Carnival Mardi Gras has as much or as little as you want to do during the day, although you will find that there's less planned if you stay on board during a port stop.
Wi-Fi on the ship was surprisingly great, better than we've experienced on Carnival before. We were able to connect to the HUB act at most hours of the day, and even take part in Zoom work calls. We were able to stream our Peloton workouts in our cabin and in the fitness center.
Popular activities include themed trivia sessions where you can win the coveted Ship on a Stick prize; bingo (you'll need to buy tickets for this), spa lectures (although keep in mind, these are usually aimed at having you buy something).
A wealth of activities are on the top deck, for kids of all ages. Chief among them is Bolt, the roller coaster, which carries an extra $15 fee, but it's worth it -- your heart really will be racing after your two trips around.
If you don't want to spend money, there's still free mini golf, a ropes course with a zip line, five waterslides and a splash park for kids. This is all contained in The Ultimate Playground neighborhood so pack your sunscreen and spend the day up here.
*Tip: If you want to ride the roller coaster or use the ropes course, pack closed toe shoes.*
Pools are a highlight on Mardi Gras. While the Beach Pool in the center of the Lido Deck might seem small, don't worry -- there are other pools around the ship for you to cool off. Chief among them is the Tides pool, on the back of the ship on Deck 16, which also has two hot tubs. Your only issue here is that you're contending with lots of people eating lunch from the nearby buffet and Big Chicken.
A better retreat is the Patio Pool, down on Deck 8 in the new Summer Landing area. It seemed relatively undiscovered on our trip, and the two hot tubs near new bar Watering Hole were usually empty.
*Tip: If you come here to swim, bring a towel with you, as none are available on site and you'll end up dripping your way through the ship if you don't.*
One of our favorite hangs onboard, the Serenity sundeck is adults only and complimentary. On Mardi Gras, the area is super-sized to not only have plenty of comfy lounge chairs, there's a pool, two hot tubs, a bar and Fresh Creations.
For a splurge: There are new cabanas that anyone can rent -- although suite guests have priority -- in the new Loft 19 area. Starting at $500 a day, these cabanas can fit five people, and include a bottle of bubbly, lunch and drink service, bottled water and fresh fruit. You also have access to the private infinity hot tub in the Loft 19 area. Is it worth it? We'd say only if you're in a group that wants an on-ship getaway. Otherwise, it's a bit lonely.
Live music of all kinds, busy bars, production shows and comedy clubs -- there's always something going on in the evening hours after dinner. Check your HUB app and highlight things you want to do, otherwise you might miss out.
Mardi Gras Theater
The theater is notably small for a ship this size, seating only 900 people. So if there's something that you really want to see -- we recommend the Family Feud game show -- go early; the doors usually open 30 minutes early.
Carnival's Playhouse Production shows can be fun. They are usually musical revues with graphics on the screen behind them, featuring an earnestly attractive cast singing covers. All are only 30 to 40 minutes long so nothing ever feels like a long commitment.
For Mardi Gras, Carnival's architects did something different and put the atrium on the side of the ship instead of in the middle. While it can take some getting used to, the new space serves dual purpose -- the three stories of windows let in great light and sea views during the day, and then the area can be a second theater for variety shows and live music at night.
The banquette seating allowed for plenty of comfy space, and the tables on Deck 8 in meant you could stop by for a few minutes of a show, without making a full commitment. On a ship like Mardi Gras where you want to sample a bit of everything, the Grand Atrium really works.
Carnival supersized the casino on Mardi Gras and it takes up a huge amount of real estate on Deck 7. You can't even cross the ship on this level without walking through it (and since part of the casino is open for smoking, you'll want to go up or down a deck if you want to avoid it). The good news is that the non-smoking side of the casino is bigger, and has the nice windows.
Mardi Gras is a cocktail lovers dream -- while you can still order Carnival classics like Kiss on the Lips, nearly every bar onboard has interesting drinks that are special to that particular venue. And what we find most impressive is that nearly every drink onboard -- no matter how fancy -- falls within the drink package, if you choose to buy one.
For pool drinks (Lido): RedFrog has grown up and developed a cheeky tiki angle. Now two stories and right in the heart of the Lido Deck, the RedFrog Tiki Bar dominates the pool area, in a good way. Drinks here include Polynesian staples like Mai Tais, Blue Hawaiians and Singapore Slings, but really, if it has rum in it, you'll find it here.
For pool drinks (Patio): Off to the side of the new Patio at Summer Landing area, the Watering Hole isn't an obvious choice for day drinking. But all of the drinks are what we'd call thirst quenchers and go down so easy, you'll forget what time it really is (and isn't that part of the purpose of Sea Days anyway?)
For a laugh: Punchliner Comedy Club shows always draw crowds on Carnival, and it's no exception on Mardi Gras. Lines begin at least 30 minutes early.
For a singalong: Go early to get seats for Piano Bar 88. The space is small, and it's almost always packed (on our sailing, a crew member was stationed at the door to help people find seats).
For a personalized cocktail: With mixologists who make up cocktails to your taste preferences, Alchemy Bar has become so popular, the bartenders have fan clubs. On Mardi Gras, the ship has wisely made Alchemy bigger, with a longer bar and more seating nearby. What's nice is that the bar overlooks the French Quarter, so you can listen to the music below while still enjoying the banter.
For something truly different: In terms of creativity, the new Fortune Teller Bar gives Alchemy a run for its money. Decked out in velvet, mirrors and a bit of New Orleans voodoo vibe, the bar serves up drinks that have a magical vibe to them. The Abracadabra turns colors when you add a vial of pineapple juice to it. The Crystal Ball expands until you pop it with a haze of smoke. And if you want a traditional -- and potent -- New Orleans frozen daiquiri, there's a machine here. If it's quiet, the bartenders can read your palm -- although be warned, this bar gets busy.
For old school classics: If the Fortune Teller Bar leans into the spooky side of New Orleans, the Brass Magnolia is all about Old School. It reminds me of a classic NOLA hotel bar, with bartenders in crisp white jackets who know their way around a cocktail shaker. Don't miss the Hurricanes, made the right way with juice, not mix.
For a casual glass of wine: The new Bar Della Rosa in La Piazza is more like a sidewalk café than an actual atmospheric bar. But we liked the Italian wines here -- perfect with a slice or panini -- and found it fairly busy, especially among smokers who have their area just outside.
For dancing it out: There is a nightclub onboard, the Limelight Lounge tucked away on Deck 7. But we found the dancing and cocktails more fun and lively at the Havana Bar.
The Cloud 9 spa complex on Mardi Gras is larger and has more amenities than previous Carnival ships, although you'll pay for the privilege. Prices for spa services are generally as much or a bit more than you'll find on land, and we are noticing that port day deals are also not as plentiful.
The complex includes a salon for haircuts as well as manis, pedis and other services. Perhaps one of the nicest rooms in the complex is the Relaxation Room, where you wait for your massage, facial or body treatment. The room has windows, comfy loungers and a beverage station with tea and water.
There's a couples treatment room that has its own whirlpool, as well as room for both of you to get a massage or body treatment at the same time.
The Thermal Suite has a larger Thalassotherapy pool than previous ships, as well as steam rooms, an aroma steam room "experience" steam showers and a salt room therapy sauna. If you love heated thermal loungers, you'll find them here, surrounding the pool. There's also a rainforest shower bank in this room. One thing that the suite doesn't have is a view; it's all pretty dark in here, with little natural light.
Passes to the Thermal Suite are sold by the cruise or the day, for an individual or as a couple.
*Tip: If spa time is crucial to you, book a Cloud 9 spa cabin on Deck 5. There's a secret door that leads directly to the Thermal Suite and you get special discounts and amenities. What's nice about Cloud 9 spa cabins is that you can buy them in any category, including inside, and still receive the thermal suite pass and spa amenities, so it's a good choice if you know you'll spend more time in the spa than in your cabin during the day.*
The Fitness Center is on Deck 6 with a gorgeous view of… the lifeboats. Really? For a ship of its size, the fitness center seems a bit of an afterthought.
While there are several banks of treadmills and cardo machines, the space for people to do weights and other type of workouts is extremely small -- on a Sea Day, people were stacked up on top of each other. It's a bit better on port days, of course.
You can sign up for fitness classes and personal training, but it comes with an extra fee.
The jogging track is up on Deck 18, at the back of the ship, going around the splash park and sports court. If you're going to use it, go early in the morning before the crowds come; otherwise you're going to be bumping into people constantly.
Editor's note: Kids clubs were closed on our sailing and we did not have the opportunity to view them. There was also no kids programming due to Covid restrictions.