Embarkation: We flew into Miami the day before and spent the night at the Intercontinental Miami, a hotel that I would highly recommend. We spent some time Saturday shopping at Bayside Marketplace and had dinner there as well. We checked out Sunday morning and arrived at the port about 11:00. The embarkation process was relatively painless (a big improvement on last year) and we were on board eating lunch by noon.
Ship Condition: My husband and I thought the Elation was a beautiful ship. Although I know some people have complained about the ship's dEcor, I thought that the ship with all its dark woods, brass, and stained glass, was elegantly decorated. I preferred it to the more garish dEcor of the Victory. I also preferred this size of ship. I found that I knew my way around very quickly. The ship definitely felt less crowded than the Victory. We never encountered any long lines anywhere, and there was never a problem getting a chair on deck, even mid-afternoon. I also felt that there were fewer kids on board, and I felt that the class of passenger was a bit higher than what we have encountered on previous Carnival cruises. For example, everyone took the dress code in the dining room seriously; no shorts or jeans were seen all week.Cabin: We were upgraded from a 4A inside guarantee to an outside cabin, and although the decor may be a little dated, the room was spacious and well designed. There was lots of storage and the bed was so comfy. I loved the complimentary bathrobes. One note: there are no hair dryers in the stateroom, so be sure to bring your own.
Staff: As usual, everyone on board was very friendly and accommodating. We called the purser's desk one evening because our air conditioning didn't seem to be functioning well, and someone was sent down to look at it immediately. Our room steward, Pablo, was excellent. He called us by name, kept our stateroom spotless, and always left the usual towel animals. Our dining room wait staff, Kitti and Olga, were both pleasant and efficient. The staff at the Lido deck eateries were accommodating as well. Several times I saw passengers request that the meat on the carving station be cooked well-done; their requests were immediately met.
Food: I think this would be the only area that could use improvement. We thought the breakfast selection on the Lido deck got a bit boring after a few days - your typical bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, hash browns - although they did alternate between French toast and pancakes. The selection in the dining room wasn't much better. We enjoyed lunch on the Lido deck: the cheeseburgers and fries from the grill were delicious, the main lunch buffet was always tasty, and I also enjoyed the Taste of Nations buffet, except for the Mexican. The pizza and deli were good as well. The dining room food varied. The prime rib, filet, beef Wellington, and Chateaubriand were delicious and always cooked perfectly. The chicken and mushroom fettuccine was so rich and creamy. I enjoyed all the desserts- especially the bitter chocolate melting cake...to die for!! Many nights we ordered two appetizers or entrees or desserts and it was never a problem. Other than that, we actually preferred the food on the Lido Deck buffet - it often was fresher and tastier.Entertainment: There were a variety of activities onboard. One of the things I like about a cruise is that you can choose to do as much or as little as you wish. On this cruise, we chose to do little - it was more of a relaxing vacation. I enjoyed the band that played on deck during the day and at Half Moon Cay. We did go to karaoke one evening and had a good time. We attended both the Welcome Aboard and the Past Passenger Party; complimentary cocktails and appetizers at both. We also watched the Not so Newlywed Game, which was funny. The cruise director, Jorge, was pretty good - not to many announcements. My husband attended a golf clinic and then took a golf lesson, and found both to be enjoyable. I did not find the Super Shopper, Joe, to be as entertaining as the Super Shopper, Hector, from the Victory, although he was informative.
Ports of Call: Half Moon Cay was the first port of call and my favorite. It had the finest, softest white sand and the clearest water. I think it spoiled me for all other beaches. It was amazing. We rented a clamshell for $15, had a few drinks, enjoyed the barbeque lunch, and relaxed all day. In St. Thomas, we booked the tour with Godfrey. He picked us up at 9 am and dropped us off downtown where we shopped until noon. Then we went on a two hour tour of the island. He took us to a couple of lookouts with breathtaking views of the harbour and Magen's Bay. We went to the mountaintop where we enjoyed the banana daiquiris - good but not cheap!! (One note: you need to clear immigration in St. Thomas, which is a pain and takes a while - go early!!) San Juan was my husband-s favorite port of call. We took a cab out to El Morro first and explored the fort on our own. Then we spent the rest of the day shopping in Old San Juan, which is very picturesque and charming. We had a great lunch at a little place called Café El Punto - very popular with the locals. At the last stop, Grand Turk, we booked the dune buggy tour through the ship - not something I usually do as I prefer to book independently. The tour was pricey at $200.00 and a little disappointing. It was a cool way to see the island, but Grand Turk is largely undeveloped and there really isn't much to see. There was also very little off-roading; for 90% of the time we simply drove along the paved road. The island itself is pretty flat and more barren than St. Thomas or Jamaica, but the water is gorgeous and the views from the lighthouse and around the island were spectacular.
Disembarkation: We used the self-disembarkation process which was relatively quick but not painless - trying to lug all that luggage down escalators is not easy. But we still prefer this method of disembarkation to waiting to be called.
In summary, we really enjoyed this cruise. We find Carnival to be excellent value for the money and I'm sure this will not be our last Carnival cruise!!!