Embarkation was a breeze! It seems to be getting easier and easier each year. We registered with the Fun Pass and I don't know if that made any difference, but we almost just walked onto the ship. We were able to board at 11:30 but staterooms were not available until 1:00 which wasn't that bad, but we were still hauling around our carry-ons and wanted to drop them off in the room. Once we did that it was easier to explore the ship.
This was my fifth and my family's fourth cruise with Carnival. While this is not our favorite cruiseline, we still have a good time - after all, how can you not have a good time on a cruise (barring recent problems at sea of course!). We really enjoyed the ports of call for this trip.
We travelled with 2 other families and varying ages of children (there were 4 13-year old boys and 4 girls - 21, 19, 16, and 14). With these ages, the children didn't care to go into Camp Carnival but there was still plenty of activities for them to do (basketball, miniature golf, hanging out & getting ice cream and pizza with other kids they met on the ship, etc.).
The Elation is a nice ship - with really glitzy decor. For being an "older" ship, it did not show an excessive amount of wear and you could always see a crew member cleaning or polishing something. The staff in all areas were friendly and helpful.
Our room steward, Pablo, was great - he quickly adapted to our late-rising family and would slip in and clean the room when we finally would set off for either the port of call or some ship activity. In the dining room, our waiter and busboy worked well as a team and Chuck (the busboy) was always there when anyone needed anything. The Elation really needs to work on their dining room menu - it is better than what Carnival used to be but the variety of items they offer sometimes can be quite strange. The flavor of their food could use a little bit more taste. Dessert, which is one of my most favorite things on a cruise, is not very good on the Elation. But this is pretty much true for the other Carnival ships we've been on. Dessert is bland at best or seems like the "generic brand." There were a couple of dessert items that were good but there was no consistency there.
The first formal night was nice and the passed hors-d'oevres and drinks were very good. We also attended a past-cruisers' party which was nice because they recognized all of the ships in Carnival's fleet as well as the history of the company which was interesting. The drinks and hors-d'oevres for this event were ok at best.
The entertainment was only so-so with the exception of the Elation dancers. The shows done by the dancers were very professional and I think they did a great job. The other entertainment on the ship was not up to the level we usually see on all the other ships. One of the comedians, I can't remember his name but he was a young guy and had CP, was very funny - but the other entertainment was, well, not very entertaining. This was a disappointment because we look forward to the evening entertainment which for the most part has been excellent across the board for any of the other ships we've been on.
My only problem with this itinerary (and this is not a major issue) is that there is not a full day at sea the 1st day of the cruise. This day is always best at sea so that you can become familiar with what is on the ship and you have adequate time to get dressed up for the 1st formal night. Other than that, our 1st port of call was the best! We have been fortunate to visit Half Moon Cay (the cruise line's private island) on Holland America cruises. Half Moon Cay was Holland America's private island before Holland America was purchased by Carnival. Every time we go there - the weather is perfect and there's not a bad spot on the beach.
The following day was a full day at sea, it was nice to catch your breath and relax. The next port was St. Thomas, also a great port - and we had 12 hours to spend here. We loaded all of our families into a open-air bus and went to Sapphire Beach resort. This is truly one of the most beautiful beaches we have been to - with views of St. John and other Virgin Islands. There is a rocky area right off the beach to snorkel and see lots of different kinds of fish darting in and out of the rocks. The only cost is the taxi driver - admission to the beach is free - there is a stand there where you can rent snorkeling equipment and chairs. The restaurant was closed when we were there this time and we really couldn't get an answer as to why - just that there was a problem and it was closed down for right now. hmmmm...
Our next port was San Juan, Puerto Rico. Before going on the cruise, I had a few people tell me that it was dirty but I really didn't seem to find it that way. All of the buildings are close together but almost everything is within walking distance of the ship. We ventured out on our own to the fort which had some tremendous views from the top - there were ship tours available that included the fort, but we walked there and paid a total of $6 to get in ($3 each for my husband and myself) and the kids (15 and under were free). We did notice that it was pretty steep the farther into the island we got, so we got our exercise that day! After the hike, we decided we deserved a drink and went to Senor Frogs - always lots of fun and good food.
Our last port was Grand Turk - a new port added by Carnival. I think that this port has potential. The beach is right as you walk off of the ship and all the chairs and clamshells are free (except a tip to the guys who move them around for you on the beach). We had a slight run-in with other passengers - her and her husband were quite nasty accusing us of taking their clamshell. Our friends had gotten to the beach early and tipped one of the guys on the beach to put 3 clamshells together so we could all sit together - nobody took anything from anybody but nonetheless, the woman was very nasty call us "stupid typical Americans" but that was the only English we understood from her and her husband, besides when we asked her where she was from and she told us Italy. Oh well. After spending some time at the beach, we moved up to the pool at Jimmy Buffett's and had some really good margaritas. They had a Miss and Mr. Margaritaville contest which was very interesting to say the least - we had a lot of fun there.
Coming off of the pier from the ship, if you go to the right and walk down the beach a ways, you'll come to an area with a ton of discarded conch shells. They look pretty weathered, but you are free to take one home a souvenir. They look like shells discarded by locals making the island's specialty - cracked conch (but that is just my take on it).
Sitting up by Jimmy Buffett's, we were talking to a couple who took a 10-minute taxi ride to a beach just past Governor's beach where they said it wasn't crowded and there were a lot of fish to look at while snorkeling. So if we go to this port again, we may take their advice.
Our last day on the ship was a day at sea - it was sad because we knew that we didn't have much more time left for vacation.
Overall, we had a good time and will definitely be cruising again soon!