Dispatch, Carnival Mardi Gras: Riding the first roller coaster at sea

T0809MGBOLT2_C_HR [Credit: Tom Stieghorst]
The Bolt can reach a speed of 35 miles per hour. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

ABOARD THE CARNIVAL MARDI GRAS -- Scary enough. That's my verdict on the first roller coaster at sea, the Bolt Ultimate Seacoaster. 

After observing the two-person Bolt car rumbling around its blue track from below, one may be tempted to conclude that the ride is too tame. Oh sure, there were riders that screamed the whole time as they dipped and swerved around the funnel of the Mardi Gras. But the speeds didn't look that fast. 

Once you've climbed the stairs to the top of the ship, strapped in, stowed anything that could possibly fall off your person and accelerated out of the gate, however, it is a different story. 

The motorcycle-style vehicle you're straddling is capable of hitting 35 miles an hour. At no fewer than three spots along the 2,625-foot circuit, I found my grip tightening on the handle, my mouth opening, my stomach dropping and my fear rising.  

Mardi Gras dining

Tom Stieghorst sampled an array of dishes, including an enormous chicken biscuit for breakfast.

If you like that adrenaline rush every now and then and you're not a chronic coaster rider who's habituated to a modest thrill, then the Bolt should give you that exciting sensation that walks the line between pleasantly fun and unpleasantly frightful. 

To be sure, I'm not much of a coaster rider anymore. In fact, I can't really remember the last time I was on one. But to evaluate cruise ships, I've zip-lined on MSC Cruises, slid down the Ultimate Abyss slide on Royal Caribbean and gotten a snoot full of water on a wicked waterslide on a Disney Cruises ship. 

So there was no doubt I was going on the first roller coaster at sea. 

Because the Bolt is electric, there's that immediate jolt of torque at the start of the ride, rather than the long climb up a steep incline that typifies gravity-propelled coasters.

Within a few seconds you're at the back of the ship, leaning into the 360 degree loop over the mini-golf course. Then, there's a couple of swoops and drops and twists that take you forward, around the curve of the funnel before braking for the return to the boarding station. 

T0802MARDIGRASATRIUM2_TS_HR [Tom Stieghorst]
Mardi Gras' atrium

Mardi Gras is the first ship with an atrium built into the side of the ship, rather than centered in the middle. It was a challenge to design and build.

A single trip around the funnel doesn't last long, maybe 30 seconds. When the ride is properly calibrated, Carnival plans to offer riders two trips for around $15. Because the bugs are still being worked out, we just got one trip around for our money. 

Carnival president Christine Duffy said the eventual price may be adjusted upwards or downwards to balance demand for the coaster with the capacity to comfortably process riders. "We're focused on getting a flow that can be manageable," she said. 

To book a ride, guests can reserve one in a half-hour window through Carnival's Hub app or book directly with an attendant at the start of the ride.   

Like some other top-deck attractions, the Bolt closes if winds exceed a certain level. There are also height and weight criteria for riders. No one over 300 pounds, for example, can ride the Bolt. 

If you do meet the requirements, pack your closed-toe shoes and a pair of shorts and get ready to ride. The Bolt awaits. 

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