Let me start by saying that for me, price sells ... my husband is 35 and I'm 26, so we don't have tons of disposable income to spend on cruising. We do, however, LOVE cruising, so we time our cruises so that we can get the best price.
For example, our Jan. 6-10 family cruise on Carnival Elation was supposed to be scheduled so that it coincided with my brother's graduation from college, which was the reason to take this celebratory cruise. However, no one in my (cough, cheap, cough) family could stomach paying more than double for a cruise just because it happened to set sail in May, when my brother actually graduates. Instead, we chose to cruise during his Christmas break in January, for half the price ($230 per person).
Cast of characters for this cruise included my mom, dad, husband, brother and myself. This was my parents' and brother's first cruise, and the fourth cruise for my husband and me. We all live 20 minutes from the cruise terminal in Mobile, and my dad actually works at the cruise terminal for the Department of Homeland Security, so we were very familiar with Mobile and the terminal.
We arrived at the terminal around 11 a.m. Thursday and boarded the ship before noon. We had VIP status thanks to my dad's job, but the regular line seemed to be moving pretty fast. We ate lunch in the Lido, cabins were open at exactly 1:30, and our bags were in our cabins by dinnertime.
To make this review more readable, I'll break it down by categories:
Brother, husband and I ate most of our meals in the dining rooms. Service was good (other than two instances when the server brought the wrong dish). Our dinner servers, Andre and Prasong, were great. They were friendly and Prasong especially seemed to enjoy chatting with us.
Food in the dining room was good. I would like to see more selection at breakfast (I am spoiled from cruising with Holland America, where there were tons of breakfast entrees to choose from). Food at lunch and dinner was good -- not fantastic gourmet dishes, but tasty and nicely presented. Same quality as you would see at an American chain restaurant like Red Lobster, Ruby Tuesday or Olive Garden.
My parents ate most of their meals in Lido, because they are less adventurous eaters and like to see their food before it is served to them. The buffet suited them fine, and they seemed to especially like the salad bar, ice cream machines and daily specials from Jamaica, France, etc. Mama really liked the Mongolian Grill, where you could create your own stir fry.
We all ordered room service at some point or another during the cruise and were satisfied with service and food.
We reserved three cabins with large windows - one for my parents, one for my brother and one for my husband and me. The cabins were on Riviera deck, with a few cabins in between us so we weren't on top of one another constantly. The cabins were a decent size and as long as we stayed out of them, they were cleaned in the morning and at night. Closet space was very good, bathroom size was satisfactory and everything was pretty clean. The in-cabin TVs were huge and old but got a good selection of channels.
Like I noted before, I am a bit spoiled after we cruised Holland America, but I do have to note that the toiletries provided were sort of skimpy ... no moisturizer, no conditioner, etc. Next time I will remember to pack my own.
For the price of $230 per person, the cabins met all our expectations.
We enjoyed the show "Just Rock," which is apparently new to the Elation. The show "Win" was cancelled due to rough seas. We enjoyed the comedians and attended two family-friendly comedy shows (fairly entertaining) and one adult comedy show (funny but didn't have to drop the F-bomb quite so often).
Husband attended the art auction to get a free glass of bubbly and was pretty surprised at how ugly the art was. Most of it looked like something you'd find at Old Time Pottery (a low-budget home decorating store).
Husband, brother and I attended the gender showdown, which was amusing. We also attended group trivia (lame questions that few people could answer) and the genius test (decent).
We enjoyed the live country musician who played guitar in the Drama Bar. He was good!
We also enjoyed the walking track on top of the ship (11 laps makes a mile ... which I found out the hard way). Mini golf is also in this area and looked like fun, but we never found time to play. We did play ping-pong, which was fun.
There were several football bowl games going on during our cruise and fans crowded around the big-screen TV outside Cole Porter lounge. I don't watch football but was glad they were able to ... until our dinner in Inspiration dining room was interrupted several times by really loud cheering and screaming. (TV area was right near dining room). I think the maitre d tried to quiet the fans down ... he and the servers seemed annoyed by the loud interruptions.
The ship's decor leaves something to be desired ... or again, maybe I'm just spoiled from Holland America. Mama said she thought the Elation looked like a giant casino. It was very clean, though, and well-kept. We loved the adults-only Serenity Deck
with its comfortable loungers and amazing views. I tried out the slide and Lido pool and both were fun. With the weather being cold, lots of people were packed into the hot tubs.
Didn't check out the gym or spa but my parents said both areas were nicely appointed.
Had fun riding the Atrium's glass elevator. Cole Porter and Mikado lounges were both comfortable and nice.
This cruise only had one port stop, Cozumel. I love to snorkel in Coz but my family wanted to spend the day shopping. We departed the ship at 9 a.m. and took a taxi van downtown ($16), where we did a lot of walking and visited one really great store, Viva Mexico. Prices were fixed and no haggling was allowed. There was a lot of beautiful and well-priced pottery and art pieces, plus typical tourist souvenirs. We also visited some other shops where haggling was welcome. I had fun shopping in these stores, especially since I was able to converse with storekeepers in Spanish, but my more traditional parents were uncomfortable. However, this was their first time out of the U.S., so I could see why they felt out of place.
Even in January, the temps were in the low 80s and the water was gorgeous in Coz. Took a taxi van back to the Puerta Maya pier ($11, since we walked part way back to the pier) and had a few drinks while lounging on the mini-beach at the pier. A lovely day! Next time, though, I will go snorkeling!
BEHIND THE FUN TOUR
Since husband and I didn't schedule an official shore excursion in Coz, we spent $55 each and signed on for Carnival's Behind the Fun tour. It was awesome! The tour lasted over 3 hours and we took an all-access, behind the scenes tour of the kitchen, dishwashing area, dining rooms, laundry, bridge, engineering area, storage areas, prep kitchen, crew dining rooms, Mikado Lounge stage area, costume storage, dressing rooms, crew bar and lots more. We spent a lot of time talking to the captain and others employed on the ship, and learned more about the crew and ship than we could ever fathom. We were able to ask any question about anything, and it was answered honestly.
Want to know what exists on decks 2 and 3? Take this tour. It was amazing. Special little bonuses included a free treats send to your cabin from the chef, Carnival hat, Carnival lanyard and free photos of the group with the captain. Definitely worth every penny of the $55 per person.
TRAVEL BACK TO PORT AND DISEMBARKATION
Travel back to port was rough but manageable. We didn't get seasick, but others did. There was some complaining from other passengers but the seas were pretty tame compared to some we've encountered on other cruises.
We arrived in Mobile and docked at 6:15 a.m. We were enjoying breakfast in Imagination dining room when Riviera deck self-assist group was called at 7:15. We were through customs and waiting for our rides by 7:40. After picking up our pets at the vet, I was back at work by 9:30! By 10:30, I was wishing I was back in Coz! LOL :)
Carnival, please rein in your photographers. We finally started saying "no thank you" after the third night that they tried to take our photos during dinner. We also said "no thank you" to the photo paparazzi who hounded us as we stepped off the ship in Coz.
Dining room hostess, if we ask for a table by ourselves at breakfast or lunch, please comply if at all possible. It's really awkward to get seated at a large table and be immediately joined by a bunch of other people, and then try to explain that we wanted to sit by ourselves, without offending the other diners. Fortunately, most of those who we ate with were pleasant ... but we were trying to have "family time." Fortunately we enjoyed a wonderful table by ourselves at dinner each night! Nothing against making friends with other cruisers, which we often do, but sometimes you just want to be with your own kin.
In summary, I would say this is a great cruise to take if you are looking for a bargain and don't mind cruising with a variety of passengers, from rednecks to SEC fans to redneck SEC fans. As a country person from Alabama whose family roots for SEC teams I am allowed to say this :)
It was a nice short trip and a good introduction to the world of cruising for my brother and parents. No doubt we'll do it again, because all in all, it was a good time.