This was our first Carnival cruise (Royal Caribbean and Norwegian previously). We booked this cruise because of a great military discount that could be combined with my credit card rewards and FF miles for the flight from NY to Tampa. Couldn't pass up the opportunity for the low price and had no expectations. What a pleasant surprise! I have very few complaints about the cruise and will probably sound petty with the ones I mention since they are so minor.
We paid $25 for a cab from the Tampa airport to the cruise terminal; however we learned later that we could have taken the Thrifty/Dollar rental car shuttle for free because since we had reservations for a car post-cruise.
Here are a few comments and observations -
Embarkation: Efficient and organized. It was less than an hour from arrival at the port till we were in line for lunch on the Lido deck. The worst part of the embarkation experience was the hold-up by photographers at every turn and ramp. They are set up in the main walkways, blocking the flow of traffic. Get out of my way.... I just want to get on board and start my vacation! These same photographers continued to drive me crazy during the cruise. They were in my face way too many times: at each meal (with silly props), at every port (holding up the line again!) and scattered around the ship.
Cabin: Super clean and well-organized room. Nice bathroom with toothpaste, razors, shampoo & body wash furnished. Watch the water temperature in the shower! I didn't understand that one knob was for temperature control, in Celsius, and nearly scalded. The retractable clothes line in the shower was handy. Pack a couple clothes pins. The flat screen TV gets plenty of stations and current movies. The bed was very comfortable. Minor complaints: no fridge and dirty window (from the outside). Salt spray from the ocean keeps the window "cloudy".
Public spaces: Loved the Serenity deck! We spent hours each day relaxing here. The chairs and loungers had thick cushions, and there were plenty of side tables for our drinks and umbrellas for shade. Low-volume background New Age music masks the noise of the kitchen exhaust just around the corner. We never had a problem finding a place to sit. There is also an adult-only outdoor eating area above the Serenity deck, off the back corner of the Brasserie, by the pizza shop. It's nice to have the option of a kid-free/teen-free place to hang out.
Dining: We ate in the Carnivale Dining Room every night, 8 PM late seating. Small portions and much diversity were ideal. I sampled a couple different appetizers and entrees at every dinner. The melting chocolate cake with a side of ice cream was perfect! We had a breakfast and a lunch in the dining room, but preferred the buffet at the Brasserie. I found the buffet to be far superior to the other cruise lines - lots of variety and decent quality. The sandwich and pizza areas were terrific also. Sushi was freshly prepared each evening at 5 on the Promenade deck. We used room service for coffee in the morning. The galley tour was interesting.
Ports: We love to snorkel, and since we had been to both Grand Cayman & Cozumel before, we brought our own gear and planned to snorkel from shore at both ports. In GC that plan worked out fine. We snorkeled 2 sites, then back to the ship to clean up and have lunch, then back to shore to walk around. I dislike shopping in Grand Cayman - way too expensive! Unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate for snorkeling in Coz. We took a taxi into town ($6) and walked inland a couple blocks to a nice open shopping plaza. Prices are much lower than on the main waterfront street or at the cruise pier. The new department & grocery store, "Mega" was interesting. Little packets of local spices were priced 3 for a $1.
A few other observations:
The plan and organization of the Inspiration is confusing. Because of the center atrium area, you can't just go from the back of the ship to the front of the ship. You have to go up and down and around - I was constantly lost and confused! To add to the confusion, decks are sometimes lettered ("E"), sometimes numbered ("6") and sometimes named ("Empress"). There didn't seem to be a consistent system nor decent signage with directions. I think that the Serenity deck is so quiet because most passengers can't find it! Many of the balcony cabins were quite exposed as the balconies jutted out over stairwells. I'm glad we didn't pay extra for that.
The ship was recently refurbished so everything is nice and clean. But the décor is tacky with way too much purple, plastic and "brass". I couldn't understand the color combinations used in the Brasserie and the crazy tube decorations.
On the last day at sea there was a special laundry offer: $15 for everything that fit in a bag they furnished. We were continuing our vacation in FL for a few days post-cruise so this was perfect for us.
I wouldn't hesitate to cruise on Carnival again. Overall it was an excellent value.