We wanted to do something special for our 25th Anniversary, but recognizing that in a few years 2 of our 3 children will be in college - we decided to celebrate on a trip for all 5 of us. The first half of our trip was 9 days in Orlando, FL enjoying all that the theme parks have to offer - and when we were trying to decide what to do the rest of our trip, my husband, after all my years of pestering him, to my surprise suggested a cruise.
I knew that Carnival was the only cruise line that has cabins that accommodate 2 adults and 3 children - so we decided to narrow our search only to Carnival.
After looking at a ton of options, we decided on the Inspiration going to Grand Cayman and Cozumel. We love to snorkel, but have only done it on the pacific so were very excited about Grand Cayman as we read that it's the location of the best snorkeling in the world. We were also very excited about Cozumel because we LOVE Mexico. Unfortunately due to storms, our stop in Grand Cayman was cancelled.
Here are the "facts" and things we did right or would do differently. The end of the review will be more narrative if you decide to keep reading.
Cabin: we chose the least expensive cabin that was available when we booked (interior on the lowest floor) but about 6 weeks before embarkation we had an email from Carnival offering us an upgrade to an Ocean-view for only $50 more We were on Empress Deck - which was great! The room felt spacious even though there were 5 of us. Closet space is great and bedding is very comfortable. We had 2 uppers and a king size w/a trundle. We brought an outlet strip to accommodate all the electrical things since there is only one outlet (thanks Cruise Critic Members for that hint!)
WEIGHT GAIN and CRUISING: We had just been in Florida walking 6+ miles a day at theme parks so we decided to take the stairs as much as possible on the cruise. We ate more than we usually do, but 3 out of 5 of us lost weight on the trip! Take the stairs - it's great exercise.
Soda Card/Bar Coupons: Before we left we gave our children the option of us buying them the "bubbles" card ($25) or giving them $25 cash to spend on the trip. They chose the cash, so I went on to the website (Bon Voyage) and bought each of them a gift which was 4 "tickets" for soft drinks on the ship ($7) It was a great way for them to order soda when they wanted one in the restaurant or by the pool. We also brought 3 12 packs with us (you are allowed one 12 pack per person) but since we were usually drinking water or iced tea, we ended up only drinking about one 12 pack. We also made sure that our kids knew to NEVER drink any of the water bottles or soda that are left in the cabin for our convenience (thanks again CC members!) I did the same for my husband - but with bar "coupons" for 4 drinks ($23.) These were not as good of a deal as the soda ones - they only gave you $5.75 off any drink, but most drinks were $7 - $9 so there was always an "upcharge" and we didn't really save anything - but we were able to offset some of the expense by "pre paying" for a lot of the drinks. Also - you can get any of their yummy drinks without alcohol for the kids usually for only $4.50. The wait staff was always around to take your order and were very good about any special requests.
DINING: We had heard a lot about assigned tables/table mates so we decided we wanted the "full cruise experience" and opted for late dining (8:15.) The first night when we arrived at our table, the head waiter greeted our son by name and was very friendly to all of us. Our son was a little sea sick (actually all of us were a little off - waves 15 - 20 feet) and our waiter brought him crackers and when we left dinner that night sent us with a stack of crackers. Both the head waiter and assistant were fantastic. Dinner was probably one of the best times on the ship for us because of the great food and the great waiters. Unfortunately our dining partners (another family of 5) never came to dinner - so we always sat alone.
The dining room was our favorite place to eat all of the meals, but for convenience sake we often ate on the lido deck for lunch. In the dining room, the breakfast menu was the same,lunch had some variety and dinner had one side of the menu consistently the same and the other side unique. The food was consistently DELICIOUS but the portions were way too much and our family felt badly that every night more food was thrown away than eaten at our table. I'm recommending to Carnival that they offer "small" and "large" portion options. Having photographers at dinner almost every night got to be a bit annoying, as was evident in our families pictures towards the end of the cruise.
The other options for dining included a variety buffet inside the lido deck restaurant, Mongolian wok on the lido deck outdoors (lunch only) and a grill on the lido deck outdoors as well (chicken strips, burgers, hot dogs, etc...) In the evening there was also sushi on the promenade deck. Ice Cream was available 24 hours a day as well, and for a small price, the Coffee bar had beautiful and delicious desserts ($3 and $4.) We also ordered from room service a few late nights (hot chocolate and cookies or cheesecake.) Make sure you tip them. :)
TEA TIME: On the 2nd day at sea we found "tea time" in the Rhapsody in Blue Lounge. It was the best way to spend a relaxing hour in the afternoon. Beautiful setting, soft piano music, delicious tea and yummy cream puffs, cucumber sandwiches, cakes, etc... (another good reason to choose late dining!) Get there early as the 2nd day we tried to bring our kids and had to wait quite a while for a table to clear.
ENTERTAINMENT: We went to the Paris Lounge for the talent night (7 passengers performing) but the quality of most of the entertainers that night was not very good(there were 2 that actually were on key...) We enjoyed the karaoke and the "superstar" karaoke where there was a live band playing the songs. We did stop in at a show in the Paris lounge the last night on the ship but it was quite boring and our son asked if we could leave. We did attend a "family friendly" comedy set one night - but unfortunately they only had that one night - the rest of the nights it was "adults only."
The piano players were great - but every night there was a guy playing guitar and singing either by the casino or in the atrium lounge bar area and he was awful - it was almost like a joke - but he kept coming back.
DEBARKATION IN PORT - COZUMEL: since we had to cancel our stop in Grand Cayman due to the weather, we actually got into Cozumel 1 day early and were there from 5 p.m. Wednesday to 8 p.m. Thursday. It was actually really nice because we went downtown to shop and eat on Wednesday and then could focus on the water and other sites on Thursday. The port you arrive at is not near anything - you have to walk to the exit of the port and get a taxi or rent a car. The taxi's have a set price and everything is in dollars - so that is nice. Make sure when you get a taxi to take you back to port you confirm the same price you paid coming into town ($11 each way when we were there.) There are usually 3 - 5 ships in port there every day, but due to the bad weather all the ships had cancelled for 3 days so the vendors were like piranha's when we arrived downtown. I used to live in Mexico and speak Spanish fluently so we did ok getting them to leave us alone. One thing you have to know is that when the quote you a price, it's probably twice what you should pay - so always cut their price by 60% and work your way up from there. Also - if you just walk away - they will usually come chase you down and continue to bargain.
We asked a local for a recommendation for an authentic mexican restaurant and he directed us to a little hole in the wall outdoor place (in a carport) about 8 blocks from downtown. It was delicious, but if you don't speak spanish fluently - probably should stick to downtown "gringo" restaurants. When we got back on board that night they made us walk through the "duty free" shop which I found annoying - especially with 3 tired kids. Getting on and off the ship was fairly easy and we never had to wait more than 5 minutes except right before our departure as so many people had to turn in their liquor purchases (me included - 2 bottles of Kahlua for $20!)
We did not purchase any ship excursions, instead rented a jeep to explore the island ($75 w/tax right there in port.) It was great - all 5 of us, the top down stopping along side the ocean to swim whenever/wherever we wanted. This was definitely the BEST part of our trip! We also went to the San Gervasio Ruins - definitely NOT worth it! We wished we had skipped that and stayed in the ocean longer. Make sure you bring bottles of water with you and lots of sun screen.
Other Ship "Stuff" Water slide was not that exciting - but maybe it was because we had just been in Orlando. The pool has saltwater and was almost always full. The hot tubs by the pool were always full. The Serenity Deck is Adults Only and we sometimes found a seat there - but it was often crowded. The photo gallery is fun - but they take so many pics that you feel bad throwing so many away when you sort through what you want to buy. We had decided to buy pics as we never have our family pictures taken. Best purchase we made - the pictures were great and we got 5 portraits, get one free ($22 each) from formal night. We also bought some watches and other trinkets on the ship - lots of the prices were pretty good. Miniature golf on the sports deck was fun and windy! Our son went to Camp Carnival activities for his age group - but he said his counselors were always grumpy and yelling at the kids - so we only went to a few things each day. Our daughters went to their club and the counselor was great. Lots of teens on the ship were drinking as their parents and other family members were buying drinks for them - that was disappointing.