We booked this cruise as a quick getaway for ourselves our friends. We had no expectations going into this as we knew it was inexpensive and the ship was old. We've also heard all of the stories about Carnival. We figured hey it is what you make it and it was so inexpensive we figured we couldn't go wrong. We previously have only sailed on Holland America and so only have them to compare it to.
Embarkation. Once you get to the terminal in Long Beach which for us was a little confusing embarkation was an absolute breeze. Our bags were checked at the curb, we went straight to the Queen Mary to get checked in (no one directed traffic but there were signs). Once checked in we walked to the staging area and got in line at our assigned number. The wait was very short and we were crossing the gangway to our ship in no time. Once on-board we were able to go directly to our rooms (nice) and offload our carry on bags. Then we grabbed a drink and headed up to the lunch buffet. All in all very efficient and worry free, as it should be! Great start.
Food. Ok as stated before I only have HAL to compare to but this was the single worst aspect of cruising Carnival. The food ranged from bland to undercooked and not a single item or meal was spectacular. The buffet was pretty bad and the only thing worth eating there was the pizza. Now I saw rave reviews about the pizza but I'm hear to tell you it too was just ok. Please don't think I'm a foodie, I'm not, in fact I'm your pizza, burgers and fries kind of guy and they did none of these justice either. We weren't really there for the food though and nothing was inedible, just not great. This is where HAL really shines.
Drinks. Carnival drinks really shine. Unlike HAL you really get your money's worth on Carnival and it is clear what these ships are all about, having a great time! On HAL you couldn't get a buzz if your life depended on it but not an issue with Carnival.
Entertainment. Again, Carnival Inspiration really shined in this department. All of the entertainment was enjoyable and especially the Vegas style shows. The live bands were excellent and the Djs top notch. Again these are the "fun ships" and they make sure you have fun. Absolutely no complaints.
Service. Service was generally good in most areas of the ship. Unlike HAL who utilizes a predominantly Filipino and Indonesian staff Carnival is a mixed bag. They do utilize this group in key areas such as bar and food service but employ Eastern Europeans in other areas. Unfortunately the Eastern Europeans did not provide the best service. This area was therefore hit and miss.
Rooms and common areas. Ok, this ship is pretty old but the rooms were in pretty good shape. Spacious enough and the beds were comfortable, although not nearly as comfortable as HAL. Again this is a $300 cruise so I wasn't expecting 5 star hotel accommodations. Hey it is the "fun ship" so how much time do you spend there?? The common areas are definitely showing this ship's age and could use some TLC and you smelled cigarette smoke in most areas around the ship. This definitely gave you that Vegas feeling, but not in a good way.
Pools and Water slide. Not so fun Carnival. Neither are heated and the staff said they never are on this ship. The water was freezing so no opportunity to enjoy these areas, which is too bad because they would seriously add to the "fun" factor but instead were virtually unused by all. Why bother? I would have happily paid $5 more to have a heated pool. This was disappointing to say they least. Because the pool and water slide were virtually unusable we were stuck cramming ourselves and 2,000 of our closest friends AND their kids in to a few hot tubs. Fun, yes...but not the best situation.
Itinerary. Fun! Catalina was more enjoyable that I imagined. We took the walking tour which was very informative and enjoyable and offered great views and perspectives of the city of Avalon and the island. Food was good and walking around and shopping fun. This was a tender port and the tenders were very efficient at getting you back and forth from the island to the ship. Ensenada was Ensenada, wild, crazy, fun and just a touch seedy. We took the wine tour here and were very pleasantly surprised at the quality of the tour, the information provide during the tour, the quality of the wine, and the beauty of the wineries. All in all an excellent tour! Afterwards you have a long stay so we went to the bars downtown and did you do you Ensenada, drink and get crazy. It was...fun!
Debarkation. One word, a breeze. Carnival and the Long Beach port have embarkation and debarkation down. Very fast and efficient.
To sum it up. This ship and Carnival in general is "fun" and that's great because that is what they promised. Nothing was a surprise other than just how much fun we had and we will happily do this cruise again, probably every year! I actually loved the fun ship experience and will be a long time Carnival customer I'm sure. Just understand you get what you pay for in this life and Carnival is a bargain price. You are going to get 5 star anything but you'll likely have "fun" if you let go of your inhibitions and preconceived ideas.