This was my first cruise and I went with my DB (darling boyfriend), we are both 23. We drove down to Tampa from Atlanta a day early and spent the night with a friend that lives in Tampa.
We arrived at the port on the day of embarkation around 10:30am and parked ourselves. This process was easy and we were at the terminal going through the check-in and security check process within a few minutes. At 11:30 they started calling boarding group numbers and we were on the ship eating lunch on the Lido Deck by Noon. All of the staterooms were ready at 1:30 and we were happy to drop off our carry-ons since this made exploring the boat much easier. Our checked luggage arrived in front of our stateroom door by 3:00pm.
We had an inside stateroom on the Empress Deck. I can see why people like to have window cabins, however we chose to save the extra money those cost and put it towards other vacation splurges. I really liked being on the Empress Deck though. Everything was close by and we could use the stairs to easily get where we wanted to go. The elevators were slow and busy, and I was thankful we were not dependent on them to go between deck levels. Since this was my first cruise the cabin initially felt small, but once we used all of the storage space (there was plenty of it) to put our things away it felt much bigger and it really ended up being more than an adequate amount of living space for the duration of the cruise.
I can see why the Inspiration is getting dry docked in September for renovations since some of the dEcor is dated and not all of the public areas are as "competitive" as they could be with the newer and bigger cruise ships that are out there now. With that being said though, the ship was beautiful. It was very clean and everything was kept up very well. I thought it was a good size for a first time cruiser and I was able to navigate the whole ship by the end of the first day. I really liked the view from the workout facility, nothing like seeing the beautiful blue ocean while exercising! Also, the slide at the main pool was a lot of fun; it was very smooth and fast. Overall, I was very impressed by the Inspiration.
My DB and I ate breakfast and lunch at the buffet on the Lido Deck and had dinner in the dining room. Our table seating was for 8:00pm in the Carnivale dining room and this seating worked very well for us. We never felt rushed to end what we were doing in the day to get ready for dinner, and we were always done in time for the evening shows in the Paris Lounge. The food was always very good, not the best I've ever had, but always enjoyable. For the cost of the cruise I was beyond satisfied with my dining experience. My food favorites were the fried shrimp appetizer, the teriyaki ribs (you HAVE to get these!!, they were boneless and the meat was perfectly cooked), the chocolate melting cake, and the cappuccino pie. I usually asked the server for his recommendation and his suggestions always ended up being great. Carnival also did a good job matching us up with table mates - we were with 2 other couples similar in age and we enjoyed their company.
There were always too many activity and entertainment options to choose from, I definitely did not get to do everything that I wanted to. I really enjoyed the NewlyWed game, the "Shout" show, Tony Esposito (the 2nd comedian on board, he was absolutely hilarious), the galley tour and the ice carving demonstration. The "Welcome Aboard" show, Michael Panzeca (the 1st comedian on board), and the Liars Club were not that great. The Talent Show is always going to depend on your fellow guests on board, ours were pretty good. Our cruise director, Darcy, was top notch.
The service was absolutely excellent. Everybody was friendly and willing to help. I don't know what else to say about it; it was very very good.
At Grand Cayman we took a taxi (do not try to walk there, it is far away from the tender areas) to Public Beach (next to SeaGrape Beach, both part of 7 Mile beach) and floated in the clear blue water on blow-up rafts were bought at home at Wal-Mart. This was my favorite part of the trip! Grand Cayman is absolutely beautiful! There were public restrooms at Public Beach and there was also a beachfront bar and restaurant that was reasonably priced. We ate lunch there with our toes in the white sand and it was great.
At Calica (a port that is merely a quarry site, with a few make-shift shops and a line of taxis and busses) we did the Xcaret excursion. It was a decent time, but I felt the place did not deliver on its hype. The underground river was really just a slightly dirty lazy river and the snorkeling area was very shallow and crowded. Most of the animal exhibits didn't have any animals in them either. I enjoyed the hammocks on the ocean-front though and the dolphin shows were fun too.
We did the self-assist disembarkation and this was a breeze. At 7:20am we were in the Brasserie finishing up breakfast when they made the announcement that self-assist disembarkation passengers could begin to exit the ship. We went to our stateroom, got our luggage and by 7:35 we were in the parking deck loading our car.
In summary, this was an amazing vacation and I am now officially addicted to cruising. I definitely recommend this cruise. For the price, I don’t know how vacationing can get any better.
Tips that I learned for this/from this cruise: 1) bring a travel alarm clock 2) bring a waterproof disposable camera for the pool and beach areas 3) bring a hi-lighter for the Carnival Capers 4) zip-tie your luggage shut for the check-in process 5) label your luggage well 6) I brought a Glade-Plug In that also had a night light (I had read on Cruise Critic that sometimes the rooms can smell and also that night lights were helpful, especially for inside cabins) and really liked having this 7) bring your own hair dryer 8) bring a power strip (there was only 1 outlet for the whole cabin) 9) bring your own blow-up float from home for the beach areas 10) bring your own beach towels for excursion days, the Carnival beach towels are very bulky and annoying to pack or carry around 11) call your credit card company and let them know that you will be traveling outside of the country so they don’t put a hold on your card 12) bring singles for tipping (like the porter, or people on excursions or at ports of call) 13) the maitre d’ tip is not included in your sail and sign account
Hope this helps, and happy cruising!