As the parade of new ships continues and major cruise lines construct increasingly grandiose vessels each year, there is the tendency to neglect attractive ships that are not among the most recent to enter the market. A case in point is Carnival's Elation, still a relative "youngster," yet with years of cruising under her belt and plenty of years of smooth sailing ahead.
Debuting in March 1998, Elation is the seventh of Carnival's eight Fantasy-class vessels (which began with the debut of Fantasy in 1991 and concluded with the launch of Paradise in 1998).
But Carnival has not neglected Elation -- or the ship's Fantasy-class sisters for that matter. All eight of Carnival's Fantasy-class ships are receiving extensive upgrades as part of Carnival's $350 million "Evolutions of Fun" program. Carnival Elation received part one of the upgrades in 2009 when Serenity, the adults-only deck, Circle "C," a club geared to 12- to 14-year-olds, and expanded buffet options, including a new Mongolian Wok stir-fry station, were added. Part two of the refurb, which will focus on the addition of a resort-style pool and a Carnival WaterWorks water park, has yet to be scheduled.
Elation also has the distinction of being the first cruise ship equipped with Azipod Propulsion, the state-of-the art system that greatly enhances the ship's maneuverability in addition to saving space inside the vessel hull and has since been installed on many of the newest mega-liners. Elation was also the first Carnival ship to feature a dedicated conference center, geared toward accommodating small meetings and incentive groups.
On Carnival Elation, there are two options for dinner. You can either opt for set seating (choices are 6 or 8:15 p.m.) or go with a flexible option (Carnival's "Your Time Dining"). With the flexible choice, you can have dinner in the main dining room anytime they like between 5:45 and 9:30 p.m. (times may vary). Dining assignments -- which you select before the cruise -- are made on a first come, first served basis, so if you have your heart set on one or the other, consider booking earlier rather than later.
Imagination is located on Atlantic Deck, midship, and Inspiration is on Atlantic Deck aft. There is open seating in the restaurants for breakfast and lunch.
Each menu features six starters, a couple of salads, and six or seven main courses (with choices including pan-fried fillet of red snapper, sweet and sour shrimp, rack of New Zealand lamb, and beef Wellington). There are also several Spa Carnival selections on each menu -- dishes that are lower in calories, sodium, cholesterol and fat. A vegetarian selection is also available.
Service is cordial and professional.
Beyond Inspiration and Imagination, the ship's other main dining venue is the informal Tiffany's Bar and Grill on the Lido Deck, which offers both inside and poolside seating. All meals here are served buffet style, and there is open seating for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Other alternative eating options include a 24-hour pizzeria, a complimentary sushi bar and 24-hour room service. Carnival is one of the few lines to still offer midnight buffets; themes varied, from a Mexican night to a gala "anything goes" spread.
Caveat #1: Tiffany's gets especially crowded at breakfast and congestion often builds up near the omelet station due to a slow-moving line. So you may want to get up early and eat breakfast sooner rather than later if you want to avoid delays here.
Caveat #2: The dinner buffet offerings in Tiffany's are very limited compared to the extensive choices on the menu in the main dining rooms; there may be only one or two main courses to choose from and the choice of appetizers, salads and desserts is also less than what is available in the restaurants.
Caveat #3: There are very few tables for two in either Inspiration or Imagination with most tables accommodating 6, 8 and 10 people. Those who want to dine with only their spouse or significant other would have to eat either in Tiffany's, which has many tables accommodating couples, or order room service.
Also available on all of Carnival's ships is The Chef's Table dining experience, which affords a dozen passengers a multicourse dinner with a master chef, a private cocktail reception and a tour of the galley and its operations. This dining option usually takes place in a nontraditional venue, such as the galley or library, and can be booked onboard at the information desk for a per-person cost of $75.
In terms of layout and function, Elation is virtually identical to her sister Fantasy-class ships. The ship consists of 10 decks with most of the public rooms concentrated on Atlantic, Promenade and Lido decks (8 - 10), while the cabins are situated on Riviera, Main, Upper and Empress decks (4 - 7). Like other Carnival ships, the public areas are designed and decorated in a fanciful, flamboyant style by Carnival's award-winning architect Joe Farcus, who has a penchant for augmenting the interiors with more than a dash of neon and glitz. While passenger opinions of the decor ranged from glamorous and elegant to gaudy and gauche, there is no denying that Farcus' whimsical design style enhances the Elation's "Fun Ship" aura.
The ship's centerpiece is its six-story Grand Atrium. The semicircular Plaza Bar on the floor of the Atrium is a favorite gathering place for pre-dinner drinks and light entertainment.
Elation's public spaces encompass a diversity of styles and design elements celebrating the arts of music, literature and cinema with references to the Muses and other Greek mythological figures added to the mix. Among the venues with an arts theme include the Romeo and Juliet Lounge, Gatsby's Great Cigar Bar, the Cole Porter Club, the Jekyll & Hyde Dance Club and the Mark Twain Library. One of the most expansive public areas is the area known as Elation Way on Promenade Deck, which is decorated with striking columns featuring crafted classical reliefs of the Muses. Promenade Deck gets especially busy at night as it connects the main "evening" lounges, such as the Romeo and Juliet Lounge, Musical Cafe, which is next to the Casablanca Casino (it sports a Moroccan design after the movie of the same name).
Other public areas include The Fun Shops, Atrium Plaza and the ship's photo gallery. There is also an Internet cafe with access priced at 75 cents per minute; for those who plan to spend more time on the computer, there are 100-minute packages available for $50 (50 cents per minute) and 250-minute packages for $100 (40 cents per minute). Wi-Fi is available in most public rooms.
There is also a self-service laundry onboard ($3 for a wash, $3 for a dry).
Sixty percent of Elation's 1,021 cabins (a total of 618 accommodations including both standard cabins and suites) have ocean views and there are 408 inside cabins. The vast majority of cabins measure 185 square feet and are basically furnished with king size bed (can be converted into twins), small desk and chairs, a telephone, TV, large closets and sets of drawers containing ample storage space, and large bathroom/shower. The bedding, of course, is the much-lauded Carnival Comfort Bed system. The shower is especially powerful and well designed.
Elation was built just prior to the shift toward constructing ships with an abundance of cabins with verandahs, so just the 26 demi-suites (250 square feet, half-size balcony) and 28 full suites (400 square feet, full-size balcony) come with them. Full suites are the only accommodations with whirlpool baths. Check the Carnival Elation deck plans for more info.
Cabin stewards do an excellent job of making up the rooms twice daily, and they also display a special talent of towel folding where they shape towels into fanciful creatures every evening and leave them on your turned-down bed along with chocolate squares.
Carnival recommends $11.50 per person, per day. The guidelines allocate $5.80 to dining room services, $3.70 to cabin services and $2 per day for alternative services, which include kitchen, entertainment, guest services and other hotel staff members. The amount is automatically added to your shipboard account, but can be adjusted in either direction at the guest services desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills. Tipping for room service at delivery is expected (and appreciated) by the service staff.
|Fitness and Recreation|
The ship's 12,000-square-foot Spa Carnival has a full complement of state-of-the art exercise machines including treadmills, Stairmasters, elliptical machines and stationary bicycles. There are also classes offered (plan to pay an additional $10 per class), such as Pathways to Yoga and Pathways to Pilates, as well as body composition analysis and personal training sessions ($75 for 60 minutes).
Spa Carnival's menu features a variety of massages as well as beauty treatments including deep-cleansing facials, manicures and pedicures. Treatments range from a 20-minute foot and ankle or scalp massage costing $20 to a 50-minute Swedish massage for $99, while a deep-tissue massage is $105 and a couple's massage is $220. Soothing facial treatments include a 25-minute facial for $25, 50-minute hydralift for $99 and 50-minute aroma-pure facial for $99. Men's and women's saunas and steam rooms are also located within the spa.
The ship has two swimming pools, a children's pool and four whirlpools. The Lido pool has one of Carnival's signature twisty slides and is the more active and loud of the two. It is anchored by a hot tub. The smaller aft pool on Deck 11 is flanked by a hot tub and a children's pool.
Tucked away aft on Deck 9 is the adults-only Serenity sun deck. It's accessed through Cole Porter Club Aft Lounge or stairs from Tiffany's outdoor seating areas. Here, adults can relax in either of two hot tubs or sunbathe on padded loungers that are a big step up from the Lido's deck chairs.
Elation has a nine-hole mini-golf course (part of the 2009 "Evolution of Fun" transformation). The City Sports Park area on Sun Deck also serves as a venue for ping pong, shooting hoops and volleyball. In addition, there's a jogging track (11 laps equal a mile).
Carnival's Fun Ships are made for families, with activities that encompass all age groups. There are games and contests for everyone to enjoy together, and there is Camp Carnival, with separate programs for kids, 'tweens and teens. The short weekend cruises attract many families; the midweek cruises less so.
The Camp Carnival facilities for children ages 2 to 11 are located at the top of the atrium, opposite the spa. Programs are offered free of charge from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. The multiple-room facility has arts and crafts, computer stations, walls with several monitors for movies and cartoons, a separate section for toddlers and babies, and well-trained staff supervising the children. A highlight is Camp Carnival's dining option, which allows kids to dine with other members of their playgroup.
One area where Carnival is rather unique among family-oriented cruise lines is that it accepts toddlers as young as age 2 into the program -- even if they aren't toilet trained (and staffers will change diapers). Carnival also offers babysitting at an additional charge (plan to pay about $6 per hour). At certain times, babies ages 6 months to 2 years can spend time in Camp Carnival, either with their parents (for free) or on their own (for a fee). However, toddlers and babies that aren't toilet trained are not allowed in any pools onboard, not even the children's pool, and kids must be at least 48 inches to ride the waterslide -- leaving some disappointed five- and six-year-olds on the sidelines.
Circle C is geared toward 'tweens (ages 12 - 14) and this group has its own hangout on Deck 8 with computer terminals and board games. Free activities run from 9 a.m. to about 1 a.m., including scavenger hunts, dance parties, karaoke and mini-golf.
Teens ages 15 - 17 gather in Club O2, one deck up. The space is similar with computer stations, flat-screen TV's and a mocktail bar. Activities also run from morning until after midnight with photo hunts, T-shirt decorating, ice cream and make-your-own-pizza parties, and sports games. Teens also can opt to attend a supervised, teen-only tour in port.
Demographically speaking there is no "typical" Carnival passenger in terms of age or income, although many fall in the middle income range and are attracted to the reasonable rates. The mix of passengers on my Elation cruise ran the gamut from 20-something honeymooners to 70-something grandmothers, and there were also a number of families with children; the largest concentration of children tends to sail during holidays and over the summer. While there were some single passengers onboard, the vast majority were couples and around half of those I met had previously sailed on at least one previous Carnival cruise; in addition, many were celebrating either wedding anniversaries or birthdays (or both!).
There is one formal night (called "cruise elegant") on each of the four- and five-night cruises and two formal nights on the seven-night sailings. Otherwise, dress is casual during the day and a trifle dressier at night. Carnival's material asks for "resort casual" for dinner in the dining rooms, and most people comply. If you look presentable, jeans are not an issue. No tank tops or shorts allowed in the main restaurants for any meal.
Passengers have come to expect an array of entertainment options on Carnival cruises. A variety of live bands and individual performers entertain nightly on Elation, and there are elaborate stage shows. Virtually every musical style can be heard including cocktail piano music, '40s swing, raucous rock, disco, gentle country, folk, funky reggae and calypso.
Among the "happening" places to go at night is Duke's, a piano bar with decor that pays tribute to jazz legend Duke Ellington. Karaoke draws big crowds to the Romeo and Juliet Lounge while the Cole Porter Lounge is the scene of performances by various musicians. The prime entertainment venue is the 1,300-seat Mikado, a Japanese-inspired theater showcasing elaborate Las Vegas-style revues as well as performances by individual musicians and comedians. Speaking of Vegas, gaming is typically among the favorite activities on a Carnival cruise and while at sea Elation's Casablanca casino buzzes right from the opening bell every morning and continues well into the wee hours.
There are also many of the traditional cruise ship fun and games available daily that attract substantial passenger participation such as bingo and trivial pursuit contests plus those ever-popular poolside events such as the men's hairy chest contest. Art auctions are also a big draw.
While you can be as active or sedentary as you choose to be on Elation, this is a ship where "participation" really does make the experience. Around-the-clock activity means it's not a cruise aimed at couch potatoes or peace-seeking travelers!
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