My wife and I took the four-day Mexican cruise on the Inspiration out of Los Angeles, with stops in Catalina and Ensenada. This cruise was different from our previous seven cruises in that we had never been on Carnival before and had never been on a cruise that was shorter than a week. Overall, we would give the Inspiration a middle-of-the-road grade, but since it was inexpensive so we thought it was a good value for the money.
Boarding was pretty much hassle-free. We have learned to come to embarkation later rather than earlier, so when we showed up about 3 PM (for a 5:30 departure), we sailed through check-in and were on-board in about 20 minutes.
Within the first few hours we began to note some immediate differences from our previous cruises. First, the Inspiration was the oldest cruise ship we have been on. Mostly, that meant it was not as well designed. The public areas all seemed smaller, darker, and more crowded, and the Inspiration did not have what I consider to be a true Promenade Deck, that is, a deck on the lower level with an outside walkway that went all the way around the ship. The only place you could walk around the Inspiration outside was up high on the ship and far above the water -- and we like to go outside and be close to the water. Second, the Inspiration had limited outside seating. The only pleasant, quiet place to sit outside was a small, adults-only place on the stern called "Serenity." Third, there were a couple of nights in which there was only small-venue entertainment, but no large shows. This did not bother us much, as we often don't attend the larger shows anyways. Fourth, our inside cabin was roomy enough, but it did not have as much storage space or seating as other similar cabins on other ships. This was OK for a four-day cruise, but would have been a hassle on a longer cruise. Fifth, there are no speciality restaurants on the Inspiration, but that is OK because it saves you $$!
There were a lot of families with school age children on the ship. That was something of a surprise given the time of year that we were travelling. We knew that Carnival catered to a younger crowd but were a little surprised at the 'summer camp' vibe in all but the "adults only" parts of the ship.
The food on the Inspiration was OK. We did not have any bad meals, which is more than I can say for some of our other cruises, such as on RCL. I recall some tasty seafood fritters at lunch one day in the Inspiration's buffet, and the steak option in the main dining room for dinner was decent -- but there was not much else that was memorable. There were also fewer options at the buffet than on other ships we have been on, but how many different things can you eat anyways.
The crew was friendly enough, although the ship was not kept quite as clean as other ships we have been on, particularly the out-of-doors areas. For example, there were a lot of sea gulls congregating about in Ensenada and Catalina, and they can make quite a mess. I noted one crew member who was cleaning seagull crap off the ships railings, but for some reason he ignored the crap that was on the tables next to the railings. Go figure -- not in his job description?? Our cabin steward did a good job, but that has been true on every cruise we have been on!
The Inspiration cruise was also kind of strange because for long periods of time the ship was almost adrift -- barely moving at maybe one or two knots. That's because Los Angeles, Catalina and Ensenada are all pretty close together in terms of nautical miles. There was, though, a lot of visible sea life this time of year (January). In Catalina, you could sea lions and dolphins in and around the area where the ship anchored. And, as we were leaving Catalina toward sunset on the second day, we saw a truly bucket-list sight -- At least a hundred dolphins congregating and jumping out of the water! It looked like they were feeding on something -- just fantastic. Again, though, it would have been nice to have a promenade deck down closer to water level to view the dolphins. Also, I was hoping to see some whales, since there are gray, fin, and blue whales migrating down the coast at this time of year. Unfortunately, the migrating whales stay pretty close to shore, and our cruising path was generally too far out at sea for us to catch any whale action.
The Inspiration's casino was nice. I play poker, and the ship had a high poker rake (15% up to 7 dollars max each pot). Still, this rake was not as bad as what other cruise lines charge for poker, and I had fun playing and met a lot of interesting people at the poker table.
We did not take any shore excursion in Catalina. Avalon, where you tender in to, is a quaint little town that is nice for exploring on foot. We did do Carnival's Wine Country excursion in Ensenada and we highly recommend that. The Ensenada area of Mexico produces some fine wines.
Overall, then, we give the Inspiration and the four-day cruise a passing grade, although if we cruise Carnival again we will probably do it on one of their more modern ships.