We stayed at the Doubletree - Westshore and took advantage of the "Park and Sail" package. The hotel was VERY nice. The room was spacious and clean. The parking area is in a garage, so it made us feel a bit safer leaving the car there for an extended period.
The morning of the cruise, we got up and enjoyed an incredibly overpriced breakfast in the hotel before heading off to a drug store to pick up some last minute items. Then back to the room for an hour before, taking the hotel shuttle to the port. The port was less than 15 minutes away. We departed the hotel at 11am and were on the ship just after noon.
I would highly recommend this hotel for anyone looking for a "Park and Sail" package. The hotel is wonderful. It's easy to find, the staff was very friendly, and the shuttle service was very well organized and fast. The only downside was the breakfast, which in my opinion, was overpriced. The food wasn't bad, it was just pricey.
Embarkation / Day 1
We have never been to the Port of Tampa before. Embarkation was pretty quick and painless. Security was a breeze. The lines to check in were not very long by the time we arrived at 11:15 and the lines there were there were moving pretty quickly. We arrived just as they were boarding VIPs. After checking in we waited in the seating area for about 20 minutes before our number (8) was called and we were on the ship shortly thereafter.
We were not very hungry when we got on so we headed to the Lido pool bar for the first of several Funship Specials. I forgot how strong they were! Whew! They go down so easily!
After drinks we dropped our bags off in the room (which was ready a bit early,) we went to the spa for the tour. I'm not sure why we keep doing the spa tour, but it's kind of a tradition. We already know most of the services, so the tour is really just a time killer for us.
By that time, I needed to get some food in my belly, so off to the deli for sandwiches. We met up with our friends there as well. We relaxed a bit before the muster drill. The drill was as expected: a few complainers, but otherwise uneventful.
Sail away was fun. I even danced a bit (which RARELY happens.) We explored the ship a bit, threw some mone before heading to dinner.
Dinner: normally, I take LOTS of food pictures. On this cruise though, I completely forgot and just enjoyed the food. We sat at a 10 seat table at the late seating and had a wonderful first dinner (though for the life of me, I can't remember what it was.) Service was outstanding.
We were exhausted after dinner, so we skipped the show and went off to bed.
Day 2: Sea Day
We grabbed breakfast in the dining room and went out to enjoy our first sea day. We had a couple mimosas before heading to the Paris Lounge for trivia. After 6 cruises, I finally got my hands on the much coveted Ship-on-a-Stick!!
I spent most of the day on the Serenity deck away. I love, love, love the Serenity area, however I recommend getting there early if you want a seat. I'm not a sun-worshiper to a seat in the shade was fine with me. In fact, I could spend almost the whole cruise on Serenity.
Late in the afternoon, I went to the atrium bar for Name That Tune trivia. In the past, we never spent much time at the atrium bar because we were smokers. Now that we've stopped, I found the atrium bar to be a great spot for a quite drink. I didn't win trivia, but still had fun and we were introduced to Calvin, the piano player, who just started his contract with the ship.
After trivia, we stopped off for sushi. One of the reasons we like the late seating for dinner is that we can enjoy sushi and still have room for dinner.
We only went to one show on this cruise. I didn't recall seeing "Shout" on any of the previous cruises, and it was quite good. There were a couple parts that didn't really fit: specifically, the "Achy Breaky Heart" part and the incredibly white lead singing trying to rap. The rest of the show, though, was enjoyable.
Dinner that night was "Elegant Night." I enjoy dressing for dinner and it was nice to see everyone in their elegant attire that evening. I had the lobster and also some prime rib. The lobster was especially good this cruise.
After dinner we had some pictures taken, threw away some money in the casino, and went to bed. We had a big morning planned in Grand Cayman.
Day 3 Grand Cayman
I woke up at 5:30 so I could hit the gym and get ready for our jet ski tour in Grand Cayman.
The gym facilities on ship were nice. It's a small gym, but probably the perfect size for the size ship. It had plenty of treadmills (which was all I was really interested in) For those interested, the treadmills have tvs in them, so you can watch while running. I didn't take advanatage of the tv, and relied solely on my ipod and the view of Grand Cayman getting closer and closer.
Here's where things get a little disappointing. While I was running on the treadmill, I noticed the ship was rocking quite a bit. I nearly fell a few times while I was running. I didn't really think anything of it. The slightly rough seas didn't affect me otherwise...until the announcement.
As we were coming into port, the cruise director announced that due to the high winds and rough seas a few excursions had been canceled. We did not book with the ship, so we had to wait until we were on the island before we could find out if our jet ski tour was also canceled (though we suspected it would be.)
We tendered over and made our way to the Hard Rock, which was the meeting point for the Fat Fish Jet Ski tour. It was just as we suspected: canceled.
Even with a canceled excursion, we decided to have a great day. It wasn't raining, it was warm and sunny and we were on vacation. There are worse fates! So, we wandered around the island. We stopped off at Margaritaville and several other shops. We had lunch at some restaurant on the water. It wasn't the best. I had turtle soup and conch fritters. My partner had conch chowder. The turtle soup tasted like beef and barley soup. I've never had turtle before so I don't know if it's supposed to taste like that or not. I was a little disappointed. My partner's chowder wasn't traditional chowder. It was creamy, but there weren't any potatoes. The conch fritters were delicious! The jerk mayonnaise that came with them was outstanding too! I could have eaten several platefuls.
After lunch we made our way back to the ship. We got back just in time for Movie Quotes Trivia where .....
Yep! A 2nd ship-on-a-stick!
Since our excursion in Grand Cayman was canceled we decided to see if we could find one that interested us for the next port (Cozumel) We are huge Amazing Race fans and thought we would check out The Amazing Cozumel Race. We checked with the excursion desk and were told that they didn't have enough participants at the moment, but we would be placed on a waiting list. We REALLY wanted to do that one, so we hoped that there would be a surge of interest in the 15 hours that followed, but the representative at the excursion desk told us it would be very wise for us to start thinking of a back-up plan.
More relaxation on Serenity and then to the Past Guest Party. The music was great and I always enjoy cheering for the ships we've sailed. What put me off a bit was the people there just to pound down drinks. Just because something is free doesn't mean that it should be a contest to see how much of it you can suck down your throat. Really, all I wanted was a glass of champagne, but the group to our left snagged every glass as it came by. Finally, a server came by and asked what I wanted and she walked past the champagne hogs and brought me a glass. It seemed like she went a bit out of her way to bring it to me and I appreciated it very much. Off to dinner!
After dinner we returned to the room hoping to find our Amazing Cozumel Race tickets. Our hopes were dashed. So we went down to the cigar bar for a stogie and a Jameson and ginger. Everything seems better with Jameson.
We spent some time there with our friends and then back to the room where we would find the tickets for our Amazing Race excursion! woo hoo!
Next up....the Amazing Cozumel Race!!!
Day 4 - Cozumel
Our next stop was Cozumel. We had been here once before, on our first cruise, but I have little recollection of it.
I went to the gym again and hopped on a treadmill. I watched and ran as we came into port. It was very peaceful and relaxing. However, if I had known what was in store for us later that day, I probably would have skipped the treadmill!
As I said before, our excursion in Grand Cayman was canceled, so we decided to try the Amazing Cozumel Race. It was probably the best excursion I've ever been on. Ever! Fair warning: it's not for the sedentary. The race took us through the main downtown area of Cozumel and some areas that many would never see. It was so much fun. I'm smiling about it now as I type about it. I even felt a little like a celebrity at one point. During one of the challenges, someone came up and asked us if we were on the Amazing Race. I told her, "Yes" and then confessed that it was just a ship excursion. Still, it was amazingly fun!
The challenges were just challenging enough for a vacation. But it was still a race and we covered a lot of ground quickly (although not as quickly as others!) The race ended at a local restaurant where we enjoyed the 2 complimentary beverages and also the best freaking fajitas ever. The tortillas were so fresh and so was the salsa! It was here that they had the awards ceremony. We came in 5th place (out of 8.)
For anyone looking for something a little different than the normal excursions, try the Amazing Cozumel Race. If you are a fan of the show, you will absolutely love it!
After the race, we did a bit of shopping in the main square before catching a cab back to the ship. I don't know what time we got back, but I know we were both exhausted!
I scheduled a massage that evening before dinner. I scheduled a "deep tissue" massage. Big mistake. I should know better than to try deep tissue on a cruise because I was a mess by the time it was over. It hurt. I had to ask the massage therapist a couple times to ease off the pressure. Note to self: next time, go with Swedish. Do NOT get deep tissue.
We were two of the few that made it to dinner. The dining room was pretty empty that night and those of us that did make it looked pretty peaked.
We tried to stay awake to enjoy the "Mega Deck Party" but lost steam around 11pm and crashed shortly after.
Day 5 - Sea Day
Our last day. It looked like a beautiful day outside. The sun was shining, but it was chilly. Really chilly. I spent a little time in the sun but spent most of the time inside the ship reading and recovering from the previous day's massage. My shoulders hurt even to the touch for the whole day.
We spent a bit of time in the casino too. We managed to rack up a little dough that afternoon! It was an unusually profitable couple of hours. We stopped while we were ahead and cashed out before dinner.
Dinner is always so sad the last night of a cruise. The food was good, but it's sad to know that the vacation is coming to an end.
After dinner we put our bags in the hallway and headed downstairs for a couple drinks before hitting the hay.
Disembark / Final Thoughts
We were fortunate enough to get #1 luggage tags so as soon as the self-assist folks were finished we were called. It was the fastest we've ever gotten off a ship. We off the ship around 9pm. The shuttle had us back to the hotel in no time and we were on the road by 9:30.
Overall, it was an AWESOME cruise. Probably my 2nd favorite ever. The ship was in a great condition and the crew was great as well, for the most part.
We did have an issue one morning in the dining room where the service was was not up to par. It took forever to even get someone to take our order and then another eternity to get the food. We had to ask for coffee refills. I don't know what the problem was, but we normally have great service in the dining room so it was quite a shock to say the least.
Another downside that I found was with the dining room "entertainment." I normally like the singing waiters and the conga line through the dining room. This cruise though, it seemed like they started the festivities earlier than normal. Many people, us included, were just beginning to eat their main courses when the lights were dimmed and we were beckoned to dance. In all of our other cruises, showtime didn't usually begin until dessert. It's a small issue, and it didn't detract from our overall enjoyment, but it was noticed.
The room steward was exceptional. We never wanted for anything. Also, the gentleman at the excursion desk was very nice when we were purchasing our Amazing Race excursion. Honestly, when he told us that we would be on a waiting list for the excursion, I never even expected that we'd get to go, but he took care of it beautifully and we enjoyed the excursion immensely.
All in all, it was a great time and I would happily sail the Inspiration again.