We just recently returned from our first cruise on Elation out of NOLA.
Food: We were assigned to the Imagination dining room and had early dining at 6 pm. We ate in the MDR every night, had breakfast all but one morning there, are one lunch. I liked eating breakfast there because it was quiet and it's open seating, so we were seated by the window. We ate less in Tiffany's because it was always so crowded, but when we did eat there, we went to the small deck area just behind the pizza place (overlooking Serenity). We were really happy with all of the food. The only meal I wasn't crazy about was the Prime Rib ordered one night. For red meat, the steak on the regular menu was better. There were more options between the regular and daily than I even anticipated. From a vacation in general standpoint, I liked the convenience of all-one-stop instead of deciding where we'd eat, etc., like when we are on a vacation at the beach. I bought my kids Unlimited Bubbles, and they showed the sticker the first night, and after that, they were good. I enjoyed some of the appetizers and desserts probably more than anything.
Room: We had an oceanview room and agreed that we would have preferred a balcony, but since it was our first cruise experience, I did not choose that. There are less balcony rooms on The Elation than other ships (which I didn't realize), and the upgrade was pretty substantial (like $1000). The room itself was great. I was worried about space, but mostly we just slept there, so it didn't matter. We had a bunk pull-down and a rollaway, and everybody was fine. The only problem we encountered (not a problem, really, but space-wise, an issue) was everybody taking so long in the bathroom before dinner. I am the only girl, so I wound up being affected mostly, and wound up getting ready first and then going to sit somewhere like the library or the atrium waiting for the rest of them to finish. Formal night was the longest because it took my teenage boys so long to tie their ties and whatever. The room was great, but next time, we'll try to get connecting rooms or them a bunk room across the hall. Lots of families seemed to be doing that. There was plenty of closet space, hangers, drawer space, and medicine cabinet space. We had no problems at all with the room. The bedding was great. The steward came every morning as soon as we left (how do they *know* ;P) and put away the bunk and rollaway, so it wasn't in the way. The only hiccup with that was the first morning because I let them sleep in, so they slept through his morning run. We didn't need much, but when we did have questions (i.e. we only had two beach towels in our room), the steward was prompt and took care of everything quickly.
Shows: We didn't see many, and I was not a big fan anyway, but my kids really loved what they saw and enjoyed the comedian they saw. We tried to stay for the 9:30 show, but it was not family, and they IDd my teens, so even though I was the parent who didn't mind, we could not stay. Some of our tablemates went to most of the shows, and they seemed to really enjoy them.
Decks: Music is really loud everywhere, and I was disappointed in the Serenity Deck. The attraction is that it's adult only, but I was looking forward to quiet in general, and they had music piped in there, so it was still loud. They do have a nice shaded part in the back (and shade was not always found easily), and all the chairs are cushioned there.
Pools/Hot Tubs: We did not use them much, but the pool on top AFT was super cold; it felt great when we got really hot. The Lido area was so busy that we never hung out there. We mostly used the chairs on the very top and on the other side of the putt putt area where the jogging track goes. I liked that area especially because the chairs are all just lined up in a row, so you have a great view and not a lot of people around.
Other activities: We did not use the youth activities, but I occasionally saw some groups traveling around, and the kids seemed to be enjoying themselves a lot, and the adult/kid ratio was like 1:5 for the age groups I saw mostly (which were older - probably 9-12). My boys played putt putt a lot. The atrium was great for people-watching. I saw people playing board games in the library quite a bit, too. We thought we'd go to the gym, but we never got around to it. I also did not use the spa services, but I walked through it. I would have used the sauna if they'd had a co-ed area, but I didn't this time.
This was our first cruise ever, and we all enjoyed it. My husband and I agreed that it far exceeded our expectations. I think the actual convenience of everything so nearby was probably the best. We have already booked another cruise for May just the two of us.
I really pared down my packing list. We got everything into two duffel bags (not military - just regular) and carried on.