i just returned from the carnival elation (7/27-8/3). i did as much research as i could prior to the cruise since this would be my first. i learned a lot from various web sites and reviews, so i thought i'd share my opinion as well.
there were five of us, ranging from ages 24-31. we had two rooms, 3 in one, 2 in the other. we arrived in long beach at around 11am. there was about a 20 minute wait to check in. the lady at the check in was very friendly and well organized. my friend had been on carnival before, so she was invited to the return cruisers party. and since we were all in the same room, the check-in lady was kind enough to put all 3 of us on the list. we also found out we were upgraded to the main deck instead of our booked riviera room. we booked it as a "guaranteed" room, so i guess it saved us one flight of stairs. we then proceeded to get in line to board the ship. there were two lines, on in the sun, one in the shade. we chose the shade. ten minutes later, a carnival employee announced this line was for people who hadn't checked in yet, if you had, please step into the other line. so we wasted 10 minutes in the wrong line. clearly marked signs would have been helpful. the line started moving around 12pm, and it moved pretty quickly. we picked up our sign & sail card, saw that all five of us would be in the inspiration dining room, late seating and at the same table.
we were on the ship and eating at tiffany's in a matter of minutes. they were just setting up, but the selection was typical of any las vegas hotel buffet. i hit up the pizza bar, which we did frequently (often in the wee hours. ) we then walked around to familiarize ourselves with the layout of the ship. it took me a few days to feel comfortable with knowing how to get from point a to point b. but i've never been good at directions ?. later we hit up the casino, which was fairly decent sized. i'm used to the enormous las vegas casinos, so it seemed small in comparison, but it was about right for what i expected on a cruise ship. we played mostly craps all week, and there were a few nights where i did pretty well. of course, being the generous guy i am, i made sure to give nearly all my winnings back by week's end. also we caught the welcome aboard ship show where steve the cruise director introduced the elation orchestra and then the magician/comedian (who's name escapes me). i had read about the mikado lounge and how there are some obtrusive poles. i agree. unless your down front, the viewing can be pretty bad.
monday we got up, took advantage of the overnight room service order card and got our daily pot of coffee & o.j. and then went to catch some rays by the pool. the weather was perfect and we lounged with the buy 5 beers get one free bucket. nice relaxing day. later we got dressed up for the first formal night and hit up the captain's cocktail party. we stayed up late in the jekyll & hyde disco, drank, gambled, and had to put our clocks forward and hour. needless to say we didn't roll out of bed until afternoon on tuesday. ok, more like 3pm. ouch.
we took it easy on tuesday. i took part in the karaoke action, and later the craps action. wednesday was puerto vallarta. we got off the boat at around 11am. we had nothing planned other than wanting to see senior frogs. so we took a cab into the downtown shopping area. before we got in the taxi we asked our driver if he spoke english and if the car had air conditioning. he answered in english, "roll down the windows - mexican air conditioning!" well 1 out of 2 is better than nothing. we did a little shopping up and down the street. all the little stores pretty much look the same. jewelry, sombreros, pottery, blankets, etc... so shopping didn't do much for me. it was hot and humid. i was dripping like i had taken a shower. finally we took another taxi to senior frogs and had lunch. they had 2 for 1 pacifico beer specials. well, we took full advantage. i've lived in southern california for 20 years and have never stepped foot in mexico until today, so i don't feel all that guilty for going to the full-on american tourist trap that is senior frogs. i wanted to see what it was all about. and i'm glad i did. we stayed in there for 3 hours drinking, eating, and competing in their games. it was actually a really good time.
after lunch we walked to the beach, by this time it had started a light rain. we did some more shopping, then took a cab back to the flea market shopping right in front of the ship, then finally make it back on the ship around 7pm. we could have had more time, but we all wanted to shower in time for our 8pm seating. later that night, as you could probably guess by now, we took in some jekyll & hyde and craps.
thursday brings us to mazatlan. this was the only port where we had booked an excursion - through the internet and through good word of mouth from web sites like this one. we did not do randi's horses, although i understand it's excellent, but the others in my party were not too keen on horses. so we went with the stone island tour through king david & co. we were met at the pier by barbara who took us to a truck that took us to the boat for the cruise. we left right at 10 am and had a nice tour of the island and our guide was friendly and funny speaking his "spanglish" and repeating his catchphrase of "how about that? take a picture!" after the 45 minute tour around the island we got off the boat and were pulled by a tractor to the beach. the beach area was very nice. we were able to pick two water activities and we did the snorkeling and the banana boat ride. the snorkeling was only ok because the water was murky. they gave us the option of choosing something else before we went but i bought a new mask & snorkel from costco for this trip and i'll be damned if i don't get to use it! so we went anyway. then we came back for lunch, which along with an open bar, was included for the $35 price (carnival offered the same tour for $75). after lunch we took our ride on the banana boat. all 5 of us were towed behind a motor boat, holding on for dear life. we took a bad spill, but it was a lot of fun. after the stone island tour we did a little more shopping in the mazatlan downtown, then took an open air cab back to the ship.
back on the ship, we showered, had dinner, then went to the mikado lounge for the talent contest. 8 passengers performed, and with the exception of one guy who butchered copa cabana, they were all pretty good. then some of the elation staff came out and performed a very funny, and slightly racy vaudvelle-esque song. dancing at jekyll & hyde and craps soon followed...
friday morning we had to get up early for our short stay in cabo. considering we were out late the night before, i was surprised that i was pretty awake at 7am. but as we would soon find out, there was no point in getting up that early. we headed out of our room at about 7:30am to find the stair cases filled with passengers. our confusion would soon be cleared up as soon as one passenger snapped, "this is only for people who have booked tours!" obviously she could have used a few more hours of sleep. so we went up and had breakfast. finally got off the ship via tenders at around 8:30. so right away we only have like 2.5 hours left. my gripe is that i think it should be first come, first served. just because these people paid carnival extra money by booking a tour, they get to get out early? that's crap. whoever gets their butts out of bed should be able to get off the boat. well anyway we took it easy in cabo and just laid out at the beach, swam in the beautiful clear blue water, even did a little poor-man's snorkeling right on the beach, then took a glass bottom boat ride around the island and saw some stunning rock formations and beaches. it really is quite a sight, and unfortunate that we had only 2 and a half hours here. the boat took us back to the tenders line just before 11am.
once we got on the elation, we took a nap till about 3pm. later we had our 2nd formal dinner.
saturday was another "relaxing fun day at sea." and that's about that. we also had to pack everything up for our sunday departure. then we stayed up waaaaaay too late at the casino. sunday we woke up at 8am and we were up on the promenade deck by 8:40 waiting for our luggage tag color to be called. we didn't get off the ship until 9:30am. other than the long wait, the debarkation process went pretty smoothly. i know i rambled, and i apologize. here i will sum up my experience:
the room: b+ it was actually a pretty decent sized room, but with the roll-away pulled out, there was no room for the extra chair & table that they had in there. it was removed by monday. which made more room, but limited places to put the room service trays.
the steward: b+ jeffery. nice guy, kept the room clean, was pretty attentive. there were a couple of times though we needed to call him for ice. we told him on sunday, and even gave him a pre-tip to make sure there was always ice. but when we did have to call, he was there in less than a minute usually.
inspiration dining room: b the imagination dining room looked nicer. but this one was nice too, it just seemed a little "darker." the wait staff was very friendly, however, we were always the last table to be served it seemed. and there were a few occasions where someone else got my plate, and we had to switch. and on 3 separate occasions someone had a coffee cup with lipstick already on it. that is gross.
the food: a i must say, i was impressed with the dining room food. i had read mixed reviews, but i was thought the selection was good, the quality was good, and the presentation of the dishes was excellent.
the ship: b+ it was my first cruise, so i have nothing to compare it to, so i thought it was nice. basically it seemed like a las vegas hotel on the ocean. maybe because i was in the casino too much, maybe because of the lights. but that's ok by me, as you can see i enjoy the vegas scene. however, the carpets in the hallways to the rooms were a bit dirty. other than that, it seemed like a clean, well maintained ship. our only other complaint was on sunday night, when we went to bed (technically monday morning i guess) we pulled out the roll away and found that it was slouching a lot in the middle. we called the steward, but he never came. so we called the pursers desk and finally about 45-60 mins later we had a new roll away and some guy taping wheels to it. that was a bit off putting. the bed still slouched a bit, but we dealt with it.
random thoughts: • we were able to sneak booze on with no problem. just put some in water bottles. we didn't even drink all of what we brought. • bar prices are about that of regular bars, some even cheaper. not terribly strong, unless you get a good bar tender though. • when you pay for drinks with your sign & sail card, tip is included already. • that damn sign & sail card makes everything real easy. too easy... • in hindsight, i think i would have liked to have checked out some of the other shows and activities on the ship. we spent a lot of time in the disco & casino. • i never felt sea sick, but at times you could definitely feel the ship move. but i got to like it. it was nice reminder that i was on a ship and not just in vegas. • when all is said and done, we had a great time. and i would definitely cruise again. sooner rather than later.