Review of Carnival Inspiration 1/12/09
* * * P R E P A R A T I O N I N F O R M A T I O N * * *
E-Docs vs Mail Docs: This is really a matter of personal preference, but since we had an experience with both types of travel documentation, I'll give my input. We got antsy 25 days out from the cruise and downloaded E-docs, but the mail docs must have been on the way, because they still came a few days later. There is really no difference between the docs, except for the cute little folder they come in in the mail. If it's your first cruise, I say get the mail docs, it's kind of a souvenir. Otherwise, the E-docs are fine. One thing, however: We found the luggage tag stickers that came in the mail to be easier to deal with than folding paper luggage tags from the printer. If you get E-docs, I'd suggest printing them onto Avery labels or cardstock.
Bringing Liquor on Board: I know people are asking about this all the time, and I'm not prepared to launch a debate on the matter, only telling you what I learned on my cruise. We brought 3 32-ounce rum runner flasks, and were extremely pleased with their performance. No leaks, no discovery, no confiscation. We left them out in the open in our cabin with no problems. I also spoke to a few people on board that had put glass bottles of liquor in their luggage and also reported no problems, so really, don't worry about being caught with rum runners. I can also tell you that everyone I spoke to who brought their own liquor (myself included) was still spending an awful lot of money in the bars on board.
Packing and Carryons: As far as luggage goes, I'd say one checked suitcase and one carryon-size suitcase with clothes, shoes, bath amenities etc. is more than enough for 2 people on a 5-day cruise. However, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you wear your swimsuit underneath your clothes, or bring it directly on board with you in a purse or carryon. You won't be able to go into your cabins until 1:30 at the earliest, and likely won't get your luggage before 5:00 pm. Between boarding and getting your luggage, the pools were completely empty, and this was pretty much the only time during the whole cruise where this was so, so if you want a nice private swim bring your suit on board with you.
* * * EMBARKATION / DEBARKATION * * *
Priority Embarkation: Since we had booked a suite, we got priority embarkation, and I have to say we enjoyed it. Rather than waiting in a long line to check in, we sat down at a desk, and were escorted over to a separate waiting area. They called it a VIP Lounge, but really it was just a little alcove with hard metal chairs. Still, we were first on board, which was very nice. At 11:30 we were boarded, and at 11:45 we had lunch and a Fun Ship Special. I should say, as many others have, that the VIP treatment ends with priority embark/debark. If you're looking for special treatment for booking a suit, don't book Carnival. We really had no expectations of special treatment, so it was fine by us, but we met a complainer or two who thought otherwise, so just be aware.
Priority Debarkation: I thought we wouldn't like this part, since I was certainly not eager to leave the boat, but all the lounges and pools were closed, and we had to leave our staterooms by 8:45. Considering this, once we had eaten breakfast, there wasn't much to do, so as it turned out we were glad to be in Zone 1 (out of 26!)
Security Check-In: We had a little adventure at the airport with TSA because of my fiancE's CPAP machine, so we were expecting a similar hassle going through Carnival's checkpoint, but we had none. The line moved quickly, and there were no mishaps, except that they made me throw away my nearly-full water bottle ;)
* * * THE BOAT * * *
Size: This was our first cruise, and at first we were awed by the size of the boat, but as the cruise went on, and we saw it docked next to newer, larger ships, we did start to notice that the Inspiration is on the small side for cruise ships. However, I didn't really see this as much of a drawback. We spoke to some people who had cruised Carnival's larger ships, and they said there was actually more to do on Fantasy-class boats than on some of the newer ships that had not yet received the Evolutions of Fun upgrades, but were not new enough to contain all these features built into them from the start. The lounges were small, but there were quite a few of them, and none of them ever seemed too crowded to me.
Age and DEcor: Overall, the ship did not look old. It was kept very clean, and there were a lot of interesting touches to the dEcor. In a few places, it was a little much, but overall we found it tasteful enough. The Grand Atrium was really cool, but it was not fun to navigate when the ship was in rough seas and we were drunk to boot. The bright neon lights and mirrored walls do not agree with copious alcohol consumption or motion sickness. If you looked closely at some parts of the boat, particularly near the windows, you could start to see the ship's age, but we weren't bothered by it.
The Lounges and Bars: There were numerous places to buy a drink, that's for sure. Even if you weren't at one of the many bars, lunges, or buffets, there were bar waiters in just about every public area at all times. Each lounge had its own theme and unique dEcor, and we thought it was just very cool overall. Our favorites were the Rock n Roll disco (actually rather tacky as far as dEcor went, but the place to be after midnight) and the Rhapsody in Blue piano lounge. The piano entertainer was very good, and the atmosphere in the piano bar was fun. The dEcor wasn't bad, either. I liked the round bar with piano keys all around the edge of it! We also spent a good deal of time at the Violins bar, because it was right on the main thoroughfare and had TV screens within sight.
The Casino: Don't bother, really. If you came on the ship strictly to gamble, I expect you'll have a decent enough time doing so, but at that point why not just go to Vegas? We played the slots a little, and the fiancE considered joining a game of Craps, but we didn't see anyone getting much of a payout, anywhere. We've been to Vegas, and while the slots in Vegas always take your money in the end, you get little wins a lot more often there, so that it at least feels like you're winning, and you can keep playing for longer. I honestly felt like the machines in board were just eating my money, and the selection of games wasn't really any fun, either. Now, I know the slots don't pay out, but I sort of enjoyed playing them in Vegas. It turns out, it makes a huge difference when sitting there on that little machine is getting you free drinks whenever the waitress walks by. Without that incentive, I didn't see the point. We did win $50 on a quarter-flipping machine, but we put $30 into it, so it's a net gain of $20. We saw a woman before us trying to win the same bundle of 50 $1's, and she must have put over a hundred dollars into the machine before giving up.
The Lido Deck: The setup of the Lido deck was really nice. The pool and hot tubs were in the center, with bars at one end and a hamburger/hot dug type buffet at the other end. You could really just kill a whole day there, if the weather was nice. The one complaint we both had about the Lido deck was that the bars never seemed to be open. The one on the port side was almost always closed, and the other one closed pretty early at night, I'm thinking it was before 8:00 pm. I think at least one bar should stay open as long as the pool and hot tubs are open.
Waterworks and Serenity: Well, the Waterworks park looked really, really cool. I couldn't wait to go down that slide, grown-up or no. However, I sadly did not get the chance. During our cruise, winds were pretty high, so the water park was closed all the time except for when we were docked. Since I had shore excursions booked for the time we were docked, I never had the chance to try out the waterslide. Next time, I'm making it a priority!
As for the Serenity area, it was a lot smaller than I'd expected. There were two hot tubs and perhaps 20 deck chairs. They were very strict about signing out towels in this area, so I'd suggest bringing your own down from your room, especially since you had to wait around for the Towel Lady (lol) to come back if you decided to sign one in or out while she was on break. It was hard to find time when there was room in the tubs, until we wandered down during the early dinner seating once and found them next to abandoned. The tubs on the Serenity deck were not filled as high as the ones on the Lido deck, but there weren't any kids in them, so it kind of balances out. My one major suggestion for the Serenity area: A bar! Even a rolling cart selling beers, anything! There were one or two bar servers that came onto the deck every now and then, but I don't think there was enough drink service in this area compared to other areas of the ship.
The Staterooms: We had a Category 11 suite, and the first thing I need to say is this: We will never, ever book a room on the Verandah deck again. We had fairly high winds on our cruise, and it was hard to walk on that deck. I almost never get motion sickness, but by the last sea day I was taking Bonine just like everybody else. That said, the room was very nice. It was smaller than a hotel room, as expected, but a good size for the two of us, and we could have had 2 or 3 guests in there comfortably for a cocktail if we'd chosen to. The balcony was very small, to the point where it wasn't really comfortable to sit out on it. The two little chairs were faced sideways, and I'm not entirely sure they could have faced frontward with people sitting in them. It was also extremely windy on our balcony, because of the height. As for the dEcor, we found the rooms quite tasteful, and very comfortable. Really, our only complaint about the room was the location, and we had ignorantly picked that specific stateroom, so it's our fault. The bed was one of the most comfortable I've ever slept on, and I can't be the first to think so, because on the second to last day they delivered an order form so you could buy the same kind of bed for your home! Another thing we really liked about the stateroom was the location of the light switches. Each light had a switch in the normal place you'd look for one (by the doorway, etc) and a second switch right above the bed, near where your head would rest. No stumbling around in the dark looking for the light switch!
We also walked through the hallways on other decks and peeked into open stateroom doors. The penthouse suites looked very nice. From the outside, you could see the difference in balcony size, and on the inside I could easily see a family of four, five, or possibly even six with small children, being comfortable in that stateroom. The outside rooms looked decent too, and since we didn't make much use of our little balcony, we will probably book an outside stateroom on the Upper or Empress deck the next time we book a Fantasy-class ship. I don't think I'd bother with the Penthouse Suite on this class, even though it looked nice, because you could get a very nice oversized-balcony stateroom on a newer ship for the same price, or even a bit less, from what I saw on carnival.com. As for the Interior staterooms, I don't think I'd book one. They looked nice and clean, but so small, and with no window! I realize you don't spend too much time in your cabin usually, but I think the ideal room is somewhere between Interior and Cat 12.
* * * THE CRUISE EXPERIENCE * * *
Shows: The Love and Marriage show was, in a word, hilarious. I don't want to spoil it, since I think the format is pretty similar from cruise to cruise, but I'd definitely go and see it. There were a few information seminars held in the main showroom, like the shore excursions talk and the debarkation talk, and while you'd think these would be boring, they weren't too bad. The Cruise Director (FelipE) did a great job and had a lot of jokes and anecdotes to lighten the mood.
As far as the "Vegas-style shows" went, they were pretty entertaining. You could tell that the performers were all excited to be there and were working hard, and overall it was enjoyable. However, I do need to say that if you've seen real Las Vegas shows in the city itself, you might be disappointed. Neither of the shows I saw on board really had any kind of storyline, unlike the shows I've seen in Vegas. The choreography was simpler, there weren't really any crazy stunts like in Vegas, and the dancers never seemed to be quite in sync with each other. It's a far cry from an actual Vegas show, but like with the casino: If you're looking for Vegas, then go to Vegas. The ship had its own thing going, a little more whimsical and a lot more family friendly, and once I started to take the ship's entertainment for what it was and not for a Vegas imitation, I found I enjoyed myself a lot more.
We also enjoyed both comedians. They were both funny, both drew the audience in a lot.
Eating & Drinking: Food, food, food. It was everywhere on this ship! On the Lido deck there were three separate buffets. Outside, there was the Poolside Grill, which served hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, nachos, French fries, onion rings, etc. Inside, there was the Rotisserie, which usually had two entrEe choices (chicken, turkey, ham, roast, etc) and a number of side items to choose from, as well as the Taste of Nations buffet, which showcased a different cuisine every day. I'd have to say Italian day was my favorite. If you need more options, of course, there's the Deli and the 24-hour pizzeria. We tried all the buffets, and we went to the formal dinner every night but the last. The food was excellent, everywhere. I ordered a few things I wasn't sure about, and liked some and disliked some. The great thing is, if you order something and don't like it, you can just order something else. I usually preferred the buffet food to the dining room food, but my fiancE said the opposite, so it's all a matter of personal preference. The deli does make a great grilled cheese ;)
I won't be the first to say it: The chocolate melting cake is AMAZING.
As far as drinking goes, I've already covered that there are bar servers everywhere. Any of the bars you go to have the same menu, so it's really just a matter of which one's closest to you. We noticed that the Drink of the Day offerings, by default, were fairly weakly mixed, but we tipped an additional dollar on top of the default tip for every drink we ordered, so once the waiter or bartender got to know us, we got progressively stronger drinks. They do have an offering on board where you can pre-pay for your DOD's and get a 20% discount, and I'd recommend taking advantage of it. It's $23 for 5 drinks, and we found it to be well worth it. We bought 2 punch cards, and drank all 10 drinks (I personally had eight of them ;) ) They also make a good Long Island Iced Tea on board.
We did not buy a Fountain Fun Card (why do they call it that when there are no drink fountains, only cans??) and didn't regret the decision. Iced tea, lemonade, coffee, tea, and water were always free and satisfied us. They also had a few different kinds of juice at breakfast time. If you have children or don't drink alcohol, a soda card might be good, but otherwise it didn't seem worth it. On the rare occasion we wanted a soda, we just bought a can for around $2.
The Dining Room Experience: Definitely go to the main dining room if you're not doing anything else. Our servers were friendly and quick, and the little shows and activities they had at the end of the meal were fun. We were in the Mardi Gras dining room, with Wilson as the MD. (House reference not intended ;) ). We had no complaints about him, but we were regaled with many praises for George the Greek in the Carnivale, so if we sail the Inspiration again, we'll probably request a dining room change, just to see what it's all about. Our dining companions both at dinner and at the open seating breakfast were great. We enjoyed the conversation, and thought they matched the dinner seatings up really well. If for no other reason, go the DR for that chocolate melting cake.
Night Life: We went to the Rock and Roll disco every night but the first. We had a great time. I'd say the best time slot is 12am to 2am. Dance music, drinking, plenty of cozy little lounge tables... what more could you need? We really enjoyed going here every night, first watching all the dancers (and there were some entertaining ones!) and then, having gotten progressively more intoxicated, dancing ourselves.
Ship Staff: The entire crew was amazing. Seriously, nothing but praises from us. Our dining staff was great, all of the waiters and servers were great, entertainers were great, the cruise director was a lot of fun (FelipE for Captain! ;) ), our room steward was attentive and nice, and we loved the Towel Animals! We didn't want for anything on board, there was always someone taking care of it before we could ask. The ship was kept sparkling clean all the time, and the tables were cleared lightening fast.
Overall Experience: We had the most amazing time. Despite choppy seas and high winds, it was the absolute best vacation we have ever taken, and we cannot wait to cruise Carnival again. While I'm sure we will book a Fantasy-class again, we're really looking at trying to sail on the Dream early next year. Cruising is for us, from this point forth! Anyone considering a cruise on Carnival, or the Inspiration in particular, go for it! You won't be disappointed! Read Less