7 Day Mexican Riviera Cruise, February, 1999
My husband and I sailed on the Elation on February 21, 1999, to the Mexican Riviera. We have taken this same 7-day cruise three times before, but never on the Elation. We have sailed on the old Sitmar line, Princess and Carnival before this. We were going to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary, and just wanted an easy and relaxing vacation.
We live in Southern California. My husband surprised me with a limousine at our front door, to take us to the port of Los Angeles. It was a wonderful way to go, and an even better way to return home after our vacation. Carnival's cruise documents state that boarding begins at 1:30pm; having cruised this line before, we knew better. We arrived at the dock at 11:25am, handed our baggage to the porter, went through the security scanner, and walked right up to the check-in window. Because we had booked a Category 12 suite, I had been advised that we would embark the ship via the "Skippers Club." I can tell you that the actual sectioned-off "Skippers Club" boarding area does not exist, however, you do receive a VIP boarding pass: you are the first people called to board the ship. Boarding was called at 12:00pm, and my husband and I were one of the first to enter the ship. It was a quick and painless embarkation. At about 12pm, there was a long line of people waiting outside of the building, to go the security scanner. Apparently, security only allows a certain amount of people to enter at a time, to eliminate an overcrowding problem.
My husband and I have always had an outside cabin whenever we cruised. This was our first suite, and it will not be our last. I think we are spoiled forever!! As you enter the cabin, the full-size bathroom, with Jacuzzi tub, is on one side. The walk-in closet is on the other side of the entry. The closet has a full-length mirror inside and is fully lighted. There is a very good-sized safe in the closet as well. There was plenty of room for two people to hang their clothes (and I am not a light packer). Three people could use it also. Anymore than that . . . pack light!! There are also five shelves in the closet, which can be used to store your clothes.
In the vanity, there are four drawers (two big and two small) on each side. Across from the vanity are twin beds that can be "pushed" together to make a king-size bed. The bed area is separated from the seating area by a raised divider, with a glass partition. This is nice, because you can see the ocean from your bed (if the curtains are open). The sectional couch has a pull-out bed in it. There are also two single chairs, a small table, and a coffee table in front of the couch.
Next, the balcony, which is wonderful! It has two chairs, a small table, and a lounge. It is wonderful and relatively private; one would have to lean over the rail to look into your next door neighbor's balcony area. The refrigerator is small, but adequate. TV/VCR were fine . . . but we never used the VCR. My only complaint about the room was the actual cleanliness. There are some beautiful burl wood panels, with a high glossy finish, and you could see fingerprints all over the wood. There was a heavy layer of dust around the TV/VCR, and the room divider. The mirrors over the vanity and in the bathroom were also speckled and dirty. I wasn't impressed!!
Lastly, your room steward leaves bathrobes to use during the week. He will take them out the last night, so don't expect to wear them on the morning you leave. If you want to buy the robe, the cost is $39.00. If you have this cabin, leave the balcony door open at night -- it is wonderful. The location of the cabin is excellent: amidships, where it is very stable and smooth.
Our friends had a CAT 11 cabin, for three adults, on the Verandah Deck. Their room was a disappointment. However, it looks exactly like the brochure. They just thought it would be bigger. The room is a little longer than the standard outside cabin. The length is for the addition of a two-seater couch, which turns into a bed. The room has a queen-size bed next to the window. The balcony is small, about 5'x3', but big enough for two chairs. It has a small refrigerator, bar, and TV/VCR. The bathroom and closet are the same size as a standard outside cabin. This room would be fine for two people, but according to my friend, it was much too small for three adults: two men and one woman. Also, due to the location of the room, there is a lot of movement from the ship; it is on one of the top decks, and you really feel the motion. Having seen both cabins, I would always take a Cat 12. I would not book a Cat 11, on a different ship, even if it weren't located on the Verandah Deck.
When you enter the ship, on the Empress Deck, through the atrium, it is very impressive. The dark woods, subtle lighting (I know, unusual for Carnival), and softer colors are beautiful. Having spent a week on this ship, I am still impressed. The public rooms are easily accessible. I didn't have a difficult time finding my way around shortly after arriving. However, I did study the brochure before going and knew the location of most of the rooms. The Elation Way, which is the main thoroughfare on the Promenade Deck, was a great place to sit and watch the water, or to listen to the music at the Drama Bar. The Casino is also there. The casino had just about everything you could want, except baccarat. I even learned to play Caribbean Poker, and won!!
The Sushi Bar is right next to the Casino. I am a great lover of sushi; the best thing about this sushi was the wasabi! The sushi is all cooked fish; I tried it one time, and passed the rest of the cruise. There is no charge for the sushi, but they charge $1.50 for sake.
Other reviews have noted the poor visibility in the Mikado Lounge. I agree completely. The poles are very distracting, but you can watch the show despite them. Of all the lounges and bars (there are eight of them, I believe), my husband and I had the best time in Duke's Bar. Cameron, the piano player, played every song you have ever heard on the radio, and sang along with them! I have been hoarse for three days, from singing. The entire bar sings along, and makes requests. The actual bar is a piano with keys (that don't work), with Cameron and his piano in the very center of it. There was excellent and unobtrusive bar service in here also. Johnny, one of the servers, remembered what my husband and I were drinking, and would have our drinks ready for us when we entered the bar. I have never tipped a drink server in all my cruises, but we did tip Johnny at the end of this cruise -- he was excellent.
The Lido Deck has the pool/slide area, lido stage, and Tiffany's, aft of the stage. Tiffany's also has an area for pizza, which was great. The room is larger, has good seating and the décor is attractive. I remember the Boiler Room on the Tropicale, and this was so much nicer.
Food (Pleasant Surprises!)
We had late seating in the Imagination Dining Room. We had cruised last May on the Holiday, and I was not impressed with the dining room service on that ship; the menu was the same menu that Carnival has had for the last 10 years. I was pleasantly surprised by the food this time. The alternative dining in Tiffany's was very good, and went far beyond the ubiquitous hamburgers and hot dogs.
The main dining room had wonderful, new entrées. They offer Lobster, Filet Mignon, Chateaubriand, Long Island Duckling, Tiger Prawns, Escargot, Alaskan King Crab, Halibut, Pasta, Veal Parmigiana and Pork Medallions. to name a few. For dessert, there was Chocolate Soufflé, Tiramisu, Baked Alaska, Cherries Jubilee and Amaretto Souffle. Don't forget to try Wild Mushroom soup the first night: it was fantastic. The portions were small, but you could order as many selections as you wanted.
Our waiter was good -- not excellent, but good. Our busboy was excellent, however. In addition, for the first time, I experienced an excellent head waiter, Ivan. On all our other cruises, the head waiter would usually ignore us until tip night. Ivan visited us every night, chatted awhile, arranged a special anniversary and birthday surprise for our table, and generally was great. We also tipped him for his service, but it was well deserved. The breakfast and luncheon menus in the main dining rooms are normal breakfast fare: Eggs Benedict, lox and bagels, omelets, hash browns, etc.
Great. We would order a pot of coffee, a basket of fruit, and bagels and cream cheese for breakfast. We would sit on the balcony and ENJOY. Service was fast, and the food was good.
As I mentioned before, my husband and I were greatly in need of a vacation and had "done" this cruise before. We didn't take any shore excursions. Our friends took the Mismaloya tour in Puerto Vallarta, and the City Tour in Mazatlán. They enjoyed them both. We all walked through Cabo San Lucas, and visited "The Office," where the locals have pancakes and margaritas for breakfast; I have come to the conclusion that the pancakes are eaten to absorb the alcohol. We enjoyed our margaritas and came back to the ship for a long nap. It was a fun place. Cabo San Lucas is my favorite port. The Pirate Ship Whale watching tour was a blast, but in February, you have to dress very warmly. It is cold on the ocean. We did see whales, dolphins, and flying fish (from our balcony too!)
The Elation has all the typical Carnival shows and games. The shows in the lounges are big, flashy, and fun! They have ice carving demonstrations, Hairy Chest and Knobby Knee contests, and Karaoke contests. The galley tour and bridge tour were interesting. There was a show in the Mikado lounge called "Spin," which I went to and left after about 15 minutes; it just didn't hold my attention.
I had some problems with a dealer in the casino, that same night. He mis-dealed a hand; later, he paid me off improperly. Since I had no idea how to play the game, or what the payoff should be, I didn't notice. The gentleman next to me did. He pointed it out to the dealer, who got very huffy and belligerent. The pit boss ended up coming over and correcting the payoff. Fortunately, I hadn't picked up any chips, or my cards, so the problem was easy to correct. I did find that several of the dealers in the casino were very abrupt, and less than polite. This is the first time I have ever experienced that problem.
I have mentioned the service in the casino, dining room and bars. I would like to add that I never felt pressured to buy a drink while sitting on deck, or in the bars. A "No thank you" was enough, and usually responded to with a smile. Other than the cleanliness of my suite, which I attribute to our room steward, I was pleased overall with the service.
One problem that we have encountered on every Mexican Riviera cruise is very rough seas on the return home. This trip was no different. The swells were huge and you could really feel the motion. The ship was steady, but you could feel it "riding" the waves. This ship was much stabler than the other ships we have cruised.
HINT: Everyone has a black suitcase! Take colored electrical tape, colored bungee cords, or anything else bright, and wrap it around the handles of your suitcase or put a stripe across the front. This makes it very easy to distinguish from all the other suitcases that look JUST LIKE YOURS. I found debarkation sad (as always), but very easy. We had to be out of our room between 8:30am and 9:00am. We went to the Mikado lounge at 9am. Customs cleared our ship at 10am. Our room tags were green, and we were the first color called to exit the ship. We located our bags, walked through Customs, and were in our limousine, headed home, by 10:15am. It was a painless departure.
I would recommend that everyone take Customs seriously. As we pulled into port, I saw the Customs officials, with their dogs, inspecting the luggage of the ship next to us, Royal Caribbean's Song of America. Do not attempt to bring anything illegal back, drugs or cigars, because they will find it.
Lastly, there has been a lot of controversy about bringing alcohol on board. I didn't find any security officer who was looking for alcohol at embarkation or at any of the ports. No one was OBVIOUSLY bringing alcohol on board, however. That is your clue. Use it if you wish.
I definitely enjoyed my cruise, and can't wait to book my next one. I will have to go in a suite, however. We will not repeat the Mexican Riviera Cruise -- three times is enough. Possibly the Caribbean or Alaska will be next. I enjoyed the Elation and thought it was the best Carnival ship that I had been on. I will sail Carnival again, but will continue to sail other lines, also. It is nice to sail other lines and compare them. I hope that Carnival can correct its relatively minor service problems. With their new ships, and the change in their menu, they are real competition for all the other lines. Carnival seems to offer excellent value for the price. I hope their service will improve as much as their food has.
Bob and Melinda Alani live in southern California with their three teenage sons (two are twins!) and look forward each year to their "adults only vacation" to remind them of why they got married in the first place. They can be reached for questions or comment at: Binkey36@aol.com.
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