Background: I'm 31 and my husband is 37. This was our second cruise, our first being the Southern Caribbean on Carnival Destiny. We also took our kids along for their first cruise, ages 12, 7, and 5.
Pre Cruise: We stayed at the Chase Suites hotel in Tampa, which is about a 10 minute drive from the airport. We booked a 2 bedroom suite with a kitchen. We booked the "Ship to Shore" package which included transportation from the airport to hotel, hotel to pier, and pier back to the airport for $149 for all 5 of us. When we booked, we were directed to call the hotel when we were at the baggage claim in the airport. We did and they were there to pick us up promptly.
Our room was very nice and clean; a step above the typical Holiday Inn experience. Shortly after we arrived, we discovered we had no hot water. I called the front desk and they sent maintenance within 10 minutes. They were unable to fix the hot water heater but they did give us another room.
We ate dinner at Bahama Breeze, which is right behind the hotel. The food was really good and the service was excellent. Prices are also reasonable.
Price included breakfast and also a 'waffle station' where you could make your own waffles. Other fare included toast, cereal, muffins, and bagels.
Getting on board We took the hotel van to the pier around 10:15am. We arrived at the terminal at about 11am because we had to turn around to pick up some other hotel guests the driver forgot were supposed to be in the van.
The check in process in the Tampa port was very organized and efficient. After having checked in at San Juan where chaos reigned, this was a pleasant surprise.
The ship had a delay in debarkation, so we did sit for about an hour until we were able to board. We made it on board around 12:00 noon and went up to the Lido deck for lunch until we could access our cabin.
Cabins/Steward We booked two 6B connecting cabins on the Riviera deck, R194 and R196. I love that Carnival has included more connecting cabins on their ships. This worked great for us and the kids. Two bathrooms and a lot more space were very handy to have! The cabins were about 15 cabins from the aft. The motion wasn't too bad, but we definitely had vibration a lot of the time.
The cabins were typical Carnival oceanview cabins. They were upgraded with the flat panel TVs, but in our cabin, the TV was mounted to the same wall as the head of the bed, which makes no sense. If we wanted to watch TV, we had to lie on the foot of the bed.
Our cabin steward was Mohammed. We saw him twice the entire cruise. The only complaint we have is that we did not have ice in our cabins a lot of the time. He'd sometimes fill it in the morning, but never at night. We left a note asking him to please fill the ice, but no luck. However, we did leave a note for an extra beach towel and we had the 5th towel every time we had to exchange them. Of course, we had our towel animals every night.
The Ship/Activities/Shows, etc… Inspiration is what she is….an older ship. Besides the elevators desperately needing a facelift, she shows her age well. The crew was constantly out and about wiping railings, cleaning floors, etc…
The size of the Fantasy class vs. Destiny was a non-issue. I thought I'd really hate being on a smaller ship, but it really didn't seem that much different. I really thought I'd miss my balcony as well. I did, but it wasn't that bad. Especially since the Chopin Lounge (smoking) was directly 8 floors above us…only a short ride away! ?
We noticed a definite vibration issue in the aft areas, including the Carnivale Dining Room, Chopin Lounge, and the Candelight Lounge. The vibration was not a fleeting issue and was present throughout most of the cruise. My Diet Coke vibrated right off the table in the Chopin Lounge before I could catch it, so I know this wasn't just me feeling it.
We did notice (and DON'T flame me because I'm not saying anything bad!) that there were quite a few senior citizens on this cruise. Everywhere we turned around, scooters were whizzing past us. This also might explain why I didn't see the typical "casual" dressing in the dining room.
Our CD was Felipe Couto. I personally don't take too much notice of the CDs so I have nothing to report except for he was in fact the CD and loves to end every announcement with "woo hoo."
We tried to attend the dance show the first night and were (pretty rudely) turned away at the door because there were no seats. We were told we could not stand in the back either. We were told to come back at 10:30pm for the next show but we had two small children who wouldn't make it that late. I find it peculiar that they don't allow enough seats in the lounge/showroom as there are seats for each dinner seating so that everyone can attend. We were pretty miffed about the treatment we received at the door and our daughters were very disappointed as we really hyped the show up to them.
We did attend the illusionist (Mark Miller) act and the comedy show the following night. The illusionist was pretty disappointing as he only did two 'tricks' and they weren't even good ones at that. The comedian (the name is slipping my mind…) was pretty good. My kids even enjoyed his act.
The shops were decent. The lady in the Formalities shop (Daneta?) was super about helping find a shirt in the right size that my daughter had her heart set on. She had it for us the next day and even gave the girls a piece of candy because they had to wait. Very nice!
The casino was terrible to us as always! ? We did not attend karaoke or any other shipboard activities. The kids did do some activities at Camp Carnival and Circle C.
My girls loved Camp Carnival. They were in two separate rooms, as they are 7 and 5, but this didn't faze them at all. They spent the majority of the time with us, but did go to the Build a Bear session and spent three hours at Camp one night after dinner, where they colored a backpack, made a turtle, and had their faces painted. The staff at Camp Carnival was wonderful to my girls and really made their vacation even more fun!
My 12 year old said Circle C was a flop. Inspiration does have a separate room for Circle C now. He went to a t-shirt coloring session, but everything else was pretty much a video game free-for-all. The activities for this age group are pretty lacking. I do understand that they want to allow the 'older' kids more free time, but a few more organized activities wouldn't hurt. Carnival does allow the 12-14 year old kids to check themselves in and out.
Dining Room/Food/Buffet This was the area in which we were disappointed the most. We never expected 5 or even 4 star quality (we have sailed Carnival before), but we had much better food and service in the dining room and on the Lido on our previous cruise.
We had early (6pm) seating in the Carnivale Dining Room. George the Greek is now the maitre d in the Carnivale Dining Room vs. Mardi Gras. We heard a lot of "Oompas" but he never stopped at our table once during the whole cruise. We were never greeted at the door either. I fail to see what all the hype is about this maitre d. He was no different than any others and just like the others before him; we did not leave a tip.
Our headwaiter (Linden from Guyana) and assistant waiter (Rodel from the Philippines) were pretty good. Rodel got my girls up and dancing doing the Macarena. They were thrilled about getting the special attention. Linden treated our children very nicely and always had a recommendation for that evening's meal ready for us.
Our bar waiter, Fitzroy, didn't even show up at our table the first night. The headwaiter had to track him down for us. No matter how many times we told him that I drank the Diet Coke and my husband the regular Coke, he always mixed them up. I'm not complaining; we found it sort of funny. Even our kids got in on the amusement of the 'switcheroo' game.
Overall, the food was pretty mediocre. Medium well steaks came out a hair away from mooing themselves off the plate, a grilled salmon came out ice cold and raw, French fries cold, etc… I can honestly say I did not have one main course that was enjoyable. I did enjoy the strawberry bisque as always and also the bing cherry soup. That was a favorite with my kids too. My husband says the lobster and the lamb were OK but nothing rave but the Baked Alaska was pretty good.
Dress code wise, I never saw anything terribly offensive. My husband and son were the only ones we saw in tuxes on Elegant Night, but everyone else had at least a tie or a dress on. One night, the people next to us showed up in beach wear (complete with bathing suits and flip flops) but were allowed in. This was on our Cozumel port day, so I'm thinking they got back a bit late. I personally don't care, but I know some of you love to hear about it, so I thought I'd share my observations. ;)
The Lido deck buffet and restaurant was NOT an enjoyable experience unless we went up at 9-10pm. Every day at breakfast and lunch, I had to clear a table to sit down. I would bring up 1-2 trays of someone else's dishes and ask for a towel to wipe the table and the staff gave me a towel let me wipe my own table vs. coming over to help me. These were not people busy doing other things either; they were standing behind the little podium or talking to other employees. I did not encounter one member of the Lido staff that could even crack a smile when I said hello. On the rare occasion a thank you was merited, I couldn't even get a "you're welcome" in reply. I watched and counted 5 employees who walked by an ice cream spill (a small mountain…not a tiny spill) and not one of them stopped or came back to clean it up. It was still there when I went back to get some more lemonade an hour later. We really enjoyed the strawberry/chocolate twist frozen yogurt though. It wasn't us who made the mess! LOL
We did the Deli once. One time there was a grilled ham and cheese on the menu and my son asked if he could have it not grilled. They said he had to have it grilled and wouldn't give it to him cold. The turkey sandwiches were pretty good.
Pizzeria was OK. We had a few long waits (20 minutes + a few times) but the pizza was as expected.
Ports of Call/Sea Days 1st day at Sea: It rained and it was pretty chilly. We managed to find things to do indoors and eventually my kids talked me into getting into the pool. We swam for about a half hour and back inside.
Grand Cayman: We finally found some sun and warmth that day, although unfortunately we left at 3pm. We took a cab to Royal Palms (Seven Mile Beach) for $4/pp. We did not eat here, but did pick up some drinks. The beach was great, good swimming and not too crowded. After we left the beach, we did some shopping around the area. We stopped at Margaritaville (only for shirts…we had the kids with us!) and the Harley Davidson store, along with a few other shops. Shopping here is a bit pricier than other ports of call, so be warned! ?
Cozumel: We arrived to mid 70's temps and cloudy skies in Cozumel. It was also pretty windy. Not great weather, but better than the -50 we left behind in Iowa. The ship docked at Puerta Maya.
We booked the Dolphin Encounter at Chankanaab Park directly through Dolphin Discovery. They did not tell us that the time they gave was their local time and not ship time, so we were about an hour early. We let the kids swim for a while before it was our turn with the dolphin.
They broke us up into groups and led us into the cages. We all pet, kissed, and shook hands with Louis (our dolphin). They took pictures and video of the encounter. 9 pictures and the DVD cost $95 USD. They were going to give us 6 more pictures for $149 USD but we only purchased the kids' pictures; we left ours behind. We were in the DVD after all. The DVD is pretty good.
After the dolphins, we went to Pancho's Backyard for a quick lunch. Two margaritas, three juices, and 4 plates of nachos cost $70 USD. Great food and service, but a bit more than we thought we'd like to spend. The margaritas are STRONG though, so beware. I had to throw half of mine out or I'd have been too drunk to care for the kids! ?
We did some shopping around the pier and headed back on board about 5:15pm.
2nd day at sea: Windy, cold, windy, windy, windy….did I say windy? ? All of the upper decks were closed all day long. This day the kids went to Camp Carnival and we just did some walking around. We did go and lose some money in the casino as well.
Debarkation This was 100,000 times better than in San Juan. We never self disembark and we were zone 24. We went to the Lido, ate breakfast (actually didn't have to clean my own place this time) and waited. We were called at 9:45am and were completely off the ship by 10:00am. No stampedes and people actually waited for their numbers. Customs was a breeze. Very painless process and for that I was pretty happy!
I would just say this cruise was OK. Not a disaster, but nothing to get totally ecstatic over either. The weather was a big downer, but that couldn't be helped and that has no bearing on my thoughts of our experience on Inspiration. We loved both Grand Cayman and Cozumel, although we had less than stellar weather. I had read great reviews of the ship and her crew before I booked so I figured we'd be in for a great time. I can't honestly say I had a great experience.
Would I sail Inspiration again? Probably not, unless a crew changeover happened. Wherever the majority of that crew goes, I hope I know so I don't book that ship.
Would I book another Carnival cruise? I have one booked now that we'll keep booked, but we might try something else next time. This cruise left a… we won't call it bad, but rather bitter, taste in our mouths for Carnival right now. I still want to try a Spirit Class ship, so there will probably be at least one more Carnival cruise in our future.
Would I sail from Tampa again? Definitely! Tampa has it GOING ON when it comes to their Port. It's a great place to visit as well. Friendly people, great scenery…we loved it!