Carnival - Mardi Gras
Port Canaveral, Florida
By: Marlon Scott - USA
03/2022 First Drop magazine #109 - European Coaster Club
Grab the handlebars and crank the throttle for a speedy ride high above the open sea aboard Bolt, the first roller coaster-type ride on board a cruise ship! Carnival Cruise Lines launched the Mardi Gras ship in August 2021 out of Port Canaveral, Florida with the Maurer Rides “Spike Coaster” on its top deck – the iconic red and blue Carnival smokestack encircled by a coil of black track.
Carnival looks to make a splash with the world’s first at sea “roller coaster!”
Surely a tough to get credit, but is worth a cruise? Is it even a coaster?
Bolt consists of two, two-person motorcycle-like powered vehicles barrelling around a 244m (800ft) long course. The track does not veer over its perch atop the highest deck, but with track topping out at 56m (187ft) above the water line, the ride still offers a unique and commanding view.
Sr PR manager Vance Gulliksen took one of the first rides whilst the ship was docked. “You get out of there!” Gulliksen gushes about the launch. “When you see it going around the track, it (looks) fast, but when you actually ride it, it’s a real thrill ride. I was really amazed at how much fun I had. I can’t imagine riding it at sea when you are in the middle of the ocean and you’re on this giant electric roller coaster.”
“The cruise ship industry continues to evolve,” says Gulliksen on his history with Carnival since 1994. “To think that when I started our biggest ship was 70,000 tons; this ship is 180,000 tons and the fact that it has a roller coaster is amazing!” The idea for a tracked coaster type ride on a ship brewed at carnival for several years. Once they built a “sky cycle” pedal powered monorail atop one of their ships, a “roller coaster” seemed to be the next evolutionary step. “What can we do to top that?” Gulliksen recounts Carnival’s steps to create Bolt, “What about a roller coaster? It’s something we’ve talked about a long time but it was a matter of getting the engineering correct and getting the right partner in Maurer – and we had to adapt to the cruise ship environment. That’s the most important part – to operate safely but still provide the thrill that people are looking for in a cruise ship”.
Made it this far? Ready for a ride on Bolt? The station is up one more flight of stairs from the activity deck 18. Surrender all loose items at the open cubbies and step on a scale to confirm you are within the weight range. You and/or your riding partner assume either the “driver” or “passenger” in the front or rear seats of the sled. Straddle the seats of the sled motorcycle-style. As the driver, you grab the two handle grips. One is the throttle, and for a little extra “boost” in certain spots of the course, is a button on the other handle.
After a short pause, the sled takes o with just enough “oomph” to put a smile on your face. upward around a left 360° spiral. It’s here you get the vista of the mini golf course below and the vistas beyond the ship. Two bunny hops along the side of the ship o er a hint of airtime. Finally, a left turn around the ship’s smokestack banks downward to a crawl into the station.
Bolt had to be custom built. “You can’t go ahead and put it on an existing ship; you have to build it from the ground up. If you put a roller coaster on an existing ship, I mean it’s already balanced the way it’s supposed to be balanced; you can’t just drop it on. We built the track in Germany at Maurer, we rode it, we did everything, made sure it worked, made sure the dimensions matched the ship, broke it all down, put it on a barge, shipped it to Finland, rebuilt it in Finland, took the ship to Barcelona and now it has been everywhere!”
However, as with all the “Spike” coasters, one has to ask, is it a roller coaster? Gullikson again: “With the ship at sea, there is motion; from an engineering standpoint, it has to be electric; you have to power it. If we tried to do it with gravity it just wouldn’t work. It might work sometimes, (but) we need it to work all the time and make sure everyone has a great ride. If you do gravity versus a powered coaster it’s not the consistent ride that you know you’re going to get. I don’t hear anybody who’s ever ridden it wish it was this or that; they understand that the cruise ship environment dictates a powered coaster.”
Look for additional “Bolt”-type coasters on the next two Carnival ships: the Celebration in 2022 and Jubilee in 2023. All are of the same class as the Mardi Gras. “I’m sure we’re going to learn a lot of things from Mardi Gras that we’re going to apply to Celebration when that comes out. How to do things better; how to make the ride even more exciting; how to make it smoother; how to manage lines, and so on.”.
As to whether it is a true “roller coaster,” only an individual can make the choice to add it to their count. Whether you class it as a coaster or not, Bolt puts a smile on the face of every rider. Any fan of thrill rides would be entertained by this unique experience.