My family (Dad and his wife are 70 and 74 sons are 16 and 13)drove from snowy South Carolina to the Mobile port the day after Christmas. We booked a night at Admiral Semmes thru Expedia ($109 per night) and did park ($55) and cruise. We packed in the hotel shuttle and headed for the terminal at 11:15 am and we were on board in less than an hour. My Dad booked a suite (U88)and we could not board VIP with him, however, we got through check-in just as fast. Everyone in the port was very friendly and pleasant and the process was far better than expected based on reading all of the complaints. It was freezing in Mobile (in the low forties) when we sailed.
The Elation was as expected--older Fantasy class ship, very clean, with a friendly crew. The pool deck has not been upgraded. As we boarded, we were treated to unlimited Champagne while we waited for our rooms (available exactly at 1:30). The boys and I had a 3 person cabin with two bunks and a bed. We had plenty of room. Fortunately, the cruise boards saved me--there are NO HAIRDRYERS in the suites or other cabins and I packed one. Plush robes, plenty of towels and a fantastic steward delighted us all week. Our steward filled my soda cooler with ice every day.
The activities crew did a good job with the typical cruise fare--dance lessons, trivia, marriage game, karaoke (lots of choices!)and the Carnival obligatory hairy chest contest. There was plenty to do.
After multiple cruises, ( 1X Big Red Boat, 1X Holland, 1X Celebrity, 2X Norwegian, 3XCarnival)in Europe, Caribbean, Hawaii, and Alaska -- the Carnival crew seems to enjoy their jobs more than any other line. The result is that the crew seems to actually like people and not just go through the motions.
Food on Carnival is very good with choices for everyone--we ate the breakfast buffets on Lido, lunch in the Imagination dining room and dinner, come as you wish in Imagination. My 13 year old is a cruise ship pizza expert--he has ranked Carnival pepperoni the best out of all lines above. We ordered a wine package and after running out, brough our own bottles the last two nights. We were not charged the corkage fee and we upfront about the wine. (Adults can bring one bottle each).
Evening shows were good--funny comedians (3 on board this 5 day trip) , a great hip hop act, and the two shows were very good and not so good. (The brand new WIN dance show just wasnt very good).
I did a Spa sampler package with massage and facial which was excellent and the obligatory sales pitch wasnt too pushy.
In Cozumel we took a taxi ($11 for 5 people each way) in for shopping and in Playa del Carmen we spent the day at XCaret "eesh ka rit". In port stop at the 3 Amigos for some cool partying next to the ship's dock and you won't have far to get back on board.
The weather was great--mid to high 70s in port and all the way back to Mobile we enjoyed warm weather. The hot tubs stayed full because the pool water was very chilly. On Dec 30, I was not happy to miss the Clemson bowl game--Kentucky fans monopolized all four TVs in the sports bar and when they left-ESPN wouldn't work. Since Clemson didn't show up to play, it was all for the best.For New Years Eve, Cruise Director Steve Knisley gussied up in a kilt ensemble (Kind of weird for a chap from Canada but Steve was great) and arranged a festive deck party for us to celebrate the end of 2010. The last 15 minutes wait staff made sure everyone had a glass of Champagne to toast. The Captain and Cruise Director did the countdown and as midnight struck, Captain ordered the ships horn to sound. What a blast! People of all ages were dancing like crazy--old young and in between.
My Dad's suite allowed all of us to leave the ship as priority guests--we docked at 7am and we off the ship and on the shuttle breezing though customs in and schlepping luggage through the terminal in 30 minutes.
If you don't mind families/kids and you want a good bargain--Elation will deliver. The newer ships have more to offer but Elation was a great quick and inexpensive holiday in the sun. Kudos to the FRIENDLY and helpful staff and crew.