A little about us....we were a group of 9 in total. There were 2 couples with our 4 kids (ages 3, 5, 7 & 13) and my 75 year old mother. This was my 3rd cruise, but I haven't cruised in over 20 years (was on the Holiday and Jubilee when I was in my early 20's). My husband, mother and kids have never cruised. The other couple cruised 2 times before, but not with kids.
We would have liked to have flown in a day early, but that wasn't meant to be so we booked a 6:40 am flight out of Boston direct to Tampa. We arrived in Tampa at 9:30 am, got our luggage and hopped in a taxi to the port. It was a chilly morning in Tampa - only in the 50's, but it warmed into the 60's by mid-day. We had to take a taxi and a mini-van to the port because there wasn't a vehicle big enough for us all. There were 5 of us in the mini-van and it was approximately $30 for the ride. We were at the pier before 11 am. The whole embarkation process was painless. We filled out our Funpasses on-line and were through security in less than 15 minutes. We did have to wait in the "waiting area" for our number to be called for about 45 minutes - there was some sort of delay, but I'm not sure what it was. We were in group 5 and we were on board having lunch by 12:15 - this was a very good experience.
We headed up to the Lido deck and grabbed some burgers & fries and our first Funship Special. The food was good and there were very short lines at this point. We noticed the lines grew longer as the afternoon progressed. After we ate, the kids put on their bathing suits and we headed up to the Waterworks area. It was empty, but I don't think it was because of the temperatures, it was just fairly early. The kids went down the slides about 20 times each and had the whole place to themselves. Then we wandered down to the pool so they could swim there for a few minutes before we went to check out the rooms.
Our rooms were ready just after 1:30, although our luggage didn't arrive until after the muster drill and sail-away. We had connecting cabins on the Riviera deck and one single cabin for the other family we were with. My mom and my 2 sons were in cabin R196 which consisted of 2 twins and 1 upper. There was a connecting door to our cabin (R194) which had a king size bed. My only "complaint" is that the king size bed was pushed up against the connecting door so you couldn't open it - kind of stupid. If we pushed the bed up against the other wall - then we wouldn't be able to see the TV. We decided to leave it like this for one night to see how it went. The next night we decided to move the bed against the opposite wall, but to keep the pillows at the end near the door so we could see the TV - this worked out great and we left it like that for the rest of the cruise.
The cabins were great - no complaints at all. They were certainly spacious enough for us all - there was plenty of storage (although you may want to bring more hangers) and they were very new and clean. The beds were sooooooo comfy. The bathrooms were nice and new and plenty roomy. We did bring an over-the-door shoe organizer and I highly recommend that you do this - it saved on a ton of clutter and worked out really well. The only issue I had with the bathroom was that the water in the sink was very hot - so the little ones had to be very careful. Our steward was fine - our room was always clean and stocked with ice and we had different towel animals every night. We had nice big windows which were very close to the water which was cool. I would definitely do low and mid-ship again as we didn't notice too much movement (even though we had 40 mph winds one night) and it was very quiet. The other thing I would recommend is an extension cord with more than one outlet. We had a compact extension cord with 3 outlets to charge our batteries and it worked out great.
Muster drill was in the disco and it was very quick, we went up to the deck above the pool for sail away which was uneventful. We did a little more exploring before it was time to get ready for dinner. We had early seating in the Mardi Gras dining room and Wilson was our Maitre'D. He was fine although I was hoping for George the Greek. We had a big round table in a corner for the 9 of us and we could see out the windows. A great location in the dining room which was beautifully appointed. It was confusing heading up to dinner the first night with all the lines of people trying to figure it all out, but it did go more smoothly the rest of the week. One hint - make sure you are in the correct elevator bank when heading to the dining room. The rear doors of the dining room are closed off, and if you go to the correct floor in the wrong elevator, you either have to go down or up one to get across to the correct doors - it took us a couple of days to get this straight! The service in the dining room was great except for the "drink guy". The waiters bring you water, milk, coffee and lemonade, but you had to get drinks and soda from the "drink guy" and he was very slow. He seemed new and lost, but he was very nice and trying real hard so we cut him some slack. Our head waiter (Jagadesh) was good, but our assistant waiter (Rico) was awesome and paid great attention to the kids.
A little about the food…….we liked most everything that we tried. There were some big hits and a few misses. Shrimp cocktail, Caesar salad, French Onion Soup, Short Ribs, Prime Rib, Lobster, Sweet-n-Sour Shrimp, Warm Chocolate Melting Cake and Tiramisu were probably the favorites. The Flat Iron Steak wasn't good the first night, but was excellent the last night. Grilled Chicken was always pretty good, the pasta with chicken & mushrooms was pretty good and the Baby-Back Ribs were also pretty good. The kids menu was very basic (Pizza (just OK), Hot Dogs, Chicken Nuggets & PB&J which was on toasted bread??). We also ate breakfast in the dining room 2 times and I had the Eggs Benedict which was yummy if you ordered the Hollandaise Sauce on the side so you knew it was fresh. The omelets at the breakfast buffet were very good and the other breakfast food at the buffet was good, but very basic. We had lunch on the Lido Deck every day which was fine. We did the burgers, chicken strips, mac-n-cheese (awesome) and fries and onion rings (yummy) more than we did the buffet in the Brasserie Grill. The salad bar was pretty good and the Panini sandwiches were also pretty good. We ordered room service for breakfast (boring) and we ordered a BLT, Tuna Sandwich and Chocolate Cake one night - all very good (especially the cake!!).
A little about the ship….all the areas that were re-furbished were beautiful. The dining rooms, public bathrooms, lounges, serenity deck, pool & waterslide areas, art gallery etc…were all in excellent condition and very nicely decorated. I could do without the neon glass elevators and the purple worms in the Brassiere Grill, but overall I would say the ship was in excellent condition. The mini-golf area is fun (better than I expected), there were always plenty of chairs up by Waterworks, but it was very crowded by the pool. We lucked out and were able to get loungers in the Serenity Area one morning, but it was pretty full and we just happened to be in the right place at the right time. My DH went to that area later one afternoon and said it wasn't so crowded. The only thing I want to mention about the ship is that at times, there was a smell of sewerage in the area by the glass elevators on the upper floors. It wasn't constant and I never noticed it anywhere else. It was pretty stinky when it was evident, but it wasn't there all the time so I'm not sure what the deal was. We were usually just passing through that area when we were trying to get somewhere else - so it only bothered us for a minute or so - not really a big deal. There were 800 kids on this ship - we expected that because it was Thanksgiving Week - but it didn't bother us one bit. Sure the hot tubs were full of kids at all times, but my kids were in there too so it was fine. I wouldn't have wanted to be "kidless" on this particular week though - that might have been annoying. All the kids were well behaved and weren't totally out of control - just a ton of teens having the time of their lives and I thought it was great!
Speaking of kids - I don't know what to say about Camp Carnival except that it was AWESOME!!! My boys (5 & 7) absolutely loved it. I only wished I used it a little more. They did great face painting and crafts. The got to color Camp Carnival T-Shirts and Backpacks (free!) and they went on a scavenger hunt. We went to the family Welcome Aboard party the 1st night and my 7 year old won the dance contest!! The camp counselors were so nice - even though my boys were in separate age groups - they both said it was great! I highly recommend Camp Carnival and my kids can't wait to get back there!!
Ports: Our first stop was in Grand Cayman. My husband booked a 2 tank dive through Carnival and said it was very well run. They were the 1st off the ship in the morning. The tendering process was simple - the line moved very fast. The rest of our group hopped in a taxi to Sea Grape Beach. I think the van for all 8 of us was $40 including tip. Sea Grape Beach was fine. It was very windy that day so we were getting hit with sand a little bit. The bathrooms were clean, the water was crystal clear and they had outdoor showers to rinse off. We didn't eat there, but the frozen drinks were yummy (but expensive!). There was a slight drop in the water which would be dangerous for very little ones, but fine for my 7 & 5 year olds. We did a little bit of shopping in town before heading back to the tender.
Cozumel - we really liked this port. We docked at the new pier (Puerta Maya I think) and there was a very nice shopping plaza there. We did most of our shopping on the way back. The 9 of us hopped in a van and headed to Mr. Sancho's which I definitely recommend. We did not do the all-inclusive. The ride was $4 per person. When we arrived at Mr. Sancho's, they took a picture of the entire group in sombrero's - great picture for $10. The best part was there was a man there that would let you take pictures with his monkey, python and tarantula for $5 per person. I have the most awesome pictures of my 2 boys holding the monkey, the python around his neck and the tarantula on his head!! Unbelievable photos - I would have paid $50 for these pictures so the $5 each was a steal - I still can't get over that my kids did it - just awesome! We got a big table down on the beach with umbrellas and we were waited on all day by Daniel. We had some good food (chips, salsa, guacamole, fajitas, octopus, ribs & a burger) and plenty of drinks. I only wish that our table was on the side by the pool, but I didn't discover this until the end of the day. The pool was small, but clean and a nice change after swimming in the ocean all day. The ocean was warm, there was a little seaweed, and a ton of fish. The kids were snorkeling and trying to catch fish all day - lots of fun. There were clean bathrooms and showers, but they were not private. My husband went diving again in Cozumel and said it was the best dive of his life - he was pumped! I will do something different next time in Cozumel, but I do recommend Mr. Sancho's - especially for the awesome picture taking opportunity.
Miscellaneous….The shows on the ship were very good - better than I expected. I liked both Shout and the Latin Fiesta. The magic show and comedian were good and the R-Rated show was a riot, but it was Tony Esposito's last night on the ship so I'm not sure about the replacement. The hairy chest competition was good, ice carving was OK and we also did the galley tour which was short, but worth it.
Disembarkation was a breeze. We had an early flight out of Tampa because the airline changed our original flight. We had no choice but to do self-assist. We were up in the main elevator bank by 7:45 am and it was packed. They kept calling out 2 passengers' names who were not US Citizens to report to the Disco for debriefing, but it took a while to find them. Once we were finally cleared customs by 8:15 am - we were off the ship and at the airport in Tampa waiting for our plane by 9:00 am - very impressive - we had plenty of time to make our 10:40 am flight.
Overall - great, great vacation. We really had a good time and I can't wait to cruise again (neither can DH :)), but we will definitely do a 7 day this time - the 5 days really went by too fast. I absolutely recommend the Inspiration for families with young kids - my kids had the time of their lives and I couldn't be happier about it.
Here is the address of my pictures - email if you have any questions.