It’s been a long time since January when my friends and I booked a vacation on the Carnival Elation. But it has finally come and gone and been one of the best experiences I’ve had. We had a 9 hour drive to Mobile, AL. We weren’t sure how far we’d get on the drive, but did make it all way. So along the way I reserved us a hotel. The last time I stayed in a hotel, it was a La Quinta…pretty nice and good price. So I reserved at another one this time. Oh boy was that a bad idea. It wasn’t anything like the nice La Quinta I stayed at before. Pretty sketchy, but we survived. The next morning we had some time, so we visited the USS Alabama museum. Very cool, even if we did have to hurry through. I can tell I would never be cut out for the Navy.
We arrived to the port and quickly got into a hurry up and wait mode. It took a little over two hours to board. The VIP boarding was looking really good, but not worth the extra expense of a suite to get it. We boarded, ate (of course), and headed to the top deck to see off the US!
The Elation is one of the smaller ships in the Carnival line, but I loved it that way. I was pleasantly surprised to not find just mobs of people everywhere, constantly. We ate at formal dining every night and shared a table with a great family from Destin, Fl. They were seasoned cruisers and had some good tips for us, including a great deck to go lay out on where a lot of people didn’t go. That ended up being my spot and there were never more than a dozen people up there; plus it had a full view of the deck stage for the shows and games. Perfect!
|The view from the deck I lounged on most of the time.|
I participated in a couple of activities like trivia and karaoke. Went to all the evening shows. They were good, if not a little amateurish. Of course, I had lots of critiques for their technical aspects. But the cast and crew did a good job.
Formal dining was always fun. The ladies we sat with–Nanna, Jan, and Cara–were awesome. One night of the cruise is “elegant night”, so we dressed up. Well, Nanna had a few too many martinis prior to dinner and was an absolute riot. She couldn’t stop laughing at anything and everything. After dinner, we went to karaoke and I decided to sing “Shameless” to her. That was definitely the most fun night we had. I did karaoke the next night too. I ended up singing “Dream On” and it was way higher than I expected it to be. But I just made light of it, got the audience laughing, and really had them rolling when I hit those extra high “dream on!” notes at the end. HA!
The food was endless. Buffets were open 24/7. The dining room menu was always an interesting experience. Didn’t try too many new things, like escargot. But it was always quite tasty. Desserts were especially “nice”. 🙂
Our first port of call was Progreso. We booked a tour of the Chichen Itza ruins from the Mayan Empire. It is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The tour had a little information but was more about selling us things than anything else. And some of those vendors are aggressive! The 52m temple is unbelievable in its construction. Its structure is based on the calendar and on the solstices, it will cast the perfect shadow of a serpent. There’s actually a smaller temple within the outer one! No climbing on the ruins anymore, but I didn’t mind…I’d rather they be preserved. The ruins have some crazy acoustics. Clapping can create an endless reverberating echo or produce a completely different sound. Other buildings included a ball court, a sacrificial alter, and the royal court.
|Temple of Kukuikan – the structure and steps are all “tuned” to the calendar.|
|Ball Court – players used anything but their hands to knock a ball into the hoops (you can see on the sides). The WINNER (yes, winner) got sacrificed.|
|Underground river exposed by a sink hole. This river sustained the Mayan culture, who disappeared for unknown reasons. But the peoples and language still exist as a blend of Mayan and Mexican.|
We had just enough time for the tour before having to reboard Elation. It was a 2 hour trip out, 2 hours to look around, 2 hours back. That was my only negative feeling about the trip…that we didn’t have more time in ports.
The next morning we arrived in Cozumel. There ended up being four Carnival ships in port that day, so I was SO thankful to not have booked a Carnival Cruise excursion. Instead, we learned of Eagle Ray Divers for scuba diving through some friends that had been there. What an experience! There were only four of us on the boat. We had about an hour long lesson, then had to do some check-offs in shallow water. Then our guide took us down about 40 ft. There we saw all sorts of colorful fish and coral. I wish I had some pictures, but the underwater camera did not perform well. After the first dive, we easily decided we wanted to go again. This time we went out to the edge of the reef where the ocean drops down 1500 ft. The current there was unbelievable. But it was an amazing view; we even saw a couple sting rays!
After diving, we only had an hour until we had to board again. Again, our time limitation sucked. I really wish they would stay a night in port. But anyway, we asked where a great place to get some authentic Mexican food and our guide pointed us to the right spot. We each got a platter with a sample of everything and were stuffed. Quick souvenir shopping and we were boarding back on Elation.
|L to R: baked plantains, black beans, chicken, guacamole, taco, beef, taquito, quesadilla|
On the last day at sea, I got to go on a behind the scenes tour of the boat. It is a pretty exclusive thing; only 16 people can pay to do so. It was definitely worth it! We started out in the galley and saw how all the food preparation and serving takes place. A common perception of cruises is the amount of food waste they have, which is true to an extent, but Carnival does a good job not over-preparing. And food scraps from plates gets ground up and dumped in the ocean for fish food!
We saw the linen and laundry area. They have HUGE machines that dry/press/fold the linens. They had already done over 5,000 when we came through around 9:30 am. We saw the trash/incinerator area, storage, bulk food prep. Then we went to the engine control room. Lots of guards while we were there. The Officer of the Watch spoke to us for a while. Unfortunately, they can’t allow people in the engine rooms anymore, but we saw them on monitors. The Elation was the first ship to be built with propellors that can spin 360 degrees. So no need for a tug boat! On the front of the boat is a water propulsion system that sucks water in one side and pushes it out the other. Also, the whole ship runs on six generators.
We walked through the crew areas and dining. There are five separate dining rooms for them: staff, crew, officers, senior officers, and captain. At worst, crew members have to share a room with one other person. They serve anywhere from four to eight months at the time on the ship, with two months off. We then went up to the bridge and met the Captain, First Officer, Junior Officer, and Quartermaster. The Captain’s position is very much aloof. They couldn’t show us where his quarters or dining room were or really anything about him, other than his role on the ship, which is mainly as an adviser when the First Officer needs help. They drive the whole ship with a joystick no bigger than one on a game controller, which is kind of crazy to think about. They have the same set of controls on either side of the bridge for docking. Most of the time, it is on autopilot.
We then went to the backstage area of the theater, which you know I loved. And we ended on the crew’s deck and lounge. Tour over and lunch consumed, I headed to the deck, as was my tendency to do on “at sea” days. It was awesome just to lay there and read or do nothing. But toward the afternoon, I started getting really tired from all the sun from the week. I headed to the spa area and cooled off in an amazing shower that shoots water at you from 5 directions.
Debarkation happened sooner than we expected the next morning. We were barely out of bed when they called our deck to start moving to start heading off. Through customs, which went about as quick as you can anticipate, and a long drive home. It really was a great time, we had perfect weather, met some awesome people.
If you want to see all my pictures (to be honest, I didn’t take many), head here.