Thank you MCPayne for the link to your review. I read it twice and found it to be rather helpful in planning for my upcoming cruise on the Freedom. Below, I am going to try and follow your format and write my review of the Elation.
PART 1 (the text was too long, so I had to split it up)
This is the official review of the back-to-back (four night and five night) cruise that my family and I took on the Carnival Elation. My wife and I have been married for twenty years and we have three beautiful daughters, ages 16, 11 and 8. I am quite wordy and this review will be lengthy, so please excuse me in advance.
CHECK-IN and BOARDING:
We live just 45 minutes from the cruise terminal in Mobile and arrived promptly at the parking garage at 8:45am. The security guard there informed me that they do not let anyone in until sometime between 10:00 and 10:30, so we would have to turn around and come back later. We did just that and arrived the second time at 9:45 and were second in line to get in. We parked, unloaded and were waiting inside the terminal building before 10:00am. Everything was sort of roped off, so we just waited, along with about one hundred other people and a wedding party, until about 10:30, when they allowed us to go through the security line and check-in and get our sail and sign cards. That process took about ten minutes and then we were instructed to wait until about 11:15 when boarding would begin. They gave us a boarding zone 1 card and said that they would follow the appropriate order. Promptly at 11:15, they allowed the few VIP members to board, followed by all of us in zone 1. We were on the ship at about 11:25 and went straight to the Lido deck to the buffet to have some lunch.
There is really not much to be said here. We had an inside stateroom (E32) that could sleep up to five. I foolishly decided that my family of five would be perfectly fine to stay in one stateroom for nine days and regretted that decision almost instantly. The room was fine and clean, but just too crowded for all of us, especially when it was time to get ready to go anywhere. We were stepping all over each other. That being said, my family travels extremely well together and we work as a team to get things done, so it wasn't really that bad. We tried not to leave anything on the floor and to be considerate of each other and it worked out fine, although, in the future, I think I will always try to book two staterooms (like I have on the Freedom of the Seas). The only problem with the room was that it had that familiar smell of urine in the bathroom. I am very aware of bad smells and this one was driving me crazy. At first, I thought it might be the toilet brush, so I left a note for the stateroom attendant to change it, but that wasn't it. I have had the same problem in my last three cruises and have just learned to live with it. If you keep the bathroom door closed, it doesn't affect the rest of the room. I am not sure what causes it, but it is not worth complaining about on a full ship with nowhere else to go. Our attendant's name was "I made" from Indonesia and he was the silent, keep in the background type. He came by and introduced himself on day one and that was pretty much the last time we saw him. He did an excellent job and we had no complaints.
ONBOARD THE SHIP:
Like the other Fantasy class ships, the elation is rather quaint and yet was big enough to hold over 2600 people! Being that we cruised during summer vacation, there were hundreds of children on board with several bigger family groups (complete with matching shirts) as well. From my pictures, you can see just how crowded the pool deck was at times, although that did not really bother me, as it was expected. The most important thing for my wife and I was that we could get a couple of deck chairs on the second level overlooking the pool so we could constantly see our eight year-old. She is an excellent swimmer and stayed in the pool for hours at a time, but we always wanted to be able to directly see her. The bar service at the pool was generally excellent, and we never had to wait more than a few minutes if we wanted something to drink. The music on deck was good and they had a real steel drum, which is always a welcome sound. There were the typical activities on deck that were enjoyed by most people. The ship in general was in good repair, although, there were a few cosmetic problems here and there. The most frustrating thing was that one of the two glass elevators in the atrium was not working, causing a significant delay at times. My family and I always take the stairs when we can, there were just some times when we had to take my youngest up to Camp carnival on deck 12 from our deck (7) that we like to use the elevator, other than that the ship was fine. We enjoyed the various music venues/lounges and the live piano music in the atrium was a nice touch. There were ample (and I do me ample) photographers available throughout the ship to take pictures...and the fact that they gave you a card with information on how to find your pictures was nice. The best thing about taking the back-to-back trip was that we were able to decide during the first cruise, exactly which activities we didn't want to miss on the second cruise. My two oldest daughters really stepped out and participated in the salsa dancing class, disco dancing class and the Thriller dancing class. We also enjoyed the game-show style shows immensely. The cruise director (Steven Knisley) and his staff were wonderful and definitely added to our enjoyment of the cruise.
For those of you with children, I wanted to say a few words about Camp Carnival. My eight year-old spent quite a bit of time there (always at her request) and had three out of nine of her evening meals there. At the beginning of the trip, they gave us a schedule of the activities for the whole cruise, so that was nice. My 16 and 11 year-olds weren't really interested. My eleven year-old went twice during the first cruise and not at all during the second one. My sixteen year-old went once, for about an hour on the first day of the second cruise and just didn't like it. She is very mature for her age and doesn't like the way kids her age dance (or whatever you want to call what they do) or behave. She spent most of her time with Mom and Dad and it was great to get to be with her. They did offer after hours childcare (10:00pm to 1:00am or 3:00am) for an additional charge of $6.95 per hour per child (we did not utilize this, so can't vouch for anything). Overall, the staff at Camp Carnival were excellent and we had no reservations about leaving our little one there.
I am not a big fan of buffets for one reason...the people who take too much time to dip their food, therefore clogging up the whole line. With 2600 people on the ship, if everyone did this, it would be a disaster. No one likes standing in line, however, it seems like once they get up to the food stations, they have decided that now it is their turn so they are going to take their time. I watched people have conversations with their friends/family in front of the food, etc., etc. I hated to bring this up, but it is just one of those things that is difficult for me to understand...cruising would be an ever better experience if each individual would simply ask themselves "What would this cruise be like if every other passenger were just like me?" Overall, the buffet food was good and we enjoyed it when we ate it. We liked the Mongolian Grill, where you get to select your own stir-fry ingredients and watch them cook it for you. I also found the burgers/fries to be of really good quality and flavor and enjoyed them multiple times during lunch by the pool. They also have a sushi-bar on deck nine (just forward to the entrance to the casino area) that I finally discovered on the last night of the trip. I knew it was there, I just hadn't looked for it. It was open daily from 5:00pm to 8:30pm. There were several options to choose from and it was really good sushi. Given my feelings about buffets in general...I try to eat as many meals as possible (including every dinner meal) in the main dining rooms. During the first cruise, we were at a table for five in the forward (Imagination) dining room and during the second cruise we had to move to the aft (Inspiration) dining room where we had a booth for our family. I did request to stay at our first table for the second part of the trip, but alas, it wasn't meant to be. The maitre D' did personally come and apologize to us, which was a nice touch, but certainly not necessary. In the end, it was a good experience to move to the other dining room and we thoroughly enjoyed the staff in both. The food was really good and on par with previous cruise experiences that we have had. The seafood was always excellent, including the four lobster tails that I ate (spread out over two nights, of course). We also thoroughly enjoyed the chilled fruit cream soups (like mango cream, etc). We had great ribs and the beef shoulder on the last night was to die for. The only plate I wasn't thrilled with was the flat iron steak. It was not at all tender and I could have done without it. It is interesting that in the Imagination dining room, our food came out very quickly and we always felt a little rushed. The waiter would even take our dessert order with our dinner order (an experience I have never had before) and we would start getting food immediately. In contrast to that, in the Inspiration dining room, the service was on par with other fine dining experiences we have had and maybe even a little too slow at times. This is almost surely a function of the individual servers and not related to the dining room itself. My wife and I always enjoy getting to know the staff that we meet on our cruises and I must admit, it did seem like the dining room staff were usually quite rushed and did not converse as much as usual, which was not a problem, just an observation. My only complaint about the dining room was that during the second cruise, the bar server in the dining room only came to our table one time, which was the second night. When he came, we ordered three soft drinks, which he brought, but then he never returned. We saw him going to every table around us each night, but he would always walk right by us. I know it wasn't, but it really felt intentional. My wife kept needling me to say something, but the way I saw it, he was just saving me money every night and I wanted to see if it would change on its own. It didn't and I probably saved $50, so it worked out in the end. It just seemed kind of odd that he would ignore a good paying customer, but oh well.
PORTS OF CALL:
We were in Cozumel twice (once during each cruise) and Calica once during the second cruise. Our first day in Cozumel, we simply got off the ship and took a taxi to Paradise Beach, which cost $19 each way for my family of five and took about fifteen minutes to get there. We opted to pay the fee ($12 per person) for unlimited use of the water equipment (climbing iceberg, slide, etc.) and then $2 per person for five beach chairs with umbrellas for a total of $14 per person. They had nice facilities, including a beautiful pool, massage tables (extra fee, of course), showers and full Restaurant/bar. The service was outstanding an everyone seemed eager to please. This was similar to our experience at Playa Mia a few years ago, but I think we enjoyed this place a little better. A note of caution...the iceberg that people can climb and jump off of is in only about six to seven feet of water and to jump from that height (about 12-14 feet) seemed dangerous to me. Our second trip to cozumel we booked the ship's excursion "Passion Island by Power Catamaran" which cost $319 for five of us. The tickets were a little confusing and simple said to meet at the end of the pier. I wasn't sure which pier they were referring to and it turned out that we had to walk to the end of a different pier, so I would recommend allowing a little extra time to find it. It took about 45 minutes to get to Passion Island, but it was worth it. This was an all inclusive trip and the facilities were quite nice. The food was OK and the service was once again excellent. The beach was beautiful and they had similar water toys to that of Paradise Beach, which my girls thoroughly enjoyed. If you like swimming and enjoying time on a beautiful clearwater beach, I would highly recommend this excursion. They had some shopping there as well as hammocks and massages were also available (for a fee, of course of about $35 for 1/2 hour). We stopped in town and bought a few souvenirs on the way back to the ship. In Calica, on the advice of a friend, we took a taxi ($75 each way) to a place about 30 miles away called Xel-ha. It is similar to Xcaret and consists of a natural water park with a real lazy river and awesome snorkeling. It cost $80 per person for adults and about $40 for children under 1.2 meters tall. This was also all inclusive and was simply a beautiful place. Words/pictures can't do the beauty of this place justice and you really have to see it to appreciate it. There were lockers/towels and snorkeling equipment available throughout the park. Life jackets were required to swim/snorkel and they had stations all of the park with hundreds of jackets available in every size. There were multiple 15 foot cliffs to jump off of as well as a few zip lines that you jump off of into the water. We eventually made our way back to the lazy river which started deep within a mangrove forest and the sights were truly breathtaking. There were life jackets available there as well as single and double tubes. We really wish we could have spent more time there as we just didn't get to see/experience it all in the five hours we had. If given the opportunity, we will go back there again. When we left and went to the parking lot...our taxi driver was standing there waiting for us as he had promised and we made it back to the ship uneventfully. This was truly the most unique shore excursion we have ever had.
This was our first back-to-back cruise and the process on the in between day was really quite simple. On our second day, we received a letter in our stateroom acknowledging the fact that we would be sailing with the ship again. It instructed us to bring our passports, sail and sign cards and customs form to the Guest Relations desk at 9:30am. We did this and it was actually kind of exciting watching everyone get off the ship knowing that we were staying on. After the last guest cleared the ship, a representative collected us and escorted us off the ship, bypassing the myriad of people waiting in line for customs. They processed us through immediately and then we headed back to the Guest Relations desk to get our new sail and sign cards for the second voyage. We then stepped to the gangway to have our new photos taken and were scanned back onto the ship. The whole process took about fifteen minutes and the majority of that time was spent physically walking off and back onto the ship. We then had the entire ship to ourselves for about 1.5 hours and it was marvelous. We went straight to the pool and relaxed, waiting for the other guests to arrive. It was interesting...I tried to communicate to our room steward that we were not packing up our things because we were staying onboard in the same room. He didn't believe me and asked if I was certain that I was staying in the same room. Of course I assured him that I was. When I asked the guest relations escort about it, she said that an e-mail is sent to all the ship's crew members letting them know exactly who is remaining onboard. I guess he must have missed it. On the last sea day, my 16 year-old and I took the behind the fun tour and really enjoyed it. We spent about 40 minutes on the bridge, which was my favorite part, and it was great to see the kitchen, laundry, engine control room, etc. One thing that never ceases to amaze me is that even though they reiterate numerous times that cell phones/cameras are strictly prohibited from being brought on the tour, some people still brought them. They even asked right before we left and a woman still not only had her phone with her, it rang, she answered it and talked for about two minutes. The gall and sheer nerve of some folks is really beyond my comprehension.
We chose the self debarkation option and carried our own luggage off the ship. They called our deck first (at about 7:25) and we were off the ship, through customs and in our SUV on the way home by 7:45 am. The process could not have been simpler.
Even though I have always considered myself a "Big ship" sort of cruiser (I was spoiled on the Adventure of the Seas for my first cruise), I must admit that I really loved the time I spent on the Elation. So much so, that, in fact, My wife and I are returning in less that three weeks! Really, the only thing that I miss is the indoor shopping mall which kind of serves as a central gathering place on the bigger ships, otherwise, I really love the smaller ships and am happy simply being on a cruise. My wife has stated over and over again that this was by far the best family vacation that we have taken and I have to agree with her. My children are now all old enough to enjoy it and the best part was seeing them having a great time. I would highly recommend this ship to anyone out there who wants to have a wonderful cruise.
I know this was long, but I didn't want to miss anything. If you have any questions, please post below and I will answer expeditiously.
Thanks so much for the review! After reading it, it makes me look forward to our October sailing on Elation even more!
The Fantasy class ships still are my favorite.
NEXT: CCL Elation 10-15-11
03-11 CCL Triumph
10-10 CCL Triumph
01-10 CCL Triumph
10-08 CCL Fantasy
03-08 CCL Fantasy
10-07 CCL Holiday
03-07 CCL Holiday
11-06 CCL Triumph
03-06 Caribbean Princess
01-04 CCL Victory
09-03 CCL Destiny
05-03 CCL Imagination
11-02 CCL Imagination
01-02 RCCL Rhapsody of Seas
02-01 RCCL Sovereign of Seas
02-00 RCCL Empress of Seas
01-99 RCCL Sovereign of Seas
01-98 RCCL Majesty of Seas
Excellent review, Brad! You made it seem like we were on board with you. I agree about Xel-ha, I could have spent days there, it is magnificent. I would have been on the water slide every sea day. I totally agree with you about the buffet area, some people can be so rude. I love the ones that call the family members over and have a conference while others are waiting patiently.
My hubby and I did the behind the scenes tour on the Epic. I can remember when it was free, but alas, no more. The bridge was truly my favorite area, too. What a view! It is so unbelievable that a little joy stick can control these massive vessels. What a change from the old days.
I sure hope you and your wife have perfect weather and an extraordinary time on your next cruise! I can totally understand how hard it would be trying to get ready for dinner with 5 in a cabin. I think Jim said he goes up to the gym to take his shower when he travels with his wife and daughters in one cabin. Whomever it was that said that, I did it on a cruise I took with a friend. It worked out great!
Wow Penny...now that is actually very useful advice (showering in the gym). I hadn't even considered it, but it makes sense.
Actually, my wife and I were just discussing what to do in Cozumel and we are seriously considering taking the Xcaret excursion. I have heard really good things and we really don't have any other great ideas, other than maybe a SNUBA/Snorkeling trip.
Yes Penny, I was the one who said that. It does work out very well. Especially on formal nights when the girls need extra bathroom time to get ready. We have since stopped trying to sail in one cabin but when it was the four of us, I would just go up to the spa/gym locker room and shower there. The showers are much bigger and they have the soap and shampoo just like the cabin. The only thing I needed to bring was a comb and a razor..
Wheels- great review.. don't worry about be wordy... you needed them all! We definitely need to try a back to back... sounds like fun!
================================================== ========== Carnival Cruise Lines:
Fantasy 90, Celebration 95, Victory 05, Conquest 05, Spirit 6/06, Freedom 6/08, Holiday 7/08, Victory 6/09, Valor 9/09, Dream 6/10, Splendor 8/10,Conquest 8/11,Magic 11/11,Triumph 4/12,Spirit 7/12,Freedom 11/12, Triumph 2/13 - The fire cruise, Magic 1/14, Freedom x 2 6/14
NCL Dream October 2006, RCCL Mariner OTS June 2007, Celebrity Silhouette 2013
I just returned from the Elation again and had another wonderful experience on board. We actually had the same cabin steward and he recognized us immediately. It was great to say "Hello again" to the bar and wait staff that we had previously spoken to last month. It was also great to be there with only my wife to worry about. This trip was much more relaxing, although we did miss our children.
The last sea day, I actually broke down and played a table game in the casino that was new to me called "Let it Ride." I ended up hitting a pretty good hand (a full house) and in the end, walked away with a $330 profit! All that money helped pay some extra gratuities to the staff and I still had quite a bit left over.
The only problem was that they made us get off the ship in Mobile and come home. I didn't really enjoy that part too much. Oh well.