For an 'old' girl, Carnival Elation is still a fun ship

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ften in this space you'll read about the newest new-builds and the latest 21st century innovations. But the fact is that the major lines still depend heavily on vessels built in the 1990s (and earlier).

For example, the 2,052-passenger Carnival Elation, which is still a relative youngster with less than six years at sea, may be viewed by some as "long in the tooth" when compared with the line's current new-build program.

Far from ancient history, the 1990s was a period of extraordinary growth in the popularity of mass-market cruising. The '90s might well be termed Carnival's "Fantasy Decade," as all eight of the line's Fantasy class ships were launched during this period. (The Elation was the seventh in the series).

While Carnival may now be better known for its newer and much ballyhooed Destiny, Spirit and Conquest classes, the Fantasy ships are still the mainstay of the fleet. With the upcoming debut of the Carnival Miracle, 40% of Carnival's fleet will consist of the Fantasy class ships, and they're expected to sail at or near full capacity year-round.

The Elation, christened in March 1998, was the seventh in Carnival's fleet of Fantasy class vessels. The Elation has already made a big splash in the Texas market since repositioning to Galveston in late September. From there it sails on a series of seven-day western Caribbean itineraries departing every Sunday, with calls at Progreso and Cozumel, Mexico, and Belize City, Belize.

The Elation is the largest vessel homeported in Galveston year-round; key to the ship's immediate "hot-seller" status is its location at a port within driving distance of millions of homes in Texas and other states in the south and Midwest.

Together the Elation and the Galveston-based Celebration are expected to carry some 240,000 passengers annually out of Texas.

Let us entertain you

A festive atmosphere enveloped the ship on my recent cruise, as the Elation lived up to the Carnival "Fun Ship" tradition. With its seven-story atrium festooned with silver ribbons and bedecked with brightly colored ornaments for the holiday season, the ship was in tune with the passengers' enthusiasm.

While all may not be uniformly young -- I encountered a wide range of ages from 20-something honeymooners to couples in their 40s and 50s to 70-something grandmothers -- most were young at heart and participated in many of the onboard activities.

Carnival's resident architect, Joe Farcus, has again left his indelible mark with an interior design heavy on bold, racy colors combined with plenty of brass, marble, mirrors and neon lights.

Farcus' decor was inspired by the mythical muses, as evidenced by the symbols of Greek mythology on display throughout the ship. While minimalists and other purists may object, most passengers seemed to love his over-the-top, wildly whimsical design styles which augment the Fun Ship allure of the Fantasy class.

Entertainment takes center stage on the Elation, which excels in the variety and quality of entertainment options available round the clock.

Among the most popular offerings on the daily agenda are trivia contests, jackpot bingo and game shows (in the "Newlywed, not so Newlywed" tradition) along with salsa and line-dancing classes, art auctions, shopping seminars, Ping-Pong tournaments and golf lessons in the ship's practice range.

During days at sea, the Casablanca Casino hums from morning until the wee hours. The casino also has classes for novices who want to learn how to toss dice and/or play blackjack.

Another hotbed of activity throughout the day is poolside, where a calypso band entertains sun worshippers and an assortment of "audience participation" pool games is on tap.

There are three swimming pools and one gigantic, 114-foot-long water slide, which several adults seemed as excited about as the kids.

I occasionally joined a contingent of fitness fanatics working out in the 12,000-square-foot Spa Carnival situated high above the water on the Sports Deck.

The Spa Carnival contains a spa, health club and beauty salon. Among the exercise equipment are treadmills, elliptical machines, StairMasters, stationery bicycles, rowing machines and free weights. There also are personal trainers on hand with specialized classes in aerobics, yoga and Pilates.

A comprehensive spa menu consists of massages, facials, manicures and pedicures plus exotic body wraps and full body treatments. There is also a sauna, a whirlpool and a steam room.

Burning the midnight oil

Activity reaches a fever pitch at night, when passengers can choose from a lineup of performances and events beginning as early as 4 p.m. and continuing well past midnight.

Elaborate, glitzy, Vegas-style revues take place twice nightly (usually at 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.) in the Elation's Japanese-themed Mikado Lounge. These shows feature lavishly costumed singers and dancers whose performances are enhanced by laser and pyrotechnic displays.

Besides the Mikado Lounge, two other night spots that consistently attracted crowds were the Romeo and Juliet Lounge, which hosted karaoke from 8 p.m. to midnight, and Duke's Piano Bar, a sing-along venue paying tribute to jazz legend Duke Ellington, that cooks until 1:30 a.m.

Many of the performance venues are concentrated on the Atlantic and Promenade decks, and it's easy to move between the two, sampling as much as possible from the smorgasbord of entertainment.

One night, after spending some time listening to karaoke, I moved on to a "Golden Oldies" show in the Cole Porter Lounge and later to the midnight adult comedy show in the Mikado Lounge. Another night I began the evening listening to classical music in the atrium, then later checked out a country and western group performing in the Drama Bar adjacent to the casino, and finished the night at a rousing sing-along session at Duke's.

Big fun for kids

The Elation's kids' programs revolve around its 2,500-square-foot Children's World, a supervised play area divided into three sections. One area contains a computer lab plus a bank of educational computer games. Another is dedicated to arts and crafts, with spin and sand art and jewelry-making machines.

The last section contains an indoor play area complete with a climbing maze and a 16-monitor video wall showing kids' favorite movies, music videos and cartoons.

Managing expectations

While clients can enjoy a terrific all-around cruise experience on board the Elation, they should not expect all the amenities and facilities that are commonplace on newer ships, such as a large number of cabins with verandas and several specialty restaurants.

Of the Elation's 1,026 cabins, only the 26 demi-suites (250 square feet) and 28 suites (400 square feet) come with verandas. As for the rest of the cabins, they're simply furnished, contain more than adequate storage space and are sufficiently spacious for a couple.

Dining still follows the traditional protocol, with passengers assigned tables in one of two main dining rooms. The ship staggers its early and late seatings: Dinners begin at 5:45 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. or at 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

There is also Tiffany's Bar and Grill, a buffet-style, open-seating restaurant located on the Lido deck that serves three meals daily and is especially popular (and crowded) for breakfast and lunch.

The Elation lacks specialty restaurants but makes up for it in its cuisine; the diversity and quality of its menu selections have been substantially upgraded in recent years. Among the best of the best main courses are rack of New Zealand lamb, which was marinated with garlic and fresh herbs, and black tiger shrimp and sliced leeks in a California Chardonnay cream.

Passengers in need of a quick bite can get pizza and ice cream 24 hours a day at Tiffany's, and complimentary sushi is served nightly from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the sushi bar on the Promenade Deck. For those with especially ravenous appetites there is the nightly midnight buffet.

To contact the reporter who wrote this story, send e-mail to [email protected] .

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