Carnival Elation Cruise: The First Night
We pick back up with the trip report for the Carnival Elation cruise. Accounts of the night before in San Diego and embarkation and sail away can be found by clicking those links.

After sail away, we drifted down to the Atlantic Deck, deck eight, for "anytime dining" in the Imagination Dining Room.

"Anytime Dining" is fairly new to the Carnival Cruise Line, and it was only implemented on the Elation six weeks before our boarding. In short, if you sign up for Anytime Dining, you can come to the Imagination dining room anytime between 5:45 and 9:00 p.m. for dinner. Pretty much just like a regular restaurant.

Compare this the "traditional" method, where you request either early dining (6:00 p.m.) or late dining (8:15 p.m.). I hear that sometimes, with traditional dining, you are stuck waiting for everyone at your table to arrive, and often you may be eating at a table with up to eight other people. (As horrible as that sounds to me, I'd prefer to be at a table for 10 than a table for four, where disappearing into your own world with your spouse would be far more obvious and rude.) Many people call traditional dining a "perk" of cruising, and maybe I would simply adore it if I tried it (keeping a straight face here), and it's fine with me that so many people enjoy it.

But - there's always the proverbial "but" - then there are those who try to impose their preferences on you in the name of All That is Holy about Cruising. They have small conniption fits on the boards when you suggest you'd rather enjoy intimate dining at a table of your own, with just your spouse. "Antisocial!" they cry. "A disparagement to what Cruising is All About!"

Whatever. Off the soapbox and back to the relaying of events. Our next cruise is on the Splendor, which won't have Anytime Dining until 2010, so I'm fervently hoping that Mike and I will be assigned (or can change to) a table for two. (Would you want to sit with two people who'd rather just talk to each other? See, it's win-win.) On the Elation there weren't many tables for two on the traditional side of the room, but maybe that's because the "Anytime" side (starboard side) was nothing but tables for two, with a few tables for four by the windows. (Larger parties were easily accommodated by putting tables together.)

We were seated right away - table 121, Ni's station. Although many people were dressed down (although still within Carnival's guidelines - let's not even begin to get into those flame wars), this is still a place where they pull out your chairs (and tuck them back in, which is awkward for Miss Fatty here to coordinate) and place the napkin in your lap for you. (Except for one weird occasion when the waiter just waggled it in my face.)

I wasn't that excited about the menu before we went in (it is posted just outside the dining room), but trying new things was fun, so I was still looking forward to the meal. It began with a bread basket:

Carnival Elation - Bread Basket (Imagination Dining Room)

Pleasant - not especially remarkable, but nice. For our starters, Mike ordered the Heart of Iceberg salad, and I ordered the Cream of Broccoli soup. The menu lists the latter as "Cream of Garden Fresh Broccoli, enhanced with Aged Wisconsin Cheddar," and no, I'm not going to say anything about missing hyphens in compound adjectives. (That would just be picky, especially if you've ever counted the typos in the Carnival Capers. On two nights our in-room movies were complimentary, but on the night inbetween, they were "complementary." Which, in a way, they are, but that's a weird typo for the copy-and-paste age.)

Carnival Elation - Heart of Iceberg Salad (Imagination Dining Room)
(I wasn't quick enough with the camera before Mike dug in.)

Carnival Elation - Cream of Broccoli Soup (Imagination Dining Room)

The soup was delicious. Subtle, but not bland. I'm developing a theory lately, which is that any vegetable can taste good in a cream soup. I'm not a fan at all of broccoli or of most forms of asparagus, but recently I've had both in cream soups and really enjoyed them. And it's not just the "cover it with enough other stuff and it's okay" school of thinking (of which I am usually an unapologetic graduate), but I genuinely enjoyed the actual taste of broccoli in this soup. Not enough to start stealing treats from my hamsters, but enough to call a truce. (With the icky green vegetable, not the furry friends.)

(Of course, they will have to make a palatable Cream of Brussel Sprouts soup before my theory can gain any credibility.)

Mike's verdict on the salad: "Good. Tasty, crisp, fresh... didn't blow me away, but a solid start to the meal. Did its job, what a salad should do. It's weird how salads are often a course here [America] instead of part of the meal."

For the main course (I think Mike will turn a little purple if I do the American thing and say "entrees."), Mike asked for the flat iron steak and a half-rack of the baby back ribs. I requested that night's vegetarian entree, the Cinnamon, Pumpkin, Squash, Yam and Cheddar Pot Pie.

Let me rave first.

Yum!!!

Carnival Elation - Vegetarian Pot Pie (Imagination Dining Room)

Not only was this a beautiful dish, but it was a pure pleasure to eat. Whatever that is on the side - it tasted a little like corn, but maybe it was expertly seasoned squash? - was surely one of the top ten side dishes of my time on earth. (Pity I didn't ask what it was, but that's reverie for you.) The pot pie was sturdy and savoury but not heavy. I loved the crust and the obvious care that went into its creation.

Carnival Elation - Flat Iron Steak (Imagination Dining Room)

Now Mike's turn. The steak: "Good. Not that crazy about the peppercorn sauce. It was okay, but it tasted more like wine than like pepper. But I enjoyed it because it was a good steak in a good setting."

Carnival Elation - Baby Back Ribs (Imagination Dining Room)

After Mike finished his steak, the server brought a full rack of ribs, apologizing that they couldn't halve the order. As it turned out, Mike cleaned his plate. "They're just like I like them. Not too fatty or meaty, a light sauce. I don't usually like BBQ sauce - too gluggy - but this was just a spicy sauce. The corn was pretty good, for frozen corn."

For the dessert course, Mike expansively ordered a cheese plate to share and key lime pie for himself. I had to try the much-celebrated chocolate melting cake.

Carnival Elation - Key Lime Pie (Imagination Dining Room)

Carnival Elation - Cheese Selection (Imagination Dining Room)

Carnival Elation - Molten Chocolate Cake (Imagination Dining Room)

Mike, on the pie: "It was good. It wasn't overly bitter, like they can be, but it still had a tartness about it. The top was kind of fluffy; I liked it."

The cheeses listed on the menu were Port Salut, Brie, Gouda, Swiss, and Danish Bleu. I only really remember the brie, and wishing we'd just asked for that, as it was the best. (I mean, all of the cheese were tasty, but I was really into brie that night.) We thought the dark globes were olives, but they were just very dark grapes. All were tasty.

The waiter gave me a knowing look when I ordered the chocolate cake, like it was an old spell in a bottle that generations have been unable to resist. The cake was true to its name, with a wet, batter-like center and firm exterior, but I wasn't dropping my jaw in amazement, probably because I have had melting cake so many times already at The M Resort's buffet. I can see where it wouldn't suit some tastes, especially if you're in the mood for a denser cake. This cake had an almost brownie aspect, especially around the edges. I wouldn't hesitate to get it again, but only if there wasn't anything new to try.

You'll notice that Mike uses the word "good" a lot. It was good. Enjoyable food, comfortable surroundings, and great views.

Carnival Elation - Mike in Imagination Dining Room

After dinner, we visited the library. I never seemed to have the proper camera with me on subsequent visits, but here's a blurry pocket-cam glimpse:

Carnival Elation - Mark Twain Library

The theme is "Mark Twain." The library is always open, but its bookcases aren't. For about an hour each day the librarian opens them, and you can check out books. Later in the trip - for we made several pop-in visits to this room with its soft sofas by the windows - we found that there is a "take or leave whatever you want" cabinet that stays open all of the time. At the bottom, there must be thirty backgammon boards. In the locked cabinet are popular board games. I can definitely see making use of the games cabinet while on a longer cruise.

Recently someone posted a thread on Cruise Critics, wondering if it was time to get rid of the "pointless" library. The rush to defend the room was reassurring. It's a lovely bit of ambience.

I wasn't carrying my phone, so I didn't know the time. For some reason I thought it was earlier, so I thought the "Friends of Bill" meeting would be starting soon, and I hustled Mike out of there. (Not because alcoholics frighten me, but because I assumed they'd want privacy. Do they close the library and put up a little sign? I didn't know. Thanks to Sigma Alpha Epsilon, though, we became very used to little signs outside of theme rooms, saying "Private Function.")

We wandered around then went back up to our room.

Carnival Towel Creation - Puppy-Bunny

Awwww!

I don't know if that's meant to be a puppy or a bunny, but it's completely charming. I don't think I could ever cruise again without a custom cloth critter waiting for me every night. In fact, before the trip I wasn't that interested in "turndown service"; if anything, it would be an imposition that meant I had to vacate my room during a certain period of time.

Wrong. The stewards are stealthy and wise, and no matter when you dine, they seem to know. Only once did we return from dinner to an unmade room, but we just took a short stroll and it was fixed up by the time we returned. I don't want to admit it, because I seldom make the bed at home (How often are you supposed to wash the sheets, by the way? Is it every year, or just leap years?), but it's nice to come back to the room and see the bed all done up. (I direct you again to this photo.) I also really like getting the Capers for the next day; I wish we could have that at home. It might make work easier to stomach. ("Join us tomorrow for a beautiful day of teaching HIGH SCHOOL! Role-play authority while under attack from 180 teenagers! How long will YOU last?! Earn points towards valuable semi-monthly prizes!")

The balcony continued to lure us out at intervals, but, per that day's Capers, we saw that Adam Sandler's "Bedtime Stories" would be on at 9 p.m. Excellent! We had both wanted to see that.

Two thoughts need to be interjected here. First, of interest to everyone: if you turn your TV to the listed movie channel and all it shows is the channel guide, that's okay. This is the default programming that runs between the end of the movie and the start. Movies tend to start every three hours, so, unless you're watching Lord of the Rings (and you won't be, because all three movie channels show rather recent stuff), there is going to be a gap. Don't be like us and fret that, hey, it's 8:59, and the channel just keeps urging us to buy a DVD of other people playing ping pong on the ship.

My other thought is that I know many people are critical of those who watch television while on a cruise, especially if they're watching entire movies and even more especially if it's a short cruise. Given my earlier reactions to those who hate anytime dining, tables for two, jeans in the dining room (even though Carnival allows them), and "pointless" ship libraries, it's safe to assume that I've decided to follow my own bliss when it comes to cruising. And, apparently, sometimes this means ignoring everything you've highlighted in the Capers and just snuggling in. And ordering Room Service.

I know! What greedy little goblins, right? The power of FREE room service, it is strong.

Okay, so you have to tip a few bucks, and drinks cost extra if you want them, but signing a $0.00 room charge slip is an instant giddymaker.

After that, though, it was all downhill.

Just like at the deli at lunch, I ordered a Reuben without the meat. What I got was a Carnival-style grilled cheese on rye with sauerkraut. Picture a warm sandwich made with American cheese and lettuce (lettuce = "Carnival-style") with a smear of sauerkraut, all served on rye bread. Maybe you think that's yummy, fine, but you must admit that's a very different place for your tastebuds to visit, when they were expecting the welcome party to be made up of Swiss cheese and Russian dressing instead. Someone must have translated "Reuben without the meat" to "Oh, that's just a grilled cheese with sauerkraut on rye." And I translate their translation to YECCH! I love sauerkraut, even chocolate sauerkraut cake, but the terrible power of American cheese is that it can even make sauerkraut fans hate their beloved cabbage. Add in that the cheese was a little congealed and the bread tough, and it just doesn't get better, does it?

Meanwhile, Mike pronounced his chicken wrap "very dry." No sides came with it, but both potato chips and pretzels came with the Disgusting Grilled Cheese. (Easy to fix, but just another boggling item.) The chocolate cake was a crumbling brick that lived, sad and nearly untouched, in the fridge for the next two days. The salad was "meh." The pastrami with mustard was of no interest to anyone.

Wait, where did the pastrami sandwich come from?

Who knows, but neither of us wanted to deal with room service again. We left the plates on the tray on the table and couldn't wait for them to be gone the next day. (It didn't seem right to put them in the hall when there was space in our room. The halls are narrow enough.)

On subsequent nights, we did all late-night vittlin' at the pizza counter or late-night buffet instead. Waiting 45 minutes for sub-par food, or food we didn't order, wasn't worth the risk.

Carnival Elation - Room Service

After a few more trips to the balcony, I fell asleep while Mike watched Bolt. I wonder what percentage of people become cruise junkies just because those beds are sooooo nice?

24 June 2009 |



Hamsters

 WE BUILT A HOUSE 

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 CRUISE REPORTS: 

Carnival Elation (2009)
Carnival Splendor (2009)
Carnival Spirit (2010)
Carnival Spirit (2011)
Carnival Splendor (2011)
Norwegian Pearl to Alaska (2012)