Are you a fan of true late-mid-century, high-grade American design fromage? Then trust me when I say that you need to book yourself onto the Carnival Elation toot suite (that’s French for “before you sober up”). It is a truly remarkable thing, not only for the quality of tacky decorations, but the thoroughness with which they were applied. Trust me, when it came to this ship, no expense (or surface) was spared in the designers’ attempt to achieve chintzvana.
When we first got on, and I was faced with the brown-and-orange color scheme, I will admit that I was nervous. I had heard a bit about Carnival as a cruise line; that the ships were run-down and poorly maintained*, that the crowds were loud and young and drunk**, that the food was lousy***. So I was worried that this was not a good sign. But when we got out of the lower decks and into the public spaces, I realized my fears were unfounded. This ship was not a lousy place, it was an awesomely, spectacularly, fabulously awful place.
There was dark and heavily carved wood, inlaid checkerboard walls and the kind of stained glass you find in finer dive bars everywhere. There were pillars molded with vaguely Greek-vase-ish figures, accentuated by pinholes of colored lights. There was gilding, and neon, and tiers of rainbow lights. There was a five-story atrium with colored spotlights and a man at the piano singing heavily accented and largely out-of-tune renditions of classic rock songs, from lyrics he read off his laptop screen. And everywhere, and I mean everywhere, there were thousands of small plastic “crystals” that lit up and changed color.**** Also, they had decorated for Christmas.
It reminded me of San Luis Obispo’s Madonna Inn– in my opinion, the gold standard of unwinking absurdity in decoration, but there was also something very Vegas about it. But not the new, modern, shiny Vegas; this was the Excalibur of the sea.
Oddly enough, though, I actually came to like it better than the decor on the newer and more modern ships I have been on. It was more honest. Under the light wood and blue-tinted windows, as desperately as they want you to forget it, the new ships are every bit as mass-produced and tacky as an old booze-cruiser like the Elation.
And the strangest part? How quickly we assimilated to it. The light-up panel in the corner of our room bearing a drawing of the Mauritania went in less than a day from being a source of wonderment and hilarity, to just a way to get light under the TV. And it was the same with the rest of it; after a while it seemed perfectly natural to walk into a piano bar with a badly rendered Statue of Liberty head on one wall and a lit-up model of the Brooklyn Bridge along another. (And then to turn around and walk right back out, because they allowed smoking in there and living in California destroys your tolerance for that sort of thing.)
Never could quite stop giggling at those crystals, though.
**Kind of true.
***Entirely true, unfortunately.
****What I want to know is, what was the thought process that went into those? Did no one look at the giant boxes and piles of them and think, even for a minute, “Hey, maybe we’re overdoing the little crystals.” Or was there some kind of Spinal Tap/Stonehenge-type mixup, and they only meant to get a couple hundred of them but someone moved a decimal point and they ended up off by a couple orders of magnitude, and the couldn’t return them, so they decided to jut run with it?