This was a second chance for Carnival, after the terrible 4-day cruise we did in 2003 on the Ecstasy. We said we would never take CCL again. We had heard that the line had made many positive changes in the food and service in the past few years. So we got a great deal from our travel club and gave them a 2nd chance.
Embarkation was smooth enough, with some waiting in lines there in the port in San Diego. Other than that it was fine. Cabins were ready at 1:30 pm.
The ship was in much better shape as far as upkeep than was the case with the last ship. The Fantasy class ships will be around a long time.
The crew was much better than the last voyage also, not a single negative look or comment. And unlike the Ecstasy in '03 every crew member had a hello and a happy greeting if eye contact was made, and even sometimes when no eye contact was made. That was a great improvement. I do have to sympathize with cruise crew folks though. It must be hard to stay positive withsome of the folks they have to deal with. Always there are a few passengers on the Fun Ships that ruin the moment all to often as they make drunken fools of themselves, which has not been as bad on the HAL, RCCL, and Celebrity cruises we have taken.
The food in both the main dining rooms and the informal buffet was really much better than in 2003. The pizza was not that good for my family. The goat cheese we do not like at all. The grill burgers were good. The fries and onion rings you better get just as soon as they are out of the grease as possible. Not good at all if they sit for a while. The one thing in the buffet that was bad is the running out of coffee in the morning rush times -- lots of grumbling folks then on more than a couple of mornings.
The cruise this trip for the Elation was a one only six day trip that included ports of call: Cabo, La Paz and Ensenada, having been to all but La Paz before we tried this trip. La Paz city is so far from the place where the ships dock that it is a real problem. So really you are pretty much tied into taking an excusion with the ship and this was the very first time we paid for a port trip with a cruise ship. The snorkeling with the Los Islotes sea lions was amazing, and worth the cost we paid. But the worst thing anyone can do is use a snorkel from another source than your very own. So many people get sick from the badly cleaned snorkels, and even the water used is suspect for GI viruses. Take your OWN snorkle people, period! Oh and don`t try to get too close to the male sea lions. Also do not touch a reef in any manner. Some idiots actually stand on them to get a breather or adjust their masks. You are the reason half the reefs are dying -- well along with global warming and sewage flow into the oceans.
We did our own excusion in Cabo san Lucas. We spent $51US only to snorkel for 4-1/2 hours in Chileano Bay, and we watched eight cruise tour boats come and go during our stay. Forty-five minutes to an hour of snorkeling just is a ripoff for a snorkle dive. The beach is free and taxi was 44 bucks for the three of us back and forth to the ship. My son Sean (13) will remember this trip for the snorkeling we did here. He said this was the best part of the whole cruise. This was Sean`s fifth cruise to date with us.The ship was fine, the food was good, and the ports were great. The only thing we would change if we could is some of the people that take Carnival cruises. Really disappointing the few that screw up things for the rest. With not having nearly as many of these types on the other cruise lines, we will stear clear of Carnival. Or maybe the more expensive, longer trips with the larger ships will be better. It will be a few years from now, but we might try that plan.
For sure a cruise is the best holiday you can take for the money you spend. You unpack once and you always come back to the ship for meals. You can even take a sandwich off the ship for lunch. Why not? So do it people, take a cruise.
This was our third long, 11-nights, cruise with NCL. We have cruised with the Dawn in Western Caribbean and the Wind around Hawaii before.
Pre cruise: We have been in London many times before so we went there just two days before our cruise. The hotel we stayed at was Days Inn Westminster and the standard on that is lower than we normally choose but this time the location of the hotel was the most important thing, we wanted to stay close to Victoria Station, and it was okay.
On the day of the cruise we took a train from Victoria to Dover and we arrived in Dover around 10.30. We took a cab from the train station and arrived at the terminal just before 11.
Embarkation: We used the Latitudes check-inn but there were no lines anywhere so that made no difference. The ship wasn't ready for embarkation so we had to wait for a short while but we were on the ship before noon. We got the bubbly welcome, ate lunch on The Great Outdoors and drank a glass of Taittinger on Magnum's before they announced that the cabins wereready, 1.30.
We had an BA Balcony Stateroom on deck 10, number 10034. The cabin is located close to the stairs in the front of the ship and that location was good for us. The cabin isn't very big but it's okay and we had enough room for our things. The bathroom was very nice, small of course! We really loved the bed, it was so comfortable, and whatever they have done to the beds, Freestyle 2.0 rules when it comes to the beds! The balcony wasn't used very much on this cruise but every second on it counts and in my opinion, it's worth to pay extra for a balcony.
The restaurants and the food:
We ate at Tsar's Palace, Azura, Le Bistro, Blue Lagoon, Cagney's, Mama's and Garden Café.
Tsar's Palace and Azura are the main restaurants and all the food we had there was very good. We liked the interior in Tsar's Palace more than in Azura but the service and the food (obviously since they have the same menu and the food is from the same kitchen) was equal. We also had breakfast at Tsar's a few times and that was very good too.
Le Bistro, great service and great food! We ate at Le Bistro twice and I can definitely recommend it to everyone. The second time I had Moules Anisette (steamed clams) as starter and Crème Brule as dessert and both were great. We also liked our waitress, Svitlana from Ukraine, very much.
We didn't liked the Blue Lagoon on the Dawn but this was very nice, the interior, the food and the service. Fish & Chips for lunch there was very nice.
Cagney's had the best the dessert I ever has eaten, Cagney's Banana Foster Flambé, and that alone was worth the extra 20$!
Mama's had very good pasta but the Cannoli I had for dessert there was one of very few things I didn't really liked on the ship. It was nothing wrong with it, I just didn't liked it!
Garden Café had a very large selection of dishes and the breakfast there was much better than the breakfast in Garden Café on the Dawn. As for the quality on the food served as lunch and dinner, it was okay but not much more. Buffet food is seldom great but sometimes it's nice to avoid all the attention you get in the other restaurants and then it's okay that the food isn't 100% perfect!
(we ate at The Great Outdoors too but I don't consider that to be a separate restaurant, it's more like a part of Garden Café)
Our overall opinion about the food is that it was better now then on our previous NCL-cruises. Because of Freestyle 2.0?
The bars and the beverages:
Magnum's Champagne & wine bar, Shaker's Martini & cocktail bar and Maltings beer and whiskey bar were located together in something they called Bar city. They were all nice to sit in and have a drink and look at all people passing by. We did liked Pearly Kings on the Dawn better than Maltings, because we just love an English pub!
Star bar was one of our favourites on the Dawn but we didn't really liked it on the Jewel. The second evening we ordered a drink which we had ordered on Spinnaker lounge the evening before and it was far from the same standard. It was messy and they also tried to charge us for a souvenir drink, I told them when I ordered it that I wanted a regular drink and not a souvenir drink. They apologized and it was no problem to pay the correct price but I guess they had ruined the magic, we didn't went there again! The Spinnaker lounge was the best place to get a drink, especially in the evening when 60280 played/singed.
The selection of drinks was good but we missed the beer menu they had on the Dawn with more than 40 kinds of beer. We don't know how many kinds of beer they had on the Jewel since we never saw a beer menu. Maltings had a menu with lots of whiskeys but not a menu with beer.
We also didn't liked that they didn't had the cheapest Champagne they had in the menu. The cheapest Champagne they had by the glass was Taittinger for a little more than $15. Taittinger is one of our favourites and we had it a few times but they should have had something around $10 too. A regular cocktail costed around $7,50 and a little more simple, for example a Gin & Tonic (a favourite for us) costed around $6.
As for wine we ordered NCLs anniversary wine for $34,50/bottle a few times and that was okay.
Entertainment: We didn't really liked any of the "big" shows we saw in Stardust, the theatre. We loved 60280 which played in Spinnaker every evening and we also loved Izabella Zebrowska a violinist we saw in Spinnaker. (She also played in Stardust but we missed that, unfortunately)
Overall we thought that the entertainment had been better before but maybe that's just our personal taste.
The ship stopped in Lerwick, Shetland Islands, Reykjavik, Iceland, St. John's, New Foundland and Halifax, Nova Scotia.
We tendered in Lerwick, no problems with that. In Reykjavik the ship docked rather far from the town centre but NCL had a shuttle bus to the centre, I think the cost was $5 one way.
We liked all the ports and had excursions booked with NCL in Lerwick, Reykjavik and Halifax. The cost for a excursion booked through the ship is higher but in all nontendering ports we saw buses come late to the ship, since they were NCL-booked tours the ship waited for them, otherwise they might have missed the ship…. The total cost for our vacation was around $10000 so if we paid a few dollars extra to bath in the Blue Lagoon that's really no problem!
What could have been better?:
The weather! It's not NCLs fault and we knew when we booked the cruise that the weather on the Atlantic ocean can be bad in September but it was a little too windy some days! The movement didn't bothered me much but there was a lots of strange noises because of the wind!
One evening we had a very loud noise in our cabin and it took almost two hours before someone fixed it for us. I went to the reception twice and called once before anyone came. The problem was that the door didn't closed properly and they "fixed" it with a wooden stick!
They were less pushy trying to sell drinks than they have been before, good. Sometimes we even had to ask for the wine list at dinner, not so good!
I don't like that every time you order a drink, you have to specify that you don't want a souvenir glass, of course it should be the other way! If I ever become a real VIP, like booking a Garden Villa or cruising with them for the 100th time, I will talk to the captain and tell him that every time they try to sell me a souvenir drink without asking me first, I will drink it but not pay for it!
Less "free" sparkling wine than before! On our previous cruises they have given away sparkling wine on the formal night (which they now just call "dress up or not", not good either) and they didn't now. At many kinds of presentations they have served sparkling wine before and now they first had the presentation and afterwards they might serve sparkling wine, sometimes in the shop after the presentation. I understand why they do it that way but I don't like it!
Maybe six seadays was a little too much when the weather wasn't very good but it's not very easy to find any port to add on the Atlantic ocean!
Post cruise: Debarkation in New York was very quick and less than half an hour after we left the ship we sat in a cab on our way to the airport.
It's always easy to check in at the airport when flying with British Airways, the worlds best airline! Our plane left JFK almost two hours late so we missed our connection to Stockholm at Heathrow so we had to wait there for a few hours before we could fly home.
Our overall experience was great! The ship was great, the crew was great, the food was great and the ports were great! Some things have been better before but some things were better now.
We can absolutely recommend NCL to anyone and the Norwegian Jewel is a great ship.
Wish I could give negative stars.
The cruise itself was okay, but the cruise line owes us money and will not pay.
They also recommended us to a Cabo SNUBA company that seems to have helped itself to what was in our wallets.
My wife and I went on the cruise with our 16 year old son and had a great time. Our goal for the trip was to relax without having to do a lot of thinking and the cruise fit the bill just fine.
The food was fine.
Dinner in the dining room was good given the fact they need to feed several folks in a short period of time. The service was great. They accommodated our request to change seating without much hassle. We had hoped to have dinner with another family but the family we were placed with was so incensed they were not seated with some other friends on the ship that we were happy to get our 4 person booth. Our servers were friendly and responsive although the overreacted and were upset when I mentioned that they had forgotten to bring back the bottle of wine we had purchased the night before. The deserts were quite good especially the melting chocolate cake.
After eating a so-so breakfast in the main dining room the fist morning we went to the casual dining area on the Lido deck for omelets forthe rest of the trip. We found the omelets available their quite good and would recommend them.
For our lunches on board we had the buffet and the food was good but nothing special.Ports of Call
Cabo: We went on the "ATV Adventure" on Cabo and may son and I had a blast. My wife not so much. She was toying with doing a spa day instead but wanted to share the experience with our son. She wished she had had the spa day but thinking back she was ok with the experience. There were 30 or so folks that went on the ATV trip 27 appeared to have a blast, then there was my wife who had an OK time, and an older couple that found the trip was hurting their back and did not finish. We went to Cabo Wabo when we came back enjoyed it bought some shirts. We were then planning to go to the beach but with only a couple of hours left decided to go back to the boat.
Folks that went to the beach seemed to enjoy it although one couple complained that the sand was too hot. Some folks that went snorkeling complained that it was not on a par with snorkeling that they experienced elsewhere. Two groups we talked to went parasailing and enjoyed it. Parasailing is not offered by the ship but they sighed up at one of the booths outside of the dock where the tender boats drop you off.
Ensenada: We did not sign up for any of the ship excursions, many of which involved the world famous "blow hole". We decided to go to the downtown shopping area instead. On the shuttle bus to the shopping area (the bus is outside of the dock and is $3 round trip) they told us about a $15 trip to an open air market that also offered a view of the famed blow hole. The same trip on the ship cost twice as much. We did that instead and had a great time. The market was a hoot. We found negotiating with the merchants entertaining and fun. Had a great lunch at a taco place and yes got to experience the "blow hole". One of only 3 in the world the "blow hole" is worth seeing but only if you are doing something else. It is not worth it on its own.
We went to the main stage productions of "Spin" and "Carnival Legends" and enjoyed both of them. We are not big on production numbers but found "Spin" amazingly good. "Legends" featured guests that pretended to be Elton John, Britney Spears and others and they it was very entertaining. We sat trough the auditions which made the main stage production even more interesting.
We had planed to go to the midnight comedian show one night but fell asleep.
They had a comedy hypnotist act as well that was very lame. He had a G rated version and an R rated version. We found the G rated version so lame that we figured they had to have some reason for hiring this guy and went back for the R rated version. The fact that it was as lame as the first made us question who this guy was related to in order to get the job. Basically the act is a guy pretending to be a hypnotist inviting audience member on stage to do embarrassing things. The difference in the two shows was that in the R rated version they did naughty embarrassing things and said some naughty words. It may have been more interesting if the host had any semblance of a personality but he had as much personality as a mortician and the whole experience fell flat.
We are not big drinkers and did not spend a lot of time in the bars. We did spend some time in the Romeo and Juliet lounge and really enjoyed a family band that did covers of 70's and 80's tunes. They were quite good and worth seeing. We also enjoyed a classical music trio that was on board.
We did not do any of the trivia contest and such. The folks that did appeared to have a good time.
My son had a great time at the 02 club for 15-17 year olds.
Our cabin as fine and the service was great. We were in category 4B what ever that means. Many thanks to whoever suggested bringing a power strip and night light. We brought them and needed them.
The ship was in good shape. Not elegant but functional and clean.
The kids on the ship had enough to do so they were out of the way for the most part.
Stewart the cruise director was a hoot.
I found them constantly telling me I was having a good time, and that the staff was great a bit annoying. I know if I am having a good time or not and don't need them to tell me how I feel. Maybe if they tell you enough times you will start believing it. They say that they are interested in our comments and imply that our waitress and cabin person will get sent back to Romania or wherever they are from if we don't check the "exceeded expunction" box on the comment form. If they really want to know what we think and improve things then they should has for honest not manufactured feedback.
We took the ships tour and it was a waist of time. It told you about the bars but did not show you the ship. On other cruises you got to see the kitchen and other behind the scenes areas. We walked along one deck, stayed in public areas and saw nothing interesting.
Getting off the boat took a long time. I would recommend the option of carrying off your own luggage. Those folks got off first.
The Gym had all you could ask for in an on ship gym. It was great.
If you are looking for a relaxing fun few days then I would recommend the cruise. If you are looking for world class dining and an elegant you may want to look elsewhere.
We drove to San Diego from Irvine, CA. There was a parking garage that had shuttle service to the pier. The lines moved quickly. They stop you to take pictures as you board, and that slows the process a little, but we were onboard in no time.Food
They had usual fare at the grill. The lunch buffet was standard buffet, though each day one side of the buffet had a theme...neat way to try new foods! Breakfast was always the same whether in the dining room or buffet. We ate our lunches and breakfasts at the buffet and our dinners in the dining room. Service was good, though getting bar service in the dining room was sometimes shaky. The warm chocolate melting cake was awesome!Ports
Cabo San Lucas was a beautiful port. We took the Sea Trek Helmet Dive....something different! The port itself was gorgeous. Tendering is usally a pain, but it was a fun port to take tenders with all the rocky cliffs near the port.
Ensenada was not much...we found some of the shop people to be a little pushy and would probably take an excursion to get awayfrom the "city" next time.Entertainment
They had the Vegas-style revue shows, which were good, though similar to other ships. The hypnotist show was hysterical, though we did not go to the adult show the next night, as we don't care for R-rated material. We LOVED the Legends show. Worth checking out!
The cruise director was good...not original, but personable. His staff ran a lot of the activities, and they seemed to be having a good time.Debarkation
We carried our bags off, and this is the way to do it. We got right off, though a little bummed because we were heading back home after a great five days!
We just got back from our 4 day cruise on Carnival Elation out of San Diego.
We are loyal Holland America fans, so we were somewhat wary of this cruise. Boy were we surprised. The ship is beautiful and very clean. The only spot we saw on any carpet is the one we made when DH spilled coffee in our doorway. The crew was always cleaning everything.
CABIN: We had a suite on verandah deck,v-27, which was very nice. This was a last minute booking,so the only suite left was 27, which has a partially obstructed view. Didn't bother us.
FOOD: Totally surprised us. Gourmet food-delicious with beautiful presentation. Nothing was ever cold, and the service was impecable.
We boarded the Elation in San Diego for a six day cruise. Here is a link to the cruisemates photo album.
Embarkation We drove to San Diego from Sacramento and found a parking garage for $14 a day which included one free day (Aladdin Parking). The parking garage provided free shuttle service to the pier. We arrived at the garage around 1p.m. and were shuttled to the pier. The lines were very short and we had a quick stop through security. Here is a piece of advice… we had a 4B guarantee room, however close to cruise date check your fun pass to get the room number for the bags. Also this information saved the clerk the trouble of searching for our cabin number. We did receive a slight upgrade to a 4C room on Upper Deck U135. We received our sail and sign cards, took a quick picture and we were on board the ship. The room was ready so we dropped off the bags and headed to the Lido Deck for lunch. We were seated with our Hamburgers and fries by 2p.m. This was the smoothest embarkation Ihave ever experienced.
Food and Entertainment The food at the grill was very good. They had the usual hamburger, hot dogs, fries, potato salad etc. The lunch buffet changed each day. I really enjoyed Japanese food day. They had Miso Soup, teriyaki chicken skewers, stir fried vegetables etc. The Breakfast Buffet never changed and the potatoes were a disappointment (dried out). The pancakes, bacon, sausages and hard broiled eggs were very tasty. The pizza was good and the fresh made calzones were a treat. But the best was the dining room food. The desserts were so good I even tried the diet lemon cake and found it to be yummy!! The service was a bit slow at times, however we were blessed with wonderful tablemates (Becky and her dad David) which made the time go by quickly. Thanks Becky and David!! The Gala Buffet looked great but I was too full to eat it. The prime rib was tender and juicy and the warm chocolate melting cake lives up to the hype.
The Ports Cabo San Lucas was beautiful. We did the Sea Trek Helmet Dive shore excursion there. The experience of walking under the sea was wonderful. There is a hard to describe feeling like floating. However, we were disappointed as we didn't see any fish. According to the shore excursion description the excursion would last 2 hours and after the helmet dive there would be unlimited use of snorkel equipment. We finished the tour in a little over an hour and no snorkel equipment was offered. My husband expressed his concerns to carnival and we received a discount on the price. I give Carnival credit for handling our concerns quickly and to our satisfaction.
When the ship docked in La Paz I was worried. There was nothing around and it didn't look like a cruise ship port. However, after a quick bus ride to the beach my opinion changed. The Sea of Cortez has the clearest waters I have ever seen. Please note, I've not seen a lot of beaches. The beach was not overcrowded with people or vendors. The water was smooth with very little waves which were only caused by a limited number of wave runners and small boats. It was only $10 to rent snorkel equipment. We saw puffer fish, stingrays and schools of fish. There were shells for the shell collectors. I wish more cruises would stop at this port. Coming back from the beach we got to the top of a hill and below us was the most beautiful view. This was our best port.
Ensenada is, well, Ensenada. Prepare yourself to say 'no thank you' over and over and over again as we were approached by many different vendors to buy a variety of stuff. We did our shopping here and the prices were okay. I did find a nice leather purse for approximately $30. My hubby added to his shot glass collection and we headed back to the ship early.
Debarkation The saddest day of the cruise. We decided to carry off our bags ourselves as this was supposed to speed up the process. This would have been a nice option if it wasn't for "Marilyn". After breakfast, we had to stay in the cabin until someone told us to disembark and due to Marilyn, debarkation was delayed a good hour or more. She just would not report down to immigration and as a result everyone waited while the crew searched the ship for Marilyn. Marilyn if you are reading this, "Why do that to not only those of us waiting to leave the ship but also the next group waiting to board? It's very inconsiderate!".
My fiance and I just came back from our cruise on the Carnival Elation. We had a great time and the cruise was very realaxing. Nassau was nice but had a better time at Carnival's private island.. Half Moon Cay. The tender over to the island was a nice and short ride and that was alot to do on the Island. We snorkled and relaxed on the beach.
Back on the ship.. The shows were okay. The shows on the Inspiration were alot better. The comedian repeated alot of jokes from other comedians. Stuart our cruise director was great. The food was outstanding and the ship activites were fun. On away back to Port Canavaral, we hit alot of terrible waves..but the Captain did warn us that we would have high waves. All in all, we had a great time on the Carnival Elation
The 2,052 passenger, 920 crew Carnival Elation was introduced in March 1998 and is the seventh of eight Fantasy-class ships. The 70,367 ton ship is 855 feet long and was the first cruise ship to be equipped with a state-of-the-art Azipod propulsion system which made for a smooth cruise despite the periodic turbulence of the ocean. My cruise aboard the Elation was my third cruise on Carnival and my fifth cruise overall.
My first cruise was aboard Royal Caribbean's Nordic Empress (renamed to Empress of the Seas) in cabin 7515 from November 15-22, 2003 and sailed roundtrip from Tampa to the Cayman Islands, Belize and Mexico.
My second cruise was a one-day Discovery cruise which sailed roundtrip from Port Everglades to the Bahamas on June 5, 2004.
My third cruise was aboard the Carnival Destiny in cabin 1211 from December 5-12, 2004 which sailed roundtrip from Puerto Rico and stopped in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dominica, Barbados and Aruba.
My fourth cruise was aboard the Carnival Victory in cabin 7398 from January 22-29, 2006 which sailed roundtrip from Miami and stopped in Puerto Rico, St. Maarten and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
EMBARKATION My cruise aboard theElation was quite simply filled with elation from the moment I arrived at about 2:30pm on Sunday October 8, 2006. Once again, my boarding experience with Carnival was smooth and virtually trouble-free. However, this time I was left hanging by my travel agent who had neglected to include a Bahamian visitor's form which everyone else in line seemed to have already completed prior to arrival at the port of Miami.
Despite this, I happily checked into cabin M200 which was port-side aft on the Main deck with a fabulous window view. My window was actually a free upgrade from my travel agent (Cruise.com) who should be commended for making my fifth cruise that much more special since this was my first stateroom with a window.
STATEROOMS The room itself was a spacious 185 square feet with two twin beds that could be pushed together to make a king. The bedding was Carnival's luxurious Comfort Bed which feels far better to relax on at the end of a busy day of touring than its modest look. In fact, an excellent night's sleep was the norm given the comfort of the Bonell mattress combined with the gentle rocking of the ship.
The room was clean and comfortable and was well-maintained by my friendly cabin steward David from Indonesia who was kind enough to turn my bed down twice a day and to leave those famous Carnival towel animals which seemed to mysteriously appear each night upon my return from dinner.
The television selection was minimal as on all cruise ships where the signal is provided by satellite and is subject to frequent changes. In addition to the ubiquitous CNN International and Travel Channels, this cruise featured local news coverage provided by the Denver, Colorado ABC, CBS and NBC network affiliates. It was interesting to note that while they were reporting about snowstorms and freezing temperatures in the metropolitan Denver area, I was enjoying nothing but sunshine and hot weather in the Caribbean.
PUBLIC AREAS, ENTERTAINMENT & CLIENTELE As with past cruises, I spent much of my time in my favorite gathering spots once they were chosen and located. I was particularly fond of the ship's Grand Atrium with its bright lights, neon signs and great people-watching venues.
The Past Guest party which was held on the last formal night in the glitzy Mikado Lounge was hastily-arranged but well-intentioned with its friendly faces and free finger sandwiches and drinks. The ship's Japanese-influenced architecture and design made for some fantastic photo opportunities and I also enjoyed trying my luck in the Moroccan-influenced Casablanca Casino.
While the ship permits smoking in the casino and many of the lounges, I found this to be a little deceiving. While I enjoyed the modern rock of the all-Filipino band Music Blitz in the Romeo & Juliet Lounge, I was asked to put out my fine cigar or leave this venue as it and most other smoking areas only allow cigarette smoking. I suppose they think that lung cancer is somehow preferable to mouth cancer! The only place where I and my Macanudo were welcomed was at Gatsby's Great Bar which was adjacent to the Cole Porter Lounge and its nightly karaoke antics. Despite this initial disappointment, I did manage to find an excellent place to relax after dinner and a long day of sightseeing.
My only other disappointment was in the clientele of this particular ship. While it wasn't the case with my four previous cruises, there were more than a few times where I felt as though I was trapped in a massive floating urban ghetto. I found this to be a surprising and unfortunate issue at times as I actually felt the need to leave several public areas during the week simply because I felt as though I'd walked into "the wrong part of town." The considerable number of large, raucous families with more than a few children running in tow and often speaking a form of English that one usually only hears on the streets of inner-city America made for a below-par cruise at times. However, knowing that Carnival has no control over who chooses to sail with them, I couldn't hold them accountable for this particular issue. Several other guests quietly commented to me about the same issue and that the time of year (i.e. on/off season) might have had something to do with this but also made no mention of it to anyone else due to the political correctness of the age in which we live.
DINING Breakfast and lunch in the Tiffany Dining Room were an often hurried and frenzied race for a good spot in the long but fast-moving meal lines. Breakfast was hot, fresh and plentiful with me having no problem in getting an ample supply of scrambled eggs, pancakes, oatmeal and orange juice. Lunch was somewhat slower-paced than breakfast but finding a good seat with an ocean view was sometimes a challenge. The Lido Deck grill served up tasty hot dogs, hamburgers and I even opted for the occasional and reminiscent-of-home bagel, cream cheese and lox with my iced tea.
My late-seating dinners were eaten in the Imagination Dining Room at Table 179. While I chose to eat late to avoid having to be back aboard ship early from tours, dinner didn't start until 8:30pm which was 30 minutes later than all my other cruises. However, the five-star cuisine and professionalism of the dining room staff more than made up for this. My headwaiter Freddi from Romania and his assistant Marlon from Peru were extremely attentive to my needs and literally had my drinks refilled just before the glass was empty.
The sumptuous three-course meals consisted of such favorites as chilled lychee fruit soup, Caesar salad with freshly-ground pepper, filet mignon with Portobello mushrooms and "real" Key lime pie, among many other delicacies. Needless to say, the finest restaurants here in Clearwater, Florida barely compare to the fine cuisine of French chef Georges Blanc who was hired by Carnival to design many of their meals.
My dinner companions were a lively and interesting bunch of American "southerners" from as nearby as Daytona Beach and as far away as northern Alabama. We all had a great time discussing the sights and sounds from our time aboard ship, as well as our past cruise history and future vacation plans. Coincidence or not, it was interesting to note that our table consisted of two other young married couples in addition to me and my wife and our cabins all happened to be located on the Main Deck within eyeshot of each other.
ONBOARD SHOPPING & PORTS OF CALL Shopping aboard the Elation was a pleasant experience. The duty-free shops had prices comparable to those found at the various ports of call and I was able to get some good deals on liquor, including a one liter bottle of Grey Goose vodka for US$28.95 and a one liter bottle of Glenfiddich whiskey for US$23.95, both of which were about half the price paid in the United States.
The Elation's first port of call was the Carnival private island of Half Moon Cay which is located about 100 miles southeast of Nassau, Bahamas. The ship was in port from 9am-4pm on Monday, October 9, 2006 and this was the only port where a tender boat was needed to reach my destination. This desolate and undeveloped private island mostly known for its beaches and animal sanctuaries was extremely hot and there was little shelter available. Despite a large and attractive beach area, shopping was limited to a small rotunda (aka "the frying pan") consisting of couple of "mom & pop" stores selling mostly t-shirts and handmade Bahamian goods. While this island was a sun-worshippers paradise, as a shopper and souvenir hunter, I wasn't terribly impressed with Half Moon Cay but I know that beach-lovers would definitely disagree with me.
We arrived in the port of Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands on Wednesday, October 11, 2006 and were there from 8am-8pm. As with my two previous visits to St. Thomas, the first attraction I enjoyed was taking the tram up 700 feet to the top of Paradise Point. While the US$18 per person roundtrip ticket wasn't the best deal in transportation, the view from the top of Paradise Point was one of the highlights of my cruise. While there are a few stores up on the mountain, the area is more of a visual attraction than a shopping one. I did manage to find a good deal on a Panama Jack hat which I bought from a Palm Harbor, Florida native who relocated to St. Thomas and owns The Pirate's Chest souvenir shop. This and a tasty Bailey's Bushwacker complete with souvenir ceramic mug made for a fun time up on the mountain. Back at sea level, shopping in the Havensight Mall area was once again lively and exciting with my picking up several fine souvenirs, including a good deal on a bottle of Joop! (my favorite cologne). Setting sail from St. Thomas at night was a treat in and of itself since the view of all the lights radiating from the mountainside cottages were breathtaking to say the least.
Thursday, October 12, 2006 was a fine day to spend the Puerto Rican holiday of Dia de la Raza (Columbus Day) shopping in Old San Juan. The Elation was in port from 7am-3:30pm and I spent the day wandering around the steep, narrow and winding streets of San Francisco, so to speak. The main shopping area is located on Calle San Francisco (San Francisco Street) and was filled with numerous fine jewelry, tobacco, perfume and souvenir shops. Among other things, I found excellent deals on FIBO Italian stainless steel jewelry and Macanudo cigars and I only had to pay 1% sales tax on these items. But be forewarned, I was told by a San Juan Radio Shack sales associate that this tax will increase to 7% (same as Florida) on November 1, 2006. Needless to say, I think that Puerto Rican tourism will suffer greatly as a result of this absurd sales tax increase. After all, why should I purchase items in Puerto Rico if I can buy the same things here in Florida for the same price?
Cockburn Town, Grand Turk is the capital of the Turks & Caicos Islands and was the fourth and final port of call on this cruise. We were there from 12-7pm on Friday, October 13, 2006. Similar to Half Moon Cay, Grand Turk was a very attractive but small island that caters primarily to beach-goers. To its benefit, Dufry was a newly-built duty-free shopping area that offered some good deals on alcohol, tobacco and perfume. The main attraction was Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville Grand Turk, BWI which was the most popular hangout spot for sun worshippers. The roped-off swimming area is as shallow as a couple of feet deep near the beach but suddenly drops to over 7,000 feet several hundred yards offshore which is no wonder why the waters of Grand Turk are known for their excellent scuba diving and underwater photography opportunities.
DEBARKATION As is typical of Carnival, debarkation consists of two groups of "evacuees" and usually begins promptly at 7:15am. All guests who carried their own baggage ashore and don't plan on checking anything are free to leave between 7:15-8:15am. At 8:15, all other guests debarked the ship in the order that they appeared at the gangway on Empress Deck 7. It's not always the smoothest of processes but it's worked as well as possible from what I've seen over the years. My frustration this one and only time was directed at the Purser's Desk. While I had no checked luggage, I wasn't ready to debark the ship at the scheduled time and instead wanted to wait until about 8:30am and leave with the checked-baggage guests. This was due to the fact that my transportation from the port of Miami was running later than planned. After calling the Purser's Desk no less than four times between 7:15-8:15am and being put on hold for nearly ten minutes at a time, I was given three different answers (ranging from "immediately" to "10:30 to 11:00 at the latest") from three different people as to whether it was permissible for me to disembark at 8:30am as needed. Needless to say, I was irritated by the fact that these crew members couldn't seem to get their facts straight. While I understand that they were obviously quite busy due to the nature of the situation, this was no excuse for their lack of knowledge and professionalism during such a crucial time.
SUMMARY Despite a few issues which I think were all related to time and circumstance, I had yet another fantastic cruise experience with Carnival and I wouldn't hesitate cruising with them again. In fact, my wife and I are already in the early stages of planning our 2007 vacation. While I enjoyed cruising with Carnival again, I'd probably be more inclined to sail on a larger ship next time as I did on my first two Carnival cruises since my experiences on the 100,000+ ton ships were better primarily due to their itineraries, amenities and clientele. However, if you're interested in trying out Carnival for the first time or you're a first-time cruiser in general, I'd recommend the Carnival Elation as an excellent way for you to get your feet wet, so to speak!