I had read lots of reviews to try to get acquainted with what we needed, what to do and how to do it. It all was helpful. We arrived to New Orleans a day ahead as I didn't want to risk not getting there in time to board due to unforeseen circumstances. We stayed at the La Quinta in GRETNA!! Clean not fancy at all but staff very nice and helpful. It literally is about 5-10 minutes to the French Quarter and to the Port. I would definitely recommend it if you are looking for a one or 2 night stay before or after your cruise and don't want to spend a lot of money. It also has free parking. You can park your vehicle here while you cruise also and take a taxi to the port. (about $17 for taxi one way for 4) we did choose to just park at the port since we are a family of 5 and would have had to have a van taxi which is more like $25 plus tip, etc. and then a taxi back. It would have saved us a little bit of money but knowing that when we got off the ship we were getting in our vehicle and headed home was more appealing.
Upon arrival at the port, everyone is very helpful and friendly and you move thru the stages quite quickly. Security was similar to the airport and easy to get thru. Check in, getting sail and sign card and welcome aboard pic all easy and smooth......We arrived about 11:45 am to the port. We boarded, went to the Lido deck for lunch and walked around. They said our rooms would be ready by 1:30 and they were. Our luggage was there by 5 all of it which was nice. We departed late and everything seemed to be running a bit late because of that. Not a big deal really though. Because it was New Year's Eve they did not have a meet and greet. I think this may have changed the way people interacted a bit. We really didn't meet a lot of people on this cruise. Our kids that attended the camp carnivals (Circle C and O2) did though. We also had anytime dining so we didn't have dining mates either...which was good and bad.
Our room...everyone warned us it would be small and it was!! However not a big deal for us as we usually vacation in our pop up camper. Plus, we didn't book this trip to spend time in our cabin. Our room was always clean and our beds turned down each night while we were at dinner. A family of 5 can fit in an interior state room. 2 beds fold down from the walls a trundle bed under one and the other 2 twins make into a king under the other. USE the space under the bed to store suitcases. The vanity in the bathroom was plenty big for all of our bathroom items. I did buy a mesh shower bag thing that hangs over the shower head to hold those items. It worked well. I had seen a post about bringing suction cups to help hang items to dry...didn't work due to little tiles so no suction. There is not a shower rod so hanging wet items is a bit tricky and as stated in previous posts it takes forever for stuff to dry in the bathroom. Speaking of the bathroom, I found it to be bigger than I expected. There is only one outlet so the advice about a plug in strip would have been nice if you have multiple items that you need to charge. We did not have the strip and it worked out but would have been nice. The irons are in the laundrette (on the Elation that is floor 6 near room 152). There was not a hairdryer in the room but I think you can ask for one?? We made due without it which is fine. The beds we found to be quite comfortable. Because you do not have any sunlight into the room, it is easy to sleep the day away. We set an alarm after the first morning just to stir us so we didn't sleep away the day.
The ship itself. It was beautiful. This was our first cruise and we were impressed with the ship and the decorations. The staff is friendly and outgoing. We saw a few things that weren't "new" but for the age of the ship it was in good condition. The tile in the baths is really dates it. Again, everything was clean at all times.
The food. We were always able to find food we liked. When you see people say there is nothing good to eat...I have to wonder just how picky are they?? There is chicken fingers/strips--my kids were happy!! Hamburgers, buffets most of the time, pizza and 24 hour ice cream--my kids were very happy with that. We were able to try different dishes and always found something we liked. Not everything was absolutely delicious but you will not ever go hungry!! We had anytime dining which we liked. We didn't stand in line and only waited once to be seated. We really liked our first waiter and assistant waiter and requested them each night. Conrad and Paul were fantastic. Conrad asked our names on the first night and called us by them every time after that. Even the bar waiter knew us and our names. It really adds to the service you receive!!
Drinks were good but pricey! Remember that the price may be $7.25 but you then add the 15% gratuity to that. The soda card was a good buy! We did bring our 2 bottles of wine on the ship!
The entertainment. It was good. The ship is lacking in specific entertainment for those 18-20 year olds in our opinion. There is the camp carnival for the younger kids, the Circle C and O2 for the others. Our kids really enjoyed the clubs but our 18 year old was a bit lost. I am wondering if there had been the meet and greet would he have had a chance to meet some more kids his age? He spent the first 2 nights hanging out with us and then the last 3 with his sister who drug him into the 15-17 club and they would hang out all over the ship. Our kids really enjoyed the freedom to do what they wanted when they wanted. The games they do play were good and funny. Wish there would have been more outdoor games. All the trivia games were in the Great Gasby lounge area. You should not be bored at night...there are many options between karaoke, disco, shows, the piano bar and the casino. The shows were good...our favorite, WIN and the Legends show. Those were really good. We hit rough seas 2 nights in a row so WIN was actually cancelled. They made the shows up though on the last night which was great!!
They put on one heck of a New year's party. They had a countdown at 10:45 in the atrium with a balloon drop at 11 for people who wanted to get to bed early and then another countdown on the Lido at 11:45 and a party after.
Our excursions--we did not use Carnival to do these. In Progresso, get off the boat, take the free shuttle bus to the drop off market, get off the bus and talk to Raul who is holding up a $15 sign. If you want to see a small ruin,the salt flats, pink flamingos in the wild and a private beach for a few hours, this is the man to see. We had a tour guide and then for an extra $10 between the 2 families in the van, we stayed at the beach for an extra hour. We stopped in Cozumel...again we had booked on our own but because of the rough seas and high winds all water activities were cancelled. We ended up renting these little buggies and did a jungle tour and then to a private beach. It was a lot of fun. We also introduced our kids to taxi drivers in Mexico--they are crazy!!
Debarkation--if you can maneuver your luggage--definitely recommend keeping it and self assist off on the last day. They dismissed those self assists first and we were off the boat by 8:15. The luggage for those who had put it out the night before wasn't even ready yet. Customs was simple!
Whenever you get off the boat--you must have your sail and sign card and a photo id. You will need your sail and sign card when you get off at debarkation!!
All in all we had a good time and would go again. Remember to take your BONINE...it works great! We saw lots of people on the last night since it was calm who said they wish they had known about that. Those 2 rough nights were rough and the crew said that is definitely not the norm.