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Tiny dancers, gestating dolphins and haunted bubbles, a Carnival Elation review


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Hello all, this is my first review so please be kind! I meant to take all kinds of pictures and I carried my camera around everywhere but in the end I just didn’t use it much, I was relaxed and focused on other things so I apologize, I love picture heavy reviews but this won’t be one, but there will be a few, mostly of port activities and New Orleans after the cruise. We drove from Atlanta to New Orleans on Sunday, July 8, cruised on the Elation from July 9 – July 14 and then knocked around New Orleans until we drove home on Monday, July 16.


We were a bit of an odd crew this time around. My husband and my step-son left the day before we did to go to Philmont Scout Ranch to do an 89 mile hike through the high desert of New Mexico. They have been totally off grid since July 9 and won’t be back in cell phone range till July 19 sometime. This is the second summer they’ve done a high adventure activity and this year I decided I wanted an adventure too! I originally planned the trip for me and my son, then my step-mom got in on the act and so did the neighbors with their two sons which was great because the three boys had built in play mates for the whole trip.


To introduce ourselves, I am 39 years old from Atlanta. I am a family law attorney and am part of a blended family having remarried 2 years ago. I have one son, age 11, and two bonus kids, a boy aged 16 (on the boy scout trip) and a girl aged 13. I originally planned the trip for myself, my son and my bonus daughter but my wife-in-law (DH’s ex-wife) decided she wasn’t comfortable with me taking her daughter out of the country without DH. This decision caused a lot of tension amongst us all for a while but ultimately I had to just get over it and go without her. I still feel really sad that she missed out on the experience though. My step-mom is 59 and works for me as my paralegal. She and my Dad divorced a few years ago but she’s been in my life since I was 9 so I wasn’t about to get rid of her. Happily my family does divorce really well so she and my Dad are amicable even though he’s since remarried again. So me and SM and DS were in Cabin M161, an ocean view with one pull down bed. Traveling with us and just down the hall were my neighbors, a married couple in their early 40’s, and their two sons ages 9 and 12. They were all first time cruisers but everyone in our cabin had been on at least one but this was our first Carnival cruise.


On Sunday, July 8 we left Atlanta, much later than we wanted to leave but we made it regardless. Weather was looking daunting the whole way and in fact it looked like it might rain on us in New Orleans and in every port. We stayed stubbornly optimistic though and ultimately that paid off!

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Westbank on Sunday night. We had booked their cruise and stay package. In hindsight I should have done more research and stayed on the other side of the river. Holiday Inn Westbank was on the Gretna side and was in a very industrial area. The hotel itself was nicer than we expected and was kind of neat and funky as it is housed in a round building with pie shaped rooms. However we had several staff warn us NOT to leave our cars as they had several break-ins recently. The waitress at the continental breakfast went to great lengths to try to convince us to pay the extra $80 per car to park at the port. The cars we were driving were not late model or fancy and we had already paid extra for the cruise parking so we opted to risk it and left our cars there. Was this a good decision? You’ll have to wait and see! (yes, this is a naked attempt to create suspense and drama….is it working???)


Unlike many of the stay and cruise options this hotel did NOT offer a shuttle to the port. The next morning we realized it was going to be pricey to get two cabs for all of us and all our luggage so instead we drove both cars over, dropped all but two of us and all the luggage, drove back and then just had the two of us in a cab with no luggage. We still got gouged by the cab driver. All of the back and forth was confusing and time consuming and involved paying tolls across the bridge. Due to everyone sleeping later than we meant to and me and SM having to run to the store for some last minute things (shocking to see that Targets in New Orleans sell wine, beer AND liquor! We were definitely outside the bible belt!) we weren’t all at the port with our luggage until after 12 and the lines were long and slow. In short, stay and cruise packages are great, but not worth the hassle when there is no shuttle. We won’t make that mistake again.


Embarkation was ok, not great but not unbearable. I think we were just there at the most crowded time. Also my neighbor had an arsenal of electronics with him and got practically strip searched coming through security so that took a while as well. I made the mistake of pulling a water bottle out of our sealed pack the night before so they also made it a point to shake almost all of our water bottles checking for liquor. We were not smuggling anything and they did not confiscate anything but we saw a big pile of stuff that had been confiscated. My neighbors also had some difficulty at check in with a desk clerk who apparently didn’t know how to set up their sign & sail account, on the 2nd or 3rd day he went to guest services and got it fixed. We were all in high spirits as we boarded and it was gratifying to watch all the first timers’ reactions as we entered the atrium. Even though I’d spent so much time reading reviews and obsessing over pictures and videos of the Elation it really is much more beautiful in person. It is truly a very elegant ship.


The big plus about boarding as late as we did (it was about 1:30-1:45 when we boarded) is that the rooms were ready so we headed straight to our cabins to unload our drinks and carry ons.



I was a little stressed at that point, the ship felt so overly crowded with everyone crammed into the common spaces and hallways. I was so happy that our neighbors were traveling with us but also nervous about making sure they had a good time and we were all feeling a bit frazzled at that point. Also, there are definitely elevator issues on the Elation and both of the glass elevators were essentially useless during embarkation. The others seemed to have a lot of trouble that day as well. By the next day everyone had settled into the nooks and crannies and the elevators were behaving much better (although the glass ones were always touch and go….sometimes they listened to you and sometimes they just had a mind of their own!). Other than the first day I was really amazed at how un crowded the ship felt despite the fact that it was fully booked


After dropping our stuff we headed straight up to Tiffany’s to eat. I made sure to show everyone all the different options and then we grabbed an outside table on the port side. It amazed me how little the outside tables were used all week, we never had a problem getting one, even in the aft section, and almost always had our breakfast out there largely undisturbed by fellow cruisers. I can’t imagine why you would want to sit inside on a ship if you didn’t have to! I picked the deli line and had turkey on a country roll which was scrumptious. Everyone seemed to enjoy the food and the boys discovered the soft serve quickly and returned to it often over the next 5 days!


I’ve just read on here that they have only recently started doing head counts at muster drills on carnival ships. We were slated for Muster station F which was on the lido deck, between the stage and the grill. Eager to be good little cruisers we were at a table at the appointed spot by 3:00 for a muster that was supposed to start at “approximately 3:15”. When it finally got underway we were told we had to leave the table and stand in the hot sun in lines so we could be counted. We hopped to it and then we stood there, in the sun, for the better part of an hour. To be fair, I don’t think the headcount itself took a lot of time, a guy with a clicker just walked up and down the rows (and the tables which had quickly been snagged and were occupied by less obedient cruisers for the entire drill). The problem was with the seemingly endless stragglers that couldn’t be bothered to show up until there had been 4 or 5 announcements made, then when they did show up they were strolling along, without a care in the world, most of them having stopped to get ice cream on the way. It was maddening. By the end of it there was definitely a lot of grumbling and mutinous sedition going on in the ranks. I believe that carnival should scan sign & sail cards so they can identify and “punish” the offenders appropriately. I also believe they could have kept us better informed, there were LONG periods with no announcements where we were all wondering what was going on. If the delays were due to passengers then at least they could keep us informed and simultaneously shame the evildoers into shaping up. Of course the delays may have been simply because they are changing the way they are doing the drill. Anyway, by this point I’m hot and frazzled and a bit out of sorts but hoping that things start going smoother soon.


We really didn’t get to see sail away, which was delayed quite a bit, because we were trying to find the place where the kids programs were set up. The fun times didn’t provide any guidance, we went to camp carnival (which was difficult to find) only to discover a lot of other disgruntled parents standing around. The doors were locked and there was no sign directing us anywhere else. We asked a spa person who was standing on that level and she shrugged and said she thought it was in the cole porter lounge at the aft of the ship. We all headed down there only to find nothing and no one again. There were about 15-20 of us wandering around looking for this, we finally wandered into the Mikado lounge, the main theater, at the front of the ship and all of the kids programs were set up in there and were doing a presentation that we had now missed a lot of. I have no idea where this was advertised but I was annoyed that they didn’t at least have signs or something indicating where it would be. We grabbed the forms, filled them out, got permission for my neighbors son (who just turned 12) to stay with the 9-11 year olds and then had to rush to get ready for dinner. The boys did NOT want to cooperate so we told them they HAD to go to the events that night which were in the Jekyll & Hyde club for at least an hour, convinced they would love it, make friends and stay. They did not, they checked themselves out as soon as their hour was up and refused to go back the rest of the week. The games they played did sound kind of lame and for a dancing one they were apparently forbidden from taking their feet off the floor. Some of the other kids apparently really turned them off as well. It turned out fine though with the 3 of them entertaining each other all week.


For dinner we were at a long booth with a chair on the end in the Inspiration dining room. Our waitress was Jana from Slovakia and her assistant was Hadi. They both did very well. Jana seemed a bit harried most of the dining services but she was very fast. I’m not really a foodie and not one to care much about food porn so I didn’t take pictures nor do I remember exactly what I ordered every night. I do remember loving just about everything they put in front of me. The only things that failed to meet expectations were the apple pie one night (the crust was like cardboard) and the mozzarella and tomato salad on another night was totally tasteless. But that’s ok, we ate in the MDR every night so out of 15 total courses there were two that were less than perfect, pretty good ratio! My son really enjoyed trying new things and it was great practice for table manners and interacting with the wait staff since we don’t eat in restaurants with table cloths enough at home! We saw a hand full of sloppy dressers but for the most part folks dressed well in the dining room, we always changed for dinner, I was usually in capris and a blouse and my son was in nice shorts with nice t-shirts or collared shirts.




After dinner we took the kids to the ill fated Camp Carnival event and then went to hang out in the Mikado lounge, I think we watched the game show thing which was cute, I really enjoyed all of the entertainment staff. Our CD was Jeff Bronson and the assistant CD was Tom Evans who had an adorable accent. The Welcome Aboard show was fine (the kids re-joined us), not earth shattering but a good overview of what to expect. We also learned that it is hard to get a good view of the stage if you aren’t right down front. I don’t know if the newer ships have taller levels but the ceilings felt low on both levels so if you were sitting in the back your range of view was really narrowed. I also picked up my first souvenir cup, the disco ball! We were exhausted after that and headed straight to bed, I have to agree that the carnival beds and bedding were awesome and I’m a tempurpedic snob and usually have a hard time in hotels. We all slept GREAT!



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So sorry for the long delay, I've been getting slaughtered at work and then had an unexpected medical emergency with my dog this week (she is ok now though!). To continue....


First Sea Day


We got up at a leisurely pace the next morning, had breakfast at Tiffany’s (love saying that!) sitting out on the aft patio seating and then headed to the pool deck. I had no trouble finding a chair near the pool (albeit on the other side of the stage from the pool) but my SM is not a sun lover so she had staked out a shaded table that was in view of the pool and in view of me. Our neighbors later got another table in the shade closer to the pool and when I’d had enough sun we all went over there. We enjoyed just chilling there, people watching, chatting, snacking on and off. There were some deck games and dance stuff going on. Now for the Tiny Dancers portion of the title, this particular sailing had a very large group on board from Celebrity Dance, they had been competing in New Orleans prior to sailing and the competitions were continuing on board. If you are reading Elation reviews then you have probably seen a lot of complaints about this group. I have none, of course this was my first carnival cruise and while I did notice one one day that we couldn't get into the main theater until right before the show started due to them being in there that was the only time I felt the impact. Apparently there is normally more that goes on during the day in the Mikado theater but since this was my first carnival cruise I didn't notice any lack of activities. There were several things that did happen in the Mikado during the daytime and none of the evening show schedules were impacted as far as I could tell. At the end of the week I probably spent less than 2-3 total hours hanging out reading which shows that I was happily busy the rest of the time. I was thankful for the down time I did have! Also, I found the dancers to be well behaved, I had no bad experiences even though they were everywhere (and many of them were quite tiny with some probably as young as 6 or 7) and I enjoyed chatting with the dance parents I encountered. We actually really wanted to go see the one show they did that was open to the public on the last evening but it conflicted with our dinner so we didn't make it.


The pool looked so small and crowded but I finally gave in to my son’s constant pleas that I get in and it actually was much more comfortable than I would have thought despite the number of people in it. I really never witnessed any terrible or offensive behavior, everyone seemed to be going out of their way to be super nice to everyone around them. I hit the waterslide a few times which turned out to be MUCH more fun than I expected! It is a really fast slide! The line sometimes came about halfway down the spiral stairs but it moved quick and I actually enjoyed standing up there, it was a great view of the pool deck and the ocean on all sides.



After a while I left to check out Battle of the Sexes which was fun and a great way to interact with other cruisers due to the boys v. girls format. After that I changed out of my suit and cover up and back into regular clothes. Now is when my memory gets jumbled, I can’t remember exactly when I did certain activities and whether they were on sea days or after dinner. I wanted to do the Thriller dance class but all three of the boys chickened out so we forced them to do the disco dancing class later on in the cruise which was a ton of fun. I love that sort of stuff! And now we can all do a dance together at the next neighborhood party! Well, so long as somebody plays “Shake Your Booty!” LOL. I went to one regular trivia round which I’d like to say was too easy for my tastes but since I didn’t win maybe I shouldn’t say that! I went to a couple of the game show type things in the Mikado and to the Liar’s club. I played two rounds of bingo over the course of the week. I walked through the casino once looking for my neighbor but it’s just not really my thing. I collected three different souvenir cups and bought a t-shirt in the fun shops. I entered a couple of jewelry raffles but didn’t win anything. We also played some ping pong one night. I never got the chance to do putt putt which bummed me out (the kids did it with my neighbors while I was busy with something else). I also kept forgetting about the sushi bar until I was too full to want any! Finally, I somehow managed to find some time to park my butt in a lounge chair and read but not nearly as much as I thought! I visited Serenity briefly on one day but for the most part I stayed in other areas so that the kids could find me if necessary. One nice thing about Serenity on the Elation though is that it is along the aft of the ship on deck 9, right below the two patio eating areas at Tiffany’s on Deck 10. So I could have parked myself on the serenity deck and just told the kids to come to one of the patios at Tiffany’s to lean over and get my attention if necessary without them having to enter Serenity. But it never seemed necessary, there were always chairs where I wanted them and I enjoyed being able to watch all the activity on the pool deck. I also did the Behind the Fun tour on the final Sea day but I’ll cover that in a separate section.

The Elegant Night at Sea was at the end of the first Sea Day. We had all decided to get pretty dressed up so we headed down about 4:30 to get showered and ready. I wore a black cocktail dress and my son wore black slacks, a white button down shirt and a black tie. It seems that most folks were dressed up but I didn’t see any tuxes or floor length gowns. There were a couple of folks that were in the dining room in shorts and polos but they were very much in the minority. Also, on the Elation you really can’t see more than the tables immediately adjacent to you, it is not a two level dining room so I really can’t speak as to everyone anyway.



There were TONS of photo stations set up, my son and I did go ahead and pose for formal portraits and one of them was ok and I actually considered purchasing it until I realized that it was going to cost $22 for one picture. They used all the backdrops all week for casual portraits but somehow because this was formal night the picture cost significantly more. If you want a cheaper formal portrait just dress up any of the other nights during the cruise, stand in front of the same backdrop, and your photo will magically be called a “Casual Portrait” and will be quite a bit cheaper (I think they were about 14.99 but not %100 certain). That pricing scheme just annoyed me so I didn’t purchase that or any other photos. My neighbor took some nice pics of us that I might post later, he's just also been slammed with work and hasn't gotten them to me yet.


After dinner and picture taking we went to the family friendly comedy in the Cole Porter Aft lounge. There were two comedians on board, Mutzie and Sheila Kay. We LOVED Mutzie, he had us all in stitches and the kids loved being in a real “comedy club” drinking virgin strawberry pina coladas! His show was also very kid friendly. We didn’t go to Sheila Kay because it conflicted with the production show which was at 8:45 that night, we all decided to change out of our formals and then race up to the show and we couldn’t find decent seats, the second level has a really low ceiling so if you aren’t right at the front your field of view is really restricted. We ended up on the very side on the second level and were looking around a pole but it was fine, we were better about staking out seats early the rest of the cruise. We enjoyed the show, “Just Rock”, I was very impressed with the quality of the dancing, the costumes and the production value. Especially considering that the main theater was the place where we always felt the most motion of the ship, the dancers were hitting all their marks without regard for the gentle swaying. After the show we got the kids settled in the cabins and we hit the adults only Mutzie show, a winner just like the earlier one (he has a policy against cussing so there was adult content certainly but no f-bomb based humor), we decided to head to bed afterwards due to the early port day the next day and missed Sheila Kay again.



Another great night of sleep!

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  • 3 months later...
  • 2 months later...

Alright, I know it is totally lame that I disappeared for literally 6 months but I'm getting ready for my next cruise and reading other people's reviews and decided I should come back and finish this one, in the future folks might still get something out of it!




I was super excited about this port because I've always wanted to explore Mayan ruins. I'm also a very much "off the beaten path" type traveler and knew I didn't want to book a Carnival excursion. Based on recommendations on these boards I had contacted William Lawson Tours and booked a private tour for our group of 7. It was a great deal, $70 or $80 per person and we had a private air conditioned van with driver and we got lucky enough to have "William Lawson" (not his real name) himself join us, what a treat! We exited the ship early as he had told me we'd have a long day, he had been very responsive to emails and knew that our first priority was visiting the ruins at Uxmal and that we were also interested in Cenotes but he had warned me we may not have enough time. He also asked what we'd like in our cooler for the van (included in the price) and per our request he provided water, local beers and several varieties of local sodas, the kids loved them!


We were off the ship early and quickly boarded one of the buses to drive us down the pier (5 miles long, purportedly the longest pier in the world, strange to me that they have this pier in Progreso but nothing in a place like Grand Cayman?). The bus dropped us off at a terminal of sorts and I immediately saw our driver holding a sign with my name on it as the bus parked. What a relief! I'm well traveled and have lived in some really rough areas but I was nervous about hosting my neighbors and having all the kids in tow so I totally relaxed when I saw him. He led us out of the terminal (after some bathroom stops, the toilets in the bus terminal didn't have seats or toilet paper, be warned!) and to our van down the street where we met up with William. I was delighted to see him, he was the consummate host and he made this day hard to top for any future excursion. We jumped in and headed towards Uxmal.


He asked if we'd like to see a typical local town and explore the market. He said we had time so we jumped at the chance. He took us to the Yucatan town of Uman. It was awesome, we were the only tourists for miles around. There is a gorgeous old cathedral in the center of town and we parked right in front of it. William saw my interest and asked if we'd like to see the church first, we said yes and walked in to this:




It was solemn and peaceful and there were birds flying in and out of the windows up top. As we explored William approached the caretaker who was sweeping and had a quick conversation with him. He then approached and asked us if we were feeling adventurous, of course we said YES! He and the caretaker led us outside, around the side of the church, and then through a tiny, ancient looking padlocked door. We followed our guides up very narrow twisting and ancient stone steps, passing bird nests along the way, until we exited on the roof! It was so awesome!!!! We had an amazing view of the whole area.







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After soaking up the son on the roof of the church we headed back down and out into the street. This town is known for its motorcycle taxis, there were a LOT Of them! But still no other tourists, we felt like we were explorers in the heartland of the Yucatan!




We went down the street and entered the local produce market. As we were admiring the beautiful array of produce, much of it unfamiliar to me, William began bargaining with the vendors and bought several different types of fruit for us to try, I offered to pay but he waved me off, it was apparently part of our price of admission. He really treated us as his guests, not as his customers.








After touring the entire produce market, we went next door to a bakery and William purchased a few different things for us to try. They were all amazing but my son really went nuts over a sweet pastry that had ham and cheese inside. It sounds weird but it was awesome. I was too busy stuffing my face to take any pictures here....sorry!


After this thoroughly worthwhile detour we headed back to the van to continue our journey to Uxmal.

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Wow, the last week got away from me! Continuing with our tour of the Yucatan with William Lawson Tours.....


After leaving Uman we headed towards the ruins of Uxmal. We stopped along the way at a roadside stand of sorts, it was on a high point an we could see for miles over the jungle, we could even see, close to the horizon, a few gray dots in the jungle that were the taller structures of Uxmal. It was amazing to imagine Mayans cresting that hill heading toward what was then a bustling city, there was very little sign of civilization looking out over the jungle.


There was a bathroom there and tons of iguanas who all crowded up hoping to be fed. William introduced us to a local craftsman who showed us how they carve local materials, there were some really neat handmade crafts but we really weren't looking to shop so we didn't buy anything, we just enjoyed the view, took a bathroom break and admired the iguanas before getting back in the van.







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We arrived at Uxmal at last. It was HOT and HUMID and the air was heavy. The Yucatan in July does not mess around! I was so grateful that it was overcast, had it been bright and sunny I don't know if I could have managed!


Uxmal was awesome, it was my first Mayan ruin experience so I can't compare to anything but we had a fantastic and informative tour and got to climb one of the two tall pyramids (the other isn't open for climbing). Climbing was scary and coming down was even scarier, I had to repress the instinct to tie my DS to myself and to not obsessively worry about him tripping and plummeting to the bottom head first. I did encourage him to keep a hand touching the steps though. Don't have much more to say about it but here are some pictures!













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When we got back to the van, after about 2 hours, we really enjoyed the contents of the cooler!




When I had originally booked I wanted to do a cenote as well but William didn't think we would have time. Consequently, none of us wore bathing suits. However, after we got underway he asked me if we were game to try something else, we all said yes and after a quick conversation with the driver we headed off in another direction. We passed through some small settlements and then went off the beaten path, eventually pulling through a gate and parking in what appeared to just be a large stony clearing. A man was sitting off to the side in the shade on a stool but I didn't see any other indications that this was any sort of destination. William spoke to the gentleman and some money exchanged hands and we were encouraged to follow William off toward the other side of the stony clearing. I was totally trusting but also wondering as I didn't see any sign of anything that we should be walking toward. All of a sudden we passed a small rise in the ground, turned around and were greeted by a sudden deep hole with steps and a metal banister leading down into the earth. Cenote Time!!!!!




I have no idea what the name of this Cenote is, it is definitely not an apparent tourist attraction. There were some locals already enjoying it when we arrived and more locals arrived while we were there. We were the only tourists but there was plenty of room and everyone was gracious. We let the boys take off their shirts and go swimming in their shorts, the ladies satisfied ourselves with wading and dangling our feet in the water. It was breathtakingly beautiful but the contrasts of light and dark made it hard to get good pics with my little point and shoot. The water was perfectly clear and simultaneously brilliant blue. There were bats flying around but it was a huge cavern and they stayed near the ceiling and were not a bother at all. The boys climbed up on rocks and enjoyed jumping in and splashing around, it was a joy even though we had to keep it short to get back to the ship.









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We had a little bit of a fright when we got caught in a fierce and quick thunder storm and a terrible traffic jam trying to get back to Progreso but we made it with some time to spare, once we got to the bus terminal and saw that there was a bus waiting to take us to the ship I relaxed. We said our goodbyes and promised to tell everyone what a wonderful time we had with William Lawson! (I'm only 6 months late on this, sorry!!!). We truly felt like honored guests all day, not like customers. Don't hesitate to book with William Lawson, he went above and beyond in all things and it was a truly magical day an such a joy to share a traveling adventure with our children while also feeling safe and in good hands the entire time!




Cozumel is next but I'm fading fast, trying to keep my DS company as he stays up late finishing a project but I don't think I'm going to make it! I'll be back soon to fill you in on the gestating dolphins! :D

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Thanks soooo much for continuing this!!! :D Perfect timing for me as I leave on the Elation soon and am getting really restless for more Elation info. Your review is amazing!!:D


Thanks for the positive feedback, hope I get it finished before you go! I loved the Elation, you will have a great time!

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I don't know if we can trust you to come back this time! :D;)


Fair enough, but I'm doing good! Being close to my next cruise makes it easier to stay focused since I'm on here a lot anyway! Feel free to hold me accountable though!

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We are future folks on Feb 4!


Not sure if I'll finish before you go but I'm delighted that you stopped by to check it out, I have no plans to do the Conquest in the foreseeable future but I really enjoyed your recent review and I got so much info from your website and reviews prior to our trip to NOLA when we sailed on the Elation! Thanks for all you do for other cruisers!

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