Carnival Inspiration Entertainment
Those in tune with Carnival's brand of not-too-serious fun will struggle mightily not to have a super-duper good experience. And with so little time -- Inspiration sails three- and four-night cruises -- it may be impossible to attend the mixology class, compete in the hairy chest contest and snag front row seats to see the R-rated comedian. But given the high-octane energy onboard, many passengers certainly try.
Beginning with the mass-appeal entertainment, two production shows take place each night in the Paris Lounge, a two-deck, 1,300-seat theater with great leg room on the floor seats and stadium seating, comfortable banquettes and bar stools on the balcony. Certain spots have obstructed views, so if decent sightlines are important, arrive early. Besides the earnestly energetic Las Vegas-style song and dance revues (such as "Fiesta Latina," ayayay), the Paris Lounge hosts comedians, illusionists, an always well-attended passenger talent show, the Gender Showdown (who's smarter?) and even inflatable laser tag ($5 per person), where players try to zap each other in a mini-arena. Check the Fun Times for laser tag availability.
The Paris Lounge also plays host to a number of daytime activities, like the popular country line dance classes, bingo and trivia. And because no first-time cruiser comes back without raving about the towel creatures (is that monkeybat wearing my sunglasses?), you might as well learn how to make your own during a towel folding demo.
Inspiration's secondary entertainment venue is the Candlelight Lounge, the spot for karaoke, art auctions and the "R-rated" comedy shows, among other activities. At the entrance of the Candlelight Lounge is Chopin, a combination cigar and sports bar with stogies for sale at inflated prices (about 25 percent pricier than onshore) and a number of flat-screen TV's airing popular sports on a seasonal basis. (Fall equals football time.) Upon entering the bar, gaze up for a look at a ceiling mural of cherubs horseplaying as they float from cloud to cloud.
Night owls are served by a pair of dance venues, The Rock and Roll Dance Club, a venue adorned with giant Art Deco guitars, and the Avant Garde Lounge, with its Picasso-esque cube-lady dancers. On our cruise, Avant Garde featured a classic rock cover band, and the Rock N Roll Dance Club a DJ spinning hip hop and R&B hits (ironic, no?). The Rhapsody in Blue Piano Bar is hugely popular with fans of the Journey/Billy Joel/Elton John sing-along, and with a capacity of less than 100, it can be hard to stake out a spot. Be sure to get there before the start time to assure a seat. More low-key, adults-only evening parties with live music, like the "Cheers, Beers, Margaritas & More" event, are held on the adults-only Serenity Deck.
The Monte Carlo Casino offers the usual mix of slot machines, blackjack, craps and Caribbean stud poker. A dealer-less poker pro Texas Hold 'em table is located just outside the casino in a little alcove. Slots, blackjack and poker tournaments are held at various times throughout the cruise. For High Rollers, credit lines can be set up prior to cruising by sending a fax to 305-406-6461.
When the Caribbean sun is shining on sea days, daytime entertainment revolves around the pool deck. Help determine which passenger's chest is the most sweater-like, listen to a Calypso band or a solo guitarist/crooner, watch the ship's master mixologist showcase his acrobatic chemistry skills, or take part in some classic deck games. Other day-time activities include scrapbooking classes and a break dance class that takes place on the lido deck's stage. A special note for trivia buffs: you'll have many chances to compete for the coveted "Ship on a Stick." On one sea day, options included a morning trivia challenge at 9:45 a.m., Super Trivia at 11:45 a.m., music trivia at 1 p.m. and sports trivia at 4 p.m. (Suffice it to say, besides the occasional art lecture, trivia is really the only "enrichment" activity available on the good-time Carnival Inspiration.)
On certain nights, for instance during sailaway from Cozumel, the lido pool hosts a deck party, complete with a classic rock cover band.
For those looking for an inside look at the inner workings of a cruise ship, the Behind-the-Fun Ship Tour is available on a first-come first-served basis for two groups of up to 15 people. The three-hour tour costs a very reasonable $55 per person and provides a behind-the-scenes look at the production shows, recycling room, engine control room, crew dining areas, bridge and more.
Ship-sponsored shore excursions in Cozumel and Grand Cayman, the two ports the ship visits, are relatively standard fare. In Cozumel, you can snorkel, visit Chankanaab marine park or various Mayan ruins, or glide around Caribbean in clear kayak. In Grand Cayman, passengers can opt to swim at the world famous stingray sandbar, visit the turtle farm or swim with the dolphins at Dolphin Discovery.
Carnival Inspiration Public Rooms
The circular Grand Atrium is the ship's indoor locus. Beginning on Deck 7 (Empress) and spiraling skyward six decks to its glass domed roof (reminiscent of the Reichstag Dome in Berlin), the atrium is quintessential Carnival neon, an explosion of purple, pink and light blue fluorescence.
Passengers will find the ship's guest services and shore excursion desks on the atrium's ground floor, as well as an ATM machine if they need cash for onshore endeavors ($6 fee). The small 24-hour Internet Cafe is also here -- but there's bow-to-stern Wi-Fi should you want to bring your own laptop or Wi-Fi enabled device. (Despite guest services suggesting that there may be some soft spots onboard, we never had any issues; naturally, speeds are much slower than you'd find at home.) Connectivity is sold in a number of packages or a la carte, though per-minute prices are lower when you buy in bulk. For instance, a block of 120 minutes is $59 or 49 cents a minute; 480 minutes for $159 or about 33 cents a minute; otherwise, expect to pay 75 cents per minute.
The art gallery, situated in a long corridor with art hanging on each wall, is also located on Deck 7. The auctions are held in the Candlelight Lounge up on Deck 8 (Atlantic Deck), aft.
Carnival Inspiration's duty-free Fun Shops, selling the usual Bacardi and bangles, are located up the stairs on Deck 8. There's also a "$10 or less" store on Deck 9 (Promenade Deck), selling costume jewelry (lots of beady stuff) and the like. The large photo gallery surrounds one side of the atrium on Deck 9.
For a little quiet time, try the Shakespeare Library, located off the atrium on Deck 8. The venue is dressed up with faux-flame candelabras, arched glass bookcase doors and Elizabethan-style furniture. Shakespeare quotes etched in calligraphy ("Friends, Romans, countrymen…") run along the dark brown ceiling beams.
Self-service launderettes are available on Deck 10. There are a couple of washers and dryers, and one iron and ironing board in each launderette. The cost is $3 per washer load and $3 for a dryer load. Vending machines dispense small boxes of detergent and water softener at $1 per box.
Editor's Note: Due to local environmental requirements, the washing machines in the guest launderette will be closed in port, per each port's specific requirements; the dryers and irons will be available for passenger use.
Carnival Inspiration Spa & Fitness
Carnival Inspiration's 12,000-square-foot Spa Carnival, a combination spa, beauty salon and fitness center, is run by Steiner, the Britain-based company with a near-monopoly on big-ship spas.
Seriously marked-up spa treatments include a variety of facials ($119), a hot stone massage (50 minutes, $159), tooth whitening ($199) and Swedish massage (50 minutes, $119). These prices do not include tip. Look out for in-port specials, when you can expect to save a little less than 10 percent. Sampler packages, which blend three mini-treatments (massage, pedicure, facial, for instance) into an hour-long treatment are typically offered as $99 specials. For an onboard to onshore comparison, I just had a 50-minute Swedish massage at a reputable local spa for $85 including tip. Passengers between the ages of 12 and 17 have their own overpriced choices as part of Carnival's YSPA program. Treatments include things like an "Acne Attack" facial ($99) or a "Heavenly Massage" (25 minutes, $89). Check with the spa as to the availability of these and other YSPA treatments.
The modest-sized gym has eight treadmills offering seaviews, several bikes and elliptical trainer, various weight machines, and a variety of free weights. Professional equipment is brought to you by LA Fitness. The multiple fitness classes offered are either free (aerobics, sunrise stretch) or for-fee (yoga, Pilates at $12 per person). Men and women get their own sauna and steam room, which are located in their respective locker rooms. Use of the steam and sauna facilities is included in the cost of the cruise. Note: The gym is a little hard to find at first, but entrances are located to the right and left of the spa desk, and through the women's and men's bathrooms.
Carnival Inspiration has just one pool, located midship. The lively deck area features metal palm trees ringed with Carnival's ever-present LED's, a pair of hot tubs abutting the pool and the oft-occupied lido stage. During sunny sea days, the lido pool is a beehive of entertainment, hosting pool deck Olympics, ice carving demonstrations and plenty of live music (from calypso to classic rock covers). The ship's other area for water-based fun is the aft-situated Carnival WaterWorks, which includes a four-story tall, 300-foot-long corkscrew waterslide; an 82-foot-long triple-lane waterslide (great for racing); and a spray park, complete with various sculptures spewing water. Onboard water parks are hot right now, and Disney Dream (debuted in early 2011) and Norwegian Epic are certainly in the running for best at-sea waterslides, but even so, Carnival's Fantasy-class ships are definitely in the running for top honors.
The adults-only Serenity Deck, added during the November 2007 dry dock, is a teak deck space located on the ship's stern (out of earshot from the more boisterous WaterWorks). The space includes two hot tubs and a decent number of loungers with thick, blue padding -- so comfortable that you're likely to for doze off as you stare out at the ship's wake. The Serenity Deck offers both sunny and shady spots, with yellow umbrellas and a thatched-roof overhang providing cover from the Caribbean sun. As described in the entertainment section, the Serenity Deck also hosts more low-key, adults only evening entertainment featuring a solo guitarist and drink theme (mojitos or margaritas, for instance).
A running track (eight times around for a mile) surrounds the nine-hole mini-golf course, which was added to the forward section of the sun deck during the fall 2007 refurb.