In cold, dark Finland, in the middle of the pandemic, shipyard workers at Meyer Turku were hard at work setting a roller coaster on top of a cruise ship - a world first. Others were installing a brewery that could produce craft beers with filtered seawater, intended for a staggering on-board audience of up to 6,500 passengers.
Their work at the shipyard is now complete: Mardi Gras, Carnival Cruise Lines's largest Fun Ship ever, is ready to set sail. Of course, it will be months before even the first traveler steps on board.
Questions abound as to when the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will lift its no-sail orders and allow ships to resume - or in the case of Mardi Gras, commence operations.
Carnival is planning an April debut, with weeklong itineraries throughout the Caribbean. That target may be a pipe dream, given that the CDC will require all ships to apply for as-yet-undetermined certifications and carry out test cruises to prove pandemic readiness.
There is also the issue of persistent border closures and the fact that virtually no ship that has left its port slip has made it back without a confirmed case of Covid-19 on board - or at least a good scare.
Regardless of when it makes its maiden voyage - and whether Carnival Corp can shake its reputation of being a super-spreader early in the pandemic - it's sure to be the craziest, most tricked-out new cruise ship for 2021.
Besides the top deck roller coaster, the US$950 million, 180,000-ton vessel - which is 1.5 times the size of Carnival's next-largest ship - has two theatres, five waterslides, a zipline, and a 1972 Fiat parked strategically for Instagram-posing purposes in an indoor piazza.
It will also be the first cruise ship in North America to run on liquefied natural gas, which reduces particular matter by more than 95 per cent and eliminates up to 20 per cent of carbon emissions, compared to marine diesel fuel.
That gives Mardi Gras bragging rights as the greenest megaship (eco-bona fides being relative in this segment) sailing from the US to the Caribbean and Mexico.
It will also come and go from a new glass-walled, US$155 million terminal at Port Canaveral, an hour east of Orlando, which represents the largest single construction project in the port's 65-year history.
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