I know there is a review section on this site, but the last post was from 2006, so I'm not sure if my review will make it on there. Here is my review. Enjoy and I would love to hear from you if you have any questions about the Inspiration!
Carnival Inspiration – 5 Day Western Caribbean Cruise
December 22nd, 2007
If you just want a quick review of this cruise, here it is! This was an AWESOME time! The ports, food, service, shows, activities, ship experience, and crew were top notch. My husband and I felt the whole time that we chose the best itinerary that Carnival has to offer, but I’m sure we might have felt that way about any cruise we would have reserved! This was a first time cruise for us, but we planned/prepared well and were simply ready for a relaxing vacation which we most definitely enjoyed. If you would like more details, keep reading!
Grand Cayman was lovely and offered many excursion opportunities. 7 mile beach and the Jeep tour seemed to be the favorites, but my husband and I chose to take a catamaran to swim with the stingrays and to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef. Our excursion was quick, but lovely. Be sure to take a waterproof camera! If you don’t have one of your own, the ship sells one for $16 that has a good flash and you can reuse it by adding film like you would to a regular camera. Bring more film (800 speed) because you will want to take lots of photos here. Our photos came out very nice with this camera. My husband was skeptical since he uses a professional camera most of the time, but he too was pleased with the photos.
The port of Calica is very deceiving since all that is there is an industrial rock quarry. HOWEVER, the nearby surrounding areas are EXTREMELY beautiful. Do NOT plan to spend the day in Calica, since there is NOTHING there, but a few high pressure vendors. Booking an excursion or renting a vehicle to explore this area is a MUST. Many cruisers enjoyed the Mayan ruins of Tulum as well as the beach and shopping in Playa del Carmen. You can even rent a Jeep and go to Cancun for the day which is about 35 miles from Calica. We chose Xcaret, (pronounced: shka-RET, roll your R if you’re adventurous) and wished we could have stayed there forever. It is a combination wildlife park, historical, agricultural and water themed park. The park is beautifully shaded with natural plant life and extraordinary birds and animals can be seen just about everywhere. The highlight of Xcaret is their self-guided underground cave river. There are many lagoons on the shore to choose from to enjoy the clear waters and beaches (water shoes are somewhat of a must in certain areas). In just about any lagoon you swim in, there are fish that join you! You can also add to your basic park admission and swim with the dolphins, go on a boat ride and other things for an extra charge. Be sure to take a waterproof camera to this park!! Even MORE details…keep reading!
Day 1 – Embarkation from Tampa, Florida
Tampa was quite chilly & cloudier than the forecast had promised; however, we were so excited about our first cruise that it really didn’t matter. At the Port of Tampa near the Inspiration dock, there is a nice shopping complex that we stopped and had a quick bite to eat before the boarding process. We chose a Thai restaurant (Thai Thani) that had very ornate décor, wonderful quick service along with delicious food. We headed to the Carnival docks and proceeded very quickly though the check in process. Be sure to have your Fun Pass, photo ID as well as a credit card ready to use for your ship purchases and gratuities.
Note: For those who have NOT cruised in the past, I think this is something that really should be clarified BEFORE you sign up for a cruise thinking that it is all inclusive and will only need money for your personal expenses. My husband and I used our Sign & Sail card fairly minimally, and still managed to spend about $400 ($600 if you count our splurging on massages) while on the cruise. I would think this is on the low end overall from what we had seen others spend. Just be prepared! Don’t get annoyed with Carnival since they are “up front” about the added expenses, but realize the cost of your cruise is not finalized until you walk OFF the ship.
While on the ship, there were several bar servers all around each deck serving complimentary champagne!! My husband and I enjoyed a glass or two (or five!) as we explored the ship and enjoyed an hour of table tennis just above the ship’s pool. We really felt like we were on a cruise when the Caribbean band started playing on the Lido deck by the pool. Although the sun was not out and we kept our jackets on (Tampa was chilly that day), the atmosphere was doing a great job keeping our spirits warm! We promptly booked massage sessions for the morning of our first sea day. Carnival has a nice offer of 3 services (massage, facial, etc.) for $99.
Our bags had been delivered to our stateroom and we enjoyed some time unpacking and relaxing for a bit before getting ready for our first dinner in the Mardi Gras dining room. Everything was clean and inviting. The beds and linens were very nice and cozy. We chose the Late Seating (8:30) which was nice, but we found we were hungry much earlier. NO PROBLEM! Take a walk to the Lido deck for a quick snack or better yet, we loved the ship’s Sushi Bar that opened at 5:30. Just before dinner, we sat in the Shakespeare Lounge which was like sitting in an Old English library. They have books and games in there to check out, but we came equipped with our own chess board and enjoyed a game or two before heading into the main dining room for dinner. We sat with 2 other WONDERFUL couples that we ended up making friends with outside of just having dinner with. Our waiter Jose, was THE BEST! He attended to our every wish and he had a great sense of humor! Dinner was somewhat formal, but at the same time, relaxed and fun. YOU MUST order the Bitter and Blanc dessert choice if you get the chance. It is the best dessert I have EVER had in my life. The Warm Melting Cake is very good too. Not much to detail on the dining. Everything was wonderful, delicious and elegantly served and displayed. If you don’t like something, they are more than happy to bring you something else!
After dinner, there was a show in the Paris Lounge (very impressive), but we were so tired that we decided to get a jump on some sleep in order to get an early start the next morning.
Day 2 – At Sea Day
We ordered the complementary room service breakfast before we headed up for our massage which was great. Wonderful fresh fruits, coffee, juice, yogurt and a bagel. Both of us enjoyed our massages and felt the stress of our jobs melt away so that we could enjoy a true vacation. We had in interior stateroom (no window) and to this point had not seen the outside since leaving Tampa. When we walked out onto the Lido deck for the first time that morning, what an awesome surprise; the sea was as calm and blue as could be, and the sun felt wonderful. There was not a cloud in the sky. The hustle and bustle of people moving about the ship was exciting and several people had already staked their claim on a lounge chair by the pool. There are several decks to lounge on depending on your mood. If you like to be surrounded by the “activity” of the ship, the area by the pool is the place to be. The ship has 2 of these, one with a pool and 2 whirlpools and the other with a surprisingly large water slide. There are lots of people and kids moving around and having a good time. The ship also offers an “adults only” lounge area on the aft end of the ship with very cushy lounge chairs, umbrellas and 2 whirlpools. There is also a lounging deck 2 levels above the pool area, but there is no water activity up there, except for the drink servers! I would think that this would be for those who want to do some serious sun bathing. Too hot for me! We choose the busy pool area because we enjoy being close to the Caribbean band, table tennis and the GIANT deck chess board nearby.
Lunch time! There are many options to choose from for your lunch. The main dining room typically offers an open seating buffet for both breakfast and lunch, but we never tried this so I cannot speak on it either way. There is also a dining line right by the pool that serves breakfast and what I call “kid food”. Hamburgers, fries and such. We chose to eat lunch on the Lido deck in the Brasserie (pronounced: BRA-sir-Ray, I think). If you’ve ever been to the Cheesecake Factory in Chicago, the Brasserie has that same feel, but of course, a bit more casual. The room is filled with deep purples and golds and has many interesting fixtures and cool lighting. This is a BUSY place! If you don’t like crowds, you might opt for a different dining choice. They have 2 main serving lines with many choices, a salad/fruit bar, a sandwich line (dee-licious!) and a pizza line. The best place to sit (if the weather is nice) is outside the Brasserie either in the aft seating area, or at the tables on the port & starboard sides. It is much quieter out there and of course, you have an unobstructed view of the ocean and a nice breeze. After lunch, back to lounging by the pool! My husband and I were not typically interested in going to many of the ships activities during the day, but there is always something going on to take part in. There is a casino with different tournaments, Bingo in the Paris Lounge and much more. Seeing as that we were getting away from a Michigan winter, we were more interested in relaxing in the sun. Every evening, your stateroom will be equipped with a Carnival Capers, which will give you a complete run down of the following day’s activities. You can plan for an active day, or like us, just plan to relax!
Tonight was our formal dining night, so no Sushi bar was available today ?. Instead, we dressed to the 9’s and headed out to the many photographers and backdrops they have to catch the event on film. You cannot walk 2 inches on the Promenade deck and not find a photographer ready to get a few photos of you. We decided to pose for as many as we could. You are not obligated to purchase the photos, but they are displayed the next day and they are a very nice way to take a memory home from that evening. Some photographers are better than others as well, so don’t just pick the one background you like the best, because that photographer might not catch your “best side”. A few photos were not focused quite enough and others had us posed kind of weird. We did have about 10 photos that we had a hard time picking from because they were all good! We also stopped in the Casino and played slots for a bit. I also played (and lost) three straight hands of Blackjack. We are not gamblers, but we wanted to say that we had the experience of the ship’s casino. This was also the night that they have the Captains Cocktail party. If you are dressed up, DO NOT miss this! In the Paris Lounge there will be many beautiful dresses and handsomely dressed men along with complementary champagne, martinis, whiskey sours and hors d’oeuvres to enjoy. You will meet the captain and his main crew staff as well, all dressed in their dress formals. Who is driving the boat?! ?
At our table of six, Jose (our server) was outstanding each and every night. The matre’d, Babu (“everybody say BAAA BOOOO”) really did a great job of organizing his staff to be efficient, entertaining and very accommodating. Quite often, our meal would be interrupted by the wait staff so that they could sing/dance for us! Food, again, was excellent from beginning to end! One couple at our table started a nightly tradition that would continue throughout our cruise. Ted & Dee from Atlanta purchased champagne for our table! The following nights, the courtesy was continued from each couple at our table. We truly enjoyed each other’s company and conversation.
Day 3 – Port Stop – Grand Cayman Island (Christmas Eve)
The ship is too large to dock directly at the island, so passengers wishing to visit Grand Cayman need to board a smaller tender to get to the island. Not a problem, the Carnival crew is very efficient getting people on and off the boat. The Cayman port stop is a quick one! Some folks simply walked around in the shopping area and had lunch at Magarhitaville or at Senior Frogs. Lots of people commented on their visit to Turtle Beach and to Hell; those sounded fun as well. There was really not a whole lot of time to do much on Grand Cayman. Ship docks at 7:00 a.m. and the last tender leaves at 1:00 in the afternoon. Our excursion was a catamaran/sting ray/snorkeling excursion. This was kind of “touristy”, but we had a nice time nonetheless. The water, boat, and experience were so nice! We were enjoying a leisurely sail in the Caribbean when my husband looked at his watch and it was already 12:15!! We had to remind the driver that we had a 1:00 deadline to catch the last tender back to the ship. We made it back, but I was nervous about missing the ship! Apparently, if you DO happen to miss the last tender, there are speed boats that will take you to the ship, but at a hefty cost, as you can imagine. When back on board the ship, we took the “back roads” to get to the Brasserie before the rest of the port callers and got our favorite spot on the starboard side to enjoy a late lunch! My husband and I got very good at finding the less traveled paths to navigate around the ship AND we were willing to do stairs rather than wait for elevators.
This evening, they also offered an early show for the Late Seating diners. My husband and I were usually not up for staying up after our dinner. (I think the night before, I fell asleep in my dessert!), so this show BEFORE dinner was great for us. The show offered a magician and a comedian. Both were very entertaining.
Day 4 – Port Stop - Calica, Mexico (Christmas Day)
My husband and I kept thinking about those folks who missed out on booking an excursion and thought they would just spend the day exploring Calica. There is NOTHING there except an industrial quarry and a few small souvenir vendors. You could see everything in Calica in about 30 minutes or less. HOWEVER, there are some of the most beautiful sights to see in the nearby areas. Many cruisers enjoyed the excursion to the Mayan ruins of Tulum, or to Playa del Carmen’s beach and shopping area. My husband and I were ecstatic that we selected to take a cab ($10 fare each way) to Xcaret. They have a website that you can check out if you want all the details. We kept saying we didn’t want to leave that place. It’s very peaceful and HUGE. You really need at least 2 days to see everything they had to offer, but we enjoyed the underground river and the beach & lagoon area the most. Being there on Christmas Day was very special. I even have a photo in my bikini next to a Nativity scene! I did notice that there were mostly local people at this park and not so many tourists. At times, we found that many of the park workers did not speak English, but communication is not impossible for the normal type stuff. There are park workers that DO speak English, but you need to ask at times.
Back on the ship, we enjoyed a light snack at the Brasserie and enjoyed the rest of the sunshine of the day at our starboard deck table. We ran into the Captain of the ship during our Sushi run this evening and were able to chat with him a bit and get a nice photo with him. He is from Sicily, Italy. Very nice and following the Italian tradition, of course he was very handsome! Christmas dinner on the ship was very nice (as usual) and the chef offered a special Strawberry Yule Log for the dessert of the evening. We enjoyed the Newlywed Game show after dinner in the Paris Lounge which was hilarious! My husband and I really wanted to get picked as one of the couples, but it was just as fun to watch!
Day 5 – Day at Sea – Our last day on the Inspiration ?
This day is weird! You can tell that everyone is pretty much bummed that the cruise is coming to an end. The weather was gorgeous AGAIN, and we enjoyed a day full of sunshine on the Lido deck by the pool. Our Caribbean band played for us for the last time and my husband enjoyed a few games of table tennis with some of his new found ping pong pals.
There was an early show for Late Seating diners which was FABULOUS! It rivaled a Las Vegas-style show and had a Latin/Salsa theme. The costumes, music and lighting were wonderful. They even had a small bit of pyrotechnics within the show. The highlight of this show was, without a doubt, a married couple who did a “Circ de Solel” type routine. They were incredible!
This was our only real source of a complaint on the cruise. The ship was supposed to dock in Tampa at 7:00 a.m. but was slowed in Tampa Bay because of thick fog. The ship did not end up docking until about 10:30. As you can imagine, there were several cruisers flooding the area and stairways around the exit door. If you tried to get up to the Main deck via the elevators, you could not get off due to the crowding of people in all the walkways. Because it was virtually impossible to move in or out of that area, the customs process that needed to be completed for non-US citizens was delayed and hence, the whole debarkation process was delayed until about noon. Many people were stressed about missing their flights out of Tampa, and others were just stressed just because some people are just that way. The cruise director urged people to either return to their staterooms, or head to the Brasserie and relax and have breakfast or a drink. This would have been great, but the stewards were already preparing the staterooms for the next cruise, and the Brasserie workers were less than excited to delay their preparations as well. I know that this debarkation process cannot be easy, but I would urge Carnival to brainstorm a better way to accomplish getting 1,000 + people off a ship in case of fog or other unforeseen circumstances. We were patient because our flight did not leave Tampa until 8:30 p.m., so I guess we were lucky. As a word of advice to those planning a cruise, don’t schedule your departing flight too close to the time the ship is scheduled to dock; you just might miss your flight!
Overall, I would give our experience an A! Like I said, the debarkation was the only part of the cruise that we did not thoroughly enjoy, but we managed.