My wife and I flew down to LA over the long weekend for a three-day cruise on the Inspiration. It was our fourth cruise in three years, although the first without our kids since 1991. Our most recent Carnival cruises have been on the Magic and Conquest.
What made this cruise particularly unique was that the sole purpose of the trip was the cruise. We flew in the morning of departure and flew home on the day of disembarkation. For all our previous cruises combined, the average number of non-cruise days associated with those vacations has been 12 or 13 (i.e., any vacation involving a cruise has included another 12-13 days of non-cruise vacation in addition to the cruise). Usually the cruise is not the major component of the vacation.
The boarding process was relatively quick. The initial pre-screening and security screening took only a few minutes. The line-up to be checked in was about 20 minutes. Then it was less than 5 minutes to board after that. This contrasts to our last cruise from Galveston, which was very slow and seemed to involve being herded from one spot to the next.
After that, the ship was a ship, although smaller than the Carnival ships we've been on recently. The good and bad included the following:
I don't typically comment on things that are normal, but good (e.g., the food was good, the cabin was good, the deck chairs were good). The following were unusually good:
- the cruise director was very much a background crew member. Unlike John Heald on the Magic, who seemed to think the cruise was all about him, the CD on the Inspiration was unassuming and very much not "in your face" with her audio presence. Other CDs could learn from her approach.
- there did not appear to be any PA speakers in the cabins. As a result, we weren't constantly interrupted by "important announcements". When announcements started and we were in our cabin, we paused to determine the topic. If they were important, we stopped and listened. If not, we went about our business without feeling like we were being interrupted.
- I really enjoyed the "your-time dining". When I take a vacation, I like to be on my own schedule. So cruise vacations are far from perfect because once you have a couple things scheduled by someone else (port arrival, back on-board time, dinner start and end), it makes you feel like you're not really in control of your own good time. There were a number of benefits to YTD, in addition to being able to start dinner whenever you wanted. With the regular seatings, you know you're in it for 90 minutes or so. Your appetizer will come at more or less the same time as the appetizers for the other tables. The main courses will come at the same time as everyone else's, etc. With YTD, they take your order as soon as your ready, it comes within a few minutes and your main course arrives shortly after you've finished. You don't feel like you're stuck in the main dining room for 10% of (the waking time of) your vacation. I also found that the wait staff didn't try to develop a relationship with us. If I was cynical, I'd say that was because the regular wait staff are really trying to develop a better tip.
- the first time we entered out cabin and checked the bathroom, it had a distinct "sewer" smell to it, which never went away the entire trip. I appreciate that shipboard plumbing is not the same as household plumbing, but this was the first time we'd experienced such a problem with odor.
- the cabin was cold all the time and since it was an "ocean view" with a sealed window, there was no option to open the window and let some warm air in. All we could do was turn the AC to low/off, but there was no way to heat the cabin. It was probably set to 17C/66F at best and was quite uncomfortable the whole cruise. It was somewhat ironic to be on a Mexican cruise and to be too cold in the cabin.
- after settling in and having something to eat, we set up in lounge chairs at the pool. In the next two hours we were probably interrupted by staff trying to sell drinks no fewer than a dozen times. The first few times, we were exceptionally polite. But it is frustrating to expend that much energy each time. Eventually we would just say no and wave them away. You would think that they would figure out pretty quick who was planning to get loaded and who wasn't interested.
- the "entertainment staff" on the pool deck were particularly overbearing to the point of being obnoxious. There are only so many times you can listen to someone imploring the "party people" to get up and do one dance or another. And of course, they did this with a microphone and speaker system turned up so loud that the "encouragement" came out as a mixture of noise and distortion. I appreciate this is Carnival and it is a three-day cruise, so it will include a strong contingent of passengers who are there to "party", but there are others who are simply there to have their own good time and, unfortunately, these staff didn't do much to help them out.
Overall, the cruise was a very positive experience. We enjoyed being able to stay on board until 10:00 on the day of departure. Disembarkation was relatively swift, with no more than a 10 minute wait to get off the ship, then maybe another 25 to get through border services.
The cruise was much shorter than what we're used to, but it was a fun long weekend. I would highly recommend the Inspiration and we might do it again.