Exceeded low expectations, but no a valuable vacation method...
Carnival Elation Cruise Review to Caribbean - Western
Sail Date: February 15, 2016
Ship: Carnival Elation
Cabin Type: Inside
Cabin Number: R10
Traveled As: Couple
Reviewed: 2 years ago
I think our biggest issue with the cruise wasn't the older ship, or the subpar food - we expected that from reviews and of a cruise in general. We, like most people, however - thought of a cruise as similar to an all-inclusive type of vacation. We knew alcohol wasn't included, but neither is much else - including water and soda. At every turn there is an attempt to squeeze another penny out of you for some service or another. Soda costs pennies per ounce! We aren't big soda drinkers anyway, but what a slap in the face! Not even all dining options are included, and it looks like Carnival and other lines will be offering less and less in the future. We read articles about their new ships, where there will be more paid food options than those that are included.
Furthermore, there was no attempt to even feign elegance. There was zero money spent on production value of any of the entertainment on board. I remember my mother telling me about a cruise she took about ten years ago (on Carnival) that had incredible performers and broadway quality shows, as well as ice sculptures and entertainment during meals - that included fresh seafood and themed midnight buffets - none of those things were included on this trip.
The "entertainment" was laughably bad. We spent over 2k ($3500 when you add the cost of the ticket and about 1k on actual services) on board the ship and still got push back when we challenged a $20 charge that was posted to our account in error (that still has not been removed). There is no emphasis on customer service or creating special moments - things that would make all of the extra charges and forced gratuities seem more valid.
Here is the point - for the same price we ended up spending on this cruise we could have spent nearly 2 weeks in Europe - exploring real culture and eating real food - instead of make believe culture in crowded ports and subpar food.
It was also unsettling how exploited workers from other countries are. We spoke with several of the staff about this. A Filipino person who has worked for the line for about 5 years told us that if a white American were to start doing the exact same job they would immediately make more money, because of the difference in labor laws between the two countries. This seemed pretty absurd and down right racist to us. People should be paid the same amount for the same level and quality of work. This same worker lamented that the way tips and gratuities are shared is unfair, and that over his five years he ended up making less than what he would have made had he stayed in his home country. This was especially upsetting considering that not only are your daily gratuities automatically charged, but everything you purchase has an automatic 15% gratuity placed on it as well. We are pretty good tippers in general, having both worked in the service industry in our younger years, but this seemed extreme. Standard tip rates on alcohol are 10%, not 15 or 20 (event though that is what we usually tip), but it was the principle of being forced to tip that amount with no real emphasis on customer service.
We ended up making our own fun. We enjoyed both excursions that we took, and we made friends with many folks we met - but by the end of the trip we were left wondering what we actually paid for. Was it just a big floating (aging and slightly dirty) hotel? In that case the value is exceptionally poor.
All of this is doubly frustrating because we feel this type of vacation especially hurts middle class and poorer Americans who see a cruise as an "affordable" option - evidenced by the type of folks who dominated this particular cruise (think floating Walmart - and that isn't meant as a dig, those are my folks and my heritage, even if I have done well in my life). I am sure for these folks this vacation was hard earned and saved for extensively - and then they get so little for their money.
Lastly - the disembarkation process is a mess. They get you on really quickly (to begin that nickel and dime squeezing I am sure), but the process for getting you off of the boat is awful. They get you off quickly (to get the next people on - which happens within seconds), but then there is no organization or order in getting through customs or out of the port - this process takes hours. Where are the happy Carnival folks making the lines move quicker? To be clear, the delay wasn't at customs, but just getting off of the gangway and to your luggage.
Again - we were really disappointed in the value of this vacation. For spending nearly $3500 for 2 people (and that was with a cheap room, and very little purchased alcohol - we did spend nearly $1200 in the Casino, but felt we would have spent less time there had there been any quality entertainment on board) we could have had a pretty decent vacation just about anywhere in the world.
Food and Dining
Service and Staff
Cabin / Stateroom
The Jose Cuervo tour in Cozumel was great! Not a rip roaring bar crawl, but plenty of Tequila and a real lesson in the culture of the drink. Think Museum with about 5 shots worth of Tequila.