General info about us before beginning the review: Family of 6 (kids are 11, 9, 7 and 5) cruising for the first time together on Carnival, having cruised as a family before on Disney twice. Husband and I cruised on Carnival (same cruise!) 12 years ago and have also cruised with Norwegian.
Getting on the ship was a BREEZE. I highly recommend getting there later and avoiding the rush. We arrived at 1pm, walked through security and check-in, onto the ship and straight to our room. Our luggage was even at our room within the hour! We had just munched some late-lunch at the grill (definitely advise the grill over the buffet--I'll get to that later), walked back to the room and voila! There it was :).
First off, the Carnival Inspiration is a well-refurbished (2010) ship. It is clean and has lots of public rooms, both small and large, family-friendly and not-so-family-friendly. I don't think our cruise was full, as we felt relatively uncrowded, even on the "at sea" day. What kind of blew our minds, however, was that a 2000+ passenger ship had only one VERY SMALL pool. Overall, the deck-seating was plentiful (as opposed to Disney, where I felt we could never have found a seat or lounge chair at-sea or otherwise!) and there is a nice "Serenity" deck (9 aft) for adults only. The lobby elevators span 4 decks and looks pretty impressive, but we never once were able to catch one of the elevators there!
Activities aren't anything to get excited about. My husband and I did not participate in any of the poolside "events" (12 years ago, our friend won the hairy chest contest, though!), trivia tournaments around the ship, or the art auction. We've done various things like that over the years and have discovered we really just want to enjoy the sun and our family while on a cruise. If that stuff is up your alley, however, you will find some things to do! Not really any "enrichment", but I doubt you would be considering CCL for that :).
Next topic, "Service". Huge range here. On Disney, people fall over themselves (as a general rule) to answer your questions or find someone who can. On CCL, I felt like a thorn in someone's side whenever I had a question or concern. It seemed no one was really empowered to care enough about the answer! Our 5 year-old ran off a couple of times. Once, someone helped him immediately and we were paged to guest services. The second time happened in the dining room and I was seriously just given a blank stare for the first 2 minutes I'm explaining the situation. Sheesh. (For the record, we don't take our eyes off him as a hobby :). Just some crowds and miscommunication!) Our room steward, Roy, however, was AMAZING. Friendly, timely, thorough and just an all-around delight to have around.
Catalina is a fun port. It has some cool stuff for adventurers. We are big fans of just getting off the ship around 9am and renting a golf cart. They give you a map and you can go toodling. If you just want to drive, get some pictures and come back, an hour should be enough. We got ours for 3 and brought it back after 2+ after driving the scenic loop twice! We didn't get off the ship at Ensenada. We enjoyed the relatively quiet ship. We were there for over 12 hours, which made for a very chilled-out day! It was especially fun to enjoy the mini-golf course as a family (We did this several times during the cruise! It was great!).
The at-sea day was a little more crowded, obviously, but it was an okay day. Sadly, it was unseasonably cold, so we didn't get to enjoy the sun as much as we would have wanted! Also, it seemed like there weren't quite enough activities to keep people busy in the event of inclement weather.
Our staterooms were fine. We had two oceanviews right next to each other (M234 and M238). The 3 single-bed set up for our older kids was quite roomy. Having the 2 singles pushed together for us was a little more crowded, especially once the pull-down bed is down! But there was plenty of closet and drawer space for our stuff. The bathrooms are fine. The water pressure is fantastic. The one issue we had was in M238, the bathroom smelled HORRIBLE. We really could not figure out why. There was also a general stink walking down the hall of the Main Deck. It wasn't unbearable, just there. I employed my baby powder in our bathroom and that seemed to help a bit. And as I said, our room steward was amazing :).
I hit the spa twice this cruise! I've never indulged in spa treatments on a ship before, as they are so expensive. But CCL offers deals that make it a little more worth it, so don't pre-book! The first day, they offered "Spa Topia". It was 90+ minutes of awesomeness at only $120 instead of $260. Then 2 days later, they offered a $159 hot stone massage for $99. I enjoyed them a lot (the SpaTopia a little more than the other).
The dining on board is our official sore spot (along with the general disinterest of a lot of the crew as I mentioned before). My husband and I are not super picky or anything, and I can't stand it when these reviews focus on the food (especially considering how many choices there are around the ship!). But this was so disappointing. The first night, I attempted to eat healthy and had a chicken and pasta dish that had been labeled as a healthy option. The chicken was SO dry and the pasta was undercooked. No flavor in the sauce at all. I figured I had just ordered badly and that it would be better the next night. So, the following evening, I ordered the prime rib. It was overdone and flavorless, as was my daughter's flat iron steak. I also attempted the stuffed mushroom appetizer and it was truly awful. The next night, I tried the bourbon roasted chicken and veggies. Another miss :(. Even the beefsteak tomato and mozzarella salad was dreadful. The mozzarella was watery and flavorless and the tomatoes weren't ripe :(. I was so bummed, as caprese salad is one of my favorite foods! One of the nights, I had a chicken and mushroom fettucini that was passable. The only dining bright-spot was the chocolate melting cake that we had for dessert every night. Yum :). As for the buffets, avoid them. Pretty much nothing was worth it. We ordered breakfast as continental room service to avoid the grease and the lines. Definitely a good idea. We usually hit the grill for burgers (good), hot dogs (dreadful) and chicken tenders (yummy) for lunch. The kids really enjoyed the pizza, though I wasn't super excited about it. Not bad, though. Drinks are expensive, but the Long Island Iced Teas were yummy and worth it when we felt like having one! We had the "your way dining" option, but went at 6 every day anyway, so we could have gotten away with that as well.
Carnival's children's programming was okay. There just wasn't enough of it! Our kids didn't want to go until 2pm, because that's when the actual activities (and not just babysitting) really started, but then they closed for dinner at 4:45!!! 3:45 the day we were at sea!! Not enough time to really unwind for us. Then, things didn't start up again until 7 and they get kicked out at 9:45 if you don't want to pay to keep them there after 10. We let the kids stay one night until 12, but they were wasted, so we didn't do that again. We were really missing Disney with their amazing kids' programming and no-charge late-night fun!
As for entertainment, we attempted one night to take the kids to the show. It was "rated PG because of costuming". We were pretty disgusted. The dancers were basically half-naked, wearing thongs and glorified bras. They looked unhappy to even be there. Our kids were really uncomfortable and we left within about 2 minutes. Needless to say, we didn't go back to any of the shows. I suppose that once you've enjoyed the amazing entertainment on a Disney cruise, you probably should just avoid any other cruise line's entertainment options.
Disembarkation was amazingly smooth. If you can carry your own luggage and like to get off the ship without any lines or drama, choose the self-assist option. We were off the ship in 5 minutes. It was really amazing, and probably the one thing CCL has on DCL, hands down.
In summary, I don't think we will cruise with CCL again. We don't cruise just for the food, we don't cruise just for the free babysitting, we don't cruise just for the shows, and we don't cruise just for the activities.... but when all of those 4 are bad or non-existent and only embarking and disembarking are the bright spots, it makes for a cruise experience that's less than inspired.