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Steve Ellis

Age: 56

Occupation:Self-Employed

Number of Cruises: 6

Cruise Line: Carnival

Ship: Carnival Inspiration

Sailing Date: 10-25-2008

Itinerary: Grand Cayman - Cozumel

Overview

Carnival Cruise Lines is on a par with Royal Caribbean (RC) in many respects, comparing ship to ship similarities in same class. However, Carnival Cruise Lines has the best Dance shows I have ever seen on a Cruise ship, and they give you bathrobes for free, a feature reserved for gold class cruisers at RC. The buffet on RC is far superior to Carnival; the Main Dining is on par. The 24 hour Pizza is better on Carnival. There are more activities and dance opportunities on RC compared to Carnival. There are more shore excursions offered by Carnival than RC offers. As far as a fun ship, there are no differences. The same Big Belly contests, Men's leg contest, Karaoke, etc. Time in Port is longer with RC than Carnival. Port facilities are nicer and cleaner with RC, and parking is a bit cheaper with RC than Carnival. All in all, it was a nice trip, I enjoyed most of the cruise, and I learned a few things. So no matter who you choose to go with, there ain't nothing perfect, so just go out there and experience it yourself. The information I offer you here is what happened to me. You may have a completely different experience. Use what you need from this article and go forth and cruise! It's still the best bargain around for a vacation.

Dining

The two Main dining areas are on par with other cruise lines in this class of ship. They also have the Brasserie Grill, which operates most of the time, and is their version of a buffet, although with limited choices compared to other class ships of this size, .and a Pizza counter, which operates 24 hours. From time to time, there are other areas open for free food, such as a sushi counter, but hours are very limited. In the Main Dining Rooms, the food is good. Don't expect 5 star meals, but expect more than McDonalds, somewhere in the area of Macaroni Grill or Carrabbas. Are you going to find some tasteless food? Yes, Can you get another Entree? Most definitely. I found the food quite palatable, and only experienced disappointment on a few occasions. There are ample choices on the menu. And remember, you can have as many appetizers, entrees and desserts as you can eat, every meal. Since their shrimp cocktail appetizer consisted of only four shrimp, I always ordered 2 or 3 of them. One day I was pleasantly surprised at lunch in the dining area when I ordered the Sirloin Steak Salad. This was, in my opinion, one of the highlights of the culinary part of this voyage, and I would rate this as 5 Star. Formal night was also Lobster night, and the staff was more than willing to supply us with as many lobsters as we could eat, bringing extra plates of lobster and just putting them on the table. So I had 3. The food in the Main dining area was far superior to the Brasserie fare, so I ate every meal but two in the Main Dining room, breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.

On Board

Despite having booked a dinner time of 6:00 pm months before, we received our Cruise card and it had 8:15 seating on it. I complained immediately, and she assured me that I should go on board and see the Maitre D of the restaurant and he would help me. I did just that, but he would not change the seating until the next day, so we were lied to by Carnival, who had no right to move or change the booking without our prior permission. Apparently, from speaking with other guests, this happened to many of them, so beware that Carnival will randomly bump you to wherever they feel like it for dinner, no matter what your booking agent says. The room was an inside cabin on Floor 11. It was larger than most I have had; the room had no odor and a very clean bathroom. The soap was large and very fragrant, better than other ships I have been on. There were free razors and toothpaste. There were free bathrobes, something you only get with priority membership on other cruise lines. The flat screen TV was hard to get used to, as it was mounted facing the other corner of the room, at a level of about 4.5 feet, and as you may be aware, some flat screen TVs fade out if you don't sit directly in front of the screen, so the whole trip, when I needed to see the TV clearly, I had to stand up. Watching it from the bed was an exercise in frustration. The wall mounted telephone posed some problems, as it was located in an area where you would hit it with your elbow whenever you needed to use the desk or mirror, and this needs to be moved to a less well-traveled area of the wall and mounted higher, as well. I tried to use the wake-up call button, and it connected me with another passenger's room. One of the two elevators in the main Centrum was inoperative and blocked off, however, I saw no maintenance people trying to repair it during the entire trip, which makes me nervous, since any company that will let a major item like one of it's central elevators and showpieces go without repair must certainly must be skimping on other minor and possibly major repairs in other parts of the ship. When the ship made it out past the shallows and made a turn to the south, the ship heeled over almost 20 degrees, sending people into walls and losing their balance. I guess it may have been too shallow to deploy the stabilizer wings, but it was a surprise which I have never experienced on any cruise other than this one. Generally speaking, we had waves of approx. 6-8 feet out in the Gulf most days and larger waves on day two, making the nights interesting and the walking sometimes difficult throughout the cruise. Unlike Royal Caribbean Cruise line, this Carnival ship had restaurants, lounges, pools, spas and activities all confined to three decks.

Activities

One of the first things I noticed when I got on board, contrary to previous cruises, was a lot of people drinking alcohol. Straight from the time they boarded the ship, and throughout the cruise, there was more of this activity than on other ships I have been aboard. Although there were two lounges with dance music, the first night, everyone left the two clubs by 1:00 am and they shut down. After that, from the 2nd night, there was only one club playing dance music. The problem here was that the DJ was a black DJ. There was a party of black people on board, they found the dance club, and once he started playing hip hop and black Dance music, nothing else was ever played. Since I am white but still enjoy dancing, I found this most offensive and prejudiced. I saw 27 white couples walk in and leave because of the type of music he was playing.

Note to Carnival Cruise Lines: The majority of your passengers are white, middle-aged and like to dance to the music they grew up with. They are also the ones who buy the most drinks and spend the most money on your ships. I strongly suggest you make a music play list and insist that this DJ stick to it. I was very offended, as apparently the couples who left were, as well.

The Shout show was a fabulous and well done production. Fast paced and full of music and excellent dancing, highlighted by the Beach Boys segment of the production, which had positively the best costumes. A few nights later, there was another show; this was by far the best production I have ever seen on any cruise. I don't remember who choreographed or produced this, but they are ranking themselves in the Las Vegas level of production. The costumes were fantastic, the music was great and there were a lot of costume changes and numbers. The dancers were excellent and the female dancers all were beautiful and very sexy, the costumes are Las Vegas quality and it shows. Don't miss this show. The comedians were mediocre on the occasions they offered shows.

Grand Cayman

Most of the Caribbean Cruise line destination ports are becoming a strip mall. Since 95% of the income derived in the ports are from cruise ship tourists, shops and buildings are all starting to look exactly the same, no matter what port you are in. You can pretty much buy the same hats, jewelry and artifacts at every port you stop at. To find local traditional things, you must look hard. If you have come to see a quaint local village with some local flavor, Grand Cayman is about as far removed from that as you can imagine. As with any of the cruise line destination ports, more and more are being controlled by local authorities as to the pricing of Taxis and tour vans. Some are almost monopolistic, allowing only the taxi companies which they control to pick up at the docks. You can find local taxis and transport, but you have to walk several blocks away from the port area. Another slick trick that the transports use is to charge you one price to take you to a destination, then, when you are ready to leave, they charge you more to get you back to the docks, knowing they have you in a time squeeze. Despite rumors, other than the famed Stingray City, there is little to see or do in Grand Cayman other than shop at overpriced shops near the docks. If you don't want to do that, go over to 7 mile beach and lie in the sun and enjoy some quality relaxing, just remember that beach lounges are $10 and Towels are $5, so bring your cabin towel with you and save some cash. Off dock, I grabbed a tour of the island for $15 and was stuffed into a cramped mini van with seats so tight your knees were in the back of the tourist in front of you. The tour took all of 30 minutes driving, but they stopped at Hell, whose claim to fame is an old store which has it's own postmark, so you can send people you know a postcard from Hell, and out back, a large field of Lava which has been worn down into sharp ridges by rain action for centuries, and it looks pretty scary, I would not want to have to try to walk through the area. We stopped at the Turtle Farm, but you can't go inside without paying $55, so for 25 minutes, we all sat around outside the Turtle Farm and waited for the minivan to come get us. We stopped at the Rum Factory, where you cannot see the process, you can only shop at the Factory Store and buy overpriced Rum or Rum cake. The only good thing about this was they were giving away shots of the different types of Rum they made there, so with a little luck and a swift hand, you can be on the way to a nice buzz by the time you get back on the bus. I got off the bus at one of the beaches along 7 mile beach. They had chairs and towels for rent, you could change in the restroom, and there were freshwater showers outside the restroom area. The locals running the place had that same old "here come some more dumb tourists" looks on their faces when we asked about their operation. Some people say the locals are friendly, My take is that they don't give a damn, they just would rather have you stop by and drop off your money, then leave, the less hassles, the better. If I ever have to go back to Grand Cayman again, I'm staying on the boat. Besides, they only give you a few hours in port.

Cozumel and Playa del Carmen, Mexico

We had arranged the Caverns by Jeep tour on board the ship previously, which takes about 7 hours. This was absolutely worth the money. However, due to the tour length, there was no stopping in Cozumel; we had to immediately load up on the Ferry to the mainland, which is the port of Playa Del Carmen. The waves were running about 6 to 8 feet when we left the island, and on the 45 minute ride, the boat sometimes pitched to almost 45 degrees. About 50% of the people had to use the sick bags they were handing out. Once we reached the Mainland, we met our tour guides, Rubin and Manuel, who took charge and explained everything to our group prior to us starting. You will need to have at least one person in four who can drive a stick shift, as the jeeps are stick shift only. After the customary signing of the vehicle liability agreement (make sure you note any damage to the vehicle on this form, and there is considerable damage on some of these babies) I even video taped the outside of my jeep to have a record of the pre-existing damage. Once everyone has a seat, you crank up and head through town, for a short but bumpy, ride to the Caverns. The caverns are considered sacred ground by the Mayan Indians, who still live in the area. The tour guides show you where to change your clothes into your swimsuit or wetsuit, (use a shorty, if you have one) There are lockers available if you don't want to drag all of your belongings into the cavern, I suggest you leave your purses, dry clothes, etc. in one of these lockers. The tour guides give you a break about half-way down the trail to the caverns, where they talk about the ecology of the cavern system and the natural surroundings, also proper etiquette inside the caverns. They provide you with free soda or water during this stop. You can rent dive masks and snorkels from a vendor if you want for $8. I brought my own. They issue hard hats for the low ceilings (you will need them) and give you a life vest if you do not have a wetsuit. Once you reach the entrance, a low wooden bridge starts and soon goes underwater. The ceiling gets very low, just above the handrails of the bridge for a good way. I hit my helmet several times during this part of the trip, and I was glad I had it on my head. Once you come out into the Main cavern, there are seats and a place to drop off any gear you didn't leave above ground. The area is lighted by underwater lights and ceiling lamps, so there is plenty of visibility. Everyone gets in the water and starts exploring the cavern. The guides get in with you and point out interesting things. After about 30 to 40 minutes, you rewind back to the entrance and get back into your dry clothes for the next phase of the trip, which is to jeep over to a local beach and an authentic Mexican buffet. The trip is great, with plenty of bumps and hazards on the way. The beach was isolated, but there was a large pavilion and kitchen, and thatched roof tables along the beach, changing areas and fresh water showers, the Gulf water was beautiful and green, the air was the perfect temperature, and there was free food and sodas, all you wanted. After about 1 and ½ hours of eating and relaxing, and some swimming, we loaded up and went back to town. The tour guides said to follow them back to the port and they would give us our ferry tickets back to Cozumel. They warned us about stray tourists being dragged into improper liaisons with the local girls. On the way back, walking through town, I could see what he was talking about. I was thinking to myself, if I was only 30 years younger and single, I could really have some fun here. On the ferry back to Cozumel, there are some jewelry sellers hawking local silver. Let me give you the low-down. My wife saw a piece she liked. He said it was $65. My wife was not that interested, but he said what will you give me for this? So she said $15. He said he couldn't possibly take so little for this. He went around and hawked everyone on board. About 5 minutes before we docked, he came back and she got the piece for $20. We only had 15 minutes to make it from the ferry dock to the ship, but we managed to swiftly walk through the shops by the dock and found a liquor store where we picked up two of our favorite brand for half the cost of US prices and $3 less than what we could buy on board the ship. So Cozumel is definitely a better bargain. I spoke with Rubin, who said that if you only walked about three to five blocks away from the port area of Playa del Carmen, you can buy name brand alcohol at 40% of US prices, so use this information when you are in port.

Carnival Inspiration
5 Day Trip to Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Mexico
10/25/08

Pre-Voyage note: If you are a big soda drinker, consider bringing your own soda in your luggage, as soda on board and in ports, generally run about $2.00 per can. You can purchase a soda card on board the ship, but this does not cover sodas in ports.

Port of Tampa

First time cruisers and those new to the Port of Tampa, the port facility is not well marked. I had to drive around several times in view of the ship before I found the area to drive in and drop off your luggage. It is located on the round a bout next to the ship and next to the Florida Aquarium. There is no sign saying Cruise Ship Drop Off, you just have to guess where to turn. Look for the Security guards standing next to the pylons, and pull in there. You have two choices as you drop off your luggage and passengers at the terminal. One is to drop off your luggage with the attendant, who provides you with tags to fill out, so memorize your room number before you get to the port, or have it written down where you can easily access it. Pay the attendant the customary $5.00 tip and take your car across the street and park it in the multi-level garage. ($70.00 for 5 days), or choice number two is to drop off your luggage with the attendant, he will give you the same tags to fill out, and take your luggage, however, now you are approached by another gentleman, who is the Valet parking guy. For a tip, ($3.00 to $5.00) he will Valet Park your car. He directs you to a desk where you purchase the special valet parking deal (for $85.00), which means that you do not have to drive across the street and negotiate with the parking attendant and rejoin your group at the terminal, they will park your car for you, you get a stamped receipt and when you disembark at the end of the trip, you go across the street, dragging your luggage, an attendant takes your ticket and brings your car to you. So for $18.00 more, you have a few less worries.
Don't expect a no hassle check-in, the security check point was jammed and slow. The Port facility is old and it shows. I asked the attendant who checked us in if there was a better time to check in, she said before 12:00 pm and after 2:30 pm.

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