Please don't be offended by the title - I shop at Wal-Mart. But when I go there, I know what to expect: fair prices, low to moderate quality, sometimes good service/sometimes bad, and people walking around in their pajamas. This is what you should expect on a Carnival cruise as well. If you go expecting to be surrounded by the same people who shop at Nordstrom, you will be disappointed.
The embarkation out of Long Beach was a breeze. Everyone was very friendly, the line was almost non-existent at 11:30am when we got on board the ship, and lunch was being served. Which brings me first to the food. My husband liked it but I thought it was really sub-standard. The Inspiration has two "grills" inside their casual dining room, one outside on the pool deck area, a mongollian grill also outside on the pool deck area, a pizza serving area (inside), and a deli-sandwich serving area (also inside). Additionally there are two main dining rooms for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food selection is very limited compared to Disney, RC, and Norwegian. The casual dining areas inside have themed dining (for example, Italian or Caribbean) at lunch and dinner and the outside dining had hamburgers, chicken strips, hot dogs, french fries, and also some other comfort food items like corn on the cob, mashed potatoes, etc., depending on the time of day. The problem was that in trying to be creative, they served things like seafood stew or some italian dish no one has ever heard of and it wasn't good. If you are going to be creative, it really needs to be tasty. Otherwise, just give people the basics that they like. There was a lot of food wasted, I can assure you. Also, there were ALWAYS long lines for food. The mongollian grill (which was actually very, very good) was a 20 minute wait - just standing in a line. That's not acceptable. The other lines weren't much better. The pizza?? It's almost a shame to call it that - I've had better at those bouncy house places my kids go to play on a rainy day. Think making a chef boyardee pizza from a kit. There was a fair selection of desserts but again not too tasty. The frozen yogurt machine was outstanding (chocolate and strawberry swirl being my girls' favorite) but it was inside in the middle of the casual dining room so not convenient and also always crowded. The main dining room food was not much better although it was better by a hair. The primary reason we would eat there for breakfast/lunch was to get a place to sit down and there weren't people running and bumping into you. That was really a plus.
Our room was an outside room with a window and decent sized. I mean, it is a cruise ship so space is at a premium but we had the two twin beds pushed together, a five year old in the bunk berth and a four year old on the trundle bed on the floor. It was do-able. The beds were actually comfortable and there was closet space for our things. We didn't have a lot of room to store our luggage and walk around but it wasn't an issue. The bathroom is tiny - be prepared if you haven't cruised before. But we could actually fit two kids and an adult in the shower when necessary so I can't complain. The room was mid-ship which alleviated swaying and there wasn't much noise either - except what you would expect from other passengers. We did not hear our neighbors through the walls but could hear noise occasionally from the hallway.
There is a kids' club but it is limited and really doesn't operate all the hours it advertises. That's okay - we weren't there to ditch the kids the entire trip anyway. The club counselors were nice but at times overwhelmed by the demands of the parents. Again, it is all about who you are traveling with as much as what ship. The few times the girls were in the kids club they did have fun and again, the counselors were great. But, other than the kids club and the water slides, there isn't anything for young children to do. I think teens and pre-teens would be just fine.
The pool is a tiny little thing and there is just one. It is NOT heated. There are two hot tubs and at least one said "adults only" but I never saw an adult in one. Keep in mind it was mid-December and cool so there were no adults in the pool either. If it had been warm, I can't imagine what the pool scene would have been like. It could not be enjoyable for adults if it is full of kids and frankly not much fun for small kids if it was full of teens or college kids. On the other hand, the water slides and water area was great! Besides being very cold water, it was a kid's dream come true. I don't know what it would have been like if it were very crowded but because the water and the air temp were cold, my girls (being from the Pacific Northwest and thinking all water is freezing) had the place almost to themselves - about 10 other braves souls - so they loved it.
The service in all the areas we used was hit or miss. Some staff, like the folks in the formal dining areas, were wonderful and professional. Our room steward was also great. As was the magician that came to the kids' club and the dining tables in the evening. But, in other areas, a bit surly - not always helpful. I'm not sure if that is a cultural thing or maybe they just get sick of their jobs like the rest of us??
To me, one of the biggest drawbacks about the Carnival Inspiration was the smoking. I had forgotten they allowed smoking in certain areas and I'd forgotten how much I hate the smell of cigarette smoke - especially on my way to breakfast. Ugh.
We did not watch the shows in the evening but saw the family holiday show which was not much of one. The performers did their best but it was kind of sad to see. Perhaps the larger shows were better.
There is gambling, bingo, hairy-chest competitions, a newlywed game, music trivia, dancing by the pool - all the typical cheesy cruise ship stuff that is what you make of it.
The one port stop of Ensenada is almost shameful. Unless you are going ashore to drink, there is nothing to do. I'm surprised that there aren't the usual beach trips or catamarans of limbo/tequila lines but there aren't. The excursions are extremely limited and I can't imagine worth what Carnival wants you to pay. I read other reviews before going so I didn't expect much and so wasn't disappointed come cruise-time but was disappointed in general.
Overall, I would not recommend this ship or this cruise. The ship is tired and lacking anything modern. The low price of the weekend cruise attracts a cheaper crowd and it showed. Our first cruise was a Carnival cruise out of Galveston in 2005 and we loved it. I would not want this to be anyone's first cruise experience or they would not want to cruise again. Save more money, go bigger and better. If you have young children, splurge for Disney and you won't regret it. On the other hand, if you just want to drink, smoke, gamble and go buy cheap products from Mexico - this might be perfect for you. Have a nice trip without me.