Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Elation
Sailing Date: June 8th, 2003
Itinerary: Mexican Riviera
I'll preface my remarks by saying that I am not one who considers a cruise to be the vacation of choice, so if my remarks are a bit jaded, take that into consideration.
Just because of sheer numbers, embarkation is tedious, but the staff did their best to process us as soon as possible, so no unreasonable circumstances there. The Sail and Sign card is a good idea for ID and security on the ship was excellent at each port. They took their job very seriously.
The room (inboard, Empress Forward) was comfortable, reasonably roomy and remarkably quiet, considering that an elevator shaft ran behind the room. We never heard anything of that nor any other passengers in the adjoining room (ours was at the end of a block of rooms) At that deck level there was also no engine noise. We had two rooms booked as we were travelling with our adult daughter and her boyfriend and the ship is large enough and varied enough in activities that they could have their own vacation without us in the way. It was her graduation from College celebration.
I'm not a fan of formal events.... my idea of formal is to iron my T-shirt, so the formal nights in the dining room were a bit uncomfortable, as much from peer pressure as from the necktie. The waiter was very good as was his assistant. The food?.....well considering that the kitchen prepares about 10,000 meals a day it wasn't bad, albeit somewhat limited in portion size. My real complaint with the dining room was the Maitre'd. He had a habit of waiting until most of us were just into our main course when he would come on over the PA and play some "Funky Music" to which the waiters would dance and encourage the guests to get up and do the Macarena or something. At late dinner with everyone trying to have a quiet, posh dinner and polite conversation with their tablemates, this was not only inappropriate but downright annoying. I didn't like the surprise at the end of the voyage when we were told that it was customary to tip the Maitre'D at the final meal. If it's not mentioned up front...it's not part of my vacation...and I told them so.
Being the anti-formal sod that I am, Tiffany's was a place I enjoyed, even if it was rather brightly colored in a peacock theme. We don't gamble, nor do we smoke so the casino was a place to avoid, but the Library with it's Mississippi sternwheeler theme was very relaxing. We had good sailing weather, ..a little grey and cool in the LA area and it rained on arrival in Puerto Vallarta, but the sun was out by 10am. Ask for the taxi rates up front...usually $3 per person into town. Know where you want to go as the driver will try and take you on an excursion you weren't planning on. We started off at one of the jewelry shops endorsed by Carnival that was furthest from the ship and walked back as far as we could, then for $2 per person we took a cab the rest of the way. Mazatlan, I can't comment on as I stayed on board (one shopping district looks like the next to me) while my three companions went into town. I stayed and ate. and ate. and ate....
Cabo was very nice. but too short...I understand that Carnival is going to be replacing the Elation with a faster ship and that will allow more time in Cabot in the future.
The evening shows were OK, the band was very good, the singers and dancers quite nice. The Cruise Director was sort of funny and had a habit of ending each session with "Bye..."(pausing then) "I said Byeeee"...which is something I felt like repeating as I left the ship at the end of the cruise.
If you drink....be prepared to have a whopping bill at the end of the cruise. We didn't drink any alcohol but a bottle of wine at dinner one night and stuck to juices for refreshment (OK so I'm cheap). One fellow was falling down drunk before we had been out of Long Beach for a half hour. I'd hate to see his bar bill... I can imagine that with a couple of tours and the bar bill and shopping on board as well as a bit of gambling, the statement they present under your door the last day at sea could easily equal or exceed what you paid for the cruise itself, so beware.
You'll develop favorite places on the ship. Mine were the ice cream machine and the back corner of the small deck above the bridge where, at night, I could stand, maybe 6 to 8 feet out from the side of the ship and look back at the ship's hull and wake, lit up by the lights from the cabin windows. Wonderful on a moon-lit night.
Now..... The big complaint....
My daughter and friend booked themselves on a day-long snorkeling excursion in PV. When we arrived in PV it was raining quite hard, as I said earlier. The sea was a bit rough and conditions for snorkeling were abominable..the water too stirred up to see anything. Did they cancel the tour?...noooo. As a result my little gal was violently sea-sick (along with a half dozen other passengers) on the small sailboat that took them out about a 2 hour ride from PV. She was so ill they had to carry her off the boat when they came ashore at the location they finally decided upon. Consequently she wasn't able to do any snorkeling and those that did, got less than 15 minutes in the water before behind hustled back on shore for lunch on a filthy beach, where the sanitation was atrocious and her boyfriend was offered weed and a hooker within minutes of arriving.
Then, of course she was sea-sick all the way back. Refund money?...not Carnival. no way. We heard others with similar tales of woe on the tours that they considered to be a complete rip-off and while we were all in line waiting to pay our final shipboard bill, one fellow stood at the bottom of the 6 storey atrium and called out for everyone's attention whereupon he proceeded to voice his displeasure at not being able to get a refund for a useless tour. He didn't get his money, but he got some satisfaction in perhaps embarrassing the company in public. Carnival has to do better in controlling it's sub-contactors on these tours. My advice..don't take one.
Cruising has something for everyone and I'm glad I did it just to say I did. But I'm not likely to go on another. I like independence and anonymity, two things just not possible on a cruise ship. I was happy I didn't get sea-sick, but if the weather had been rough..who knows? My hat's off to the staff in Tiffany's who are constantly cleaning up after everyone and ever so polite in the process. The debarkation process was relatively quick, but because the crew members are on board for something like 8 months at a time, all the pay phones around the Carnival terminal were jammed with crew members calling home. I had to call someone specifically to pick us up and could I get a phone?...not likely. I had to walk over to the Queen Mary to find an unused phone...you'd think that a company as big as Carnival could supply free phones for it's crew inside the terminal and free up the pay phones outside for the passengers. I don't live in LA so my cell phone plan doesn't cover out of country calls.
All in all I'd say most people will have a good time as long as you are smart about where you lay down your money both on and off the ship. I hope that I wasn't too negative and perhaps your vacation will be better knowing some of the pitfalls that you might face.