Well we did it. We went on our first cruise. Here is my review.
I will start with the day we left: 6/4/05 Dropped off at the airport and through security and discovered I forgot my cell phone at home. ok...I can live. Arrived in Tampa to find out there was a problem with the rental cars we booked for the weekend and the return home car. We thought we would sight see on the way back to Ohio at the end of our cruise. The new prices were hundreds more so we booked flights for our return. Headed to the 3 star hotel we found online in a cab. After a $35.00 cab ride we pulled in to a dive that was being sprayed for bugs. ugh!!!!! Called a friend who lives south of Tampa and they saved us on day 2. Went by the pier on the way to their home and saw the Miracle as she was docked. WOW she was HUGE!!!!
6/5/06 Spent the day in the sun at the pool.
6/6/05 Dropped off at the Tampa Port. Everything went very smooth. We were dropped off at11:00 and on the ship by 12:30 eating lunch. I felt the port authority was very pleasant!!! 1:30 we were able to go to our rooms. We were on the Riviera deck with 4 people ocean view room. The rooms were small but bigger then I had expected for 4 people. We met Ricky our room steward. GREAT guy!!!! Changed into our suits and headed for the Lido deck to get a few rays before the muster drill. 3:30 we put on our bright orange jackets and headed to our stations. This only took about 20 minutes. We then headed to the front of the ship so we could watch as we left the bay area. This was beautiful. We saw dolphins racing beside us as we pulled out to sea. At this point it was time to get ready for our 6:15 seating for dinner. We sat at a table for 10. we had 3 families at this table and we were very happy with our tablemates. Our dining room staff was the BEST!!! Great job Lenford and Gusti. After dinner we headed to the shopping area to taste some of the liquor. YUMMY!!! My friend and her son went to the show and my daughter and I went to our room, her ear was hurting from swimmers ear. (So we thought). Oh and by the way our luggage was in our room by 2:00pm
6/7/05 First day at sea. Well it basically rained all day. Lots of dark clouds when it wasn't raining. Very smooth sailing. Never even knew we were moving. This is the day I got a bruise on my leg the size of a saucer, as I played Carnival Fear Factor. After looking like a beached whale trying to make my way through the pool in round 1 I was eliminated...lol I went to several talks they had that day. The welcome aboard/ excursion talk and the super shopper meeting. All day was very cloudy so we spent the day getting to know the ship. Stopped in at the infirmary for ear drops for my daughter. $12.00 on board. We started getting ready for the Formal night and Meet the Captain cocktail party they had before dinner. Everyone looked very nice. Anywhere from tux and gowns to suits and nice dresses. We also posed for several formal pictures. This night we all went to the show. It was a singing and dancing show, that was very good. After the show we changed and ordered cookies and milk from room service then off to la la land as we were meeting at 7am for our Stingray Sandbar excursion.
6/8/05 We met at 7am and headed to Grand Cayman via tender. We were the first boat out to the stingray sandbar. We booked with Carnival online and had about 50 people on our boat. This was AWESOME!!! Stingrays by the hundreds following our boat as we got close to the sandbar. My daughter was scared to death until we ran out of squid and the numbers went down to about 100. She then braved standing there on her own touching them. The waves there were pretty rough since we had so much rain earlier. On our way back to the ship it poured down rain. As we were leaving the sandbar there were 5 boats pulling in, and we counted about 10 more headed out in the rain. We didn't shop here since it was raining we headed back to the ship. We were back onboard to eat lunch by 11:30. My daughter and her sore ear went to the cabin to take a nap and we layed out on the deck in the hit and miss showers. At 4pm I took her to the ship doctor when they opened to find out she had an ear infection. Poor thing. $100.00 later and about 5 minutes we were back in our cabin getting ready for dinner. They do have several things free in the infirmary. Tylenol, dramamine, advil cold and sinus etc. After dinner we went back to our room so she could lay down and let her meds kick in.
6/9/05 Cozumel ans sun!!!! Ha Ha not for long. We went to Paradise Beach around 11:00. The sun went in around 11:15 and a huge storm took its place. We ate lunch there at the restaurant. VERY good food!!! When we were done eating we sat there for a while watching the rain. After a few hours it stopped raining. We went back out onto the beach and sat there with only approx. 10 other people/ The sun cam back out and it was like having a private beach. We decided around 5pm to go back and do some shopping. We were there about 45 minutes until the sky opened up again and little did we know this was the beginning of Tropical Storm Arlene. We set sail around 10:15pm. As we were getting ready for bed the ship started to sway......and sway.....and waves started to crash...we went to sleep.
6/10/05 Welcome to hurricaine season!!! We woke up around 7am to crashing and rocking!!! It sounded like explosions hitting the ship. The waves we being thrown up over our window. Massive amounts of water. Security came by to drill metal plates up at our window. This was not a good day for sailing. Our Captain thought it might get better around 3pm but the as we were moving NE and the storm was moving NW, it changed directions and went North. We couldn't miss it. It was VERY quiet that day. Most people stayed in their rooms. Winds were being reported at 70mph. They had vomit bags by the 100's laying out everywhere. 2 of our people couldn't even get out of bed until dinner. At dinner there were only 5 of us. Ous assistant waiter was not there either. There were many empty tables that night. Most of the daily activities were canceled that day due to the rocking of the ship. They made substitutions but I dont think for most it mattered. After dinner we went back to the room (everyone feeling better) and started to pack. We sat our bags out by 10:00pm and watched CNN for weather updates. By this time we were not rocking as bad but still swaying!!.
6/11/05 DEBARKATION...We had to be out of the rooms by 8:45 so we headed for breakfast on the lido deck around 8:00. Sat there until about 8:45 and headed to the Empress deck for debarkation. This went very smooth. Despite the people pushing their way through the lines that weren't moving. I guess they thought out of over 2000 people they needed to be off the ship first....lol We were headed to the airport by 9:30. After a VERY long day of delayed planes etc we got home around 12:30am.
Would I cruise again? ABOSLUTELY!!! Just next time. we are going in March. To avoid tropical storms....lol Would I cruise Carnival again? Sure. We only had a few bad experiences with the purser desk staff, they were ALL rude!! It is an area they should look at for improvement. Did I like the INSPIRATION?? For a first time cruiser it was very nice. Next time however I would like to be on a bigger ship staying out longer then 5 days.
Wonderful time had by first time cruisers on immaculate ship, Inspiration. Embarkation and debarkation were like clockwork, particularly if you waited til last call to get off(around 10). Entertainment was first rate, from cocktail pianists, to rock and roll band, Classical string trio, and all the "Vegas style" acts. Food was well prepared, plentiful, diverse and tasty-but not gourmet. Service, from incredible cabin attendants, to food and drink servers, in fact everyone we had contact with, was friendly and helpful. Saw every type of cruiser from "Spring Breakers", young couples with infants, older groups of scrapbookers, handicapped and wheelchair bound, middle agers, second honeymooners, families with teens, and more.
Were surprised by the diversity, in fact. Everyone seemed to have their thing to do-lazing by the pool drinking, gambling and drinking, eating and drinking, taking in shows and drinking, etc. Ship must make at least as much on bar tabs as price of the cruise-beware. Some even brought coolers of their own stuff. If booking shore excursions-ours in Cozumel- do it online to save $$ and avoid crowded groups from the ships. The dune buggy tour was awesome. If you have a late flightout of Tampa, there is a place right in the terminal which will secure your bags for a nominal fee-very handy. Visit the Aquarium and Ybor City for a nice 1/2 day visit.
I'll try and talk about a couple of things that people might not have already written about. The cruise was splendid- had a ball as did the other 33 people in my group I believe.
Liquor: sold on board in duty-free shop and they will match any price you find off ship in Cozumel so it's worth it to buy it on the boat. You can't take it with you to your room or drink it while on board however. They told us only 1 liter per person without paying custom duty. On the last day, at 6:30am, if you have liquor to declare, you must go to a spot and meet w/ customs officer. I had 3 bottles, 2 over the limit and he waived me with no extra charge. The couple in front of me had 7 bottles, 5 over and he waived them also. He made a point of saying that this might not happen in every port but it was nice as we weren't charged anything extra. The boat runs a lot of specials, such as 2 bottles of Absolut for $21, etc. so youcan find some bargains. Warning- you have to carry it off the ship yourself and even though they put it in a nice box with carry handle-it's very heavy! The de-barking of ship went really nice also. We were off by 9:15. Basically, once they start calling a group, you can get in line as no one checks to see if you're in the right group, and walk off.
We ate dinner in the Marti Gras Dining room each night and it was good, not excellent, but good, and certainly more than plentiful. The only real complaint I heard was from 2 vegeatarians as their offerings each night were not that good at all. Captain's night was prime rib and lobster tails. The last night aboard they also had chautebriand which was very good. I gave extra tips to my stateroom attendant and Head and Ass't Waiter as they did an excellent job. A couple of people at another table were very disatisfied with their head waiter for the first two nights and put in a complaint. The next day, they received a letter saying that the problem had been attended to, and they noticed immediate change, for the better, at the next dinner so they obviously take things to heart if you make a complaint. If you don't have a good time on this ship, it's your own fault as there is plenty to do and they seem to work themselves silly to make it nice for you. I absolutely would go back.
We decided several months ago to go on the Inspiration with some friends. Our background is 12 cruises on several lines, 5 previous on Carnival (this is the newest Carnival ship we have been on). Our friends were first time cruisers. Due to financial reasons we booked a category 1A with the anticipation of being upgraded and our friends booked with a friend's part. They were give a 3 category upgrade and we weren't, so much for the past passenger mystique.
Our cabin had upper and lower berths but the room steward brought in a roll away which worked. The category 1A was larger than some of the other rooms we have had on other cruise lines. Our dinner reservations were messed up and the staff QUICKLY resolved them. Overall the ship's staff rates an A+ for service.
This is similar to the Fantasy but seems to be outfitted in darker colors. We needed a flashlight on the elevators to see what buttons to push. Overall the public areas seemed to darker than other ships we have been on.
The restaurant food was good and there were ample selections at dinner.The lunch selections were limited and the entrees on the buffet were also limited. Pizza, made to order sandwiches, salad bar, hot dogs, and hamburgers made p for the lack of selections at the buffet.
Cozumel - our 5th time there and we shopped. Costa Maya where else can you go to a Mexican Mall? There was entertainment but we elected to go into the little town and it was interesting. Dirt road and like stepping back into time. Our port call in Calise was changed at the last moment and we went back to Cozumel. We wanted to go to Xcaret bur it would cost about $30 extra and 3hours to go from Cozumel. I am writing a letter to Carnival on this.
Embarkation was easy and on the ship in about an hour. Debarkation was a 2 hour affair and was not well planned.
Overall a good cruise and we would do it again except for Cozumel.
Despite many e-mails and letters to Carnival Cruise Lines since our cruise aboard the Inspiration in October, I have received no satisfactory response to the following inquiry. "What is your policy regarding the horse racing game aboard ship?" The situation prompting the inquiry was the "pretend" horse race where passengers hop around the show room on wooden horses according to the roll of the dice. At $3 per bet, I'm estimating that well over $150 in wagers were placed, and in return the only single one ticket winner received $12. No explanation given to the general crowd mumbling response of "what the hell . . . ?" At this point, to the staff at least, this "game" became gambling and a way for Carnival to make money.
No one had any explanation for how the money was to be distributed, including the Cruise director, the Purser, or the ships accountant, further stating that "if they did they wouldn't tell me because it wasn't any of my business." I have received one generic response of no value and one general outline of how pari-mutual betting governs the game. No definition of pari-mutual gambling Iam aware of allows the fleecing of participants as was done by Carnival. Gamblers beware of all ship board "games" aboard Carnival ships and take note of the sign at the casino entrance that allows them to reset all jackpots between each cruise.
The week is over, all too soon - but I did want to report that our first cruise was a REAL success and we'll do it again - for sure !! My husband and I, and my sister and brother-in-law made this trip together and had a great time. I do advise going the day before your cruise - far less stress and a nice way to start out. We stayed at the Sailport in Tampa - and found it to be very nice.
Embarkation - less than one hour from the time we arrived at the port until we were having lunch on the lido deck. (Arrived at 11:30 - lunch at 12:30). Into our rooms by 1:30 and our luggage was not long after that.
We enjoyed the Inspiration - great service from both our Room Steward, Rupert, and our Waiter, Agnel. We found all of the employees of Carnival to be very friendly and willing to go out of their way to do anything for us. It of course took us a little while to find our way around - not sure if we were going UPor DOWN those first couple of days !!
The ship itself was in very good condition. The only place we noticed a little wear and tear, was some of the carpet, and a few scratches on some of the elevator doors. Other than that, we found the crew to be constantly vacuuming, polishing, cleaning, and even painting.
The food overall, was very good. There were a few things that needed a little spicing up, but I certainly understand why they can't do that in general - too many people would have problems with it. But there was certainly never a shortage of food and everybody should be able to find plenty that they liked. Service in the dining room was super. We only missed one night in the dining room - and that was the evening we were in Cozumel, when we decided to enjoy Pancho's Backyard for dinner. And I'm very happy to report that at least during our sitting (the 6:15 in the Mardi Gras Room), just about everybody was dressed for the formality of the evening. I honestly can't recall seeing anyone in shorts or jeans on those nights. Even most of the children were dressed for the evening.
As for children - there were plenty of them onboard -but overall, other than just a couple of times when a few would run down a hall or across the decks very loudly - most of them seemed pretty well behaved. The loudest that we saw, seemed to be the last night - perhaps they were just very wound up after a week of excitement and traveling.
The ports - Grand Cayman - here we did the Stingray City and Snorkeling, with Nativeways. We had never snorkled before so it was quite an experience - and the stingrays were very cool. Unfortunately, we didn't have much time to explore the port since this was a short day - so I guess we'll just have to visit again at some time.
Costa Maya - a new port - but the port itself was very nicely done. Bright colors, music, a pool. We had chosen to rent a golf cart and drove down to Marajahal (not sure about the spelling on that). We found a nice litte place on the beach and enjoyed about 3 hours there. Water was beautiful and clear, just what I've always dreamed of.
Belize - here we had decided to do the cave tubing with X-treme. X-treme was on time and took good care of us. We only had 13 of us in our group. The hike through the tropical rain forest was not terrible - but I must say - August is a pretty hot and humid month. We had no problem with mosquitos, which surprised us. But I must say, we were VERY happy to finally arrive at the cave to begin our tubing. Unfortunately, the water level was pretty low - so it required a good deal of paddling and many places were very shallow and it was a bit difficult to get through some of them. I"m glad we did it, but I must say, we were extremely tired at the end of the tour. Belize itself, is a very, very poor country. We had been told this ahead of time, but even so, were not quite prepared for the conditions under which many of these people live. And I must say, it's also a bit stressful, to be met in so many areas by the military - with the guns in the hands. Makes us very happy to live in a free country. Would we go back there - probably not. But if nothing else, it will make you very greatful for all that you have.
Cozumel - our favorite stop. We were fortunate, in that our port day there had been extended to 10:00 PM so we had plenty of time and never felt rushed as we did in some of the other ports. WE had been told that Chankanaab National Park was a great place to visit - so we gave it a try. We went by taxi - and it cost us $10 for the 4 of us. The park itself was very nice - and we had a great time snorkeling there. We had lunch in a nice little outdoor restaurant, right there at the park. We had dinner at Pancho's Backyard, back at the port and wandered around the shops before going back to the ship. It's a beautiful area - and we feel that we could easily go there and spend some time someday in the future.
Our sea days (Monday and Saturday) were relaxing days. We thoroughly enjoyed taking our chairs and sitting on the deck on the lido deck (on the outside, away from the pools and main activity). It was fantastic, sitting and watching the ocean and enjoyed the breezes. We did some of the shows, an art auction, the galley tour, and watched some karaoke - but a lot of the time, we just relaxed.
We had great weather (only 10 minutes of rain in Cozumel) - and very calm seas. Our room was a port-hole room in the front of the ship on the Empress deck - and we had no problem with excessive motion. Maybe had the ocean been a little rougher, we may have noticed it more - but none of us had any problem at all with motion sickness.
Debarkation was simple. We were to report to the lido deck by 9:00 - and we were fortunate to be the first group off the ship and we were off and through customs by 10:00. Of course, you do have a bit of a line going from the lido deck to the empress to get off - but just be patient and relax. And after such a wonderful week, standing in a line for a few minutes was nothing to complain about.
Would we do it again? - yes we will. Would I recommend the Inspiration ?- I certainly will. I heard a few people complain now and then - but listening to them, I think they would complain no matter what ship they were on.
We met some great people and we met up with CanadynGrl (Tracey) and her family and it was great meeting them. They were even on our Cave Tubing excursion with us. and I must say - our dinner tablemates were super people. We had a wonderful cruise. I hope all of you are as fortunate as we feel we were. Happy cruising to you all.
We flew in to Tampa (myself and my 14 year old son Matt) the day before we sailed . Stayed at the Courtyard Marriott downtown. It was a very clean hotel and the staff very friendly.
Sunday 8/15- I woke up so early, I was too excited to go back to sleep. Took a taxi to the pier at 11:00 and by 12:00 they were starting to let people on the ship. I'm telling you, I know we looked like 'country bumpkins' when we first walked on to that vessel. We just could not get over all the space there was, all there was to do and how many people there were. We spent Sunday wandering around the ship.
Dinner - We had late seating in the Mardi Gras room. At first I wasn't sure about our table because as I said, I was traveling with my 14 year old son. I noticed right away there were no kids at our table. But once the conversation started, my worries faded fast. There was a Cuban family from Florida (a couple traveling with their young college aged daughter and her husband)who were so interesting. The father came over from Cuba on a raft he built himself! And the younger man from Cuba held my son spellbound with his stories of growing up in Cuba. There was a couple from Indiana who had such a sense of humor . The woman treated my son as though he were her own grandson. She told him 'I bet you can tell I'm a grandma huh"? Anyway, we exchanged information with the Indiana couple and I hope to keep in contact with them via email. I thought it was interesting that my son did not want to eat in the main dining room. He did not want to get dressed up, but after that first night, while we were walking back to our cabin, he commented "boy, that was nice wasn't it? are we going to get to eat with them again tomorrow night"? He was glad to learn that they were our tablemates for the entire cruise.
Monday - A day at sea. We learned our cruise schedule was all changed due to a tropical storm. I had already booked shore tours outside the cruiseline so I had to scramble to re-book something through the ship . This was also formal night, which was a lot of fun. And another enjoyable night at dinner.
Tuesday - Cozumel was so beautiful. My son and I did the Atlantis submarine, which we both thoroughly enjoyed. We also did the Sea Trekking through Sandollar Sports. They were on the pier and I explained to them that I had booked with them for this cruise, but since our cruise schedule changed, I was here on a different day than what I had booked. I asked could they possibly squeeze us in as this was something we really wanted to do. They were super and we got to Sea Trek. Now I'm telling you, if I live to be 100 years old, this will still be one of the coolest things I have ever done. My son and I enjoyed this the most out of all our excursions. After that , we shopped a little and went back to the ship.
Wednesday - Belize was different from the other ports. Very poor and unorganized. We originally planned to do the Biking In Belize, but the tour was canceled due to not enough people signing up for it. We booked the Belize City and Zoo tour. The tour itself was very interesting and I learned a lot. My only complaint was there was this little girl throwing TEMPER TANTRUMS on the bus the entire time, which made it really hard to hear the tour guide. I could hear people around me making comments. I know kids will cry, but this was not cying. The girl was literally screaming. Throwing temper tantrums. She wanted ice cream, then she wanted to go to the gift shop, then was screaming because she wanted to go back to the 'hotel'. Her irresponsible father had the nerve to throw his own little 'temper tantrum' at my son and I after we got off the bus. I dont know if he overheard us talking or what, but it was extremely rude of him to put that spoiled kid on a tour bus full of people and ruin it for the rest of us. There were other kids on that bus and we didnt hear a 'peep' out of them. YOU KNOW if you have a kid that you can't control, and you should not put a kid like this on this type of excursion.
Thursday - Costa Maya, I could now belive how beautiful it was. We did the Chachoben (spelling?) ruins. Other than the tarantula was saw on the path, I enjoyed this excursion.
Friday - Grand Cayman, the water was so blue, it was unbelieveable. We did the Stingray City Sandbar/Turtle Farm and Hell Tour. I enjoyed the Turtle Farm and visiting Hell, but swimming with the Stingrays was awesome. My son and I got a picture of us holding a stingray.
Saturday - Day at sea and packing up.
Sunday - I have read a lot of complaints about the debark process. We were off the ship by 11:00 and it was really a lot smoother than I expected.
Erroll was our room steward. He was awesome! We rarely saw him, but we knew he had always been there because our cabin was always neat and clean. We started making jokes about him being a super-hero moving through our cabin a lightening speed. He left many cute little towel animals.
Jean was our waiter. He was funny, interesting and worked his butt off. He was from Haiti and sometimes it was really hard to understand what he was saying, but he was friendly and did an excellent job. I have no complaints about the food in the dining room. It was all delicious, hot (or cold if it was supposed to be) and there was always a variety to choose from.
My Best Tip - Bring the over the door shoe holder. I dont know what we would have done without it.
Money - I took $1000.00 in travelers checks and $60.00 in $1.00 bills for tipping. I came home with $500 in travelers checks and about $90 in cash.
My son and I thoroughly enjoyed our first cruise and would absolutely positively sail Carnival and Inspiration again.
Who: Me, My hubby, Greg, and our two teens - Samantha (19 y/o) and Kyle (16 y/o). From: Southern California To: Western Caribbean When: August 1 - 8, 2004 What: Carnival's Inspiration
We arrived in Tampa on the night before our first cruise ever with such anticipated excitement. We stayed at Marriott Springhill suites near Westshore and took a cab/van to the port the next morning for about 15 bucks (for the whole cab, not per person). We were a little worried because it was really rainy and we thought...well we did book this thing during rainy season, so we will just have to make the most of it. However, we were assured by a few of the crew (once we boarded), that we were headed for a sunny Caribbean. But I am getting ahead of myself....
Embarkation: This was a breeze. We arrived around noon and were whisked through different check points and security checks. We did some waiting but nothing bad at all. We were in group 5 to board and before we knew it, our number was called. We walked through the gangway and you would have thoughtwe all entered Oz. We looked up at the atrium and staircase and all we could do was smile. We immediately took a self guided tour around what would be our "home" for the next 7 days. We then headed to our cabin and settled in and met Joaquim, our room steward. He was awesome. Three of our bags had arrived already and our son's came shortly thereafter. We decorated our cabin door with a dry erase board and a fun little picture of "The Grisafes of the Caribbean" and went out on deck to watch the ship leave port.
The rest of the day was spent getting to know the ship and her crew and guests. We had a great dinner and loved our table mates. We were seated at a table for six. It was the 4 of us and then a young couple celebrating their 1st anniversary. They were a lot of fun. Our waiter, Edi, would prove to be fantastic. Always remembering our likes and dislikes and little details throughout the week. He was terrific. Later that night, my DH and DD and I went and had fun doing Karaoke while my son went to a Teen meet. We met a lot of people and, from that moment on, we didn't go anywhere on the ship where someone didn't say "hi" to us. At midnight, my daughter went to the singles meet at the Rock n Roll Disco and my son ended up there too. They had a blast and met sooo many people.
First Fun Day at Sea: The sun was in and out all day, but that didn't stop the pool from being used. We opted to just walk around and visit the casino. The kids hung out with their new found friends. This night was a formal night and Greg and Kyle went and rented tuxes for the occasion. We knew it wasn't mandatory, but we wanted to really dress up on these nights. We all chose to wear black and white and we had some great pictures taken. We attended the Captain's welcome dinner in the Paris Lounge and enjoyed the complimentary Manhattens and Whiskey Sours. It was great to meet all the officers too. Captain Garribbo (sp?) was one of the most handsome and youngest captains I have ever seen. I didn't expect that (the fact he was young, not the fact he was handsome..hehe). Greg and Sami danced, so did Greg and I and then Sami and Kyle danced together too. We then went to dinner and enjoyed Filet Mignon and Lobster Tails. Afterwards, the kids went to do some dancing and we joined them after Karaoke.
Grand Cayman: We had a late night, so we caught a late tender to shore. We were just going to be on our own and we were looking for a taxi when Kyle spotted a girl he had met. She was with her Mom and her friend. Her Mom had been to Grand Cayman before and said they were headed to a beach and we were welcome to go along. So, we all took a taxi to "The Sea Grape" beach. We had a nice day just out by the ocean. They had chair rentals and umbrella rentals, but we just used our towels. Greg rented some snorkel equipment (just the mask and snorkel) and he and the kids went out for a little while. I enjoyed just wading in the water. We had to be back to the ship by 2:00 PM (short day in port) so we left the sea grape at 1:00, which left us some time to spare. We did no shopping here as I was told it was expensive. We got back on the ship and left port. Then, about 5 minutes out, the ship stopped and waited. Greg and Sami were up on deck, about to play in a Volleyball tournament, and they said that the ship had to stop because a couple was left behind and they were on a tender coming out to meet us to get back on board. I would say that was close!!!! I heard the couple being paged over and over after we got onboard and wondered what was going on. When you go ashore, your card is swiped, so they know who came back onboard and who is missing. That couple has a story to tell...albeit, a bit embarrassing. Our impression of Grand Cayman was that it was a nice little city with beautiful beaches.
Costa Maya: I loved the ports where the ship would just pull right up to a dock and we didn't have to tender in. It was nice just getting on and off the boat whenever you wanted. Costa Maya is the most "untouched" of all the ports. There is port shopping, restaurants, native dancing and swimming built right at the pier just for the cruiselines, but we opted to rent a Golf Cart and head to Mahahual, a small village about a 10 minute golf cart ride away. This was my son's favorite port because it was a bit primative (in comparison to the other ports). Having the golf cart was great because we could explore on our own. There were little bars and restaurants along the sandy road. There were vendors selling their wares and they were happy to haggle. My son got sunglasses and a puka necklace for 10 bucks. The beers were 2 bucks at many of the walk-up bars along the beach. We were told by some crew members that this is what Cozumel was like about 15 years ago. If that is the case, it will be interesting to see Costa Maya in 15 years...to see the results of the tourist's dollar....good and bad. After our golf cart adventure, we went back to the port and had a late lunch at "Mamacita's". It was very enjoyable, although it wasn't a bargain. The food and beverages (alcohol and non-alcoholic) are about the same amount as they are at a Mexican Restaurant in the states. My daughter did get a cute little drink that was a hollowed out coconut Monkey with "Costa Maya" written on his belly. Nice little souvenir.
Belize: The tender ride from the ship is about 5 miles. I am not sure if this is because of a reef or shallow waters or what. But we were anchored way off shore. We had booked cave tubing with Wet n Wild. We got to the port way too early. Belize is two hours behind ship's time and we had to wait for our excursion. We could have slept in....but better early than late. 14 of us packed into an air conditioned passenger van and off we were to the rain forest. First impression of Belize City is that it looks to be very poor and there are alot of safety bars on windows and inside stores (between the customers and merchandise and clerks). Our driver said crime is bad there. We were out of the city and onto country roads for about an hour's drive. The last 20 minutes of the drive was an adventure in and of itself. We were taken off the main road and through bumpy, rocky terrain. There was some good jostling and I wondered how much the upkeep was on their vans from making that trek just about every day. We arrived at this little clearing where there were stacks of tubes, life jackets, restrooms and a large thatched-roof covered verandah. We left anything we didn't want to get wet in the van and off we went on about an hour's walk. During the walk, Rudy, our guide, would point out plants and paths and tell us stories of what things were and the animals that once lived there (they are gone now since too many people walk through there). There were some points were it would get a little steep but there were little stairs in the hillside. As long as you watched your step, you were okay. I saw where the cruiseline cave tubing excursion group was entering the river and we walked up further. We got into the river where there was a little rocky cliff and you had the option of jumping off the cliff and into the water or just getting in. Greg, Sami and Kyle all jumped off the cliff and I opted for the mild mannered way of getting in. The water was great! Especially after an hour hike. It was about 70 degrees. So far, we had encountered no bugs. Just a few little flies. I have had worse "buggy" situations in Florida and Alabama. We were into a cave shortly after entering the river and it was spectacular. HUGE caves that looked like a ride that you would see at a Disney theme park...but this was ALL natural. My favorite cave was the one with a waterfall inside of it. At one point we got off our tubes inside of a cave and went up onto a "beach" area (still inside the cave). Rudy asked if anyone wanted to follow him to climb into this remote area. My two kids were the only ones that went. They climbed up into this crevice and my daughter said there were remnants of some artifacts there. They had to slide on some mud to get down and I was a bit worried, but they were okay. We continued on down the river and there were parts that they called "rapids". We would have to go feet first so you could push yourself away from rocks if you got near them. I almost always had to do this. You also had to be sure to lift your bottoms because alot of places were shallow and I hit my rear once on a rock. It didn't feel too great, but I was lucky and didn't get a lasting bruise from it. The ride down the river lasted about an hour. Afterwards, we headed to the verandah area where you could smell barbequed chicken on the grill. They served us a meal that was sooo good. 2 large pieces of barbequed chicken, rice, beans, fried plantain, bread, salad and a yummy chocolate almond cake for dessert. We enjoyed some "Belikin" beer (which we bought), it was very good. They served lemonade which came free with the meal. After our meal, it was time to board the van and head back to the port. On the way back we had another little adventure. Our van broke down twice. The first time it seemed the belt was slipping because of the air conditioner. He turned off the air and opened the windows. This actually was better than the air conditioning anyway...so it didn't bother me one bit. Then ...a little while further down the road...the van died completely. Our driver didn't seem worried at all. He came into the van, got a fuse, went back out and put it in and "voila"...we were back on the road again. Although it was a bit scary since we booked independently and knew the ship wouldn't wait for us, I couldn't help but be impressed as to how prepared they were for such unforeseen circumstances. Marvin of Wet n Wild has never had people miss a ship yet and he told me it would be very bad for his business if it ever happened. They want you to get back on time just as much as you want to be back on time. We got back to port in time to do a little shopping before we caught the last tender...it was our second formal night and we were thankful we had an 8:30 PM seating for dinner. Note: Wet n Wild cave tubing cost 60 dollars per person and that includes the wonderful lunch.
Cozumel: This was mine, my hubby's and my daughter's favorite port. My son liked it too, but he picked Costa Maya as his fave. This port is another port where you pull up to a dock (pier). Our ship was lucky and we got the pier closest to town and all the shopping. There is another port further down where we saw "The Conquest", a RCCL Ship, and another ship (can't remember which one) all docked. We were to be in Cozumel until 10:00 PM and were very excited that we had a close walk to Carlos and Charlies and Senor Frogs. For our daytime entertainment, we decided to take a taxi to Paradise Beach because I had heard soo many great things about it on the internet. Let me say...it lived up to it all. We arrived about 11:30 am and were able to get free chairs, umbrellas and a table right by the water. The kids went out to the "iceberg" and immediately conquered it. It was a beautiful day and we had a wonderful conversation with Paradise Beach Tom, who gave us a little history about the beach. The Kayaks were free to use, the snorkel gear (even with fins) were free to use, the rafts were free to use, the tables, chairs, umbrellas....all free!!! It was amazing. Even if they charged a little fee per person to get onto the beach it would still be worth it. The only thing you paid for was food and drink. We had 2 orders for buckets of beer (5 beers on ice in a bucket), 3 "foo foo" drinks, an order of supreme nachos and an order of chips and salsa throughout the course of the day for 56 bucks...maybe a little more because we tipped the servers. The taxi ride was 14 dollars. The day wasn't bad at all for four of us. Oh, and let me say, the salsa was magnifico! Around 4 o'clock we left Paradise Beach (we got changed in their dressing rooms) and headed back to the town to shop a little. It was 14 dollars back and we went into a few stores but got our best deals with the outside vendors. My daughter got 3 necklaces (the shell and macrame type) and 2 anklets for 10 bucks from a man selling them from his cart. He offered any 3 necklaces and one anklet for 10 dollars, but as she was paying for it, he said to me..."you pick an anklet too, mama". I am still wearing it and haven't taken it off since. We also bought some tequila here at a place that let you taste the tequila. I got a bottle of Cofradia for 22 dollars. After some shopping we headed back to the boat to drop off our purchases and freshen up and then head out for dinner at Carlos and Charlies. Some of the kids' friends from the ship were going to be there. We arrived at Carlos and Charlies and got a table by the road and overlooking the ship and pier. This place was a lot fun! We did the chicken dance on our chairs and had fun dancing and listening to the music. What a great place. The food was nice...comparable to mexican food we have had around Los Angeles, where we live, but it was nothing to rave about. This place is all about the party atmosphere. The kids found their friends and soon my hubby and I were on our own and we headed back to the ship...closely behind our kids. What a beautiful nighttime walk back to the pier. The Inspiration looked marvelous as her and her lights were reflecting in the water. What a great day.
Another Fun Day at Sea: It was a nice day, but alot of it is spent preparing for debarkation. We attended the debarkation talk. It was nice to be able to recognize and applaud some of the crew there. Afterward, we had to pack and get ready to put our bags out between 10 PM - 12 midnight. Greg, me and Sami wanted to do the talent show which was at 10:30 PM in the Paris Lounge, so we knew we had to get our packing done so we wouldn't be rushed after the show. We signed up for the talent show around 4:30 PM. They take the first 8 people in line. Then we had a rehearsal. All the performers were great. Greg and I did a duet and Sami had brought her guitar, so she sang an original song and played her guitar. It was sooo much fun being the entertainment in the main room for the last night. We all got our "24 carat gold plastic ships on a stick" and a certificate of particpation and the next day we bought the talent show video. What a great momento! The rest of that night, we couldn't go anywhere without being stopped and complimented...it was our little 15 minutes of fame.
Debarkation: This wasn't quite as smooth as embarkation. Just be prepared to wait. We had the pink group and we were called toward the end. We had to wait in the Paris lounge for our color to be called. It wasn't too bad...they had movies playing on the big screen. Once we were called, we got off the ship and were taken to this big area to find our luggage. Then, another wait in line. My hubby had got up early to go to the customs check at 7:30 am in the Shakespeare Library because we were over our alcohol limit. We had 5 liters of booze we bought on the ship plus the bottle of tequila from Cozumel. We thought that each adult could bring 2 liters off the ship tax and duty free, but found out it was 1 liter per person at the debarkation talk. This makes me wonder why they sell "2 fers" with a free bottle in the ship's shop. We got 2 bottles of Absolut for 19.99 and 2 bottles of Baileys for 34 bucks...with that purchase they gave you a free bottle of gin. Anyway, Greg sat down with the customs official and was asked questions and the guy was very nice and waived us through without having to pay the tax or duty on any of it. It pays off to be honest. Since our declaration had been approved already, when we got to the front of the line in port, we were put through quickly. That was it...we waved goodbye to the Inspiration and headed toward Tampa to stay a few more days....apparently we left just in time last night as Tampa is battoning down the hatches for a hurricane. Talk about timing.
Overall Impression of the Ship: I can't say enough good things about the crew. The service was outstanding. Edi, our waiter in the Mardi Gras room and Joaquim (he had us call him "Joe"), our room steward were fantastic. We had a great time with Marcus, one of the social hosts too! The ship itself is showing a bit of wear and tear but she is still beautiful....mostly in the elevators where unruly guests have not given the Inspiration the respect she deserves. That was sad to see. I was worried about sea sickness, but only felt a little "off" on the first day...and I think it was more psychological than anything. Our cabin was main aft and while pulling in and out of ports we did have some vibration and there was a very light "humming". I don't know if this happens in all the cabins aboard though..I have nothing to compare it to. We did feel some gentle rocking, but we actually liked that.
MVT (Most Valuable Tip) - It would have to be a toss up between the over the door compartment hanger and the power strip. Both were very handy and I don't know what we would have done without them. There is only one 110 outlet in the room, so if you want to plug in camera chargers, curling iron, blow dryer...etc. The Power strip is the way to go. We still tried to only have 2 things plugged in at once, so as not to overload the system. The over the door compartments were a much needed space saver...especially with 4 people in a cabin.
LVT (Least Valuable Tip) - The duct tape never came out of the wrapper. This is not to say if we would have had torn luggage or something that it wouldn't have been handy...but for this particular cruise, it was not needed.
Tips we would like reiterate or offer up - We had six hundred dollars in traveler's checks and cash. We had 2 bundles of 25 singles. This was very handy! Having the singles ready for room service tips, taxi tips, laundry, waiter tips for the beaches that served drinks...whatever...it was great and just the right amount of cash/traveler's checks. I brought a little fan for inside the room. I like to be a little chilly with moving air at night. The A/C worked great...don't get me wrong, but I like moving air. Zip lock bags are fantastic for EVERYTHING! I took a full box and used them to make sure things stay dried. I also brought a couple of large garbage bags to put dirty laundry in to keep seperate from clean clothes. This also worked great for transporting laundry to and from the laundry mat on board. The kids going to the meets the first nights to meet people their own age. I have a feeling they would have been alright anyway...but this was a great way to break the ice. The late seating for dinner was wonderful. We are night owls and this worked great for us. I was sooo thankful on those days of getting back to the ship at 5 PM from a port that I didn't have to immediately get ready for dinner. We could catch a nap if we wanted to and take our time. Hubby's only complaint about the late seating was that it interfered a little with the Karaoke times...haha!
MFT (most fun tip) - Putting a dry erase board on our cabin door. This was not only a handy way of communicating with our room steward (ie: "can we have some clean beach towels?..thanks"), but it became very fun. Joe (our steward) would write things like "Tonight is formal night..hahahaha" or "Have fun in Cozumel"...and we would write back to him .."Thanks for all you do, Joe" or "You are the best, Joe". He cleaned up so many of our messes and at the end of the cruise we were sure to put our money where our dry erase board words were and gave him more money over the suggested amount we paid on the S & S card. The board was also fun for the kids. The friends they would meet on the cruise would come by our room and leave messages like "Sami, come find me up at the Rock n Roll club"...or "Kyle, Meet us at Carlos and Charlies". The latter was waiting for us when we got back to the ship before going out to C & C's in Cozumel. Their friends would write nice little notes to them too. We got little fun comments on it from strangers just passing by too. Not one time did anyone write something negative. The doors of the cabins are metal which makes it easy. Just buy one of those magnetized dry erase boards and you are set.
Fun obscure little highlight: Coming back to the room every night to see turn down and our little towel animal (A different one every night). Having the chocolates on the bed with the next day's capers. It was so much fun getting into bed with the highlighter pen (another great tip) and marking down the things we wanted to do.
Note: I only mentioned names of crew members and excursion guides to help any future cruisers. I didn't mention names of fellow cruisers because I don't know if they would have wanted that. I do want them to know that I remember them and their names, but left them out because I didn't want to assume I had permission to use them. We had such a great time meeting you and spending time with you (and you know who you are..hehe). Thanks for making our cruise that much more special.
Final Thoughts and Conclusion: What a fantastic way to experience our first cruise. It was a great way to vacation. We loved the ship and Carnival. If you go with a positive attitude and to have fun...you will!!!! No doubt about it. The food was not fantastic, in our opinion. Some nights and some entrees were, but overall, it wasn't amazing...but it was good. I didn't enjoy the Brasserie (the buffet) as much as the sit down meals in the dining room. I loved room service and enjoyed the 24 hour pizza that was available. The drinks on board were yummy and the cost was about the same as any night club. Take advantage of the drinks of the day which are $2.95.
The service was great and we always saw crew members polishing, shining and cleaning the ship. They had pride in her. After all, it is their home and only ours briefly. They truly want you to admire her (the ship) and have a good time while traveling aboard.
All in all, it was a fantastic cruise and my family agrees it was one of the best family vacations we have ever had. It was truly memorable. The Inspiration has definitely inspired us...
...to become cruisers for life!
To see some of the photos I took on this cruise you can visit my photo gallery here:
I sprung out of bed in our home in Brandon, Fl (20 minutes from Tampa) and began the exciting last minute packing of toiletry items and such that I couldn't pack a month ago when I started preparing for our journey because they would be needed the night before.
By the time I had showered and adorned my "cruise embarkation outfit" complete with a wide brimmed straw hat, the group of those who would be coming with us started to arrive. Along with my husband and son, my two sisters were joining us and they both brought a guest. So it was 7 cruisers in all. My husband, son and I had sailed 4 times before this but it was the other 4's first cruise.
There was a ton of last minute craziness as we tried to get out the door but finally we were off. As we were driving down the road full of anticipation, the blue and red symbol of all that is Carnival came into view at last. The funnel towers over the surrounding buildings at the Port of Tampa. Then the whole ship could be seen andwe cheered for our new home.
As we drove closer, we passed by cruisers milling around with their luggage. One look at them and we were slightly worried, none of them looked happy. What kind of people were we traveling with? That's when I realized they were not our fellow cruise mates BUT those who had just gotten off the ship. They all looked sad and I knew it was because they had to go home. I couldn't help but feel mixed emotions part of me was so HAPPY to not be them as they sat and waited for their transportation to take them back to their jobs the next day. The other half of me felt a sense of foreboding because I knew all to quickly that would be me in just 7 shorts days. I decided to go with the happy feeling, as I'd have plenty of time for the sadness next Sunday.
We dropped our luggage off and we said good-bye to our parents, who had graciously dropped us off. We headed up the escalators to the check-in area. As we waited in line for the metal detectors they started calling group number one to board the ship, this was around noon. As we passed through the security area, I was surprised at how big the check-in area was. It's much larger then Port Canaveral (the only other port we've sailed out of.) There were plenty of extremely helpful Carnival staff to take our boarding information and before we knew it we were assigned a group and directed to the waiting area. We were group 10, as we sat down they called group five. We had maybe a 30 minute wait and we were ready for our boarding pictures. This didn't take as long as we thought it would. There were several large groups in front of us which speed up the embarkation picture taking time since they all took their pictures together. We got on board and one of my sisters headed directly to the pursers desk to add money to her Sail N Sign Card so she would avoid the lines later. The rest of us had used a credit card. The atrium area is nice and the large golden sculpture that adorns the area reaches up to the beautiful skylight above. The main "lobby" area does feel a little smaller then on other ships we've been on (Pride, Fantasy, Sovereign of the Seas) but it is centered around the beautiful marble stair case.
We headed up to the Lido deck to waive good-bye again to my parents who had walked over to the Channelside Shopping area to catch a movie so they might be done when we sailed. Next, we went into the Brassiere for lunch. The décor in here was as others had suggested a tad "loud." It took a little getting used to because it made the room feel more crowded then it really was. The metal tubing décor was neat but it took up extra space that could have made the room feel more open and inviting. Otherwise it was a good lunch. My son and husband immediately went to the pizza line. I had some very nice lasagna and other foods. There was a nice variety and I tried a little of everything some things were wonderful others I didn't care for. But in my opinion that's the one of the great things about cruising, trying new things. The burgers and hot dogs are really good. I know that's not the exotic cruising menu that you would imagine but after eating escargot and quail the night before sometimes a traditional American food is comforting while away from home.
After lunch, we went to check out our staterooms. One sister had a 1A (inside cabin with an upper and lower bed) and this was the first time I had been in one. I thought it was quite charming and enough space for the two of them. They did say that they took turns sleeping in the "top bunk" because it wasn't as comfortable as the bottom. Not sure if it was their bed in particular or all 1A's have this problem. My other sister and her boyfriend had a 2 person Outside Cabin on the Starboard side and we had a 3 person Outside Cabin on the Port side. The cabin was nice and clean. My one complaint was their cabin seemed cooler then ours. I know some people complain about the inside rooms on the ship being too cold but my husband enjoys keeping the thermostat at our house to 72 degrees during the day and 69 at night. So it was hard getting used to the temperature change. We turned the dial on the air conditioner to high but it never got quite as cold as we would have liked. I saw no blatant areas of disrepair in the rooms. The bathroom floor did look like it had been re-tiled recently. And there were some carpet stains in some of the hallways but nothing that seemed alarming. The elevators were the one place that needed attention. The tile on the floor (small mosaic patterns) was missing tiles and the paint on the doors was peeling or had been unfortunately engraved with initials of some careless teen. Otherwise, every time I turned around there was a happy crew member polishing the stair rails, wiping the glass, or scrubbing off chairs.
After perusing the material in our rooms, we went to the shore talk for the first two ports were we met our cruise director Steve. We soon found out that Steve was a funny guy but he talked and talked and talked way too much. This would be a theme throughout the cruise. He would start out great and then just get into way too much detail about events. His announcements over the load speaker were even worse. We often joked about placing bets on how long he would talk for at the next announcement. It got to the point where we would tune him out. We left the shore talk early because we felt like we were back in school attending a lecture. We had pretty much decided on the tours we were taking anyway, thanks to the tips on the message boards and reviews we read.
Next, we were called to the life boat drill. This was the easiest drill ever. On past drills we were made to line up military fashion, life jackets buckled, as the crew members checked our names off on a list and we waited on the hot deck for what seemed like hours. This time we had the Lido deck as our muster station. I guess they felt sorry for us having to wait in the non-air conditioned space because we were allowed to sit around on deck chairs near the pool and never once had to adorn a life vest. This was over fairly quickly but to my disappointment the ship had already pulled away from the port before we were dismissed. We made our way to the back of the ship to wave good-bye but we had already made it so far away from the pier, the people at Channelside were already a blur. A tad dismayed we made our way back to the cabin to stow our vests and then headed back up on deck for the customary Sail Away Cocktail.
We went to the Aft Verandah deck and found some lounge chairs to relax in near the smaller pool, as we navigated our way out of the channel. Not having sailed out of Tampa before, I was really looking forward to sailing under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. I had heard in past reviews that it's quite a site and that the funnel barely fits. So with much anticipation, we awaited as the triangular forms got closer and closer. As we began our pass under the bridge, I felt like a child again. I knew deep down that we wouldn't hit the bridge but at the same time I could not help feel a slight fear because it does in deed appear to just barely scrape by. It was a great adrenaline rush as the funnel cleared the huge bridge span and we were on our way out to sea. Everyone up on deck clapped!
We lingered on deck for a while and then strolled over to the front (bow) of the ship for a different view. It was quite windy up front and we had to hold on to our hats and tuck in our shirts. We were just staring out at the vast blueness and then something happened that I've always wanted to see on a cruise. In true Titanic fashion a group of dolphins was playfully racing the ship out to sea. They jumped in and out of the water right in front of the boat. It was a beautiful sight.
After that we headed to our cabins to get dressed for late dinner in the Carnivale Dinning room (8:00pm). Dinner in the dining room has always been an event for me. We get dressed up and dine in style. Unfortunately, this night would be a tad disappointing but the good news is it got considerably better each night. Because it was the first night there was quite a large line to get in the dining room as passengers were directed to their tables by the numbers on their cards. I don't think anyone enjoys waiting in line but this one seemed to take an eternity. The only consolation was that it would not be like this every night. We finally found our table. It was a 6 person booth with an extra chair at one end on the starboard side a row away from the windows. We sat down and were given our menus. I like to take full advantage of the menu by ordering an appetizer, a soup, a salad and an entrée. I had the fried tiger prawns with rice and a very nice honey ginger sauce (which was quite good). Others had lamb. My sisters' boyfriend had steak. The waiters (sorry they told us their names a few times but I am horrible with names) brought out the appetizers to those who ordered it and the soup to the rest and then skipped right to the salad for everyone rather then bringing out the remaining soups. They were gone so long getting the main course we didn't have a chance to ask for the missing soups. When they brought the main course we decided to just eat that and not worry about the soups as we could always get more food later. The next issue came when they forgot the steak and we were all done with our meals before my sister's boyfriend even started his. Dessert was uneventful but I had a heavenly Chocolate Decadence Cake! I think overall the desserts were much better this cruise then any I remember in the past. Usually, they taste bland to me but they were great this time. They still need to work on the Cheesecake though. I like a heavy New York Style cheesecake but on cruises I've only been able to get French style which is too light and reminds me too much of Jello.
After dinner we went to the welcome aboard show. There was a comedian who was quite good but this was the one combined show (early and late dinners) and there was no room for those who had late seating. After the show we brought our son (age 11) back to the room for bed and as expected the room steward had turned down the beds and placed the chocolates on our pillows. Ahhh the cruising lifestyle! She had also brought the welcome basket of goodies which I noticed was missing when we first went to look at our rooms. I had assumed Carnival had stopped this process but thankfully I was wrong. We went for a walk on deck after this. The moon was almost full and was a beautiful sight as it reflected on the water. We kind of missed the star gazing that we had on past cruises as the moon was too bright. But the full moon at sea was a new experience for us and we relished it. Around 11:30pm, we headed over to the Candle Light Lounge to watch the R rated comedian. I liked him the most of all the R rated shows we'd see as he didn't have to use a ton of cussing as his main form of comedy. After the show we were exhausted and went to bed.
Monday May 31, 2004
We woke up fairly late for a cruise. It was about 10am and since it was a day at sea we weren't in a rush to do anything. We got dressed and eventually made it up to the Lido deck for lunch. We did the usual sampling of each dish. My son stayed true to his beloved pizza. After lunch, we went up on deck and played the hunt for lounge chairs game. We found an open area and a stack of chairs near by so we claimed them both. No sooner had we settled in, when all around us people were doing the same thing. Before we knew it, we were pretty much boxed in. It was a beautiful day and we spent several hours reading magazines and watching the ship stream through the water. I finally got a tad too hot and decided it was worth the risk of stepping on people to take a break from the heat.
We did some exploring, found some bars and shops we'd missed yesterday and then headed to the Candlelight Lounge for the Art Auction. My son went back to the room to watch a movie. The art auction was pretty much like others we've been to. I go for the free champagne but my husband is all about the art. I admit its nice learning about contemporary art. After the auctioneer promised a free piece of art to who ever showed the most enthusiasm, it was a game to 2 fellow passengers. They had a "whooo hooo" and "wow" fest over every little thing. At first it was entertaining but by the 2nd hour it got a tad annoying. We did find a painting we wanted to bid on. We'd gotten 5 on a prior cruise. One was a free give away for all who attended, one we won and the others we bid on because we had just moved and needed something to cover the walls. Two were Kincaid seriolithographs which compared to the starting prices now, we got for a steal back then. For this auction, we found an Alexander Chen for about $115. We have one he did of the New York sky line and this one is of the Grand Canyon. My sister and her boyfriend bought two pieces of art also. If you've never been to an auction it's worth a try.
After the auction we went back to the cabin to relax and then get ready for the Captain's Gala in the Paris Lounge. It was formal night. We were all dressed in our best and my son was especially excited to dress up in his new suit. We found a seat way in the back of the Paris Lounge and the waiters brought hordevers and drinks by. We listened to the welcome speech by the cruise director and the captain introduced the senior officers. Everyone cheered the loudest for the chef.
Next, we went around and had our picture taken at the pre-set backdrops. I tried to get a nice group shot but as I would later find out that was near impossible. I had my eyes closed in some. People were looking in 5 different directions in another. It was fruitless.
Next came dinner. Lobster tail night! But the tails were disappointing. My tail was at least edible but others at my table sent theirs back in exchange for the fish. My one tip is to listen to what the waiter recommends. He never steered me wrong and if he suggested a dish I didn't want to try, I'd ask for the next best recommendation. Another good rule of thumb, I've come to learn, is to stay away from pasta dishes on all cruises. There's something about them, I don't think pasta does well to be mass produced. I confirmed this by trying my son's pasta dishes. It's been posted before but I can confirm that you must try the Pumpkin Soup. It was the most memorable dish the whole trip. And its not overly pumpkiny either for those who don't like pumpkin, its just so good!!
After dinner, we headed over to the Candlelight Lounge to watch the first part of the hockey game (GO LIGHTNING!!!) Then during intermission we went to the Paris Lounge for the first dancing show. "El Nuevo Caribe" was a very good show. The two singers were wonderful. The male singer was great for the songs as he and they were both of the Latin persuasion. The female singer reminded me very much of Christina Aguilera. We thought we had to get there super early to get a good seat but we ended up in the second row. The cruise director was nice enough to announce at the end of the show that the Lightning had won (YEAH!!!) which had to be hard for him as he hailed from Canada and was a Flames fan. They also asked all Military personnel to stand up before the show in recognition of Memorial Day. I thought this was a nice touch especially since there were only 3 American crew members on board. We left the show and went to bed.
Tuesday, June 1
We woke up and were docked out just off the coast of Grand Cayman. We had an early shore excursion and woke a tad late so we dressed and ran to the Paris Lounge to meet the rest of the ppl on our excursion. We got there and were told to go directly to the 3rd deck and get on a tender. The tender ride was not long maybe 5 minutes. We got off and took the customary picture and then waited under the sign for our tour. We had decided on a city tour because on past cruises we never got the full "educational" experience of the port. We got on a nice bus that was well air conditioned. In Grand Cayman they drive on the left side of the road since it's a British Colony. We drove by tons of hotels and the governor's house. The governor's house was not that impressive but the driver made a big deal about it and even stopped in front for a few minutes. She was an interesting tour guide. While she did give us a good educational talk about the island, some of the things she thought to be exciting were a tad strange. The most so was the "Outback Steakhouse." I still can't get over the fact that she made a huge effort to pull into the parking lot and stop so we could admire the Outback Steakhouse. He he he.The highlight of the tour was the Turtle Farm. I would recommend visiting there by itself though. The rest of the tour was a tad disappointing but I got what I wanted out if it which was the education part. The other places we stopped where 7 mile beach (for a quick picture), the town of Hell, and the Tortuga Rum Bakery/Store. The Tortuga Rum store is right next to the Turtle Farm so it's not much of an additional stop as it seemed to be advertised. But they have really good rum fudge and you get to sample all the cakes and drinks you wish. When we finished the tour, we took a quick walk to the west of the pier and bought some t-shirts and other souvenirs. We thought about going to the beach after this but we were tired and hungry so it was time to go back to the boat. My sisters each did there own thing in Grand Cayman. One went to the Treasure Island beach which was a ship excursion that included use of the hotel's amenities but you had to pay for the taxi to get there. We noticed a very nice public beach on our drive and I'd advise saving the money and just getting a taxi to there. My other sister rented a Jeep and went bar hopping. She's the brave one as I wouldn't attempt to try and navigate the traffic especially on the "wrong" side of the road.
Back on the ship, we sat outside and enjoyed the view of the city as we ate lunch. There was a Royal Caribbean boat anchored there also. The funny thing was they were using their tender to ferry passengers back and forth but we used Grand Cayman ships. Not sure why that was. We could also see quite a few snorkeling excursions that were just off shore. After lunch, we went back to the cabin to watch a movie and napped. We went to dinner early and had drinks at the Chopin bar just above the Carnivale dining room. This was to become our main pre-dinner hang out. We talked about our day at dinner and while I can't recall the menu I do have one piece of advice. If you have the pumpkin soup, don't try the Lobster Bisque the next day. It pales in comparison and seemed to be made with the overcooked lobster from the night before. The rest of the meal was wonderful though. There was another R rated comedian at night and we stayed out late since we didn't have to get up early in the morning the next day (docking is at 11pm in Costa Maya).
Wednesday June 2
We slept in late and went up for lunch around 11:15pm. They were still setting up and changing over from breakfast so we went outside to watch the docking process at the Costa Maya pier. We were at the back of the boat and one look at the seas gave me a sense of foreboding. Past cruises we've missed a port because it was unsafe to tender. I was happy that we would be docking at a pier here, rather then tendering, until the Captain came over the load speaker. The minute I heard his voice I knew there was a problem. The waves were too strong to dock! We watched as the workers below on the pier released the ropes and we started to move away from the pier. I was devastated. The Costa Mayaians didn't look too happy either as they saw a source of revenue slide back out to sea. We went into the Brassiere and I just sat there too upset to eat. Eventually, the cruise director announced over the speakers that we would be leaving immediately for Cozumel. We would dock by 7pm and stay overnight there so we would be able to enjoy the night life. This consoled me a little so I was at least able to eat but I was still upset that we would be missing the most exotic port. We ate lunch and went back to the room. We had received a new Caper and a letter from the Captain apologizing and letting us know there'd be a $25 credit on our Sail and Sign account. This made me feel better too. I know its not much but its more then we received on past cruises after missing a port. My spirits were lifted even more when I went to talk to my sister in her cabin and we met her room steward who told us how excited he was about missing the port. It turns out the crew lives for times like this when they can go out to Cozumel at night and enjoy themselves. Even though we didn't take advantage of the nightlife in Cozumel (although my sister and her friend were the first person's off the boat) because we had a 7:30 am tour the next day, I was happy for the crew.
I don't recall all that we did to bid our time until the ship docked but around 6pm, I went up on deck and got a good seat for the docking at Cozumel. There were 3 other ships all Carnival already docked at the 2 piers and we tried to see who could read the names first. I had my binoculars but it was very windy. Finally, we could make out the Holiday, Celebration, and Elation. One of them was leaving and we ended up docking next to the Elation. They finally left at about 10pm. We went to dinner minus my sister and her friend so it was just 5 of us. Then we went up on deck and had a night game of volleyball. My sister and her boyfriend brought a ball and they were dying to play but it had been too windy previously when the ship was moving. We played and then watched the sister ship sail away. Next, we went to catch the end of the show in the Paris lounge. It was a magician and the comedian from the night before. The magician was better then expected but the comedian was indescribable. We commented the night before that we wondered how this guy would do a PG show because 90% of his act was cussing. Well it turned out he couldn't do PG. There were tons of little kids in the audience because their parents thought they'd enjoy the magician. When the comedian came out, the 3rd sentence out of his mouth had the "s" word and then as he tried to get into a story he used the "f" word and other colorful language. The little boy in front of us instantly caught it and yelled, "Daddy, he just said a bad word." This was not the worst of it, however, because as the comedian continued on, we could noticeably tell he was plastered. He was slurring his words and not making any sense. Half of the comedy that night was our amazement that he was allowed to go on stage like this. His set only lasted about 10 minutes but the cruise director was notably upset afterwards when he bid us goodbye. We went to bed after this so we could manage the tour in the morning.
Thursday, June 3
This was the best day of the cruise. We got up early, dressed and grabbed a muffin and then headed to our meeting place in the Paris lounge again. We left for our tour and immediately boarded a ferry to take us to the main land of Mexico (Playa del Carmen.) We had originally wanted to book the horseback ridding trip but it turned out despite excursion lists we read online, it was for ages 12 and up and our son just missed the cut off. We racked our brains for something to replace it and decided upon the 4 X 4 Cavern and Beach trip. Mostly because everyone else was going cave tubing in Belize and we had already decided snorkeling was a must here because of past reviews. Also, because I've never been in a cave and have always wanted to.
We found a seat on the ferry and thought even though it was a 45 minute ride it would be a good way to wake up. However, the boat will be forever dubbed the Puke Ferry. I never felt sea sick but this was the exception. I should have gotten the hint when we were in the Paris Lounge and one of the Asst. Cruise Directors was passing out Bonine but I had to learn the hard way. I also should have taken the hint when I got on and noticed everyone was sitting in the middle aisle away from the windows. Why did they not want to enjoy the view? I soon found out that it was because the side to side motion was horrendous. No, I didn't officially get sick but I've never come closer. We finally docked and I was so happy to be off that boat. I was, however, dreading the ride back.
We separated into our tour groups and walked through the shopping square to our awaiting Jeeps. Another reason we choose this tour was because my husband gets car sick unless he drives so the thought of being able to drive was a quick sell for him. We got in our jeeps and drove off caravan style to the caverns. It was very interesting driving. It was the first time I've really felt like we were in a foreign country. The signs were in Spanish and the neighborhoods made the poor neighborhoods of Tampa look like palaces. There was a lot of rubble everywhere. I couldn't help feel like we were in a war zone with piles of rocks scattered around everyone's yards and large holes in walls. We drove on the Mexican highway and then got off on a dirt road to get to the caves. My husband was a tad disappointed as he thought the off road part would be more exotic and that we'd get to go faster but I was happy enough with the bumpiness of the dirt road.
We arrived and were given stylish red hard hats and let into the cave. It was very beautiful to see the stalactites and stalagmites. We went half way in and then saw above us an opening to the air with a tree growing right in the cave. It felt like magical place out of a story book. Just beyond this was the underground lake. We changed to our suits and put on the provided life jackets. As we jumped in, the water was freezing. It took a while to get used to but after that it was refreshing. We swam around with our tour guide pointing out different things and even got to swim through a small above-ground passageway. The view and the water were magnificent. The whole cave is lighted and the only draw-back was trying to swim in between people to get a good view of certain things. We left the cave and were given a cold drink. We were allotted 10 minutes to use the rest room and shop at the "Mexican Wal Mart" that had been set up while we were in the caves.
Next, we got back in the jeeps and drove to La Playa beach. It was a longer drive then I had expected but it gave us a good opportunity to sightsee. We passed many of the other sites offered as tours including many of the ruins and XCaret. We arrived at the beach and found a picnic table for our belongings. My son and husband hit the water but I was starving so I found the buffet that was included in the excursion. There was salad, beans, chicken, beef and fish tacos, and chips. It was all very good but very spicy! The beach was nice but smaller then expected. There were hammocks and a small amount of lounge chairs. The water was refreshing and there were nice waves. Being from Tampa, we only get small waves most of the year on the east coast of Florida so it was nice to have west coast type waves to enjoy. After swimming, I relaxed in the hammock and then we took a few pictures. One word of caution (or incentive to some males out there), there are topless beaches or perhaps it was one itself. We were not prepared for this and it wouldn't have normally offended me but we did have our 11 year old son with us so when the topless women went strolling down the beach it was a tad awkward.
Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the Puke Ferry. We got back in our jeep and headed back to the pier. It was a tad of a wait for our Puke Ferry to dock. Normally, I would have been impatient with having to wait but the dread of leaving my stomach in Mexico was enough to keep me from getting annoyed. We finally got on the boat and this time went right to the middle row in the middle of the boat. Whew! It was not as bad this time. It was probably in part due to the fact that we were so tired so my son and husband napped while I read a magazine. We got off the Ferry by our ship and walked to the shopping area to find some souvenirs. We found all we needed in one store. I can't recall the name but it resembled a flea market. We got shirts and my mother-in-law's requested vanilla. We were heading back to the ship but my husband decided to try some Mexican beer. There was a Fat Tuesdays just to the left of the pier if your back is to the ship but it was really crowded and commercial looking. However, we found a small bar/restaurant to the right and it was very nice. It was a tad loud as they blared music. When my husband went up to the bar and tried to tell the bartender he wanted Mexican beer, I'm not sure he got the best kind (Victoria beer???) but it didn't taste too bad (which is saying something because I can't stand beer.) We decided to sit down and enjoy the view. We found ourselves in a setting for a Corona commercial. We sat on a small dock and everyone else around us was drinking Corona. We laughed at them because why would you drink a beer you could get in the US when you are in Mexico? We were enjoying ourselves so much that I we decided to order another round and we also tried some Mexican Nachos. It was the perfect end to a perfect day in port. My sister and her friend rented a Jeep here as well and drove around Cozumel. The other sister and her boyfriend did the Horseback ride excursion. They said it was nice but the ruins looked fake. They had a drawing and won a bottle of Tequila so they were very happy.
We did the usual pre-dinner drinks at the Chopin and then went to dinner. We watched part of the hockey game then took a walk on deck and went back to the room to watch the Bolts loose in overtime. Very upsetting! We went to sleep exhausted from our day in port.
Friday June 4
Today we visited Belize. We had been planning for a while to take the Goff's Caye snorkeling excursion. We woke up and went to breakfast. We didn't have to meet our excursion group until 8:45am so it allowed us some to eat. I was very worried about being able to tender here after the Costa Maya experience, any suggestion of high waves had me squeamish. We watched as people began to board tenders and felt a great relief. There were many different size boats taking people to shore and to their excursions. It seemed like all the ones with snorkel gear were big 2 deck boats and I was quite surprised when we boarded a small 15 person speed boat.
While we were boarding, the waves felt enormous. I was shocked they let us leave the ship. The description of the excursion didn't prepare us for the speed of the speed boat. We zoomed through the water and bounced up and down on the waves. There was no side to side rocking like on the Cozumel Puke Ferry so it didn't bother us at all. I did feel sorry for those sitting up front in the bow of the boat as the front end smacked down into the water every few seconds. However, we in the aft were getting our punishment as well by the continuous sea spray. It was refreshing though and as long as you had sunglasses to protect your eyes it was actually pretty fun. We arrived at Goff's Caye after a slower ride through some mangroves to distribute snorkel gear. The guides dropped a few people off at the tiny island and the rest of us went as close as we could to the barrier reef. The coral was amazing but unfortunately the fish were still sleeping or something because there were not as many as I would have liked. One person remarked that there were more fish at Chankanaab Park were they were hand feeding schools of fish. So I guess next time we will have to try that out. Snorkeling was fun but it tires you out very quickly. It wasn't a movement problem as much as breathing. We got back on the boat and set off back to the small island. We were given bags of water especially made for boating so you don't injure yourself on the plastic bottles as the boat is moving. We were told there was usually someone on the island selling barbeque food and drinks but unfortunately they didn't show up today. It was disappointing that they didn't show up or that the tour didn't include food. After four hours, we were starving. We relaxed in the sand and my son built a sand castle. Others were snorkeling off the island but I'd had my full. The island is so small you could throw a football from one end to the other. We got back on our boat and started the thrilling speed boat race back to the ship.
We had planned to take another tender to the city when we got back but we decided we were too hungry and tired. Also, it was 1:30pm and the last tender was at 3:30pm. Factoring in the 30 minute ride, we wouldn't get much quality time in the city anyway. So we headed to our rooms to change and then to the Lido deck for food. They had a really good chicken on a skewer for the Japanese buffet and we ate hardily.
We decided to try and go up on deck to see if we could get a glimpse of the city with our binoculars but on the way we happened past the Candlelight lounge and noticed the very in end of the "LOR The Return of the King" was playing so we relaxed in the darkness and watched the end.
Afterwards we went up on deck and looked around but we were anchored too far from the city to see anything. We watched the tenders zoom back from the city. It was about 3:30pm and the last few boats were coming in. We heard the infamous drinking boat excursion before we saw it come in. Next thing we knew, there was a large boat with about a 100 dancing passengers trying to dock. The boat had two decks and the top one was full of people. We noticed one guy in particular who was kneeling with his head resting on the seat of one of the benches. As the people began to get off, he tried to get up but could only stagger a few feet and then down he went. It was morbid curiosity that kept us watching as he was helped to a sitting position by one of the tour guides and then instantly began to vomit. I knew I should not watch but at the same time we couldn't help ourselves. Would this guy have to be carried off the boat in a stretcher? He tried time and again to get up with the help of the guide. What appeared to be his girlfriend and a few other friends, all almost as plastered, came over and oblivious to his plight would try and get them to come dance with them. Finally, once everyone else had got up, he summoned enough strength to stand and he was nearly carried off the boat by 2 of the guides. The boat speed back to Belize and I felt sorry for the clean up crew.
Feeling slightly queasy, we went back to the cabin and took a nap / watch a movie before we would have to get ready for dinner early so we could attend the welcome back party. We got dressed in our next set of formal attire and headed to the party, invitation in hand. There were a lot of people there and they passed out drinks and hordevers as they had at the Captain's Gala. The first drink I had wasn't very good. So slightly jealous of the party boat's passengers, I decided to try some rum punch on the next round. Funny thing was, there wasn't so much punch in the rum punch. I guess they saved all the punch for the kids NA drinks but not being a heavy drinker I was quite dizzy by the 3rd sip. WHOOO! After the "welcome back" movie, which we'd seen on past cruises we went out to the Promenade and I was determined to get a portrait of the three of us that actually looked good. So we stopped at each back drop and I tried desperately to keep my balance as they posed us in different formations. I don't think anyone else can see it but the portraits we ended up buying both have me with a nice Rum Punch smile (small trade off for my eyes being open.)
We milled around the decks and then headed to our favorite lounge but I didn't need a drink that night so we went to dinner and then changed to go to the 2nd Las Vegas type dancing show. It was "Shout" and it was good. The two problems I had was the male singer who had been so good in "El Nuevo Caribe" with its Latin tunes just didn't translate well to the American rock-n-roll songs of "Shout". The worst part was when he tried to sing a Beach Boys' song. The other problem I had was as one of the main songs they chose to do the Macarena! I know it's a cruise ship and I should expect to hear that awful song and I dealt with it at dinner BUT to see the professional dancers doing it and then them asking the audience to join in. That was just too much for me. Perhaps I'm being silly?
We went to the last "R" rated comedy act after bringing our son back to the cabin to go to sleep. The comedian was funny not because he was necessarily "R" rated but because he picked on the audience members. He was taking a survey of what everyone was drinking and then making up names for the based on the type of beverage. It was very improvisational and I liked that. Afterwards, we went to sleep.
Saturday June 5
We woke late for our "Fun Day at Sea" and the last full day of our cruise. It was kind of a melancholy day. We were supposed to go to the debarkation talk but having been to them before we knew what to do and that it would be on the TV later. I was disappointed after watching it later that the cruise director used the same jokes we'd heard on a past cruise. Not sure who stole which jokes from whom but it kind of tarnished the past memory of the great cruise director we'd had on the Pride.
I was too sunburned from snorkeling to want to lie out in the sun so we ate lunch (there was a wonderful chocolate dessert buffet) and went to the photo gallery to purchase my Rum Punch induced pictures. Then we went to the shops to purchase souvenirs for people we missed buying things for in the ports. After that we went to the Newlywed / Not So Newlywed game. This is always a fun show. Even though they ask the same questions on each cruise, there are always different and hilarious answers.
Following the game we decided to get the packing over with so we could enjoy the nighttime activities and not be stressed about getting our luggage out in time. That's when we turned on the TV in our cabin and heard that Ronald Reagan had died. I was sad but thankful it had happened at the end of the cruise rather then at the beginning.
We took a break from packing and tried to go on the Galley Tour. I'd been on it before on another ship so when we got to the meeting place and discovered they were only half way through with BINGO and it would be a while before they'd start the tour, we decided to skip the tour and grab a snack on the Lido deck. It was hot so we sat in the shade and had a burger or hot dog and some fries. Again, they are good burgers and hot dogs! The crew members were even up on deck getting their lunches of burgers and hot dogs. I think this is the first ship I've been on where we saw so many crew members eating up on deck. Perhaps it was because they always eat late and we did so on many occasions this trip as opposed to past cruises?
We went back to the cabin to finish packing and then took a nap. We went later then usual to the Chopin before dinner and since none of our party was there we went into the Candlelight lounge to watch the Game 6 Hockey pre-game show. Dinner was especially nice this evening. My sisters bought 2 bottles of Champagne so we could toast the wonderful cruise and they all signed a card to thank me for the planning I had done. It was very touching. As the waiter was getting the champagne ready, the table next to us asked their waiter to open the blinds and it revealed a beautiful sunset. We watched as the sun sank into the ocean and then began feasting on the last dinner. I had a very good Beef Wellington and others who had the Turkey dinner said it was good too. The waiters sang their last song, something they made up but it was to the tune of, "Leaving on a jet plane." What a great night!
After dinner we went to the Candlelight to watch the hockey game. It was a long game and by the end of the 1st overtime I was beyond tired. My son and I went back to the room to put the luggage out while my husband stayed to watch the end of the game. We were just in time for the luggage as the cart came by right after I put the last piece out. Of course at the same time the Lightening scored the winning goal and I missed it but I was happy they won!
Sunday June 6
We woke up and were just docking at the Tampa port. I wasn't ready to leave but before I knew it we had dressed and were up eating our last breakfast at the Brassiere. I was surprised that we were able to get a table and relax as we waited for them to start calling colors. They did the usual announcement for people who hadn't cleared immigration or still had debits on their Sail N Sign cards. We got tired of sitting in the Brassiere so we went out on deck and watched the ballet of the forklifts below as they maneuvered around each other to load the food for the next cruise on the boat. It wasn't until about 9:45 am when they started calling people to leave the boat. We were the last group called and were off and meet our parents outside the luggage area at 11am. We had arranged to put our luggage in their cars and then go to the movies to see Harry Potter 3. It's just my little way of extending our vacation as long as possible. After that we had lunch at Red Lobster and finally made it home.
Overall, it was a great vacation. When all was said and done we were quite exhausted by the 3 ports and missing Costa Maya turned out to not be that big of a deal. I would definitely sail the Western Caribbean again and if we wanted to go on a shorter cruise the Inspiration is a great choice as she's switching to the Sensation's itinerary in November.
We just got back from our cruise on the Inspiration (4-25-04 through 05-02-04). This was our first cruise with Carnival and as I was able to obtain a lot of useful information from this Board and from other people's reviews I wanted to post my review to hopefully help others. We are a family of six, although only five of us cruised. We are from New Hampshire and it was school vacation week for three of our children. We booked the cruise in October of 2003. We booked two inside cabins on the Riviera deck at $549/pp. For those people who need to travel during times when their children are on vacation I would recommend booking as early as possible.
AIR: We booked our flight out of Boston, MA as the airfare in NH was about $200 per ticket higher. I would encourage anyone who has several airports within driving distance to them to check flight information and price at each airport. I've found there was a big difference. As we booked our own air we did fly into Tampa a day early to avoid any potential problems with airlinedelays. The flight down was a non-stop on Delta Song and everything went fine. Coming back we had a layover in Atlanta. We were delayed there. First was due to the flight from Fort Lauderdale coming in late. We then were on the runway and were further delayed. We were told it was due to weather. We found out after we got home the computers were down in the Atlanta airport for two hours which created a huge backup. We were supposed to arrive in Boston at approximately 7:30 p.m. and didn't end up getting there until about 9:30 p.m.. This is the reason we always fly down a day early.
ACCOMDATIONS: As we are a large family we stayed at the Chase Suite Hotel in Tampa. We had a two floor room with a kitchenette, living room with pull out couch, bedroom with king size bed and full bath on the first floor and another bedroom with a king size bed and full bath on the second floor. The rooms were very nice, clean and comfortable. They provided free pickup at the airport and free transportation to the pier. It was $159 per night. I booked it on line.
BOARDING/DISEMBARKING: We arrived at the port at about 11:45 a.m.. When we arrived the ship was just disembarking the passengers from the previous week. We got checked in fairly quickly and then had to wait in a large room until they started calling groups to board. This was about 1:30 p.m.. Once we were on board we went to the Lido deck for lunch. We sailed out on time and our luggage was in our room by about 5:30 p.m.. Upon arrival back in Tampa we docked on time but did not get off the ship until about 11:30 a.m.. We had to meet in the Chopin Lounge at 9:00 a.m.. I'm not sure what the delay was, but be prepared and bring a good book with you.
DINING ROOMS: We had the early seating (6:15 p.m) in the Mardi Gras dining room. We took the early seating as we were traveling with our children. On a previous cruise we took the late seating and found that while it was fine for the adults, it was tough for the children. Our waiter was Antonio from India and our assistant waiter was Vanrick from St. Vincent. The service we received from both of them was fantastic. The food was excellent. It was well prepared, and there was a large selection. We ate in the dining room every night. Antonio made sure that we liked everything we ordered and if we wanted an extra plate of anything he was happy to provide it. I think my son had three orders of escargot!
We ate breakfast several times in the dining room and again the service and food were great. We also had breakfast in the Brassiere Dining room which was a buffet. Anything you could imagine for breakfast was on the buffet and it was also good.
We had lunch in the Brassiere Dining room, again a buffet and salad bar or on the Lido deck which served hamburgers, hotdogs, fries and salads. Again everything was excellent. The Brassiere had a theme to their buffet every day, ie Asian, Mexican, Italian, etc. While I didn't try the pizza my kids assured me that too was excellent.
Every afternoon sushi was served in Violins from 5:30 -8:30 p.m. While I don't eat it my daughter and husband assured us that it was very good. We also didn't eat at the midnight buffets, but I did take pictures at the Gala Buffet on Friday night. I was absolutely amazing and everything looked very good.
ACCOMODATIONS: As I mentioned earlier in this review we booked two 4A cabins right next to each other. We were on the Riviera deck. We found the rooms to be very clean and comfortable. Our steward, Daniela, was awesome. We had towel animals every day and she couldn't do enough for us. The shower drain in our room wasn't working well and we mentioned it to her. Several hours later it was fixed.
SELF-SERVE LAUNDRY: There were two, one on the Upper Deck and one on the Empress deck. I used the irons several times and did two loads of laundry, mainly because we brought our own beach towels. While the ship does provide them, if you lose it they charge you $25 per towel. It was $2.00 per load to wash, $2.00 per load to dry and the individual boxes of detergent were $1.00. You need to get quarters either at the casino or the purser's desk as there isn't a coin machine in the laundry room. I found that to be a little inconvenient, as did others.
ENTERTAINMENT: We all enjoyed the entertainment on the ship. The shows were great and we liked all the comedians, except for the one on the last night. The fiddler they had was unbelievably good. My husband played the slots in the Casino and I played bingo. He lost about $40 and I won $250! Although we didn't go to the adult comedy show we did hear from other people that they enjoyed it. The Newlywed not so Newlywed game was hysterical. There were movies offered in the Candlelight lounge but I cannot comment on them as we didn't see any. I was not impressed with the art auction. I thought Deonne (sp) did too much talking and not enough selling. My husband and I went to one and left after the auction started. In 30 minutes he only sold two pieces. The band on the Lido deck was all right. Not good, not bad. The kids had a great time at the pool and water slide. We didn't have any problem with deck chairs. We used the pools at the back of the ship and were always able to find available chairs there.
CAMP CARNIVAL: I can't really comment as my children did not use the program. I did speak with some other parents who were using it and according to them their children were all having a great time. The only complaint that I heard was that one mother was not told that she had to pick up her child by a certain time. They didn't page her until about an hour after and she was charged a $12 babysitting fee. She felt she should have been paged within the first 15 min.
SHIPS CONDITION: This is an older ship and I found it to be in good repair, clean and comfortable. Everyone I went there was someone cleaning something. I didn't see any stained carpet or disrepair. I know some people have commented that they felt the ship wasn't at its best but I have to disagree.
SEAS: The seas were very smooth. I get seasick fairly easily and only took two Bonine pills the entire cruise.
SPA/GYM: I didn't use either of these so I really can't comment on them, other than to say that I thought the prices in the Spa were on the high side. On the last two days they did run some specials. If you want to use the Spa I would recommend waiting until then to do it.
SHOPPING: I found the jewelry and liquor prices on board the ship were better than in port. The prices in Grand Cayman were very high and we didn't buy anything there. In Costa Maya you can bargain a lot. We did so some shopping on the pier and bought some items in Mahahal. Cozumel had the same things as Costa Maya but we found the vendors were not willing to bargain as much. Belize had no shopping to speak of.
EXCURSIONS: IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER - We stayed on ship's time the whole time. Grand Cayman, Costa Maya and Cozumel were one hour behind us and Belize was two hours behind! If you don't book through the ship make sure your tour operator knows what time you need to be back to the ship. The last tenders for Grand Cayman and Belize run one hour before the ship departs and in Cozumel and Costa Maya you need to be back on board 30 minutes before departure.
Grand Cayman: I booked the Stingray City/Snorkel trip myself on line with Soto's Cruises. There were 14 people on the boat and it was $24/pp. We went to all the same sites as the ship's tour. They had about 100 people on their boat and the cost was $47/pp. I would highly recommend this tour to everyone. We tendered in just fine the Soto's representative met us on time at the pre-designated location. We did two snorkel sites and then the Sting Ray sandbar. We had a great time.
COSTA MAYA: We didn't book a tour here. We went and walked around the pier and did some shopping. Don't buy at the first price quoted as they are willing to bargain down. My husband bought some sunglasses that started at $30 and he got them for $10. We rented a golf cart @ $15/hr and drove down the village of Mahahal. We walked around there and did some more shopping. Again they will bargain with you. They are pushy and don't want to let you walk away without buying anything. It is a very poor area and it appears that most of their income is made from selling items to tourists.
COZUMEL: We did two excursions here, both at Chankanaab Park which is absolutely beautiful. I booked a sea lion swim on line and we booked the Sea Trek through the ship. The Sea Trek was first. You get into the water with a helmet on your head and go down into the ocean about 20'. Air is pumped into the helmet through a hose in the top. The water never gets above your neck. We walked around the bottom of the ocean for about half an hour. One of the best experiences we had. The cost was $89/pp for adults and $79/pp for children. This included entrance to the park which is $12/pp adults and $6/pp children and round trip transportation (which would have been about $15 each way). It also includes lockers for everyone. We bought the CD which was $50. The park also provides restrooms, showers, beach chairs, restaurants and bars. At noon we did the Sea Lion swim. I booked this on line at $59/pp. What a wonderful experience. We did the dolphin swim last year in Nassau and thoroughly enjoyed it. On a scale of 1-10 I would rate the dolphin swim a 10 and the sea lion swim an 8. Our sea lion was Nena and we all got to pet her, got a hug and kiss, danced with her, fed her, and played with her in the water. We did buy the video which was $29
BELIZE: I booked the Cave Tubing through XStream. Thomas met us right at the end of the pier. There were 14 people in the group and he took us to the site in an air-conditioned van. It's about an hour away from the pier. The walk to the river is about 45 minutes and you have to carry your own tube. I don't recommend this for any one that is under 10 or not very fit. My younger children who are ten and twelve did have some trouble with the tube while walking. There is a path and there are some steps for the up and down parts of the trail but it is definitely a 45 min walk through the jungle. Our guide was great and stopped at several points during the walk to tell us about local vegetation, the caves, showed us bats in the caves, etc. and that did help to break up the walk. There were several older women in our group that did have a very hard time with the walk. Once we got to the river we did two caves, while the ship's tour only did one. There were about 200 people in the ship's group. The river was low so there was quite a bit of paddling involved. Again, the younger children and older women had some trouble with this. Our whole family thoroughly enjoyed this trip. It was $65 which included a chicken barbeque lunch. The ship's tour was about $90. Xstream got us back to the pier before the ship's tour even got back. I would highly recommend them. The only other comment I have to make is to please remember that you are in a third world country. There is a restroom at the site but it does leave a lot to be desired. There were quite a few complaints from some of the older women in our group about the restroom and how the tour wasn't "glamorous". If this is what you are looking for don't do this excursion.
If there are any other questions or other information you would like to get about the ship or my experience, feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Put in the subject line Carnival Inspiration so that I don't accidentally delete it.
Overall we all had a great time and felt that we could have gone longer than 7 days. My kids are already planning for next year. I would definitely sail with Carnival again and on this ship.