Today Carnival Corporation is the largest operator of cruise ships in the world with a combined fleet of over 100 vessels across 10 cruise line brands. Back in 1972, however, it owned exactly one ship, the RMS Empress of Canada, which they renamed Mardi Gras. On the day after Mardi Gras, it seems like a good time to take a quick look back at Carnival’s very first ship.
RMS Empress of Canada was an ocean liner built in 1961 by Vickers-Armstrongs, Walker-on-Tyne, England for Canadian Pacific Steamships Ltd. The liner sailed in the trans-Atlantic trade between Liverpool and Canada for a decade before the growth of air travel drove her and so many other passenger liners from the sea.
After repainting her stack, the new Carnival Cruise Lines sent the Mardi Gras off on her maiden voyage. She didn’t get far. She struck a sandbar and ended up hard aground for several days in plain sight, just outside of Miami Harbor. One newspaper headline read, “Mardi Gras on the Rocks.” The story goes that the ship’s personnel served free drinks from the ship’s bar and kept the party going. Reports were that the stranded passengers had a very good time even if they were aground and the new new cruise line began earning its reputation for operating “Fun Ships.”
Mardi Gras sailed for Carnival for for over 20 years before being replaced by newer and more modern cruise ships. She was sold to Epirotiki Line in 1993, where she sailed as Olympic, Star of Texas, Lucky Star and finally Apollon. She ended her days in 2003, after 42 years of service.