My family and I (5 of us) returned a few days ago from a 4-day cruise to Cabo San Lucas on Carnival Elation. First, let me say we had a wonderful time! I can't compliment the staff enough for making it a memorable experience. I've found other's reviews very helpful as we prepared for our first cruise, so I'll give you some thoughts of what we experienced:
Embarkation: We arrived in San Diego around noon and parked at the Laurel Travel Center (about 1 mile from the pier). Their rates are significantly less than the lot across from the pier and their parking is covered with 24-hour security. (The $2/day coupon on their website also helped!) They have a quick shuttle service to the pier and we were in the port building within 10 minutes. The crowds had already gathered for check-in by the time we arrived, but even so, we were on the ship within 40 minutes. We packed swimsuits and a change of clothes in a separate bag in case we didn't get our luggage until later that day, but we didn't need the suits: the pools didn't open until the following day! We wandered around the ship until our rooms were ready about 1:45 pm. Our luggage arrived about one hour later.
Food: We were very pleased with the food and the food service! We ate dinner every evening in the Dining Room and enjoyed it very much. (I would have preferred sitting at a table with just my family—there were five of us—but our 5 tablemates were pleasant and cordial.) Menu selections were all very good, but I would highly recommend the dishes identified as "George Blanc Signature Selection". Those were especially delicious! My son and I enjoyed ordering several appetizers and entrees each night and trying new foods out. We ate in the dining room for dinner and started out eating breakfast and lunch there, but soon found that Tiffany's had very similar food (if not the same) and was a quicker option for breakfast and lunch. Our kids loved the soft-serve ice cream. The pizza and calzones were OK, but they would only make the varieties on the posted menu (we asked). The made-to-order omelets were delicious! We didn't purchase the soda cards, and we didn't need to—plenty of lemonade, fruit punch, juices, etc. We aren't big soda drinkers anyway.
Cabin: We were in Cabin E45 on the Empress Deck (interior cabin with two twins made into a king, two Pullman beds and a roll-away bed.) It was a tight squeeze, but we utilized every available shelf, drawer (even the life preserver cabinet) to fit everything in. (There was plenty of room for luggage storage under the beds. The rollaway was missing springs, making the mattress sag terribly, so we removed the bed frame and laid the mattress on the floor (folded it up during the day). It seemed to work out well. The shoe organizer for the bathroom door was very helpful keeping sundries organized. Our room stewards did a fantastic job and were very responsive when we need extra hangers, ice, etc. We didn't notice any significant ship vibrations or noise from our room. We enjoyed being on the Empress Deck since it was on the same level as the bottom of the Atrium and all of the public areas were very close and accessible. (Elevators sometimes took quite a while and one of the glass elevators in the atrium was not functioning.)
Entertainment: This is the one area we felt was very poor. The stage shows were very cheesy musical reviews. We only made it to the second one and were so bored we slipped out early. The performers are very talented—their material could use some help! The hypnotist was OK, but we were skeptical about whether the participants were actually hypnotized or just playing along. What we enjoyed more than anything were the informal musicians (i.e. string quartet in the atrium, the pianist in various locations around the ship, the Caribbean band, the country musician, etc.)
General Condition of Ship: Others have commented about the wear on the ship, but we didn't notice it. The carpets and floors were all clean and well kept. Staff was constantly cleaning windows, painting, etc. We thought it was very well cared for.
Amenities: The ship had a variety of activities to keep us occupied, but we mostly just enjoyed relaxing on deck or playing cards with our older children. We don't drink alcohol, smoke, or gamble (some may ask why we were on the cruise?!?), so we didn't even go in most of the lounges, except when dropping our daughter off at Camp Carnival activities during the daytime.
The Camp Carnival staff was wonderful with my 9-yr old daughter. She loved the activities and the friends she made there. My 14-yr old son was hesitant to join the other Camp Carnival kids his age, so he just hung out with us.
My biggest complaint about the ship's amenities is the pools. They were only opened for limited time periods and they were extremely cold! (The salt water made them uncomfortable for us, also.) The water slide was very fun, but open for just a few hours each day. Miniature golf was fun, but closed late afternoon. I would also have liked to see the Library open for more than just one hour in the mornings (and only on sea days). We also got a little tired of photographers and advertisements for spa services, drinks of the day, and commercial announcements for anything else we could purchase on the ship.
Ports: When we cruise again, we’ll make sure we have more than just one port! This was our favorite part of the trip and wished we could have spent more time in Cabo. We booked the Ecological Snorkel Tour and our operator took us on a tour of Lands End, El Arco, the sea lion colony, then took us to Santa Maria Cove for snorkeling. We were all outfitted and were having a wonderful time, when my 9-yr old daughter started screaming after being stung by a jellyfish. We got her back to the boat, where the tour guide was also treating himself for a jellyfish sting! The vinegar spray took affect after about 15 minutes and she was fine. The tour then went to Chileno Beach for more fantastic snorkeling before returning to the harbor.
We walked around town shopping for souvenirs for about 1 hour before realizing it was time to return to the boat. (Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that “Cabo time” was one hour ahead of “Ship time” and we could have stayed another hour. It was still very fun and we would like to return soon.
Disembarkation: We chose to have our luggage picked up the night before and just kept our carry-ons with us. We ate breakfast in Tiffany’s (it was serving until 8:30 am) and waited for our color to be called. Disembarkation was delayed a bit waiting for clearance from the port and the first passengers got off around 8:30 am. It seemed most people preferred the self-assist option, since it took quite a while for colors to begin to be called. We waited in the Mikado Lounge playing cards until about 10:00 am, when our color was finally called (and it was the second color). It took about 15 minutes to finally get off the ship and through customs. There were no problems finding our luggage and the Laurel Travel Center sent a shuttle and picked us up within five minutes.
All in all, it was a very pleasant cruise and we would definitely go again. We were very impressed with Carnival’s service and offerings, but would opt for more ports next time.