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Cruise Report: Carnival 'Elation', Mexico (Feb 17-24)
March 03, 2002

Being a first time cruiser, I didn't know what to expect. Could Carnival Cruise lines deliver the goods? Could 4 adults share a room the size of a broom closet for a week without killing each other?

Our cruise ship, the Carnival 'Elation', was to leave port from Los Angeles and set sail down to Mexico. The orginal itinerary had us going to Puerto Vallarta first, then Mazatlan, and finally Cabo San Lucas. However, due to a problem with too many cruise ships being in port at once, our itinerary was reversed, which meant that we sailed all the way down to Cabo San Lucas first, and headed back towards Puerto Vallarta.

Our cruise director, Greg, assured us this was a good thing, as it meant more time for us in Cabo San Lucas, which he claimed as being the best port. However, to leave port, you should first have your luggage, and unfortunately not all our luggage made it to Los Angeles at the same time as us. When we were leaving Calgary, they informed us there was a problem with one of the cargo bays on the airplane, and that approximately 60 pieces of luggage would be left behind. United Airlines assured us the luggage would be sent out on the next available flight, and that our luggage would arrive by 5:30 p.m. One problem however, the cruise ship was leaving at 4:00 p.m. so we wouldn't have time to stick around. Fortunately most of our luggage made it, and we were only missing two suitcases, one belonging to Melanie and the other to Sheryl. (Luckily, being women, they had multiple suitcases, most of which did indeed arrive).

Carnival Cruise line couldn't have been more accommodating, and they had the delayed luggage routed to Cabo San Lucas, our first stop. So in 2 day's time, Melanie & Sheryl would be able to pick up the rest of their luggage, which was delivered right to our cabin. Carnival Cruise also gave them $100 credit to buy anything they couldn't live without for the first 2 days. Once again, being women, they bought shoes. Just kidding. Another couple from Calgary who were in the same situation told us that Carnival couldn't help them, because they had won their cruise, but had booked their own flight. To make matters worse, not a single piece of their luggage had arrived, so they had nothing for their first 2 days on board. This is something to think about for those of you who are thinking about booking your cruise & flight separately. If anything goes wrong, i.e. delayed flight, lost luggage, Carnival won't be held responsible.

'The Elation'

Despite being well aware of the scientific principles behind buoyancy, one is still amazed that such a huge structure can float. How big is the Elation? It's actually of comparable size to the Titanic, I did some quick research:

Titanic Elation
Length 883 ft 855 ft
Tonnage 46,329 70,376
Beam 92.5ft 103ft
Speed 21 knots 21 knots

The porters brought all our luggage to our room, which was located on U deck, near the rear of the ship. It certainly wasn't the quietest room, you could hear a lot of noise at night, but it didn't bother me. The room was about 100 square feet, which for 4 adults isn't a lot of space. Somehow 4 beds were squeezed into this tiny area, 2 bunkbeds, a regular bed, and a bed on the floor. Once you throw a dresser and a bathroom in there, and unpack all your luggage, there's about 2 feet of actual walking space.

The Food

In general, all the food is located on the rear end of the ship, and all the entertainment is near the front end. The place where you end up eating the most is called 'Tiffany's', and can best be described as a cafeteria-style dining room that's open 24 hours a day. In the morning they have eggs, pancakes, bacon, etc, all served buffet style. For lunch they have hamburgers, chicken, steak, etc. For their midnight buffet, they have a chef preparing giant crepes, and of course the pizzeria is open 24 hours a day! In short, if you go hungry on a cruise ship, you've got a problem. They say the average weight gain on a 7 day cruise is 5 pounds and I believe it. I found the food to be delicious, but the cruise booking agent said if we had ever been on a Royal Carribean Cruise (supposedly the best food of all the cruise lines) we would find a huge difference in food quality. However, talking to people who had been on both Royal Carribean, and Carnival, those claims are unfounded.

'Tiffany's' is just ONE of the dining rooms available to you. The main dining room, the one where everybody goes to for dinner, serves breakfast & lunch as well. In addition, there is also a sushi bar, and a large buffet available on the main outside deck (Lido deck). Conceivably, you could stuff yourself 24 hours a day on the cruise ship.

There are 2 formal nights where everyone dresses to impress, but the rest of the time you're just expected to wear decent casual clothes in the dining room. Hopefully you will be seated with some great dinner companions like we were, because you'll be spending 7 dinner nights with them! If you can tell right off the bat you're not going to 'mesh well' with your dinner guests, politely take the maitre d' aside and ask to be moved.

Our maitre d', Merwyn from India, was superb, and catered to our every whim, he even brought me gourmet macaroni & cheese. His assistant, Victor from Russia, was also great, and both of them chatted with us quite a bit during the cruise. One note, you are expected to tip your table staff, which was no surprise to us, but what did surprise us was learning that these guys are paid absolutely no wages. They are not American citizens, and thus are not required to be paid any minimum wage. This is the way it is on all cruise lines, not just Carnival. Merwyn & Victor pointed out that Carnival treats them very well, and of course they can live & eat for free, but their wages are based entirely on tips. The 'suggested tip' is $25 per person for your maitre d' (for the entire week) and $14.50 for the assistant waiter. They have 4 tables (2 tables at the early seating, 2 at the late), with approximately 10 people per table, which means conceivably they could earn $1000 in a week, if everyone pays the recommended amount. However, many tables are full of kids, and I guarantee most parents won't be shelling out $25/kid, and some people are just jerks and don't tip. Also, I wouldn't be surprised if the head waiter takes a percentage of the tip. These guys also seem to work 18 hours a day, I see them working bright & early in the morning, all the way into the dead of the night. Your cabin attendant will also be expecting a $25 tip from each person, so when you book your cruise, tack another $100 on to it in your head.

When you book your cruise, you'll have a choice of being seated for the early dinner (5:30ish) or the late dinner (8:00ish). Personally, we liked the late dinner, because all the entertainment starts right after the late dinner. With the early dinner, you'd be sitting around bored, waiting for the late dinner folks to finish. Plus, when you're at port in Mexico, you can stay longer without worrying about coming back on time for dinner.

The Staff

We didn't see much of our cabin attendant, Yul, in person, but it is their job to be discrete. You could certainly see his effects though. If you leave your cabin for more than a half-hour, expect to come back to find it all tidied up. Once a day Yul would leave chocolates on our pillows, and make animals out of our towels. Overall, I thought he did an excellent job, and the general consensus on the ship seemed to be everyone was pleased with their cabin attendants.

Our cruise director, Greg, was excellent. The cruise director is basically your M.C. for the entertainment in the theatre (Mikado Lounge), and he did a great job. Greg was very funny, and really seemed to get involved with the crowd. The rest of the staff was excellent as well, and were 100% courteous and considerate at all times. According to Greg, 'The Elation' has been rated #1 in the Carnival fleet via the passenger feeback forms you receive at the end of the cruise. Apparently 'The Elation' was rated #1 in cleanliness, entertainment, staff, and food, although I have no way of verifying this. Greg really did seem to be proud of his crew though.

The Entertainment

Each night, in the Mikado Lounge, you are treated to at least one entertaining show. There were 2 Las Vegas-style revue shows that were pretty decent. Obviously this isn't Broadway, so don't expect too much and you won't be dissapointed. In the Mikado Lounge there are quite a few seats that have views obstructed by poles, so get there early if you want a good seat. Often times there will be a bingo game before a show, so sit through the bingo game, and acquire yourself a good spot.

There were a few comedians, each of which had a regular show, and then an 'adults only' show later on around midnight. I found the comedians to be really good, especially 'Jarome'. Jarome is a young black guy who I thought was really talented, and made fun of all the quirky experiences you'll find on the cruise ship. Jarome also gave a bonus show in the Mikado Lounge during the entire debarkation process (end of the cruise), which as experienced cruisers will tell you, can be the most boring part of the cruise.

There was also a talent show, which was alright (every 'talent' was singing), some funny audience-participation skits, and of course a world-famous fiddler! I'm not sure if they're on 'The Elation' all the time, but if the classical music girls are performing, be sure to check them out. They are 3 blonde girls from Poland, who play wonderful classical music, and are very easy on the eyes. If I had my way they would have their own show in the Mikado Lounge!

There were a few 'party nights' on the main deck, outside, but it wasn't used as often as I imagined it would be. I always pictured everyone using the pool a lot, but hardly anyone did at all, except for little kids. Mind you, the weather wasn't the greatest coming out of Los Angeles, and when you're at sea it can get pretty windy. Unless you're a sucker, don't buy the drinks on board. They're $7.50 a pop ($10 Canadian!) and they are watered down. Do what we did, and sneak your alcohol on board in your suitcase (they don't check luggage). Sneaking alcohol on after this point is much trickier, when you come back on board after a day in Mexico, they scan your stuff and 'hold your alcohol for you' until you disembark. Just bring a few bottles of Vodka, and make your own drinks with the free orange juice & lemonade!

The Ports

Our first stop, on our reverse itinerary, was Cabo San Lucas, which is apparently the nicest port of the three. It definitely seemed nice enough, but looked a lot like the other two ports to me. I swear the same litle girl sells chicklets in all 3 ports. We just walked around the Cabo San Lucas boardwalk, there really wasn't much to see besides a few stores. Cabo seems to be the most modernized of the 3 ports, and the cleanest. It might be a good idea to look up some highlights of the city first, so you don't end up just walking around all day like we did.

The second stop was Mazatlan. You'll want to take a taxi from port, otherwise it's a long walk to anything worth seeing. Don't worry about there being a shortage of taxis. You'll see many glorified golf carts zooming around dangerously, those are the taxis. ALWAYS, ALWAYS, negotiate a price with the driver before you get in the taxi. Point to a spot on your map, ask how much, and then offer him half.

We had our driver take us to the Mazatlan beach boardwalk, and started near the cliff divers, and worked our way towards Senor Frogs. We never made it all the way to the so-called 'Golden Zone', but I don't know why you'd want to go there anyways. Ask any local about The Golden Zone and they'll just laugh. They'll tell you that the Golden Zone is for suckers, and if you want any sort of real deal on jewelery, you need to go to the less touristy areas. Senor Frogs was fun, but pretty pricey.

Our last stop was Puerto Vallarta, and was the stop I was looking the most forward to, because we had reserved ourselves a spot on the 'Unimog Outback Adventure' tour. It's $80 a person, but it's about 7 hours, and in my opinion well worth it. If you don't know what a Unimog is, they're very powerful off-road vehicles designed for the German army. The tour takes you deep into a Mexican Jungle, and you stop off at a small village that gives you a true sense of what most Mexicans live like. You are also given a lot of information the the plants & trees in the jungle. Along the way you're fed all the alcohol you want, and at the end there is a buffet, with more alcohol, and a very nice beach to swim at. At $80 it's one of the pricier tours offered by Carnival (although not by much), but everyone who goes on it says it's worth it. Until the Unimogs came up, I had planned on renting dune buggies, which would have been a blast as well.

Things I'm Glad I Brought

  • My own alcohol
  • An alarm clock
  • Multiple electrical outlet adapter (there's only one plugin in your cabin)
  • A video camera
  • Photo ID


    Overall, I think Carnival is a great way to go, although it's the only cruise line I've been on so I really can't compare. I would definitely cruise on Carnival again, and I really can't think of any complaints. If you have any questions feel free to give me a shout.

    Related: Carnival Cruise Image Gallery