When we decided to celebrate our 20th anniversary by taking a cruise, we went in looking for a very inexpensive trip that also fit our schedule. This cruise was preceded by a week in Disney World with our 10-year old whom we shipped off to the grandparents so that we could have some mommy and daddy anniversary time.
From the start, we had very low expectations as this was a Carnival cruise and we were somewhat snobbish. At each point we were met with smiles from the crew, especially the check-in staff. Once on board, we went right to our cabin, a Main deck midships interior stateroom that had a lot more room than I expected. It was well ventilated and unless someone walked by with a loud voice or heavy footsteps, we could not hear anything in the hallway.
Here are our observations, cheers and jeers:
The ship: Time for redecoration, Carnival. Dated is the best word I could use to describe the Inspiration's New Orleans themed decor. And who decides what gets shown on TV? The major networks were represented by Denver affiliates. Denver? We're in the Western Caribbean. Obviously, if you're in your cabin, you're not spending money in the bar; a place where the ship wants you to be. But for a ship with an east coast route that on our cruise seemed to be populated by mostly Floridians and east coasters, I would have expected something more Eastern. Oh, and if you're a ship nerd, take the behind the scenes tour. It was great seeing the crew areas, bridge, and engine control room. It really tied things together for me. The mostly Italian crew was so proud to be a part of this ship's operations that it showed in the way they did their presentations. Lastly, during this tour, it was revealed that the Inspiration is a training ship, most of the cruise staff works here to then be relocated to other ships. While it showed occasionally, it wasn't obvious.
The food: with few exceptions, the food at the buffet was OK, not spectacular, but edible and filling. The only problem I had was the fried chicken - I tried picking pieces that were not too overcooked, but I was left very dry. In the Mardi Gras dining room, things were very different. Everything was well displayed, well cooked and with only one exception tasted very good. The exception was a lobster bisque that was not prepared to my liking. Otherwise, I looked forward to our dinners. One observation: we took the Your Time dining option which allowed us to show up at the dining room anytime we wished. Of the five dinners, only once were we seated immediately and that was at a time in between the early and late seatings. We were given a pager and told to wait for each of the other four dinners. The waits were not long, I think the longest we waited was about 15 minutes, but the first time we came to dinner and given a pager was somewhat surprising.
The service: Our cabin steward was very attentive even though we met him late on our first night. Our cabin was always clean and our bed was always turned down at night with chocolate mints and the next day's cruise newsletter. Our ice bucket was always filled (something that I remember I needed to remind our steward of during our Disney cruise). This was one area where our expectations were exceeded. Because we ate a different times, we had different dining staff each time, however, I think because we were there at different times, we had unusually long waits for our orders to be taken, for food to be delivered, and for bar orders to be filled. Again, something to watch for if you take the Your Time option. All other staff and crew that we interacted with were otherwise OK, the cruise director was very personable, the assistant cruise staffers were typically corny.
The itinerary: We had never been to Mexico nor the western Caribbean before so we would be experiencing new places. Grand Cayman, our first port, was very pretty. We selected on board, the Best of Grand Cayman tour, a bus tour with stops at a beach, a turtle farm, the Tortuga Cake store, and Hell, about three hours in total. We found Grand Cayman very pleasant and the Turtle farm a very interesting place to stop. Tendering wasn't a problem, but for the folks behind us in line there was a delay while the tender needed to change positions and then accommodate a handicapped girl. Be forewarned: the tenders are not wheelchair accessible and there can be large gaps between the tender and the ship's ladder. The crew did a commendable job with the young lady, but, it would seem to me there's got to be a better way to accommodate wheelchair bound guests.
Our second port was Cozumel and our tour was a 7 hour trip to the Mayan ruins at Tulum. While this was a very hot day, our tour bus was air conditioned and we were never uncomfortable until we returned to the bus after walking the ruins. Again, be forewarned: much of this tour was travel, ferry from Cozumel to Playa del Carmen, bus from Playa to the ruins. The star of our tour was Tour Guide Juan, a Mayan descendant who gave us the best history lecture I've ever had. He talked almost 4 hours straight, but it was not idle chatter. I would recommend this tour to anyone and if there's a way to get on Juan's bus, fight for that spot.
The disappointment: After walking around the ruins in the Mexican heat, we really didn't want more heat. A day at sea was our last full day of the cruise and we didn't want to spend it outside on deck. We were dismayed to find that there were no truly comfortable reading locations anywhere indoors. There was a library and the internet area, but none of these places had anywhere one could recline and put one's feet up to read or simply snooze. We wound up spending many hours in the buffet, but a booth there was just not that comfortable.
The surprise: We came into Cozumel near 11 am and before we docked, the cruise staff wanted the tour groups to organize early. We arrived in one of the lounges and sat facing a set of windows. As I was looking out the window, I saw that we were docking near another, larger ship. It was the Oasis of the Seas, RCI's monster leviathan. How the Oasis stays upright I'll never know and how sea captains of other ships don't get a case of ship envy is beyond me, but, in a word WOW. The other ships I've been on were certainly bigger than the Inspiration, but, none compare in sheer size or visual impact.
Anyway, this would be a cruise line I would travel again but I would definitely not go to Mexico in August.