Here are the particulars: my wife, myself, our 19 year old daughter, her friend, our 16 year old son and his friend took the Carnival Elation out of Mobile on August 13th for the five night jaunt to Progresso and Cozumel. My wife and I had a double inside cabin (U203) and the kids had a quad inside (M174). We drove from Indiana (about 12 hours) stopping at a Homewood Suites in Montgomery on the way down (GREAT hotel). We arrived in Mobile a little early so we stopped at Battleship Park to check out the U.S.S. Alabama, which was pretty cool.
The terminal in Mobile was easy to get to and parking ($85) was no problem. Once inside, well, that was another story. We waited in four massive lines: security, check in, the obligatory photos and then to get on the ship. It took over an hour. The time waiting did give us a chance to check out our fellow passengers. It was a mixture of colorful pimp outfits, wife-beater undershirts, sideways ball caps, rows and rows of gold teeth and cases upon cases of Coke, Dr. Pepper, etc. While there was an array of visual carnage, a few folks stick out in my mind: the guy who wore a massive sombrero and beer mug-shaped sun glasses; and a guy who wore a hoodie with the sleeves pushed up, cut off studded biker gloves, a frizzy Afro and over-sized shorts with a large fox tail attached to the back (saw this guy several times during the cruise, always alone, wearing the same type outfit with a multitude of different colored fox tails). Whew.
Once on board, we were able to get into our cabins right away. I've always liked the design of Carnival cabins: well laid out, a large bathroom, plenty of storage space and VERY comfortable beds with high quality linen. The only signs of age were two chips in the sink and a few on the edges of the drawers. The only other issues I had with the cabin: the phone was a piece of crap with exposed wires, there was no hair dryer, and I could never get the temp down to sub-zero like I like it. One very cool thing is that the large light in the corner had a nice drawing of Leviathan on it. In fact, all the corridors leading to the cabins are lined with panels with drawings of famous (and not so famous) liners: Normandie, Titanic, Ile de France, Paris, Imperator, Rex, Leviathan, Belgenland and Alcantara. A nice touch for liner fans.
The exterior of Elation is in excellent shape. The teak, of which there is a tremendous amount, is in great condition, and there is only a bit of rust showing here and there. Although dated, the main pool area shows little signs of wear. The aft pool is a different story: rust, gunky chalk, etc. I'm sure it's because they're going to tear everything out and add a new water park. Still, it should be maintained, no matter what the plan is. The funnel could also use a coat of paint.
The interior is a mixture of shoddy maintenance and obvious abuse. In the atrium a great deal of the tube lighting is burned out; at night it looks absolutely ridiculous. Throughout the common areas there are hammered square copper panels with a relief of some sort of silly-looking muse in the center of each. Over the years, people have smashed in the centers with their fingers or fists...it looks really bad. I saw several broken light shades on fixtures in the Imagination Dining Room, and much of the faux stained glass in Tiffany's lido buffet has been chiseled away by people picking at it with their fingernails. The interiors of elevators are in terrible condition.
I'll not go into the subject of dEcor as we all know the scoop: typical Farcus stuff. The only thing I'll mention is the giant Statue of Liberty HEAD in Duke's piano bar....it looks like Ultra-man in a wig and tiara.
For the most part, the food was pretty good. In the dining room at dinner, soups were excellent whereas entrees were hit or miss. The breakfast menu was the same everyday. Our waiter, Paulbert, and his assistant, Vernon, were very good. I felt a bit sorry for them: we had a booth along the back wall of the dining room and it was a little frustrating having to pass food, dirty dishes, cutlery, etc. back and forth.
Tiffany's, from a passenger flow standpoint, is a disaster. Long lines, people running into to each other, crowded seating and small tables. It's also where the pizza counter and "rotisserie" are located. About the pizza: it's some of the best I've had on a cruise ship. Too bad the guy making it wasn't smart enough to bake more than one at a time. He would go in the back, stay for five or so minutes, bring out one pizza, cut it into four slices, serve the four slices and then repeat the process over again. Since most people got at least two slices, there was almost always a long line and, after a while, I would usually just give up. I came to the conclusion that although pizza is available 24hrs, it's not 24hrs IN A ROW. The "rotisserie" should really be called a deli as there's not a rotisserie in sight...although the sandwiches were pretty good.
Just outside is a grill with burgers, hot dogs, nachos, etc. There's also a Mongolian grill, which is excellent.
Service throughout the ship is spotty at best. It ran the gamut: from excellent to indifferent to downright rude. Our room steward did a decent job, but nothing I would write home about. As mentioned, our waiter and his assistant were also good. I did have an unpleasant encounter in the photo department and at the Purser's desk. I went to the photo shop to buy an SD card for my camera and decided to get an 8GB for $20. I knew the card would fit in my camera but I asked the guy if there could be any reason why it wouldn't work. He said as long as it's the same size, it'll work. I bought the card, took it and the camera back to my cabin and when I put it in the camera, the screen said the card could not be used. I took it back to the guy and he said the card I bought won't work in older cameras. I said no problem, here's the card back, just refund the $20. He said he couldn't refund the money because I had opened the package. I said "of course I opened the package because YOU told me the card would work." He said sorry and pointed to the sales slip where it says "no refunds or exchanges". I said fine and walked away. From there I went down to the Purser's desk, explained what happened to the man behind the counter and told him that, if I didn't get a refund, I would have $20 deducted from the daily gratuities. He started to argue with me: "why would you penalize people that have nothing to do with this? That's not fair to them." I said that perhaps they should get their $20 back from the guy in the photo department. He didn't see anything wrong screwing me over, but then took issue when I fought back. He eventually called up to the photo desk and said he would send an email to the photo manager who would contact me the next day. Sure enough, the next day I got a call telling me that they had refunded the $20. If you get pushed, sometimes the best thing is to stand your ground.
The cruise director, Cory, was about as obnoxious as they come. His five or six daily announcements were nothing more than a ten minute sales pitch about future cruises (where "we pay YOU to cruise"), signing up for a Carnival Mastercard (where you get "free stuff, even if you're NOT approved"), AMAZING spa specials, INCREDIBLE deals on watches and, FOR ONE DAY ONLY, buy five photos and get the sixth one FREE.
Speaking of photos: in the evenings, along "Elation's Way", the main promenade, the entire length of the space was taken up by backdrop after backdrop of corny scenes for photos; and they were set up in front of the windows. So, for about 200 feet, you could never sit in the chairs along the promenade. This happened every night except the first.
And now the best part: the passengers. First of all, I have always tried to take people as they are; I understand that we all come from different walks of life, levels of education, etc., and what's acceptable to me might not be acceptable to the next person (and vice-versa). But this time I really had a difficult time with my fellow passengers. It's almost as if they thought that spending $300 for a five night cruise gave them the right to be rude, inconsiderate of others, and downright condescending. Typical Carnival passengers have been labeled the "Walmart" crowd. Well, many of these people would have to work their way up to that level. Don't get me wrong, I am not some snob who thinks he's better than anyone else; I just find it annoying that some people have what I call 'arrogant entitlement'. I saw one lady actually snap her fingers at one of the waiters in the dining room; I suppose her fake diamonds and several hundred feet of gold chain gave her a false sense of superiority. Rude is rude, and is never acceptable but, for cryin' out loud, at least have something to back it up!
Carnival has really lowered the bar as to what is appropriate, both dress and conduct-wise. No longer are there formal nights: instead, it's "Cruise Elegant", where pretty much anything goes. The only thing different is no jeans are allowed...shorts, gym shoes and baseball caps are apparently okay.
Also, there was absolutely no supervision or enforcement of any rules when it came to children. And yes, I understand that when you sail on Carnival in August there's going to be a ton of families, which means a ton of children. The number of kids is not the problem, the problem is parents who think that suddenly they have 2000 babysitters who'll deal with their little darlings. Of course no one with Carnival would dare say a word. I actually saw two kids in full sprint plow into a "security" guard; he just smiled, turned to one side and moved out of their way. I can't tell you how many times I heard kids drop the F-bomb.
I truly believe there's a place for kids on just about every cruise (with a few exceptions of course); but there also has to be parental responsibility. My kids started cruising when my son was still in a stroller; he is now 16 and my daughter is 19. We've taught them what's acceptable and what's not; they've never ran around a ship, have never been disrespectful to passengers or staff, have never damaged anything and, most importantly, have always said please, thank you, no thank you, excuse me, etc. On the Elation, my daughter said, "can you believe how these people are acting?"
Though no fault of Carnival, I was saddened to see such a high number of young people (late teens, early 20s) smoking like fiends.
Of course obnoxious behavior wasn't limited to children. At the table behind us in the dining room sat six, consistently drunken slobs who yelled, slammed their backs against our booth, screamed out Paulbert and Vernon's name (Paul-BERT, commeer!), pounded on the table, made fun of the bar steward (actually mocking his accent to his face), I could go on and on. One of them even yelled at his wife/girlfriend/hooker to "close yer legs!", to which one of the other guys said, "is that Mahi Mahi?" Unbelievable.
One afternoon I was sitting by myself outside of the lido restaurant at a table for four. I was on the shady side of the ship, the breeze was great and, well, you know the feeling. Two very nice people came up and sat behind me and, a few minutes later, a friend of theirs popped his head around the corner and said, "wow you guys are lucky, great spot." The guy told him to join them but the man had four people in his family. I figured I had been sitting there for about an hour, and this guy needed a place to sit with his family, so I said, "here you go sir, take this table." He thanked me and started to head for the table. Just then another couple (the guy in a wife-beater), raced in from the other direction and plopped down their trays. The guy I gave the table to said, "sir, I'm sorry but this man was just getting up so we could have this table". The jackass looked right at the guy, shrugged his shoulders and sat down. I said to the first guy, "sorry, you're on your own. Good luck." He looked at me and said, "yeah, right."
To be perfectly honest, I could go on and on with stories about the passengers, but I think you get the picture.
Being a musician, I try to not be too critical of cruise ship entertainment; I usually find it to be average at best. However, there was a young guy who sang and played acoustic guitar and this man was outstanding. The level of talent he has is far beyond what Carnival deserves: the guy should be on Celebrity or Royal Caribbean. Other than him, the rest of the entertainment was mediocre. Although there is something VERY entertaining about hearing an Asian rock band play, "I Ruv Wok an Woll"
Didn't go to any of the shows...not our cup 'o tea.
As far as the ports:
Progresso is a very poor town, very sad. We went to the public beach, which was nice, and I'm glad we did. There were literally hundreds of locals on the beach trying to sell stuff (or begging) and, as I explained to the kids, this is the way 90% of these people will live for the rest of their lives. If nothing it showed them just how lucky they are.
I never buy shore excursions: I would rather cut out the cruise lines' profit so that ALL of my money goes directly to the locals; so we rented two wave runners for $80 total for a half an hour and had a blast. We were back on the ship by, I think, 1:30pm.
A final word about Progresso: the pier where cruise ships dock is located at the end of a jetty that juts out four miles into the sea, and you have to take a shuttle bus into town. These are provided free by a local tour company...Carnival has nothing to do with it.
Cozumel was a blast. We took a cab to a beach resort (not a hotel) called Paradise Beach. For $14 per person you have a private beach, a fresh water pool, showers, changing rooms, beach loungers & umbrellas, water slides, trampolines, etc. It's a great bargain, clean and safe. My son and his friend para-sailed for $45 each....I am, unfortunately, gun-shy of para-sailing: years ago, during my first and only attempt, I plummeted about 40ft. into the ocean in Freeport when the line broke. Never again.
Disembarkation at Mobile was horrible. A line to get off the ship, a line just to get off the gangway, a line to go through security and a line to go through immigration & customs. It took nearly an hour and a half. While we were waiting in the line to go through customs, I said to a Carnival lady, "41 cruises and this is the worst disembarkation I've ever had." She said, "it's only 10:45, we're doin' good."
One last thing: two days into the cruise my wife tripped on the stairs and fell on her left arm. At first it wasn't too painful, but after a while it got worse so I went to the medical center and bought a sling. Being a tough cookie, she stuck it out and waited until we got home to go to the doctor. Well, she apparently has a torn rotator cuff...whatever that is. On the ship, several members of the staff asked her what happened while only two passengers were concerned...and one of them was a child: "wha you do yaw om?" At least he asked.
Okay, having said all this, I admit, we STILL had a good time. Not because of anything Carnival did, and certainly not because of my fellow passengers, but because, no matter what, there is nothing like being on a giant ship plowing through the sea. While shipboard is different from ship to ship and line to line, the feeling you get when the lines are let go and the ship starts edging away from the pier is the same across the board. There's nothing like it and yet it's something we all know and love. Unfortunately, in this case, I couldn't wait for the ship to edge its way back next to the pier and tie up.
That's the first time that's ever happened.