We were first time cruisers and decided this itinerary would be perfect for us to try a cruise. We wanted a family experience without it being too stuffy or adult oriented and so Carnival seemed to be our best choice. We decided to fly out of Seattle (we live in Vancouver BC) to LA and tag on some days at Disneyland to finish our week away.
First of all I would like to say that the Carnival website is great and was easy to use. I had made our booking online with a major cruise website and they provided the info I needed to complete my booking on Carnival. I checked us in online, updated our info, added our CC to our sail and sign account, looked at excursions, booked our transfers to Long beach, etc. Their FAQ section was great and answered a few questions we had. We felt very prepared.
I am tempted to write a play by play of each day of our cruise but instead will try to break up our experiences/observations.
Transfer and Embarkation
We arrived in LA and Carnival picked us up at LAX. It was a relatively easy process and we were at the terminal within 20-30 minutes. We checked our one large bag with the porter outside the terminal and kept our carry-on's so we would have bathing suits, change of clothes etc as there is not guarantee when your bag will arrive at your room that evening. We lined up outside with the rest of the people and 15 mins later the doors opened...Embarkation was simple and easy and took no longer than 30 mins from start to finish. We were on the boat by 12 noon and having lunch on the Lido deck by 12:30.
Entering the lobby is like entering a Vegas casino- lights, music and lots of people. Music was playing, people were smiling and the crew were helpful and friendly.
Do I think that there are nicer, fancier ships to cruise on? Yes. Does the Inspiration need a bit of a face lift? Yes. But for our first time it was really about enjoying the experience of cruising and this ship was perfect for a 4 night trip. The boat was just the right size for us- big enough to find something new every day and yet small enough that we had the lay of the land by the morning of day two. Everywhere we went, things were clean and tidy and the staff worked hard to keep it that way.
We were on deck 7 in an outside room -forward room E30.
Loved our location- close to the elevators, the lobby and easy access to everything, but far enough down the hall to have a quiet room.
The room was much larger than we anticipated as was the bathroom. There was tons of closet space and our suitcases stored under the bed. Speaking of the bed, we thought it was quite comfortable and there were plenty of pillows. Our son slept in the drop down bed and it did not feel claustrophobic at all for any of us especially with the big fabulous window overlooking the Pacific.
I had read somewhere to book an even numbered outside room and they were right- port side was great- especially in Catalina where the seals were playing outside our window in the bay.
So it turns out I am one of "those" people. You know- the ones who have to try every activity at least once :) I did as many activities as possible including seminars, games shows, parties on the Lido deck, etc. I could not contain my excitement at seeing the next day's itinerary waiting on the bed each evening.
Loved the Mardi Gras party with dancing and beads and the Mexican fiesta on the Lido deck with the late night Mexican buffet was awesome.
So much fun in 4 short days...
I enjoyed the Paris Lounge shows- especially the first night where you got a taste of everything- singing, dancing and the comedians.
We also watched the Hip-hop break dancers the two evenings they performed in the lobby and had a great time- so much energy and crowd participation.
I have to say our favorite was the comedy club. There were 2 comedians who each did 5 shows over the course of a couple of nights - some were for the family and some adult only and they were all different. We spent 2 full evenings there and had a great time- we laughed at both types of shows and our son enjoyed the 2 family shows he saw.
Port & Shore Excursions
We decided instead of an excursion in Catalina (water was too cold for snorkeling) to rent a golf cart and explore the town of Avalon. 1 hour is all you need to see everything and still have time to stop and takes pictures.
You can wander the downtown section of foot- lots of little cafes and restaurants and there is a pretty little beach down at the marina. We loved watching the seals and even had a few dolphin sightings.
If you are going in the late spring or summer I would encourage you to do some of the water excursions-we were not prepared to love the quaint town of Avalon so much and wish we had been there in June or July to really experience all it has to offer.
In Ensenada we decided on a whale watching tour instead of the winery, town or blow-hole tours as my husband was not interested in any of them. Unfortunately Carnival did not offer this option but I had done my research and was able to find the sports fishing pier and get us booked onto a boat with Sergios. While we enjoyed the trip and the crew for the price ($80 for the 3 of us), it really was just ok. 4 hours is a long time to be out whale watching...I wish we had done the combo tour of the city and the blow hole that Carnival offers as we really did not get to explore the town very much beyond the shopping area.
Lots of choices for breakfast and lunch every day. Also a sandwich deli station as well as the pizza bar. Each day the buffet inside was themed but you could get the usual burgers etc at the pool side grill or could enjoy the Mongolian wok. Plus who can resist all you can eat soft serve ice cream?
Mardi Gras Dining room:
We ended up choosing the late dinning seating (8pm) and it worked for us as a family. Each night we as a family shared the "have you ever tried" item on the menu...escargot, alligator fritters, etc. So much fun and a great experience as a family to say we tried all these things. We also tried a lot of the appetizers and enjoyed all of them including various soups and salads as well as shrimp cocktail ( order 2 its small!). Some of our favorite entrees were the flatiron steak and of course the lobster. Rave reviews for prime rib as well.
I finished each dinner off with the cheese plate (small but the perfect size to end a meal) while the guys tried lots of the other deserts on the menu including the melting chocolate cake.
Midnight Mexican buffet
We really enjoyed this buffet at the pool side grill. Tons of great foods and what a display! Ice sculptures, carved fruits etc.
Perfect after all the dancing.
We ordered room service once for a late afternoon snack - sandwiches, salads, cookies etc. Good and fresh and fast.
I knew that Carnival had great kids programming after all of the reviews I have read and we were not disappointed. We signed our son up for the Circle C ( teens 12-14 club) the first night on the ship and found out that there were 64 other kids in his age group on board. After dinner that night he headed over there for the meet and greet and that was the last we saw of him other than at dinner each night on the ship. Activities lasted till 12-1am each evening ( movies, ice cream eating contests, pizza making at midnight, etc) He had a great time on the cruise and a big part of it had to do with the Circle C and all the friends he made.
Before the cruise I was convinced that $11.50 a day per person was too much for a gratuity and wondered why there were not more complaints about it. Once I experienced the service myself I understand why you would be hard pressed to find anyone who did not agree that the staff was worth every penny. I can not speak highly enough about the service we experienced on this cruise. From our room steward Ronny to Edwardo and the rest of our wait staff, we were cared for and treated liked old friends. The lobby bar staff greeted us by name each evening and asked us about Canada. It was so refreshing in this day and age to meet people in the service industry who cared about doing a good job. The entertainment staff was friendly and fun and seemed to be enjoying their interactions with the cruisers. The staff really made a difference and was part of the reason we enjoyed this trip so much.
We are not drinkers so got the bottomless pop/juice drink stickers for all of us. Hubby had a couple of beer each evening and so we avoided the crazy large bills that some of the other vacationers must have received.
Loved that we could set a daily limit on our sons sign and sail card so he could play video games, pick up a treat at the sweet shop, etc without having to come to us. He knew his limit and stayed well within it.
Beware the photo takers. Did not mind at port and at dining room but it was a bit much at times in the evening.
As Canadians we have a lot of tax on alcohol and I was shocked by the prices in the on- board duty free. Forgo buying duty free at the airport or boarder. Buy on the ship- they will deliver it to your door the last night of the cruise. The on -board prices were CRAZY low compared to home.
This was the perfect beginner cruise for our family. Carnival delivered exactly what it said it would: good fun for the whole family at a reasonable price. We loved it and can't wait to sail with Carnival again.