This was my 3rd cruise. The first cruise was 25 years ago. The second was 4 years ago, on the Carnival Paradise. We absolutely loved that cruise, which was part of the reason we decided to book this cruise on the Elation, since it's a sister ship.
There were 14 of us traveling together, including my wife & I, our 3 kids (20, 18, and 14), my mom, aunt, uncle (all 70 +), and a bunch of other relatives.
We chose to fly into Ft. Lauderdale, and got shuttled to Miami. The airline lost several of our bags, which could have been a disaster. But Carnival was right on top of it, helped track down the bags, and took responsibility of getting them, and delivering them to the ship. We were very impressed when it worked out smoothly!
When we got off the bus in Miami, we were yelled at by the baggage handlers, telling us not to touch the bags. Then, they all aggressively tried to force us to give them tips. I grabbed my carry on bags, and walked away. I wasn't about to tip them for their rude behavior!
The check in line moved quickly, and we were onboard in about 15 to 20 minutes. Since this was our 2nd cruise of this nature, we were ready for the evacuation drill, which went painlessly.
Our rooms were fine. Clean, good condition, and overall well maintained. My wife and I had an inside cabin, which we'll never do again! We hated not being able to look outside. No matter what time we woke up, you couldn't sense whether it was day or night, sunny or rainy, etc. Next time, we'll pay the extra $$$ to get a real window.
However, we were VERY disappointed with the beds. Carnival brags about their great beds, and how well made they are, comfortable, etc. Yet ours were as hard as the floor (not exaggerating!) I have back problems, so a good bed is very important to me. Meanwhile, the rest of our group had great beds. I guess it was bad luck on our part.
Since we were already familiar with the ship layout, there wasn't a lot of exploring we needed to do. The ship seemed well kept, but wasn't as spick-and-span as the Paradise had been. The windows on the Promenade deck and in the dining room were dirty, to the point you could barely see out of them.
Another disappointment for us was smoke. The Paradise was smoke-free, which was wonderful. We could go anywhere we wanted on that ship, without choking on smoke. Not so with the Elation. The Casino, and most of the lounges allowed smoking, and it permeated into the Promenade area. In the evenings, it was hard to escape the smell of smoke.
We chose the early dining, which for us was 6:15. We've learned from past experience that the selections on the Buffet aren't always as good as in the dining room, so we ate there every night. The food was typically very good, and most of the time, the selections were great as well. There were a few nights where it was hard to choose what to get, because we wanted everything, and one or two nights where nothing really appealed to us, and we had to just pick something. But the food was still pretty good. My 8 year old niece was extremely disappointed that she couldn't get grilled cheese, and had to make due with Chicken Nuggets every night instead!
Our waiter was just ok. Nothing special, but not really bad, either. Again, our waiter on the Paradise was fabulous, so it was tough not comparing. Our drink server was horrible! Most nights she's show up for our drink orders after we'd been sitting for quite a while, and would bring our drinks while we were having deserts. So we quit even trying. We'd bring our drinks in with us, to be on the safe side.
The shows were very good, and as others have commented, there seems to always be something to do, nearly every minute of the day or night. Jorge (the cruise director) is one of the funniest guys you ever want to listen to. But some of the comedians were downright terrible. There was a hypnotist that was ok, and a juggler that was outright amazing. So overall, we found the evening entertainment to be pretty good.
One major complaint that we had on the Paradise as well as the Elation was lack of activities for teenage boys. My son was bored to tears on both cruises - especially when at sea. It would have been better for him if we'd gone on a Royal Caribbean cruise, where there are more athletic activities to entertain his genre.
Another complaint is the temperature in the gym. My son and I went there 4 out of the 5 days, and it was ALWAYS hot there. The equipment was excellent, and the staff very friendly and helpful.
One of my favorite things about this crew was the intermingling with the staff. Every time we went to the gym, there would be members of the dance team working out. It showed their dedication, as well as made us feel somewhat special to be able to work out along side them. They were very friendly and approachable, too.
The destinations were great. We enjoyed Half-moon Cay. The only objection was the tenders, which took forever to get everyone back to the ship, leaving us standing for a very long time in the baking sun.
St. Thomas and St. John were great, and will definitely merit a return visit in the near future.
San Juan was pretty interesting. My wife and I didn't book an excursion there, we walked off the ship, and got on a bus-tour. There were lots of them waiting right there, and for $10 each, gave a great 2 hour plus tour of the local area. The driver was exceptional, and explained everything we could ask for about the area. He would stop for pictures any time we asked.
Grand Turk was beautiful. We took an excursion driving the mini "aqua" boats. The water was very rough that day (the roughest our guide said he's ever experienced), so the ride was very rough. But we enjoyed it very much, and would recommend it highly.
And the there's Margaritaville! This is the 3rd Margaritaville I've been to, and I love them all. The giant pool is awesome, and we could easily have spent all our time (and money!) there.
Debarkation was a breeze. When we left the Paradise, it was a long, drawn out affair. But not this time! We ate a leisurely breakfast, and were off the ship by 9:30. The only hassle was getting our luggage out of the giant warehouse area they dropped them off at. But it could have been worse.
In Summary, it was a great trip. The ship and crew paled slightly in comparison to our previous experience on the Paradise, but not enough to tarnish the experience. I think the waiters and room stewards are luck of the draw, and on the Paradise, we lucked out, and on the Elation, we weren't quite as lucky.
Our next cruise will probably be on Royal Caribbean, just so we can see if it's better or not. Carnival is less expensive, and perhaps you get what you pay for. Only time will tell.