Overall, we had a really good time. My Dearest and I know how to find the fun in every adventure. One of the questions below asks what type of cruise applies to my review, but they don't list "Just for FUN". Odd, considering Carnival calls themselves the FunShips. We both just love to travel and have become expert at finding great deals. Therefore, this review will be kind of long and thorough to help as many people as possible.
**Frame of Reference:**
This was our fourth cruise. Second time to these same ports AND second time onboard the Carnival Inspiration, but both of those first experiences were very different from this one. We are not drinkers, smokers, or gamblers, so this time, we pretty much had to find our own ways to occupy our time on the ship. Tip #1: Bring binoculars! We saw lots of dolphins, sea birds, sealions, and a whole school of tuna jumping and frolicking as we pulled in to Catalina! At different times of the year, you may see whales, too.
Back in 2006, our very first sailing was the "Mexican Riviera" cruise with Royal Caribbean, which we took with our three teen-aged daughters. The seas were very rough. Everyone on board was seasick the whole time. That was only nine years ago, but before scop patches were readily available (even for this cruise, I had to explain to my doc what they were, how to use them, how many I needed , what the side effects were, and where to send my prescription). I am surprised after that first cruise that I ever got on another ship, but now I am pleased to say that I, of all people, have spent over a month of my life at sea. The best day of that RCI cruise was our day in San Diego. I can only imagine money is the driving factor for making us spend a super-boring day at sea instead of docking in San Diego, but this 4-day Baja cruise on Carnival didn't take us there. Bummer.
The second cruise we took was aboard the Inspiration. It was their 2011 repositioning cruise and sailed from Tampa to Long Beach via the Panama Canal. We stopped in lots of awesome ports along the way. It was 17 days and I could have stayed longer. Even the sea days were filled with interesting lectures, fun craft and dance classes, holiday sing-a-longs (it was December), and so much more. It really lived up to the FUNSHIP moniker! Plus, spending that much time with the same bunch of people, we really got to know a lot of new friends. The whole experience was wonderful. I expected the same standards to be met this time, but, tragically, I was disappointed. I'll get to specifics in a minute.
Our third and most recent cruise before this one was a week to Alaska with Holland America. Very fun.
**Travel to Long Beach:**
We live in Arizona, so we simply woke up in the morning, drove for six hours, hopped on the ship and sailed away. Well, sorta. That's what I tell my friends, anyway! ;)
**Former Ship Experience:**
Like I said, we've sailed on the Inspiration before so we had expectations. One way better thing this time was that they started serving food right away. Last time, we had to wait 24 hours--or was it 48?--before the buffet opened. There was still walk-up food available, but I can eat hot dogs, hamburgers and pizza (better pizza) at home any day of the week, so we appreciated being able to get a little something to eat as soon as we boarded, especially after such a long day of driving.
Having already spent so much time on the Inspiration, it was kind of nice knowing where everything was, but so much was missing from this cruise. We didn't expect an entirely different crew, for one thing. They had no classes or ANYTHING to do on the sea day and the photographers were OVER-THE-TOP obnoxious! One night at dinner, some clown dressed as a pirate dumped a forkful of my food on my blouse as I tried to take a bite while he pestered me to pose with him. I told him to get lost instead.
Mostly what was missing were the shows! We had late seating for dinner, 8:15, and that was what time they ran the only show of the night. That was really disappointing. The first night, the show started at 7:30, so we got to watch most of that one, and an early comedy show one night, too, but that was it. Too bad. Last time, we really liked going down to the Paris Lounge after dinner with our whole table and sitting together to watch the show, but this time we didn't get to. One night, the Hasbro show was still going on by the time we got out of dinner, and that was fine. It was crowded, though, so we had to sit in the balcony where we were not allowed to participate. One wonderful thing this cruise had that the other didn't have was a musician in the "Rhapsody in Blue" Piano Bar who was amazing! We really enjoyed him, especially since there was no late show to see in the main lounge.
On this cruise, the tips were reasonable, the room stewards were awesome, the dinner staff was super nice, and the food was decent. The pizza guy had a little bug up his bonnet for some reason, though. He didn't care to make pizza to order the day I decided I might like to try it. Some men got pizza to order, but he told me I had to pick from what he already had. I walked 10 feet to the panini station instead. The sandwich guy was plenty willing to grill me whatever I asked for. And they had my strawberry soft serve for about half the trip! I have craved that stuff for three years! It's sooo yum. :)
If you are new to cruising, KNOW THIS: Cruising is all about waiting in lines. You wait in a huge line to get on the ship, a line to get back off in port, a line to get back on in port, and another to debark at the end of the cruise. There's a line for anything you might want to eat...ever. Even before dinner service in the Dining Rooms, there's a queue all the way around the Grand Atrium balcony just to walk in to be seated. There's a line to wait for the Paris Lounge to open so you can see a show. There's a line for sports equipment. There's always a long line at Guest Services for ANYTHING. About the only thing I never had to wait in line for was a bathroom. There are plenty on the Inspiration, and they are clean. The examples I used here were specific to this ship, but the line thing applies to all cruise ships.
**Cabin (also see below):**
Our cabin was nice. Really comfortable. They squished two twin beds together for us, and the king size sleeping area was great. We always pack super light, so there was plenty of space for everything we brought. The only thing we were missing was a nightly ice refill. Or for that matter, any ice bucket at all. Another reviewer said their room stewards kept their ice chest full, so perhaps if we had asked for ice, we would have had it. We just left the room and got our own. It was not a big deal.
Hey! I remember something else missing from this cruise. We didn't get any of those little chocolates wrapped in gold foil. Oh well, it's not like they taste good, anyway. I still have the ones from the 2011 cruise. They look like gold coins and are useful for pirate or leprechaun decorations.
Really, the food was good and the dining room experiences were pretty much the same as any other cruise ship: personable and friendly waitstaff and super slow service. The buffet lines are fine. It's food if you're hungry. Both times I've sailed on the Inspiration, I have had requests at the buffet that were apparently a chore to fulfill (oranges, I think, and this time, honey), but the buffet manager sent someone to the storage room both times to get me what I wanted. He could have just said they didn't have any, but he made sure my needs were met. I appreciate that!
Like I said before, unless you have VIP passes, which mostly nobody does, you have to wait your turn to get on the ship. OK. We all know how to take turns. It was not unexpected, but it did make my back ache from standing for over an hour. I don't quite get why they have "online check-in" when they make you check in all over again when you get there, and there was no porter service. I found that peculiar, but our room was right around the corner from the grand entrance, so we didn't really need it anyway. In fact, it made it super easy for us to just go drop our stuff in the room and head out to explore.
What Enrichment Activities?!?!?! There weren't ANY. It was the most disappointing thing of the entire cruise. No craft classes. No dance classes. No wildlife lectures. No history lessons about the ports we visited. The ship provided transportation, lodging, and food. They did have a variety of trivia games in the Violins Lounge, but that is the smokiest place on the whole ship! The suffocating air and the stench were revolting. A full activity schedule should be what sets cruising apart from other types of travel, but it was entirely lacking. Was it because this cruise was cheap? If so, we didn't get quite as much of a bargain as we bargained for.
Oi. They did have shows in the Paris Lounge, but apparently it was only for the people who were assigned early dining. The Motown show the first night was pretty fun. Not my personal taste in music, but the singing and dancing of the ship's troupe was very good.
The second night, we had time to go see the comedian before dinner. He was okay. Not hilarious. It was nice to have a show to see, so we just sat and enjoyed it even though his humor was mostly hollering sarcasms, which is just not our favorite. We really missed being able to watch a show at end of each night.
I've already mentioned the piano man. He was amazing! His sets were sing-a-longs and he took requests. What a great variety of music! He was more entertaining than the ship's troupe, so if they weren't going to have a magician or a ventriloquist or what-have-you for a nightly show, then this guy was definitely the best choice they could make! I wish I knew his name.
**Fitness & Recreation:**
The Inspiration is equipped with a pricey spa, which is apparently popular, but I simply feel no desire to pay three or four times more at sea for the same services I can get in my own neighborhood.
There are plenty of pools (with and without slides) and hot tubs on the Inspiration, but in 21 days of sailing on that vessel, and equipped with swimwear just in case, we've never actually used them. It's been too cold to get in the pools, and the hot tubs have been too crowded. Of course, even then, you still have to get out, and I don't like freezing. brrr!
What I really appreciate is the Inspiration's Sun Deck! A climb up the stairs from the 12th floor is a minigolf course and a fabulous jogging track. I haven't been able to run for two years due to a broken ankle, but I was able to run on that track because it's soft! I wish we had something like that close to my house. I'd be on it all the time. Sproing! Sproing! heh heh :)
The RESTROOMS were constantly cleaned and always smelled good.
The LIDO DECK was usually busy, especially when people came back from port hungry. The GRAND ATRIUM and adjacent HALLWAYS were kept uncluttered. The bar in the atrium was usually crowded and there was usually some music being performed there. GUEST SERVICES ALWAYS HAD A LINE. I never looked over toward the Shore Excursion Desk, so I don't know if they were busy or not.
On the PROMENADE Deck (level 9), the entire hallway was cluttered with photographers and all their crap ALL THE TIME. It was pretty annoying, actually. Also, the Promenade Level is where the casino is. We never went in there. Too stinky. Plus, we don't gamble, so what would be the point? The shops are on that level, too. They're fine. The little jewelry shop where I bought a bunch of necklaces last time was changed to a scarf store. I had no use for it this time around. The folks down in the big jewelry store were much too pushy for me, so I mostly stayed out of there, except while waiting to get into the Paris Lounge for an early show, only to find out that it was merely a "pre" show and they would only be choosing participants for the "real" show, which would take place during our dinner time.
I've already covered our impressions of most of the public areas of the ship. The Inspiration is a beautiful ship and they keep it looking nice. The cleaning staff are undoubtedly Carnival's busiest employees!
Throughout the ship, service was usually provided with a smile. Our room stewards--no, not just our own, but ALL the room stewards, no matter what hallway we walked down on the ship--were courteous and kind, smiling their hellos, stepping aside and getting their carts out of our way, like WE were so important. It was almost humorous, but it WAS really, really nice.
The Guest Services people were always right on top of whatever we asked them. They even gave us a couple decks of cards so we could occupy our time while waiting around before dinner.
Dinner service, as stated by almost all reviewers, including me, was unnecessarily slow. It took well over an hour to get through appetizer, entrée and dessert. On the other hand, we enjoyed the food and since there was no late show to hurry off to, we were able to lounge around, enjoying the waitstaff and whatever company was around the table, which at our table, changed every night because some preferred the speed of the buffet.
As already stated, the photographers were blatantly rude. On the sea day, we were sitting along a window, playing cards with another couple when a photo crew came and told us to get out of their spot. They weren't even nice about it. Whatever happened to putting the guests' needs first?
We made our own.
Catalina doesn't have THAT much to do if you've already been there. All the excursions offered by the ship are available as soon as you get off the tender. The last time we were in Catalina, we walked up and bought tickets. This time, we decided to just walk around sightseeing, maybe hike up one of the hills. BUT...We saw a hut with a segway sitting next to it. The girl inside said they weren't open yet, but if we'd like to go on the first tour of the day, we could go for half price. Well, we've both wanted to ride segways ever since they were invented, so she didn't have to ask us twice! We had a great time tooling around Avalon, and had most of the town to ourselves at 9:30am. There was one other couple from the ship. An old man who could not lean forward enough to make his go, and so kept stopping...right in front of me. 0.o His wife drove hers into a curb and fell off of it into the grass. She was not hurt. We were all glad for that. Still, it was so super fun, I think even they must have a great time that morning!
We went horseback riding in Ensenada. La Bufadora? Been there. Done that. The blowhole (and all of its attendant merchandising) is the main tourist attraction of the area. Before we left Arizona, I contacted a lady to make reservations, which included her husband coming down to Ensenada to pick us up. She didn't get back with me until we were driving across the desert on the way to Long Beach, so I wasn't sure if we'd be able to go or not, but we got it all worked out and had a marvelous time! The trail started out in their neighborhood, and went over a hill, through a little canyon, and up a mountain. Ohmigosh! The views from up top were AMAZING!!! Then we rode back to their house and they laid out a huge spread for lunch. SO good! We sat around laughing and talking about the horses and the dogs and the plants and their new property. In fact, my dearest is a contractor, so the guy ran in the house and brought his house plans out to show us. It was like spending the day with old friends. Just wonderful.
Yuck. That's the best word for it.
Rough Sea. Traveling at half a knot, just to make the mal~de~mer (seasickness) last longer. At least I had the patch this time, but even with it, I was really feeling the movement, and so was everyone else. The rocking was the handy topic of conversation between strangers (like the weather, but on water).
And nothing to do.
Pretty easy. We had one of the earliest times because we've sailed with Carnival before and so our cabin was on a choice floor. We had our breakfast in the Dining Room and met some more new people, checked our watches, picked up our stuff at the room, and got in line.
It took about half an hour before we were free (when you've been in lines for four days, "freedom" from them is easily appreciated). Then we walked 800 feet or so to our car in the garage, paid our (aaack!) $68 for parking, and we were on our way. Easy peasy.
**Value for the Money:**
Well, we kind of booked at the last minute, so we got a screamin’ deal of $159 per returning passenger for an Oceanview room. Even with tips and taxes, our total for 2 people was around 500 bucks, so about $62 per day per person. That’s a pretty good value for the money, even if it did only include transportation, lodging, and food. The dinners alone were worth a fair chunk of that by themselves. Then there was all the other food. Fares for two on the Catalina Express would have taken up another third. Plus, we didn’t have to deal with a border-crossing to get to Ensenada.
This was a great little getaway and we really enjoyed our stay with the Inspiration as a floating hotel, a gourmet restaurant, and comfortable, albeit very slow, way to get from one place to another. They need better planning for the Sea Days and they really need to fix the entertainment schedule, but OUR vacation certainly was not ruined by Carnival's lack of ... um...inspiration... in these matters.
We would recommend this cruise, especially for first-timers. It's a short introduction to cruising and you get the good, great, wonderful, and even sometimes kinda sucky aspects of cruising without investing much time or money.
Have Fun and Happy Sailing!
== CLB & LCB == Read Less