We sailed the Inspiration August 19-24, 2006 from Tampa with ports at Grand Cayman and Calica, Mexico. Had a great time!
We flew into Tampa on Friday evening. Didn't want to risk an accident on the highway or some other delay by waiting until Saturday morning to leave. We stayed at the Marriott downtown, which was a $22 cab ride from the airport, but offered a free transfer to the port (1 mile away). At the hotel you just signed up for what time you wanted to take the shuttle to the port. We signed up for the earliest, 10:30a.m.
We were dropped off at the port at about 11:00a.m. on Saturday. No traffic. There was a porter there who took our bags. We walked right in and were able to purchase our shuttle transfer back to the airport for after the cruise. It was $9 each. Super easy. No lines, checked right in. They scanned the credit card we wanted to attach to the sign and sail cards and gave us our sign and sail cards and the group number we were in. We waited about 1/2 hour to 45 minutes and our group was called to board. I think we were on board before noon.
Once on board, we went right to the spa, as prior experience had taught me that spa appointments fill up fast so I wanted to have options. We signed up for the "embarkation special" ginger and lime scrub and full body massage. It was pricey, but hey, we are on vacation. Then we took some time and just explored the ship to find our bearings and what was where.
We made it to the Lido Deck and a nice pool boy had some fruity drinks with umbrellas all ready for us to start drinking! That pool boy remembered our names for the rest of the cruise, it was so cute! We had some lunch on the Lido Deck and then went to our room about 2:00 to unpack.
We had early seating, which I thought I wouldn't like because I thought 5:45 would be too early to eat dinner. I was wrong. It was great because you do so much after dinner it gave a chance for your food to settle in time to maybe have a snack or late meal at midnight or so.
1st day at sea was great, lots to do. My partner was in the casino most of the day (winning!) and I was out in the sun. We went to karaoke that night and had lots of fun laughing at other cruisers. I think Carnival figured it out a long time ago that the cheapest way to entertain is to let the passengers entertain themselves!
Next day was Grand Cayman. It was ok. If you are going on this cruise, my recommendation is to wait until Mexico to buy stuff, as it is much more expensive in Grand Cayman. We were only there from 8-2, so not much time to do a lot. We just shopped around for a while. That night was formal night. Some people didn't dress up at all, some people were super dressed up, as in suits and beaded sparkly dresses. Most were in between, with men in a shirt and tie or suit and women in cocktail type attire.
The day after that was Calica, Mexico, which is 10 minute cab ride from Playa del Carmen. We had scheduled the kayak and snorkel excursion but it was cancelled due to weather (water too choppy). It was a little disappointing, but nothing you can do about it so we went to Playa del Carmen and just laid on the beach and drank. Great day.
2nd day at sea was great too. No complaints. Lots to do. We missed the debarkation talk by Risa the cruise director, but they replayed it on TV over and over and over so we got to see it and had no questions. We did go down that afternoon and adjust the amount of tips we were being charged because our servers and steward were awesome. We gave them an additional $30 and $20 respectively.
Debarkation was super easy. We had a quick breakfast on the lido deck around 7am then went back to the room to finish packing up. When we were done they had already called our deck so we just took our stuff and walked right off, no waiting and no problems.
All in all, it was a great experience. I traveled with my partner and we did receive some stares here and there (from guests not from staff). It made me a little uncomfortable to know that I was trapped on a ship with some people who may not be gay-friendly, but Carnival can't control their guests. The staff was great with us; our steward and server treated us as any other couple. That was wonderful. We would definitely sail Carnival again, and the Inspiration, though it is an older ship, is a great one!
Have fun on your cruise!