I just returned from a 4 night cruise aboard Carnival Inspiration along with my husband and 2 children under the age of 8.
Embarkment at Long Beach was relatively smooth (once you figured out that the non Carnival employed porters would deliver your luggage to the ship). We were on the ship by 12:15PM to be greeted by a swampy chicken noodle type of stew prepared by Mongolie grill - did not taste anything like the stirfrys I have tried in the past at actual restaurants.
The ship itself is very dirty, I had many drink and food menus that had leftover gum or food attached to the them...many a time I almost got stuck to the guck on the elevator floors. Our cabin was OK, cabin steward Bonnie was wonderful. Gym had great, high quality work out equipment. The pools were wicked cold...they definitely need to heat them a bit. Husband nor I were able to get in, I guess kids are immune to that:) The waterslides were great for the kids; however, there was no shallow pool for kids nor accessible life jackets...my little boy is a weak swimmer; therefore, was unable to go swimming in the pool.
The kids club was lacking entertainment, there were many times that the drop off area was the conference room - they would put on a movie and that would be the entertainment...does not even come close to Disney's entertainment for children. Also, the hours for the club were such that you would have to pick up the kids every 2 hours and then the club would close for like an hour and then you could drop them off again...not convenient.
Adult entertainment - I can only comment on the Shout show (ok), hairy chest competition (funny), gender showdown (funny), family comedy shows (good) and ice carving (boring).
The food - DISGUSTING! Everything tasted and smelled the same...yuck, yuck, yuck. We had "our time dining" - there were no problems or waits to sit down in the dining room whenever we pleased; however, you only have access to the Mardi Gras dining room. Dinner took about 1 1/2 hours and the food, service quality in my opinion is not worth the time. The only food I enjoyed was the pizza (expect long waits) and the sandwich grill (again expect long waits). The buffet food is cold and tastes disgusting. For breakfast, stick to the fresh omelet station.
Service - head chef at the buffet was wonderful to my little boy who has severe food allergies and was looking for a dessert to eat. The chef asked where we were seated and came back 10 minutes later with a special cake dessert - my son was thrilled. The only other Carnival employee worth mentioning was our cabin steward Bonnie - he was absolutely wonderful. The first night we requested an ice bucket, which he promptly filled with ice and brought to our cabin...during turn down service he noticed that our wine was cramped in the ice bucket so he brought us a large bucket that typically holds beer and filled it with ice to chill our wine (he refilled the ice bucket without being asked everyday) - he was great during the entire trip. All other employees look miserable and at times seem to be mocking the guests...just bizarre and horrendous service. The employees really do not act like they want to be working or providing any level of service to the guests. Having experienced Disney cruise line, I can comfortably say I know 4-5 star service and Carnival isn't even on the board.
Shore excursions - we absolutely loved Catalina Island...we rented a golf cart for $40/hour (cash or traveler check only) and took the scenic route around the island - this is a must do. Ensenada was also beautiful...although be careful of the shore excursion desk on the cruise ship - we asked them how to get into downtown Ensenada for shopping and the representative said he had no idea and that we should do their offered shopping tour...yeah right, he completely lied to us...once we were off the ship there were buses waiting to take you downtown shopping for $2/person (and children sit on your lap for free)...we took the bus downtown and they offered everyone a blowhole/shopping tour (lasted approx 3 hours) for only $15/person taxes in (Carnival charges $38 for same tour)...I would recommend this tour, the blowhole was fantastic, kids loved it, good authentic Mexican food and shopping experience like no other (you have to be open minded).
Overall, I did not feel that we got our money's worth...food is pretty important to us and it completely sucked, the everlingering foul smell in the air that gets into your hair, skin and clothes will make you gag...I might try Carnival again sometime in the future (new ship), but I will definitely not cruise on the Inspiration again.