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Elation review 9/3-9/10/06


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Hi everyone,


I've taken so much from this board that I thought it was time I gave a little something back. So here's my review of last week's Elation cruise, from which I just returned yesterday. I'll include as much about the whole experience as I can remember, since I know what info I was digging for when we were planning. It will probably be really long, so I'll try to break it into a few parts.


This trip was just my DW and me. We left our son with Grammy. :) We've both been on one other cruise (Holland America's Veendam in Alaska around the same time in '04).


Pre-cruise: We flew into Miami from Indianapolis on Saturday afternoon. A smooth flight, although it departed almost an hour late, due to the inclement weather in Miami, which was delaying planes all day.


Took a cab ride to the Radisson, which we had booked via Priceline ($60+tax, somewhere from $70-$75 total, if I remember correctly). Cab ride cost the better part of $30. The Radisson was very nice and we had a wonderful corner room facing the port with huge windows along two walls. Beautiful view.


[Here's a pic of the windows - http://www.flickr.com/photos/planetneutral/240450102/ ]


[Here's the view of the port from the window: Elation is up front, Valor behind. I think that's the Freedom of the Seas in the rear - http://www.flickr.com/photos/planetneutral/240450303/ ]


There's a liquor store in the nearby Doubletree Hotel for wine and whatall, which, albeit overpriced, is very close and a safe journey. [Note: The Radisson is in a strange area that seems to be undergoing renewal. Indications were that it was not particularly wise to wander the neighborhood.] The bellman noted that there is also a liquor store that delivers, but we had made our purchases by then.


We took a shuttle from the hotel over to South Beach ($5/person), in pursuit of dinner. South Beach is a zoo - a long strip of restaurants desperately competing to serve you overpriced food. We ended up at A Fish Called Avalon, which my DW had read about prior to the trip. Food was very good, although overpriced, particularly in light of the quality of service, which declined over the course of the meal. Shouldn't be that hard to get your bill.


We walked up and down the beach a bit before finding a taxi to take us back to the hotel. Don't remember how much that cost, sorry.


We decided to head to the port around 11 AM and see if we could get onboard nice and early. There's another $5 shuttle from the hotel, but it's so close that a cab ride costs about the same for two people, so we opted for the latter.


Embarkation: Cab dropped us off right at the ship's terminal, where porters were waiting to grab our bags. I tipped $6 ($2/bag) and into the terminal we went...through a security check and right into the lengthy line of people who'd completed their FunPass. After perhaps twenty minutes, we were through the initial check-in and herded upstairs to a waiting area. After perhaps another 20 minutes we were allowed to get our cabin keys and board the ship. We were up in Tiffany's eating lunch by 12:30. A little slow, but painless overall.


Ship: Initial impressions of the ship were very nice. We ate a quick lunch at Tiffany's (pizza and salad), before taking a top to bottom tour of the ship. Ship seemed relatively clean and put-together for its age. We're not particularly demanding about that kind of thing and perhaps not the best source for a review of the ship's condition. We found our dining room (the Inspiration), but it would take two dinners before we finally took the right staircase to get there on the first try. You can't get there from the floor that the dining room is on, only from above or below and only from the foremost staircase/elevators.


We immediately identified the Romeo and Juliet lounge as a likely choice for our late night activities, although we had no idea what the entertainment would be. I also took note of the big TVs in the Cole Porter Lounge, but never ended up spending any time there.


Cabin/Cabin Service: We were in M44, an outside cabin on the port side toward the front of the ship on the Main Deck. This was an upgrade from the inside cabin on the deck below that we had booked. Yay! Window makes a big difference.


Cabin size was adequate and the room seemed clean...until we opened up the drawers. Nasty hair all over. Gross!!! We left the drawer open in the hopes that our cabin steward would notice. Fortunately, he did, although the drawers were less than spotless, even after his attention. Needless to say, we did not use those drawers.


Bed was pretty comfortable. No complaints there.


Our cabin steward was a nice enough individual, but didn't have that "Spidey sense" that told him when we were or were not in our cabin. He always seemed to be knocking on our door when we were there, which I found a bit on the intrusive side. Not a huge problem, but definitely inferior to the service on our last cruise which was both efficient and nearly invisible. [Note: My stepfather noted that there is a definite hierarchy of cabin stewards with the better stewards working the pricier cabins. Makes sense.] It's worth noting that the intrusiveness lessened over the course of the week, so credit should be awarded to our steward for that.


I think that's enough for part one. In part two, I'll talk about food/dining service, entertainment and the ports. Questions are welcome.

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OK, onward and upward.


Food: Since we are cheapskates, we ate just about every meal on the ship, even when we were in port. Breakfast at Tiffany's was always decent. They will make eggs to order, but their pans aren't very good, so it can take a few tries if you order over easy. ;)


Lunch was also fine. I mixed it up over the course of the week, but stuck mostly to the pizza or burgers with a salad. Pizza is good, not great. Same could be said for the burgers. My DW seemed to enjoy the chicken caesar which you can get from the pizza station. Stay far away from the reuben though. The corned beef was not sliced so much as it was hacked into inedibly thick chunks. Absolutely disgusting.


We did the sushi bar every day it was available (all but one, I think). It was always tasty. They had four varieties each day, no repeats. I usually had two pieces of each, which provided a nice interlude between lunch and our late seating dinner.


On to dinner. As I've mentioned, we did the late seating in the Inspiration dining room. We were blessed with two very nice couples, both around our age, so dinner conversation was always easygoing and pleasant.


I would say the food quality was uneven and largely unimpressive. One adjective that came up a lot was salty. Some of the dishes were quite good. I remember the veal parm being quite tasty, but more often than not, I thought the food was just OK. But it's totally a mass production, so you can only expect so much. My wife seemed to be on the daring side in her selections, which resulted in a few absolutely horrifying choices (the foie gras creme brulee comes immediately to mind - stay away, I implore you).


Service was OK. I always felt that the service was best at the beginning of the meal, but devolved through entrees and dessert. Our waiter actually apologized once for the quality of service, suggesting that he had a few very demanding tables. I HATE being slighted because I'm not a squeaky wheel, but at least the waiter was aware of the situation and courteous enough to acknowledge it.


Entertainment: My DW and I are not particularly interested in the shows. We did catch the "R-rated comedy of Carl Faulkenberry," which was actually pretty funny. We'd heard that he had a hard time when he had to do a PG show on opening night, but he had pretty good command of the room at this midnight show. Beyond that, we avoided the Mikado Lounge in favor of the Romeo and Juliet Lounge.


I have to say that, if not for the band in the Romeo and Juliet lounge, "Music Boardwalk," we would not have had nearly as much fun. Music Boardwalk is, quite simply, the best Filipino cover band I've ever seen. OK, it's the only one too, but still, these guys are fantastic. We were there every night.


[Picture of Music Boardwalk - http://www.flickr.com/photos/planetneutral/240466386/]


They really mixed up the tunes from all different rock eras and catered to all audiences (Unchained Melody at one point, Sweet Child of Mine at another, all points in between). Voices were remarkable and the guitarist had real chops. Go check them out.


The Lido band "Tropical Vibes" was adequate for the purpose, although a little loud and repetitive for our tastes.


We never saw the guy in the piano bar, so I can't comment on them. Karaoke was disappointing as the song choices seemed to always be slow country and R&B tunes. What fun is that?



[i have to run to meet my DW for lunch, so the ports will have to wait for part 3. Sorry!]

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We danced the night away with Music Boardwalk on our cruise in June, our only problem with them was (in our opinion) they took too many breaks, but they were very versatile, and played a good mix of different things. Also, what was you room number at the Radisson? Those were great views!:)

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Ports: OK, now for the off-boat stuff. Let's break it down by stop.


Half Moon Cay: We wanted to get one of the early tenders over to the island, so we could maximize our time onshore. So at 9 AM, we went down to pick up tender tickets. What they don't tell you in advance is that they only want you to pick up tickets if you are already ready to go ashore. So we had to decide between breakfast and the early tender. Decided to skip breakfast and attempt to grab early lunch on the island at 11:30. Tender process was a wee bit annoying because, despite their insistence that you wait around, at least 30 minutes passed between getting our tender tickets and having our number called. Especially annoying in that they called all Tender 1 folks first (ours were Tender 2) and brought them over. Then they called Tenders 2-6 all at once and sent them over on one tender, meaning we could have gone to breakfast and come back and ended up on the same tender as we took for having waited that whole time in the Mikado Lounge. Grrr....


Anyway, Half Moon Cay is gorgeous. Crystal clear, light blue water. Perfect white sand.


[ Picture taken fairly early, before tons of people were on the beach - http://www.flickr.com/photos/planetneutral/240451795/ ]



The weather was a bit on the mostly cloudy side, which my skin was thankful for. We pretty much grabbed some chairs and relaxed on the beach all day. We did go to lunch right at 11:30, so there were no lines to speak of. Food was very welcome at that point: burgers, jerk chicken (delicious, if visually unremarkable), cold salads and such. Pretty tasty, although I wasn't being very critical given my desperate hunger.


All in all, we really enjoyed Half Moon Cay as the beach day it seemed meant to be.


St. Thomas: We'd made a decision early on not to do any excursions here, but instead foray on our own and try to make our way over to St. John, which I'd read had superior beaches. Good choice, I think.


We got off the ship and hopped on a taxi headed for Redhook Marina. This was well-organized as they had a dispatcher who directed people towards the appropriate vehicle as you came out of the dock area. The taxis held about 12 people, so once our ride was full, the driver took off for the marina. Driver (female, which is apparently rare) was pleasant, chatty and took us through both a wealthy and not-so-wealthy section of the island on the way. Ride to the marina was $10/person. The ferry to St. John leaves every hour on the hour and we arrived shortly after 9, so we had to mill around the marina area for a bit. Ferry is $5/person one-way and takes 15-20 minutes to get you to St. John.


There's a cute little shopping area right beyond the dock on St. John, be we opted to take a taxi over to Cinnamon Bay ($7/person), on suggestion from a number of sources. Very nice. Relatively unpopulated compared to the other beaches. Since it's hurricane season, nothing was really open as far as snacks or rentals was concerned.


[Cinnamon Bay pic - http://www.flickr.com/photos/planetneutral/240456619/ ]


We stayed at Cinnamon Bay for a bit, but also wanted to check out Trunk Bay, having heard about the underwater snorkel trail there. Took another taxi to Trunk Bay ($4/person). Trunk Bay is actually a park/campground, so there's a $4/person entry fee to get in. Trunk Bay was significantly more crowded than Cinnamon Bay, but not overwhelmingly so.


[ Trunk Bay pic - http://www.flickr.com/photos/planetneutral/240457678/ ]


I was having a tough time with my snorkel equipment, but did manage to check out the trail briefly. Oh, and uh, don't stand on the rocks. We didn't stay at Trunk Bay very long as we wanted to catch the 3:00 ferry back to St. Thomas, in the hopes of getting a little shopping in. So yet another taxi ride ($6/person) back to the dock area with some time to spare for shopping in the area nearby.


Back on St. Thomas means another taxi ride. We asked to be taken downtown, where there is supposedly better shopping, but for whatever reason he drops everyone off at the cruise docks. Oh well. We made a half-hearted effort to head downtown, but settled on shopping briefly in the shops near the docks. Not much of interest, but the choice to not head downtown proved auspicious. Once we got back on the ship, it started POURING! Serious thunder and lightning. Dodged a bullet on that one, I reckon. We heard that Coki Beach was fairly unappealing, so we were most pleased with our St. John adventure. Highly recommended.



San Juan: I'd been to San Juan once before and didn't remember being particularly impressed. We got off the ship very early, before either the forts or shops were open. We decided to start hiking toward Campo del Morro, in the hopes that it wouldn't be too far or too steep to get to on foot. No problem. We got there about about 45 minutes before the fort opened at 9, so we took in the view and the interesting graveyard that's right next to the fort.


[Cemetary and view pic - http://www.flickr.com/photos/planetneutral/240459540/ ]


Got into the fort shortly after it opened, well before it became packed with people. It costs $3/person and is certainly worth it if military history is your thing (which it is not for us, but I enjoyed it anyway). Then we strolled back down the hill toward the boat, checking out some stores along the way. Not much of interest and we were there before either Barrachina restaurant (origin of the pina colada) or Senor Frog's was happening. Not too disappointed to have missed them. We were back on the ship fairly early with no sense that we had missed much of anything.


Grand Turk: This was our only planned excursion, so we were looking forward to this stop. It looked quite attractive from the ship: http://www.flickr.com/photos/planetneutral/240462928/


We went ashore as soon as we were allowed to and claimed one of the clamshells on the beach (no charge). The beach was a bit rockier and shell-laden than the other beaches, but I didn't find this to be a problem at all. Definitely overstated on the boards, IMHO.


We'd booked the Reef and Rays excursion for this stop, so we swam and enjoyed the sun for a bit before heading off on our excursion. Reef and Rays is basically a two-part excursion: snorkeling and a sting-ray encounter. Snorkeling was great. The boat goes to a reef just off a small outlying island and you have 40 minutes in the water. The captain spent much of the time feeding this barracuda that lives in the reef area. Even though it seemed to only be interested in the captain's sprat, I couldn't help but back away slowly when it came near.


For part two of the excursion, the boat goes over to Gibbs Cay. There's another excursion that comes to Gibbs Cay, but this excursion is special in that it really gets you up-close and personal with the rays. I'm talking "feeding them fish and holding them in your arms" close. They really seemed to enjoy the human interaction. I had been wondering if the Steve Irwin tragedy would impact this excursion. Nope. At least one of the rays (we saw three or four, although the captain said that there are as many as 11 in the area usually) didn't even have a stinger barb and these animals were very docile.


This excursion was really great, if a little overpriced ($75/person). We had a blast. Most of our pics from this excursion were taken with underwater cameras which haven't been developed yet. Here's a representative shot of the stingray part, taken from the boat: http://www.flickr.com/photos/planetneutral/240464538/


After the excursion, we still had a few hours on shore, so we decided to check out Margaritaville. After days of having drinks foisted on us at every turn, having to go up to the bar proved surprisingly irritating. Fortunately, we had the free drink coupons from the website, so we took our free margaritas and ran. I didn't like the atmosphere at all. Basically, it's just another version of the Lido deck, overcrowded with incessantly loud music. The gorgeous ocean is 200 feet away. It's deeper, cooler, bluer and with tidal activity. There were far fewer people on the beach than in the pool. No contest for me. We were able to grab a clamshell and spend the rest of the day on the beach. Very nice overall.


So let me summarize: The Elation is a fine ship. Music Boardwalk are my new musical heroes. Food was OK, as was the service. All the beaches were great with San Juan being far and away the weakest stop.


Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.


Questions are still welcome. Hope you've found this helpful.

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Totally forgot about debarkation. We opted for self-debarkation. Very fast and painless. Also, it's nice to be able to hold onto your luggage overnight for last minute packing of toiletries, etc.


Worth noting that room service is very busy on debarkation day, so you may want to request your breakfast a little earlier than you actually want it. Ours was delivered 10 minutes after the 15 minute window we had requested.


Off the boat and through customs in no time, although it is remarkable how many people lack the situational awareness to have their passport and customs declarations ready to go when they get there. Nice to not have to deal with the great luggage hunt.


Plenty of taxis outside the terminal. It's a flat $24 from Seaport to Airport. We were at the airport at about 8 AM, way ahead of out flight!


Self-debarkation is highly recommended if you have an early flight as we did (or if you just want to get off early and/or quickly). Other than that, relax, have some breakfast, prolong the magic.


Incidentally, we were concerned that leaving from Miami would be hellish, which further pushed us to get off the boat ASAP. Totally unfounded concern. Quick, efficient check-in and security process and an on-time plane to boot.


OK, that's really it this time.

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thanks for the review. I get married onboard in 60 days. Can you tell me where you got the free coupon for the drink at Mville? Thanks!

Yup, I can. I'm not sure if this promotion is still active, but here's how I did it.


You have to go to the website: http://www.margaritavillecaribbean.com/


Then you look for the "lost shaker of salt." Naturally, you'll find it at the bottom of one of the pages in the store. Click on the shaker and you'll have your coupon. Again, can't say whether this is still available, but they did take my coupons. I had to write my mailing address on them. I'm not sure if that was just to try and avoid mass duplication or an opportunity to send promotional materials or both.

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Enjoying your review! We'll be on the Elation in January. Pictures are great:)


DH and I will also be on the Elation in Jan. Our's is 01/06/07, just five days :( but the ports are what I am interested in this trip. This was a very good review. We have never sailed on the Elation so the info was very helpful. 116 more days...........:p

Luv's Crusin'

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