As a past guest, I regularly get emails from Carnival, but when I saw a four-night cruise out of New Orleans for only $199, I had to go for it! We cruised during Veterans Day weekend, so we had an extra day off of work, which made it even better. Also, our hometown was cold and wet, and warm and beautiful Cozumel was calling me!
My husband, two-year-old son and I had an oceanview suite on the Empress deck. We originally booked on a lower deck and were offered the upgrade for only $20. It was a great buy -- Empress was close to everything and the room we had was designated handicapped, so the shower was extra-large.
We are from Mobile County, Alabama, so New Orleans was only a short 2+ hour drive. Parking at the cruise terminal was easy. The porter who took our bags was very nice -- and seemed to really appreciate the tip we gave him. The embarkation line was pretty fast, until we got to the counter. We spent at least 15 minutes at the counter because the Carnival check-in employees were apparently new and were in the beginning stages of being trained to check-in guests. Not only was this time-consuming, but I was embarassed for the new employees, who were older ladies and occassionally made mistakes and were scrutinized in front of us. I wish Carnival leaders would train staff behind the scenes, and only allow them to interact with guests when they are fairly well-trained. I understand the value of training in a real-world situation, but these ladies were clearly at the very beginning stages of their training and they did not have the basic building blocks of their jobs down pat yet. It was like Carnival had thrown them to the wolves! We tried to be very understanding wolves, though.
When we finally were checked in (note that when we have cruised from Mobile, this only took 5 minutes or so -- I always have everything completed in advance), it was a quick walk to the ship and lunch! The lines for lunch were long but we enjoyed the food. The pizza at Tiffany's was pretty tasty but there was a lot of competition for a slice! The reubens at the deli are delish.
Our cabin was clean and comfortable. The room steward had a roll-away bed ready for our son. The cabin could use some TLC (some of the drawer pulls were broken), but I appreciated the closet space, large bathroom, location, etc. No hair dryer in the room (glad I knew to expect this from the cruise boards), some toiletries, soap, shampoo, body wash, etc.
We ate in the dining room nearly every day for lunch and dinner, and enjoyed the dining room offerings. Yes, some of the food could have been better, but most was fine. For $199 per person, the food was a good value. You get what you pay for....had I paid a lot for the cruise, I probably would have been a little disappointed. I would say the food is on par with Ruby Tuesday, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, etc. Not fine cuisine, but decent.
Dining room staff were very friendly to our son, even though he was not always perfectly behaved. We had to cut meals short a few times because we didn't want to interrupt other guests with his behavior issues, but I would say overall he did well.
We ate in Tiffany's a few times and it was decent. It was a good place to take our son because he could get a little rowdy and it was loud enough in there that it didn't bother other guests. Also, Charlie loved all the chocolate milk, fruit on the salad bar, ice cream, etc.
We ordered room service twice and were pleased with the speedy delivery, quality of food, etc.
With regard to activities, we attended one "clean" comedy show and enjoyed it. We did not see any of the production shows -- we have seen them in the past and found them to be so-so.
We were very pleased with the Camp Carnival staff, hours of operation, camp activities, etc. Our son made several crafts and enjoyed the toys and other children. While the little guy was at camp, my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed relaxing on the Serenity Deck, borrowing books from the library (very good selection of titles), etc.
My favorite part of the cruise was visiting Cozumel. We have been to Cozumel at least three other times but this was our best visit yet. The first two times, we booked snorkeling excursions through Carnival, and had a great time. Last time, we just shopped, and also had fun. This time, however, we took a cab to Playa Palancar, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The beach was sandy and clean, with no rocks; there were very few people there; the water was a gorgeous shade of turquoise; the servers were terrific; the guacamole was yummy and drinks were cold; and it was basically my idea of paradise. Visiting the private beach was free, less the $25 cab fare (one-way). However, you were encouraged to buy food, drinks, activities, massages, etc. We were asked once about a snorkeling trip and once about a massage -- when we said no, we were never asked again. However, we ordered a moderate amount of food and drink to "pay" for our stay at the beach. It was more than fair -- we spent about $14 on food and drinks, and I gave the server a $20. All in all, including cab fare we spent $70 on this beach trip, which was way cheaper than any of the beach excursions offered by Carnival.
Playa Palancar is not a great snorkeling beach, because it is sandy, but there is snorkeling nearby and the beach club offers excursions, like I said. However, we were thrilled to sit in beach chairs, with toes in the water, and watch our son play! It was a perfect beach experience.
After Playa Palancar, we visited the Viva Mexico store, which is on the same main boulevard as the cruise ship pier. Viva Mexico has an incredible selection of locally-made, authentic handicrafts at great prices. The store employees are very helpful -- maybe too helpful -- one associate accompanies you as you peruse the store. However, prices are clearly marked and are very fair. They accept U.S. dollars, credit and debit cards. However, my debit card would not work because (I later found out) my bank would not allow international use -- so a pretty spendy shopping trip was quickly downsized to only a few things that I could buy with the cash I had on hand. I regrettably had left my credit card on the ship....I will learn from that lesson next time.
I love Cozumel and wish the ship stayed there for much longer than only 8 or 10 hours!! The people are so friendly, I feel safe walking in the busy areas, and the beaches and natural wonders are amazing.
Debarkation was easy. We usually do the self-assist debarkation but with a two-year-old, this was not possible. We were off the ship by 9 a.m., and didn't have to manhandle bags, which was fine!
Overall, the cruise was perfect. I would take it again in a minute! My only complaint is that Elation was once docked in Mobile, my hometown, and we want our ship back! I would seriously consider cruising more frequently if the Elation called Mobile its home again.