Just returned from our third cruise, this time with kids on Carnival Inspiration. Here are the highlights:
Embarkation: Returned our Alamo rental to the Tampa airport and hopped on the free shuttle to the port. Arrived at the port at about 12:15 and were eating lunch on Lido by 1:00. The lifeboat drill was supposed to start at 3:30 but really never got underway until 4:00 which was supposed to be departure time. We ended up departing just after 4:30. Amazingly it takes about 2 1/2 hours to get across Tampa Bay and under the Sunshine Sky Bridge (try to get on the top deck when going under this).
Food: What I like best about eating on a cruise is that I can try things I'd never try in my normal life. That said, I felt the food on this cruise was okay to good. There were times when I got food on Lido deck that was so cold and hard it seemed like it had been there all night. Also, the lobster was rubbery and one of my steaks was more gristle than meat. However, overall I enjoyed eating. I usually ordered 2-3 appetizers and 2 entrees at dinner. I liked the different theme they had each day on Lido deck port side. The Indian food day was the best. The pizza was not bad but not as good as I'd hoped. The ice cream and yogurt machines were nice and we each had our share of cones each day. The desserts were pretty good too. We had the best table assignment I've ever had on this cruise, an 8-seater (for the 6 of us) right against a port-side window. Our waiter Jorge and assistant Marlon were awesome.
Room: We were in a quad room U201 which is in the starboard aft area of the ship. The room suited our family of four just fine. The beds fold down from the wall and the two twins on the floor were combined to make a king. We did feel some vibration from the motors and the ship did rock pretty well while traveling through the Gulf of Mexico. Our room steward Jose kept our room clean, left us some surprises and kept my beer iced down.
Kids: Our kids used Camp Carnival sporadically but seemed to enjoy it when they went. From age 9 and up the kids are able to sign themselves in and out but below that age, the same parent needs to sign them in and out. There were probably 50 kids and a few teens on the cruise and they younger kids were the main users of the Lido deck pool, the waterslide and the forward hot tub. For the most part all the kids on this cruise were well-behaved. Some of the teens were loud and using some foul language in public, but in a few years my kids will be teens and somebody will probably think the same thing about them!
Debarkation: We used self-assist debarkation which means you don't have to put your bags out the night before but you have to be able to wheel or carry them all. The line formed in the hallway about 1/2 hour before the announcement came, but once they started debarkation we were off the ship quickly, through customs and back at Alamo by 9:15. We then drove to Disney World and got there at 11:00!
Ports: Grand Cayman: The seas were rough and it was raining when we arrived at Grand Cayman so Carnival cancelled all of the early tours (not sure about the later ones as we were off the ship at 8am). We had booked a tour with Sotos for Stingray City. We waited until 8:50 for our 8:30 pickup but they had obviously canceled their tours for the day too for good reason. We went back to the pier and found a few operators still offering Stingray City tours. DW and DS7 went back to the ship so DD10 and I paid $35/$25 for a tour. We hopped in a cab with 6 other people and drove to the marina across the island. There we met a boat driver who basically had a speedboat with a partial roof. We took a nice fast ride out to Stingray City but when we got there the seas were dark and rough. It was still raining hard as it had been all day. We got in the water but it was very rough and hard to see. Our guide fed some stingrays and we got to hold one but it was not nearly the experience I had when I visited Stingray City two years ago. I would strongly recommend not going to Stingray City if it's rainy or if the seas are rough; wait until next time you go to GC. We arrived back at the pier at 12:50 and the last tender was supposed to leave at 1:00. I convinced DD10 to go to a liquor store quickly with me so I could buy some Stingray beer. I bought 3 6-packs for $34 (!), walked back to the pier and got on the second-to-last tender at 1:05. I carried the beer right onto the ship, through the x-ray machine and up to my room. They never batted an eye. For the record, I drank five of these during the rest of the cruise and brought the other 13 back with me.
Costa Maya: The Inspiration's replacement for Cozumel for the immediate future is Costa Maya. We really liked it here. The sky broke and we had beautiful weather. It took almost an extra hour to dock. We were very near the pier and then customs officials boarded our boat and we had to go back out for awhile. Once we finally docked, we got off the boat about 10:30 and headed into the pier area. I asked somebody if we could walk to Majahal and they told is it was 2-3 miles. We took the bus which was $3 for adults and free for kids. As we walked into Majahal several vendors tried to sell cigars, souvenirs, braids, etc. It wasn't high pressure but it wasn't casual either. We finally relented and let a guy talk us into sitting at a table on the beach. I ordered a Sol ($2) and quickly switched to Montejo beer ($2) which I stuck with throughout the day. Great stuff. We ordered a plate of tacos, a plate of nachos, and a plate of quesadillas ($5 each) to share. The chicken tacos with cheese were some of the best Mexican food I've ever had. We didn't take any trips but we rented a snorkel and mask for $6 so I could teach the kids to snorkel. Snorkeling was not great here but was a good place to learn for beginners. We saw a few fish and some plant life. The town itself is and old fishing village and has some pretty cool old buildings. We saw some school children in the afternoon and I sent DS7 to play with them in the street. It was pretty cool seeing kids from two different worlds playing tag together like they've known each other all their lives. Meanwhile DD10 got her entire head braided for $30 on the beach. We finally decided to head back to the ship at about 4:00. Our total bill was $45 for 3 plates of food, a margarita (just ok), 4 Cokes and about 6 beers. We took a cab back ($2pp) and saw some very poor homes and a few condos or hotels being built. In a few years this port is going to be much more developed.
Overall we enjoyed our third cruise. Grand Cayman was a bust because of weather and the seas were rough in the Gulf which made DW a little seasick. The food was good, the service was excellent, the ship was clean and Costa Maya was great. Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like me to answer any specific questions about the cruise or the ship.