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Terry L. Willson

Age: 52

Occupation:College Administrator

Number of Cruises: 2

Cruise Line: Carnival

Ship: Carnival Elation

Sailing Date: February 16th, 2003

Itinerary: Mexican Riviera

We flew to LAX from Minneapolis on Saturday, arriving by 9:00 a.m. We rented a car and spent the day driving up the coast. We stayed overnight at the San Pedro Hilton, an excellent hotel and location not far from the cruise departure dock (complimentary hotel shuttle to the pier on Sunday). (Background – 52 and 50, both professionals, celebrating our 30th anniversary with our second cruise, first time on Carnival).

Embarkation - The hotel shuttle dropped us at the pier sometime after 11:30 a.m. The lines were already very long, but the only wait we had was for obtaining a porter to take our luggage. After dropping the luggage and tipping the porter, a Carnival representative directed us to wait in the area directly in front of the front entrance. He said that we would be admitted just after the passengers with special needs. I would estimate we stood maybe 5 minutes, then were ushered in. Just inside the main entrance there was a conference table set up to check in those of us in category 11 and 12 cabins (“Skippers Club”). In my opinion, this was one of the greatest advantages of paying more for these categories. While we were signing for our sign and sail cards, they began letting in the long outside lines. We went directly from the check-in table to the waiting area chairs. When boarding began, we were among the first dozen or so people to go through the photo station and on to the ship. I don’t think it was more than 30 minutes from the time we got out of the hotel shuttle to the time we walked up the gangplank.

Cabin – We were in cabin V7 on the Verandah deck. The mini-suite seemed to be about the same size as outside standard rooms but was a little more nicely designed, with a real queen-size bed and a small balcony. The nice thing about the balcony was just being able to open the door, latch it and leave it open when we wanted to just stand on the balcony or let the sea air and sounds of the waves into our cabin. There were numerous bar and wine glasses, a mini-refrigerator, TV with VCR (I brought a few VHS tapes). Our room steward Winni (Winnifredo) did an excellent job all week. We’ve heard the comments about there being more motion on the higher decks and this seems to be accurate, but we really liked the Verandah deck. There are far fewer cabins than on the lower decks and it seemed very easy and convenient to move back and forth from the cabin to other locations, especially to the outside Lido deck. We also noticed fewer children on this deck.

Dining – We had the late (8:30 p.m.) seating in the Imagination dining room. We were seated at a table for 10 (we had 5 couples, one of which only ate one dinner in the dining room) just next to the Captain’s table. Our waiter Ilham was very efficient and enjoyable. He is Indonesian, served with Carnival for 18 years, and has 2 daughters in college in Amsterdam. His assistant, Julie, was from Australia, and was extremely friendly. We enjoyed our tablemates, but conversations at these large tables is very difficult. We found the food quality to be excellent. While we were comfortable occasionally ordering more than one item from the “starter” (first) course, none at our table saw the need to ever order more than one entrée. I preferred the beef items. My wife and I agreed that the Chateaubriand on the final night was our favorite meal. I also liked the crème desserts (Crème Caramel, Crème Brulee, etc.). We had wine with every dinner and found the wine list to be adequate for our needs. We ate all dinners and all but two lunches in the dining room. We had a few breakfasts in the dining room with open seating and found the same situation as our last cruise with the waitstaff at best indifferent, at times rude, serving breakfast. I recommend Tiffany’s for breakfast. The staff in Tiffany’s were excellent and most accommodating during the breakfast hours.

We tried pizza once or twice and considered it good, nothing outstanding. I visited the sushi bar every evening at 5:30 p.m. This was an excellent experience. We also ordered room service for 2 breakfasts and 1 late afternoon snack and the BLTs and brownies were very good, service was prompt, friendly and efficient.

The Cruise Director – Paul Santley, was very entertaining, one of the best I’ve ever seen. I didn’t consider the loudspeaker announcements to be too intrusive.

Casino – Worth mentioning only because on Monday evening I hit a jackpot of 2,000 quarters on slots, then again on Friday evening (same machine) for 1,000 quarters, giving me total winnings of $750. This does not happen to me often.

Entertainment – Our most pleasurable entertainment experience was when we sat and listened to the Classical String Trio (piano, violin, cello). We saw them the first day as we boarded in the atrium, then again at a 4:00 p.m. tea in Duke’s, and they performed some evenings at various locations before dinner. They were outstanding. We went to a few of the shows in the Mikado. Not bad, but not worth going in early just to hold seating (8:30 p.m. dinner seating detracts from your ability to get to the 10:30 p.m. shows early). The midnight adult comedy shows were very funny. We found Duke’s to be the most comfortable bar. Also enjoyed Gatsby’s Great Bar (cigar smoking allowed, with very good ventilation). Stayed away from Jekyll & Hyde – where all the teen disco activity was happening, followed by adult dancing.

Shore Excursions/Ports - As soon as we boarded on Sunday, I dropped our completed shore excursion request sheet for Puerto Vallarta at the excursion request box on Empress Deck, near the info desk. I requested the Unimog Adventure and we received it. It was an excellent excursion, and not as “bumpy” as promoted. The guide was outstanding, one of the best we’ve ever had, and this experience truly allows you to get a feel for a bit of some “true” Mexican landscape, villages, and beaches. Our second excursion was Randi’s Happy Horses at Mazatlan, not a Carnival excursion. We booked 4 months ahead by email and again this was a most enjoyable experience. I highly recommend both of these excursions. We did not take any excursions in Cabo. There really is not much time and having to use the tenders cuts in to the little time you do have. We did not book this cruise for the ports, had been to Mexico previously, so had relatively low expectations. Overall, our port experiences were better than we expected, mostly due to the Unimog and Randi’s activities. Everyone seems to say they like Cabo the best. I theorize that this is partially due to the fact that it is the most “Americanized” of the 3 ports. Except for the rock formations, I felt like I could have been in Malibu or Orlando.

I don’t mind seeing a little of the “underside” that you experience in Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan. Speaking of “Americanized”, I will concede that it was surprising and somewhat disturbing to note that the first sight we saw from our balcony as we approached docking in Puerto Vallarta was no less than a Walmart Superstore, complete with an attached Sam’s Club.

Debarkation - A true display of the “Ugly American” concept when so many people seem to completely disregard any of the most basic instructions from the staff. The Cruise Director practically had to use threatening language in an attempt to keep people from congregating around all levels of the atrium, hallways, fire exits, etc. We gathered in Duke’s because we were to be among early departees signed up for the coastal bus tour ($35 each add-on safe for those with outgoing flights of 3:00 p.m. or later). Debarkation did not seem to have much order and people were angry at violators and saying so – closest thing to “road rage” that we experienced. I suggest staying in your cabins as long as possible, have a good book, and relax.

Overall Impression – I would recommend this cruise, ship and itinerary and will sail Carnival again in the future (we want to try the smoke-free Paradise sometime). We enjoyed sailing on the Elation. After our cruise, it was scheduled to sail to San Francisco and 2 weeks of drydock for sprucing-up. Overall, I found it to be clean and attractive. There were some signs of wear (such as the lighter-colored carpeting on the steps showing stains) that will most likely be corrected in drydock. I was impressed with the massive size of the ship. With the exception of debarkation, we never felt crowded in the common spaces. We sailed during Presidents Week, a time when a lot of schools have vacation. There were a large number of young people on this cruise – someone heard that there were 700 under 21 and all rooms were completely full. The kids and teens did not bother us. Probably the most noticeable thing would be if you wanted to use a swimming pool (we did not). We used the adult (topless option) sunning deck (funnel) and felt very comfortable and private. Our weather was exceptional. Absolutely no rain and we were able to sunbathe all 7 days. We enjoy “at sea” days as much as port days, one of the reasons we chose this itinerary. Feel free to email me with any questions.

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