I have been excited about this cruise for a long time, this was to be our first cruise over 5 nights (We have gradually stepped up from 3 to 4 to 5 nights). While looking for cruises I was trying to decide on the 7 night cruise on Miracle for it’s first sailing from Tampa or the 6 night on the Inspiration from Tampa. (Yes, the brand new Miracle would have won hands down.) But, the Inspiration won due to the unusual 6-night length and it fit our schedule. Now I can be excited about cruises over 6 nights, next year 7 nights on the Glory.
Anyway back to the review.
We arrived on Saturday about 12 noon, a day early in Tampa with 7 people in our party (5 Adults 2 Children). After driving all night from Lancaster, Ohio, (16 hours) we stopped by the pier to scope it out. This was the second time out of Tampa, but the port has been built up with little shops and a large IMAX since the last cruise in 2000. We then went out and ate at some rib place on Grandy Blvd. Just off of the Expressway. There we had the best ribs, pulled pork, and fried pickles. Being from Ohio we never heard of such a thing as a deep fried pickle. It was good, and would have it again! Then found our way to our friends house and slept.
Sunday we went to the terminal about 1:30 pm. The buses and everyone else seemed to have already arrived. Total Chaos then pursued: We were told to pull up and drop off the luggage then go park the van across the street in the garage. Our porter came and grabbed the bags and politely waited for his tip (I tip $1 Bag?) while I fumbled for the ticket, Ids, and Birth Certificates needed. A Carnival representative directed the rest of party into a long security line just to enter the terminal. I then took the van to the garage. The signs took me around the loop and behind the parking garage (I believe a large float some people were working on behind the garage blocked the other signs because I ended up near the expressway. It is the second garage away from the terminal. Price $10 per day prepaid). I walked back to the terminal tiring to find my party and they were already inside. The man at the door would not let me in, stated I had to wait in line. I got in line, and got back to the door, and I did not have the required ticket, which my wife had. She finally saw me and came to the door and bailed me out. The man then did not want us to get back in line where the rest of the party was but to wait at the end and continue to snake through the security process. We eventually moved through and joined our party on our own (some people did seem dissatisfied) before showing our ids and going up the escalators to go through the x-ray machine and metal detectors. There we waited in another line to get up to sign in and get our sail and sign cards. (This is were we found out the Grand Caymans would be skipped and we would go to Calica/Playa del Carman instead, I had reasons to believe it would be after reading several other boards). We were on the ship by 2 pm. (In 2000 we arrived at the terminal at 11:30 am and was one of the first people thought the lines and on the ship by 12:15 pm.)
Still impressive from the outside to stand over 14 stories tall among the other buildings (we saw it bright white paint with the red and blue tail from the expressway and 275 when coming in). When we walked on to the ship I was expecting to see the large gold colored statue in the atrium, but this was gone and replaced by a bar. The decor of the ship was normal for the class of ship, lots of glass, abstract lines and contours, neon lights, and colorful carpet. Most of the public areas seemed well kept for the age of the ship. The elevators however showed lots of wear (cracked mirrors, dented panels, lights out, faded floor names) and did not have carpet, they had a lovely tile design (possibly for easy clean-up if you experienced cruisers know what I mean). The rear doors in the Brasserie were slow to open and shut if they did open. But I did find the pools on the Lido deck open for enjoyment, and a great deli in the Brasserie (Get there early, the lines were long).
We were in Cabin R176. This was an inside cabin on the Riviera Deck. The others in our party wanted an outside and were across us in R174 (their cabin on arrival smelled like a smokey bar but dissipated or the cabin steward sprayed something while we were out). The rooms were normal and up to par with any other similar class Carnival ships. In the room was a closet to hang clothes, shelves for other clothes, a safe, drawers, desk w/mirror and stool, a chair w/footstool, two twin beds, and two pull down beds. The bath was clean and the cabin showed little wear. We were promptly greeted by our Cabin Steward named Thomas and called us by our last names whenever he saw us. We had kids in our room and had several towel animals throughout the cruise, however the cabin across from us did not have kids and only had one towel animal the second night. On other cruises we were spoiled, our cabin steward would straighten the room, during this cruise only the beds were made, turned down, towel animals left and fresh towels left. Thomas did come through one night when one person in our party became sick, he helped with a wheel chair, emergency needs, and continued to check up on the person.
The food was wonderful. The Brasserie for breakfast was the same every day as was it in the Mardi Gras dining room. We had great service in both areas except for one day the service as terrible in the Mardi Gras dining room when the wait staff did not check up on us after bringing the food nor did they refill our glasses. For lunch the menu changed daily in the Brasserie, there was also a newly added Deli back by the 24 hr Pizza Bar that served grilled and cold sandwiches (The Ruben was excellent). The pizza bar is similar to others in that class. The Lido near pool side also has a self serve area that served hot dogs, hamburgers, and chicken w/fries every day. We ate dinner every night in our dining room the Carnivale (the Carnivale and the Mardi Gras were Carnival’s first two ships, just a little trivia that may be needed). We found our set the first night and were promptly met by our Assistant Waiter Goran of Macedonia and then Head Waiter Owen of Jamaica. Both were the best wait staff we had, they always knew what we wanted and had our glasses full till the time we left. If it wasn’t right they would fix it.
The comedians were all great and provided two shows one -- PG around 10 –10:30 pm. And then an R rated after midnight (the comedians were just as funny PG as they were R). One night a juggler attempted a show, it was amazing with the rocking and all the vibrating the ship was doing. The Two Broadway Review style shows were also good, but did not watch all of it. The games seemed unorganized, and similar to the last 3 cruises but a lot of fun to watch. The bars seemed not to have many people in them, but Karaoke was always packed.
We have been to Cozumel before and were not impressed…were afraid to go back. But however in 4 years things changed. They have built up all the piers to accommodate tourism very well. We docked at sunrise at the closest pier toward downtown. (Our first trip could not handle these ships at that time and ended up 5 miles down the road and had to take a taxicab ride to and from the ship). This time the pier has been built up for convenient shopping. There is a Burger King there and a small grocery/drug store on the upper level to get a 20 oz coke for $1.00 (Pepsi is $0.80). Everything is in pesos at an exchange rate of 11.5 Pesos to 1 cent (most people divided by 10 -- when you went out to eat and the bill states $260.00 it is shocking) it was roughly $26 us dollars or 22.60 at the exchange rate. We shopped for all of the free stuff and ate at Las Palmeras in the center of town. The food was great, they served free chips and fresh salsa and the ship gave us something for a free drink. After lunch we negotiated a $39.00 glass bottom boat snorkel tour down to $18.00 per person. After the snorkel went back to the ship and cleaned up for dinner. About 10 pm we left and headed to Costa Maya.
This was one our favorite ports to visit. After circling for a few hours off the coast we were allowed in (for a awhile it seemed we were doing u-turns while a Princess Cruise ship docked. I later talked to the Head Chief from a Holland America Ship and he stated they some ports only allow you in at certain times.) When you get off the boat no matter where you go they all have the same stuff. Get out of the little port area and go to the fishing village. The fishing village is called Majahual, its about 5 minutes away ($3.00 per person van ride, actually we opted for the authentic Mexican open air truck, painted like a zebra). This is the place to relax and enjoy the beach. I think the shopkeepers have buddies that are taxi drivers (we noticed certain cab drivers would drop people off in front to the same spot, then get what seemed to be kickbacks… money, food, and drink). But we found a spot on the beach to rest, a guy came up offered a ice cold coke and popcorn for $1.00. He also brought over fresh coconut and carved it into our own personal coconut glasses and popped in a straw (Coconut Milk $1, seeing a lady fall off of a jet ski and lose her clothes right in front of you: Priceless). It was fun, but I did not like to coconut milk. After a while we went down the shops and made a few deals. The taxi cab back the drive ($2 per person) stopped at different areas to take pictures without asking (I tipped him an additional $2). The ship left a 6 pm.
COZUMEL (Yes Cozumel Again):
We have come to love Cozumel. Twice in one sailing the shopkeepers were thrilled to have 7 ships in port in one day. This made it very busy. But for us we were stuck at the old ferry pier (this is the center pier near the new one 5 miles outside of town). Again, however, the town has been built up and there was plenty of shopping at the pier. We even ventured back downtown and went just 2 blocks off the main drag and found lots of good deals, and a lot of people who did not speak English (but thanks to Dora the Explorer and her easy Spanish teaching techniques we were able to work some good deals). After shopping we returned to the ship and I went out and found a 2 tank scuba diving trip with gear rental for $60.00. My dive buddies were the dive master, a young Mexican that could have stayed down for hours, the Chief of the Holland American Ship (who packed a picnic for all of us), a fellow Inspiration passenger from Florida, and myself. We set out for a wonderful 70 ft reef dive and a 40-70 drift dive along a wall. It was great, enjoyed it and would love to go back now for a 4th time.
The kids loved it, could not get them away. They insisted they go to Camp Carnival(they are 4 and 7).
This was easy, ate breakfast that day, and went to sit in the lounge. We were one of the first colors called. (They have a new debarkation process: if you are physically capable of carrying your own suitcase, you can leave as early as 7:30 am; however they did state you cannot push, pull, or drag anything. It must be easily carried, and you have nothing to claim in customs.)
Overall this was a great week. We were a little upset that we had to swap Grand Cayman for Calica and then for Cozumel again. I have already booked Carnival again for year but may look around.
I saved most of the Negatives for Last
One area of extreme dissatisfaction was the Internet service and the ability for the staff to use a TTY machine. We bought 100 minutes and could only use 15 minutes because of slow connections and the Internet being down all the time. We were refunded the remaining minutes, but would have never signed up ($3.95 to sign up plus minutes) if I knew I would have had so many problems. TTY machines are for the hearing impaired, and one was installed in our room for my wife to use, most of the staff could not work it when she called the information desk (thanks god for Hector).