Number of Cruises: First Cruise
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Elation
Sailing Date: January 20, 2007
Carnival Cruise Lines
Elation Cruise Review
Date of Cruise: January 20, 2007
This was my first cruise. I have never considered myself a cruise person – I
don’t use tanning beds. I’m not a big drinker. I have always traveled to one
destination and explored that area after extensive research of what was
available. I don’t use travel agent. That being said, I was expecting an 86%
good time, I had 97%. In every aspect, my expectations were exceeded.
My parents-in-law said they wanted to go on a cruise to celebrate their retirement this past year. My husband and I, and my sister in law and her husband joined them for a small group of six on a Carnival cruise to Nassau, Bahamas, Half Moon Cay, Bahamas, and Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos.
The ship itself was great. We had a little trouble finding our way around. We tore out the map of the decks from the catalog we got from Carnival and that helped a lot, but there are maps at every elevator and it was fun just to wander. There was always music playing and the rocking was noticeable, but I personally loved it. My husband and I chose to take meclizine (Antivert) every day. It’s available without a prescription and we figured prevention is better than trying to treat motion sickness once you have it. Our stateroom was on the inside, forward, lowest deck which turned out to be excellent as the debarkation for ports was one deck below and we could stop in to our room to get our bag for the day and pop out without waiting for elevators (which were near the cabin and we never heard the bell or the people getting on and off). I would request the same room again. The elevators were quick, considering the volume of people using them, but I really started to appreciate my young knees when I saw how many of the older guests had to wait for the elevators even for one floor. There were many outdoor areas and many quiet places to read – surprisingly not the library which is right off the atrium and the piano music from the bar below was distracting. Everything is highly decorated, a little heavy on the orange/brown coloring, impeccably clean, and in good working order. The mirror in one of the elevators got cracked the third night of the trip and was replaced within 18 hours.
Embarkation went smoothly. They had a buffet all ready when we got onboard. We grabbed the first table we could – by the pool – and when the band started playing it was painfully loud. We could have gone inside or moved to several other tables that were available right around the corner on the Lido deck, so I recommend you look around before parking in front of the earsplitting - but really talented - band. They mostly played crowd favorites (we must have heard ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ five times over the whole cruise). Our luggage took a little time to get to us. We were glad we had packed swimsuits in the carry-on. Our travel companions had a room change and were concerned their luggage would not follow them, no problem, even though the tags had the wrong room number on them. Dinner the first night was casual in the dining room just in case people had trouble with bags. We had the requisite lifeboat drill. It was well-organized and over with quickly. We chose to unpack while the boat pulled away. I seldom use the drawers and completely unpack on a vacation, but I did and it was worth the effort to get the suitcases out of the way. Our twin beds were pushed together and there was space between the bed and the wall. There is shampoo and bath gel in dispensers in the shower, which is plenty big enough for two (wink - wink), and a lot of free lotions, razors, and vitamin C drink powder by the sink.
Dinner the first night was when we met our wait staff who were wonderful, hard working, and thoughtful. I really can’t say enough good things about them. Our table was near a clearing station and it was awfully loud, but there weren’t any quieter tables available. I didn’t notice it so much the second night, so it may have been just the consequence of a long day traveling. The menu was incredibly varied. There were five options that stayed the same every night – the alternatives – and five entrée, appetizer, dessert, salad options that were unique to each night. I had heard that the steaks were not good as they have to cook them for so many people and were medium well for everyone. This is not true, the med/rare were perfect, and I usually like steak to just suffer a little on the grill. Very tender fillet, very good prime rib, which other people in our party enjoyed. I preferred to order things I couldn’t pronounce (cream of leechee soup) and things I don’t get at home. The offerings at the Lido restaurant (Tiffany’s) were better than most buffets (casino or Old Country): good salad bar, good dessert bar, the two lines were sometimes different from each other and different from the poolside buffet. The 24 hour pizza was delicious and although there was often a short line for it, the guy running it had an uncanny ability to remember who ordered what pizza. They also make sandwiches and Panini grilled sandwiches at that station. We went to the big midnight buffet which was so pretty and such a variety. I ate too much that night, should not have gone up for seconds. Some of the foods really were better to look at than eat, though - unless you really like fish paste. The dessert selection was mind boggling.
Our port time in Nassau was fun. It was my third trip to Nassau, and my husband and I chose to walk a long way (about three miles) to the Ardastra Gardens and Zoo after shopping in the downtown and the straw market (newly rebuilt after burning to the ground five years ago). In the straw market, the front section is crowded, loud and the sellers are very aggressive. Push your way through to the back where the stalls are wider and it is quieter or just walk around the back. Don’t settle for one T shirt for $10. You can get three or four for ten dollars if you haggle or look disinterested. The same is true for other items. This is a great place to get souvenirs, I prefer it to the shops right at the cruise port. The Tortuga Rum cake factory is a blissful oasis of peace if you get tired of the noise on the street. You can buy the same cakes cheaper on the boat, though. We paid a little more and bought direct – they make them right on the premises. Our family took the historical tour and saw the things we have seen in the past: the Queen’s staircase, Fort Fincastle, the library and parliament. These are worth a look. Our walk took us out of the tourist area, it was Sunday morning and we walked past three churches filled and singing. The landscape is typical tropics, flowers everywhere, scrubby palms and overgrown yards with abandoned vehicles. The houses are small and old and painted brightly, and we knew we were in a foreign country. The streets were well marked and the free tourist map was accurate. We asked a drink stall man for directions once we got to Fort Charlotte and he walked with us quite a ways to make sure we were on the right track. Then he refused a tip for his effort. The Bahamians were consistently friendly, polite, and helpful. The gardens were worth the walk. If your time is limited; go to the right of the snack bar/bathroom area, that’s where the flamingoes, jaguars and other large mammals are. The plants are well-marked and the snack bar staff helped us find transport home: $30 cab back to the port or go to the main road and wait for a $1/person jitney ride with the locals. The mini-busses run every ten minutes on weekdays or Saturdays. Sunday they weren’t so frequent but better than the walk back and saved us money. At the crossroads there were a group of bar/restaurants and we got conch for lunch – which was about the only thing not available on the ship – which was delicious. I also highly recommend seeing Atlantis resort/casino if you have not been there in the past.
Half Moon Cay (pronounced Key) was our next stop. Many day trips sold out so really, book them as soon as you embark. To prevent a long wait at the door, they hand out tickets for the tender boats. Don’t you believe it is leaving “right now” which they will tell you. Members of our party took 15 minutes to get their stuff and still we waited 20 minutes on the boat before it left the ship. There was so much to do at Half Moon, or not do if you just wanted to lie around. We brought snorkel gear from home (why let it dry out in your closet if you own it?) and this was wasted as the snorkeling sucked. The beach more than made up for it. The sand was like sugar. It was as crowded (with really nice people having a good time) or private as you wanted it to be. The chairs were comfortable; the clam shell was worth renting for the shade ($15 for the day). You don’t need towels from home as you get them in your room. If you steal them they will charge you $22 which might be worth it. The barbecue they provide was very good – hamburgers, hot dogs, jerk chicken, salads, fruit and desserts of course. Free water, iced tea and punch were available. The line was long, but moved quickly and the food was prepared fresh. There is a cute little chapel for pictures or kissing in private. There is a bar with the pool, a band playing and organized games if you’re into that. We brought our own empty water bottles and refilled them each day and I recommend this (and betray myself as a total cheapskate) as they provide a big liter bottle in the room which will cost you $5 if you open and I thought was too heavy to carry in a bag for the day. The tender back had some problems docking and we went round and round to get lined up. We deserved an explanation but never got one. The crowd was getting a little testy and my husband started singing the song from Gilligan’s Island. We then went through every song we could think of related to boat accidents, including ‘the Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald’ and ‘My Heart will Go on’. Anyone who wasn’t laughing was beyond hope for redeeming a bad situation. It was resolved when they brought out a more experienced captain on a speedboat and it beat the heck out of being at home shoveling snow. The Captain’s dinner was this night and I was all stressed out about what to wear. I had a cocktail dress for the occasion which was fine and my husband wore a suit and tie. There were a lot of ‘mother of the bride’ dresses and a few tuxedoes. Most of the men wore khaki pants with a button up shirt and a tie. Some of the women had pant suits on. It really didn’t matter as much as I feared.
I was impressed across the board with the entertainment staff. The games were fun. Brandon, who ran the trivia games that I played, was perfectly on the line between tongue in cheek and genuine enthusiasm, a la Chuck Woolery from the Dating Game. The Vegas-style shows were certainly titillating but I would have brought my 3 yr old girl who would have loved the costumes and my 6 yr old son who would have been a little embarrassed but would have liked it. I really don’t know how the dancers did their moves with the rocking of the boat, although I didn’t notice it while I was doing the aerobics class. It didn’t start on time, and was more repetitive than I am used to, but I got a sweaty work out and didn’t feel as guilty eating cake that day. Back to the shows, the jugglers/comedians were really fun, and there was one band from the Philippines in the Romeo and Juliet lounge (labeled ‘Party Music’ in the Carnival Capers daily program) that knocked our socks off. Karaoke was well-run; get your name in early if you want a part of the show. There was one singer who was better than any professional I’ve ever heard.
Grand Turk was our next day. This is an island on the verge of transition. The recently built cruise port is very pretty and clean and you could have a great day shopping, dining and drinking and swimming in the pools at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. The beach right there is wonderful, and justified our hauling the snorkel gear as there were many fish and even some live coral right off shore. There is a bar nearby playing music and the general atmosphere is laid back and tropical. We paid $160 for both of us to go Snuba diving – like Scuba but without the tanks. Carnival needs to clarify the meeting spot as ‘the end of the pier’ meant ‘the other side of the duty free shops’. The Sea Trekker staff was outstanding, I used to be PADI certified about 14 years ago, and my husband has snorkeled a few times before so we had no problem getting in the water and getting around. There was one couple who stayed on board because of problems using the regulator, so that left four of us swimming around the coral heads, lots of fish, and eels. After Snuba we took a cab for $5 people to Cockburn Town. The population of the island is less than 4,000. It’s the capital so there are government buildings and three old hotels and there are a few dive shops. We ate at the Water’s Edge bar/grill; excellent food and quick service. There’s a restlessness in the people, though as they time their days around the coming and going of the cruise ships and there is at least one site with plans to build big timeshare style condos. This island will not be the same the next time we are there. Our taxi driver found us shopping the downtown souvenir stalls and gave us a little tour as we got back to the ship in plenty of time. I had planned to bike to the town to see the museum highlighting the island’s history as a slave trading port, pirate port, and salt producing center. There just wasn’t enough time with the Snuba trip in the middle of the day. It would have been tough biking with the heat and the narrow roads, but the speed limit is seldom over 25 miles an hour and there were plenty of grocery stores to get a bottle of water at (for less than $5). There’s a part of me that really didn’t want to leave. As we pulled out of port, I was on deck high enough to see a humpback whale – 2500 of which are calving in the area and will leave April 15 as they do every year – and a school of about 20 dolphins. This was shared with a group of Georgians who were there on a work incentive program having a great time, really fun people. We watched the sun set and left the deck which got really windy after the sun went down.
The ‘Fun Day at Sea’ is as fun as you want it to be. I read a book on the sports deck, played some games, ate self serve ice cream whenever I wanted, and generally relaxed. It rained for about 15 minutes in the afternoon, and there was a double rainbow to see off the Eastern bow when the rain cleared – it was so painfully beautiful I cried. The rest of the night we listened to music, ate, gazed at stars when they came out – you kind of have to hide under the lifeboats to block the lights of the ship. I tried to find ways to delay going to bed as I just didn’t want the trip to be over.
I would highly recommend this ship, this itinerary, this experience to anyone who doesn’t hate boats and even a few who do. Our table staff did advise that the 4-day cruise is a different feel, with more ‘drink, eat, sleep’ pattern to it. Our next cruise will hopefully be longer, and more ports, but I would do this exact one again. Bon Voyage!!