Mardi Gras is synonymous with fun and revelry, and we're not just talking about Carnival's Mardi Gras ship.
French for 'Fat Tuesday,' the day marks the last opportunity to indulge in life's pleasures before the self-imposed sacrifices of Lent that begin on Ash Wednesday, as per the Christian tradition.
But beyond the religious roots, Mardi Gras and carnival festivities have become time-honored traditions in numerous places across the United States and beyond.
In honor of this joyful celebration, we look at the port cities most-closely associated with Mardi Gras and carnival festivities as well as the cruise deals you can score when sailing from these cities.
Editor's note: Prices fluctuate daily. It's likely that the prices quoted in this article have changed since time of publication and should be viewed as an estimate. Visit Cruise Critic's Find a Cruise Page to get up-to-date pricing.
No other city in the United States is as intrinsically tied to Mardi Gras as New Orleans. From the elaborate krewe floats to the musical parades marching down the city's festive streets, the Big Easy is carnival central every year.
New Orleans is also unique among major US cruise ports in that it offers travelers the possibility to sail on both ocean and river itineraries, with numerous cruise lines sailing in each direction. In fact, its strategic location on the Mississippi River has turned New Orleans into the sixth-largest cruise port in the United States.
On the oceangoing side, Carnival, Disney, and Norwegian offer roundtrip itineraries from New Orleans that sail primarily to the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Mexico and Central America. Itineraries range from 4-5 nights up to 9-night cruises, and you can expect base prices to oscillate from under $500 to just under $1000 per person, depending on the cruise line.
But appealing deals below these price thresholds are not unheard of. We've found deals for as low as $259 per person for an inside cabin for a 5-night Western Caribbean itinerary onboard Carnival Valor. The same voyage goes for $474 per person for a balcony cabin.
Similarly, a 5-night Caribbean itinerary on Norwegian Breakaway can be had for $449 for an inside cabin, or $589 for an oceanview cabin. Fares on Disney Cruise Line fall closer to the $,1000 per person range, but you can get a deal for $715 per person on an inside cabin for a 4-night cruise on Disney Magic.
River cruise lines that take advantage of New Orleans' prime location on the shores of the Mississippi River include American Queen, Viking and American Cruise Lines. The typical itinerary consists of a 7-night voyage up the river to Memphis, with longer itineraries going as far north as St. Louis and St. Paul, Minnesota.
Outside of New Orleans, several other U.S. cities have embraced Mardi Gras. And among cruise ports, the city of Galveston is one of the highlights. The Texan port lays claim to the third largest carnival celebration on U.S. soil, a tradition that dates back to 1871.
Similar to New Orleans, Galveston's location on the Gulf of Mexico makes the port an idea launching site to explore the Western Mediterranean, Mexico and Central America. What's more, Galveston offers travelers a robust selection of cruise lines to choose from, including Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line, Princess, Disney and Norwegian.
The greater volume of itineraries and variety of cruise lines can also translate into better deals.For instance, a 5-night Western Caribbean voyage on board Royal's Voyager of the Seas can go for as low as $205 per person for an inside cabin (or $273 for an oceanview cabin), while a 7-night Caribbean itinerary can go for $398 per person on an inside cabin aboard Ruby Princess.
And longer itineraries can also represent incredible value. A 10-night Western Caribbean cruise on Radiance of the Seas for $532 per person on an inside cabin (or $602 per person for an oceanview cabin), which comes down to $53-$60 per night.
While New Orleans and Galveston lead the pack among Mardi Gras celebrations in the US, the carnivalesque tradition began in another Southern city. The Alabaman port city of Mobile was the first to celebrate Mardi Gras on US soil, dating all the way back to 1703.
Currently, Mobile is home to one cruise line and one cruise ship: Carnival Spirit. The Spirit-class flagship ship embarks on 6 to 8 night itineraries from the Alabaman port, on voyages that reach as far south as Roatan in Honduras.
Fares for a 6-night trip can go for as low as $379 per person for an inside cabin, with the price ascending to $459 and $519 for an oceanview and balcony cabin, respectively. An 8-night voyage, on the other hand, can start at $519 per person for an inside cabin (or $619 for an oceanview room and $699 for a balcony cabin.
Whether or not Mardi Gras inspires you this year to partake in fun carnivalesque activities, a cruise at the right price is always a great option to laissez les bon temps rouler.