EMBARKATION: Drove to Port of Tampa from Orlando home, arriving for luggage drop-off at approximately 1:30 PM. I tipped the porter well and wished him very Happy Holidays, to which he grinned quite big (and I knew that my luggage would definitely make it onboard safely). Parked my car in that perfect place I discovered on earlier sailings, walked across the street and went into a few of the port-side shops for about a half hour. You can get a nice picture of the ship from Bennigan's balcony. This was the latest I've ever boarded, and did so due to suggestion on CruiseCritic, which advised to either go very early and schlepp you carry-on throughout the Lido for hours, or go on late (when there's supposed to be no lines). I'm always one of the early schleppers, but thought I'd give it a whirl. Line inside had gotten so long that they were stopping people at the door until it shortened. Creepy-crawled through the downstairs queue, then a repeat in the upstairs queue. Documentation process was quick and painless, and then went right onboard. Many passengers were already wearing life jackets, and as I quickly headed to my cabin they were advising all to report to muster stations. First impression of interior was pretty much a blur as I didn't take time to really look at anything. That's immediately when I knew I'd go back to being any early schlepper on future cruises. Much quicker check-in, and no last-minute rush. Hey, live and learn.
CABIN: This was also a test, as I booked an inside cabin on the highest deck (Verandah) which accommodated very few passengers, and was located above the officer's quarters (which I hoped would create a quiet experience, and it was!!). It would also put me close to all deck activities, and quick stair access to the busy Promenade. I've done inside cabins on several occasions, so that was not an issue at all, but won't be doing the upper deck in the future. Laws of Physics tell you that if the ship is rocking quite a bit, then for every inch you tilt on the lower levels, you multiply that the higher you go. This was definitely a cruise to test that math. Cabin steward was terrific throughout, and everything in the cabin worked perfectly. Though it was humorous that first day, I did feel sorry for a fellow Verandite who had booked the very forward suite and assumed her balcony would be private. Apparently she threw open the drapes, naked as the day she was born, and found numerous passengers just a few feet away on the bridge balcony waiting for the sail-away. While up there you have a very clear view of every single Verandah exterior. Guess not all shows take place in the theatre.
DINING & SERVICE: The service for my table (Mardi Gras Room) was perfect throughout, and I would not have changed a thing. Head waiter and assistant were on top of everything every night. My dining partners started as strangers, and ended as friends. Most memorable was the grouper (delicious beyond words), a mushroom starter, and the chocolate melting cake. There was nothing I didn't finish, unless I was too full. My sincere kudos to George The Greek for running a great food & beverage team. The Lido buffet/grill was also well run, and that 24-hour pizza always comes in handy on a cruise.
ACTIVITIES: Most of the deck events were either canceled, modified, or moved indoors. The pool was closed almost the entire voyage (unless we were docked), which really didn't affect me, but I certainly missed seeing any sun whatsoever. Hard to explain on return how you went on a cruise and got zero tan. The casino was run very well, and was usually busy since people weren't on the upper decks at all. Won me a ship-on-a-stick doing trivia one day, and also attended most of the art auctions (ended up buying two pieces), as well as entering the slot tournament (sucked big time on that one). Despite many things having to be rearranged, I still think there was quite a bit for us all to do. The Promenade bars were always active at night, and all passengers seemed to be enjoying their time there. The shops were organized and well-run in my opinion. It was fun to overhear comments from passengers who couldn't figure out how one crew member just seemed to be every place they went. They were a set of identical twins!! Also, there were 470 children onboard, and I applaud Camp Carnival for keeping them occupied throughout the voyage. It was never really an issue at all.
ENTERTAINMENT: Cruise Director, Skip Lyons, is to be commended a lot, as he was able to keep things going (including moods) during a potentially dismal sailing due to weather. He is quick, and prepared. . . . a true indication of quality in a CD. The Captain didn't show up for a major appearance during one show, and Skip was able to deflect attention away from that with ease. The passenger talent show was a real success, and I personally didn't see anyone leave from the theatre (which I think was a first for me), and I heard several people on the following days congratulating the performers when they happened up on them. The Inspiration singers were talented for sure, but definitely not at the top of cruise entertainers I've seen in the past. I think they were truly trying their best (despite forgetting words several times in the afternoon Christmas show). OK, I've been really positive so far, not yet mentioning the sea sickness . . . or the Inspiration dancers. The dancers perform in two full shows and one special (and shorter) holiday show. I gave them the benefit of the doubt the first show because I know it's difficult to perform on a moving/rocking stage. Was impressed on those occasions where they had to stand still for periods of time, as that's even more difficult, and no one fell (just some stumbling). But there were multiple times where people blanked and missed several counts of choreography, only to start laughing when they realized they were lost in the stars. If you pull that crap in Vegas or on Broadway (which CCL likes to make comparisons), you'll find yourself no closer to the stage than those tearing ticket stubs at the door. Perhaps more rehearsal on those three days where they don't perform at all would be in order.
WEATHER/ULP URP: The weather as definitely yucky, and I feel that CCL did its absolute best to make the most of the situation. Ship was rockin and rollin beginning that very first night, and passengers were having their balance and stomachs tested in many ways. Barf bags were put up at all elevators and all restaurant entrances, as well as on end tables throughout busy traffic areas. Despite being 99.9% certain that illness was completed due to rough seas, the staff took no chance of possible virus, and began to clean the entire ship (and I do mean absolutely everything that is routinely touched). Big kudos to Inspiration for that effort!! When I went up to get some 2:00 pizza it was tough to make it through all the chairs. Three steps forward, two at an angle and then a quick crossover in the opposite direction grab a chair for balance, and then start over. I had just gotten my pizza when the young lady behind me cried, Quick, hold my hair!! I turned to see a perfectly choreographed move as her husband grabbed her hair, and she bent forward to complete the ultimate ulp urp. Staff showed up immediately to begin cleaning, and I just put my pizza on the nearest table. Appetite suddenly went away, it seems. Was basically the same scenario on formal night when the woman in the fancy blue dress suddenly bent at her waist. Unfortunately the frilly ascot piece on the front went forward as well. Eww! There was also something I'd not witnessed before and I saw it happened twice. Someone lost their balance in the casino and got some of their beverage on the felt tables. There is a huge procedure that has to take place when that happens. Multiple casino staffers clean every card, chip, and piece of equipment that has a drop on it. Pretty much stops the flow of play for several minutes.
Weather also became a major factor in shore excursions. Many of the Grand Cayman tours were completely cancelled. Others that did take place were pretty much a loss (with people soaked to their undies by days end). The local restaurants made out well, though, as people could eat and drink (emphasis on the drinking) and stay rather dry. I did Margaritaville again, and enjoyed myself. Calica is nothing but a big rock quarry, and if you want to do anything, you have to go several miles away. My excursion (Beach Break) was not cancelled though in reality it was!! Sat on a restaurant patio for the majority of the time because of the rain. But when it did stop briefly, I was able to get out and take some nice photos. On return to the ship, there was one of the most beautiful rainbows that I've seen in my lifetime. When I heard quite a few crew members saying it was the best they'd seen as well, I knew I needed to attempt as many pictures as possible. Tough to do in the hard mist that was falling, but most came out very well.
DEBARKATION: Not really smooth at all, but since I didn't have an early flight or schedule to keep, it really didn't faze me, but there was grumbling going on in a BIG way. I have to admit that the information being given didn't reflect reality much at all. Each crew area seemed to be winging it, and probably not the best audience to try that with (since many had been pushed to the limit for several days). Not surprisingly, they biggest grumblers were those passengers who had been so vocally negative since Day 1. Too bad the ship didn't ever reach quite enough tilt to send them into the drink.
TOTAL EXPERIENCE: Despite it being the worst weather I'd experienced for an entire cruise, it was not the worst experience with a rocking ship (Sovereign of the Seas got that gold medal several years ago when I sailed her with a broken stabilizer -- the ship, not me). And I absolutely had a fun time while onboard Inspiration. True, I spent more time in my cabin than usual, but there were some great movies playing that I'd not yet seen, so that was a great way to fill part of the day. For me the food was above expectations, and my cabin steward kept my surroundings in top shape. The ship was spotless (though you can see some age), and I'd sail Inspiration again with no bad feelings about this past voyage. And I should also add that the holiday decorations throughout the ship really made things look festive (including those huge hanging banners in the atrium that swung like a pendulum throughout the cruise). I absolutely give Inspiration Thumbs Up.