The Paris Lounge, located on decks 8 and 9 forward, is the ship's main theater, used for day and evening shows, bingo and other events. Sightlines are not the best from the back of the main level and the middle of the balcony due to low ceilings and support poles, so arrive early for the best seats.
Inspiration's troupe of singers and dancers perform the line's Playlist Productions musical reviews, which are half-hour shows often preceded by an interactive pre-show and followed by an after party. They are themed around musical genres (like Motown), and feature upbeat numbers and lots of costume changes. The psychedelic video backdrops found on other Carnival ships are not used on Inspiration, and we actually found the shows easier to watch without them.
Once per cruise, the main theater showcases Hasbro, the Game Show, during which audience members participate in life-size versions of family board games such as "Operation" and "Yahtzee." The setup is clever -- for example, to roll the dice in Yahtzee, contestants rolls a bowling ball at pins whose bases are dice -- and the games are fun to watch even if you don't get chosen to play.
On sea days, you can also come to the Paris Lounge to watch a towel-folding demonstration, the Towel Animal Theater (in which towel animal puppets sing and dance), as well as Seuss-a-Palooza Story Time, a dramatization of The Cat in the Hat, complete with audience participation.
Carnival's entertainment team wants everyone to have a good time, day and night, so daytime activities focus more on fun than education. You won't find lectures or snooty wine tastings; you will find the Hairy Chest contest, bean-bag toss by the pool, lots of trivia, and the Groove for St. Jude event that raises money for charity. On sea days, you can find various ways to part with your money, either at bingo or casino events or at limited-time sales in the shops. On sunny days, most passengers will be lounging by the pool or cooling off in the water park; when it's cool or rainy, folks gather in the promenade or library to play cards or board games, read and chat, or brave the hot tub.
Short cruises bring out the party crowd, especially on three-night cruises. You don't have to be a frat boy or club kid to enjoy the high-energy vibe onboard Inspiration each night. The bars and lounges are hopping, the promenade turns into a bustling thoroughfare (punctuated by impromptu dance parties), and even the photo gallery is packed with souvenir shoppers.
One of Carnival's hallmarks is the Punchliner Comedy Club; two comedians alternate PG-rated and adult shows, held in the Candlelight Lounge (aft on Deck 9). Sit up front if you dare; you might become the focus of the comedian's patter. While comedian quality can vary, the two on our cruise were funny and the shows were packed. Arrive early to get a seat (and a drink).
The Avant Garde Lounge, in the middle of the Deck 9 promenade, is devoted to karaoke. This is not a talent show with carefully rehearsed songs and audience members politely applauding. The singing is enthusiastic (if not always good), but the dancing crowd does not care as long as they can boogie. There can be more willing singers than time available, so put your request in early. The Rhapsody in Blue piano bar, one deck down on Deck 8, is another favorite for those who like to sing along with a live pianist.
The Rock and Roll Dance Club, with its guitar theme, doesn't open until 10 p.m., but gets packed in the late-night hours. Most cruisers will dance to anything, but there are theme hours for '80s hits, Motown or other genres.
The Monte Carlo Casino on Deck 9 is centrally located on the promenade -- you can't miss it. Lots of slots share space with gaming tables for poker, blackjack, roulette and craps, as well as those arcade-style games where you try to shovel up money but just end up throwing quarters away. Smoking is allowed here.
A large percentage of Fun Ship fun is based around the bar scene on Carnival Inspiration. You won't find rock climbing walls, movie theaters, basketball courts or show kitchens, but you will find lots of bars and lounges. All but the Alchemy Bar will serve you the standard array of wine, beer, soda and cocktails, though many have a signature menu of drinks themed to the venue. Look for drink-of-the-day specials to save money, or souvenir cups if you want to pay extra to take home a fun cup. Carnival also sells Cheers drinks packages (not all drinks are included so know before you sign up) and soda packages if you prefer more inclusive pricing.
Atrium Bar (Deck 7): This bar has the feel of a hotel lobby bar, as it's smack dab in the middle of the atrium with folks passing by on their way to purchase shore tours or complain about their bill at guest services. A solo guitarist livens things up in the early evening.
Rhapsody in Blue Piano Lounge (Deck 8): If you like to sing along with a professional (rather than brave it alone at karaoke), the piano bar is Carnival's staple venue for sipping cocktails around a faux keyboard counter while bantering with the singer-pianist, shouting out suggestions and buying him drinks. This bar is one deck below most of the entertainment venues, but you won't miss it right on the atrium.
Candlelight Lounge (Deck 9): Candlelight is the secondary show lounge, home to the Punchliner Comedy Club. During the day, it's often reserved for private functions.
Alchemy Bar (Deck 9): This pharmacy-themed bar aims to cure what ails you with craft cocktails that blend fruit-infused vodkas and other liquors with herb garnishes and the occasional cucumber. Mixologists are specially trained; while they can create a concoction for you (or help you invent your own), there is neither a blender nor soda at their disposal to shake up more standard mixed or frozen drinks. The Alchemy Bar is situated next to the Candlelight Lounge and just upstairs from the Carnivale Dining Room, and the bartenders get slammed with too many drink orders during the pre-dinner rush. Come early or be prepared to be fashionably late for dinner.
Rock and Roll Dance Club (Deck 9): Art auction space by day, dance club by night, this guitar-themed lounge does allow smoking. The music doesn't start until 10 p.m. but on our cruise the club was rocking not too long after.
Avant Garde Lounge (Deck 9): The Avant Garde is decorated with lifesize Picasso-inspired dancing figures, showing a lot of stylized breasts. The bar serves up liquid courage for the karaoke singers who get down here in the evening hours. If you want drunken singing that is more reminiscent of bars back home, rather than a talent show of well-trained vocalists, you have found your happy place.
Violins Bar (Deck 9): The casino bar is just outside the casino, with a stage on the opposite side of the promenade. It's a bit jarring to see a display case of beautiful violins at the one bar onboard that allows smoking, but that's how Carnival rolls. If you're not here for a cigarette break (smoking is allowed in the casino and its bar), you're grooving to the band that rocks out decade-themed hits. Be prepared to dance through the crowd clogging up the promenade if you're just passing through at night.
BlueIguana Tequila Bar (Deck 10): Meant to feel like a Mexican beach bar in a thatched-roof hut with colorful bar tiles, BlueIguana serves up all things tequila. That could be a regular margarita, frozen margarita or your favorite tequila served plain and simple. You can also grab a beer (or a bucket full), beer cocktail, pitchers of margaritas or spiked lemonade, soft drinks and virgin creations at this poolside outpost.
RedFrog Rum Bar (Deck 10): The Blue Iguana's buddy (or rival?) is the Red Frog, and his rum bar delivers -- well, you guessed it. Frozen daiquiris, rum cocktails and a variety of rum brands are available in an impressive array of souvenir glasses resembling parrots, the Carnival funnel or just multi-colored containers in twisty shapes. The rum bar also serves the same standards as the Tequila Bar -- beer buckets, Coke, boozy lemonade, etc.
Brasserie Bar (Deck 10): The bar at the back of the Brasserie buffet can hook you up with a drink when you're dining casual-style.
Carnival Inspiration has one swimming pool, flanked by two hot tubs, on Deck 10. The pool is separated into a shallower and a deeper side. The wet zone around the pool has some stools and benches if you want to sip your cocktail as close to the pool as possible without getting in. Lounge chairs and chairs and tables surround the pool -- some shaded, some not. A raised stage for bean-bag toss games and Hairy Chest competitions divides the pool area from the alfresco dining areas for the burger and burrito counters.
Carnival Inspiration does not have a sports court for basketball or other games. It does have the Deck 14 City Sports Park, a mini-golf course meant to look urban with the addition of benches and picnic tables. The jogging track circles the course (eleven laps equal one mile), and there's a bit of a windy observation deck just forward.
Carnival Waterworks on Deck 11 is a multi-slide water park with a splash area for kids and adults. A corkscrew slide and side-by-side racing slides both have entrances on Deck 12. Minimum heights are 42 inches for the twister slide and 36 inches for the racing slide. The Deck 11 water play area has two smaller racing slides for little kids, and water sprayers and pipes that dump water when you pull a rope -- all contained within a wet splash area. Technically, babies and toddlers in diapers are not allowed to cool off at Waterworks, though there is no supervision and we saw several parents flouting this rule.
Sunbathing areas are found throughout the top decks. Lounge chairs ring the pool on Deck 11 (including some shaded areas with chairs and tables) and flank the Waterworks splash zone. More loungers are found forward of the funnel on Deck 12 and on Deck 14 aft of the mini-golf area.
The adults only Serenity Sun Deck is a bit hard to find. It's on Deck 9 aft, but there's no direct route to it. Either head to the outdoor seating area aft of the Brasserie buffet and head down the stairs, or head through the doors at the back of the Candlelight Lounge (right side). It has two hot tubs, brown wicker lounge chairs with blue cushions, as well as chairs and tables, a shower and bar service.
The indoor activity hub on the ship is on decks 7 through 9, and here is also where you can find most shipboard services. Passengers board the ship right into its heart, on the lowest level of the Grand Atrium (Deck 7, Empress Deck), where guest services and the shore excursions desks are centrally located. The art gallery is located just off the central space.
One deck up on Deck 8 (Atlantic Deck), you'll find the Elizabethan Shakespeare Library, off the central atrium. It offers a paltry selection of books and board games on loan, and is mostly used by families playing Monopoly or workaholics on their laptops. Between the atrium and the theater, you'll find the duty-free shops selling liquor, watches, jewelry, cruisewear and more. Look for limited-time sales on sea days.
Deck 9 (Promenade Deck) houses the photo gallery, which circles the atrium. You can view and purchase photos taken by Inspiration's photographers, along with frames, digital images on a cocktail-shaped thumb drive, canvas prints and camera gear, including GoPro video cameras. An array of specials are available, including discounts on first-night purchases and free gifts for purchasing multiple images.
Continue down the promenade to find Cherry on Top, the candy and gifts shop, and the Inspirations shop selling sun hats, beachy and formal purses, and scarves for $10 each. The conference room is tucked away in a corner by the bathrooms outside the Alchemy Bar.
Five Internet-connected computers and a printer are available by guest services on Deck 7, and another two are located on the Deck 9 promenade. Carnival Inspiration offers Wi-Fi throughout the ship, though we found that while we got service in the hallway outside our cabin, the reception was extremely poor inside. Three Internet packages are available, whether you use your own device or one of the onboard terminals. The Social package is $5 per day (or $10 to $15 per cruise, depending on length) and gives access only to select social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. The Value package is $16 per day (or $30 to $35 per cruise) and lets you surf most websites, including email programs like Gmail. The Premium package is $25 per day ($50 to $60 per cruise) and reportedly offers speeds three times faster than the Value plan, with access to Skype video calling or music streaming (like Spotify). You can use your purchased plan on any device (phone, tablet, laptop) but you can only use on one device at a time.
There's a medical center on Deck 3.Two self-serve laundry rooms with washers, dryers, ironing boards and a utility sink are located on Deck 6 across from cabin U154 and on Deck 7 across from cabin E4. A load of wash or dry is $3, and detergent and fabric softener packets can be purchased for $1.50. You'll need quarters to pay.
Smoking (including electronic cigarettes) is allowed outdoors on Deck 10 forward, starboard side, and indoors in the casino (including the Violins bar) and in the dance club. Cigars and pipes are only allowed in the outside smoking area.
If you're looking to spend some money on pampering yourself, head to Spa Carnival on Deck 12. It has a beauty salon, relaxation room and 11 treatment rooms. Men's and women's locker rooms provide towels, lockers and large showers, as well as complimentary steam and sauna rooms. The spa is open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
You can book a wide list of services from facials, massages, detox and cellulite-reduction treatments and couples massages to manicures and pedicures, haircuts and styling, teeth whitening, men's barbering services and waxing. Prices are high: $125 for 50-minute facial, $149 for a 50-minute hot stone massage, $70 for a pedicure. If you book two or three treatments from a select list, you'll receive 10 percent off the first treatment, 20 percent off the second and 30 percent off the third. The spa does offer "value" pricing at select times; for example, certain services are discounted on embarkation day and on port days.
Spa Carnival also offers ZSpa for teens ages 12 to 17. Choose from Acne Attack Facials (50 minutes for $99), father/son or mother/daughter massages (25 minutes for $99), manicures and pedicures, and hairstyling. Age-appropriate hair and nail services are also available for kids ages 6 and up. Parents must accompany kids and teens when booking treatments.
The fitness center is just forward of the spa, accessible through the changing rooms. It's pretty roomy for a ship of this size, with a large studio for group classes and spa seminars. Those looking to burn off last night's chocolate melting cake can get their heart rate up with elliptical trainers, treadmills and recumbent bikes, plus free weights and resistance training machines. Group classes include free abs and stretch classes; yoga, Pilates and Tour De Cycle are $12 per class and body sculpt boot camp is $34.
The gym is open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. According to the fitness instructor, peak times are mornings until 9 a.m. and then it's pretty uncrowded the rest of the day.
A jogging track circles the mini-golf area on Deck 14. Eleven laps equal one mile.
Like all Carnival ships, Carnival Inspiration knows how to keep kids entertained. Though it's a small ship for the line, it still has three separate kids' clubs, a waterslide park, plenty of cabins that sleep three to five, and Dr. Seuss at Sea-themed programming. Camp Ocean is unique in that its free, drop-off programming begins at age 2 and youth staff will change diapers.
Kids must be toilet trained to use Inspiration's pools, hot tubs, slides and water park; neither regular nor swim diapers are allowed. Children under age 12 are not allowed in the spa or gym, and kids ages 12 to 16 must be accompanied by an adult.
The two-room Camp Ocean is tucked away on Deck 11, behind the atrium. The Penguins room (for the littlest kids, ages 2 to 5) is painted with an under-the-sea mural of colorful fish and furnished with comfy couches, toddler-sized tables and chairs, and age-appropriate toys. The room for Sting Rays (ages 6 to 8) and Sharks (ages 9 to 11) is decorated with sea creatures and features a row of computer consoles for video games and a large flat-screen TV. The facilities are not as large as you usually find on newer, bigger ships, and while there are windows letting in natural light, they are painted so you can't see in or out.
Programming runs all day until 10 p.m., though Camp Ocean closes at meal times (generally 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.). On port days, you can drop off kids at Camp Ocean and leave the ship. Kids ages 2 through 11 have free play together, and youth staff will take them to lunch. During regular Camp Ocean hours, age-appropriate programming might include:
Penguins: silly songs and dances, Lego reef building, truck races and sea-themed arts and crafts
Sting Rays: dance class, video game time, UNO card game challenge, T-shirt coloring
Sharks: scavenger hunt, video game time, dance off, magic show
Youth Staff will take kids to the Towel Animal Theater show, but parents must accompany kids to Seuss at Sea events, such as the Seuss-a-palooza Parade and Story Time, as well as the extra-fee Beary Cuddly Workshop (where kids can make their own stuffed animals).
Note that Sting Ray and Shark activities are often combined, so kids ages 6 through 11 will be playing together. Kids ages 2 through 8 must be signed in and out of activities by their parents or guardian; kids ages 9 to 11 may sign themselves in and out, unless parents say otherwise.
From 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., Carnival offers a choice of two extra-fee, drop-off kid events. Night Owls is hourly group babysitting in Camp Ocean for kids ages 6 months to 11 years. Babies, toddlers and kids through age 5 are grouped together for movies and toys; older kids will be in a separate room for movies, video and board games, and music. Snacks are provided. The fee is $6.75 per child, per hour, plus a 15 percent gratuity; the rate is charged in half-hour increments.
Kids ages 2 to 11 can also choose to participate in themed evening parties, such as Beach Bash or the Owl Jams Party, for a flat fee of $15 per child plus a 15 percent gratuity. Kids cannot sign themselves in or out of Night Owls or evening parties.
A limited number of strollers are available to rent for an additional fee. High chairs are available in the main restaurants and the buffet, and the Carnivale and Mardi Gras dining rooms offer kids menus.
Carnival Inspiration has separate kids clubs for tweens and teens. Circle C (12 to 14 year olds) is located on Deck 8. It's pretty minimalist, with a dance floor and circular seating areas for hanging out, playing video games and watching movies. Activities run from the afternoon until 1 a.m. (start times vary on port and sea days), and might include movie watching, dodgeball, scavenger hunts, karaoke, waterslide competitions, video game play and games like Mafia or Apples to Apples. Circle is closed for dinner, but the facility might be open for unsupervised play throughout the day when programming is not taking place.
Club O2 (15 to 17 year olds) is one deck up on Deck 9, conveniently located next to the all-ages arcade. It operates the same hours as Circle C, and activities might include video game tournaments; games like Liars Club and Never Have I Ever; T-shirt signing; ping pong and bean bag tournaments; smoothie parties and outings to the evening show.