Here are the 25 tips (not in any particular order): 1. Best local, San Diego parking - SanPark - $10 per day (exit I-5 south towards airport, right on Sassafras St.) Just tell the driver you are going to the cruise terminal. We waited only 5-10 minutes on the return at the cruise dock and they drop you off right at your car. Easy access to I-5 since I travel a lot via SD Airport (United 1K flyer).
2. Exceptional fast check-in if you do the electronic documents over the web. (20 minutes from drop-off). I would also recommend wheeling in your own roll-a-board Pack everything needed for quick access to pool or lunch on Lido deck. Room ready after 1:30pm.
3. Best deal for certified diver's only - Dive Park in Catalina, which is very easy, scenic, clean and quick. No need to book through Carnival ($55 for everything + $6 to refill tank for second dive) Right behind the Casino. Catalina Divers Supply. I have dived Hawaii, Guam/Saipan, Indonesia and this underwater park has the easiest access.
4. If you forget any toiletry items, there is a Von's Express store in Catalina. They even sell travel size conditioner, deodorant, etc. in a small zippered pack for $8. There is no hair conditioner in the stateroom showers. Carnival does supply adequate towels, body gel and shampoo.
5. Best fresh chip & salsa was at the Sand Trap restaurant, next to the Catalina golf course. I am talking homemade chips, even better than what we had in Ensenada or even San Diego. Plus less crowds and on the way to the Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Garden. The restaurant has a very nice open patio and serves cervaza. Una masa, por forvor.
6. Best $2.75 fish tacos were also at the Sand Trap; Prices were a lot more reasonable than at the water
7. Botanical Garden charges $5pp; View and photo opportunity is worth it from top of the Wrigley Memorial. Tip for saving the cost and only for adventuresome walkers with water.......you can take the 5 mile trail from the campgrounds, hike to the top to see both sides of the islands and the trail returns directly into the Botanical Gardens through a metal gate with no entrance fee. You will need to stop off at the Catalina Visitor's Center to get a free permit. I guess they do not want you wandering around the new 37 mile path unaccounted for. Although, no park ranger even checked our permit. You can take some amazing pictures of the Carnival Elation from the hillside and burn off all the cruise calories. The distance from the Wrigley Memorial to the shore is about 1.5 miles. I saw a lot of golf cart rentals but we walked the whole way and felt a lot better than most tourists. Of course, my wife runs half marathons and really pushed me to exercise on this trip. I am lucky to do 30 minutes on an Elliptical at 24 Hour Fitness every other day.
8. Request extra lobster on Formal night which was the 2nd night; only dilemma is that you get all the accompaniments including extra veggies and potatoes - The Maine lobster was one of the best cooked and sweetest lobster that I ever ate. (I eat out for a living........Marriott Platinum member)
9. Unlimited appetizers is also not problem
10. Do not order grilled flat iron steak; tough
11. Book room in middle of ship to avoid seasickness. If you book on Empress deck, then you have to deal with dining room noise floor above. Our travel agent gave us the best tip by booking us on Upper deck, which is underneath the Empress deck. We had room U-121, which was quiet except for foot traffic down the hallway, which I believe would be normal for any room. The cruise was sold-out.
12. We got turned around every time we exited our stateroom. Good tip is the odd rooms are on the right side (port) of the ship. Even rooms are on the left side (starboard).
13. Lines for sushi begin every night at 5pm-8:30pm except for formal night. Average sushi, but a healthier alternative than a hamburger on Lido deck. I did enjoy the carrots and pickled cucumbers (Carnival's version of Japanese sunomono).
14. Irons and Ironing board located in one laundry mat per deck
15. One electrical outlet per normal room; bring your own hair dryer. My wife commented the electricity was underrated and it took longer to dry her hair than normal.
16. First night show - missed it since it started later at 10:30pm. I was surprised there was no show at 8:45pm.
17. 2nd night show with Comedian and magician was very entertaining. Worth getting a good seat. It started at 8:45pm. I liked the roving video camera close-ups on the big screen, especially since he did mostly slight of hand card tricks.
18. Be sure to request your 10% cruise discount in Ensenada
19. Even though we get good Mexican food living in north San Diego, my wife wanted to sample more. Our Wine Country tour guide suggested El Palmar which is across the street from Mango Mango and just about the last restaurant away from the ship. She was right. Very quiet place where we could enjoy the Mexican food. We even skipped the cruise dinner to eat in Ensenada instead. Very good salsa. Chips were average. The grilled local Lobster was even better per my wife than the Maine lobster on board during formal night. I would have to agree.
20. There are 5 Los Castillos jewelry stores in Ensenada. We visited all of them and bought some .925 silver jewelry, ring and bracelet as souvenirs. No real negotiations but seemed like friendly shop personnel at reasonable prices and endorsed/guaranteed by Carnival.
21. For any Tequila lovers - Patron Silver $34; Patron Reposado $39. Duty-free on board. One night, they were providing free samples in the shops. I love anything free.
22. Motion seasick pills were provided free outside the infirmary. We never needed them, even though the ship was gently rolling while at sea. My wife did comment that Elation was moving far more than the bigger ships that she sailed on.
23. Adult Serenity Pool was a good idea and very comfortable, padded lounge chairs. Downside, music was blasting way too loud and sun would be blocked in late afternoon due to height of ship. Quiet, smooth jazz would have been much more enjoyable.
24. Wine Country Tour was worth the $35pp rate- Our Tour guide, Celina, brought along the best Mexican bread and cheese. I am not a big tipper but my wife gave her a $20 tip for being so positive and honest with the local information. First winery was the best - Pedro Domecq. Tour gave out 1 free bottle per customer. We went home with a $18 bottle of 2005 Cabernet called Chateau Domecq. I love wine from French Oak casks. Second winery had good Olive Oil which was $6 per wine bottle size. Best deal in Ensenada. The LA Cetto winery had more everyday table wine. This winery had sliced salami for purchase but I did not know this fact until we exited the wine tasting room. I love to eat sliced cheese, salami and bread at wineries. They did serve champagne. Otherwise, both tours and winery layouts were a good as anything that I have seen in Napa or Temecula wine country.
25. My wife & I did enjoy the running deck one afternoon. I have a bad knee and the track padding was a benefit. 11 laps equal one mile. You do have to dodge the putting green participants and their flying golf balls. The gym was also busy but not overcrowded. We did enjoy the detox and flatten your abs seminar, which are both free and full of facts about fat, liver, lymph system and toxins. We ended up getting a BCA (body caloric analysis) for $39 ea which uses an electronic machine passing current through your body. Don't worry you will never feel it. The detox program consisted of 4 herbal supplements over a 3 month period for $300. The trainer, Yussi, wanted to us to go the full 6 months but we decided to order the second month tablets over the web and see if the first round works.