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MARDI GRAS at Ft. Lauderdale in 1987. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 1987.


Carnival Cruise Line's MARDI GRAS was originally the final flagship of the once mighty Canadian Pacific Lines' transatlantic service. When she debuted as the EMPRESS OF CANADA in 1961, she was part of the last wave of British ocean liners that would also include Orient Lines' ORIANA, P&O Lines' CANBERRA, Union-Castle Lines' WINDSOR and TRANSVAAL CASTLEs and Shaw Savill's NORTHERN STAR. She was built during a transitional period between the more traditional post war stylings and the mid-1960s streamlined modern. The result was a pleasingly sleek profile and a spacious and modern ambiance with fittings in rich woodwork, etched glass, nickel and brass.

Canadian Pacific, like all the other established shipping lines, fell victim to the boon in air travel. By the late 1960s, the EMPRESSES were losing huge amounts of money and their cruise programs in the off season were not strong enough to absorb the negative financial impact. In 1971, the EMPRESS OF CANADA was laid up and in 1972, she was bought by fledgling Carnival Cruises who renamed her MARDI GRAS. Their empire was built on this ship, which was put into service virtually unchanged, save for a new funnel paint scheme based on CP's final logo. The deck names, Empress, Main, etc. remained unchanged (and later served as the nomenclature for their vast fleet of newbuildings).

MARDI GRAS stayed with Carnival until 1993, remaining structurally unchanged, retaining most of her CP fixtures, beautiful paneling, and British atmosphere. Of course, some of the fine woodwork was painted black or purple while the carpeting and soft fittings were done up in neon-bright hues, but underneath all of the Farcusian excess, the heart of an EMPRESS still pounded. Well, maybe except for the dining room, which got a neo-New Orleans brothel treatment in the ship's latter Carnival years.

A short phase as the unsuccessful gambling ship STAR OF TEXAS followed, and then the old liner fled to Greece to avoid creditors. There, she lingered in layup for several years, deteriorating considerably until her next owners, Royal Olympic Cruises, decided in late 1997 to completely refurbish her as the APOLLON. Twenty million US dollars later, she was not only cleaned up and reconditioned, but most of the decorative horrors Carnival inflicted upon her were dutifully rectified. The aft nightclub no longer sported black paint over its exotic veneers and there was no trace of the purple and magenta carpeting so popular on her three and four night Bahamas booze cruises. ROC took huge pride in the former liner, which was chartered by British-based Direct Cruises.

After a successful year, APOLLON returned to layup, then got a nice refit in early 2001, when she was given ROC's gorgeous blue and gold hull livery. September 11, 2001 killed tourism in the region for several years, helping force ROC into desperate times and the sale of three of its best ships (APOLLON included) to Indian shipbreakers.


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