Occupation:Supervisor, Physical Therapy Department
Number of Cruises: 7
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Inspiration
Sailing Date: September 7th, 2002
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
Given the circumstances, I was thoroughly pleased with how Carnival handled the situation when two unpredictable hurricanes had blown our way. My husband and I got married on September 4th, 2004, and we were given a cruise onboard the Inspiration as a honeymoon gift. Watching the weather channel days before, we noticed hurricane Frances was aiming towards the Florida peninsula. We contacted out travel agent, and she told us that she would keep us informed of any changes. Our original plans after the reception were to drive to the airport and head down to Tampa and stay overnight. On our way to catch our flight, the travel agent called us stating that Carnival had delayed embarkation until Monday and that Belize would be cut from the itinerary. Our flight to Tampa had been cancelled as well, due to the hurricane forced winds, so we stayed at a local hotel for the evening, watching the weather channel. There were no flights to Tampa, let alone any airport in Florida or Georgia on Sunday, so we were trapped yet again at the hotel. The travel agent contacted us stating Carnival had to delay embarkation yet another day, so we wouldn’t set sail until Tuesday, and now Costa Maya had to be cut from the itinerary. We had the choice of cancelling with a 100% refund, or to go on the cruise with a 30% off discount and $100 on board credit per person for this cruise, and 50% off discount another cruise by December 2005. We chose the latter of the two. Needless to say, we were the first flight into the entire state of Florida on Monday, which was THE scariest plane flight ever as hurricane Frances was still lingering around (our crew had a huge round of applause by passengers as we landed safely). Nothing in Tampa was open, almost all electricity in the city was out. Streets and hotels were flooded - what a way to start a honeymoon! On the bright side, Carnival reimbursed us for all hotel lodgings.
We took a shuttle back to Tampa airport early Tuesday morning, as we chose to have CCL transport us to the cruise ship. We were the first people to arrive, and were greeted by Carnival staff, who escorted us to the holding area until the busses arrived. There was a total of approximately 60 of us that had gathered by 1:00 PM. One woman who worked for Carnival updated us, stating that the ship has arrived into Tampa, but had not been cleared by customs. Once they are cleared, the busses will take the half hour trip to the airport to pick us up. The ship was to leave port at 4:00 PM. By 3:00 PM we were beginning to get nervous, as no one had updated us since 1:00 PM on the ship’s status, and it takes the bus a full hour to drive to the airport and then back to the port, not including loading passenger luggage, embarkation, getting the sail and sign card, etc. Finally at 3:30 we were updated that the busses had just left the terminal and were on there way. The ship was to be delayed leaving the port until 6:00 PM. This helped ease our minds.
Once arriving at the terminal, we had to wait about one hour to check-in. Obviously, the 60 of us were not the only ones in a predicament! However, our group was the last to board the ship, and as we were boarding, the life boat drill was taking place (actually, had already taken place - people were just beginning to drop the vests back into their rooms before the ship set sail). Having been on cruises before, I was actually glad to miss the life boat drill, although my husband had never been on a cruise before, so I would have liked to have seen him all dolled up with a sporty neon orange floatation device around his neck. We headed to our rooms, fascinated by the fact that all of our luggage had already arrived! Guess it pays to be the last people on board! Once inside, we located our life vests, looked at the evacuation route on the back of the door, and unpacked.
Having had nothing to eat all day, we made a direct pit stop at the 24 hour pizzeria - a personal favorite throughout the entire vacation. We had the late night dinner reservations, and being open seating the first night, we decided to eat in the dining room we were not designated to. Every other night, we had dinner in the Mardi Gras Dining Room, and Charl was our waiter. Being that this cruise was cut short, may people must have opted to cancel their cruise, as the dining rooms (and the entire ship for that matter) were completely desolate. We were sitting at a table for eight, and it was only the two of us there. There were two tables for eight behind us - one was empty, and the other only had four. There were two tables of eight in front of us - one had three, and the other had six. We were given such wonderful one on one attention by Charl - the best I had ever received on any cruise. For first time cruisers - if you like strawberries - you MUST try the chilled strawberry soup!
There was no fighting on the Lido deck for chairs like on most cruises, however, remember that this ship was not filled to capacity, so this will not always be a typical situation. On days at sea, my husband and I just enjoyed lounging by the pool, taking naps, and listening to the ocean. Bring lots of suntan lotion, and apply regularly! Most people get burnt on their first day at sea, making it miserable for the rest of the vacation.
We did not participate in many on board activities. We watched the hairy chest contest and all of the late night shows. Before eating dinner, we would get a drink at the Violin Bar and listen to the piano player, maybe dance to a few songs as well. Each night we would hit the sushi bar as a pre-dinner appetizer. On formal nights, there are stations set up to get your pictures professionally taken. These are free, so take advantage of them. You will even get a chance to get your picture taken at each port when you get off the ship. Visit the photo gallery regularly to look at your pictures. Purchase the ones you want (mildly expensive - it adds up), or toss the ones you know you don’t want to make space for more pictures. There is also a video for sale at the photo gallery that sums up the entire vacation. You can preview the video in your cabin on the TV. We saw ourselves a few times in the video, so we purchased it.
There are daily drinks on sale for about $3 or $4 that come in a souvenir plastic cup. These drinks are the fruity ones, so if you don’t like fruity drinks, don’t waste your money. Buying a drink on the ship really doesn’t cost anymore than going out for a night on the town and having some drinks. One amenity that we used regularly was room service. It is free, and since we were honeymooners, we used it quite frequently. We did tip the gentleman, however, since the service was prompt. They show about 4 movies on cabin TVs which repeat over and over. However, who wants to pay for a cruise and spend time watching TV all vacation? 4 current movies is plenty to occupy your time while getting ready for dinner.
We visited the art auction, which my husband is an avid art fanatic. However, with the taste he has, we could not afford some pieces. Since it was called an auction, we figured we could maybe start at $50 and work our way up. That was the case for some of the less famous pieces. For the pieces my husband truly wanted, they began at $3000 and worked their way up. We could not afford this, even with the $200 on board credit! Next time we will be prepared.
Our first port of call was Grand Cayman. I’ve been twice before, and swam with the sting rays. My husband wanted to try this, but I wanted to try something new. We compromised, and went on the Turtle Farm, Hell, and Sting Ray Tour. There are so many turtles! Big ones, little babies, and even specially picked ones that you can pick up and hold. The best part of the Turtle Farm is that the Rum Cake Factory was right next door, so time permitting, you could walk inside and sample all of their 10+ flavors. Hell was interesting - just some limestone in a field. However, if you visit, send a postcard at the local post office. We got a picture in Hell of the post office, and on the front window, it says “No Smoking.” We thought that was ironic. (We also bought a T-Shirt in Hell, but we think we left it on the cruise ship because we don’t know where the hell it is!). We went on the Sting Ray tour, which is amazing, as usual. You must feed them squid, and you have to hold one of the large females as well. When the sting ray tour was over, we stepped off the boat and a huge crash of thunder and lightning hit right beside of us. Scared everyone half to death! We headed back to the terminal and the cold rain just began to pour down on everyone standing in line. We had no time to do any shopping, as the boat was supposed to leave in a half hour, and there were still over a hundred of us standing in line to tender back to the Inspiration. The rain stopped as we boarded the tender, and we had beautiful blue skies the remainder of the trip.
The last port of call was Cozumel. Again, I had visited it twice before - went to a beach once, and took the “Booze Cruise” another time. The booze cruise fiesta party boat is great for people who like to drink a lot and have a good time. I went with my parents one time and my dad ended up passing out in the room on the ship the rest of the evening and missed dinner. The secret is - as the party boat makes its way out to the beach, they give you free “punch” and make you think there is alcohol in it. However, they either don’t put any alcohol in it, or just a mild bit, as they do not want to be responsible for someone who drank and then drowns at the beach while snorkeling. Most people drink about 4 or 5 of these free drinks on the way to the beach and feel fine. So on the way home, one thinks that “if I could handle 4 on the way over, I could handle about 4 more on the way home.” This ride home is when they spike the punch and add tons of alcohol in it. They perform games like limbo on the ride home, and everyone is toasty. Even if you aren’t much of a drinker, it’s fun to find out in advance when the fiesta party boat docks back in, and wait at the pier and watch all the drunk people stumble off the boat. This time, my husband and I opted to not take an excursion and go shopping. We were able to get some really great deals and bargain like crazy. This one local, Juan, that we bought some stuff from, took us out to lunch and paid for it, then took us to a local Mexican market and bought us some spices to cook with at home (we had some difficulty bringing the spices back through customs - although eventually they let us continue on).
Overall, we had a fabulous time, even though hurricane Frances ruined most of it, and hurricane Ivan was on our tails the entire trip. Ports were fabulous, the excursion was fabulous, crew were fabulous - not one complaint. Besides our seven day cruise down sized to a five day cruise, Carnival handled it very well and we have already booked a cruise on the Carnival Glory later in the summer of 2005.