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  • Writer's pictureJacob Lyngsøe

Mardi Gras on the Rocks

Updated: Jul 29

  • 0,1oz (0,3cl) lemon juice

  • 2oz (6cl) dark rum

  • 6oz (18cl) Hawaiian Punch

  • 1tsp sugar


Dip rim of hurricane glass first in lemon juice, then in sugar.


Mix drink in shaker and shake well with lots of ice, garnish with an orange slice.


Cheers!


Apart from openly encouraging you to drink long drinks before noon, the point of this is to drag up an almost forgotten story about how Carnival Cruises almost went under before they had even begun. Well that, and to prove to myself I can also still pull off a short, catchy yarn, rather than the 20.000+ word deep dives I am gradually becoming known for. So mix yourself a Mardis Gras on the Rocks and sit back for a fascinating short story from the pages of cruise history.


Miami tugboats struggling to free the Mardi Gras off Miami, press picture, original source unknown

Saturday, March 11, 1972

It’s late afternoon in Miami, Florida and the 27,284 grt Mardis Gras, flagship (and only ship) of the newly established Carnival Cruise Line, casts off from its berth on Dodge Island and maneuvers slowly into the Main Channel to open sea for its inaugural cruise. Onboard is a full complement of passengers, along with 300 travel agents out for a first impression of the new cruise line. Though far older than most other Miami-based cruise ships of the time (built in 1961 as the Empress of Canada for Canadian Pacific Steamships Ltd.), the Mardi Gras manages to look both majestic and dazzling with her sheer size, her sweeping ocean liner curves and her gleaming new coat of white paint as she glides towards the open sea. Standing on the bridge wing with the captain is Ted Arison, founder and CEO of Carnival Cruise Line and his son, the then twentysomething Micky Arison (today’s CEO of the Carnival Corporation).


A New Start

It is hard to imagine Ted Arison not feeling excited and jubilant at this moment. In the less than 6 months since the unamicable business breakup with Norwegian shipping tycoon Knut Kloster (with whom he founded Norwegian Caribbean Line – later becoming NCL), which essentially left him as a cruise operator without a ship, Ted has had to struggle mightily to keep his fledgling company together, acquire a new ship, fix it up and get back into operation before his capital ran out. This moment is the culmination of all his hard work and on it rides everything he has and everything he is in the cruise industry. But on this sunny Saturday afternoon, with his first fully-owned ship under his feet and his inaugural cruise underway, it must have felt like he was clearing a corner and heading into a brighter future … that is, until the ship ran aground.


One Wrong Turn

At the end of the Government Cut channel the American harbor pilot, who fancied himself a bit of a linguist, wanted to show off to the Italian bridge crew and gave what he believed to be a clear order to turn to port in perfect Italian, but which the Italian helmsman unmistakably heard as a clear order to turn to starboard. Within seconds the majestic ship ran aground on a sandbank with a shudder and a groan – Ted Arison’s hopes and dreams were now hopelessly stuck in shallow water just outside the Miami harbor. Unable to get off the sandbar under their own power, the crew and passengers had no choice but to settle in and wait for high tide to arrive. To stave off disgruntled restlessness among the passengers Ted Arison ordered the ships bars opened free of charge and as the sun set over Miami, the stationary cruise ship quickly turned into a ‘booze cruise’ to nowhere. It was at this moment – so the story goes – that an entrepreneurial bartender whipped up the above rum cocktail and named it ‘Mardi Gras on the Rocks’. Both Arison men stayed up all night to deal with the situation but in decidedly different ways; a troubled Ted refused to leave the bridge, whereas the easy-going Micky – quickly coming to terms with his inability to do anything about the situation – joined the evolving party downstairs and partied the night away with the guests and crew.

Fuel for Nickels

High tide came and went but did nothing to lift the Mardi Gras free. A fuel tender was called in from Miami to pump tons of fuel off the cruise ship in the hopes that the lightened ship would rise off the sandbank. Finally, almost 28 hours after the original departure, the Mardi Gras comes free and is pulled unceremoniously off the sandbank by tugboats. A quick Coast Guard inspection determines that there is no significant damage to the hull and Ted Arison decides to press on with the cruise as if nothing happened. But fate is not done kicking him around: unable to refuel on the spot, he finds himself without enough fuel to complete the cruise. He can refuel the ship in San Juan, Puerto Rico, but with all his latest operational woes on full display in the press and everyone in the industry fully aware that he is running on financial fumes by now, no one is willing to extend him credit for the fuel. So on the night before San Juan, Ted Arison and the crew empty out every onboard cash register, every slot machine and turn over all the sofa cushions onboard in search of cash and end up paying for the fuel top-up with casino buckets of crumpled bills and grimy coins. And thus, the Carnival cruise brand would live to see another day!


Fun Forever More

This was far from the only existential crisis Ted Arison and the fledgling Carnival brand would face – in the years to come Carnival would weather countless more and walk a very fine line between solvency and bankruptcy through a very murky area halfway between legality and …other stuff. But this initial crisis did contribute two lasting aspects to the Carnival legacy; 1) a decent Rum cocktail that would for many years after be served as a signature cocktail in bars onboard Carnival vessels and 2) the notion of ‘the fun ships’ – the slogan and reputation that would later propel Carnival from the edge of bankruptcy and well into the black – was undoubtedly born here; on a grounded ship with free-flowing alcohol and a ‘What the Hell! Let’s just have fun with it!’ attitude.


The drunken, raucous, fraternity-style fun - that all started on a sandbank, Carnival deck games, ca. 1970

Finished your cocktail? Well, have another then - you have somewhere else to be? And as long as you're comfy, why don't you take this opportunity to dive into another of the twenty-two entertaining and fascinating stories from cruising past in this blog? Enjoy!


This is the twenty-third article in a series of historical retrospectives on the history of cruising prior to the industry formation in the 1960's. Although not academic papers, the articles are researched to the extent of my resources and ability and strive to be as historically factual as possible. If you enjoyed it, feel free to like, share or comment and follow me (or The Cruise Insider) for more instalments.

#cruiseships #historyofcruising #cruiseindustry


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