Let me preface this by saying that we have been on several cruises from many different lines. I am a former travel agency owner, and we used to live in South Florida, so I've had the opportunity to cruise on many ships, and tour many more. I have always been a fan of Carnival, and have cruised with them way back in the days of the "Carnivale" and "Mardi Gras". We always have had fun with them. I am very critical in most of my reviews, and I try to point out the bad and the good. As far as food goes, I am picky, and I expect GREAT food on cruises. So please gauge this review understanding these facts. Here it goes.....
We booked this cruise several months ago under Carnival's military appreciation rates. We were traveling with another family of 5 along with my wife and three kids. (We tend to book Carnival when we are traveling with the kids because they allow 5 per cabin on some of their ships when other lines with the exception of NCL do not) Our friends were first time cruisers, and it's always fun going with someone who is cruising for the first time. We booked a Cat 6A (Oceanview) with a guaranteed room assignment on the Riviera Deck (R49). I think that with the exception of travel agent rates, this is the best rate I have ever received for 5 at just over 1900 for the 5 of us including taxes.
We traveled to FL 10 days prior to the cruise and stayed in a time-share in Fort Lauderdale. Being originally from Fort Lauderdale, we spent the time visiting friends and family. As far as transportation goes, we rented from Alamo in FLL and turned in the car at the Miami airport where a shuttle was provided to the ship at no charge. It was quite painless.
Having completed the "Fun Pass", embarkation was a breeze with less than a 10 minute wait in line. We were on the ship in just over 20 minutes total. Having been on many "Fantasy-class" ships before, I knew exactly where our cabin was, but I was disappointed a bit that there wasn't crew members lined up ready to escort you to your rooms as has occurred on other ships. I would imagine it would have been more difficult to find the room had we never been before.
The cabin was of typical Carnival style, and the beds were configured as a king upon arrival. I will note that the cabin did show it's age. The walls and closed doors were marred, and the carpet somewhat worn. The bathroom tile was old looking and discolored as was the sink which was chipped, repaired, and chipped more. The cabin was clean however, and that's really what counts. Keep in mind that the Elation is 8 years old, and signs of age is to be expected. The television was old as well and seems to have lost most of its brightness and color. There was no way of adjusting this, and I attribute it to it's age. We were able to watch the channels though, and I was glad that local programming and CNN, Cartoon Network and TNT was available most of the week though. Funny that the local channels available were from Denver, CO. I wonder why that is? Although there were five of us, and the Steward had a roll away bed out in the hall, I told him not to put it in the room as my 6-year old son would sleep in our bed anyhow. We needed all the floor space we could get, and I'm afraid a roll away would have taken up what little space was left. By the way, I love the new Carnival Comfort bedding and linens. This was a great change for Carnival. Very Comfortable! Gone are those gross, re-used bed spreads!
After dropping by the cabin, we set off for Tiffany's for lunch. I'll comment now on the food at Tiffany's. We usually ate breakfast there, and occasionally lunch at their "Taste of the Nations Buffet" This buffet was available daily, and featured a different country each day. (They were Indian, French, American, Mexican, German, not sure what else) The food was always pretty good, and we enjoyed the Indian food the best. On the other side of Tiffany's there was the typical American food buffet with roast beef, fish, etc. I don't think we ever got food from that side. We typically sat outside behind the 24hour pizza and sub place. This was rarely crowded, and had a nice view off the back of the ship. Also available at Tiffany's was 24-hour soft serve ice cream and yogurt as well as coffee and Ice Tea, lemonade, etc. There was also a salad and desert bar in the center. Breakfast at Tiffany's was the same daily with scrambled eggs (Not that great), hash brown discs, bacon, sausage, and either french toast or pancakes. If you wanted a cooked to order omelet, you could go outside to the pool side cafe. The omelets were always pretty good. During lunch, the poolside cafe had hot dogs, hamburgers, grilled chicken breasts, salads, etc. Also, I will say that Carnival must have bought the McDonalds recipe for french fries, because they were the closet thing to McD's fries that I have ever had! The kids loved them!
We did take advantage of room service several times, and the food was great. I mostly loved the Roast Beef and Brie sandwiches! I noticed that Carnival has broadened the room service selection as well. I will also say that the time and ease of ordering has improved greatly. We never waited more than 15 minutes for delivery. (Even my 8-year old daughter ordered by herself one night) Everything is by number, so language barriers aren't a problem. When the room service is delivered, the server asks you to sign a bill that reads 0.00. To add gratuities to this bill, you simply have to write it in on the bill.
We were assigned to the Imagination Dining room at the 6:15 seating. I will say that eating in the Dining room is my favorite part of cruising, and the Elation did not disappoint! Our table staff was fantastic. The waiter was from Thailand, and the assistant from the Philippines. They did a great job, had our drinks ready every night, and even kept the kids entertained with napkin folding. Carnival did a great job with the food. Sure, there were occasions when I didn't like something, but it's not because it was bad, it's simply because I didn't like it. The waiter was more than happy to bring something else, or sometimes two of something from time to time We ordered wine each night with dinner, and although the wine menu is pricey, we enjoyed it. (The waiter always took care of the wine order. This was different than on previous cruises where there was a wine steward) The menu selections were great, and there was always alternate choices on the bottom of the menu. For example, if you wanted shrimp cocktail and a New York Strip every night, this was available). Once we told the waiter we enjoyed cappuccino after dinner, they had it ready every night without asking.
During the 7-day cruise, there were three nights when the ships dance company performed. They did a brief opening show on the first night, and two additional shows. Although there were pretty decent, I found myself being bored. Maybe I'm just getting too picky with these types of shows. The comedians however, were fantastic, and I wish their shows were longer. Over the 7-days, there were three different comedians, and they all were pretty darn funny. One tip here, is get seats early for any of the shows, and there are many places in the Mikado lounge that are blocked by poles. Also, there was a juggler one night who was very good. The kids really enjoyed this show.
Our cruise director on this cruise was Gustav "Goose" Neumann. I think he did a great job. He really didn't have a specialty (ie magic or comedy) like other cruise directors we've had, but he was good nonetheless. The kids were disappointed that there was no magic act during the week. His staff was also pretty good, although we never really had any direct interaction.
Let me say that I think that this was the major disappointment of the cruise. I have always rated Carnival very high in their Camp Carnival program, but this was an exception. I will say that most of this can probably be attributed to the fact that there were VERY few kids on this cruise. My kids are ages 6, 8 and 11, and they always couldn't wait to go to Camp Carnival. Not on this trip. Most of the time, they said it was boring, and all they would do was watch a movie. My 11 year old could sign in and out himself, and he rarely signed in. The other two spent very little time there after realizing how boring it was for them. Our friends had a 16 year old with them, and there were probably less than 12 teenagers on the whole ship. The Club O2 teen functions were nearly nonexistent.
For Friday night, Camp Carnival sent an invitation to the room advertising an all night Halloween party. It was 26.00 for the 11 year old from 10p - 330a, and 4.00 per hour for the siblings. The 11 year old had fun with about 10 other kids. The other two signed in at 10 for two hours, and what was supposed to be a party turned out to be two hours of watching tv. They charged me 16 dollars for this, and I complained to the Purser, but they wouldn't remove the charge telling me I have to write to Customer Service.
Like I said earlier, the ship is showing its age. Yes it's true, that a previous review stated there is always someone cleaning, and overall, the ship was clean, but there are many of the public areas, elevators and hallways that are marred, stained, dented, graffiti scratched in the metal surfaces of the elevators, etc. To me, CLEAN is the most important characteristic, and the ship was clean.
PORTS OF CALL
HALF MOON CAY
We have been to HMC before on a HAL cruise. I will say that they have made many improvements, and this was by far my favorite stop. The island is very clean, and the sand and water was outstanding. Soft white sand, ample chaise lounges, and even a water slide area with floatable toys for the kids. I am very impressed with all of the improvements here. We spent a few hours here which is about all the sun and sand exposure I can handle. We returned to the ship for lunch and a nap! (My little ones need a nap after spending time on the beach) Tender service was painless, and allows for some great photos of the ship.
Having been to St Thomas and St John many times, we opted to look on our own for a cab driver to give us a private tour in their open air "Safari trucks" There were ten of us, 4 adults and 6 kids. After you walk off the ship, and away from the taxi staging area, it's pretty easy to find drivers to bargain with. After some negotiating, we found a driver to take all of us for an island tour, with a beach stop at Megans Bay. He agreed to return at a given time to take us back to the ship, and stated we didn't have to pay him until he took us back to insure his return. The price for the island tour and transportation was 25.00 per adult and 0 for the kids. This was a great deal since the ships excursion price would have been quadruple that considering the kids being charged too. Our driver was Ross Webster, and I got his email and phone numbers if anyone is interested in contacting him to make arrangements. (firstname.lastname@example.org Cell 340-998-6296 Home 340-714-7290) He did a great job, and offered many stops along the way for photos, drinks, etc. He picked us up at the promised time. I will also add that when he returned us to the ship, we told him we wanted to shower, drop the kids off, and return to the downtown area for shopping. He said he would wait for us. I told him that if he had a better fare to go ahead and take it. We returned after an hour, and there he was waiting for us. We got all the way downtown and it started to rain very hard. He stopped the truck, and got out to pull town the side panels to keep us dry (getting soaked himself). He recommended we return to the ship as we would get soaked trying to shop. It took about 30 mins to get back to the ship with all the traffic, and when he dropped us off, we expected to pay a round trip fare, and he wouldn't take ANY money at all. We forced him to take a gratuity anyhow, and he was very appreciative. I was very impressed with this as this experience has been rare on other trips we have taken where they will bleed you for every dime. He also gave us a tip that liquor was cheapest at the local K-mart. Once it stopped raining, we walked over there, and he was right! Who would have thought that a K-mart would sell hard liquor?
We got off the boat in San Juan, and just hired our own driver for 10.00 per person for a City Tour which lasted about 1 hour. He crammed 10 of us in a 7 passenger van, so it probably wasn't that great of a deal, but still cheaper than the Cruise excursion. He dropped us off at El Morro, and we toured the fort, and walked back to the ship from there. San Juan is a very dirty city, with loads of graffiti everywhere. That's the last time I'll get off the ship in that Port!
This was our first time at GT as this is a new stop for the cruise lines. I was impressed, although we didn't leave the cruise center area. We rented a mask and snorkel at a little gift shop for 10.00 for the day, and parked ourselves on the beach. The chairs and clam shells are free, and the water is clearer as any other place we've been. The beach is a short walk from the ship, and the ship is basically at the pier right in front of you. The sand is different than HMC, and is more coarse kind of like Florida sand. The beach is also rockier, unlike HMC. After a while on the beach, we relocated to Margaritaville, with is right behind the beach. The kids played in the pool for a while and we watched the entertainment with DJ. It soon became R-Rated, and we figured it was time to get the kids outta there. Beware, the drinks at Margaritaville are VERY expensive. We got a Margarita in one of their whale bone cups, and it was 15.00! Refills were 10.00. We didn't venture out of the cruise center area on this trip. Maybe on a future visit.
I always enjoy the sea days. We used the time to lay out on deck, and sleep in. Carnival is pretty anal about the beach towels. You are left one towel per person in you room, or you can sign them out by the pool. (The ones by the pool have to be turned in by the pool by 6pm daily) If you don't return them, they charge you 22.00. I guess they had a problem with people stealing them. I didn't spend much time in the Casino, but I noticed they had 2 cent and 5 cent slots, a couple Blackjack tables, a Let it Ride table, and a roulette and craps table. They also had two poker tables near the Cole Porter lounge which always seemed full.
GIFT SHOP CONCESSIONS
The same company runs all the gift concessions on most all the cruise lines. Their prices seemed okay, and I bought a Citizen watch onboard. They offer a 1 year unconditional money back and price match guarantee which is pretty good. I think their diamond and jewelry prices were fairly high though.
There were many different photo stations every night, especially on formal nights. We spent 200 easy on photos. I am appalled at the prices they charge thought at 19.99 for an 8X10. I guess the price is so high due to the amount of theft that goes on. The photos that walk away from the photo gallery is staggering. The way it is set up makes it very easy I suppose. (On a previous cruise with NCL, they had a special only on the first day where you could pay 199 up front, and ALL Photos taken of you were included. This is a great deal, and Carnival should consider this. Come on, they throw the unwanted photos away anyhow!
I want to take a minute to compliment "Bernard" who was a waiter from India in the Imagination Dining room during lunch one afternoon. We got up after finishing lunch and left our camera on the table. He quickly turned it in to the Pursers desk when it would have been very easy for him to be dishonest and keep it. Once we realized it was missing, we of course feared the worst, and started backtracking. I met up with Bernard later that night, and tried to give him some money for being so honest. He initially refused by at my repeated insistence, he took the money, and we were very grateful.
We did have one very negative experience with a member of the Security Staff. When we came back to the ship from San Juan, I walked through the metal detector and my camera which was on my belt set it off. A security officer "wanded" me and when he found the camera, he reprimanded me saying it had to be x-rayed. I told him I was fine with that, but that this was the first time I was asked to do that. I had passed several times before, and just waived through once they saw the camera. He proceeded to remove the camera from my belt. He tossed in on the X-ray conveyer belt (Not in any container), and when it came out on the other side, it fell right to the floor. He just chuckled and walked away and I WAS LIVID!! I made a scene and asked for his name, and told him "what for", and also told a "Security Supervisor" that was standing nearby. The supervisor wrote down my cabin number, and that was it. I reported the indecent to the Pursers Desk, and they again wrote my cabin number, but I never received a follow up. The camera suffered some scratches, but seems to work ok. I intend to write to Carnival about this, so we'll see what is said.
The announcements from "Jake" the assistant cruise director started at 730 am in all the cabins. We couldn't use the self-debarkation process as we just had too much luggage. So we put our bags out the night before, and got up around 8am and had breakfast. About 9am the ship was totally cleared, and they were making final calls for EVERYONE to get off. It took about 30 minutes to claim the luggage, clear customs and get out of the terminal. Once outside, we caught a Thrifty Car rental shuttle to the airport where we rented a car for one day, turning it in on Monday morning in Fort Lauderdale for our return flight home.
Carnival did a great job, and we really couldn't beat the value of this cruise. Yes, the ship isn't one of the "mega" ships by today's standards, but is very nice for the money we paid. I think the Elation will do very well with the 4-5 day cruises from Port Canaveral which caters to mostly first time cruisers. The crew was great and looking forward to their re-position to Central Florida where they were going to enjoy a passengerless night at sea where I understand that Carnival was opening the bars and casino for their use and well deserved break.
We had a great vacation and a great cruise once again, and of course I always look forward to our next cruise with Carnival. We are looking at a European cruise for next year!
Cheers, and smooth sailing!