We have been loyal Carnival Cruisers for all of our 9 cruises, so we have a pretty good idea of what to expect on a Carnival ship in terms of service, food and entertainment. We sailed on this boat as recently as May 2012 and had a great time on the 4 day itinerary, and decided to end our summer the way it began with the 3 day itinerary.
Check in was quick since we arrived around 11:45 and the boarding process had just begun. We went to the Lido Deck and were pleased to find not only the grill food available with burgers and hotdogs, but they also opened a Rotisserie with roasted chickens and carved roast beef and the Mongolian wok. Neither of these were options in May. I didn't try the Mongolian since the line was longer than I wanted to wait, but my husband had the chicken and said it was good. The standard buffet line, sandwiches and pizzas were also available inside.
For the first time, we were in the muster group that met on the Lido Deck. The safety briefing was totally disorganized on this deck compared to all of the other briefings that we attended. Due to the large amount of space and distractions, people were chatting, eating and drinking and just being loud and rude in general. Glad we didn't need to follow safety procedures, as everyone around us wouldn't have known what to do!
The rest of our day was pretty relaxing, since we spent the afternoon on the Serenity deck. This deck has 2 hot tubs, all of the loungers have extra cushions, there are bar waiters, it is non-smoking, and best of all, no one under 21 is allowed! They were actually enforcing this rule this time! My only compliant here is that some of the loungers were broken at the hinges. You could still sit on them, but to adjust the angle of the back was a huge pain since the chairs would become unhinged and you had to wrestle it into position. We even needed the attendants to help us. Not good.
Dinner in the Mardi Gras dining room was simply not up to the standards we have come to expect from Carnival. Our waiter was completely inattentive to us. Even though our table of 10 ordered at the same time, appetizers and entrees arrived at different times and were usually cold. We had to flag the waiter and helpers down for even simple things like bread and water refills. Tables with the same 8:15 dinner time were finished long before we even got our entrees. I really don't know what happened to the service, but it was disappointing. Due to the fact that our food was sitting around, it wasn't very good since it was cold or dried out. Again, disappointing and extremely out of the ordinary for Carnival and a huge contrast to the great experience we had on this same ship in May!
Our day in Ensenada was nice. We chose to do the wine country tour (4 hours). We did this tour in May and liked it enough to do it again! It is a great value for a 4 hour tour in an air conditioned bus. The tour guides are very fun and 100% fluent in English. There are 2 wineries (LA Cetto and La Casa de Dona Lupe)and you are given generous tastes at both in addition to cheese, bread, pizzas and jam tastings. You are also given a bottle of wine per attendee for free, but even though the wine is from the Valle de Guadalupe, it is not from either of the wineries you go to. We did not explore Ensenada since we ended up purchasing too much wine, but the tour bus will drop you off in town if you choose to explore.
Our day at sea was again relaxing on the Serenity deck. We saw a lot of whales in the distance and even some only 30-40 yards off the side of the ship. They have suspended the Sushi Bar, and are using that kiosk for a tasting bar. The first night it was a Mexican pork carnitas and tortilla soup, the second night it was pepper pot and a pork croquette, but then third night there was nothing. That was a huge disappointment, as we enjoyed the first two nights, and then were expecting something for the third night. When the sushi bar was open, it was open every night, so why the change?
We chose not to go to any of the variety shows, dance clubs or casinos, but all were open and had lots of energy coming from them. The comedy shows on this boat were just ok compared to other comics that we've seen on the ships, and as always, the seating fills up fast so we had to be there 15 minutes early to get seats.
Lastly, our room steward didn't seem on top of things either. She never introduced herself until we tracked her down in the hallways, which is uncommon. We didn't get fresh towels even though she took our wet and used ones away. She forgot to give us our chocolates on the first night. We had to ask for our VIFP Gold Pins after 2 days of not getting them. She would knock on our door while we were getting ready for our late seating dinner to do the turn down service (this is also uncommon as the stewards usually know which dinner seating you are assigned to).
Overall, we were happy to get away, and maybe I have just been spoiled by better service and food on every previous Carnival cruise I have been on. But one thing is for sure, there was something off about this trip on the Inspiration. Maybe they were understaffed, maybe the crew was coming to the end of their contracts, or maybe they were just tired and lacking energy. If this had been my first cruise, I might not have returned for another. Luckily, I have the experience of so many to know that this was the exception to the rule of good service and good food! I hope they get it together for the future sailings.