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Inaugural cruise party time for Carnival's Mardi Gras at Port Canaveral

Adolfo Perez, Carnival's SVP trade sales and marketing, tests the BOLT roller-coaster
Carnival Cruise Line welcomed cheering passengers aboard Mardi Gras Saturday with festivities including a 'Back to fun' ribbon-cutting Saturday.

Festively attired crew with 'Welcome home!' and 'We missed you!' signs clapped and danced in the multi-level Grand Central atrium, and passengers — some decked out in purple and green Mardi Gras beads and hats — waved 'Fun's back on' signs. One woman said: 'Let the shenanigans begin! We're ready to roll.'

'Patience, loyalty and support'

'Thank you again for all the patience, loyalty and support as I know many of you have booked, canceled, booked, canceled again and again, but today, the day has finally come when we are ready to set sail,' Carnival President Christine Duffy said at embarkation in Port Canaveral's new Cruise Terminal 3, custom-built for the LNG-powered Mardi Gras.

Carnival brand ambassador John Heald presided at the ribbon-cutting.

First revenue cruise from Canaveral in 16 months

Mardi Gras is the first cruise ship to set sail with revenue passengers from Port Canaveral since the industry-wide shutdown 16 months ago.

'Today was a truly emotional moment for our entire Mardi Gras team,' Capt. Giuseppe Giusa said. 'Having the distinction as the flagship of Carnival Cruise Line is a great honor and our entire team is ready to provide our guests with the vacation they have been so patiently waiting for. We are ready to get back to fun.'

The 180,000gt Mardi Gras features six themed zones with a variety of food, beverage and entertainment options, including dining venues from Emeril Lagasse (Emeril’s Bistro 1396), Guy Fieri (Guy's Burgers and Guy's Pig & Anchor Smokehouse I Brewhouse), Rudi Sodamin (Rudi's Seagrill) and Chief Fun Officer Shaquille O’Neal (Big Chicken).

Sip & Sea preview

At a 'Sip & Sea' ship preview for local officials, travel advisors and media Friday, Sodamin was on hand for a ribbon-cutting at his Rudi's Seagrill. Actually, ribbons were being cut all over the ship — including at the Heroes Tribute Bar and a sculpture inspired by a young artist at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. (Carnival supports military families through Operation Homefront and kids with life-threatening diseases through St. Jude.)

Duffy noted that Southerners call it a 'sip and see' when they have a new baby to show off to their friends and family. 'Mardi Gras is our new baby and we have been waiting way longer than nine months to deliver her so we are very excited to show her off today,' she said.

First roller-coaster at sea

One of the most popular attractions was BOLT, the first roller-coaster at sea.

Mardi Gras was scheduled to sail Saturday evening on a weeklong cruise to San Juan, Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic and Nassau. 

It is the fifth Fun Ship to resume service with additional vessels set to restart soon. By October, 15 Carnival ships will be sailing — more than half the fleet.