Our pre-cruise plans were upended by the death of a close family friend. We shuffled our travel plans around, cancelled our free (with Marriott points) room at the Springhill Suites near TPA/Westshore and wound up using a rental car from National. We eventually arrived back at TPA just after noon on sailing day, dropped our car off ($37 rate turned into $46 with taxes and fees) and utilized the free shuttle National offered to get us to the port of Tampa – the ride took about 15 minutes. Free pick-up from the port is also available – can’t say enough about the great service we received from National Car Rental.
Dropped 6 bags with the porter (I’m travelling with 3 females!), tipped him $12, and we were off to security. The lines were not too bad and were steadily moving. We skipped the embarkation photo and were having lunch on the Lido deck 45 or so minutes after stepping out of the shuttle van.
The ship was packed with more than 2600 passengers, including lots of families and children, who were all cruising this week for the same reason we were – school was out.
We were in adjoining porthole staterooms, R20 & R26, 4th deck forward on the port side of the Inspiration. The rooms were a great value, with slightly more room than a standard inside stateroom, 2 port holes, enough storage, and except for when we anchored in Grand Cayman, no noticeable noise or other issues. We missed the extra room that comes with an ocean view or balcony room on a larger ship, but for a quick 5 day cruise these rooms were fine and a great value!
Spa – saw the entrance, never went in, not interested.
Gym – heard it was well equipped and busy from both DS and DDs; that’s all I know about that.
Sports deck – played putt-putt in the wind one day and made a few laps on the rubberized track with DS; it would take at least 11 or 12+ laps to make a mile; I was getting dizzy so I sat down and recovered with a DOD.
Waterworks – Kind of fun and not as crowded and noisy as the main pool area; this was a popular spot for sail away photos of Tampa. A good alternative if the Serenity area is jammed and you don’t want the noise and crowds of the main pool area.
Serenity area – aft on deck 9, access through the Candlelight lounge or by taking steps down behind the pizza station inside the Lido grill seating area. Very quiet and comfortable with lots of lounge chairs, a good mix of sun and shade, and two hot tubs (they were only sort of hot). The BEST THING about this area was the towel attendant who monitored how long chairs had been saved and was not afraid to move towels, hats and books after 30 minutes. I told Carnival they need more like him!
Casino – always looked busy when we went past; never set foot inside.
Shows – the best we’ve seen on any cruise ship or cruise line. We enjoyed the Inspiration’s very talented group of singers and dancers, with good choreography, costumes, and stages.
Candlelight Lounge/Punch liners Comedy club – great! Carl Strong performed several wonderfully funny shows; some for families and some for adults. The other comedian was just okay. If Carl is performing on your cruise, be sure to see him, but be careful about sitting up front or arriving late.
MDR – We were assigned to the Mardi Gras Dining room, table 168, a 4-top next to a service station. The location was awkward, but our waiters (Joseph from the Philippines and Mario from Peru) did their best to make it work. We carried on 3 bottles of wine with us and were charged the $10 corkage fee on each one. The first night there was a bottle of water on each MDR table, which DD promptly opened and cost me $4 – I wish cruise lines and restaurants would not do things like that, but it was a cheap lesson for DD. While service was good and improved as the cruise went along (we had a few issues where grated cheese or cracked pepper were not offered until several minutes after the applicable dish had been served) the food was just okay, with some dishes being served cold while others (including the Caesar salad) were bland. Nothing was bad, but it just did not seem to match what we had last experienced on Destiny and previous cruises. This was our first experience not sharing a table with other cruisers, but we had a few good conversations with the neighboring tables and enjoyed eating in the MDR every evening. Cruise Elegant night was on the second day of our cruise (1st at sea day) and I saw lots of suits, blazers, and shirts and ties – I did not see any tuxedos.
Cruise Director – Stephanie did a good job. Does she always sound a little raspy, or was she just having a tough week? Both she and the entertainment staff did a great job all week.
Room Steward – He must have been a ninja because while did a great job, we never met or saw him. Room was always cleaned while we were out, and my girls loved all of the towel animals.
Sushi – Deck 9, starboard side just forward of the Casino. Great snack when you need something to hold you over for late seating.
Past Cruisers party – we enjoyed good hor dourves and several watered down drinks at the party, held in the Paris lounge from 5:00-5:45 PM after we had departed Grand Cayman. The staff was collecting invitations at the door – we did not try to sneak our DDs (both first time Carnival cruisers) into the party. If you pour a glass of wine or champagne into the rum punch, you sort of make sangria and can almost taste the alcohol.
Bar servers – seemed to be hit or miss; they were either thick & very aggressive, or could not be found necessitating a walk to the bar. I purchased the soda package ($6/day + 15% gratuity) after we were underway and was still charged the Tampa sales tax – I guess you need to wait until after the ship has passed under the bridge and is international waters to avoid the sales tax.
Grand Cayman – one of my favorite stops, but this one was a little too short. We dropped anchor on time at 8:00 AM and the tenders started running shortly after that. However because priority was (correctly) given to those who had booked excursions through the ship, we could not get in line until 9:00 AM, and the loading process seemed very slow. We did not get off the tender until almost 9:45 and just made our 10:00 (ship time) Stingray and Snorkel tour with Moby Dick. After a short an informative bus ride to the marina, about 50 of us boarded the boat and took a 20+ minute ride out to the reef. This tour was much more crowded than the one we did with Moby Dick in 2009, but as I said it was Easter week and everything was crowded. Mark from Moby Dick added extra crew to handle the load and we had great fun first snorkeling on the reef with lots of fish and coral and then spending 40+ minutes interacting with the stingrays. We returned via bus to the port, after dropping a few passengers off at 7-mile beach and Rackham’s (a waterfront bar/restaurant near the port – great conch fritters!) arriving about 1:30 to find a very long line extending outside of the security area and into the bus/van parking lot. We had been warned to join the line NLT 2:00 ship time, so we joined our fellow Inspiration passengers and spent the next hour+ waiting, loading the tender, riding 5 or so minutes to the ship, and finally unloading. In my feedback to Carnival I complained about the short port visit, particularly with the delays inherent with tendering – we will not do another cruise to GC unless the port stop is longer.
Cozumel – There were 5 ships in port including the Oasis of the Seas and her 4000+ passengers, but we did not notice any crowding. We departed the ship shortly after 11:00 AM (ship time), enjoyed the long walk down the pier and through the various gift shops (do we need 10 shops selling the same t-shirts and ear rings?) to the cab line. Rates were posted ($15+tip for us) and we were soon enjoying the trip to Nachi Cocom with our frustrated NASCAR wanna-be driver. 15 minutes later we were taking our sombrero photos, checked in, paid our balance (in cash), received our wrist bands, and were deposited in ocean front loungers with a great view of the crystal clear water. Manuel was our waiter and the drinks were great, service was good, food was good (we ate by the pool - try the shrimp!), pool and swim-up bar were relaxing, and the hot-tub was lukewarm at best. Nachi was a great choice – quiet, relaxing and not crowded – just what the Dr. ordered! Between the facilities, unlimited drinks and food we thought $50 each was good value. My youngest DD is under 18 and was only charged $35 and they strictly enforced the no-booze for her rule – a first for us in Mexico. Manuel called a cab for us when we were ready to leave (about 5:00 ship time) and he was there in under 5 minutes. Another exciting ride and $15+tip later we were back at the port. The girls promptly took all of my remaining cash and went shopping while I returned to the ship for a shower and a nap.
Disembarkation – could not have been smoother. We had an 11:45 flight out of Tampa and were assigned zone 2 and instructed to meet in the Piano Bar (which still reeked of smoke from the night before) at 8:45 AM. Just before 9:00 we were led down to deck 7 and walked off the ship – our luggage was waiting, there was only one family in front of us at the customs line, we hopped in a cab ($25 flat rate), and were checked in for our flights and through security at TPA before 10:00. WOW! I wish the end of every cruise was that smooth.