Embarkation: My boyfriend and I took the 5 night cruise aboard the Elation from Mobile on July 31, 2010. I have cruised before, but this was his first cruise. We live within driving distance, so we drove to Mobile the morning of the cruise, we had no problem finding the cruise terminal, we arrived around 10:30 and were among the first to enter the garage. Things were a bit chaotic in the parking garage, as I believe the previous ship passengers were still debarking. We did not have any tags for our luggage, since we had booked online at the last minute. I saw later that others had printed these out themselves and taped them to their luggage. But this was no problem, one of the greeters asked our cabin number and hand-wrote a tag for us. BF parked the car and I went inside the terminal to wait with our carry-on. I was shocked to learn that parking for the 5 night cruise was $75. I thought that was ridiculous, and had I known, we would have taken advantage of one of the hotels with free parking, or we would have at least looked around the area for a cheaper option.
Embarkation was easy, possibly because we were so early. We carried on a bottle of wine and two six packs of cranberry juice in our carry-on luggage. The embarkation and security staff were very friendly. Once we had completed our sail and sign information, and shown our passports, we waited in a waiting area for quite a long time. We were not able to board the ship until around 11:30, but by that time the line behind us had grown very long. Once onboard, the cabin areas were closed off until 1:30, so we had to lug around our carry-on luggage with us wherever we went. This was very cumbersome and prevented us from really exploring the ship like we would have liked. We first went to the spa area and booked a massage for the next day, and then had lunch at the buffet, and a drink and relaxed. Drinks: The drink of the day the first day was very good, and very strong. We ordered the first ones in the plastic souvenir cups, then kept the cups and just ordered the refills which were cheaper. We had purchased a bottle of vodka from Carnival's Bon Voyage to be delivered to our room, but when we asked our cabin steward, he said he didn't know anything about that and that any alcohol in the rooms would be confiscated. I said we ordered it through Carnival, so he said he didn't know how that worked and said for us to call guest services. Guest Services informed us that because of the special rules about alcohol and leaving from Mobile, the vodka wouldn't be delivered until the second day. But after that was delivered, we made our own vodka/cranberry drinks and drank them in our carnival cups throughout the ship. It came gift wrapped with a note from Carnival, so I guess our room steward knew not to confiscate it. We were told that until the ship enters 'international waters' the bars all had a limited selection. We ordered wine from the cigar bar, which was horrible. The bartender felt bad due to the very limited selection and said we didn't have to pay for it, which was very nice, so we had mixed drinks which were just fine. We ordered the wine package with dinner, which was 3 bottles for $65, because we knew we would want wine every night, and that saved a few dollars off of buying by the bottle. We received 3 'tickets' that we turned in for each bottle of wine we wanted. Each night, if you don't finish the bottle, they will cork it and bring it out the next night. This would work fine for a couple if one wanted red and one wanted white, you could get two bottles at once and they would just cork them at the end of dinner and bring them out the next night.
The Ship: The ship in general had nice dEcor. I was surprised at how nice the buffet-restaurant area was, and the colors were more of a copper and jewel tones than the typical garish Carnival neon and bright colors that I have seen before. It is an older ship, but I didn't see anything out of order. It seemed clean, other than constant spills on the Lido deck by the pool. Also it seemed as though there were always room-service trays, laundry, or linens in the hallways by our room. Also, the hand rails on all the stairways seemed sticky. We notice the buffet restaurant area of the ship was always very hot, and the doors from that area to outside were constantly open, so that may have been the problem there. The dining area and other public areas were nice and cool.
Our Room: Our room was toward the front of the ship on the Empress deck, it was nice and larger than other rooms I have had on Carnival. We had a nice window and the bathroom was large enough to turn around in the shower. There was a medicine cabinet with shelves for toiletries which was nice. Our suitcases fit under the bed. The room was cleaned twice a day by our cabin steward, who kept us stocked with ice and clean towels. There are no irons allowed in the rooms, but there is an ironing area with irons in the laundry room. I'm not sure if there is one laundry area per floor, but we used the laundry area right down the hall. On formal night there was a bit of a line for the irons, but other than that we never had to wait. Our room stayed very cool, but we kept the AC vent open completely and our room shades drawn. We heard many people complain that their rooms were too hot and never cooled down.
Pool: There is really only one 'pool' on this ship, and it was usually crowded with kids. We got in a few times, for a few minutes, just to cool off because it was soooo hot. There are showers near the pool, which are also nice for cooling off, and for washing off the salt water from the pool. The 'pool' towards the back of the ship is more like a larger hot-tub. Also, I was surprised that there was no pool in the Serenity, adult's only area. There were hot tubs, but no pool, and it was very hot on that deck as there was no breeze, however, there were umbrellas and shade from the ship. We chose to sit on the top deck to enjoy the breeze even though there was no shade there.
Gym: We went to the gym to work out but it was so hot we couldn't finish a decent workout.
Food: I was pleasantly surprised by the food. The buffet food was good, the salad bar was always fresh and had a variety, the sandwiches from the deli were fantastic, and the pizza was good also. Desserts were OK. The tea and lemonade were not good, but the water surprisingly was. I have always found cruise-ship water to have a chemical taste, but this water, with the exception of the last day, was completely tasteless, as it should be. I am a water snob, and typically resort to bottled water, but I drank the faucet water from the buffet and in the dining room with no problem. The coffee was good except for one day it was weak. The coffee in the coffee bar was no better than the coffee in the buffet or dining area. The sushi from the sushi bar was great, as was almost all of the food in the main dining room. We had the late seating dinner, which gave us a chance to try tea-time and/or the sushi bar every afternoon. Our dining room service was great. One night I forgot and left my Carnival souvenir cup (I had came from the bar to dinner) on the table as we left, and our waiter saved it and brought it back out for me the next night.
Services: We only had room service once, we ordered orange juice to drink with our vodka and it took only a few minutes to arrive. Also we needed help with the in-room safe (note: do not try to use a gift card, we tried to use a wal-mart prepaid card and it did not work, it locked the safe but would not unlock it), and they arrived very quickly and opened our safe for us. We had a couples massage. It was $260 for 50 minutes. I'd suggest to just get a massage before you go or get one on the beach in Mexico for cheaper. Both of our massage therapists seemed to think we wanted 'sports massages'. They were NOT relaxing.
Entertainment: We tried to play poker in the casino, but there wasn't a lot of interest. The 'rake' was 15%, and the table only had a few players. We went back repeatedly to see if there were more people playing, but with no luck. We were really hoping to play some Texas Hold-Em, but not against only each other. The R-rated comedy show was funny, and several of the bar-area singers/musicians were very good. But the singers in the big theater were horrible! We watched one show and just cringed. We didn't go back after that. The all-ages karaoke was the only thing going on right before our dinner time, so we checked that out a few times. This was horrible ? I think it changed to adults-only karaoke after a certain time, but that time was not early enough, all we ever saw were kids singing Britney Spears or Taylor Swift. The past-guest party was great, the drinks and hors d oeuvres' were free-flowing, no tipping necessary. They had the 'marriage show' which I've seen the same show a few times on different ships. They also had the hairy chest contest, and a few other classics. Carnival needs some new material! Debarkation: We chose the self-assist. They started debarking the first level at around 7:30. After an hour or so we heard them call the next level. We waited until around 9:00 and decided to try to debark even though they hadn't called our level yet. The line was not long at all, we were never asked what level we were on, we were through customs and in our car by 9:30.