On Thursday, April 15, 2010, my wife Jackie and I took a short vacation, our last one before our baby arrives, aboard the Carnival Cruise Ship, Elation from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas.
Here's what the itinerary looked like:
Day 1 Depart San Diego Day 2 Day at sea Day 3 Day in Cabo San Lucas Day 4 Day at sea Day 5 Arrive in San Diego
This was my first cruise aboard a large cruise ship like this one. We did a cruise 2 years ago in the Galapagos Islands but that was on a much smaller boat...100+ feet. My wife had been on other cruises in the South Pacific and the Red Sea.
Living in San Diego and being able to depart from our home port was great! We took advantage of an airport parking lot and caught a shuttle to the port to board the ship. It seems like only recently that the port in San Diego started allowing large cruise ships but the first cruise ship to San Diego was actually in 1970. It was only between 2002 and 2006 that this port began experiencing growth in cruise numbers.
We arrived well before the departure time but found the lines and wait time to be very long. Next time, we'll definitely be aiming to go aboard a little after noon.
We had an inside room which had a fake window...that's right. Open the curtains and there's...wait for it...more wall. We actually selected an inside room on the recommendation of a friend because during the day, the room is still pitch black making it super easy to get some rest if you need to. Some other guests found their inside rooms to be a bit claustrophobic. It didn't bother us. The rooms were a good size and those other passengers that we spoke to onboard agreed.
The rooms had 2 bathrobes for us and plenty of closet space. In the bathroom was a standup shower only...no bath tub. Housekeeping was the one thing onboard that was consistently good. Our steward looked after our room nearly every time we left it re-making our bed and folding the towels into animal shapes. Our steward was very attentive and warm. Our room had a decent sized safe as well and an older television that only had a few channels available with no options for buying movies and no DVD player available. That was kind of a bummer.
We typically ate at Tiffany's dining room. The presentation and selection of food in the main buffet and the Lido deck buffet were very unimpressive. The presentation of food in the dining rooms Inspiration, Imagination and Tiffany's were definitely superior to that of the other dining locations which appeared to more closely resemble cafeteria food. That too was disappointing.
Our favorite choice was the Mongolian Grill offered on the Lido deck directly beside the Lido deck lunch buffet. The food there was fresh, offered a great selection of meat and vegetables, and easily the best tasting food on the ship. Options for lunch were limited so we stuck with this as a staple throughout the trip. The Lido deck buffet next door offered hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken tenders with several salad options. Juice, water, coffee, and tea, were included at every meal. Sodas were extra but passengers were able to purchase a soda card for all onboard sodas. We didn't care to inquire about the price.
On one of the days at sea, we were wandering around the ship and happened to catch tea time. It was nice to get a quick snack and the service for tea time was exceptional.
We had signed up for the 6pm dinner slot and shared a 6 person table on the nights that we ate in the main dining room. The food quality varied from meal to meal but was generally low. The meal options were good and changed each evening. For steak eaters, like me, the steak was no bueno and on one occasion when I asked for a steak, the waiter responded asking me again to order a main dish. When I repeated my order to him, he again asked me to make a main dish selection. I quickly realized that he simply did not speak English or even Español, the main languages spoken onboard. I ate chicken and mushroom pasta for dinner that night. Oh well! I can't say any of the dinner options were anything inspiring. For dessert I ordered chocolate lava cake (or some other variation of the name). It was amazing! I had it every night.
There were only two sources of food available 24 hours a day and these were the pizza station, which was pretty decent even at 3:00am, and room service. Room service was very limited though. Breakfast options included only traditional continental breakfast items. Lunch and dinner menus were comprised of a short list of sandwiches. The selections were altogether so limited that we never felt compelled to try any of the room service options. The food onboard was generally disappointing.
The gym onboard was quite nice offering some very state-of-the-art exercise equipment and free weights. There were some great views from the gym of which 3 of the 4 walls were windows. On the top deck, there was a jogging track that we used a couple of times. If I remember correctly, one lap was equivalent to either 1/8th of a mile+-. Inside the jogging track was an 9-hole miniature golf course that we enjoyed playing a few rounds on. This offered great views and fresh air and was almost always busy. There was only one pool which was nearly always mobbed. There were several jacuzzis located throughout. We never used them either because they were so overcrowded.
Onboard there were also a couple of ping-pong tables, a basketball half court, a volleyball court, a near life size chess-board, a library, and duty-free shopping. Unless you're looking to pick up some cigarettes and booze duty free, we found the shopping to be quite limited.
The so-called broadway-shows onboard were a complete joke. I've seen better high school air-band performances. I felt embarrassed for the entertainers some of who were clearly lipsyncing through much of their act. The casino looked interesting but the smoke was a put-off for a pregnant couple so we didn't bother.
The nightclubs were cool but were empty at just about any hour. Since the nightly entertainment was so bad, we hung out in the Karaoke Bar which was surprisingly a lot of fun. I was really surprised at how many amazing singers there were onboard. And those that were drunk and didn't realize how bad they sounded were pure comedy! Imagine the American Idol bloopers but with booze.
One day, they had a hairy chest contest on the main deck! It was hilarious yet incredibly disturbing at the same time.
Drinks on board were a little overpriced...as much as $4 - $5 for a beer + tip. There were two events that I can remember that offered free alcohol. On two separate days there was an art auction that offered a free glass of champagne and on day 4 there was a brief farewell party where alcohol was free. We managed to cultivate an interest in paintings for about 5 minutes both days.
The weather for our trip was great...nice and sunny for the most part. Sailing was smooth except for the last day which got a little bit rough. I noticed a fair number of people who had seasickness medication patches behind their ear as a precaution. I'm normally a little prone to seasickness but I was fine on this trip.
Exiting the boat was remarkably smooth. Guests were assigned time slots to disembark which made the line move very quickly and customs in San Diego was a breeze.
While getting away is always nicer than not, I can't say that I would have booked this trip knowing what I now know. This ship is very disappointing and the one day in Cabo doesn't provide enough time to really experience the town. Even a few of the guests onboard were, at times, a bit difficult. Our three closest neighbors were loud at all hours...literally all hours. Ship security helped a little but the games continued even after multiple parents, further down the hall, peeked their heads out of their rooms to encourage our neighbors to move their party out of the hallway so that their children could sleep.
After returning from the trip I was curious to research reviews of this trip and one of the first search results that I came across was the Consumer Affairs website. On this website (retrieved on May 18, 2010), the first few lines of the article read, "To say that Carnival gets more than its share of complaints would be quite an understatement. We get more complaints about Carnival than about all other crise lines combined." On that note, I guess we'll be closing the book on Carnival Cruises and opting for Royal Caribbean or Princess in the future.
Cabo San Lucas is located at the very tip of Baja California. One of the most notable features of Cabo is El Arco at Lands's End. El Arco is a distinctve arch formation in the rocks at the tip of the peninsula. There are lots of activities there like deep sea fishing, scuba diving, paragliding, sailing, golfing, and snorkeling.
Getting off the boat was a mess. It literally took over 1 hour and 30 minutes to go from the ship to the shore. The line to get off the ship wrapped around an entire deck in the hallways of guest rooms and when the ship is anchored the air conditioning is turned off so it got warm quick. I sort of felt bad for guests that were trying to sleep with hundreds of people right outside their door. Those who booked the overpriced shore excursions through the ship were able to leave the ship first. Others were on a first come, first served basis.
The port in Cabo is too small to dock a large cruise ship so instead, the ship anchors out at sea and several little boats, called 'tenders', make their way out to the Elation to bring guests, approximately 80 at a time, to shore.
Fishing is a huge part of the culture and attraction of Cabo so there are fishing boats as far as the eye can see. The bay is beautiful and lined with many very upscale yachts. Unfortunately, having only one day in port there meant that we were somewhat limited in what we could do and see so we decided to spend our day walking around the bay and taking in what the vendors had to offer.
We had lunch at Cabo Wabo Cantina which was easily the best meal we had the entire trip and not because my lips and tongue were numb from the tequila (I know you were thinking it!). Cabo Wabo Cantina, which may be more popular for the brand of tequila, is a famous nightclub and restaurant owned by Sammy Hagar and is said to have been one of the main reasons for the rising popularity of Cabo San Lucas as a vacation destination.
One thing that caught my attention was how 'Americanized' Cabo has become. A visitor can buy a Starbucks Latte, a Burger King Whopper and then head to Costco for some shopping in the same afternoon.