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The RMS EMPRESS OF CANADA was Carnival Cruises first ship known as the MARDIS GRAS

The RMS EMPRESS OF CANADA was Carnival Cruises first ship known as the MARDIS GRAS

  • Today Carnival Corporation is the largest operator of cruise ships in the world with a combined fleet of over 100 vessels across ten cruise line brands.
  • However, in 1972, it owned exactly one ship, the RMS EMPRESS OF CANADA, which they renamed the MARDIS GRAS.

RMS EMPRESS OF CANADA arriving in New York from a Winter Cruise.

  • The EMPRESS OF CANADA of 1961 was the last passenger ship to be built for Canadian Pacific’s Liverpool to Montreal service.
  • The ship was the first Canadian Pacific liner to be equipped with a bulbous bow, which, it was said would help in reducing pitching.
  • She had Denny-Brown stabilizers and full air-conditioning.

First Class Dining Room aboard the RMS EMPRESS OF CANADA.

  • In First Class, there was accommodation for 192 passengers, and 856 could be carried in Tourist Class.

First Class Observation Lounge.

  • A maritime magazine claimed: “The EMPRESS OF CANADA is undoubtedly the ship whose general decor, furnishings and accommodation are something we have been waiting for in a big liner for some time.”

Card Room.

  • Over 70 per cent of the tourist cabins had private toilets, a vast improvement over other ships on the Canadian service.
  • A crew of 510 was required to man the ship when she was fully booked.

First Class Bnaff Lounge.

The EMPRESS OF CANADA left Liverpool on her maiden voyage on April 24, 1961. The boat train from London pulled appropriately by the engine named ‘Empress of Canada’, arrived at Liverpool’s Riverside Station with over 400 passengers, including the author Nicholas Monsarrat (‘The Cruel Sea’).

61-Day Mediterranean Cruise advertisement.

  • Promptly at 6.47pm, the moment for which the thousands of spectators on the landing stage and the waterfront, the millions watching on television, and the 800 passengers on board, had been waiting for finally came.

Two women on a cruise playing the Greasy Pole game.

  • Slowly at first, as though shy to leave, but growing bolder with a churn of white water at her stern, the new Empress moved gracefully down the Mersey as the tugs drew back.
  • She was saluted by an armada of tugs, dredgers, liners, freighters and ferry boats as she slid down the river into the mist after the most impressive send-off Liverpool had seen for many years.
  • The new ship immediately ran into severe gales. She proved herself to be an exceptional sea boat and arrived at Quebec on May 1st.

With a fleet of three modern passenger liners, Canadian Pacific was in an ideal position to offer extensive winter cruises. As the flagship, the EMPRESS OF CANADA operated the prestige cruises out of New York. She left Liverpool on 12th December 1961 and made her maiden arrival at New York a week later on 19th December. There was no elaborate welcome for her as the city was shrouded in dense freezing fog.


The “Empress of Canada” has just finished carrying out her trials. This new 27,000 ton Canadian Pacific liner makes an impressive picture, as she steams her course along the measured mile off the Isle of Arran. Her maiden voyage would follow.

The EMPRESS OF CANADA performed flawlessly on her trans-Atlantic routes with occasional obstacles such as a hurricane and labor strikes.

In the late 1960s, faced with dwindling passenger numbers on the North Atlantic, Canadian Pacific extended the EMPRESS OF CANADA’s New York-based Caribbean cruising program into the summer of 1969, when she operated a total of thirteen cruises. The Empress was back in Liverpool on 10th June and sailed on one round voyage to Montreal. Following that she undertook a cruise to Norway and the North Cape, and this was followed by four more trans-Atlantic round voyages on the Canadian route.

Following the announcement of the disposal of the EMPRESS OF ENGLAND in early 1970, the chairman of Canadian Pacific Steamships, Mr. W.J. Stenason, said that his company would continue to operate the EMPRESS OF CANADA on Caribbean cruises and the North Atlantic. They were confident that there was a viable economic future for the liner.

The EMPRESS OF CANADA had a shorter than usual New York cruising season in 1970 and on April 6th sailed directly to Montreal from New York to pick up her trans-Atlantic schedule. Calls at Quebec and Greenock were both dropped in 1970. The Empress made eleven round voyages on the Canadian service between April and October, and on August 20th carried a record 1,039 passengers on the westbound passage. There was more categorical assurance from Canadian Pacific that the ship was not for sale; in fact, she was said to be operating at 82 per cent capacity throughout the summer of 1970.

Unfortunately, the EMPRESS OF CANADA was plagued with industrial unrest amongst her crew. Stewards persistently and unacceptably, demanded the use of passenger facilities to be made available to them.

Without any warning, on November 9, 1971, Canadian Pacific announced that the EMPRESS OF CANADA would be withdrawn from service when she arrived back at Liverpool two weeks later on November 23rd. Canadian Pacific stated that ‘economic circumstances make it impossible to achieve a viable passenger ship operation.’ This brought to an end over two years of rumor and counter-rumor.

The EMPRESS OF CANADA left Montreal at 8.am on November 17, 1971, with 300 passengers on board on her final voyage as a Canadian Pacific liner. In her ten-and-a-half years service, the ship had completed 121 round voyages across the North Atlantic and had sailed on 82 cruises. The Empress was back at Liverpool on November 23rd at the end of her last voyage, and dock workers stood in silence as she moved slowly through the Gladstone River Entrance.

“It was almost like the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day,” said her master, Captain W.E. Williams, “I feel sorry for the people who might have traveled with us as passengers, but who now never will. They will never know what they missed.

Canadian Pacific commented: “One of the difficulties is that, although the ship was built with cruising in mind, her design has since been overtaken by the specialized new liners now cruising in both the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.” The problem with many of the liners was that many of the tourist class cabins didn’t have private facilities which American passengers wouldn’t accept.

“The EMPRESS OF CANADA was quickly sold to Ted Arison to become the pioneer ship in the Carnival Cruise Lines fleet. She was renamed MARDI GRAS on February 14, 1972.

 

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