the ship to be extremely stable, but that was not necessarily the case. I’ll leave the ship stability calculations to the naval architects; consequently, I’ll give my evaluation based on previous experience. The weather on our departure from Port Canaveral was windy with rain earlier in the day. The seas were rough but not as rough as what we experienced on some previous cruises. Nevertheless, there was noticeable ship movement especially in the aft section. We had dinner at 555 Fahrenheit Steakhouse on Deck 7 aft that night and we experienced noticeable sway, i.e., port-to-starboard, or side-to-side motion. Sway was less noticeable in the Atrium, Deck 6 midship, and surprisingly less noticeable in our stateroom on Deck 10 midship. As a result, I would never book a stateroom in the aft section of the Mardi Gras, nor would I be inclined to do a transatlantic crossing on a ship that has 19 passenger decks. By comparison, the Norwegian Epic is rock solid.
Carnival boasts that the Mardi Gras has BOLT, the first roller coaster at sea, but the coaster track wraps around the ship’s iconic whale tail funnel which gives the impression that the coaster was an add-on and not part of the original design.
Lido Marketplace on Deck 16 is the buffet on the Mardi Gras. While the seating area is expansive, the food choices are limited. Breakfast consists of the usual fare but since no bacon was being served, they compensated by offering different kinds of sausages, namely, bangers and kielbasa. The premade scrambled eggs were the worst, watery with no flavor. The best way to have eggs from the buffet is to have them made to order at one of the omelet stations. It was obvious that most other guests agreed since the omelet stations all experienced long lines.
The Palm Restaurant on Deck 6 offered a brunch on all three days at sea which was an unexpected surprise. The restaurant wasn’t crowded, and the service was excellent. I was able to get my omelets and steak and eggs during all three days at sea.
The JavaBlue Café on Deck 6 near the Atrium became one of my favorite spaces on the ship. Twice for breakfast I tried some of their English muffin breakfast sandwiches which were included with our cruise, and I have to admit they were the best breakfast sandwiches ever! The McDonald’s Egg McMuffin doesn’t even come close.
The JavaBlue Café has self-serve coffee and hot water machines which I tagged as the “Coffee Machines from Hell.” The machines have a touch panel for selecting either coffee or hot water. The operative word here is “touch,” you have to touch the panel with just the right amount of pressure if you want to get more than just a few drops of coffee or water. Press too hard or press repeatedly and the machines refuse to obey.
On one afternoon we decided to have a late lunch at Emeril’s Bistro 1370 on Deck 6. Emeril’s is available for an extra charge, but the prices were very reasonable. I decided to order the flat iron shrimp scampi for $5.00 and it was out of this world! It was served sizzling in a small cast iron pan with shrimp on top of caramelized hair pasta. I’ve never had a dish quite like it.
And speaking of Emeril, he was on our cruise, and sat right next to our table during dinner our first night out in the Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse on Deck 7. Later on, during the cruise he presented a cooking demonstration for a select group of guests who won some type of contest for charity (if I remember correctly).
Deck 8 has three other restaurants that are worth a visit, at least once, and they are: Bonsai Sushi, Chibang!, and Cucina del Capitano. We ate at Bonsai Sushi twice and ordered the sushi “Ship” along with other menu items on both nights. The cost averaged about $50.00 which is almost a quarter of what the equivalent order would cost at a Japanese restaurant in The Villages.
Chibang! serves both Chinese and Mexican cuisine which is an unusual combination while Cucina del Capitano serves elegant Italian dishes.
For lunch on embarkation day, we ate at Shaq’s Big Chicken on the Lido Deck. I ordered the “Shaq Attack” sandwich and fries which were both very good.
Last but not least, we had to eat at Guy’s Burger Joint on Deck 17 for lunch after our early morning excursion in San Juan. Since our excursion began a 7:30a.m. we were all hungry by the time we got back to the ship, so Guy’s was just the ticket. I’m not ashamed to admit that I wolfed down two double cheeseburgers in short order. I always order them “plain Jane” since I like to add my own condiments from the fixin’s bar.
We attended four shows in the Atrium during the cruise, namely: Night of Enchantment, Vegas Nights, Mardi Gras Parade, and One World. I have to say that the musicians and other performers were much more professional than those we experienced on other Carnival cruises and ships on other cruise lines. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I refer the reader to my photo gallery.
It became obvious rather quickly, that Carnival decided to prioritize restaurants, bars, and entertainment on the Mardi Gras as opposed to shops. As a matter of fact, you will be hard pressed to find any mention of shopping on Carnival’s Mardi Gras website. Nevertheless, there is the expected gift shop selling Carnival branded merchandise along with a few specialty shops, namely Effy Jewelry. Obviously, Cherry on Top (candy store) was a popular spot with the younger crowd.
We signed up for our shore exclusions (i.e., excursions—inside joke) on board ship using Carnival’s HUB APP. A word to the wise, download and install the app before you get on your cruise otherwise you may experience a bit of frustration trying to download it on ship.
We reserved the following excursions:
Hacienda Campo Rico Heritage Tour $54.99/adult
The Hacienda Campo Rico is a former sugar-cane plantation surrounded by rainforest and mangroves. Guests are taken on a narrated trolley tour around the grounds including the main house. One of the highlights of the tour was “Lorenzo” the hog.
Top 10 Best of Puerto Plata $41.99/adult
Since Puerto Plata is noted for its rum and amber, the tour takes guests to Macorix House of Rum, Boutique Rainbow Gift Shop, and the Amber Museum. The Amber Museum provided the mosquito embedded in amber that was seen in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park dinosaur film.
Since we’ve taken many shore excursions in Nassau, we decided to just hang around the downtown shopping district near the port. Even though we checked out many of the jewelry stores on Bay Street, we got our best deal at Park Lane Luxe on the items my wife was looking for.
Observations and Conclusions
On embarkation day while in line at the Port Canaveral cruise terminal everyone was required to wear a face mask. Then, about an hour after boarding the ship most of the guests’ masks came off. I would imagine more guests would comply if genuine Mardi Gras masks were mandated instead.
Carnival requires guests to wear a mask in all the venues, stores, restaurants, and elevators on the ship. While masks were required in order to enter a restaurant, once seated the masks came off. It seems the COVID-19 virus is very discriminating.
In addition to the mask mandates on the ship, all three of our ports of call imposed strict mask requirements.
I found it quite unusual that I didn’t see anyone carrying a digital camera on ship or at any of our ports of call except for two individuals I noticed just as we were leaving downtown Nassau to return to the ship.
Now that we’ve sailed on Carnival’s newest and largest ship, I’d still like to cruise on Holland America’s Nieuw Statendam or Rotterdam, Celebrity Edge or Apex, and possibly even the Norwegian Prima.
Carnival Conquest® (2016)
Sail Date: December 10, 2016
Duration: 8 nights
Departure Port: Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
I must admit that I was somewhat spoiled after our 2014 Eastern Caribbean cruise on the Norwegian Getaway—our first cruise in fourteen years. However, for this particular trip I was looking to cruise destinations that we haven’t visited yet since this would be our 6th cruise to the Caribbean.
I did some online searching and noticed that Carnival has an 8-night cruise to the Southern Caribbean, including Aruba, sailing from Ft. Lauderdale. I wasn’t keen on taking Carnival again since our first Carnival cruise on the Tropicale didn’t measure up to our previous Premier cruise. Nevertheless, I decided to book the Carnival cruise primarily because of the itinerary.
Since we really liked our balcony stateroom on the Celebrity Silhouette, we decided to book a balcony stateroom again. Our stateroom was 8259, Verandah Deck 8, FWD (I’ll explain the reason for mentioning the stateroom number later). We signed up for Your Time dining in the Renoir Restaurant, Deck 3, FWD, which gave us the flexibility to eat dinner anytime from 5:45 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Embarkation at Port Everglades went fairly smoothly without excessive delays. Our checked baggage all arrived at our room prior to the mandatory lifeboat drill. The lifeboat drill on the Conquest was something else again. Instead of having the passengers attend the drill in the theater and/or lounges as with other cruise lines, no, Carnival had everyone line up four deep on lifeboat Deck 4. It wouldn’t have been so bad except for the fact that we were out there for almost 45 minutes before we were dismissed—they also did a manual head count.
On our return to Ft. Lauderdale, the captain got us back to Port Everglades around 5:30 a.m., considerably ahead of schedule, we didn’t disembark the ship until nearly 5 hours later. According to Carnival there was a problem with the gangplank malfunctioning.
For those who are interested, the Conquest was built in 2002 and refurbished in 2012, so it’s an older ship and to some degree, I think it’s beginning to show its age. The ship feels older, especially when on deck. Also worth mentioning is the ship’s stability or lack thereof. We had strong winds and rough seas our first day out and ship movement was quite noticeable.
The ship’s interior is adorned in a French Impressionist motif as illustrated by many of my photos posted elsewhere on this site. I think this choice of motif definitely gives the ship its own personality and uniqueness.
Our two sea days turned out to be the calmest of the trip since we were sailing in the Caribbean Sea and not the rougher Atlantic Ocean. We spent at least half of our final 2 days at sea at the Sky Pool and SPAs on Lido Deck 9, AFT.
Oh yea, remember earlier I said I would explain why I mentioned our cabin number, well it just so happens that our cabin was directly above the breaking lateral wake generated from the moving ship’s bow. That is, it’s loud and very noticeable especially at night when you’re trying to sleep. I will never book a cabin in the fore part of a ship again, no matter what deck. Next time I’ll follow the engineering-based recommendation to pick cabins located on lower decks midship.
The Renoir Restaurant had one of the best main dining room layouts of all the ships we’ve sailed on so far. It was large yet provided a cozy and somewhat intimate dining experience. The wait staff in the Renoir Restaurant were excellent. Since the food in the main dining room far exceeded our expectations, we never tried any of the extra cost specialty restaurants. In my opinion, hands down, the food was far better in variety and quality than the food we received in the main dining room on the Celebrity Silhouette.
The Lido Buffet was sort of average, but the variety improved after our first day out and seemed to get progressively better as the cruise went on. As is true on most ships, the Omelet Station in the buffet is the best choice for breakfast. We never ate dinner in the buffet. There is some good news in that whatever was lacking in the Lido Buffet was more than compensated for by the food from the BlueIguana Cantina, Guy’s Burger Joint, and the Pizza Pirate. The BlueIguana serves a mean taco and a killer breakfast burrito. Guy’s Burger Joint…I’m getting emotional here, serves some of the best burgers I’ve ever had or have had in a very long time. On the other hand, you wouldn’t expect much from a pizza coming out of a place called Pizza Pirate but don’t be deceived, the made-to-order thin crust pizzas from the Pizza Pirate are superb—and the pizza chef knows it.
All-in-all I would have to say the house bands and individual lounge performers were 50/50. I think the best band on the ship was Kudos Strings, but they were never playing at a location and time that seemed to fit our schedule.
The shows were hit and miss, with some much better than others. My personal favorite was the Epic Rock show.
Unlike our cruise director on the Norwegian Epic, our cruise director on the Conquest, Haley Mac, was ubiquitous and vocal.
The Fun Shops on Deck 5, FWD were disappointing, yet still we managed to spend some money there.
The ship provided more than enough photo opportunities for those who wanted to have individual or group portraits taken. The photographers were plentiful, friendly, and accommodating. We only took one group portrait on our last night out. On the downside, trying to find your photos in Pixels Gallery, Deck 4, FWD, was challenging to say the least. It was like a fire drill during our last night at sea.
As I mentioned earlier, the main reason why we chose this cruise was the itinerary since Grand Turk, La Romana, Aruba, and Bonaire were all new destinations for us. We booked all our shore excursions, save for one, in advance through the Carnival website.
- Grand Turk — Ultimate Snorkeling Adventure & Beach Getaway, $70/person
- La Romana — Countryside Experience, $80/person
- Aruba — Sunset Cocktail Cruise, $50/person
- Bonaire — Eco Tour at Lac Bay National Park, $70/person and Trolley Train City Tour, $40/person
The snorkeling excursion included stops at Horseshoe Reef and Round Cay. One of the selling points of this excursion is the Grand Turk “Wall” a 7,000 foot drop off (See photos in my Photo Gallery).
The La Romana Countryside Experience excursion includes a stop at a sugar cane plantation where you get to taste fresh cut sugar cane.
The Aruba Sunset Cocktail Cruise concluded as an over-the-top drinking party. I don’t drink but I went along to photograph the sunset.
The Eco Tour at Lac Bay National Park was way overpriced for the value. We saw an hour’s worth of mangrove forest but no wildlife. Everyone felt calm and peaceful out in the mangroves but little else.
We finished out our day at Bonaire on the Trolley Train City Tour (booked on board) which turned out to be much better than we expected—well worth the money.
One of the unexpected surprises on the cruise was the passenger medivac at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard while in route to Grand Turk. Obviously, the ship needed to slow down but the Coast Guard helicopter still seemed to have difficulty maintaining its position at the stern of the boat. Thankfully, the sick passenger was taken off the ship successfully, with nearly everyone on the ship watching.
Reflecting back now on six Caribbean cruises it’s evident that there are pluses and minuses with every cruise line and cruise ship—none being perfect in all details. Overall, I’d say the newer Norwegian ships have the best deck layouts and main lounge areas while Celebrity has the best buffet and shows. Norwegian has some very good lounge bands while the food in Carnival’s main dining room is exceptional. As far as shops on board ship, I would give the edge to Norwegian followed by Celebrity. Perfectly in agreement with many of the reviews I’ve read, Carnival clientele are more diverse and friendly; some might even say more down-to-earth. Anyway, which cruise line you pick, and which ship you decided to sail on depends on your personal preferences.
So, will we ever cruise on Carnival again? Of course! We are already thinking about sailing on Carnival’s newest ship, Vista.