Although our very first cruise did not start out well, we ended up having an amazing time! It took us three hours to board the ship. Apparently, due to another ship disembarking at the same time as the Elation, and a ceremony celebrating ... Read More
Although our very first cruise did not start out well, we ended up having an amazing time! It took us three hours to board the ship. Apparently, due to another ship disembarking at the same time as the Elation, and a ceremony celebrating the inaugural cruise for the Elation from Mobile, embarkation was a nightmare. Several hundred of us drew the short straw, I suppose, and were automatically routed to off site parking on arrival at the port. After parking we had to lug our luggage and stand in line waiting for a bus to take us to the dock. It was a very long process, from that line, to the numerous other lines to get on the ship. Fellow cruisers who had cruised several times before were extremely upset with the situation, although they said it was an exception and embarkation has not been a problem in the past. The port of Mobile and Carnival were both blamed. I do not know who was responsible but it was bad enough that for our first time we considered turning around and going home, had it not been for the amount of money we had spent!
Thankfully, our experience got better. As first time cruisers, we were in awe of the ship. The atrium is beautiful. Our cabin had more room than I expected. We were able to unpack and put all the suitcases under the bed and have sufficient room, even though there is not much counter space. The bathroom cabinet has plenty of space for your necessities. It was great having nice fresh beach towels and robes in the room every day. The bed and pillows are very comfortable and will spoil you! With the exception of the shopping area being right outside the Mikado Lounge, which is the main entertainment area, which causes some crowding, all of the areas were in a good location and easy to get to. The Mikado Lounge is set up very nicely, with good views of the stage no matter where you sit.
The crew on the ship was outstanding. We were very well taken care of. Dinner was a great experience every night with wonderful, entertaining dining staff. The food was incredible. I tried to keep a journal and write down everything I tried but never had the time. Everything on the menu was great and the fresh bread was very good. Tiffany's, the regular buffet, was usually pretty crowded but the lines would move pretty fast. The food there was also very good. Tiffany's was adjacent to the pool area, which stayed pretty busy on sea days. We enjoyed the Serenity deck and hot tubs and did not go to the pool so I could not comment on the "chair hog" status. The Serenity deck is very relaxing and a great place for adult only time.
There were plenty of activities on the cruise and we had a great time on sea days exploring all of them. We really liked the entertainment and my 16 y/o son enjoyed the club for his age group and met several friends. We read the capers every day and there was always plenty to do. Although they are always trying to take your picture, there really wasn't any pressure to buy them. The photos are displayed in the atrium area and it tends to get crowded and difficult to find your photos. Don't fall for the free spa seminars; they try to sell you something and it is pretty much a waste of time, in my opinion. The fitness room is very nice, however, and has a great view. I expected better and more shopping choices. They have a $10 store, which is a good place to shop with a good selection. The gift shop is pretty typical. I think too much floor space was devoted to the jewelry, which did not seem to sell much, although I could be wrong. Do not worry if you forgot to pack something or didn't get what you wanted before leaving, you will be able to find anything either on the ship or in port.
Our ports of call were Montego Bay, Grand Cayman and Cozumel. In Montego Bay we booked the highlights and shopping excursion with our friends, through Carnival. It was a big disappointment, as was the rest of Montego Bay. I understand, from fellow cruisers, if you take one of the excursions away from the port and downtown area that the area is very beautiful. I personally can't recommend even getting off the ship in Montego Bay. Since it was our first time and there were a couple of "traditional" things we wanted to do, we went back out after the ship excursion. The tour guide worked for JUTA and she lined up a taxi driver who took us to the Pork Pit and waited while we tried the jerk and then took us to a store to buy coffee and rum and waited for us. It was a whole lot cheaper and easier to get a taxi than it was to go on the excursion through Carnival. I have to say the tour guide and the taxi driver were very nice.
After a lot of research on these CC boards, we decided to book the excursion in Grand Cayman ourselves. Wow, are we glad we did. It was a fantastic trip! We knew that we wanted to go to stingray city and snorkel. The excursion through Carnival cost more and since I did a lot of research I felt comfortable going with a private tour company. You have to take a tender from the ship to port in Grand Cayman, but it wasn't too bad. The whole thing went pretty quickly. We booked the Stingray City, Barrier Reef snorkeling and Coral Reef Garden snorkeling on the Buccaneer catamaran through grandcaymancruiseexcursions.com (Capt. Bryan). It was incredible! They were very organized and on time; it was just a short walk from the port to the bus that would take us to the catamaran. The boat captain and crew talked to us and explained every thing in detail. All of the snorkel gear and water/juice, bathroom were available on the boat. We went to stingray city and got in the water with the stingrays and the boat crew runs through the stingray pet, kiss and massage routine with everyone. They are very laid back and patient! You spend about 30 minutes playing with the stingrays then it's off to the barrier reef for snorkeling. The snorkeling is in water that is about 8 -10 feet deep. After the barrier reef, you make a stop to snorkel at the Coral Reef Garden. Although you have an inflatable vest when you snorkel, since I am not a very good swimmer, it was my first time, and the water was choppy, I failed my first snorkel attempt! I did manage to snorkel at the second stop and it was amazing - the time went by too fast. On the return trip, the captain unfurled the sails and turned on reggae and headed back. We wish we could do it all over again; it was the highlight of our trip.
In Cozumel we had not decided what we wanted to do and did not book an excursion ahead of time. We had originally wanted to do the Tulum tour but the ship ended up not even being in port long enough to take the tour and didn't offer it by the time of the cruise. Once, again, my research, both on these boards and on my own, through the library etc. paid off. We had at least two things in mind to do in Cozumel. One was to eat at a restaurant I had read about and another was to visit a beach I read about. As we walked around the shopping area, a man approached us and asked if we wanted to rent scooters and we said no. He asked if we wanted to rent a jeep and we said yes! (Actually, I convinced my husband). It was very reasonable and we got a jeep for the entire time we were there, were able to go the places we wanted and took a drive around the entire island. I only wish we would have had more time! We went to this little restaurant in the main port area called Cafe Denis for some authentic Cozumel food, and a margarita. Both were delicious. Then we went to a beach, Playa Palancor, which was a short distance from the port. The beach had all the amenities you could want from chairs to drinks to snorkel gear. And, the access and snorkel gear were free to use. The Palancor reef is out off this beach and my husband and son went snorkeling, although they did not go out to the reef and said they did not see much, they still had a good time. It was quiet and relaxing on the beach, just beautiful. As we continued the drive around the island, we were amazed at the lush green and the blue water. On the windward side of the island, the coast is rocky and the water is choppy and shoots up when a wave hits a rock on shore. It is truly an amazing view. We made it back to turn in the jeep, did a little shopping and got back on the ship in plenty of time.
Disembarkation means a lot of waiting. Because they assign and call your zones, the line off the ship is not bad. However, once you get down the gangway and to the line for customs, it is a luggage warehouse hunt and a long line through customs. It's not fun to wait for your zone, especially since they want you to vacate the cabin so they can clean it and it's not fun to wait in customs. It was sad when our fun ended and all in all the good far outweighed the bad (even if I did get seasick one night). We are already talking about when we can go again! Read Less