This was my 2nd cruise on the Elation, the first having been quite a number of years ago. While the ship is somewhat long in the tooth, Carnival generally did a nice job and I had a mostly fun time. I live in San Diego, so the departure port was certainly convenient. This cruise was unusual in that it was a 6 day Baja cruise instead of the usual 4 or 5 day. The fact that it left on Halloween also made things a bit more interesting. Finally, we elected a new President while at sea, so that was also a bit different.
Embarkation: Exiting was pretty much a piece of cake. A porter took our bags as we arrived and we were pointed to the x-ray machines and a relatively short check-in line. A short time later, we were on the ship.
Ship's condition: The Elation is well-maintained, but it is getting a bit long-in-the-tooth. The crew does a very good job keeping it clean, but her age is showing.
Rooms: I still find the rooms to be somewhat gaudy with peach laminate and cheap, Ikea-like furniture. However, the room was clean and comfortable and the layout reasonably good. I thought that the bed was very comfortable and the linens, robes and down(?) comforter were of good quality. The rooms were quite clean and the housekeeping staff was both friendly and efficient in this regard. Our room was quiet, but others complained about the noise. Before booking, check the deck plans to see what's above and below you. You're looking for other rooms and not a bar or restaurant. Try your best to book mid-ship to minimize motion. Think of a teeter-totter, which moves a lot on the ends but not at all in the middle. The ship's motion works in much the same way.
Itinerary: Cabo is a fun port of call, although we mostly just hung out and drank margaritas at Cabo Wabo. I recommend the "Can't Drive 55" margarita which is about 3 times larger than many of the other margaritas but at the same price of about $7 U.S. each. The carne asada tacos were small but yummy and inexpensive.
La Paz was interesting, but the lines to get on the bus were quite long. Some buses took vacationers to the beach while others took passengers downtown. We went downtown and based on our conversation with others, that seemed to be the right call. The bus ride is fairly long and that coupled with the long line to get on a bus really limited the time in this port. This is a shame, as it is not nearly as touristy as other ports. We walked around a little bit, drank even more margaritas, had some chips, guacamole (which was excellent) salsa and ceviche at La Terraza on the water. They sell the usual trinkets and such on the pier, but I probably had the best margarita of my life there, and I know my margaritas. I think the secret is that they use a liquor made from an herb called Damiana, which gives the drink a very interesting taste and is a supposed female aphrodisiac. They do pack a serious punch, so be forewarned.
Ensenada: Here you'll find tons of aggressive vendors, so be prepared. I just said "No gracias" and kept walking. I bought most of my take-home booze in Ensenada and I suggest buying it at the Soriana supermarket, which is a couple of blocks from the shuttle drop-off point ($3 shuttle per person roundtrip). If you can't find it, once you're dropped off, ask someone "Donde esta el mercado?" I think that means "Where is the supermarket", more or less (mas o menos). I speak a bit of Spanish and asked a local where the best margaritas were. I was directed to the El Corralito restaurant, which is 1 block from the supermarket. The margaritas were indeed quite good and the chicken quesadillas were inexpensive. I do suggest that you spend an extra buck to upgrade the alcohol from Jose Cuervo Gold (yuck) to Don Julio Anejo or Don Julio Reposado tequila.
Fellow Passengers: I'm in my mid-40s and my girlfriend is in her mid-30s. While the crowd was age-diverse, this was a much younger crowd that what I am used to. It is a party boat for sure, but that's not to say that you wouldn't have a nice time regardless of your age. There were plenty of young people with their tattoos, but a good representation of gray hair as well. However, I've never seen so many tattoos on a cruise, which wasn't entirely bad as the younger passengers were generally well-behaved and did tend to make things a bit livelier.
Food: The breakfasts were mediocre, in my view. The powdered "scrambled eggs" were bad and I sampled perhaps the worst Eggs Benedict that I've ever experienced. It was far inferior to the Eggs Benedict that I tried on NCL earlier this year. The bacon was soggy and the sausage not very good. The chicken sausage was awful and the turkey bacon only slightly better. Eggs over-easy was just fine and the omelets looked decent. I enjoyed the bagels and lox (aka salmon).
Added Commentary: It's my understanding that the Elation will be changing itinerary in early 2009, sailing from San Diego to Ensenada and San Diego to Ensenada and Catalina Island. While I like Catalina, it's my opinion that this change was unwise. Ensenada is close to San Diego and is not very exotic. I consider it almost a "throwaway" port, but when coupled with Cabo it's fine. However, I think that skipping Cabo will turn out to be a mistake. I do not believe that passengers will be happy doing a short cruise to Ensenada. If anyone from Carnival is reading this, you might want to reconsider this change.
While I usually prefer to eat in the main dining room, I thought that the Tiffany Cafe and poolside grill on the 10th deck were better choices for lunch. The cheeseburgers were very good and I especially liked the Calzone and goat's cheese pizza slices. Most of the grilled sandwiches were also pretty tasty. Speaking of poolside, I tried a couple of Carnival's drinks and I found them to be weak tasting and lacking in alcohol. I'd stick with beer or wine or else smuggle your own on board.
I mostly did the sit down dinners and they were better than what I expected. The lobster was yummy, steaks well-prepared, seafood fresh, and I especially enjoyed the lamb chops. Service was top-notch. I think that we lucked out with our Asian waiters (table 179) as they were really efficient and friendly. Another guest told us that his Eastern Bloc waiters were much less friendly. For dessert, the Chocolate Melting Cake is not to be missed and be aware that the waiter will bring you a cappuccino with dessert upon request.
Value: I felt that our oceanview room was a very good value. However, the suites seemed overpriced. There are very few balcony rooms on this somewhat older ship and if you want one, you'll pay up. I'd recommend saving your money and going with an oceanview room instead.
Entertainment: We didn't do a lot of the shows. The "R-Rated" hypnotist's show was really funny. We walked in on several of the cabaret shows and walked out. Generally, the talent seemed sub-par, especially when compared to our recent NCL cruise, but because we didn't sit through a lot of shows in their entirety, that might not be a completely fair statement.
Casino: Pretty much sucked. They took my money fast and weren't especially friendly about it. The casino was filled with smoke and sad faces. Save your money and avoid!
Tours: We didn't do any tours, so I can't comment on this.
Debarking: Fairly fast and mostly painless, although there was a line. Not completely organized, but not bad either. Customs didn't check much. Pretty much everyone handed them the declarations card and kept on walking. Getting someone to carry our bags to the taxi was simple, although the security guard directing the cabs was a complete jerk to the point that I had to yell at the guy when he refused to allow a van to stop for us, insisting that the van could only help 4 passengers.
Overall: If you're looking for a fun and fairly inexpensive time on a party boat, this might be a decent choice for you. Just be sure to temper your expectations to some degree. If you do, you'll probably have a very nice time. If you are the type of discriminating person who demands the best, this trip might not be for you.