The Clampett's Go To Sea After years of talking about a "Family Cruise" my wife Gay and I finally laid down the law to the rest of the family last Thanksgiving: No one was allowed to leave the table until we all agreed on a date for a family cruise. So after turkey, stuffing, potato, squash, green bean casserole, soy (for the family vegan) and two hours of lively discussion, everyone committed to 7/28 to 8/1 on the Inspiration. We dubbed the cruise "The Clampett's Go To Sea", as there are some in our family of 12 that think Johnny Cash is another name for a pay toilet. But I'm not going to be naming names here.
Flight: JetBlue nonstop from Boston to Tampa and thank you for the frequent flier miles. Had us in at 10:30 AM. Took a Tampa Bay Shuttle from the airport to the Port of Tampa and were at the big white dreamboat with the red and blue whaletail funnel at 11:15. 9 of the family members had never cruised before (heck, most of them have never been out of town before). Gay and I had to walk around behind them and pull the little string in the back of their head to close their gaping jaws when they first saw the ship. I honestly believe that they would have stood at the port staring at the ship in wonder right up until 4:00 and watched it sail away. Like I almost did on my first cruise.
I explained to them about tipping the baggage handlers at the port. After seeing all the baggage moved and the dollar bills change hands, 8 members of the family were willing to forego the cruise in order to hang around the port and "chuck bags for a buck."
Embarkation: Could not have been easier. We literally walked right up to the service desk - no lines- checked in and boarded the ship. We were photographed and onboard by noon.
First stop at Pursers Desk to get our S&S cards punched (we took a trip to the dollar store the night before to buy lanyards) and to have a couple of rooms swapped. Pursers were all smiles like they were actually happy to see us, and punched our cards with charming alacrity. They set a great tone for the rest of the trip. Gay and I got the gold cards, so our status was raised to god and goddess of the day. It's really pretty easy to impress my family.
Throughout the cruise people would ask us where we got the lanyards and comment on what a good idea it was. Lesson - if you want to look like an old pro even if you're a first time cruiser bring a lanyard along. In all seriousness, they are handy instead of trying to dig your card out of your bathing suit pocket at your cabin door.
Cabins: Since everyone's budget was different I booked all inside cabins. We ended up on Upper Deck all relatively close to each other. Gay and I decorated our door (a perverse habit of ours) with a cardboard hula dancer from the local party store, an inflatable pink flamingo also from said party store, and a block of post-it notes and a pen with a sign asking other cruisers to leave a note saying who they were and where they were from. By the end of the cruise our door was covered with little yellow post-it notes with things like "Bill and Joan from Cleveland" written on them. Our favorites were the ones from Perinta, our cabin stewardess from Thailand who wanted to know if our cardboard hula dancer was really a picture of her, and her assistant Pahl from Bali Hai. I cannot recommend the post-it note strategy enough. Be honest now. How many times have you stumbled back to your cabin after one or eight too many Drinks of the Day, become orientationally challenged, and started inserting your S&S card into multiple doors because you forgot which cabin is yours? Oh, is that just me? Well it's much easier to find the door with the little yellow tags all over it.
We have a friend who is a detective on the Boston Police. He was able to get us a roll of that yellow mylar "Boston Police Crime Scene" tape. We used that to do some late night decorating on the other family members' doors.
Ship's Condition: The ship is a 10 year old Fantasy Class ship. To give some perspective, Carnival has since introduced 3 Destiny class ships, 4 Spirit class ships and 4 Conquest class ships. Still, she is well cared for by her staff. The public rooms are cleaned and polished regularly. The cabins were in good shape considering the number of people who have stayed in them. In fact when we were boarding we saw a pile of new mattresses on the landing on Main Deck. Our beds felt firm and new and had the new white bedding. Even though we had inside cabins, there were robes in all the rooms.
The elevators seem to have taken a fair amount of abuse. Unfortunately it looked as if a lot of it was intentional. Small gouges in the walls, writing on the doors, etc. The overall decor of the ship is a throwback to when Funship was synonymous with Partyship. Funky purple tubes with orange faces snaking through the Brasserie on Lido deck. Fibre optic pinpoint lighting in the Grand Atrium etc. Kind of like a whimsical Dali painting.
The most beautiful, and underused public room (IMHO) is the Shakespeare Library. We used this as a group meeting place because it was centrally located, and you could do some great people watching while waiting for the rest of the group. For some of our group it was their first time in a library. Ever.
Cozumel - 7:00 AM till midnight: Since it was a 4 day cruise there was only one port of call. Dear Lord, if my ship can have only one port to visit please let it be Cozumel. Amen. And the Lord smiled. Or perhaps the Lord is somehow angry with Cozumel. After all, first it gets hit by hurricane Emily, then we show up.
We had convinced everyone to invest in some snorkel equipment as Cozumel is known for it's world class snorkeling. We didn't take a ship tour. Instead we spent time on the Cozumel board soaking up information there. Thank you all who posted.
We paid $8 for a cab to Dzul-Ha for snorkeling. This was probably the high point of the trip for most of us. We got there at about 10:00 and spent the next 3 hours either in the water or sitting under the giant palapa drinking Sol beer and chatting with the regulars. The hurricane left a lot of sand on the reef, so the coral was not as brilliant as we've seen it in the past, but the fish were magnificent. Every color imaginable. We had purchased underwater disposable cameras, and got some great shots, One of the members of the tribe claims to have seen a barracuda. We're waiting for that roll of film to be developed before we start accusing him of telling "Big Fish Stories."
From Dzul-Ha we took the wildest cab ride ever to Paradise Beach. We were picked up by one of those huge cab/vans that seats a small platoon. The minute he pulled away from the nonexistent curb, the driver cranks up the tape player and we're listening to a mariachi band playing the Mexican Hat Dance. The driver invites anyone who is willing to dance in the aisle. After a couple of Sol's, the Clampetts need no prodding. The 15 minute ride from Dzul-Ha to Paradise Beach becomes a rolling party with dancing, Mexican music, and intermittent shouts and bursts that make it sound like a old Speedy Gonzales cartoon.
The driver was well tipped.
Paradise Beach is beautiful. We paid the $8 wrist band fee, got chairs and headed into the water to the floating iceberg and trampoline. Had the best nachos ever at the bar. We spent about 4 hours here before heading back to the ship to change and head into San Miguel. I also hac the pleasure of meeting Paradise Beach Tom. It's great the way he takes the time to walk up and down the beach introducing himself and answering questions. You can tell he's very proud of the place.
After shining up, we took a $6 cab ride into San Miguel. Everyone split up to do their own thing and agreed to meet at Carlos & Charlies at 7:30. A small group of us headed into the back streets away from the water. I've always found the area behind Plaza del Sol to be a great place for bargains. The shop owners are willing to bargain more here and, if your comfortable doing business that way, you can get good deals on things like linen, silver, semi precious jewelry, leather and blankets. I've also found it one of life's little ironies that the temperature in Cozumel is about 101 degrees and they're trying to sell blankets! Who was the marketing genius behind that?
Carlos and Charlies was just as I remembered it - loud, sweaty, unrefined, slightly vulgar and in your face. Beads and breasts. Exactly what it's supposed to be. We hung out for a couple of hours before heading back to the ship to watch "The Show."
Not judging here, just calling them like I saw em'.
"The Show" consisted of sitting near the gangway on the pier and watching the people stumble back from Carlos n' Charlies, Senor Frogs, Fat Tuesdays, et al. It scored as follows: 4 older inebriated couples arguing over who was going to get what in the upcoming divorce, 1 very drunk mother and son (wearing one of those ridiculously oversized black and silver sequined sombrero's) fighting because they missed the Imagination which had sailed a half hour ago, 3 passionately drunk couples making out and feeling each other up, a gaggle of teenyboppers laughing too loud and weaving too much clutching their yard long plastic souvenir glasses like they were holding the Holy Grail, and one middle aged couple who arrived in style in one of those black carriages pulled by a bicycle. He stepped out and very gallantly extended his hand to help her out of the carriage. She gracefully accepted his gesture, stepped out and promptly fell on her butt. After a moment's silence, they both burst into giggles.
11:30 PM last call to board the ship. Up the gangway for the midnight sailaway party on Lido.
Debarkation: We did the self assist. Lined up with our luggage at 7:30 AM. Waited in line for about 45 minutes while the pursers paged the S&S overspenders and other nefarious characters. Fortunately, and miraculously, no one in our group was requested to have an audience with the purser's desk.
We were off the ship by 8:30 and at the airport by 10:00 for our 11:35 flight back to Boston.
Trying to convince one member of our group that it would be inappropriate to wear his robe to the production show in the Paris Theatre.
Explaining repeatedly that "formal" means more than just "long pants."
Helping some of the males in the group to understand that there is no "hidden agenda" when the waiter puts your napkin on your lap for you.
Reminding others that they don't have to carry the plastic spork around with them. They can get another one.
It's pronounced "Reggae" music not "Reggie" music.
You can probably gather it was a fun cruise. In fact, we had such a great time we're planning another.
Probably best to start praying that it's not yours.
Thanks for reading.