Number of Cruises: n/a
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Inspiration
Sailing Date: February 15th, 2004
Itinerary: Exotic Caribbean
My wife and our two teenage kids (17 and 18) recently went on a one week cruise with Carnival on the M/S Inspiration. Perhaps our experience will help others decide if a cruise is a good choice for them.
The Inspiration departs from the Port of Tampa. We arrive the night before from Canada and stayed at the Amerisuites Hotel which is about 10 minutes or less from the Tampa Airport. We decided not to purchase transportation from Carnival as there were four of us and getting a private taxi appeared to be cheaper (it was much cheaper and quicker too). At about 10:00 am Sunday morning we decided to head for the Port. Traffic was light and we made it in about 10 to 15 minutes (I am not sure what the speed limit is in downtown Tampa - didn’t seem to be one according to our driver!). Anyway, when we arrived there a porter met us and took our luggage. We then found a long line up and decided to join it, assuming it was the right one. In about 5 minutes it began to move and within 10 minutes we were getting our sail and sign cards. The process was really a breeze and there were not any waits or delays until we arrived in the staging area. We were in group two so once boarding began we were soon on our way. Within 15 minutes of the boarding call for our group we were sitting in the Lido restaurant enjoying lunch.
For some reason, Carnival allowed boarding to begin earlier than normal. I am not sure why but they did note that the ship was very full. Lots of young families and very few senior citizens. I believe some of the schools in the New England states had the week off. In any event, based on our experience I would recommend getting to the Port earlier rather than later. You will have to wait at some point but I would just as soon wait in a chair with all the paper work done than in a line waiting for things to happen.
We had two inside cabins on the lowest deck (Riviera). Although it would have been nice to have a window to check the weather each morning, the cabins suited us fine. Certainly we never felt crowded, though if we had all stayed in the same room it would have been a bit much.
The first day at sea was fairly uneventful. The weather was a bit cool and the water a bit rough. Don’t assume that because you are on a large ship that you won’t feel anything. If the water is rough you will know it. Lots of people were getting sick. Many people wear little patches behind their ears. Not sure if they helped or not. We used wrist bands the first day or so. I don’t know if they really made much of a difference.
I had never been on a cruise ship and I must say I was disappointed with the size of the pool. If you think you will swim a few laps each day, forget it!. It is just too small. It is fine for young children and there is a water slide but if lying by a pool and swimming is what you want, go to a land resort. All of decks were very crowded with chairs and chaises and very noisy as well. If you thrive on that type of environment then cruising may be for you. If you prefer quietly lying by a pool, stick to a resort.
The first full day at sea meant our first formal night. The food is one area where cruising can’t be touched. No need to line up to make reservations earlier in the day. Just show up at the appointed time and your ‘team’ which will soon know your name, will look after your every need. I can’t imagine not eating in the dining room as the food and service was superb. It is a bit noisy because it is very large but the food is great. Each meal took about 90 minutes. It might be a bit rushed for a gourmet meal but you certainly never wonder what is taking so long. We ate in the dining room once for breakfast and once for lunch but for us, the choices in the Lido restaurant were fine.
Our first stop was Grand Cayman. We had booked privately with Captain Marvin for the snorkel and stingray tour. We were told on the ship that there was an hour difference between the ship’s time and the island’s time. Fortunately, we went early as they are on the same time. Had we trusted the ship’s info, we would have missed our excursion. We paid $45 per person and had two snorkel stops plus the stingray stop. I understand that the excursion when booked through Carnival is the same price but only does the stingray stop. We thought we received good value (we even had the original Captain Marvin pilot our boat). We were a bit pressed for time to get back to the dock to catch a tender so the owner of the company had one of his employees take us in his own Lexus. We highly recommend Captain Marvin!
The next day we were scheduled to stop at Costa Maya. Unfortunately, the seas were too rough to stop so we ended up heading for Cozumel. We arrived just before supper and were able to go ashore for part of the evening. The weather was pretty nasty until we arrived in Cozumel so that was a bit disappointing.
In Cozumel my son and I spent the day together and my daughter spent the day with my wife. They basically shopped the whole time. All I can say is that I am glad we split up. My son and I shopped in the morning as he had a bunch of friends he wanted to buy gifts for. We looked for the seedier shops and you can find them if you get off the beaten track. We took a taxi from the pier to downtown which cost $6 USD. My son and I got a taxi back to the ship where we had lunch. We then took a cab ($10 USD) to Channkanaab (sp?) National Park where we spent the afternoon sun tanning and snorkeling ($10 entrance fee per person). We saw many interesting fish but not much in the way of corals. If you want to do some hardcore snorkeling, you should probably book an excursion on the Internet before you go. We have heard good things about Papa Hogs. If I could do it again, that is what I would have done (though my teenage son really wanted to catch some rays!).
The stop at Cozumel was the longest and it was nice not to have been rushed too much. Unfortunately, that isn’t true of the other ports. The last port we stopped at was Belize. We booked the cave tubing with Reggie (Reggie’s Tours). This was a great excursion and we highly recommend it. It is much cheaper to book through Reggie than Carnival. We also had very personal attention. Although Reggie had a large group the day we went (80 plus) he indicated that anyone that wanted to go with a small group could. Only two families (ours and one other) took up the offer. As a result, the nine of us had our own tour guide and although there were seven tour buses at the caves that day, we only saw other tubers at one time during the whole experience. It was a great day and a fun experience.
The last day was the day at sea. Nothing too exciting to report. The debarkation procedures went ok but we were lucky to be in the first group called. We were late getting into the port (almost 2 hrs) because of the fog. We also had to wait a long time until all of the none-USA folks cleared immigration. However, once our group was called we were off the ship in no time and within 15 minutes were on our way in a taxi to the airport. Our flight didn’t leave until 3:30 pm so we had lots of time. However, some people did miss their flights so don’t book too soon.
Overall, we enjoyed the cruise. We found the late nights and early mornings a bit much. If we were to do it over we might consider the early dinner. As it was, with eating at 8:00 pm the show for us in the lounge didn’t begin until 10:30 pm. That made for a late evening when we had to get up early the next morning for an excursion. The one thing I didn’t like was that the shipped seemed pretty crowded on all of the open decks. Some people don’t mind that, but if your idea of the perfect holiday is time alone, think carefully about a cruise in February aboard Carnival unless you want to spend your time in your room.