We drove from Chicago to New Orleans and stayed the evening before the cruise at the Hilton at the Convention Center because of its proximity to the cruise terminal. It wasn't easy but we were able to walk (with roller luggage) from the Hilton to the cruise terminal via the RiverWalk Mall. The Hilton is a beautiful hotel and it was bustling with guests in town for the Sugar Bowl.
We hadn't cruised Carnival since our honeymoon (1989) and so we were not in their computer system as past Carnival customers. We emailed then a picture of us on the debarkation ramp in Puerto Rico on the Jubilee and they eventually gave us the discount!
We knew the Elation was an older and smaller ship then some of the other cruises we have enjoyed but figured with two teenagers, it would be fun (and the prices were very competitive). We booked late (around Thanksgiving) but were able to get two interior cabins next to each other on the Empress deck. The furnishings and bathroom fixtures were a bit dated but clean and functional.
The Carnival staff were terrific and fun. The positive experiences started right away when I discovered my CPAP machine was broken. I dreaded the thought of 5 days without the machine and went to the medical center to see what they could do. I was shocked to see they had 5 CPAP machines on the shelf available for rental - absolutely saved me!
We choose anytime dining and never waited more than 20 minutes - a few nights we were seated right away. The food and wait service was outstanding. My wife and daughters have gluten sensitivities and we informed the hostess we would do our best choosing things from the menu that were gluten free. Instead, the hostess took my family's dinner order a day in advance and had the chef prepare their meals gluten-free! The lengths they went to ensure my wife and daughters had a delicious gluten-free meal each night was amazing. For breakfast and lunch we ate from the buffet which had good food - nothing special but certainly tasty.
We also availed ourselves of the fitness center - medium size and with new cardio machines; my wife and daughters took two Pilates classes (extra charge) and said the instructors were good. Our daughters (ages 15 and 13) thought about the kid's activities but the teenage club was 15-17 and the tween club was 12-14 so since they couldn't be together they didn't try them. (My 13 year old looks old enough and my daughters told them they were fraternal twins but the staff looked up their ages and denied my 13 year old admittance to the older kid club). Instead, they hung out with us most of the time sun bathing, shopping, dancing at Lido deck parties, hot tubbing, playing trivia games and watching karaoke. The cruise director was fun and the live games involving passengers were hilarious as were the two comedians on board. The sing and dance shows in the Makedo showroom were a little dated and sub par (literally the only knock on this cruise).
We didn't book any shore excursions (we book independently) but only wanted to lay on the beach this short trip anyway. From reading port reviews we knew there wasn't much in Progreso beyond a trip to the Mayan ruins or shopping. We did neither. We took the free shuttle to town and then walked to the public beach. Nice and lively atmosphere as there were several dozen passengers from the ship with the same idea. We landed at a place called Tommy's on the beach (main building and bathrooms) across the street. The drinks and chis and salsa were very good and the service top notch. We enjoyed the warm weather and spent about an hour shopping in town before heading back to the ship for dinner and then the New Year's Eve party on Lido.
From reading port reviews, it sounded like we would have our choice of several private beach clubs on the western shore of Cozumel. We took a taxi to the Ocean Beach Club...it didn't look like much and the place was adjacent to other Beach Club. We walked next door to San Francisco club but the place next to it looked nicer still. We ended up at the Paradise Beach Club and felt lucky we had kept walking south along the beach. Beautiful club with lots of water inflatable toys, kayaks, slides, snorkeling, etc. Wave runner and para-sailing next door (separate contractor) if you wanted. Paradise also had a huge outdoor pool and bar behind the beach area where the water was clear and warmer then the gulf - plus the bathrooms were very modern and clean. Besides Carnival passengers, there were a lot of passengers from the Celebrity X Cruise ships docked in Cozumel too. Worth the $15 taxi ride each way form the cruise terminal, highly recommend.