Our hotel was the 4 star Renaissance on the west side of Houston. It is a 4 star which we got on a bid through Priceline.com for about $60 (additional $8/day for parking). We have used Priceline on several occasions for our precruise stays and have always been very satisfied with the accommodations. The Renaissance was very nice: large rooms, nice pool and exercise room, and very quiet. We were obviously in an upscale, business area of Houston where everything was pretty well shut down for the weekend. Although there were restaurants and cafes in an attached, enclosed mall, everything except the small movie theater in the mall and a very large movie complex about a block away was closed for the weekend. We did drive over to a large shopping mall to the northwest and had about the best Mexican food we’ve ever found at a place called Guadalahara’s.
On Sunday, we drove to Galveston, stopping at a Walmart along the way to pick up some sodas and other last-minute essentials. The road between Houston and Galveston is lined with shopping areas and restaurants. I dropped the others off at the terminal with the luggage at about 11:30. It was pretty hectic at the terminal with many passengers still disembarking. It took about 15 minutes to work my way through the traffic and get back on the road. I returned the car to the Enterprise office about 3 miles back up the road and caught their shuttle back to the ship with no problem. I found the rest of the family sitting on the floor on the second level near some round tables. We discovered that those at the round tables were the first to be taken through the security scanners to the ticket agents - after about 3 wedding parties were admitted. Having been on the Paradise out of Miami last year, I was prepared for what I thought must be the typical, Carnival muck-a-muck boarding “system.” This, however, was about as organized an embarkation as I have encountered. We were one of the first to turn over our documents and pick up our boarding passes, and then we were seated in the farthest section of chairs to await boarding. After about 20 minutes, we were given a brief orientation. Then our section was led to the welcome aboard photographer and then to the boarding pass photographer, and, by 12:45, we were on board.
The layout of the Elation is pretty much the same as the Paradise, but the décor is remarkably different. The Elation, particularly in the buffet and in the atrium, is covered in bright (gaudy?) stained glass. The art in the stairways is also jump-out-at-you bright. The wildest room was the disco with its rather frightening looking red and white clowns guarding the door.
My favorite room was the Mark Twain library, though I really liked the wall murals in the Romeo and Juliet lounge. We all liked the piano lounge with its wild, New York sculptures and a very talented performer, but, by the third day, none of us even wanted to walk by it during the day due to the reek of smoke. It became impossible for us to get near the place in the evening.
The dining room was very dimly lit with low ceilings. We were in a 6-person booth and, as much as we’ve enjoyed getting to know new tablemates on previous cruises, thankfully, no one else showed up to share the table. It would have been very tight quarters sitting in the middle.
As was true on the Paradise, it seemed impossible to find a seat in the theater which did not have an obstructed view of some portion of the stage. We did get to most of the performances and found them entertaining - about standard fare for cruise ships. The scavenger hunt was conducted differently than I’ve seen done on other ships. Passengers were invited to bring bags full of stuff to the theater to provide the requested items. I would have to say, though, that the folks at Royal Caribbean have provided us with the most entertaining scavenger hunts.
The truly outstanding aspect of this cruise was the service at our cabin and at our dinner table. Our cabin attendant, Innocense, seemed to always be in the passageway, wishing us a good morning, a good day ashore, a good evening. He seemed genuinely happy, and he was always smiling and warm. Our very young pair of waiters, Jose and Luis, were equally friendly and warm and very efficient. They could not have been more attentive and responsive.
We had heard about difficulties getting rental cars from Enterprise for the trip back to Houston, so I had made late afternoon reservations for the flight back. We decided to have a leisurely morning on board and not worry about being the last ones off the ship. We were the last group called at about 9:30. The line to get through immigration was about 15 minutes. The Enterprise office at the terminal was easy to find, and our paperwork was waiting for us. We were only allowed to send one person for the car with no luggage. I was surprised when I was instructed to board the parking lot shuttle. Apparently Enterprise was initiating a new method and having people pick up the rental cars at the nearby parking lot rather than at their office. Unfortunately, the new plan didn’t work very well. They were not able to shuttle cars to the lot fast enough, and I ended up sitting in the parking lot (no shade, about 100+ degrees) for nearly two hours waiting for a car. Those who complained loudest were given cars first. I’m not a complainer, and other people really were missing their flights, so I was last. To Enterprise’s credit, they upgraded me and they made the car and the gas free. The last few who left before me were given 50% reductions.
I am a devoted bargain hunter, and I have come to understand that as long as I am willing to force businesses to cut their prices, I should be willing to accept something less than the best service. I am also a teacher, and it works like that in my classroom every day. People want to pay less and less for education and, at some point, all the dedication in the world does not compensate for the lack of funds. Class sizes grow; learning diminishes. I wish I had a way to say to some of my students, “Sorry you didn’t get the education you should have, but we’ll make that last year a free one for you.”
Speaking of good service, I should mention that my son got to the Houston airport and discovered he had not changed his reservation to the later flight as the rest of us had, and his flight was long gone. Northwest (in Minnesota we like to call them “Northworst”) put him on standby for the later flight at no cost. Then, when the agent at the gate saw he probably wouldn’t make that flight, he was put on a connecting flight with a reserved seat through Memphis and arrived home 20 minutes after we did.
It was a great cruise, and we look forward to our next one even more.
A few hints:
Bring along a small decoration to hang on your cabin door (along with a small roll of duct tape) to make it easier to find your way home. We have a little Christmas ornament in the shape of Minnesota.
Keep a small suitcase in your room the last night and wheel it off with you in the morning. You won’t feel so pressured to get every little thing packed away that last night.
Buy film when you get there and have it developed before you return. Those ex ray machines at the airports are brutal.
Information about ports will be posted at the port boards and with the full review at the review site.