Well this was our first cruise we have ever been on and let me say that we had a BLAST! I am going to end up posting video/pictures in a different thread, still need to get them downloaded, but will definitely post them here. Bear with me as this may get pretty long!
So first day, we had flown into Tampa the day prior to spend time there. So on actual embarking day, we got to the airport by noon. Carnival reps were easy to locate by baggage claim and very nice. Explained exactly what to do and where to go. We sat maybe 15-20 minutes to wait for our bus. The driver of the bus was really nice guy (Alan) and gave alot of information about Tampa and the ship prior to getting there. Once we were by the Port, he said, look out the right side and you will see your home for the next week. We couldn't believe just how big the ship was. Everyone was in awe!!!!!!!!
So we got on with NO problems. It was really smooth. Here's a bit of advice, when the porter takes your bags before you get on the ship, tip him/her a few dollars. We didn't right away and he literally chased us and said "I'm your porter and this is the last time you will see me, so if you are going to tip me, you want to do it now" So we did. I think the entire process to go through Port Authority and get on the ship was maybe 20 minutes. It went pretty quick. They do take your picture right before you get on and you will have the option to buy it. We did.
So we got on the ship. You enter on level 7 which is the Empress Deck. This is where the information (purser's desk) and the shore excursion desk are located. There is also a bar there and the internet cafe. We went directly to information to ask how to get to our room. They were very nice and explained it exactly to us. Found our way to our room (pretty easily) We were on the Riviera Deck, midship (120) ocean view. I was amazed at how narrow the doors are to get in to your room. WHen we opened the door, we were amazed! It is small but very nice. I had the room decorated with Happy Birthday decorations since DH's birthday was on Wednesday (21st). We put our belongings away from our carry on and went directly to the Lido Deck (level 10) where they were serving lunch. This is also where the pool/hot tubs are. There was one pool and 2 hot tubs. There is also a stage for the games and activities they have during the day. Towards the back of the ship on Lido Deck is Brasserie grill. This is where buffets are all the time for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Within the same room, they have a salad bar, pizzeria, sandwich station and dessert table. We ate most of our meals there actually (which I'll get to in a bit). Right outside however by the pool, that's where they have a buffet everyday which is usually hot dogs and hamburgers. So that's what we had for lunch.
For the rest of the day we literally explored. And yes we got lost a few times. We just wanted to see where everything was. If I remember correctly we were inside when the ship actually started moving. We didn't even realize that we had left. We did our muster drill. We were at muster station C which was up on the Promenade deck (level 9). Mind you we had to take the stairs since in an emergency you would not be able to use elevators. So up 5 levels we went. Here's another tip, don't try to go to a closer station. On most of your lifejackets, it states what muster station you are supposed to go to. If you are not at the right one, they will make you leave and go to the one you are supposed to be at. We didn't end up going to the dining room that night as we wanted to be out on deck to see the ship go under the bridge. Our luggage arrived at our room by 5:00pm. They leave it outside of your room. We made our way to the top observation deck to watch the ship go under the bridge. That was amazing!!!!!!! We did take video of it. They say that the highest part of the ship is less than 10 feet away from the bridge when it goes under. I really think if you can, go watch it! Alot of people go to do that. The cruise director does get on the speaker and tells you what time that should be done but it was around 6:15-6:30pm. Since we ended up going to watch the ship pass under the bridge, we ate at the Brasserie Grill buffet which was really good! There was a Welcome Show that night in the Paris Lounge with the Inspiration Dancers. THat was fun to watch. I would highly recommend going to the shows. They are free so why not! I did hear some people say that they thought these shows were better than some they have seen in Vegas. I would agree. There are waiters all over the place if you want drinks. Remember if you want soda, you do have to pay for it. You can buy a Fountain Card for $30 which gives you unlimited soda. We did meet one couple that only bought one card (instead of 2) and would just go to different areas to get a soda for each of them. We didn't get one. DH bought a 6 pack of soda before we left and was able to get it on the ship with no problems. I had also purchased a cooler with soda in it for him so we had that as well (6 cans of soda) Otherwise you get free fruit punch, lemonade, water, hot chocolate, coffee, iced tea (unsweetened). In the mornings there are orange juice, apple juice, some mango passion juice. We found the fruit punch and lemonade to be very sweet, so we watered it down with water. We would put about 1/2 water and 1/2 fruit punch in a glass. In our room, there was a flyer which states that you can receive 10% off of liquor and cigarettes on the first day only. The shop opened at 7:00pm. It was packed to say the least. We purchased 4 cartons of cigarettes and only paid $75 for all 4. There is also a deal with the Marlboros brands (not the ones I purchased) where you buy 4 and get one free. It was already packaged as 5 cartons together. Another tip that they didn't tell us. We were only allowed to have 1 carton per person (customs) brought back into the US.
Day 2 - This was an at sea day. We got up and ate breakfast in our main dining room. It's open seating but they do seat you with others. We met a great couple from Chicago. Breakfast was good. Everyone at the table got ham and cheese omelettes. Wonderful! We spent the day exploring again. I found the Cafe de Aristas which is where they sell specialty coffees, such as lattes, cappuccinos, shakes, etc. I stopped there everyday. That is on the Promenade Deck (level 9). The disco is also there, the casino, the Candlelight Lounge (they have Karaoke every night), and some other lounges. We spent the day outside most of the day just watching the water. We were able to see Cuba later in the day as we were getting closer to Cayman Islands. This night was formal night. There are photographers everywhere set up to take your pictures. I would recommend going around to all of them. THey have different props that you can take your pictures with. I would just go around and have your pictures taken. You are under no obligation to purchase any of them but it's nice to have a variety to go through. They are set up most nights for casual pictures but not as much as formal night. Don't worry about having to wear a tuxedo or evening gown. If you don't have one, that's fine. I wore just a black basic dress and DH wore a dress shirt with tie (no jacket) Some men are in suits, most ladies are in nice dresses, but I think we only saw one or two men in tuxedos. I thought we were going to be under dressed with what we were wearing, but that was not the case at all! There was a line to get into the dining room. Since this was the first night we went there, we weren't sure where our table was. The staff was great and let us know. We were in the Mardi Gras Dining room (there are 2) at table 101. The table was situated right by the window, so it was a great view. There were some pretty large waves that night so as we were waiting to get into the dining room, we were rocking. Could definitely feel it. I was starting to feel sick to my stomach. At dinner we ordered Prime Rib (they also had Lobster to chose from that night). There is a pretty wide variety to chose from including starters, salads, main courses, desserts, etc. We didn't like the Prime Rib and found it to be a bit tough. Service was great though. We had dessert and ended up ordering the famous chocolate melting cake. We had to try it. It was yummy. Just a bit too much liquid chocolate in the middle for us. We left dinner and changed. There was a show that night in the lounge called SHOUT. It was awesome! It had 50's and 60's music and was really well done. They are a bunch of talented people. I forgot to say that you are not allowed to take pictures or video during the shows. Don't try. I saw a few people do it and right away a staff member was there yelling at them. I would get to the lounge 30 minutes early before the show to get a seat. It does fill up rather quickly. After the show, we ended up going up to the pool area and sitting in the hot tub for a while. WE really didn't go to the pool much during the day because the Lido deck was PACKED!!! Plus it was so darn hot that I didn't want to fry. I am fair skinned so that was a fear of mine. There is a towel station down by the pool where you can get towels, otherwise you can take some from your room. We also went down the slide earlier in the day. That was fun! If you lay all the way back, you go faster, but it did hurt our butt/back a bit. It was fun however. The slide closes at 5pm, so if you want to go down it, make sure you do before that time. The pool closes at 10pm and the hot tubs close at 11pm. The pool is salt water. They drain it at night and refill it during the day.
Day 3 - Off to Cayman Islands. If you have an excursion booked for here, you will be the first ones off the ship. You have to take a tender to shore so you aren't able to just go back and forth. It's more difficult to do that so I would take what you need with you. Any pre-purchased excursions you will have your tickets delivered to your room. It will also tell you where you need to meet and what time. We didn't have an excursion booked, so we were able to get up, eat breakfast, etc. Once we were ok to leave the ship, we took our tender. You debark the ship on level 3 (where the infirmary is) You will have to show your sail and sign card so make sure you have that with you. Anything you bring back on the ship you will have to put through an xray machine and go through a metal detector. They told us that we would also have to show photo ID when getting back on but we never did. I would have it with you just in case. When we got to the island, we went in a few shops that were right there and then decided to go to Seven Mile Beach. We took a taxi and it ended up costing us $5/person to take that to the beach. Carnival leaves beach towels in your room that you can take off the ship with you. Just be sure you bring it back or you will be charged $22/towel. Once at the beach, if you want to rent a chair, it will cost $10 and that will include a water or soda. We only rented one chair for the both of us. You can also get umbrellas there as well if you would like. The water was beautiful in Cayman. Clear blue! So we went swimming for a bit. After a couple hours there, we went back to the city to do some more shopping. We got to Cayman Islands around 8:00am and had to be back on the ship by 2pm (last tender left at 2pm) So we literally only had a few hours there. WE weren't as impressed with Cayman Islands. Might have been better if we had an excursion booked. It is expensive there so be prepared if you want to shop. Once back on the ship, we showered, went to dinner, and lounged back in the hot tub. The only night we ended up going to the formal dining room was on formal night. We personally weren't impressed and preferred the casual dining experience. Off to the casino. You can use cash in the casino. You can also use your sail and sign card if you wish.
Day 4 - Off to Cozumel. We docked early this day. We were supposed to dock at 10:30am but ended up docking at 9:30am instead. So we had time to eat breakfast first and then get off. We had an excursion booked here for swimming with the dolphins. We met our group at the end of the pier. For most of the excursions you meet there. Warning it gets crowded. The Liberty also docked there. We got to our excursion area by 10:15am and were told we were going to leave in 10 minutes. However the Liberty was not there yet so we had to wait. It was almost 11am before the Liberty got in. I must say that a number of people were getting irritated (including us) only because it was hot, crowded and really no where to sit in the shade. Once we were able to leave, we walked about a block and were split up and put into taxis. The actual facility is only about a mile or so away from where we were. Once there, you have to rent a locker for $3 to put your belongings in. (Something we didn't know). BRING YOUR TOWELS WITH YOU. We found a couple that were told that they could get towels at the facility. Well yes you can but you have to pay for them. So just bring your beach towels with you. I would not put sun screen on prior to going here either because you have to rinse them all off. Oh, we were at Dolphinaris for our excursion. We did book it through Carnival. They fit you with a life jacket and also give you a mask you can wear in the water to watch the dolphins swim. They did a little show for us first. They put you into groups and each group goes into a different "pool" area with a trainer. You stand on a platform which is about waist deep. One by one you go into the deeper water to have the dolphin come up and give you a kiss on the cheek and also shake hands with you. We were given time to all be in the deep water and the dolphin would swim around you. We got the opportunity to pet her. Then one by one you get a belly ride. That was absolutely amazing!!!! After you are done, you can purchase pictures/videos. I would not try to rush into that area as it is absolutely packed!!!! There are little kiosks set up for you to view your pictures and pick the one(s) you want. They are $25/picture and $50/video. Then there are deals if you buy 2 pictures and a video etc. We only bought the video so we had the entire thing. There are tshirts for sale in there as well. But pretty expensive.
After the dolphins we went back onto the ship. Again it says you will need a photo ID but all we had to show was our sail and sign card. Showered, ate lunch and went back out. There is a shopping mall right there at the end of the pier. Carnival does not recommend that you go there. It's considered a tourist trap. Once you get out of the shopping mall, turn right at that is the shopping strip that they recommend. There are some nice little shops there. We went in quite a few. That was the best just being able to get on and off the boat whenever we wanted. The pier is a bit long so there are guys there with bikes that will drive you to the ship or end up pier for a small fee. We just walked. It's not that far. We had to be back on the ship by 8:30pm and set sail at 9:00pm. There was a magic show this night and a comedian, so we went to the show. Again I would recommend going. There are usually 2 seatings, an early one and a late one. The waves were VERY high that night and there were 70 mile/hour winds. I did get sick that night. We went to the casino and I tried to forget about it but couldn't because of the rocking. So I headed back to our cabin around 11pm to go to bed. We did bring Dramamine with us which did help on Tuesday night but wasn't helping me this night.
Day 5 - Sad day! We were sad that this was our last day on the ship. We didn't want to leave. We had decided the night before that we would just make it a lazy day. We played mini golf and hung out on one of the decks. The pool closes early this day and one of the staff members told us that it does every last day at sea. There was a show this night which was a Latin themed show. So we went to that and did some last minute shopping on the ship. The last night they have clearance sales, so you may want to save your shopping there for that night. We found out this night we were only allowed the one carton of cigarettes per person and because we were over our limit, we would have to meet with customs at 6:15am. I was not too thrilled with that. It also stated you had to meet with them if you had more than 1 liter of alcohol per person. There are also forms you need to fill out with what you are claiming to bring back in the US. It's not a specific form and you only give monetary estimates on how much the stuff is worth. You absolutely can NOT bring back Cuban cigars to the US. You can buy them and smoke them in a certain area on the ship, but you can't bring them back. There was a disembarkment talk this day at 11am by the cruise director that DH went to. I would suggest that at least one person from your party attends this. They recommend you do even if you have cruised with Carnival before since the procedures have changed.
Day 6 - Day we have to leave. So I woke up at 5:15am and we were already docked in Florida. I was sad. We went up to Promenade deck at 6:00am since we had to meet with customs. There were already quite a few people there. Once the customs officers arrived, they told everyone that if you were over 21 and had 3 liters of alcohol per person, you did NOT need to be there. Some people were not happy that they got up that early to be there. When we met with customs, we had to have that form with us. Since we had 4 cartons of cigarettes, the tax was less than $10 ($2/carton) so the officer waived it for us. He pretty much let us know that we should appreciate it too The guy in front of us had 5 cartons and had to pay the $10. Anyhow, we went to eat breakfast in the Brasserie Grill and then went back to our room to wait for the clear to leave. Customs and immigration has to clear the ship first. Then you get the OK. The way they do it is if you want to carry your own bags off the ship, you get to leave first. You must be a US citizen to leave at this time. SO I would say by 8:20am we were leaving. It was horribly crowded! The process was easy to get off the ship however. You leave from level 7 as well. You do need to show your sail and sign card and your passport so make sure you have that out. We got right onto the bus which took us to the airport. Easy!
Now that we are off the ship, we still feel like we are rocking (both of us) But we had an excellent time! Our room steward was great. Everyday we would see him in the hall way. He always said hello to us and cared about how our day was. His name is Waslin. Awesome guy! There were animals made out of towels on our bed everyday and mints. They do turn down service every night so your bed will be made and just the lights on the headboard are on.
We had read that we would need a power strip. We didn't have a problem. There was on outlet in the bathroom (yes only one) but another outlet next to the bed where there was a small "desk" and mirror. There were no hair dryers in our cabin at all. I would recommend going to the talks if you can. There are ones about recommended shopping, excursions and disembarkment. We went to the excursion one which there was a raffle that day as well. I actually won a very nice bathrobe which was worth $90. If you can't go to the talks, they are always shown on your TV. There are lots of activities going on such as the hairy chest competition, bathrobe party, ice sculpting demo, trivia games, etc. TONS of activities. Our cruise director was Felipe who was from Brazil. He did pretty much all the announcements. Our Captain did a few. There was a night (formal night) where you could go meet the Captain, but we opted not to go to that.
All in all we had a great time! We definitely want to go again. Once you see the Inspiration next to other ships you see that it's a bit smaller, but we would definitely cruise that ship again! This was our first cruise and as everyone told us, we are now hooked! definitely want to go again.
Hope this didn't get too long and I am sure I left something out. There was just so much. Have your pictures taken all the time. You get them taken everytime you get off the ship as well. You don't have to buy them all so it doesn't hurt to have them done. Get involved, join the activities. RELAX and have a great time! They told us there were 500 children on this ship but we would have NEVER guessed it! Camp Carnival really keeps the kids busy that we hardly saw any of them!!! We didn't have any issues with chair hogs at all since we didn't want to be right by the pool during the day. The shows if you go 30 minutes early (at least) then you should be fine getting a seat pretty much anywhere. There is Bingo as well. Bit expensive. $10 for one card or $20 for 3 cards. They are punch cards so you don't need dabbers at all. There are drawings all the time to win things. The first night we went up by the spa (Sports deck level 12) and were handed a card to fill out. We went back at 5:15pm and they had a drawing for quite a few treatments. The only drawing that cost us money was the raffle for the free cruise. No we didn't win (Darn it). It was $10 for 3 tickets or $20 for 10 tickets. We bought 10 and didn't win. The woman who did win, didn't seem that excited, so they actually made her sit down again and recalled her name so she would show some excitement! I would have been screaming!!!
I guess that is it for now. Like I said, I"ll post pictures and videos probably tomorrow since I still have to down load them.
Heather __________________ Carnival Inspiration 5/19/08 - 1st cruise ever!