The first cruise ship for Carnival Cruise Line was the Mardi Gras in 1971.
When introduced, Carnival was a infant of a company, and did not have deep pockets. The Mardi Gras was renovated while she carried paying passengers. During her first year of operation, sections of the ship were actually closed off, while upgrades were made to the entire ship - a section at a time.
There were ever reports that during her first cruise, Carnival needed to empty the slot machines of cash to pay for fuel for the return trip. The fuel supplier was unwilling to provide Carnival with a line of credit and wanted a payment in cash.
During her maiden departure from Miami in March 1971, the Mardi Gras got stuck on the sandbar outside of the port of Miami. The incident drew media attention, with headlines reading "Mardi Gras on the Rocks".
The Mardi Gras quickly settled into the seven day market attracting the party crowd with the "Fun Ship" concept. Frequently sailing at capacity on her 7 days cruises, Carnival was well poised for expansion, adding a second ship, the Carnivale (ex Queen Anna Maria, Empress of Britain) in 1975.
The Mardi Gras was small by today's standards, weighing 27,284 tons with a length of 650 ft and a beam of 86.5 ft. Her capacity with every berth filled was 1,240 passengers but double capacity was about 800 passengers.
The Mardi Gras is dwarfed when compared to the larger ships of the Carnival fleet today which are about 4 times larger.
The modified picture to the right shows the Mardi Gras compared to the new Carnival Magic (weighing 130,000 ton, carrying 3,690 passengers and 1,386 crew.)
The Mardi Gras started her career as the Empress of Canada for Canadian Pacific Lines on April 24, 1961. As the Empress of Canada she was placed on the transatlantic route between Canada and the United Kingdom during the summer and cruising from New York City to the Caribbean in the winter. In total, the Empress of Canada made 121 Atlantic crossings before being sold to Carnival Cruise Lines in 1971.
The Mardi Gras was sold in 1993 and later sailed as the Olympic for Epirotiki Lines , Star of Texas and Lucky Star for gambling cruises; and finally Apollon for Epirotiki, Royal Olympic and Direct Cruises(charter). When Royal Olympic ran into financial issues, they quickly sold the Apollon, Stella Oceanus and Stella Solaris to Alang scrappers for $5.1 Million dollars in 2003 to raise cash.
The Empress of Canada had a long career lasting some 42 years and proved to be the cornerstone of Carnival Cruise Line success.