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Age: 47

Occupation:Insurance Analyst

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Carnival

Ship: Carnival Inspiration

Sailing Date: February 19th, 2005

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

We booked our first cruise with a multi-generational group of 6, including grandma and her companion, and our two teenage daughters. All in all, we thought this a great vacation for a group of mixed ages. It provides just the right amount of “togetherness” and independence for everyone in the party. I would say we all enjoyed the cruise very much. We especially enjoyed the great, friendly service of the staff, the ports, the ever-present photographers and fun photos, and the general fun feeling of the ship. Plenty of places to explore and activities to do, if you keep up with the daily newsletters pushed under your door.

Our twin daughters enjoyed the cruise experience in general (even the dining room), but alas, were a little too inhibited to enjoy the Teen Club, which they attended just once. They loved the Brasserie and the easy access to snacks, beverages, etc. Also, a word about the “Beverage Card.” We bought them for our daughters and they did use them for soda. However, you kind of have to remember to get your soda and carry it into the dining room, because it isn’t easy to order one in the dining room once you are seated. Also, the Brasserie does include some beverages which are free almost any time of the day- like iced tea, coffee, fruit punch, so you don’t have to feel like your kids will be without anything to drink if you don’t buy the beverage card.

Although reluctant to do so, we did attend the “talks” presented by the Cruise Director both at the beginning and end of the cruise. They provide a lot of logistical information about shore excursions, rules of the road type stuff, but the Cruise Director made it quite funny. And, I heard another family complaining late in the cruise that they had apparently missed a meeting point of a planned shore excursion- they must not have attended the Cruise Director talk or read their newsletter, because the information was all right there. Some people think they can stop thinking when they go on vacation!

The Dining Room (Carnivale), late seating, was lovely and our table companions very different from us but fun to hang with. Our waiters, both from Bali, were delightful and my daughters were so flattered by the attentive service and respect. The food itself sounds better on the menu than it actually tastes, but was quite good overall. On one night, lobster tails were served, and mine was tender and delicious while those of others at the table were tough and over-cooked. I can’t imagine quite overcoming the “institutional” production of so many meals being served at once.

One indulgence that we really enjoyed for breakfast was ordering room service- all included! I never use room service at hotels because it is so expensive, but on the ship, especially before early excursions, we ordered coffee, bagels and fruit and had breakfast in the cabin. We always received it quickly, within 20 minutes or so, but my mom and her friend one time had to wait quite a while. What fun to do room service and not have to pay extra!

Oh, and we fit four people into our cabin and lived to tell about it. Cabin is compact but efficient, and while it was a little tight, we really did not hang out in the room except to sleep, dress and prepare for the day out of the cabin. Mornings probably the most challenging, with 4 vying for the bathroom and shower, and sometimes we agreed to eat breakfast separately instead of waiting around til all 4 were ready. The open seating of the Brasserie for breakfast made that very doable.

Luckily, our shore excursions, which I booked online before the cruise, went off as scheduled because the weather was agreeable. I considered booking them independently to save money, but, as first time cruisers, wanted to ensure things would go smoothly. It appears that folks with Carnival-booked excursions are able to leave the ship sooner on port days than those who don’t have a booked excursion. We chose the Grand Cayman stingray tour and swam with the rays. Definitely not a hit with Grandma and our daughters were skittish but my husband and I got the biggest kick out of it. But, my favorite port was Cozumel- from there we went to Xcaret, a simply breath-taking eco- theme park on the Yucatan Peninsula which far outshines the theme parks I’ve been to stateside. We swam in the underground river and then in beautiful coral lagoons between the white sand beaches and the Gulf. It was pricey but worth every penny and I wish we had had several more hours to spend. Made a mistake by using some of our precious time to eat in a nice full-service restaurant in Xcaret instead of grabbing something quick- oh, but the Margarita was good! Also enjoyed shopping in Cozumel itself and checking out their interesting Plaza which was very Mexican. My mom and her friend did not venture far and were happy just to go to the cruise line-sponsored shops within sight of the dock.

The ship itself was glitzy and over-the-top, some might say tacky, but I think that’s what made it fun. Was surprised at the challenge of finding deck chairs on the Lido Deck on the sunny days- especially finding 6 in the same proximity for our family. I did notice that some folks “stake out” chairs by plopping towels on them early in the morning- don’t know how fair that is but most people are too polite to challenge.

We enjoyed the ship board activities and shows. Especially liked the comedians and our party did enjoy the Vegas-style show. Dancing and costuming was better than the vocals, perhaps, but the show was energetic, colorful, fun and included at no extra charge! The most unusual activity my husband and I did was attend an art auction, where they served free champagne! A free drink on a cruise is a big deal. At first, we were intimidated by the auction, but sat around for awhile observing and figured out it was not that difficult to participate. We didn’t come away with any art, but did bid once. Some of the art is definitely deep pockets stuff- into the thousands of dollars (but some is much less) anyway- it was fun to see the big spenders make their moves.

I have read other reviews and noticed people seem surprised and complain about the tipping that is “built in”. If you’ve read your materials carefully, you wouldn’t be surprised. I think it’s a good idea to build in the tip- you know what to expect, and aren’t left to figure out what is appropriate. I suppose if left to our own choices, most of us would low-ball the tip, which wouldn't be fair to the fine service staff. But, anyone can opt out of the tipping if they take the steps to do so. Also, was surprised that our dining companions didn’t seem to know that you couldn’t buy and consume your own liquor on board- that came as an unpleasant surprise for them, because they enjoy their cocktails and I think were expecting an “all inclusive” kind of deal. And, the “Sail and Sign” card is definitely too easy to use. We did have a significant tab at the end (mostly bar and souvenirs, including photos) but they do let you know mid-cruise what your balance due is so it gives you an opportunity to adjust your behavior accordingly. My mom and her friend, who don’t drink, barely had a bill at the end of the cruise.

I simply loved the fun themed photos that cruise staff took! I loved visiting the photo gallery and found it hard to limit my choices. I ended up spending approximately $70 or so on a collection of 10 souvenir photos, including a lovely formal night photo of our two daughters. That was my favorite souvenir of the cruise. Can’t wait to go again and was overall am very happy with Carnival- would love to go with friends or do a family reunion sometime.

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