We selected the Elation, as I believe most Texans do, because it's based in Galveston which is a short drive from our home in San Antonio. We used the "Dolphin" parking lot and had no problems. They took us and our luggage right to the terminal and were there waiting to take us back to the parking lot when we returned.
The boarding process was about what I expected. We got to the terminal about 1 pm and waited about 15 minutes to get through security and another 30 minutes to get checked in, even though we were using Fast Pass. Still, 45 minutes was tolerable and got us onboard in plenty time to explore the ship a little before departure time. At 2:30 pm, one of the social hosts, Jen, took a group on a quick tour of the ship with information that was invaluable to newbies like us.
Our two oceanview rooms on the upper deck were very nice. Much larger than I expected and really bigger than we needed considering how little time we actually spent in the cabin! Everything was comfortable. My only criticism was that our cabins were all the way forward, where the first several cabins have two small, round, recessed port holes rather than the large square windows that other cabins have. Yes, we did see the water stains on the carpet that other cruise critics have mentioned, but did not find them horrible. They almost looked like they were part of the carpet design. Other than that, everything seemed new, clean, and in excellent condition. Summary: the Elation is a very nice ship.
We took advantage of the Shore Excursions offered by Carnival, even though I believe you can save a considerable amount of money making your own arrangements via the internet or at each port as you arrive. For us, the security of knowing the ship would not leave us if we were part of a shore excursion connected to Carnival was worth the extra cost.
In Progresso, we went on the Merida City Tour/Shopping trip. It seemed like a middle of the road excursion compared to the long tours to the Mayan ruins. Our guide provided a good tour onboard a comfortable bus. Our kids, never having been exposed to a relatively poor area such as Progresso/Merida City, were a little unnerved by all the pan handlers constantly trying to get us to buy something at the various shopping stops. Overall, it was a nice tour. Progresso isn't a great snorkeling or shopping destination, but I understand Carnival started stopping there because it is closer to the Mayan ruins than other ports. We heard all the preaching about being back on the boat 30 minutes before departure time and took it seriously, getting back onboard an hour early. Sure enough, within one minute of scheduled departure time, the door was quickly closed and the Elation headed for Cozumel!
In Cozumel, we did "Snuba" in the morning. My 10 year son describes this as the "greatest thing he's ever done in his life!" What more can you say than that?! In the afternoon, we struggled to shop as the main street is torn up for sewer/drain work. Based on the pace of work I observed, it will be a mess for a long time. Be careful! Open or poorly covered open troughs abound...
Along the way to Belize, we started swaying noticeably due to 6-8' swells. At this point I admitted to being wrong for mentally laughing at everyone that had sported dramamine patches behind their ears back in Galveston. But after one dose, I didn't notice the gentle movement anymore. In Belize, we went on a snorkel adventure to Geoff's Caye. If you take this excursion, DEFINITELY take the option to snorkel off the speed boat a few hundred feet from the island. The coral reefs and sealife are spectacular out there! Don't count on great shopping in Belize. There are several "tourist" shops on the pier, but this port is seems best enjoyed for the snorkeling and water activities.
We ate dinner in the Inspiration dining room, and were thoroughly impressed by the food and the staff. Our head waiter, "Excel" was great and every dinner was wonderful.
Our kids were reluctant to sign up for Camp Carnival the first day, but quickly admitted they were glad I'd pushed them into it. Meeting kids their own ages and joining them for activities literally made them "happy campers" and let mom and dad enjoy the cruise without having to constantly attend to the kids. My daughter is still emailing a group of friends she made. My only criticism of Camp Carnival is that the activities aren't really targeted for the older kids in the 9-12 yr old group.
Food in Tiffany's was very good and the kids loved the 24 hour pizza bar!
Entertainment was really good. We looked forward to the big show in the Mikado Lounge every evening. Resa, the cruise Director for the next 3 months, and the social hosts, Jen, Mike, and Darren were all fabulous. They had us smiling and laughing the whole week :-)
The disembarkation process took a few hours, but getting a few thousand people off the ship was relatively smooth. We docked at 8:00 am and were back to our car by 10:45. Groups were called in an order established by the color of luggage tags. Until our color was called, we sat on the Lido deck enjoying our last breakfast from Tiffany's. After a great week onboard the Elation, why hurry to get off?!
As I said, this was our first cruise ever, but definitely won't be our last. We're already looking at options for taking another cruise next year, most likely onboard a Carnival Cruise Line ship!
Thanks for a great 2004 vacation Carnival!