I haven't tried the commercial print machines you're describing yet 'cause
I'm used to watching the 'technicians' at my local drugstore use their
expensive machinery badly on print film. Maybe there's no ogy. Are the
digital printing machines set up to take what you give them (presumably, a
carefully edited image from Elements!) and have no untrained individuals
intervening in the process? If so, it may be worth a try.
I also think you're a little off the mark on 'decent printer' cost - at
least the initial outlay. Some of the Epsons and Canons in the $200-300
range are ...