Embarkation was a breeze, with staff at every turn to direct us on toward the next staff member as lines were forming. DH dropped me and parked the car. I went through the line and had to let other people go ahead of me, because the line was shorter than the car-parking process! Very smooth.
Our room was ready when we arrived, ocean-view on Empress deck. After some people-watching we went to the lifejacket drill and then stayed in the Candlelight Lounge to watch the sailaway. It took almost two hours to navigate the channels and reach the open water just after a beautiful sunset.
We opened the casino and made appropriate donations. There are about 15 slots with 1 cent/2 cents/5 cents options. After playing the pennies for a while I switched to nickels. Not a good move. Went back to the pennies pretty quickly.
We had late seating dinner at a table for 8 in the dining room hosted by maitre'd "George the Greek." Opa! Only one other couple the first night, but they were so much fun we didn't even notice the empty seats. A second couple arrived for dinner Friday and Saturday night and we all had a blast.
Formal night brought prime rib and a lobster tail (we felt free to indulge in both). They were very, very good but overall, we were disappointed in the quality of the food. I had a filet mignon one night and chateaubriand another night that were just not tender or flavorful. Not important enough to send back, just medium-quality. DH sampled the sushi one night and said it was good. It's served behind the bar outside the casino. Breakfasts and lunches were fine.
Cozumel was our only port. We were fortunate to dock (another cruise was tendering in), and the dock is downtown (used to be a $6 taxi ride away before the hurricane). The excursion to a show featuring Mexican folkloric dancers was canceled, so we just walked around. Made it all the way down the main street to Pancho's Backyard for a fresh, authentic, tasty lunch and live music.
That required a taxi back to Carlos and Charlie's, which was hopping even at 2:30 in the afternoon. I understand some passengers visited them a little too long and missed the ship, as reported by Empress hall-mates who just made the gangway in time. Carlos & Charlie's is directly across from where the dock is now, and instead of staggering across the busy street you take an escalator up, a pedestrian bridge over, an escalator down, and you can even ride in a pedi-cab (for just a gratuity) down the dock and out to the ship.
We enjoyed some trivia games with various social-staff members. The art auction was particularly interesting because of the variety of artwork and a range of prices. DH slipped his leash Sunday and purchased three pieces while I was napping. No more naps.
Risa the Cruise Director was lively and polished and very easy to respond to; we thought she was one of the better CDs we have seen. She hosted the musical shows each night and introduced the comedians Saturday. We had enjoyed Happy Cole on another cruise and he was just as good on the Inspiration - both the family show and the adult show.
We were picked to be on the Newlywed/Not-so-newlywed Game with two other couples. One married 3 months, us almost 30 years, one married 55 years. The wife in that latter couple had just won Fear Factor that afternoon and they were all terrific to meet and get to know a little. If you've never seen this show, it gets a little spicy and (therefore) hilarious. We were quick to buy the DVD but now realize there is no one we can show it to! They awarded prizes to all of us and it was just a hoot.
Now for some less-than-positive experiences. The service problems did color our overall impressions. First, I found that many areas including our whole room had a slight sewery smell. I was told it was the water source. I also found very few comfortable armchairs or sofas to just sit and talk with people. The meeting-room style chairs on Promenade are uncomfortable, and the benches in the windows are okay to perch on but have no backs. The showroom's couch-style seating has a back that is far too low to provide any support.
Next, the "casino bank" feature of the Sign'n'Sail card ate my positive balance Friday night. In September, we used this without flaw on the Carnival Glory: it allows you to insert your card and upload your slot machine balance to your room card. Well, I uploaded it, then I changed my PIN just for increased security, and I went back to use it that night and poof! The balance had disappeared.
The casino host courteously offered me a small amount, but was adamant that no more would be added. He pulled computer records that showed my card in a certain machine, but no record of uploading the balance. Strangely, my record was missing another chunk of play, and after being distressed for 24 hours I finally wrote a short letter documenting the situation Saturday evening, after Cozumel.
Be aware that the Pursers will refer it to the Casino for resolution, not take it upon themselves to investigate and solve! Anyway, no response overnight, so DH went to talk to the casino manager and arranged a resolution Sunday morning, the final day at sea. We did return to the casino, using cash, but vowed never to save our winnings to the card again.
In the category of "raise your hand if you're not here," we were charged on the last night for $12 worth of water, category "in-room beverage." Apparently big bottles of water are supposed to be in your room. We had one warm can of Sprite sitting on the desk the whole cruise, but never saw any waters. So, when the charge appeared on the bill overnight, we had no clue what it was for.
That last morning, we waited 45 minutes to speak to the Purser to remove the charge. Their system was so busy she invited us to just leave and they would take care of it. That was not acceptable to us! Thank you, Leticia, Assistant Purser, for taking care of us. She worked some kind of magic and supplied a printout showing no charges for the non-existent water.
Debarkation was a cattle-call, no calling in order by luggage-tag colors as on larger ships. Thank goodness we were in line at the Purser's Desk and didn't have to stand in line for debarkation!?! As one of the last 18 people off the ship, we walked right off. A courteous porter met us, took our luggage to the parking garage entrance, and we were off to Orlando after a relaxing long weekend.
The 4-day and 5-day itineraries alternate on this ship, and we felt the Thursday afternoon-Monday morning 4-day, with two days at sea and a day in Cozumel, was perfect for us. Tampa was an easy port to travel from. This 10-year-old ship is clean, but it's not "over the top" like newer ships.