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Cruise Views

L.A. Is Home Port for Elation

April 05, 1998|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH | Slater and Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears the first and third week of every month

For the first time, a brand-new mega-ship will be based year-round in the Port of Los Angeles. Carnival Cruise Lines' 70,367-ton Elation, which carries 2,040 passengers based on two to a cabin, begins a series of seven-day round-trip Mexican Riviera cruises on April 12.

Passengers accustomed to the two older, smaller L.A.-based Carnival vessels, the Holiday and the Jubilee, will find the new ship a sophisticated step up as Carnival continues to eradicate its swinging singles party-ship image.

Families with young children will find a bright, airy 2,500-square-foot children's playroom staffed with nine counselors and offering an all-day activities program for kids 2 to 17, plus free evening baby-sitting from 10 p.m. to midnight, with a $4-an-hour charge from midnight to 3 a.m. Children under 2 can stay in the children's area between 8 a.m. and noon for $4 an hour.

Golfers will find an intensive new land-and-sea golf program with two on-board pros who will videotape and analyze a golfer's technique ($40 a half-hour, $70 an hour), and will coach and play golf ashore with passengers ($145 in Puerto Vallarta, $100 in Mazatlan, including transfers, cart, greens fee and pro advice). Clubs and shoes can be rented aboard the ship.

And people who are not sure they'll like their cruise can take advantage of Carnival's unique vacation guarantee plan. If a passenger is not satisfied with the cruise, he simply notifies the front desk before the ship arrives at its first non-U.S. port of call, and Carnival will refund the unused portion of his cruise fare and pay for his flight back home from that port.

Designer Joe Farcus introduces several innovations on this seventh of eight vessels in the line's Fantasy-class series, which began with the launch of the Fantasy in 1990. (The eighth ship, debuting in Miami in December, is the Paradise, a totally nonsmoking vessel inside and out, including the crew quarters.)

In the Elation's soaring glass-roofed atrium, a central lobby bar replaces the large kinetic sculptures that dominated this area on previous Fantasy-class ships. The Casablanca Casino, brightly decorated in Moroccan motifs, has 18 gaming tables and about 300 slot machines from 5 cents to $5.

A Virtual World games center is located adjacent to the casino, and the first-ever dedicated conference center on a Carnival ship underscores the company's aim to accommodate business meetings and private functions such as weddings.

The Elation is somewhat more subdued than earlier Carnival ships, which featured miles of neon tubing that constantly changed color. Instead, the dominant shade is copper, with fiber optics and prisms that create a sparkling chandelier effect, inlaid wood surfaces, Venetian glass and Tiffany-style stained glass chandeliers, lots of polished marble and granite, and custom-made terra cotta urns and friezes that suggest classic Greek decor.

What Farcus calls "entertainment architecture" is most obvious in the New York-themed piano bar called Duke's, after jazz great Duke Ellington. A lighted dirigible floats above the piano; a large replica of the Statue of Liberty's head is set opposite skyscraper miniatures of the Chrysler Building, Empire State Building and other Manhattan landmarks; and a sinuous Brooklyn Bridge by night, complete with the lights from moving traffic, wraps around three sides of the room.

A stunning Japanese-themed showroom called Mikado has fan-shaped window treatments that unfold to let light in, and a romantic Romeo and Juliet lounge and dance club have tapestry-covered love seats tucked away behind arches with a background of Italian scenic murals.

Cole Porter's cabaret lounge sparkles with globe-shaped pink pearls inset with twinkling Tivoli lights, and the pair of dining rooms are richly decorated in antique mirror and glass, marble, granite, burled wood, marquetry and jewel-like fixtures.

To our minds, less appealing are Tiffany's Bar & Grill--the buffet restaurant atop the ship, dark and bristling with painted stained-glass pillars and bentwood ornaments--and the Jekyll & Hyde disco, with its robotic red-and-white figures whose heads move, eyes flash and mouths blow smoke in rhythm with the beat while video monitors in their chests display live images of figures on the dance floor.

The food aboard is quite good, much more sophisticated than Carnival used to serve. There's a 24-hour pizza restaurant supplementing a vast buffet area with salad bar, ice cream machine, stir-fried wok specialties and made-to-order pasta dishes. Especially for the West Coast, the line introduces its first sushi bar and a fresh orange juice machine in which the passenger drops in two whole oranges and receives a glassful of juice.

The two original production shows aboard, "Spin" and "Rhythm," are smooth and professional but a bit more mainstream in style than those introduced aboard the earlier Fantasy-class ships. Midnight adult comedy shows remain a crowd-pleaser for night owls.

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