Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Inspiration
Sailing Date: November 16th, 2003
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
This was our first cruise. We
chose Carnival because the itinerary, cabin type, and price fit what we were
looking for. To help you decide if this review is worth reading, I’ll say that
we went without our kids and are beach and sun people. We wanted to spend time
at the ship’s pool sipping cold drinks, at the beaches, and snorkeling/scuba. We
didn’t go to gamble, shop, or hang out in the bars all day. Overall, we were
extremely pleased, with only a few minor complaints.
Embarkation - Painless. Arranged our own flight and transfer (Tampa Bay Shuttle). The van was waiting at the airport, so total time from landing until on the ship was 1 hour and 5 minutes! Carnival's transfers were available at the airport for twice the price of Bay Shuttle. Since we had a Cat 11 suite, we were able to bypass the very long check in line, though I wouldn't pay for a suite just to be first on/first off the ship.
We went straight to our room,
dropped off carry ons and then went for a drink by the pool and watched the ship
push away from the dock. We had our luggage at our room within 2 hours.
Ship - Very nice - not too big (just big enough to get lost a few times) and not so small that you couldn't get away from people. In fact, we were amazed that on a ship of 2200 passengers and 800 crew, we were often the only ones in a certain area of the ship. Made it nice at night to stand out on the deck and watch the sea and stars and be all alone.
The ship does have a glitzy Vegas
look to it, but I love Vegas, so it didn't bother me a bit. The layout is
logical, except for the aft Carnivale dining room, which doesn't have a stairway
that leads directly to it from above. Got lost going to dinner twice! The ship
was clean and it seemed someone was always cleaning or painting something.
Everything seemed to be in working order - doors, elevators, lights, etc. We
read reviews complaining about the appearance of this ship. We disagree. As long
as you expect to see an 8 yr old ship with a bit of wear and tear evident,
you'll be fine. Also, the ship rides very smoothly. We’d been told that having a
cabin on an upper deck would subject us to a lot of rolling motion. No
complaints at all – even at full speed on Day 1 and 7. The “vibration” that has
been mentioned is noticeable at times when cruising, however.
Finally, the air conditioning is a bit of an issue. When you come off the pool decks, you will freeze as you pass through the atrium, which is way too cold. I also couldn’t turn the room a/c down enough to be comfortable – we nearly froze one night!
Food – I’d give the dinners an A- and everything else a B. Biggest complaint with breakfast was that it was the same every morning. Would’ve liked to seen crepes, casseroles, or something to vary the choice. Also, the scrambled eggs tended to be runny and the omelets weren’t cooked all the way through. The pastries were dry and flaky also. So I had cereal and fruit almost every morning. No big deal – left more room for lunch and dinner! We ate lunch at the pool grill or on shore everyday, so really can’t comment on lunches other than it looked like standard buffet fare. We did eat the pizza the first day and it was very good. We would like to have seen a big sandwich bar with a variety of meats and cheeses.
The dinners get an A-. They miss an A+ only because the desserts were not good. The appetizers and main courses were awesome. They had a wide variety of well prepared, well presented, gourmet quality meals. We ate in the dining room every night because the food was so good. Remember, you can order two entrees! Since portions are not huge, you might want to order two. The problem with the desserts was the pastries and cakes were dry and flaky and the cheesecake was spongy. They looked much better than they tasted. Also, the service was absolutely fabulous. Can’t say enough about it (though the dancing and singing the waiters had to do each night was a bit cheesy).
Finally, we chose the late
seating (8 pm) and are very glad we did. We feel we would’ve missed out on a lot
of pool time and port time if we had to hurry back to the ship to clean up and
make it to dinner by 5:30. The only down side is that if you want to see the
shows after dinner, you have to attend the second showing which doesn’t begin
Entertainment – we went to a Vegas style show and a ‘50s through ‘80s music review in the large Paris lounge. Go early to the shows because good seating is limited. Most of the upper deck of the lounge has seating where the view is obstructed by pillars. The shows were slightly above average. Nice costumes, good dancers, very good male singer, average female singer. The captain’s welcome party in the Paris Lounge is a must – free drinks/appetizers. Get the whiskey sours! We also went to a midnight comedy show. It wasn’t too bad. Definitely rated R.
The piano bar was a bust. The guy could play a great piano, but couldn’t sing worth a darn. And that’s being kind. Plus it was so smoky you couldn’t stand to be in there for more than a few minutes.
The casino was OK, but the craps was a bit of a disappointment. All blackjack is $5 min bet. Craps is too, but you can only put 2x odds and on your pass line bet only. Real tough to win with rules like that.
Like I said, we didn’t spend time in the other lounges, so I can’t comment. We preferred to sit on our balcony or out on deck having a mixed drink.
Poolside entertainment was not bad. We watched the hairy chest contest, some relay games, etc. The reggae band was OK, though kind of loud. – they set up right behind the beach chairs!
Drinks were one of our minor
complaints. For the price you pay to cruise and the fact that the drinks aren’t
much cheaper than a stateside bar ($3.50 – 5.50 range), I thought adding 15% to
every drink was a bit much. I thought 10% was standard for bars anyway. The good
news is that they do not skimp on the alcohol and it’s all good name brand
People, kids, etc. – I almost didn’t book Carnival because of the reputation of being overrun with teens. Since we cruised in mid November, maybe we got lucky. In fact, the ship was just the opposite. At 40, my wife and I were among the younger ones on the ship! Fully half the ship was senior citizens. Another 25% were within the 35-50 range and the rest were couples or singles. Only saw about a dozen teens the entire cruise and they were all well behaved, and also well pierced and tattooed. Saw about 10 little kids as well and the parents seemed to keep a tight rein on them. We did see kids in the adult hot tub a few times and the ship’s staff didn’t do anything about it. Perhaps because the other hot tub was empty at the time. Anyway – don’t worry about too many kids (unless it’s Spring Break of course).
The only problem we had with
people was with adults. Mainly rudeness when it comes to waiting in line. Some
people act as if they haven’t eaten in years when the dining room doors are
first opened – running and shoving to get to the food. Most of the offenders
looked like they could’ve missed a few meals and been fine. Same thing happened
in line for the tenders – adults cutting in line, jostling for position, etc.
They were probably the same people who couldn’t read the No Smoking signs on the
port side of the Lido deck around the pool!
Excursions – they are much more expensive to book onboard! Do research beforehand and book your own.
Grand Cayman – Tender port. Based on reviews, we booked our Sting Ray City snorkeling on line with Capt Marvin’s and saved about $30. Plus, our boat had a dozen people on it and the cruise sponsored boats must’ve had 50 on board. Highly recommend this trip. Overall, the island was nice, but the day was kind of rushed because we had to catch the tender so early to get back to the ship. Would’ve liked another 3 hours or so to look around.
Costa Maya – Docked. This a place built by the cruise lines and they want you to shop here. We decided before the cruise that this would be a beach/margarita/Dos Equis day. We walked off the ship and went out and to the right to a nice little private beach. There’s a sign that the cruise lines put up warning about there being no guarantee of what’s on the other side of the fence. Ignore it. They just want you to shop. Besides, there’ll be 200 other passengers over there with you. We rented 2 beach chairs for $6 total and basked in the sun. The beach is small and a bit rocky, so take water shoes. We just sat and watched the ocean and watched cheapskate cruise passengers jostle over recently vacated beach chairs, in hopes of not having to pay three whole dollars. To his credit, the Mexican Chief of Beach Chairs was always quickly on the scene to collect $3 from the new chair occupant! Get the quesadillas and the Dos Equis!
Cozumel – Docked about 2-3 miles south of town. We had planned on walking into town and finding a dive shop that offered combo snorkel/scuba trips. We had seen several on line, but none of the companies answered my e-mail inquiries prior to the cruise. However, the winds were so strong that the harbor master had closed the small boat harbor. So all of the dive boats, party boats, and similar trips were cancelled. So we flagged a taxi and went to a rental car place. Rented a convertible Bug and drove over to the calmer east side of the island. We stopped at Playa Bonita and spent the day on a gorgeous sandy beach. There was a small cantina at the beach and we had some great fajitas. Not sure why a previous reviewer said there were no sandy beaches, because the east side of Cozumel has a number of gorgeous, sandy beaches (some small, some larger). Drove back in time to drop off the car and hit some local shopping before going back to the ship.
Belize – tender port (way offshore!). We had scheduled Cave Tubing, but the night before we got to Belize, we were told all cave tubing was cancelled due to flooding. So I booked a scuba trip (2 tank dive) through the ship’s tour office. Ouch - $165!! However, the dives were awesome. The best coral formations I’ve ever seen. I highly recommend Hugh Parkey’s Belize Dive Connection, and it’ll be significantly cheaper if you book direct online. Otherwise, I didn’t really see much of Belize due to the short duration of the stop.
Overall, we liked the stops but wished we’d had a few more hours in each. My major complaint with Carnival (and I’m sure most cruise lines) is that at each port we were handed a small map as we got off the ship. The only thing on the map is all of the “Carnival recommended” shopping spots. I know they want to make money, but I got the impression that if you weren’t there to shop, or hadn’t booked an excursion through Carnival, they didn’t care about you at all. By the end of the cruise I was so tired of hearing about where to get Tanzanite and loose diamonds I could’ve screamed. For the person who wants info on car or bike rentals, local beaches, bars, or restaurants, where to get a taxi or bus, etc., Carnival provides nothing. I got tired of always trying to be sold something. Do your research before you go and have a primary plan and a backup plan of what to do at each stop. And make sure any deposits you put down are refundable since weather and the cruise lines can be unpredictable.
Disembarkation – Don’t waste your time at the “mandatory” 11 AM pre-disembarkation briefing in the Paris Lounge. It is recorded and re-played over the ship’s cable TV. I wanted to spend my time at the pool on the final day instead. (The pool area fills up by 10:30 or so on Monday and Saturday). On the last day, everyone has to go to a certain area of the ship and wait for clearance to get off. Again, the suite paid off because we were the first off the ship. Customs was painless (waved us right through), and Tampa Bay Shuttle was at the front of the line of vehicles outside the terminal. We docked at 8 AM, reported to our waiting area at 9, and were pulling away from the terminal just a bit after 10.
Misc – the crew is fantastic. Polite, good service, always saying hello, always available for drink service, etc. Better service than I’ve ever had at any resort or hotel.
The booze in the ports is a bit cheaper than the ship, but the ship’s store is still a bargain. Half the price of US liquor stores. If you declare, you’ll pay about $1 a bottle for duty.
Take water bottles to fill and keep in the fridge in your room so you’ll have something to take on the excursion.
Bring your own clear liquor in a water bottle.
Bring plenty of US cash – it’s accepted at all of the ports. You won’t need it on the ship because everything goes on the Sign and Sail Card. If you run low on cash and need it to shop in a port, you may be out of luck. The ATM on the ship charges $5.50 per transaction! The purser’s desk will only cash a check for free if you have AMEX.
We’re big time soda drinkers, but
didn’t get the $30 soda card. The cokes in the room are a rip off ($2.50 for 16
oz), but we only got a few to mix with our rum! We still came out ahead I think.
There is unlimited iced tea, lemonade, coffee, etc available 24 hours.
Bottom line – A great trip. I’d recommend Carnival Inspiration. The price was unbeatable and the value was great. Next time we may try something new/different, but wouldn’t mind this ship and itinerary again.