A Beach Day in Paradise

Carnival Elation at anchor off Half Moon Cay, Bahamas. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Half Moon Cay, Wednesday, January 24, 2018

I remember looking at photos of Half Moon Cay in Holland America Line’s cruise brochures. The water looked impossibly blue, the beach pristinely adorned with white sand. In the distance, a ship is always at anchor on a crystal-clear day. The horizon is so crisp that it forms a vertical line separating land and sea.

Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Today, guests aboard Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Elation got to experience this Bahamian island paradise for themselves. You may ask why a Carnival ship is calling on Holland America Line’s private island, so here is the answer: Holland America barely uses it, so Carnival swoops in on the days when no “Dam Ship” is scheduled to anchor there. It doesn’t hurt that Carnival Corporation & plc. also owns both companies.

Half Moon Cay was purchased by Holland America back in 1997, and like Carnival Elation, it is celebrating its 20th anniversary of operation this year. Known as Little San Salvador Island, Holland America spent $16 million (after buying the island for $6 million) in facilities and improvements to make Half Moon Cay the award-winning destination it is today. So let’s go ashore and explore!

Fun Ashore

Welcome…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…to Half Moon Cay! Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

The best way to get ashore quickly is to purchase one of Carnival’s shore excursions. Thirteen different options are offered, from inexpensive nature walks that run $19.99 per person to the ultimate indulgence, a private, 1620-square foot cabana that can accommodate 12 guests for a flat-rate of $1495 for the day.

I bought the $19.99 Island Bike Tour, partly because I like cycling and have done it on a previous trip to Half Moon Cay, and partly because I felt like the moderate exercise would be good.

Tendering ashore was a simple process: I met in the Mikado Theatre on Deck 8, tickets in hand, and was led out with a large group of folks on other tours. Once you get into the tenders, it’s a quick 10-minute voyage over to the island’s docking area. It helps if you hum the theme to Jurassic Park at this point; the entryway channel is a fairly dramatic squeeze for the island’s tender boats.

This morning, I took a $20 bicycle excursion around the island. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Once you get ashore, you have to queue up again at a central ticket booth, where you’ll be provided with your meeting location and time. It’s a bit annoying, as the entire morning up until this point had been nothing but queuing, but that’s how things operate. Just pack your patience and you’ll be fine.

As for the bike ride…I was disappointed. What is billed as a 90-minute tour was over in 50 minutes, and our guide seemingly couldn’t wait to get rid of us. Maybe I’d be all unenthusiastic if I had to do this every Wednesday, too, but more than one of the island’s resident staff I encountered brought the term apathetic to new levels. Even my bike ride felt deflated, until I realized it was: my tires were half flat.

Mounting up for the ride…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…and setting out across the island. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

We were able to see some of the Island’s other attractions as we cycled past…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…including a glimpse of the horseback riding excursion. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Considering it cost me all of $20, I’m not complaining. I wish, however, that I could have rented a bike for $20, rode it around the island without the unenthusiastic guide, and returned it after the full 90 minutes.

The ho-hum service on Half Moon Cay is especially noticeable given the excellent service that each and every staff member I’ve encountered aboard Carnival Elation provides. One of Carnival’s greatest strengths is its kind and genuine team members, and I have never once had occasion to be anything less than completely pleased with the service I’ve received on any FunShip.

Our cycle concluded barely an hour after it started; a far cry from the promised 90 minute duration. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

The beach, however, delivered exactly what you’d expect. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Tendering back to the Carnival Elation…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…for lunch and a closer look at her new balcony cabins aft. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

You might think that, given Carnival’s very affordable price-point, the line would do away with service. That’s not the case at all. In fact, I find Carnival’s service – and particularly the team here onboard Carnival Elation – excels. Staff remember your name, and your favorite drink. They say ‘Good Morning’ and ‘Good Evening’ when they pass you in the corridor. They take a genuine interest in making sure you’re having a good vacation and, if something is wrong, trying to remedy it.

I’ve talked a lot so far about Carnival Elation’s refit, but it’s only fair to mention that her crew play a large part of the ship’s success. Without the fantastic team onboard Carnival Elation, a ship – no matter how renovated or new or pretty – is just a big, floating box, robbed of its soul.

A Night to Remember

With all guests onboard, Carnival Elation prepares to set sail…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…towards our next port of call: Nassau. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

After some time at the beach admiring the views, I returned to Carnival Elation for a fun evening onboard. I’ve begun taking my pre-dinner cocktails in the intimate Gatsby’s Great Bar on Deck 9 aft. A long, rectangular lounge that runs between both extremes of the ship’s sides, it acts as a bookmark between the Cole Porter Lounge further aft, and the Elation’s Way Promenade that serves as the gateway to the rest of the ship. A sweeping staircase leads down to the Inspiration Restaurant one deck below, making it easy for me to head down for my late-seating dinner at 8:15pm.

What’s happening today? Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

After dinner, I took in some tunes in Duke’s Piano Bar (another wonderful Carnival feature that’s always jam-packed) before heading off to the Love and Marriage Game Show in the Mikado Lounge. I’ve been on over 100 cruises and have probably seen just as many of these shows, but what can I say? Couples say the craziest things.

A drink in the Gatsby Bar…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…before taking in the Love and Marriage gameshow. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

I ended the evening with late-night comedy in the Cole Porter Lounge, where comedian John Mulrooney had the audience laughing so hard it hurt. Mulrooney, who makes much of his late-night routine based on audience members, had people rolling in the aisles as he picked apart a newly-engaged 19-year old couple, prodded a long-married couple for tips on a successful union, and chastised a twentysomething for his “manspreading” posture that showed a little too much.

While I was enjoying all of this, I turned around to look at the room. It was packed, filled with people from all walks of life and backgrounds, having the same enjoyable experience all at once.

That’s the sign of a good evening – and a great cruise.

Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report onboard Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Elation continues tomorrow as we arrive in Nassau, Bahamas. Follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog.

Carnival Elation to the Bahamas

DAYPORTARRIVEDEPART
January 22, 2018Jacksonville, FLEmbark4:00pm
January 23At Sea
January 24Half Moon Cay, Bahamas9:00am5:00pm
January 25Nassau, Bahamas8:00am5:00pm
January 26At Sea
January 27Jacksonville, FL8:00amDisembark
 

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