We had our 12th cruise on Carnival's Elation from October 31st to November 7th, 2004, sailing out of Galveston, Texas My review comments are based on comparisons with our 11 other cruises. Unfortunately, although I do try and be objective, this probably has more negatives than positives, and most likely is our first and last cruise with Carnival.
ITINERARY: We were supposed to have gone to Belize but you can read below why the schedule changed. We left Galveston, sea day, sea day, Progresso, Mexico, Cozumel, Mexico, Calica, Mexico, sea day, and return to Galveston.
HOTEL: We arrived in Galveston the week before, driving from Lubbock, Texas. We were on a one week cruise on Rhapsody Of The Seas, then simply changed to the Elation for the following week. We had booked a room with Holiday Inn On The Beach. The personnel there was extremely friendly and helpful and we were surprised when we were upgraded to a better room on the second to top floor. This Holiday Inn allows you to park in their parking lot, during the cruise, for free, saving you $60.00 per week in parking charges at the pier. They also provide a free shuttle to and from the pier. Our shuttle driver both times was "Rodney" who is quite a character and a very nice person. He really takes good care of you and gives you his cell phone number so you can call him when you return and he'll hurry down to pick you up. (Eight minutes from our call to his arriving!) All shuttle drives are done by reservation so make sure you are on their list. They also check to ensure you have been taken and picked up. I fully recommend Holiday Inn for a Galveston sailing.
EMBARKATION: At first it was a breeze. We arrived early and there already were long lines. However, it only took ten minutes to get processed, get our room key cards, and go to the next room. Surprise! There was a horrendous line and we asked what the holdup was. It was for the taking of pictures. Okay, we said, we'll get formal pictures on board, can we go through? NO, we were told. We then waited an extra 43 minutes because of this. We later discovered this was simply one of many negatives to befall us on this cruise. By the way, when it was our turn, we simply walked past the photographer. I don't believe when you are wet and disheveled, that it is a time for a picture. Plenty of time for that later.
THE SHIP: A big surprise was once we got inside the ship. Of 12 cruises, this had to be the best looking atrium of all. Actually beautiful. A Roman styled motif and lots of brown and maroon colors really helped and the dark colors did not detract at all. There were a lot of small bars and clubs, some intimate. Most of the public rooms were also nicely decorated and didn't look glitzy at all. The only problem was getting to some of them as they'd be located behind another you had to walk through first. Duke's, named after Duke Ellington, was a favorite of ours. Located near the main dining room, it was a good place to have a drink, smoke, talk, and wait for the dining room to open. The signage on the ship was extremely poor. For instance, on each deck, the only place you could look to see what deck you were on was directly in front of the elevators. There were no such signs near any of the stairwells. The way they were designed, you could not see the floor numbers on the elevators on the other side of the hall from where you were. You had to walk over to see which elevator was closest to your deck. Further on elevators, inside were small signs telling you what was on each deck. Problem here was two fold. First, they lit up as you reached each deck but you couldn't read them until you actually reached that deck. Second, many of them had bulbs out and didn't light up at all. Some maintenance needed here, Carnival. Also, the elevators had a habit of going up or down PAST your deck while you were waiting and not stopping. In the atrium, each side going forward or aft had signs stating certain restaurants and clubs etc, for each deck. Problem is some of those places were a deck up or down from what was stated. Very poor signage. Try finding the Inspiration Restaurant. We searched for TWO HOURS that first day until we discovered you had to go down one stairway to get there from where the sign was. (We were assigned to the Imagination Restaurant and found that so no problem!). You are given a small deck plan layout when you embark. Keep it in your pocket or you'll go mad trying to figure the ship out. The "card room" on that deck plan did not exist, it was now an "art gallery."
CABIN STEWARD: We also had a very nice upgraded cabin. We always book a lower inside guarantee and usually are not disappointed with some type of upgrade. This time, we were upgraded two decks and to an OUTSIDE cabin. Nice! We couldn't get to the window without crawling over the bed. Although Carnival states their cabins are larger than others, we felt it was about the same size as on the Rhapsody the week before, but, the bathroom was much larger and you were not crowded in the shower. There was a built-in tv at the foot of the bed. Only one outlet in the cabin so a power strip might come in handy if you need extra outlets. We had two very large suitcases with us and there was a space right near the door where they seemed to fit right in after unpacking them and not be in the way. There were two chairs, one with a back, and no couch, so you really couldn't relax in the cabin without lying on the bed. You really don't spend that much time in your cabin so that wasn't really a problem. The problem was with our room steward. We didn't see him. We are usually met upon boarding. After dinner, we still had not met our room steward (there were a few things we needed, and a few things to explain to him) so we called the Purser's office to inquire. They said they had no idea who he was or where he was. They refused to give us a number for housekeeping and rudely said to call them back at 10:30 p.m. As we had late dining at 8:30, we called them back when we returned. We informed them that we had left a note for the room steward that was ignored, and we still had not met him although he had been to the cabin to turn down the bed. The Purser's desk then rudely stated, "These people work 14 hours a day and we can't know where they are every minute." If they work 14 hours per day, why haven't we met him somewhere? As for the television, there was a notice that they were having problems with satellite reception but that was never corrected. The same shows and movies repeated for all seven days, there was never a CNN channel for news. This was the week of the national election and we finally got to watch a "local" Nashville channel with their election results. The TV guide in the cabin stated we'd have all three networks but never saw all three working at the same time. As for the movies, be glad they reran them over and over because halfway through, the movie would suddenly end and a Carnival commercial would come on. The movie never resumed and you'd have to watch it when it restarted a few hours later. I never found out what this was all about. I know that all ships do not have a bow cam (this one didn't), but this was the first time that there was not a channel devoted to where you were, how far to go, what the weather and waves were, etc. Nothing.
CABIN STEWARD - 2nd NIGHT: After a day and a half of frustration of meeting and talking with our cabin steward, we went once again to the Purser's desk. This time we talked to Anthony Forshaw from Australia. He knew we had been there a few times and called a few times with the same problems and asked what he could do. We told him our problems, what we needed etc. I've put his full name here because he followed through with everything and got it all rectified. Also, we were in our cabin getting ready for dinner and heard a knock on the door. Guess who? It was our cabin steward, Clinton. He apologized for not meeting with us sooner and, as it turned out, he was very good in what he did. He also got a nice tip. I only wished we could have met him as we embarked and gotten those things taken care of earlier. I told you we were upgraded to an outside cabin with a window. On night six, the ship was traveling full speed to get back to Galveston and the waves were 10 to 12 feet according to the Captain. Well, when we'd hit a wave with the bow, being fairly forward in our cabin, we could see the wave spray straight out of our window on Deck six. We went down to the lowest deck to see if anyone had their door open so we cold take a look outside and see what that looked like but all doors were closed. We've only seen waves crashing that high once before and it was a sight to behold. You could also hear it in your cabin. That ship was moving!
LIFEBOAT DRILL: Here is something that drastically needs attention and might possibly be a violation of the Coast Guard rules. Our cruise is over and we are back home and we STILL do not know which lifeboat had been designated for us in case of an emergency. We sailed from Galveston at 4:00 p.m. and lifeboat drill was called at the same time which deprived new cruisers from watching sailaway which is always a favorite time to see the ship undock itself and leave the pier. The problem is that our muster station was inside the theater, inside the ship. If the ship was on fire, or was capsizing for any reason, there is no way that we would go INSIDE to muster with a crowd of frantic people. No way. We'd head for the outside deck as many others would do. While in the theater, wearing our life jackets, we noticed a lot of people did not have theirs on. We watched as a person in charge went to one after the other and asked them to put on their life jacket and were told "It'll muss my hair" (really!), "I'm too big, it doesn't fit", and other excuses. Very few of them ever put their life jacket on. If there had been a real emergency and they ended up in the water, who do you think would be suing if they survived? To further this situation, we then were told to go outside on deck in a particular order. We were in the balcony and last to get out. Another bad feeling. Then, when on deck, we had no particular lifeboat to go to (none was posted on the inside cabin door either) and we all simply stood in a group on deck while listening to a recorded announcement. None of the crew in special hats guiding us to our muster stations ever spoke with any direction unless we asked a question first. All in all, very poor and downright dangerous.
MEDICAL EMERGENCY: On Monday about 4:40 in the afternoon, the Captain announced we were turning around and heading back to Texas. A passenger had fallen and broken his hip and the situation had gotten worse. We were going to get within range of a Coast Guard helicopter that would come out and pick him up. He said this would take place late at night. He also said that the next port, Progresso, was cancelled. More on that below under ports. After dinner that evening, we went on deck and found it very crowded as everyone was waiting to watch the helicopter arrive. About 1:00 a.m., a security officer came to our part of the deck and said that the helicopter would arrive at 3:00 in the morning. I asked if he was sure of that time and was told yes. We'd been out there since 10:30 the night before so we went back to our cabin for a couple drinks and spruce up. We went back on deck at 2:45 a.m. only to find all the outside deck barriers they had erected were gone. A deck hand said the helicopter was there at 2:00 a.m. and had left. We had been lied to. The next day, it was announced from the bridge that the helicopter had arrived on schedule at 3:00 a.m. and the evacuation had gone smoothly. Another lie, we were on deck fifteen minutes before that and it had taken place. Eventually, Progresso was put back as a port for the following day, Belize was cancelled, and Calica, Mexico was added. Reviews of those ports are below. We had two cruises in two weeks and neither got us out of North America! (Personal note. I in no way fault the Captain for turning the ship around. If it was me, I'd want them to do the same thing.) A bad joke was making the rounds while this was taking place. Someone asked, "What if someone fell overboard. Would the Captain turn around again to find and rescue that person or continue with the first emergency? It does make for a hard decision and I'm glad I wouldn't have to make it.
DINING ROOM: The first night, our waiter was Norris and he was pretty good. The asst was lacking and it was 22 minutes before any bread/rolls was brought to the table (they only had three tables to manage and ten people total). Same for drinks and water, 22 minutes from sitting down. The next night, he and the asst were gone and had been replaced by a new waitress, Nicoletta, and our asst, Adriana, both from Romania. They were both extremely good, always had a smile, and we had a good time. One item I noticed, again, was that rolls/bread were no longer put on the table for you. The asst. waitress would come around periodically and ask what you wanted. We eat a lot of bread before a meal so, Carnival, put the bread plates back on the tables! We asked for a table for ten, got a table for six and one couple never materialized. The one other couple there, Willy and Elaine, were from Pennsylvania and very pleasant. We had a good time.
Carnival is one of those that puts your "voluntary" tips on your statement automatically. We went to the purser's office (again) and had them removed as we want to tip personally and adjust up or down depending. In the case of the dining room, we added extra to both as they certainly deserved it. Carnival also closes the buffet restaurant that last night so if you want to eat, you are forced to go to the dining room so as not to stiff your wait staff on tips. Pretty shabby idea if you ask me. If someone is going to stiff someone, they will do it no matter what. Also, Carnival made a big deal in both their daily newspaper and on the intercom that on that final night, you should tip your maitre 'd. Oh really! We never saw him on any other night and we asked for him twice on Monday night and Tuesday daytime. On Monday we were refused (?) and Tuesday, someone else asked what we wanted and then answered the question. However, on that last night, the maitre 'd (am I spelling that correctly?) was stationed right at the entrance with his hand out. I shook it as we went past.
TIFFANY'S: This was the buffet-style restaurant which is always informal, and this was one of the places that the Elation starred! The buffet food was great, and it seemed that when prime rib was served in the main restaurant, they had it also. There was always something being carved and the selection varied from night to night. Salads, drinks, and desserts were located in other places so the lines for food were never that long. This is something the other ships can take note of. There was a deli, a sandwich deli where you could have sandwiches made to order from a list of ingredients posted. I saw one sandwich being made that was about two inches high, really! The person asking for it had just about every meat and cheese offered in it. I didn't get to see him eat it, unfortunately. I think that could have been in the talent show! Tiffany's also had a pizza bar that was open till the early hours of the morning and the pizzas were pretty good. You could also get coffee, lemonade, punch, and ice cream 24 hours per day there. As for the desserts, they had things I didn't recognize, the selection was so large. Many of the items were made from sugar so the kids on board were happy, and their dentists, but there was a nice variety.
One of my favorite places was the grill located on deck just outside of Tiffany's. During the day, you could get hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, and other snacks anytime you wanted. In the morning, it was a breakfast bar with Reyman of the Philippines making custom omelettes for you. I had him make one for me each morning (well done with ham and cheese). By the third day, we walked up and he knew what we wanted. We also tipped him special at the end of the week. At first, he tried to give it back saying that the food was free. We said, "We know, this is for you. Put it in your pocket". He smiled and said thank you.
THE CASINO: The Elation had one of the roomiest casinos at sea that we've seen, and it was laid out nicely. You could sit at a slot machine or a card table and others could walk behind you without knocking you out of your chair as on some other ships. This was really nice. But then they spoiled it. I stated in the other review that I don't know why they do this but they played modern music extremely loud all the time which was giving me a headache as we also had the sounds of all the slot machines. When shipboard announcements were made, we could hardly hear what was being said. (It is my belief that the slot machines make all that ringing etc. for a reason, so you can hear if you have "hit" something, and to hear whether someone near you has hit some sort of jackpot. There is no need, in my opinion, for that very loud music that is played over the ringing of the slot machines.) To further this problem, there was a country band next door without any wall separating and when they were playing live, it REALLY got loud in there. Can you imagine the slot machines bells, the loud music next door, the loud music (different) being piped in, and shipboard announcements? Keep the headache medicine ready. You can also add the "extra" music being played during the slot tournaments as the person in charge had his CD player with him and asked for requests. Now, here is a suggestion. That "club next door contained a bar and no smoking was allowed (?) although there was no wall and the casino next door had smoke pouring out of it as all casinos do. I never saw many people frequenting that room. Dump that small club, keep the bar, and expand that casino because, big as it was, it was also always full. Carnival, you could have the biggest casino at sea, keep it busy (making you money) and have a bar there for your patrons. If you do this and put in more slot machines, put in a couple 25 cent Wheel Of Fortune machines. Those were missed. Just a suggestion, no need to pay me a consulting fee (tongue in cheek). Another BIG annoyance was the people coming to us VERY often asking if we wanted a drink from the bar. I counted six people asking us within five minutes one time. There were always about three people in the casino at any one time taking drink orders.
THE POOLS: The bigger pool wasn't that big when you consider it had a water slide and half the pool was walled off because of those coming off the slide into the water. What was left was a fairly small area. They had two hot tubs beside the pool but all were in the sun. This makes the Solarium on the Rhapsody and other ships mighty inviting. No one was supervising the hot tubs. One was designated for 18 and older, the other for younger kids and adults. Very young kids were always in the "adult" hot tub. They were diving in from the outside which was against the rules. We saw a couple with their drinks in the hot tub and one drink was in a glass, again against the rules. The pool area was always crowded on good days. There was one day in Cozumel when it started raining very hard. We had been to Cozumel four times so decided to get in the hot tubs...in the rain! We had one all to ourselves and the other one had a solitary man in it. We waved to each other. After all, rain is just water and there was no lightning.
ENTERTAINMENT: Most entertainment took place in the Mikado Theater. This was a nice place with a balcony that appeared to hold as many as on the main floor level. Acoustics seemed to be pretty good as well. We did not attend any of the production shows as we'd listen first at the entrance as the program began and they simply seemed fairly amateurish to us. Many people were in the theater so most obviously liked it.
GUEST TALENT SHOW: Yes, they had one but the talent was really bad and we left as the 4th one came on stage.
KIDS: Except for the instance in the hot tub described elsewhere, most of the younger set we saw were fairly well behaved. During the first formal night, we got out of the elevator and saw a family with a very young son, maybe four or five, dressed in a tuxedo, and a little girl about five or six dressed in a gown. They were so cute and this makes you forget the so-called "bad" kids. Also, at the pool one day while the band was playing, there was a little girl no more than two (she walked very unsteadily) who got up and began shaking and dancing when the band was playing. It seemed that most of the people with cameras came over to get a picture of her.
PORTS: (individually below)
PROGRESSO: We arrived here early and were awaked by a noise outside our window. We then saw a lifeboat being lowered. The crew was having a practice drill. Thanks to these boards, we were informed beforehand that Progresso was one of the cheapest places to buy things, and those people were right! What appeared to be handmade maracas at $2.00 per pair for the bigger ones. What about $5.00 for a woven blanket that really looked nice. We saw tee shirts for $4.00 each. Also, the Mexican people at this port seemed to be a bit friendlier than at other ports. If you're going to buy souvenir type items, buy them here. By the way, we saw those same $5.00 blankets in Cozumel for $7-$10, and in Tulum for $45.00!
COZUMEL: This was our fourth visit to Cozumel so we simply got off and walked around for a while and got back on the ship. The Elation docked south of town so if you wanted to go into Cozumel proper, it was a three mile taxi ride (I think it was $5.00 for up to four people). Because of the emergency problem and the cancellation of Belize, we stayed in Cozumel until 10:00 p.m. Docked next to us was the Sensation, another sister ship. At least, the two looked alike deck to deck. I'm always amazed when something as large as a ship can dock and undock itself without tugboats etc. Well, this time we all got a treat as the Sensation left at 6:00 p.m. and we watched as she moved sideways from the pier about 100 feet out, then turned completely around to leave. As it was getting dark and she was all lit up, many were on deck with their cameras. It was quite a sight.
CALICA: As with Costa Maya, this is a port built by the cruise lines and there is literally nothing there unless you take an excursion. As a matter of fact, when we asked the local vendors on the pier if they had any tee shirts that said "Calica" instead of Cancun, they told me that Calica was a town name the cruise line came up with and that area was really Cancun. We talked with some people afterward about this port and they all said they took a bus or taxi ride to Cancun and spent the day there. We had wanted to go to the Mayan ruins at Tulum from Cozumel but it wasn't offered on this cruise. When this port was added when Belize was cancelled, Tulum was offered and at a much lower price as we were then closer to the site. The bus was at the pier when we got off. The tour started off with a bang, literally. As we were driving along in the bus, we heard a very loud bang and the floor right under my feet lifted. The bus had blown a tire. It was an inside of a double tire so we proceeded along and the driver got it fixed while we were in Tulum proper. The drive was about 45 minutes but we stopped on the way at a "special" souvenir" place where nothing was price marked. Items only had tags with written codes on them. That should've been a warning sign. When we asked about the price for a few items, the prices were extremely high. Don't bother. They did have toilets available that were fairly clean considering where we were. The excursion to Tulum was $59.00 from the ship and I did not see any vendors at the pier offering it as there was basically nothing there, only a few souvenir stands. Once at the entrance to Tulum, we are told it is about a half mile walk to the ruins but, a trolley was available for $2.00 round trip. Please hear this, buy the trolley ticket! The ruins are in the open, it is very hot, and the walk over might be okay but after trekking through the place for a few hours, the walk back can be terrible. BUY THE TROLLEY TICKET so you can smile as you pass the others walking back, sweating and huffing and puffing. The restrooms at the entrance were primitive but fairly clean. Sometimes, someone is standing at the door expecting a tip. For what, I don't know but give him a couple pieces of pocket change and go on. No problem. We were also told about this on the excursion folder. If you have a video camera, there is a $3.00 extra charge to use it at Tulum. Still cameras were not charged. There is a lot of walking along the trails there and the word "trail" might be misleading because you are usually walking on a lot of large stones in places. Make sure you are wearing good shoes and be prepared. (By the way, you are not allowed to climb any of the structures as we did in Altan Ha.) The view from the temple overlooking the Caribbean cannot be beat. There is also a small beach at Tulum available to you (no extra charge). The waves there were kinda high and breaking close in but it was crowded so someone was having a good time. Your guide will talk talk talk about the history of the Mayan and Tulum. We asked if we could go about on our own and were told yes, so we did. You don't have to stay with your group, only be back on the bus by the time the guide stated. We left two people there because we waited and waited and after 17 minutes, he said, "Well, you all have to get back to your ship so will you sign this paper that we did wait." We did and I don't know if those two people got back or not. When you take the return trip by trolley (buy the ticket for $2.00!), you come back to the entrance and there are souvenir shops there. The vendors really hassle you if you allow them to. They will also negotiate a lower price with you if you want to haggle. Be prepared to say no and turn to walk away. The price suddenly is reduced again! Also, there are several open air places to get a cold drink. Pepsi in a bottle was $2.00 but it was cold, and worth it. We actually passed Xel Ha on the way to Tulum so if you also want to go there, there is a longer excursion with both Mayan sites.
DEBARKATION: Carnival allows "self assist" which means if you want to take your own baggage off the ship, you are allowed to get off fairly early. We do this all the time and were the second group called for immigration check and then departure. We got off very early.
It might sound like some of the negatives here are nitpicking and they probably were. I am trying to compare this ship and cruise against the others we've taken and give those going on a first cruise on the Elation what to expect. I've always said "Go with the flow" and make your own fun and we did just that on this ship as there seemed to be more negative things here than any of our eleven other cruises. Unfortunately, this was probably our first and last cruise on Carnival. It wasn't all the negative things that made up our minds as much as the attitude of much of the crew, especially some of those at the Purser's desk. I always thought that post was to help people, not insult them. The final straw came on the last night when my wife called the Purser's office to find out what the expected weather would be in Galveston the following morning so she could dress accordingly. The first person she talked to said they didn't know and HUNG UP on her. We called back and got someone else who told us they wouldn't know until 4:00 in the morning. My wife said, "What about those who left their suitcases outside their cabin to be picked up at midnight. How would they be able to dress accordingly? She was rudely told that the weather was "none of her business but she was welcome to call back to 4:00 a.m. if she wished." As I said, that iced it and we'll go elsewhere for our next cruise which should be in about three or four months. I'd just like to let Carnival know that the 12 cruises we've taken have all been within the last three and a half years.
I did really try to find some positive things to try and balance this report. I hope I was objective as the Elation had a lot of good things going for her, but you always look at the bad more than the good. I do hope this review has been of help to someone as I've depended a lot on these boards with posts from others.
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