This was our fourth cruise, but first for our 9 year old son. We flew in the day before to ensure that weather and any other problems would not be a factor in our getting to the ship on time. We arrived in Tampa without a hitch.
I am one who does not like to pay a lot of money to sleep in a bed and take a shower in a clean room. Tampa is a city that seems to have a lot of hotels, yet when one starts reading online reviews for the under 100 dollar places, they get a lot of bad press. It seems to me that one has to pay upwards of 200 dollars or more a night to get a decent hotel with good reviews. I went the Priceline route and got the Marriott Airport for 81 dollars a night. (Marriott's website was quoting $289) I can live with 81 dollars. This was a very nice hotel, with easy access to all the airport restaurants. It was very convenient to be able to walk upstairs after getting our luggage and be at our hotel. The cab ride to the port the next day set us back about 25 dollars.
We arrived at the port around 11:00 Friday morning, and we were boarding by 11:30. It was a very easy and smooth embarkation. As you walk onto the ship, the weeks and months of anticipation cause me to come down with a condition I like to call permagrin. I noticed that my son had it as well.
Food is waiting for you as you walk onto the Lido deck and it is the typical buffet food. If you are used to fine dining, this is not for you. If you are used to regular food, the occasional restaurant outing, the food is just fine. There is a little something for everyone's tastes, even my son, who is a finicky eater.
We had been on the Inspiration before, but it was still fun to explore the ship with my son, who was seeing it for the first time. Everything was sparkling clean and there always seemed to be someone cleaning, polishing, or working to make things right. Staff always seemed to have a smile, or cheerful attitude, and they went out of their way to say hello, or wish you good morning.
We did not participate in many of the onboard activities; opting for the warmth of the sun on the pool deck and watching our son go down the slide a 100+ times. If he was not on the slide, he was in the pool, or in the arcade. The arcade is the little kids casino, and thank god there is a limit to how much Carnival allows kids to put on their sign and sail card. My wife did attend the towel folding session which she enjoyed. My son attended a few camp carnival activities. This was mainly at night after the pool and slide closed. He went to the late night party and had a blast. It is something for him to stay awake until 3 a.m. I had complete confidence in the Camp Carnival staff and had no qualms about letting him go. A staff member escorts them back to their room at the end of the party.
There was only one stop on this trip. Our port was Cozumel. We have been here several times and we do a bit of shopping and then usually head for Paradise Beach. It is about a 15-dollar cab ride each way from the Punta Langosta pier. The beach is great, the food is great, and my son loves to swim out and play on the trampoline and climbing iceberg. After leaving Paradise Beach, we came back and stopped at Carlos N Charlies for a snack and to watch all of the crazy people. It is always fun to stand up on your chairs with everyone else and do the YMCA.
Spending time on the sundeck people watching and enjoying the ocean scenery is what we look forward to. We also like to enjoy a few libations. Needless to say, we bought our share of beer buckets. Coors Light is a dollar less than all of the rest of the beers, and when bought in quantity, can save you few bucks. We also brought a small bottle of Windsor along in our packed luggage. It was nice to be able to have a cocktail in our room. At almost 6 dollars per drink, we easily saved ourselves over 50 dollars this way.
We have cruised on Norwegian, RCCL, and Carnival. I would go on any of the three cruiselines again. However, for the money, Carnival wins hands down. We have not had an unpleasant experience with any of the cruiselines, but Carnival has bigger rooms, and when budgets are tight, we will go with the lower price. As it has been said many times on these reviews, a vacation is what you make of it. One can always find something wrong, that is not a problem. If you go looking for a good time, you will easily find it on this cruise.