Drove to SD from Arizona, stayed at Best Western Bayside did a park/sleep/cruise package. Good room, with great view, saw Elation arriving early the morning of 8-25. If it was not for luggage, the pier was close enough to walk to. Parking was covered. We thought it was a reasonable value and would do it again.
SD cruise ship pier is wonderful. Just no two ways about it, SD is a great city and with the cruise ship terminal in the heart of downtown, it really makes the atmosphere special.
Embarkation: Could it have gone any faster, better? We do not see how! First off, we had a shuttle for the 4 block or so from the hotel to the pier which was provided as part of the room /parking cost. We were dropped off inside the secure area and a Porter was taking our bags out of the shuttle van as we were getting out of the van. (We tipped a buck a bag) We had preprinted baggage tags from the e-docs More
affixed to the luggage. The whole process, from arrival at the pier, including taking a minute to take a photo with the ship in the background to boarding the ship was no longer then 15 min.
When I say the whole process, I mean from drop off at the terminal to getting on the elevator and going to the Lido deck for lunch. From the baggage staging area, you go into the terminal building and through security. Once past security, it is into a large area with the typical cattle-call queue snaking around back and forth. Clearly, they expect a crowd, the cattle queue went on and on, and there were rows of chairs everywhere, but for us, it was walking, almost running through the queue and right up to a Carnival employee that checks our paperwork and issues the SS card, takes the credit card info etc.
From the check in desk, it is down a hall of sorts, past the obligatory, before boarding the ship, fake background photos, back outside to the gangway, up the gangway, ship ID photo and the boarding took sound from the SS card reader and there you are!
Boarding was on the Rivera deck (not the main deck) so it is rather unimpressive (Too bad for first time cruisers, the wow factor was missing. Although seeing a damn big ship that you will be boarding right at the dock, up close and personal still is oh so cool!) Unimpressive entrance aside, the elevators are right there, and away you go! Again, drop off to boarding, 15 minutes tops. Impressive! Caveat, we arrived at 12:30pm. Did we miss or beat the crowd? I do not know, the ship had many people already onboard when we got to the lido deck. .
We did the burger and fries at the lido grill, (We don't care for the offerings in the Buffet on the first day/boarding lunch) and we got the REQUIRED D-O-D! No souvenir glass, we already have too many of them. I slammed mine down and had another! It is now 1:30pm, we go check out our cabin, it is ready and our bags are already out front waiting for us!
Sail away was great, did I mention we really like SD and the location of the port downtown? Hearing the sound of the ships horn crash off the buildings and wash back over you then seeing the lovely SD skyline slowly become smaller then fade away was wonderful.
The lifeboat drill went well, it was quick and painless. The life vests were the required shade of grimy, but hey, it is what it is. You can be grossed out or grin and bear it. I doubt anyone's head has rotted off from the stains on a life vest.
Ok, a bit about the cabin. On Fantasy class ships we prefer the Upper deck and what I call the sideways cabins, mid-ship. The deck and cabin meet our needs wonderfully. The Upper deck is sandwiched between two other cabin decks and we feel that this makes for a quieter cabin. Inside cabins are by many, looked down upon, but they are great for sleeping late, and a great value. These mid-ship sideways cabins allow easy access to the rest of the ship. On longer cruises, we do tend to go verandah, for us, it all depends on the cruise, the ship, and what the cruise is about. For us, a Baja Mexico cruise is not for the scenery you are going to see from a verandah.
The cabin was nice and clean and in good shape. The carpet looked to be new. The cabins on the Fantasy class ships have plenty of storage, and the suitcases fit under the bed with ease. Speaking of beds, although the sheets and pillows were wonderful, as was the feather stuffed duvet, the mattress left a lot to be desired. They were either not the new upgraded mattress that Carnival is now putting in cabins (and we had such on the Paradise, it was great) or the Elation got them first and quite a while back, and the ones in this cabin are really starting to show their age. In this cabin, the mattresses did not have much life left in them. They were wallowed-out to the point of being U shaped and in the wallowed out area the springs had compressed and thus the mattress was hard.. Not firm, but hard. I am not saying they were insufferable and if we did it all over again it would not stop us from sailing on the Elation or even this cabin, but compared to what we had on the Paradise these mattresses really sucked.
The room steward and her assistant did a great job and took very good care of us.(Yes we did Tip extra) Even when we slept in, we were never disturbed, not so much as a knock on the door. Yet, even if we got up and did a quickie breakfast, when we returned to the cabin to get ready to start our day, everything was tidy and clean. Even our shoes were lined up on the closet floor. We did get towel animals, chocolates, the Caper each and every night with turndown. Yes, we even got the dreaded SS bill on the last night. Yuck! One last thing, as I have said before, one of my pet peeves and a thing I ALWAYS check, be it a ship cabin or a hotel room, is the shower curtain. It was clean, no mystery stains, mold etc. The bathroom was spotless.
Ship condition over all: We thought the Paradise was just fine and the Elation is in even better condition. People everywhere cleaning everything all the time it seemed. Clearly, the management of the Elation motivates the crew to take a lot of pride in her and it shows. Over all, the crew seemed very friendly, sure some more then others, but even people who have jobs not tip based made it a point to say hello.
We like the decor, the art Deco-Empire motif of the Elation. It is not the polished brass, wood, marble that some ships have, (although there is no shortage of bright shiny metal-work etc and there is brass, wood and marble, but it is not a subdued dEcor) However, it is attractive in its own right. What is attractive is in the eye of the beholder and our eye likes it.
Food: We did Breakfast in both the Dining room and Buffet, both were good enough. One morning, however, the pancakes at the Buffet were down right nasty, mealy, but the rest of the food was fine. The buffet has all the usual stuff. The fresh made omelets are tasty.
Lunch at the buffet was hit and miss. A few thing we found quite good, such as the honey-mustard baked ham. Other stuff, such as pasta was ho-hum at best. Over all, we are not buffet sort of people; we have had much worse. We are not soda drinkers, so no soda card for us. I did take on some bottles of Gatorade and we make ice tea using a small pitcher we drag along. For many the syrup based ice tea is fine, I am a bit fussy about my tea however, I require it fresh.
Dining room, late seating, 8:30 table of 10. This is how we like it, late seating at a big table with all kinds of new people to chat with. Some fear a table of strangers. It has always worked out very well for us. It was a fun mix, we all seemed to hit it off just fine and there was never a shortage of pleasant conversation. I think the people who skip the main dining room or dinner at a large table are missing out. Service was great, as was the food. A couple of entrees were very very good. We do dine out often but rarely at chains, including ones considered "top end". We go out of our way to support the local independent high quality restaurants in the city we live. We are blessed with some outstanding choices. That said, we think the food offered in the dining room is done very well. None of it five star, but as good, if not better, then what you will find at a typical nice restaurant. I do suggest you add a bit of salt and pepper. I am sure they prepare the entrees a bit on the unseasoned side so people can do their own thing with the S/P. Service was very attentive and professional. (Yes we did tip extra)
Ok, this could go on and on, but I'll start to wrap it up. Some of the ship activities we partook in: Horse racing, it was a blast. Wine tasting, very pleasant, and worth the 10 bucks pp. A couple of the shows and the Adult late night comic, was worth the time, we had fun. Bingo, ho-hum. The casino, we did ok and had a lot of fun.
Ports: We like both Cabo and Ensenada.
Cabo a tender port, it went very smooth, no waiting in a line, although we did not head out until 9:30 or so. All involved in the tendering process were helpful. They seemed to take special care with the older folks and others who seemed skittish. We did not do any excursions, ship sponsored or otherwise. It was more of a check the place out and take notes for next time. Did Cabo Wabo, the margaritas were fine, the food was not so good. Had Carne Asada soft tacos, they were disappointing. We did some shopping, and just wandered around. Did check out a place call Tequila Treasures, (read about it on CC) it is in the back of the shopping mall (big white building) as you head along the dock into Cabo. They have a nice full selection of tequilas and they make a great margarita at a very reasonable price. Two very good large margaritas, two heavy pour shots and 4 tastes (a half shot or so) of some other fine tequilas cost a total of $8 bucks. They also have bottles of Tequila for sale and we partook in such.
Ensenada: This place seems to get a bum rap. Only once was I approached by a child to buy Chiclets. A firm NO! sent him on his way. We do like Ensenada, quite a lot in fact. We always have fun shopping. Been there before and still exploring. We will do the wine tour next time. YOU MUST try some fish tacos. I suggest a street vendor and forget about the tourist places for such. Found a cart not to far away from the cruise ship bus stop heading toward the shopping area, and the fish and shrimp tacos were OUTSTANDING. A buck a piece. Locals, (or they looked like locals) were eating them, and that was the clue I was looking for us to give the stand a try. We are very glad we did.
Walking around, the shopkeepers were in no way overly pushy or aggressive. Sure, they made a pitch to get you to come in their store, but in no way pushy or rude. We know Ensenada is not for everyone, some people like life all clean, tidy and sanitized and that sure is not Ensenada. But, if you like real life, a bit of rough around the edges as we do, Ensenada is great.
OK, a few other observations. It looks like Carnival is doing the Mexico Baja- Rivera cruise, 3-4-5-6- and more days in a big way. They need to make the ship vibe more south of the border flavored and get away from the Jamaica / Caribbean theme for these cruises. I am really speaking of the band on the Lido deck on sail-away and on sea days. Having a Rasta band - everything with a Jamaica sound - song after song after song when going on a cruise to Baja Mexico is just weird. I am not saying a mariachi band, although some of that would be fun, but at lest get a band that has a Latin flavored sound.
Also, I think its time to shorten the "entertainment" on most nights in the Dining room. It can really drag the dining out and not in a good way. Although we prefer the idea of the late seating, we are thinking of going to the early seating so the whole evening is not just about dining. Think about it, if you are at late seating, you may not get out of the dining room until 10:30! That takes a big chunk of time out of being able to participate in other evening activities.
A few other thoughts and then the one failing mark. We thought in late Aug, the kids would be in school. WRONG! This cruise had kids everywhere. However, there seemed to be no issues, problems or none that we saw. They seemed to be kept out of the Adult pool, did not see much if any running or horseplay where is should not occur. No stupid elevator games. Overall, there were A LOT of kids on this cruise but they were not a problem. Yes, you were aware and at times, very aware that there were many kids onboard, it was never a "gee, this sucks".
The mix overall on the Elation for this cruise seemed to lean more toward younger families. Sure there was a mix of all ages, but it was more of a mid 20's to late 30's crowd then a 30's to 50's crowd. The cruise Director was great fun, and the ship photographers were not too pushy. The sales pitches announced for this and that were not over bearing and incessant either, which was nice.
The failing mark, Disembarkation; to make a long story short, bright and early the morning they insist you must leave the ship, we are packed and ready to go. We typically do self-disembarkation. In the past the folks self disembarking get to leave right before/during, with the VIP's or right after. Not this time, not on the Elation. In-fact there was no official self-disembarkation at all. Not knowing this when we hear the first groups being called 1,2,3 we wait a bit then head out. We get to the Riviera deck and there is a group of what look to be unhappy people. The oh so friendly and helpful Carnival person was explaining that everyone there MUST drag their baggage up to the Lido deck and wait their turn. I ask why, since we are self-disembarking, and we are informed that there will be none such allowed. I so innocently ask why was such information not given out in the Caper, and she said "Did you go to the disembarkation talk? IF YOU HAD, you would have know the rules" HUH?? You GOT TO BE kidding..... Folks, she was VERY serious.... Oh, did I say she was nice, friendly and helpful....... that was sarcasm. This woman was, without a doubt, the most unfriendly, rude, unpleasant Carnival employee I have ever met. Did I mention she also had "attitude" on top of everything else? I do not know what this woman's calling in life is, but dealing with the public or other humans in general IS NOT IT. Each and every person or group of people that arrived she spoke to in the same snotty with attitude manner.
Although our number was 5, we had failed to affix the tags. We were self-disembarking and did not need them. So it occurred to me she had no idea what our number might be, so I asked "Did you say groups 1 and 2 or 1,2,3,?" she said "IF YOU HAD BEEN LISTENING, You would have known I said 1,2,3.. !!" and I go OHHHH, I am so sorry, my bad, we are group three! And off we go...... to get stuck in a hall way. Yep, we then got to wait in a long hot narrow hallway with about 200 other people for another 30 min. However, once that line got going we were off the ship and through customs in about 5 minutes. Just a side note, as we were going down the gangplank we heard 4,5,6,7,8,9,10 called all at once, wow, that had to have been a good time!
Although disembarkation could have gone much better, overall it was a blip, no big deal and in no way effects our over all great satisfaction with the Elation, her crew and the cruise overall. SD is a truly wonderful port, the ship is fine and we have already booked a 5day for January 08 and I am sure we will be on the Elation many more times in the future. Less