Number of Cruises: 5
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Elation
Sailing Date: n/a
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
Carnival Cruise Lines
Elation Cruise Review
To see photos of this cruise visit: http://community.webshots.com/user/carlalena1
Galveston was not an obvious port for me to pick- Miami would have been the more likely choice. The price of the cruise, combined with the itinerary and strangely enough, the cheaper airfare from Buffalo to HOU, all factored in my choice of this cruise and port. Unfortunately, I cannot give high marks to Galveston as a cruise port.
Flying into and out of Hobby airport was wonderful. It is so small that I returned the next day to pick up two more in my group, both on different airlines, and all I had to say was “look for me outside.” It is literally a straight shot from HOU to Galveston. I got to the hotel based on directions my seatmate on the plane gave me- and I didn’t even write them down. It is that easy.
I rented a car from Enterprise, and it was very easy to pick up. I went to the counter, they ran my credit card, I jumped on the shuttle, picked up my Impala, and voila! 75 miles per hour to Galveston (I don’t recommend going any slower or you will be run off the road). It takes about 45 minutes.
We stayed at the Victorian Inn Condo Hotel and Conference Center on Seawall. The suites were fine. Nothing special. I paid 550 bucks for two nights, the first night in a one bedroom suite (fine for me and my four kids) and the second in a two bedroom (fine for us plus my mother and great aunt). The swimming pools were excellent. The kids’ pool, which is huge and has a deep end, has a crocodile raft and a mushroom fountain, along with a pirate’s cannon that shoots water. Very nice. The continental breakfast was huge and included waffle irons and fresh fruit. They have no problem with kids loading up plates with food and taking them back to the room- great practice for the cruise.
There is a Kroger Signature store down the street, and the suites have kitchenettes (NO STOVE - so don’t buy pizza!). This cuts down on the food bills considerably.
The problem with Galveston is the smell. I am not joking. How can I describe the smell… take one part paper mill, one part dead fish, two parts rotten eggs and about ten parts straight garbage. If it is possible to add a salty after taste when you swallow, add it in. The beach was grim. One night we were walking on the beach, with our heads turned towards the water in an attempt to breathe normally, and one of my sons said “Oh look, how nice, a picnic!” I turned to look and of course it was two heavily tattooed teenagers smoking and eating a pizza (box was in the sand), drinking 40’s and sitting on a decades-old Kermit the Frog kiddy sleeping bag. This was the scene.
The morning of the cruise I dropped my party off at the cruise terminal and took the car back to Enterprise. My mother and great aunt, hereinafter referred to as The Ladies, took the hotel shuttle, which was nice and fast. The terminal is 5 minutes from the Seawall hotels. Enterprise was 20 minutes from the terminal, and it was a disaster. I walked in and there were people CRYING in the office. The office was staffed by one man and the computers were down. There were about ten of us waiting to drop cars off- Enterprise will only let one person in your party use the shuttle, FYI. The problem was that there were easily ten people who had just gotten off the Elation waiting to pick up. These people were standing in line, calling people at the terminal, calling the airlines, literally missing flights waiting. They were begging for cars, we were standing there holding keys. Eventually the guy just said “here” and grabbed our keys and gave them to the others (sensible). FYI- Enterprise charges a 250 dollar deposit- even if you picked the car up that morning. No computers means no way to settle up with Enterprise- unless you want to call from Belize on the way to cave tubing. When I got home I saw that I had been billed 138.00 for Fri-Sun, including the “drop charge.”
This whole process took place at 12:30 pm. This prepared me well for the debarkation when we returned. I knew there was no way we were getting off that boat until noon and I was right.
The main problem with Galveston’s cruise terminal is that there is literally a two lane road leading to the terminal. Two lanes. 2000 people getting off the Elation, 2000 getting on. You basically have to open the door, kick your passengers out, throw their luggage at them, and step on the gas.
Embarkation seemed a little long, but I think I’ve been lucky in the past. It took about an hour and a half after I got back from Enterprise. Part of the holdup was due to about four of the ten windows being staffed with agents, and for some reason people still keep bringing arcane forms of ID. I am glad passports are about to be mandatory.
The Elation has seen better days. I’m just going to knock that one out of the box from the get go. There is a pervasive use of plastic tubing throughout- no other way to describe it. It is like PVC pipe that has been painted a dark gold color, and it lines the ceilings, some of the walls, parts of the elevators, and it is present in every common area of the ship. It is fine- I am not objecting to the artistic value of it. The problem is that it has been dented heavily in areas and it can get to be a distraction if you let it. The carpets are stained- yet also actively dirty. The old and the new, working in harmony to give the overall impression that 100,000 people have walked on them in the last year, which of course they have. The steps are carpeted a light beige, which boggles the mind. There are dust bunnies running along the sides of the stairs. I kept wishing I could give Jose (more on him later) my Dyson for him to go wild with.
The above can be considered a disclaimer. This boat ROCKS.
I was traveling with four sons, ages 15, 13, 11 and 7. One cabin. The Ladies each had their own cabin. We were all on the Main Deck- I was in M65, a quad cabin with a rollaway (rollaway is the wrong term- it is really a mattress on a plastic webbed frame- very comfortable). For a regular stateroom it was huge. There were two full closets, plenty of drawers, and a floor to ceiling set of shelves. The suitcases fit under the beds. There were also plenty of hooks, small shelves, and the bathroom had a two door medicine cabinet. The beds were very comfortable- even the bunks. The blankets and duvets were fine. One small problem- the room smelled of smoke. One kid said to me on the fifth day “It finally doesn’t smell like smoke any more” and he was right. When are cruise ships going to confine smoking to one or two areas? Doesn’t that make sense? One moderate problem: the pillows smelled like… people. Having no options there (“Jose, can I have a pillow that smells less like people than the other 10 pillows in the cabin?”) I decided not to let it bother me.
THE COMMON AREAS:
I had read about the 7 story atrium and it is kind of cool. Truth be told, if you’ve seen a six story atrium, or even a middling 5 story grand centrum, you get the picture. I wasn’t wowed by it, although it is beautiful. Elation Way, however, is mind boggling for a ship this size. It is a clear shot right through three quarters of the length of the ship, and it is very broad. The casino, the coffee bar (Musical Café), and several other cafes and discos are integrated into the flow of Elation Way. It is impressive- almost intimidating when you first arrive. There are little groupings of seats in the promenade area of Elation Way, and one night the party moved out of one of the lounges and about a hundred people were doing the Electric Slide right out in the promenade. It was thrilling and I was so glad that I ran into my kids at that minute- they were looking at me and I was looking at them and the same thought was running through our minds: “How cool is THIS?”
There are three pools on Elation. The main pool, on Lido Deck (of course) has a 150 foot water slide. My recommendation: go on the slide. Again and again and again. The Lido Deck area is very congested the first day at sea, but things calm down once the gamblers start to keep their hours, the little kids keep their hours, and the sunburns start to take their toll. Chair saving isn’t really an issue, probably because I made sure to save my chairs EARLY… joking… but not really. The upper deck that looks over the pool is the best seat in the house. You can see the pool if you wish, but the view of the ocean is gorgeous, and the waiters are always available, and the wind blows, and it is the most relaxing place on Elation. The other two pools are children’s pools, and they are on different decks. Not much to say about them- they hold water- that’s about it. There are Jacuzzis- two for adults and one for children.
The gift shop is big. Very big. The Mikado Lounge is next door- check out the curtain. It is gorgeous- it shimmers and sparkles and I couldn’t keep my eyes off of it. I would go in there when it was empty just to look at that curtain. The shows were hit or miss. One night was excellent, the next night I couldn’t help but remember Simon Cowell’s remarks on American Idol: “You look like a bad cruise ship act” and “You are destined to spend the rest of your life singing on a cruise ship.” Some parts were excellent, some had you eyeing the doors. The Dave Blazer Band was outstanding. The whole “going to the show” angle has been hard for me to warm up to. I guess the point is not whether it is good enough to make you get in your car in -5 degree weather and pay 50 bucks for it, the point is whether it is worth rolling yourself out of the dining room and sitting through it. YES.
The Lido deck outside buffet- basically a glorified hamburger stand- was very good. Breakfast was served there, along with burgers and chicken dishes in the afternoon. My kids went there for the first of their three French meals a day- French fries, that is. Lemonade, iced tea, fruit punch, coffee and hot chocolate are available there 24/7.
Tiffany’s, also on the Lido deck, is the main buffet restaurant and one of two options if you don’t want to eat in the main dining room(s). The other is room service, which is complimentary and available 24 hours a day. Tiffany’s is fine- much, much better than the buffet options I have seen before. There are the usual omelette stations, carving stations, etc., and quite a few daily options at lunch and dinner. It is a nice looking restaurant and very well staffed. Considering that it feeds more people that any other restaurant on the ship, it is a relatively calm, attractive and inviting place.
The main dining rooms- the Imagination and the Inspiration- continue the PVC-pipe theme and are a little too dark and over the top for me. The service was excellent. We picked the early seating- something I will never do again. It is impossible to get back from shore excursions- or even from the pool- and get dressed in a relaxed fashion and still be in your dinner seat at 6:15. The crew does an excellent job of serving on schedule, but one gets the feeling of being hustled out the door pretty fast after eating.
The food in the main dining rooms ran the gamut from very good to… pretty good. A few highs and no real lows… except for the desserts. The desserts throughout the Elation- Tiffany’s, main dining room, Musical café (which you have to pay for), room service- were all utterly tasteless. Even the chocolate buffet was bland. The menu was creative, the presentation was excellent, and all in all the dining room experience was quite nice. The waiters did a little song and dance, excuse me: “boogie-boogie,” every night. We all loved it until night four, when we began to feel sorry for our friends, the waiters. By the time they sang “We’re leaving… on a Fun Ship…” to the tune of Leaving on a Jet Plane we were cringing.
Hard working, friendly, competent. How hard working? Every day, all day. We leave and the next pax get on in one continuous motion.
I would be remiss if I didn’t specifically mention two people who went above and beyond the call of duty to make our vacation so outstanding. The first is Rajesh, a waiter from India who I first met in Tiffany’s. He was incredibly professional, solicitous, friendly, and really took the time to talk to my children. It was so nice to walk into Tiffany’s, catch his eye, and have him say “I saw two of them before but they headed that way…” With everything that man has to do he still had the presence of mind to give me the heads up about where my children were. He showed us magic tricks, including one that left us speechless and has nothing to do with magic and everything to do with skill. Unbelievable. My kids absolutely loved him- even my 15 year old. The next is Irina, our headwaiter in the main dining room. Again- professional, courteous, and service above and beyond. I was dumbfounded when, on day three, she said to my son “William, you will be having Ranch with your salad again?” DO THE MATH: 2000 pax, week after week, nine month contracts- and she knows what the preference of an 11 year old is after two nights of serving us.
Carnival is lucky to have these two- and they should be compensated for their efforts. And they are waiters, not clowns. They should only have to dance once.
Our room steward, Jose, was jovial and responded to every request immediately. He knew which cabin I was in from the moment I met him.
Camp Carnival has four age brackets- 3-5, 6-8, 9-11 (at this age they sign themselves in and out as they wish), and 12-14. My seven year old loved it. My 11 year old was lukewarm about it, mainly because it detracted from the time he spent wandering around the ship on his own, using his room key, throwing ice cream cones overboard, etc. The counselors were fantastic. This is no place to simply park your kid- there are activities going on all the time and the counselors stick to the schedule. The first time I brought my 7 year old, the counselor said “Do you like BINGO Hugh?” (Yes) “And do you like Starburst?” (Hell yeah, see ya, Mom). He was gone.
If anyone has concerns about a 9 year old being able to cruise around the ship, checking himself in and out of CC, even while the ship is in port and the parents are off the ship, don’t worry. That was one of the best things about the trip- my children were respected and not treated like infants. The 13 and 15 year olds (Nick and Woody) were gone all night. They would come in around 2am, just as the 11 year old (William) and I were finishing room service and watching a movie. William had free run of the ship and usually came in at night just because he wanted to play GameBoy- and that was very late. One of us would go back to the cabin with Hugh at around 10, he would fall asleep immediately, and then we would take turns keeping an eye on him. Parents who want freedom for themselves and their children should cruise Carnival. The crew keeps an eye on the kids, families are around, things are happening, and I never had any fears about my children. By the last two days my 7 year old was keying himself into the room and going around on his own without any problem.
I don’t want to waste a lot of time here reciting a laundry list of things that are easily available elsewhere… but here are a few.
Laundry is 4 bucks a load, and there were always washers and dryers available, as well as irons and ironing boards. The TV plays three movies a day- family fare. Also: CNN, Cartoon Network, and endless loops of shipboard hijinks. There is a topless area. The purser has stamps of each port of call. The photo area is packed but developing your own rolls is only 7 bucks. I dropped off the last roll at 10 the night before we left and picked them up the next morning.
No review of Elation is complete without a short study on the funnel. It is the most intimidating thing I have ever had the good fortune/misfortune to live and breathe under in my life. I think if I set up a tent under the Eiffel Tower that would be less imposing- mainly because the funnel is ALIVE. The funnel is the God of the ship. Think Hawaii. Every so often, while one is gazing at the funnel, it will emit a great cloud of black smoke from one side of the funnel. No way of knowing why that side, or what the passengers did to deserve it. Sometimes a thin trickle of smoke comes out of both sides- why? It looks… angry. I am serious- this is the feeling you get. I was not the only one who felt that way. One night I was standing alone on the jogging track at the front of the ship watching an enormous full moon. A guy came up and said, in awe, “isn’t it HUGE?” and of course he meant the funnel. Even on the tender from Belize people were looking at the funnel and saying “Wow.”
I sweated bullets on this one before we left. I was worried about out of control kids, wild boozers, people grumbling that there was no Wal Mart in Belize, people ordering three entrees at dinner, etc.
None of the above. The kids were wonderful. People were having a good time and being pleasant while doing so. It was a solid cross section of… the middle class. No highs, no lows.
Elation’s home port is Galveston, and Houston has a large minority population. This was by far the most diverse group of people I have ever cruised with, and that was a major plus. There was a big group of black women from some church on board, and they OWNED the karaoke contest. They were a lot of fun. There was some serious dressing up on formal nights by the African American people on board, and I appreciated it. My last cruise was a bit downmarket in terms of pax- but this one had a very large group that dressed to the nines and behaved in a very elegant fashion. There were also a lot of Spanish speakers on board, which I appreciated.
PORTS OF CALL:
PROGRESO: Several alternatives went through my mind as I took the bus from Progreso to Merida: was this some sort of joke? Is CCL in dire straits financially? Do they think we are stupid?
I remember reading that this was the World’s Longest Pier or something along those lines. Aren’t piers supposed to be elevated, or at least pier-like? This is a man made peninsula from Hell, with concrete trucks rumbling by at breakneck speeds, and in the distance, piles and piles of broken concrete, rusty ships, third world industrial things… and this was before the ride from the ship to the end of the pier. Never has the word “shuttle” meant so little.
The little shopping area in Progreso is where you should pick up your trinkets, jump back on the “shuttle” (imagine Tom Sawyer’s school bus preserved in acid and then carted on a rusty barge to Botswana, used there for a century, and then hauled here), and kick it back to the Lido Deck. Do not, repeat, do not go to Merida. It looks up to being Tijuana. I know there are aficionados of Merida, and you would do well to read their reviews. I am calling it the way I saw it, and I saw nothing redeeming about the place but the cathedral, a picture of which will accompany this review.
My mother and the big boys went to Dzibilchaltun and they absolutely loved it. They ate in a café in Progreso afterwards and loved that, too. I should mention that my mother is Cuban and obviously fluent in Spanish, so she managed to find some off the beaten path taqueria that was some kind of undiscovered gem.
Whither Progreso? Why would anyone who is not an Amnesty International rep want to visit there? What part of “cruise ship vacation” says Progreso? Mayan ruins? Give us an extra day in Cozumel and we’ll see them from there.
COZUMEL: Thank you, Carnival. Now I understand. You wanted us to see Progreso FIRST, so we would love Cozumel even more. Cozumel is beautiful. We walked off the pier (2 minutes) and grabbed one of the clean taxis from a very organized taxi stop. There are the usual guys standing around with pictures for shore excursions, and when I asked one about Chankanaab park he directed me to the taxi stand- no haggling, no trying to sell me.
I have to say that my preparation for Cozumel consisted of reading the CCL shore excursion description that morning. I decided to just get off and do it myself. It cost 16 bucks each (4 for the cab and 12 for the entrance to the park). The taxis then wait by the dozen outside of the park to take you back to the ship. You can easily walk off the ship at your leisure, grab the taxi, go to the park, snorkel (incredible), swim, read, tan, go back to the ship, eat at Tiffany’s if you feel like saving money and eating in the AC, shower, change and go BACK to Cozumel and shop.
There is a dolphin swim at Chankanaab that I had wanted to do, but the kids were creeped out by the moral implications of keeping dolphins in a pen to give rides to cruise ship passengers, so we passed.
BELIZE: The tender situation was not good. In keeping with my general vacation vibe I wasn’t worried, but there were people who were getting very angry and abusive to the CCL girl in charge of giving out tender tickets. Basically it went like this: “How many tender tickets do you need, sir?” “THIRTEEN! I need them NOW! We are going DIVING and I have been here since 7:45!!! What kind of system is this???!!!””
We made it off on the second tender and not a moment too soon.
We opted to take Reggie’s A-1 Cave Tubing tour. It was excellent. He is great- gave us a nice tour of Belize city on the way there. The ride is beautiful. After you get to the staging area you walk about 45 minutes to the drop off point, and when we went it was quite muddy and slippery. Not an easy walk if you are out of shape, so be careful before booking this tour. The tubing was awesome and the caves were very cool. It was definitely worth the 45 bucks a person that this tour cost.
If I had to do it over I would book the Goff’s Caye excursion through CCL for two reasons: the boat pulls right alongside, dispensing with the tender trap, and the snorkeling in Cozumel was so incredible that I would have loved to continue it on the Belizean barrier reef.
Fun. Not contrived Fun Ship fun, but actual real live FUN. There was not a bad moment on this trip. The cruise director was a bit wooden, but he was out of my face and I can appreciate that. I saw him once. The announcements were few and far between, and very low key. There was almost no hawking of jewelry at all. BINGO was talked up, of course, but not much. I just didn’t get the feeling that I was being sold something all the time, and that was a great feeling.
Every person I saw was having fun. Every smile I gave I got back. I was never so relaxed in my entire life- and this was with four children on board.
Not great. If I had a plane leaving at 1, or even 2, I would have been sweating bullets. The whole system might have worked (although it is a bit Rube Goldberg-esque) if customs had been staffed properly. Living on the Canadian border I see it all the time- ten lanes with two open and a line of cars two miles long.
We cruised up to Tiffany’s at 8am with our carry on bags, figuring we would eat and then be perfectly positioned to wait on the Lido Deck for our luggage tag color to be called (like I said, Rube Goldberg: “Can we have the Peach Aft people come forward now? So far we have called Peach Aft, Gray Fore and Red Aft…”). You know how the time/space continuum can be tweaked, so that a century passes in a second, and three hours in 100 degree heat outside on a pool deck can seem like a century? That’s what it was like- except for me. I had seen the mess at Enterprise and I figured it would be noon before we were called. We got off at 12:30, and wisely I had booked to Carnival transfers at the purser’s desk the night before (33 bucks times 5 for me- WORTH IT).
This was a cruise that had so many elements which could have wrought disaster. There were two flights to HOU, the whole Galveston portion, the ship itself, the ports of call, the money factor, the debarkation, the flights back… and there was not one bad moment. Not one. Nobody even stubbed their toe. It was total fun from the beginning to the end, and we will never forget it. No matter what future cruises I take in my life, this is the one against which all others will be measured.
I encourage single parents to cruise Carnival. You will find others of your species aboard. All families were having fun because the kids were having fun. Camp Carnival is ready and waiting to take your child at any time, and the kids are ready for a little AC and computer time, too.
Singles should also book a cruise on Elation. It isn’t a singles cruise, per se, but there were many single people on board- even single people traveling solo.
I will definitely cruise CCL again if the opportunity arises. I am going to cut Galveston a wide berth, but I was pleasantly surprised- shocked- at the Carnival experience.