My mom (62) and I (41) took our first cruise together on May 2, 2011 on the Carnival Inspiration out Tampa for 5 days. This was her first cruise and my second. Both of my cruises were with Carnival. We had an Oceanview cabin on the Main deck (M118).
We stayed at the Hampton Inn at Rocky Point. We chose this hotel because they provided a shuttle to/from the airport and port for about $100 for the night and received fair reviews here on Cruise Critic. The transportation alone saved us a total of $66 (taxis - $16 from airport to hotel; $25 from hotel to port; $25 from port to airport). The hotel was adequate. The room was nice, spacious and clean. The pool wasn't much, but then we're not real big swimmers. We did venture down to the pool and were the only ones there though it was a Sunday evening. We ate on the patio of the Bahama Breeze and it was great. It's just a short jaunt down the street, within walking distance. We signed up for the 11:00 a.m. shuttle to the port and went to bed early. The morning breakfast was pretty good with a fair selection from hot and cold food. The shuttle left promptly at 11:00 a.m. We stopped by the Holiday Inn Express to pick up a few other people and then we were on our way.
We arrived at the port at 11:30 a.m., dropped our luggage and headed inside. Just a side note here - if you're taking on any non-alcoholic beverages (soda or water), be prepared to carry it. You cannot check it with the porter like we did in Fort Lauderdale. You'll have to carry it onto the ship with you. We had a 12 pack of diet caffeine-free Pepsi with us. Again, not a big deal, just be prepared for it. Embarkation was very smooth and we were on the ship just shortly after Noon. We of course headed right to the Lido deck to get our first sample of the Inspiration's food. After that we explored the ship a bit and then headed to our room. They opened the corridors to the rooms promptly at 1:30 p.m. I highly recommend being up on the top decks when you sail under the Skyway Bridge. It is quite the sight as the funnel clears the bridge by only 6 feet. They'll make an announcement and sound the horn right before going under the bridge in case you forget. So hustle up to the top deck and enjoy the view.
The room wasn't quite as big as the balcony room on the Freedom I had last year, but it was plenty of room for mom and I. The bathroom was also a touch smaller. I had read a couple of reviews that talked about a sewer smell that would appear from time to time. I'm sad to report that this is true. It wasn't all the time. I'm not sure if they flushed the system once a day or what, but we did experience the smell on numerous occasions while in the room. There was one day when it was particularly bad so we headed out onto the deck early. When we arrived back to the room later in the day, the smell was gone. Our room steward (Leelani) was amazing. Our room was always super clean and the towel animals were great. My mom cleans houses for a living and she bought one of the towel animal folding books so she can leave a little surprise for the people she cleans for.
Carnival has yet to disappoint me on the food. Of course, some things were better than others, but overall we thought the food was great. We ate breakfast and lunch at the Lido buffet each day. I'm not huge on breakfast so just had a banana, some fruit and a cinnamon roll each day. Mom ate the hot stuff and loved the omelet and potatoes. There's a different theme for lunch each day (Italian, Mexican, etc.). We chose the hamburger station for lunch. The hamburger and fries were outstanding. We did try the pizza too and it was good. I can't remember what they called the pizza I ate, but it had goat cheese, mushrooms and garlic on it. Yummy!
We ate dinner every night in the Mardi Gras Dining Room because we were doing anytime dining. We could have probably done late seating as almost each night we ate between 8 and 8:30 p.m. However, there was one night we ate around 6:00 p.m. So I would personally continue to do anytime dining. Our waiters were a BLAST! If you have an opportunity to sit with Monica, Raymond and Marlon, you definitely should. What a great bunch. They knew our names by the second night and never missed a beat. They work so hard. The waiters will dance and sing each night and it's just as fun as the regular shows. Again, the food did not disappoint. There's always the usual on the menu - Carnival Classics - like steak and chicken. I thought the prime rib was great along with the French onion soup. Those were my favorites. As far as desserts, you've got to try the chocolate melting cake at least once but be sure to order two scoops of vanilla ice cream with it. It's too rich to eat alone.
I won't say the shows were Broadway material, but they were entertaining. I was kind of bummed there were only two. We had some kind of show each night on the Freedom last year. The two shows on this cruise were Shout and Festiva Latina. The dancers and singers were pretty good. I did like the female singer a little better than the male. However, the male singer was much more energetic and charismatic. Charlie and Mike did a good job with the breakdancing show they did and the guest talent show was pretty good too. We didn't have an opportunity to see either one of the comedians. We also didn't go to any of the trivia or other activities so I can't comment on them. We did attend the Ship 411 with all the top officers and that was pretty interesting. We did try our luck on the slot machines a couple of times and lost. I guess the luck wasn't with us, but that's okay because I just factor that money into an entertainment cost. If I was looking to retire off of $20 put into a slot machine, I should be smacked in the head. LOL
I could tell that this was an older ship and I expected to see more wear and tear than when I was on the Freedom last year. But honestly, it's still a great looking ship. The crew works hard to keep it clean. The Serenity Deck, though a bit small, is great. I never experienced anything bad regarding the ship besides the smell in our room from time to time. We didn't go to any of the clubs, so I can't comment on those. We also didn't have any children with us so we don't know anything about the kid's clubs of activities.
The Inspiration stopped at Grand Cayman and Cozumel. I had been to Cozumel last year, so we decided to just stay at the port and shop. We got a few great deals and headed back to the ship for a mother/daughter spa facial - my mother's day gift to my mom. In Grand Cayman we had no plans. We ended up getting off the tender and seeing a guy that operates a bus that turns into a boat. They do a land tour of the island for about an hour. Then they drive the bus right into the water and take you all the way out to where the cruise ships anchor. There are cameras on the underside of the bus/boat and video screens on the bus so you can see the fish, coral and remnants of shipwrecks. It really was pretty awesome and well worth the $30 per person we paid for the two hours.
Last time on the Freedom we chose Luggage Express where you put your luggage outside your door on the last night and then don't see it again until you land in your home city. That was phenomenal and well worth the extra $20. However, that was not offered on the Inspiration. I had an early flight (11:25 a.m.) so we did self-assist. We each had one rolling suitcase and a carryon. We didn't have any trouble. We took our luggage with us when we left the room about 7:30 a.m. We headed down to the place where I had to pick up a candle that I had bought in Cozumel and then sat down to wait for our floor to be called for self-assist debarkation. However, a crew member walked by and told us that if we were ready, we could head down right then. We did and were across the street at the parking garage awaiting our shuttle by 8:00 a.m. I was sitting comfortably at my gate at the airport by 9:00 a.m. Plenty of time! Everything was a breeze.
I really liked the Inspiration more than I thought I would. I did like that there were less people on the ship than on the Freedom last year, but I could also tell that the ship was smaller. I'm not sure if I would sail the Inspiration again just because I am pretty fond of a balcony room and you can only get a balcony if you book a suite on the Inspiration. All in all, we had a great time and it was a wonderful first experience for my mom. And yes, she's hooked. We purchased two future cruise certificates and are planning our next cruise for some time in November. I'd love to try the Dream or even the Magic, but we'll see. I really would like to book one of the bigger ships so my mom can experience the difference.
I hope you find this review helpful and if you have any questions, feel free to send me a note and I'd be happy to answer them. I do have the Fun Times and can get them scanned if you'd like to see the activities that are scheduled throughout the trip. If you're scheduled on this cruise, just relax, don't sweat the small stuff and enjoy yourself. After all, you're not at work!