Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Elation
Sailing Date: November 21st, 2004
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
Well, this was our first cruise ever. I can definitely say that we are not cruise people. We did this cruise on a request of my brother for his 40th birthday celebration.
Arrival at the terminal: We opted to stay at a local hotel (Hilton) the night before we set sail. This allowed us to leave the car at the hotel and save the hassle and cost of parking the car at the terminal. The hotel shuttled us from the hotel parking lot directly to the front of the terminal where porters received our luggage.
Embarkation: First and foremost, the “Skipper’s Club” that Carnival has for their category 11 and 12 staterooms is a joke. We came upstairs from the street level and found an enormous crowd in line for the security checkpoint. When informing the Carnival staff that we were members of the “Skipper’s Club”, we were very rudely informed that it made no difference and everybody has to stand in the 45 minute to an hour line to go through one of two metal detectors that are more sensitive than those in airports. There was a third station available and staff was available, but apparently they were not in the mood to speed up the process. Once through this mess, there was a special place for the “Skipper’s Club” members to get checked in and receive the Sail and Sign cards, but this process was not any faster than the regular process, as the other members in our group, who stayed in the smaller cabins, got through just a fast. At this point, we were escorted to the front of the line to have our picture taken, which we could then purchase on board for the great price of $7. This is where the “Skipper’s Club” benefits stop. You must then stand in another very long line to get your picture taken for the Sail and Sign card, then stand in line to get on board. This was a bad first impression for us.
The Ship: It showed signs of wear and tear in a few places but that is to be expected considering that it never sits still. The rooms were clean due in part to the twice a day service by the room staff. I was impressed that our room did not have the stench of cigarette smoke considering that people frequently smoked in their rooms. The air conditioning in the ship worked too well. On deck you were comfortable in shorts and t-shirt, but walk inside and it's like a meat locker (long pants and jacket required).
The Food: What can I say? If you like Luby's style food prepared for 2,500 people, than you will love it. For us, on the other hand, it was nothing to write home about. We ate in the dining room on 3 nights and in Tiffany’s the remaining nights. As we really do not like getting dressed up in formal attire, we skipped the formal nights. The food quality between the two restaurants is similar. The presentation of the food and the service in the dining room is a bit nicer.
The Drinks: This is apparently where Carnival makes their money. Be prepared to be nickel and dime’d to death here. The only liquids that are free of additional charge on board are coffee, selected juices, and tap water. Everything else from bottled water to sodas to beer to wines to liquor is an additional charge on your Sail and Sign card (more about that later).
The Service: The service is good. The dining room staff was friendly and always bringing you more stuff to consume. The room steward and staff were friendly and helpful as well.
Ports of call: Take you time and review the excursions carefully before you get to the ship. Once in the ship, immediately go to the “Shore Tours” desk and sign up for the excursions that you want to take. They can fill up quickly leaving you with an activity that you do not care for.
Progresso – This is a poor little harbor town on the northern end of the Yucatan peninsula with the world’s longest pier. Do not consider walking to shore from the boat. It’s six miles and there is no sidewalk. The street vendors there really want you to see their crafts and buy something including Cuban cigars (too bad I don’t smoke). One note here, the vendors will try to tell you that Progresso is much cheaper that Cozumel. Even thought he tagged price may indicate this, the Cozumel dealers will bargain the price down to below Progresso prices for similar items. Beer on the other hand is really cheap here and you can get loaded with minimal effort and cash. The good news, they virtually all take US Dollars (and a profitable exchange rate, of course). Our excursion was the Kayak Adventure. I wish that the trek had been longer and further way from the main road. We constantly heard the roar of cars has we were paddling the mangroves.
Cozumel – Right outside the pier entrance is tourist central with every shop imaginable from Burger King to arts and crafts to cigars. We ate lunch at Carlo’s and Charlie’s across from the pier. A bit on the expensive side but a lot of fun and the food was great. Our excursion here was the beginner’s scuba. Even though we both were already certified, we did not have a lot of dive under our belt (a total of 10 between the two of us), and we figured that this would be good for us. The outfit, Sand Dollar Sports, did a great job and the group size was small (4 divers with 1 instructor). Basically, this is the PADI Discover Scuba class.
Belize – The ship does not dock here. Instead, tenders take you to shore or directly to the excursion. We did not go ashore here. Instead, we directly boarded the dive boat for our excursion to the Turneff Atoll. What a great dive. We were definitely the novices on board, but felt very comfortable diving here. This outfit, Hugh Parkey’s Belize Dive Connection, was very well organized and accommodating. We are already planning our next trip here, spending an entire week diving around the atoll.
The Entertainment: It broke the boredom. The Vegas style shows were a bit weak. The musicians, on the other hand, were quite talented and a pleasure to listen to. The comedy acts were entertaining, but it’s best advised not to annoy the comedian during the midnight comedy show. Some poor lady in the front row got roasted by the comedian during the R-rated midnight show that was anything but politically correct, albeit quite funny. The in-room movies were decided upon by the ship’s staff and recycled over and over again. It would have been very nice if they had offered a pay per view selection in the rooms similar to what hotels do. Also, the major network TV channels available were from cities and towns in the north and northeast. The ship sails from Galveston. They really should broadcast the Houston TV channels.
The Art Auctions: There were a few art auctions during our trip where one could buy the art displayed throughout the ship. The auctioneer kept things moving very well. The best part about this is the free champagne. We got loaded. The prices were out of our league so we just sat back and watched as paintings and prints went for as high as $20k.
Sail and Sign Card: This is your room key, admissions card to get back on board after going ashore in the ports-or-call and your on-board charge card. Since almost every thing on board costs you extra, this card becomes your lifeline. The shore excursions are billed to the same card. We knew going in that we had to be very careful when using this card as it is quite easy to run the bill up. We saw some people on board with two or three kids whose bill was several pages long and easily ran $2000 or more (ouch).
Other Stuff: One of our luggage pieces did not make it to our room. If the luggage tag becomes separated from your luggage, it all gets lined up by the information desk and you get to waffle through it all to find your stuff. We found ours relatively easily. We were concerned about Sea Sickness as my wife gets motion sick very easily. This did not become a problem even though we could definitely feel the ship move significantly and the sea was actually relatively calm. Our single biggest gripe was that there were too many screaming kids running around everywhere. Out of 2500+ guests on board, over 700 were below the age of 16. Don’t get me wrong. I love kids. But this many kids concentrated and bored on the ship, leads to anything but a relaxing time. The pools and hot tubs were constantly overrun by kids. The mandatory tips were another sore spot. Note to Carnival here; just add it into the price of the cruise and pay the staff a bit more. We had splurged for a nicer cabin and ended up on the Veranda deck (#11). This ended up to be a very pleasant thing as not many people, or kids for that matter, walked up and down the hall there. This made for some quite time away from it all. A special note to people on this level; the last three rooms on either side have the view partially blocked by the lifeboats. Also, forget about taking the elevators unless you have a lot of time. They are very slow and will stop on every floor.
Debarkation: This was the icing on the cake. First you must vacate your cabin by 8am. Then you go through immigration on board (in order by color which depends on were in the ship you room is). This process will take time. The last color got called around 10:30am. Then you get to sit around in the Mikado Lounge, Promenade deck, or Lido deck and twiddle your thumbs until your color gets called to leave the ship. You have the option of doing a “Self Assist” when leaving your ship, which means you can be the second group off (right behind those that are about to miss their flight out of Houston). The only catch here is that you have to hand carry all of your belongings yourself and no carts are their to help you. Pack very light if you wish to do this.
Overall Impression: This was our first cruise ever. Based on our experience this time, we will most likely never do another cruise, especially not with Carnival. The pricing of the cruise is a bit deceiving. Our cruise price was about $2700 for two adults in an upgraded room with balcony, but after everything was said and done (shore excursions, drinks, mandatory tips, etc.), the real price was closer to $4000. Even though one may think a cruise for two can be less than $1200, rest assured that by the time you walk off the ship, you will have spent a lot more.
All this having been said, we did have an ok time. Not great, not terrible, but ok.