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Mike A

Age: 30

Occupation:Clinical Nurse Specialist

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Carnival

Ship: Carnival Elation

Sailing Date: August 8th, 2004

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

This was our first cruise. I went with my 26 year old brother as a graduation gift to myself. We picked this cruise because of proximity to our hometown and the price.

EMBARKING: Only 2 of the 3 security checkpoints were open so the lines were unusually long. It took about 3 hours to get on the ship. The process of parking the car in the Port lots was difficult, as you have to leave your passengers and ALL luggage, even carry-ons, at the terminal and then park the car and shuttle back. NOTE: This happens in reverse when you get off.

FOOD: Overall I give it a B+ to A-. Some items were really good (pizza, calzones, burgers) and some was poor (grilled chicken). The formal dining room food was overall pretty good with lots of selections. I didn't have trouble finding something to eat and tried some new foods. The buffet area, called Tiffany's, has a different ethnic food theme each day - Italian, Greek, Indian, etc. It was typical buffet food. I did like the salads, desserts, breads, and fresh fruits. If you get tired of the rich foods they have a good sandwich line at lunch in Tiffany's.

It was nice to have the same waiters (Jesus and Christina). They were pros and took great care of us. Our table-mates were entertaining and we overall enjoyed their company.

ENTERTAINMENT: We enjoyed the comedy acts (some more than others) and the talent show. The piano bar ("Duke's") was great and was led by a talented guy named Damien. Unfortunately, he was only going to be on the cruise until the end of August. The games aboard Carnival are fun if you like that kind of thing. We don't and didn't participate. They do a new thing to promote competition and divide the whole ship into three teams called Red, White, and Blue. Points are awarded for participation and at any public event they always asked, "What team are you on?!?" By the end of the week all 3 teams had thousands of points (which were given out somewhat randomly) and the winning team gets....nothing. This got real annoying after a while...

ART AUCTIONS: Free champagne, good prices on art if you are into that sort of thing. Auctioneer very good and informational.

A new port in a city that was recently destroyed by a hurricane. It is an authentic Mexican city that hasn't been too spoiled by tourists yet. Because of that, there is not much to do. You dock 6 miles off the coast at a pier and take a free shuttle to the edge of the city. There is a shopping area that has typical Mexican things: blankets, tshirts, onxy carvings, wooden bowls, jewelry, and so on. We found the prices very reasonable and did most of our shopping for souvenirs here. Exact same things were twice as high in Cozumel, so shop in Progreso. The beer was really cheap - $1 Coronas were easy to find. I enjoyed this place but unless you want to shop or see Mayan ruins there isn't a lot to do.

COZUMEL: We are not into the beach/snorkeling/diving thing, so we chose to ride ATVs in the jungle. This was booked through Carnival and was $99 a person. The boat docks right at the island and we met our group of about 18 with a very nice tour guide. He took us to a bus for a 30 minute ride to a private ranch, where we got a lesson in how to ride ATV's. Then we were off on a caravan through the jungle. We took breaks and looked at some ruins and drank some water they provided (bottled). I've never riden an ATV before and I must say it was really fun! At the end of our time (we rode for about 2 hours) they took us back to the boat. Our entire group was covered in dirt and dust and we had to get back on the boat and take a long shower and change clothes. I highly recommend this tour to anyone who doesn't want to do the water things on Cozumel. It was well worth the money and our group all gave it good reviews.

BELIZE: Boat stops 4 miles off shore and you tender to the island. This adds a lot of time to the process. The tendering boats drop you in a tourist compound (yes, that is the right word because you need a ship ID card to get back in if you leave the compound - which you will not want to do). There are places to eat, bars, and lots of shopping. Higher priced stuff here, including some nice wooden carvings from the rain-forest woods. We wandered around the shops and decided that we were glad we had bought stuff in Progreso. We had some forgettable Belizean beer. We ventured to the edge of the compound, which is surrounded by iron gates, and there were some scary looking people accosting us, trying to sell us drugs, and so on. Belize is a very poor country and the ship even warned us to not wander around on our own outside the compound. So be careful. But our table-mates did some diving and said it was spectacular.

CASINO: We are both frequent travelers to Vegas, but the Carnival Casino was still pretty fun. They had lots of slots, video poker, and video keno and blackjack. Table games included roulette, blackjack, craps, let it ride, and carribean stud poker. We mostly play BJ and craps. Had decent luck at BJ overall. They only have 1 craps table and they really need 2 or 3. That table was either closed (they don't open it until the aftenoon and evening for some reason) or it was packed with 40 or 50 people. So packed that we never got to play. But those who did seemed to be winning.

ROOM: We were in R11 on the lowest deck. Room was nice - we had booked an interior stateroom but were upgraded to this room which was exterier with 2 port holes. I think it was because there were only 2 of us and there were lots of families who probably needed rooms for 4.

CRUISE DIRECTOR: The cruise director (Risa) was good, but she said she is transferring to the Celebration soon. She did a Q&A session the last day that talked about cruise life as a staffer. That was fascinating - those people really work hard.

TIPS: Carnival now charges $10 per person per day ($70 each for this cruise). We were fine with that - most of that money goes to the room steward and the dining room staff, all of whom did a great job. People NOT included in that fee are the Maitre'D (turns out he is in charge of all the waiters and the flow of the meal, not just for seating arrangements - give the guy a tip the last day); the musical talent, who were very good; the shuttle bus drivers and tour guides on your tours in ports. Get some dollar bills from the casino (for the shuttle bus drivers) and some 5's or 10's for the tour guides. Tips are the main source of income for these people and they deserve something.

THINGS I WOULD CHANGE: The movies shown in the room recycled a lot and by the end of the week we had seen them all. Thought they should have a few new ones each day. The ship is a little hard to navigate the first day but easy after that.

SEASICKNESS: Not a problem for us. It was a little rocky the last 2 days (a hurricane was nearby) but we didn't feel nauseated. I kind of compare it to flying - you can tell when the plane is going up or down or turning but it isn't distressing.

DEBARKING: No matter what you do, this is a long procedure. Our color was the last color to be called, and it wasn't called until 11am. There was apparently a long holdup with immigration for the first hour and that threw everything behind. Once we went through immigration, we went to get our bags, walked through customs without a problem, and then had to go get the car (again, you have to leave all your passengers and luggage at the terminal and go back and pick them up). By then there were people arriving to be dropped off so that was utter chaos and it was really hard to find my brother in all the mess. Other than some patience and perhaps some Valium, I don't know what would make this go any smoother.

OVERALL IMPRESSION: We both had a good time. You can be as active or inactive as you like, and no one will care. I would do another Carnival cruise but probably would do different ports just for the variety. I was a little disappointed in Belize (see above comments). But overall, I felt like the cruise was relaxing, the scenery was beautiful, and the price was very reasonable.

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