My first cruise was on the Carnival Inspiration 4 days to Catalina and Ensenada. We left on June 4th 2012 and returned Friday June 9th, 2012. We sailed from Long Beach CA. Embarkation was super easy. We arrived at the port around 10:30 am and we were guided by Carnival staff to go to the Queen Mary for early check in after dropping our bags with a porter in the parking garage area. We took public transportation from the Inland Empire (Metro link and Metro subway then the Long Beach Passport free shuttle) so we were a little confused as to where to take our bags but discovered that all passengers take their bags to the parking garage even if they didn't park a car. At the Queen Mary early check in, we were in line about 10 minutes before we were called to the counter. We were only held up that long because the passengers ahead of us didn't gather all her teenagers together before checking in so that delayed the process, otherwise the line was moving very quickly. At the check in desk, we were given our Sail & Sign cards and a Zone card(we were given zone 2) and directed to go wait at our zone. We took this chance to look around the Queen Mary for a minute since I know I will never really pay to go back. My son got a kick out of the old engine room, etc. We moved outside to the Zone waiting area but couldn't find a place to sit because most of the people already there had decided their luggage took priority seating on the benches over actual human beings (why are people so self absorbed?) We walked over toward the water and found benches on the waterfront with a great view of the ship so we took some pictures and enjoyed watching the water birds, etc. We could still hear the zone calls from this area so when we heard make an announcement, we headed over to the Zone area to wait our turn. I was happy to find that the embarkation area has nice clean restrooms and a couple vendors selling last minute sunglasses, hats, etc. Our Zone 2 was called so we lined up and followed along through the process which took about 20 minutes to go through security and cross over the ramp to the ship. It was a very easy process that was so much easier than flying.
Once on board the ship, most of the passengers headed to the buffet but I wasn't in the mood for more lines so we decided to grab some deck chairs and enjoy the view until sail away. We were finally on board and in a lounge chair at 11:30 so about an hour after arriving at the port of Long Beach. We bought the bottomless bubbles cards as soon as we saw the pool bar. We had been advised to wait until the next day, but we were thirsty and wanted a Coke and the price difference of the tax wasn't much. We enjoyed the lounge chairs views and wandered around the decks a bit, just enjoying the newness of it all for about two hours. We were really happy that we didn't have to lug around a bunch of luggage and could just stroll around. We were able to get into our room at 1:30 pm (about 2 hours after embarkation)
Our room was M186 which is an Ocean View on the main deck toward the aft (back) of the ship. It was a nice room that had two twin beds and an upper Pullman style bed that the Steward would set up if there was a 3rd passenger in the room. When we first arrived, the beds were set up as a King size bed but as soon as the Steward (ours was Eugene and he was wonderful) realized that we were mother and son, he offered to change it. I told him that he could do it when he came to do the room later because I wanted to unpack. He seemed unsure of that because he really wanted our room to be right. I told him it was okay and we would be fine that night (we were so tired from our commute to the port that we would have made sleeping on the floor work!) I have to say that the bed set up as twin is much better even if you are traveling with a spouse. Unless you are newlyweds, I guess. The two twin set up is better because it gives you a lot more floor space to move about the cabin. The cabin is very well arranged to make the most of space, although a 3rd person would probably make it a bit crowded. A tip for a bit of privacy for changing clothes if you are traveling with someone you don't want to change in front of is in the hallway by the bathroom, the closets are across in this hallway. If you open the bathroom door and then open the closet door across from it, they form a good barrier to make a little changing room. I say this because the bathroom is small and will get very wet when you take a shower so you won't want to dress in there.
There was plenty of closet space, shelf space and drawer space. I do recommend taking a hanging organizer for your toiletries as it will keep you organized and limit the clutter. There are several hooks to hang your organizer on. I would recommend you bring a few of your own hangers since as with most hotels, the hangers are those weird "don't steal them" hangers that annoy me and there weren't enough of them for me.
Our cabin steward was so friendly and after the 1st full day, he already knew our personal schedules and tendencies. He asked when we would go to dinner and after the first day, he paid attention that we came back to the room straight after dinner to change and relax so after that he always did our cabin's turn down service early as soon as we left so that it would be ready when we returned. It is so amazing to come back from dinner to a freshly made bed, a cute towel animal, and the knowledge that someone was pampering us and paying attention to us. By the way, the pillows on Carnival are amazing. I know that sounds silly but these pillows were the best pillow I have ever slept on (and I have bought some pretty expensive pillows because I really appreciate pillows).
This room was really close to the elevators but not so close to be noisy. Also, the air conditioner control is on the ceiling and you can adjust the level of the air output. I found that having it on higher if there was noise outside (we were next to some loud kids/families) gave us enough white noise that we didn't even know there was another soul on the ship.
As I said, the elevators were convenient for getting to the Lido deck buffet. Imagine our delight when we got on the elevator, pressed floor 10 and when the elevator doors open, there's the buffet! Is that some kind of dream or what? Now, if you do book a room in this area and plan to use the dining room, I would recommend you request the Carnivale dining room. We were assigned the Mardi Gras room which is forward on deck 8 and cannot be reached easily from the elevators by our room because not all decks connect or some stupid reason that drove me crazy. I needed my ds18 to navigate me to the dining room because I kept getting lost. The Carnival dining room is much closer to the area of M186 so although is wasn't a huge problem, it would probably make your life easier if that matters to you. Another benefit of this room is that you will have great views of Catalina when going to that port. I will talk about the ports more below so I'll skip that for now.
As for the main dining rooms, we had "your time dining" because I don't want to have to be anywhere at a particular time on vacation if I can help it. That being said, we tended to be ready for dinner around 5:45 every day, so we went to the Mardi Gras dining room. The line is supposed to be split with YTD guests on the left and assigned time diners on the right, but people never seemed to get this right. For YTD, they will ask your room number and assign you to a table. If you have a special request, you should make it before you sit because moving seems to be a huge ordeal for them. If you want a table for two, you will not be near a window but we found that the tables we sat at were just fine. The set up was most YTD were put on the left side of the room with tables for four closest to the window views and then 2 sets of tables for two placed next to these tables. Even if you are at a table for two, you are really only about a foot away from the next table, essentially sitting with each other. However, I liked it better than being placed at a round table because I hate being squished into a round table. That's just a personal issue though. On YTD, you will not necessarily have the same wait staff each night, although we were extremely happy with our wait team that were were seated on two of the nights and the Maitre D' staff will do their best if you request the same waiters again. Our wait team was Oleiksy ("my name is Oleiksy, you call me Alex") who is Ukrainian, Kembong from Indonesia and Augustine (who doesn't talk much and is an assistant). Oleiksy and Kembong were amazing! I have never seen such attention to detail. They know exactly when you are finished with a course and clear the table to bring the next course immediately. The food was very good overall (a few hits a few misses but fun to try new things). It's good to keep in mind that the ship is feeding thousands of people so it is prepared assembly line fashion. The quality is good and we were able to try many things we would never have considered before but it is not the quality of say a french trained chef making each entree to order. Our top faves were the prime rib because they offered it medium well (I hate bloody meat), the pumpkin soup (sounds weird but is terrific), the Indian vegetarian( I am not vegetarian but this in an incredibly tasty dish and worth a try even if you've never tried Indian food). In fact, that is my theory with all of the main dining room food, try things! I didn't like some stuff and loved others. Also, ask the waiters. Oleiksy recommended the Mahi Mahi when I ordered the Veal parmigiana. He shook his head in a cute Russian tsk tsk way and said "Mahi is good. Believe" Just a note on Oleiksy: we heard some people complaining about him but you have to respect a guy who knows his job well. He may not be flowery in his speech but he told us the truth and got us good food and his team was well oiled. We had much worse service from other wait teams that were friendly but we had to wait 10 to 15 minutes between courses. A cute story that my son overheard a couple complaining about him because they asked him the difference between a chicken entree and a pork entree (that were nothing alike) and he told them "well, the chicken is chicken and the pork is pork" in a Ukrainian accent, it made us giggle.
Anway, if you don't like your wait staff, don't stew over it, just let the Maitre D' staff know and they will fix you up for next dinner.
As for the buffet, it is just typical buffet food. I do recommend the braised beef on French night which I believe was on Wednesday. It is convenient to have the buffet if you feel like you may need a snack but for dinner, I say head to the dining room. Breakfast at the buffet is nice enough but in the dining room you can get some awesome chicken sausage, eggs Benedict, and better french toast than in the buffet. Other than these items, the rest of the dining room breakfast items are available in the buffet. For lunch, I think the buffet and the dining room are about the same. However, I highly recommend the Mongolian Wok. You choose your own veggies and noodles and hand them to the wok chef and tell him what meat you want chicken, beef and some type of seafood and the sauce you want. I tried the schezwan sauce and loved it but it is spicy.
Generally, I have to
Here are my pro's and con's of the cruise.
The good stuff:
1.Being spoiled with twice a day cabin service by our Steward Eugene
2.The pillows...they were so comfy and plump and soft
3.Getting to know the crew...talk to them if you see the chance. They are from all over the world and I was fascinated by all of the different jobs they do and how it all works like clock work.
4. Finding quiet spots...if you are an early bird, go out to the Verandah deck aft and grab a deck chair while all of the partiers are still asleep
5. Eating out on the deck...why eat in a stuffy buffet when there are beautiful views outside? Grab a table out on the deck and enjoy your meal al fresco.
6. Something to do everywhere you look...I only went to one show (the family comedy show) and my son went to a few of the comedy shows but there is so much to do if you want to do it. We don't gamble or drink but we were never bored.
7. Free Carnival.com access on the ship...regular internet access is very expensive and slow but you can set up a "Funville" account on the Carnival website before you leave and start a thread under "currently onboard" as a place to communicate with family and friends while you are on the ship for free. I used it as a blog of what we did each day. The internet cafe is next to guest services on deck 7 forward.
8. Late night strolls on the balcony decks...the party people are all by the pool or casino, etc. If you want some peace and quiet, head to the decks on Lido aft or the Verandah deck and it'll be a great place to enjoy the ocean at night. There will only be a few drunks wandering by here and there but not too bad.
9. Wait to buy stuff until the sea day on Thursday when the sales start.
10. If you will drink more than 3 sodas a day, buy the bottomless bubbles. They have to serve it in a glass though, so you may want to bring your own covered cup to make carrying your soda around easier.
11. The shower water/pressure is great and plenty hot.
12. If you forget any essentials and can wait until Tuesday morning, go to the Von's in Catalina that is one block to the right of the "green pier" and one block up. Prices are slightly higher than mainland but way cheaper than on the ship for stuff like sodas, sunscreen, hygiene needs, etc.
13. You make your cruise what you want it to be. Our cruise wasn't perfect (the bad stuff is coming next) but figure out how to work around it and don't let it ruin your vacation...this is up to you not Carnival.
The bad stuff:
1. Kids...I'm not anti kids. I understand and appreciate that it's a family cruise ship. However, too many parents ditched their kids and let them run wild. The kids hog the elevators in the atrium and just make it impossible to use the glass elevators. Skip the atrium elevators and use the inner ones if you can. The kids were so out of control I couldn't believe it and the security crew can't do much about it because all they can do is talk to the kids who I observed had no respect for them at all. There were also way to many drunk teenagers. I'm not talking about 20 almost 21...I saw 15 and 16 year olds that were just smashed because their parents didn't mind buying the buckets of beer and handing them over to them. I think Carnival needs to implement a "no unattended minors" rule because I'm not exaggerating, the kids were like Lord of the Flies running their own sub society on the ship while their parents were off in the casino, serenity deck, etc. In fact, on our last dining room dinner on Thursday we overheard a Mom talking to her kids asking them what they had done that week. She hadn't SEEN her kids since Monday!!!!
2. Drunks...I know it's a safe place to party because you don't have to drive but I saw way too much barfing, stumbling and stinking drunk people that were loud and obnoxious. Not my thing so I learned to avoid the areas they would be on the Lido deck by the pool, casino, etc.
3. Sketchy food hours: the buffet closes around 9 and doesn't open until 7. There is pizza, ice cream and room service available so you need to plan a little if you tend to like a late night snack. I usually get a sweet craving in the evening so I learned take a dessert up to my room while the buffet was still open.
4. My door decorations got torn down and partially stolen. If you decorate your door, know that the unruly kids/drunk teens will probably ruin it so don't overdo it. This irritated me but if you know it will happen, just keep it to a simple sign so you aren't disappointed like I was.
You can see that my "good stuff" far outweighs the "bad stuff" so overall the cruise was awesome. All of the bad stuff can be avoided if it bothers you and if it doesn't bother you then you will have a totally positive experience.
It will not keep me from cruising Carnival next time and I'll be mentally prepared next time.
The Catalina port is where we had the most fun off the ship. We rented a golf cart at Daves (one block to the right of the green pier) $80 cash + $40 refundable deposit for 3 hours. It was totally worth the price and tons of fun. We also booked the wild dolphin tour thru Carnival but it was cancelled due to not enough bookings. There is plenty of shopping and eating. We had a light snack at Pedro's by the Casino. We saw lots of people having fun renting kayaks, peddle boats, etc. There is also a small beach area. Hint: go to the left of the pier on the other side of the bathrooms for a quieter beach area.
In Ensenada, we caught a shuttle (not booked just pick it up at the port) for $3 each round trip to the little shopping area. I was nervous about going to far away from the ship in Ensenada so we didn't do an excursion to the better shopping area. We managed to buy enough tourist crap on the $3 shuttle to satisfy our needs. Ensenada is not a great destination but again, you make of it what you will. We had fun for an hour and then headed back to the ship for some quiet time. Most of the kids stayed on the ship and we only really saw the adults heading into town more in the afternoon for happy hour, etc.
I definitely recommend this cruise for the money and will cruise Carnival again although we will probably try Alaska next time.