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I tried Carnival's older cruise ships and never want to go back


When I took my first Carnival cruise on Carnival Celebration, I was impressed by the modern accommodations, variety of dining options, and an array of onboard activities. Five months later, I found myself boarding one of Carnival's oldest ships, Carnival Elation, for a 5-night cruise out of Jacksonville, Florida. 

Though it was obvious the ship has been well-maintained throughout the years, including an extensive dry dock in 2017, the limited number of dining choices and onboard activities left much to be desired. 

Everyone has different preferences when it comes to cruising. While I'm typically not a fan of smaller ships, they may be someone else's favorite. Personally, however, I don't foresee myself booking another cruise on Carnival's oldest ships, and here's why. 

Outdated bathrooms


While I was impressed with the overall condition of my interior cabin, the bathroom revealed the true age of the 26-year-old ship. From the lack of storage to the stained floor and clingy shower curtain, it was a far cry from the bathroom I had while cruising onboard Carnival Celebration. 

Typically, I don't worry about unpacking the products inside of my hanging toiletries organizer; however, I didn't have a choice on Carnival Elation! There simply was not enough space for all of our products in the bathroom. 

When Mardi Gras launched in 2021, one of the most notable features was the absence of shower curtains. Though minor, the glass shower door on Carnival Celebration was a modern touch that I sorely missed while sailing on Carnival Elation. Instead, I had to deal with a stained, clingy curtain. 


Additionally, the showerhead broke on the second day of the cruise. I had never had this issue before, and it was a huge inconvenience, as it broke when my partner was in the shower. Since I had yet to shower, I had to maneuver the broken handle, which ended up getting water everywhere. 

Limited dining options


Overall, I didn't have any major issues with the quality of the food onboard Carnival Elation. Some dishes fell short compared to those I had on Carnival Conquest, Vista, and Celebration; however, venues like Guy's Burger Joint and BlueIguana remained fairly consistent. 

While onboard, I noticed the only specialty restaurants were Chef's Table and Bonsai Sushi Express. Since there were fewer options for dinner, I witnessed lengthy wait times for the dining room. With the Imagination Dining Room constantly busy, dinner service took longer than I've encountered on other ships. There was one evening we sat for thirty minutes before having a crew member approach us. 

Furthermore, the selection of complimentary dining venues was noticeably smaller in comparison to newer ships. Onboard Carnival Elation, there was the buffet, which was home to Pizza Pirate and Carnival Deli; Guy's Burger Joint; BlueIguana Cantina; and, of course, the dining room. I missed two of my favorite venues onboard Carnival Celebration, ChiBang and Big Chicken. 

Read more: Carnival menus 2024: Main dining room, specialty restaurants & more

The lido deck was constantly crowded


Sea days can be sore spots for late risers, as chair hogs tend to stake their claim early in the morning. While sailing on Carnival Celebration, I never had an issue locating an open lounge chair. There was plenty of seating staggered throughout the top decks, whether you wanted to be in the center of all the action or slightly removed. 

Though crowds can always be expected on a cruise, I found the lido deck on Carnival Elation to be perhaps the worst I've ever experienced on a ship. Even on the nicest days, I've never had to circle the deck like a hawk waiting for a seat to open up. 

I did notice that crew members were trying to reduce the number of chair hogs by keeping an eye on which chairs were actively being used; however, they were only able to help so much. Additional seating would have been beneficial, as there were definitely some spaces that could have fit a few more lounge chairs. 

Read more: How to beat the crowds on your cruise ship

Dated port facilities


Out of nineteen cruises, twelve have departed from South Florida. I've also cruised out of Los Angeles; Port Canaveral; Genova, Italy; and, most recently, Jacksonville. As of April 2024, Carnival Elation is the only ship that sails out of Jacksonville, making it one of the smallest cruise ports in Florida. Norwegian Gem will begin sailing from the port seasonally in late 2025. 

Though one of the smallest ships I have ever cruised on, the boarding process took the longest, clocking in at around 40 minutes. Although the time wasn't terrible, standing in a warm terminal with no AC was not fun!

Terminals like Miami and Fort Lauderdale are equipped to handle large numbers of passengers to streamline the boarding process for the largest ships in the world. In fact, when I sailed on Carnival Celebration, it only took me fifteen minutes to complete the physical check-in process and step foot on the ship. 

If I ever were to consider sailing on a Fantasy Class ship again, I'd choose Carnival Paradise simply because it sails out of Tampa. 

Read more: Guide to Jacksonville Cruise Port (2024)

Lack of onboard amenities


I'm a firm believer that there's the perfect cruise ship for everyone. Those who prefer a more laid-back environment will enjoy smaller ships with fewer amenities. If, however, you're like me, you'll have a better time onboard larger ships that feature the latest and greatest activities. 

Carnival's Excel Class ships, for instance, have the only roller coasters at sea onboard. Though it cost an extra $15, it's an experience I look back on fondly! Even Carnival's mid-sized ships, such as Carnival Vista, have ropes courses and other activities to keep everyone's adrenaline pumping.

Onboard Carnival Elation, there was a miniature golf course as well as WaterWorks aqua park, albeit the latter primarily appealed to children. Though there were ship-sponsored activities, there wasn't much to do outside of those events. Combined with the lack of available seating during the day, I found myself excited for port days, rather than relishing in all aspects of the cruise. 

Read more: I have been on Carnival Cruise Line’s oldest and newest ships: Here are my top 11 tips

Tendering to Half Moon Cay was chaotic, to say the least


Since I began sailing with Carnival, I've been to Half Moon Cay twice. The first was on a sailing onboard Carnival Conquest, and the second was on my 5-night Carnival Elation cruise. Tendering is never the most fun aspect of a cruise. Rather than being able to walk off the ship and begin exploring the port of call, you have to be transported from the ship to shore via a water taxi. 

The night before our arrival, we were given a sheet of information stating that we weren't required to collect a tender ticket. Instead, we could head to Deck 4 whenever we were ready to get off the ship. This free-for-all ended up being rather hectic, as a delayed start and line cutters caused many passengers to get frustrated. It took us close to an hour to finally make our way ashore. I cannot imagine how long others waited, as we arrived pretty early! 

In comparison, when sailing on Carnival Conquest, a larger vessel with a maximum capacity of nearly 4,000 guests, we were required to pick up a tender group number the morning of our arrival. They seemed to really abide by the groups, too, as I saw numerous guests get turned away trying to disembark before they were called. 

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