Carnival Mardi Gras Review

Carnival Mardi Gras cruise ship at port in Amber Cove, Dominican Republic

Before we get into our review of the Carnival Mardi Gras, let’s talk a bit about COVID protocols, arrival at the port, and the embarkation process since people tend to have a lot of questions about those topics. 

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Table of Contents

    COVID Protocols

    We sailed on the Mardi Gras in November of 2022. By then most of the COVID protocols had ended. There was no testing regardless of age or vaccination status, and no mask requirements.

    People throwing their masks, no more masks
    Photo by Pavel Danilyuk

    Arriving at Port Canaveral

    We arrived the night before and spent the night at The Country Inn and Suites Orlando Airport since we were meeting up with friends arriving by plane. Based on our recommendation, our friends booked a snooze and cruise package.

    A snooze and cruise package is extremely convenient and highly recommended if you are arriving by airplane and traveling with young children. It includes your hotel room the night before your cruise, and round-trip transportation on a coach bus from the hotel to the port, and after your cruise, from the port to the airport. You won’t have to stress over booking and organizing these things separately.

    This was our first time driving down to Port Canaveral. We left our hotel around 9:45 a.m. and traffic was surprisingly smooth.

    Pro Tip: If you decide to drive to the Port, make sure to have money for tolls. We passed a few between Orlando and Port Canaveral.

    This was also our first time parking at the terminal. Parking at the terminal, at the time of our cruise, was $17 a day plus tax, which was due prior to parking your car.

    There are plenty of companies that offer parking cheaper with shuttles to the port that are much cheaper than parking at the terminal. However, with two young kids in tow, parking at the terminal was much more convenient and therefore worth the extra cost.

    We were able to find a spot close to the elevator. We only had to corral our kids and our luggage a few feet to the elevator and down one floor before our luggage was collected by a terminal employee. It couldn’t have been easier or more convenient.

    If you plan to drive, I highly recommend terminal parking for families with young children. It was worth every penny.

    Carnival Mardi Gras Embarkation Review

    We arrived at Port Canaveral around 10:30 a.m. even though we weren’t scheduled to arrive until 11:30. We expected embarkation to be a little tricky for our group since we wanted to embark together and had a total of three cabins, which meant three different appointment times and three different boarding zones, including one family in a suite cabin with priority boarding. 

    We were pleasantly surprised that our entire group was welcomed and quickly processed, with minimal waiting. It only took about 15 minutes for our group of 8 to make it to our boarding zones.

    Our friends in the suite had priority boarding and were immediately welcomed to board but even though we made sure to connect our bookings as companions in the Carnival Hub app before arrival, we were unable to board priority with the rest of our party.

    The only option was to have the family with priority boarding wait until our zone was called which they chose to do.

    Pro Tip: To avoid frustration, be aware that being linked with other travelers in a different cabin as companions in the Carnival Hub app does not give you access to everything those companions have. Be prepared to wait if you are with other travelers who have a different boarding zone than you. Don’t expect for all members of your party to be able to board with whichever members of your party have the earliest boarding time.

    Our boarding zone was D10 (I believe E was the final boarding zone) and we waited for around 30-45 minutes before we were allowed to embark, which wasn’t bad. Carnival staff moved quickly.

    However, there wasn’t nearly enough seating so several of us had to stand while we waited or find a spot on the floor. The boarding area was similar to the waiting areas at airport terminals right before Christmas. Pure chaos.

    City Business People Crowd

    I once watched a video of embarkation on another cruise line. Everyone was seated, birthday and anniversary announcements were made, and games were played until everyone was on board. This was nothing like that.

    Be prepared to keep your children entertained and calm. There were vending machines available so we bought snacks for our crew and handed out tablets and that seemed to help.

    Carnival Mardi Gras Food Reviews

    Specialty Restaurants

    Out of the five specialty restaurants (restaurants that have an extra charge), we only ate at one. Cucina Del Capitano– The Italian restaurant. The ambiance was incredible. It was one area of the ship I actually forgot I was on a cruise ship.

    Cucina Del Capitano Italian restaurant on the Carnival Mardi Gras cruise ship
    Cucina Del Capitano

    We heard nothing but good things about the restaurant and decided to give them a try for dinner. The appetizers were amazing, but we weren’t impressed by their entree options. We expected more choices of pasta dishes but there were only about two.

    I decided on the beef short ribs which were delicious but I had really been looking forward to a fancy pasta dish. Maybe I should have just ordered Spaghetti and Meatballs, the meatball appetizer was delicious!

    Beef short ribs dinner at Cucina Del Capitano on Carnival Mardi Gras cruise ship
    Beef short ribs at Cucina Del Capitano

    Even though the food was overall very good and high quality, we were disappointed with the menu and likely won’t eat there for dinner again. 

    Regretfully, we did not get to try Emeril’s Bistro, ChiBang, Rudi’s Seagrill, Bonsai Sushi and Teppanyaki, and the Steakhouse

    Pro Tip: If you want to sit at the sushi bar at Bonsai Sushi for dinner, even if there are available seats, there can be a long wait to be seated and to receive your food. According to the hostess, Bonsai Sushi adds people who want tables and seats at the bar to the same waiting list and puts your order in a queue based on when you were seated.

    JavaBlue Cafe– If you’re looking for specialty coffee and a quick snack, JavaBlue Cafe you may find yourself a regular customer at JavaBlue Cafe. Most of their items have an additional cost, but some food menu items are included.

    Carnival Mardi Gras Free (Included) Food Options

    The free food options on the Mardi Gras are overwhelming. We only ate at the main dining room twice, once on Elegant Night and once for brunch. This wasn’t because we didn’t like the food in the main dining room. It was because there were too many other delicious, and more convenient lunch and dinner options. 

    Shaq’s Big Chicken was our first meal on board the Mardi Gras. We were excited to try it so much so that we had purposely avoided eating Chick-fil-A the days before.

    I had read so many different reviews on Shaq’s Big Chicken, and there was a mix of people who felt that it was better than Chick-fil-A and others who didn’t find it to be anything special.

    We are on the side of nothing too special. Maybe we were expecting too much because of all the hype but we found it to be no better than a Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich and in all honesty, I’d prefer Chick-fil-A.

    The fries at Shaq’s Big Chicken were more like chips, so unless that’s your thing, you may find the fries disappointing as well. Our kids were huge fans of the chicken tenders and fries so they ate at Shaq’s a few times. 

    Let me know in the comments what you thought about Shaq’s Big Chicken.

    Guy’s Burger Joint is another favorite on Carnival’s cruise ships. If you’re in the mood for a burger and some good fries, Guy’s Burger Joint is the way to go. Once again we only ate here once but it wasn’t because the food wasn’t good. We just weren’t in the mood for burgers most days. 

    Blue Iguana Cantina was one of our favorite places to eat lunch. At Blue Iguana Cantina, you’ll find tacos, burritos, and burrito bowls, all made to order with your toppings of choice. There is also a toppings bar. According to my son, they were the “best tacos ever!” I don’t know if they were the best but they were pretty darn close! I’m not usually a fan of burritos but I’d eat a burrito there any day.

    Guy’s Pig and Anchor Smokehouse– We’ve listed this restaurant under the free options because at the time of our cruise it was being offered for free but just be aware that this may change. I believe on certain Carnival ships there is a charge for dinner.

    Guy’s Pig and Anchor was personally one of my favorite places to eat. I love BBQ and their food was no exception. What I think I loved most about Guy’s Pig and Anchor was the design, the location, and the atmosphere. The restaurant is located at the back of the ship, on deck 8. There were several doors leading to the deck where there was an infinity pool, a couple of bars and hot tubs, and the most amazing view. 

    Guy's Pig and Anchor BBQ on Carnival Mardi Gras cruise ship
    Guy’s Pig and Anchor

    Guy’s Pig and Anchor is such a cool place to just hang out, even if you aren’t hungry. There’s a large bar and the brewery, a section to watch sports, a section with foosball tables, and a section for the band. Aside from the Lido, this is another location where you can find ice cream and froyo machines.

    Lido Marketplace– The Lido Marketplace is Carnival’s buffet. Initially, the buffet appears much larger than it actually is but you’ll soon discover that there are two separate sections serving the same items. At the Lido Marketplace, you’ll find the buffet serving different menu items, and then several other stations serving various cuisines, such as an Asian station, BBQ, Seadogs (hotdogs), pasta and more. For breakfast, one of those stations turns into an omelet station, where you can have eggs made your way.

    The Lido Marketplace is where we ate breakfast most sea days. We preferred the convenience and quick service to the dining room while still being able to enjoy all of our breakfast favorites.

    The Lido Marketplace is also a good option for lunch if you want a quick bite and some variety. We tried the buffet for a quick dinner one night and were highly disappointed. The food was mediocre at best and the options extremely limited. I wonder if we just went too late to see the full menu.

    The highlight of the Lido Marketplace was its Gelato and cake section. Each day, there was a choice of 3 or 4 different cakes including a sugar-free option and two Gelato flavors. And each day, there are different cakes. Even if I chose a different option for lunch, I’d make sure to find my way to the marketplace for dessert.

    Fresh Creations– Once I saw the extremely large, deep bowl and the numerous toppings, I knew Fresh Creations was going to be another favorite. There were so many options of fruits, vegetables, and salad dressings, and it was self-serve so someone like me who enjoys more mix-ins than lettuce, could make it to their liking.

    What drove me crazy about Fresh Creations was the location. Fresh Creations is located inside Carnival’s adult-only Serenity section of the ship. One day, I really wanted a salad but by the time I got my kids situated and ran over to Serenity, the line for Fresh Creations had just closed. Like I was seconds too late.

    Carnival, please, put Fresh Creations somewhere on the Lido, or another common area, so when I feed my kids, I can also grab a salad for me. And no, the salad bar in the Marketplace does not compare.

    Street Eats– This new addition to Carnival ships can be found on the Lido deck next to the Seafood Shack. There are three eateries that make up Street Eats: Steam Dream serving Asian-style dumplings, Mad Sizzle serving options straight out of the skillet, and Time Fries, serving gourmet-style fries.

    Every day, for lunch only, each eatery makes a different version of its specialty food and each portion is snack-sized. My suggestion, if you’re on the Lido deck while Street Eats is open, stop by and see if there’s anything you’d like to try.

    Pizzeria Del Capitano– The pizzeria, located on deck 8, was at the top of the kids’ list of favorite places to eat. (I thought the pizza was pretty good myself.) Almost 24 hours a day, Pizzeria Del Capitano serves up personal-sized pizzas, giving each person half unless you ask for a whole one.

    Pro-tip: There are no boxes unless you get the pizza delivered to you so carrying multiple slices and whole pizzas back to another area on the ship can get tricky, especially if you have to bring them into a crowded elevator. I’m thinking these may help next time.

    Carnival Deli– This is your go-to spot for sandwiches- both hot and cold- and wrapped. On the Mardi Gras, the Carnival Deli is conveniently located right next to Pizzeria Del Capitano.

    Carnival Mardi Gras Entertainment Reviews

    Scheduled activities

    As is expected with Carnival, there was a large variety of scheduled activities all day long. Regardless of whether your thing is having a drink while listening to live music, or participating in one of the many dance-offs, you’ll never be bored.

    Two of my favorite categories of activities on sea days are trivia and group games. However, on the Mardi Gras, there seemed to be fewer of those happening throughout the day. One day, there were back-to-back group games scheduled but they were early in the day so by the time I woke up and finished with brunch, they were pretty much over.

    Comment: What do you think? Did you notice less trivia and games like scavenger hunts on the Mardi Gras than on other Carnival ships?

    One positive thing that stood out to me was the shows. And not only the shows themselves but the location of the shows. I don’t typically attend the shows on cruises as I’m not much of a theater fan but having the shows at Center Stage, an open-concept theater, somehow made them more inviting. This also made it possible to “sample” the shows in passing.

    And the shows themselves were amazing! On the Mardi Gras, I watched at least 3 of the shows and was upset I didn’t catch them all. The performers and production were top-notch. Whoever idea it was to perform, The World Works Here, and We Are One, bravo! They were the perfect performances to end the cruise with.

    Pro Tip: If you can, visit the first show of the cruise to figure out which seats are the best, and then arrive early to the show you want to get a good seat. The best seats go fast, especially if you want to be seated at a table.

    Another scheduled activity we enjoyed was Bingo. Just like the theater shows, Bingo is popular and takes place at Center Stage so get there early to get a good seat. Table seats really come in handy for Bingo.

    Have you ever wanted to be on Family Feud or Deal or No Deal, you’ll have your chance on the Mardi Gras, and if you’re lucky you’ll win a prize or some money.

    At night, especially the night we had rough seas, we enjoyed being out in the fresh air watching a movie under the stars, on the big screen out on the Lido.

    My husband Henry playing Guess that Groove on Carnival’s Mardi Gras cruise ship

    Non-Scheduled Activities

    On Deck 18, you’ll find all your active non-scheduled activities which Carnival calls The Ultimate Playground. Activities include mini golf, the Sports Court (a basketball court also used for other sports like volleyball, dodgeball, and soccer), the Ropes Course, and Carnival Waterworks.

    Kids playing Mini golf on the carnival mardi gras cruise ship

    For this to be Carnival’s largest ship at the time it was built, I was disappointed by the Waterworks area. There were three slides for older kids and adults, which were fun, but the splash area for younger kids was very small and basic.

    One thing I would have loved to see added to Deck 18 is an indoor play area like that on the Carnival Horizon, for those days when the weather is less than ideal.

    On the top deck, you’ll find Bolt which was the first rollercoaster at sea. Unfortunately, the weather was pretty rough most days of our cruise which meant that Bolt was closed.

    Pro Tip: If you’re interested in riding Bolt, don’t hesitate to reserve your spot in line when it is open. Bolt gets closed frequently due to high winds and rain so if you wait, you may miss your chance.

    On Deck 17, across from Circle C, the club for kids ages 12-15, you’ll find The Warehouse, Carnival’s arcade. The arcade was okay for about half an hour of fun but nothing special. One of the best things about an arcade is the cool prizes you can choose at the end. Sadly, the prizes at The Warehouse were comparable to what you’d find in one of those quarter machines that dispense small, cheap, choke-risk toys.

    Pools/Hot tubs– Lounging by the pool and in the hot tub is probably the most popular non-scheduled activity on any cruise and the Mardi Gras, with multiple pools and hot tubs to choose from.

    lounging on the Carnival Mardi Gras cruise ship pool side looking out at the ocean

    Unfortunately, I didn’t even get a chance to visit or tour the gym and spa. A huge regret of mine.

    Carnival Mardi Gras Casino Review

    The Casino, located on Deck 7, is a nice size for the ship with at least five different entrances from what I remember. I didn’t spend much time in the smoking section but it appeared that equal care was given to both the smoking and non-smoking sections. There was enough space and enough machines that it never felt overcrowded and most of the time, you could find an open machine. I had a blast giving into the temptation of playing those cash crane games. I never won but had fun trying.

    Carnival Mardi Gras Kids Club Review

    Carnival’s Camp Ocean is a free kids club for kids ages 4-11. Each day there is a schedule of activities. You can keep your kids in for as many or as few of them as you want.

    When we weren’t at port, this was where you found my kids most of the time. And not because I was trying to get rid of them either. They actually enjoyed being there.

    My youngest child was in The Penguins, the group for kids ages 2-5. There were a lot of group art projects, games, dancing, free play, and face painting. Needless to say, he had so much fun and never wanted to leave.

    The second age group is the Stingrays for ages 6-8. This is the group my oldest son was supposed to be in but because he was turning 9 in a month and we were traveling with two other kids in the next age group, they allowed him to move up to the Sharks for ages 9-11.

    Pro Tip: If you have a child who is on the cusp of the next age group and you believe your child will be happier in that group, ask to have them transferred. Your request will likely be granted without an issue.

    My oldest son’s main complaint about The Sharks was that there was no unlimited free play. One of his favorite activities at the kids club was playing Super Smash Bros on the Nintendo Switch, which he could only do during the few times free play was on the schedule. When he wasn’t playing Super Smash Bros, there were arts and crafts, science projects, group games, and more.

    Carnival Mardi Gras Design Review

    The Mardi Gras had a modern and bright design. Even if we weren’t eating at the Lido Marketplace, thanks to the design, it was a nice place to sit indoors and relax, or to play cards or other games with family and friends. The seating was bright and colorful and there were panoramic windows that went around the entire Marketplace.

    Touchless doors are a great safety precaution with COVID-19 now part of our everyday lives but their functionality on the Mardi Gras was more of a headache than a help. The main doors never seemed to work unless you pressed the little button in the middle, which defeated their purpose. And the bathroom doors…oh boy. Let’s just say you should not wait until the last minute if you plan to use one of the bathrooms with those touchless doors.

    Comment: What are your thoughts on these automatic doors?

    I’m still trying to decide whether I like that the pizzeria was located on deck 8 rather than on the Lido deck. On one hand, it was extremely inconvenient for families with young children who were too young to go off on their own with most of the food options on the Lido. On the other hand, the pizzeria was much more centrally located on deck 8.

    Comment: What did you think about the location of the pizzeria?

    Carnival Mardi Gras Cruise Director Review- Kyndall Fire

    The Cruise Director, at the time of our cruise, was the one and only Kyndall Fire, and let me tell you, that woman is FIRE!!! I can honestly say that I would have been a lot less impressed with the Mardi Gras if it was not for Kyndall Fire.

    Kyndall Fire is the best cruise director I have ever encountered. She has all the characteristics that make a great cruise director. She is talented, funny, personable, approachable, fun, and professional. Thanks to her, Carnival held up its reputation on the Mardi Gras as the fun ship.

    Our Overall Review of the Carnival Mardi Gras

    The Mardi Gras is a beautiful ship. It’s the perfect ship for first-time cruisers and cruisers with children. There are plenty of activities for cruisers of all ages, and an amazing kids club to allow parents time to themselves without having to worry about their kids. The food was amazing and the options were plentiful. We had so much fun, much of which was attributed to the amazing Kyndall Fire. We would without a doubt sail on the Mardi Gras again.

    Have you gone on the Mardi Gras? Are there any areas I forgot to cover? Are you thinking about going? Are there any questions you have that I have not covered? Let me know in the comments below.

    If you’re interested in booking this cruise, you can visit Carnival.com. You can also book this cruise through third-party websites such as Expedia.com and Priceline.com.

    Pro Tip: Did you know that in most situations you can book a cruise as early as 2 years out? And in most cases you can book with a small deposit and in certain cases no money down, giving you months to pay it down if you book early.

    Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this blog, you may enjoy Philadelphia Go City Pass Review: Is it worth it?

    2 Comments

    1. I found this super helpful – I’ve never done a large cruise before but I’m sure I will at some point. I am blown away by the food choices!

      1. Hi Peggy. Thanks for reading. If you were blown away by the food choices based on my blog, I think you’ll be overwhelmed by them when you’re actually on the ship. The food choices that are included on a cruise ship is one reason cruise travel is loved by so many. You get to see a number of countries in one trip with meals, board, and entertainment included. I hope you decide to go sometime soon. You’ll love it!

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