This review is going to be lengthy, but also detailed and accurate.
Quick background - Male 32 cruising with my fiance who is 30. We have both been on 4 previous cruises, all with Royal Caribbean, all of which were 7 day to the Caribbean, both East and West.
A friend of mine had booked this cruise for his family. He is brand loyal to Carnival. We were invited to tag along, and since we had the time and money, decided to join him and try out carnival for the first time. It also ended up being our last time on Carnival, as I will not cruise with that line again.
Inspiration is a smaller, older ship. The smallest ship we had previously sailed on (Mariner of the Seas) was about twice the size of this ship. We have also been on Liberty of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas, all three of which were all the worlds largest at the time we sailed them, with Oasis still holding that honor.
I knew the ship was small, and a bit outdated, so I had based my expectations on that info. I had a very open mind while boarding, and was hoping to enjoy myself no matter the circumstances.
-From the outside, its very easy to see what this ship is missing - balcony rooms. You can see from the outside it seems as if there are only about 20 balcony rooms on each side of the ship. Turns out, there are actually only 28 TOTAL balcony rooms out of the 1000+ staterooms on this ship. Very dissapointing, as we have always sailed RCCL on a class of ship with a majority of exterior staterooms having a balcony.
-From the inside, the decor looks like its straight out of the mid 80s. This ship was built in 1996 and refurbished in 2007. I can't for the life of me understand how the decor is so outdated.
-The ship itself is small, but I was hoping that could be a benefit as a smaller ship would have less guests, and I was hoping for shorter lines and less crowds. We could only hope, right?
We ended up with an exterior oceanview room. This is the first time we have cruised without a balcony, and even though we would miss our balcony, the room was actually acceptable. It was spacious, and although its only update seemed to be the small flat screen tv, it was clean and got the job done. The bathroom was also ok, although our toilet seemed to get clogged way too often. A plumber came by once to take care of it, but he only fixed it for a day. Our stateroom attendant was nice, and seemed to keep things in order, however it actually took until the 2nd night on a 5 day cruise for us to actually see him. We are used to them finding us and introducing themselves, but no matter, he did an acceptable job.
This is where the real dissapointment hit. My fiance and I are not BIG eaters, however we do enjoy good food. We often go out for upscale dinners at area restaurants and enjoy eating well. This ship had no specialty restaurants. You basically have 2 options, the buffet or the dining room.
-Breakfast: We had breakfast every day in the Brasserie, which is the indoor buffet at the back of the ship, on the Lido deck. The lines were long, the food was cafeteria grade, and most of the time it was either gone or cold. The scrambled eggs were runny, the french toast/waffles/pancakes pans always seemed to be empty, there was a worker serving you bacon (you were seriously alloted only 2-3 pieces) and most of the time that was about empty too. There were 2 straight days where the syrup was empty. The food was borderline horrible, and most of the time, there wasn't enough to go around. Most of the time the lines were so long because people were holding up the lines to WAIT for them to go refill something that always seemed to be empty. There was always plenty of seating in the Brasserie, probably because no one wanted to eat in there. The fresh fruit was hit or miss, sometimes unripe, sometimes overripe, sometimes just plain bad. There was always boxed cereal and cartons of milk, but I didn't really plan on eating cold cereal all cruise long. Also, the servers in the Brasserie didn't seem very happy about doing thier jobs. Most of them seemed incompetent and not friendly. This turned out to be a common theme on Inspiration.
-Lunch: We had a little more luck with lunch, but only because they were cooking things that were hard to screw up. The Brasserie has a small salad bar, which was marginal, but in a pinch could get the job done. There is a small sandwich making station, which I used once and had a decent grilled ruben. The poolside grill was ok, with burgers, hotdogs, nachos and some cold salads. Also, there is a mongolian grill, where you pick your ingredients, and they stir fry it up for you in a large wok to order. We tried it once, it was ok. As with breakfast, most of the food seemed to be on par with a cafeteria somewhere, with the only exceptions being the made-to-order sandwich station and mongolian grill wok station.
-Dinner: We ate in the main dining room 4 of the 5 nights. We were dissapointed with almomst everything. The highlight of this experience was our dining room staff. We lucked out and ended up with a very good Waiter named Felix and a very good assistant waiter named Waldondo (or something). The food was banquet food at best, and was usually bland, luke warm, and dated (as far as creativity and presentation). There was one exception...they are offering a made-to-order Filet Mignon for an $18 charge. My fiance and I both ordered it one night, and it was the best extra $36 I had spent on the cruise. My steak was cooked perfectly and was very tender (unlike almost everything else on the regular menu). The sides it came with were very bland and unimaginative, but the filet itself was great.
-Dessert: The dessert selection in both the Brasserie for lunch and dinner and the Main Dining Room for dinner was not good. I don't have much to say about it. You could always order a scoop or 2 of vanilla ice cream, but besides that, there wasn't much to offer. The after dinner coffee was good. That's about it.
Food Overall was a huge dissapointment. The selection in both the buffet and main dining room was weak. The quality of the food in both areas was weak. If you were someone who thought this food was good, you have either never been to a nice restaurant, or have not cruised on a newer RCCL ship. Thier food is above and beyond in both quality and seclection compared to the fare on Carnival Inspiration.
I understand this ship is small, but I was floored at how small the pool area was, and by how few chairs there are on the pool deck. There was never anywhere to sit. This ship has 1 small pool on deck ten, along with 2 whirlpool jacuzzi's. Both the pool and the hottubs were always mobbed with kids. There seemed to be about 100 chairs for 2000 guests. One morning I got up at 7:30 to go and 'reserve' a couple of deck chairs by the pool - they were already all taken. I have been on a cruise ship with over 6000 passengers before, and have been able to find a deck chair in the sun by the pool - not on Inspiration.
Once again, dissapointing. I visited most of the bars on the ship, and with a few exceptions, most were horrible when it came to service. There were many occasions when I was the ONLY customer standing at the bar, and had to wait 2-3 minutes for a bartender to come over and ask me for my order. On more than one occasion I would stand there and watch 2 bartenders talk to each other for 90 seconds while ignoring me as a customer. When they did finally get around to taking my order, they were far from friendly. Thier attitude ranged from 'not giving a shit' all the way up to 'actually being bothered' by having to pop the top on a bud light bottle or make a margarita. Considering the steep drink prices, I would expect a smile and quick service. I never found that on Inspiration.
Wow, just wow. After returning from my cruise and reading some others reviews, I understand this ship is a 'training ship' for Carnival. I could not believe how pitiful the level of the entertainment staff was. It really seemed to me as if it was thier first ever cruise. The Cruise Director (Danny Giriducci) was non-existent. I saw him one time at the welcome aboard show and never once saw him for the remainder of the cruise. His ACD was friendly, but highly unpolished and unorganized. There seemed to be 3 others on the entertainment staff who moved about the ship hosting trivia, shows, contests, etc and they were all pitiful. Ben may have been the most boring human being I have ever met. I cannot for the life of me figure out how or why he is working as an entertainment host of a cruise ship. Sam is funny (mainly because of his British accent and physical comedy) but is unorganized and generally lost when it comes to getting his job done. Last but not least is Lee...boring, condescending and overall douchey. He is miserable at his job. My level of dissapointment was heightened by the bad weather on both 'at sea' days. The weather was not Carnival's fault of course, but it forced us to find other things to do than lay by the pool. I experienced more trivia, bingo, and contests on this ship than usual and all of it was either boring, stupid, or downright disasterous. The comics were both funny, but seeing as how they probably aren't actually staff of Carnival, Im not even sure I can give them points for that.
I have some good points and bad points about the casino. I am a gambler at heart, and usually book a vacation destination which includes some aspect of gambling (Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, Cruises, Aruba, Atlatis, etc). I have a ton of experience in casinos and have seen just about anything and everything. My first impression of the casino was good. For a small ship, the casino was adequate. I like the craps table, and that is where I spent most of my time. As on most cruises, the table fluctuated between having no one on it, and being somewhat busy. The first night I spent about 4-5 hours on the craps table after dinner. I noticed the craps table crew giving players a hard time about everything. Don't tap the dice, don't rub the dice, don't toss them too hard, don't toss them too soft, you lobbed them too high, you are taking too long, etc, etc, etc. It was absurd. I have an understanding of casino operations, and I realize there are procedures in place, and policies that must be followed. However, the attitudes and behaviors of the craps table staff was out of line. It was everyone from the dealers to the stick man, to the box man, and even the pit boss. After listening to this for a good 2 hours, I expressed my displeasure to the box man at our table. Instead of listening and being apologetic, he actually became defensive and aggressive. I couldn't believe this type of behavior was acceptable. They promote this as the line of FUN ships. I promise you, the level of general unfriendly-ness displayed by the casino staff was making this experience NOT FUN for everyone, even the most seasons casino veteran. I took my complaints over to the pit boss, who listened to my rant quietly, told me he understood, and offered to buy me a beer. I declined and instead decided to end my business relationship with the craps crew for the evening. It was quite easy to see that most of the other craps table participants shared my opinion about how absurd the attitudes of the staff was. It was 100% unacceptable.
Overall, this cruise is a disaster. I was not thrilled by the small ship, but I would have easily overlooked it, if the food was good, the service was good, the entertainment was ok, and there was places to sit around the pool. Unfortunately all of those things were a failure. I had initially thought Carnival was more of a party atmosphere type cruiseline, but as other reviewers have stated, its more like the Wal-Mart of cruising. If you are looking for a cruise on a budget, go for it, but be ready for dissapointment. Next time, I will go back to Royal Caribbean and spend 7 days on a large ship with good food and great service.