We started our vacation with a couple of days in New Orleans. Spend Friday and Saturday nights at the downtown Sheraton. Spendy, but within walking distance to everything we had time to see--Harras Casino, Riverwalk, French Market, and of course Bourbon Street a couple of times! A couple of interesting occurances while we were there--while walking from the French Market area, we found ourselves in the middle of a parade, complete with a police escort, band, carrage, and lots of people. We later found out this was a wedding. Also, on Sat evening on of the Mardi Gra Crews had a parade of their own on Bourbon Street. Couple of bands, floats, and dressed up walkers. Lots of beads. Good food and lots of beer on Bourbon Street!!
We arrived at the Julia street pier at about 10:45AM on Sunday.No line to get processed for boarding. Boarding did not start until about 12:15 so we had a little wait, but we were in the first group to board. Once we were on the ship, we took in the lunch and walked around the ship to get familiar with things--they provide a directorywhich was very helpful for the whole trip. We met with our group to determine which shore trips to take and completed the forms and submitted early. (we received all we requested) Our luggage arrived about 3:00. My daughter-in law was missing one piece of her's and about 4:00 someone called and advised her that it had been dropped into the river while loading and they were going to clean and dry it and get it to her as soon as they could. A couple of her blouses were ruined and they were more than fair in compensating her for them. Everything else turned out OK. Lifeboat drill was at 4:50PM and lasted about 30 minutes. Very serious affair. The life jackets are very uncomfortable, but wearing them is required. Ladies, be careful when taking them off--my wife lost an ear ring when she took hers off. We went to the Lido deck at 6:00 to watch the ship leave the pier. Left a little late at 6:30 and started down the Missippi. We had the late seating for dinner. (I would not choose it again as it is too late when you finally finish at about 9:15PM)
The first two days were at sea. On the first day we went to the dining room for breakfast and we were not impressed. Food was not too good and the service was bad. We did not go there again for breakfast. The buffet on the Lido deck was good, both for breakfast and lunch. These two days were lazy with not too much activity going on. We were able to catch up on lost sleep from the trip down and get ready for the shore activities. Monday night is one of the formal nights. Saw some people "formally" dressed with tux and formal dresses and some with dockers, white shirt and tie. Don't worry too much about the "formal" part if you don't want to. On teusday night we decided to have dinner on the Lido deck instead of the dining room as we felt our head waiter was pre-occupied and not providing very good service. The food for dinner there was not too good, so all of the other nights we went to the dining room. The waiter was much better after Tuesday night.
Every morning we ordered coffee from room service and it took the a maximum of 5 minutes to deliver. It was very fast service.
Wednesday we were at Montego Bay, Jamica. We went on the shopping tour in the morning and on the Pirate Boat in the afternoon. The shopping tour took us to a special shopping area that was completely fenced and guarded. Was interesting and lots of good deals on jewelry. Sales people were not too pushy, but the cab drivers were very very pushy. The tour bus took us back to the ship where we then got onthe Pirate Boat. Fun time, with lot of music and punch. We snorkled for about 45 minutes then back to the ship (Total time on the Pirate boat was about 21/2 hrs). We also stopped at Marguaritaville for about 30 min. This was a great trip, with snorkling gear and rum punch provided.
Thursday, we stopped at the Grand Cayman Island. We took the tour and swim with the sting rays excersion. Unfortunately, our visit to Grand Cayman was less than expected. The tour was good and swimming with the sting rays is something you don't want to miss. The boat we went out to the sand bar on was old and had a mechanical problem when we started to return to the docks. It appeared the other boats were much better. When we were taken back to town, we walked around and went to the Hard Rock Cafe for lunch. The staff at the Hard Rock were very rude and we felt like they were upset that we walked in the door. Shopping there was very expensive. Next time we would not go off the ship in this port!
Friday was Cozumel. We did some shopping at the shops on the pier then went on the Party Boat. This was really a party!! Included all the drinks you could drink-Rum Punch, Marguaritas, and Mexican Beer. They also had soft drinks. Took us to Play Sol. This is a private beach with swimming, snorkeling, jet skis, para sailing, etc. Also had a restuarant and bar. The snorkeling was included, but everything else was extra. This was a good time and I would do it again. We were back to the ship about 3:30 which did not give us sufficient time to go downtown to shop as the ship left at 5:00. (we actually needed more time in Cozumel.
Saturday was another day at sea and again was a day to be lazy and catch up on some needed rest. We entered the Mississippi about 7:45pm for the cruise back to New Orleans. We packed our luggage before dinner and put it out to be picked up for delivery tomorrow morning.
Sunday, we had breakfast on the Lido deck and waited to be called for debarkation.We were the 4th group to be called and were off the ship and catching a cab to the airport by 10:30.
A couple of things we noticed while on this cruise. The ship is in need of some updating and repairs. The beds need to be replaced. The carpet in the cabins need to be replaces, and the bedding could use some work or be replaced. It was not dirty, but well worn. There were alot of the decorative lights that were not working, and don't plan to win a fortune at the casino. The shows that included the Inspiration Dancers were excellent and the rest were OK.
Overall, the trip was fun and we look forward to taking another cruise in the future. If you have any questions that I might answer, please don't hesitate to ask. I will respond when I receive them.
This cruise was designed to allow my wife and I the opportunity to be still and relax and that's the attitude that we boarded with. The one tenet I have found to be true (and repeated by several others that I met on board), A cruise is what you make it! I purposed that I was going to observe folks on the ship and examine their motives. Where I saw people unhappy or griping, I came to the conclusion that they were going to be unhappy or griping wherever they happen to be. That being said, here's my review of our cruise on the Carnival Inspiration.
New Orleans is a great city to visit, and shipping out of New Orleans is even better. Upon arriving at the Victoria Street Pier we found that the ship was going to be full with over 2500 Souls on Board. Well, it seemed that most of them showed up to board at the same time. In actuality, however, Carnival seemed to have the masses under control and frankly, seemed to move faster than the Port Canaveral facility without the glitz and glitter. There were plentyof seats to sit in while you were queued up, and once in line, seemed to move fairly quickly. Of course security is much tighter and we had to move to another area and sit while they queued us up to go through security. As we boarded the ship, you placed your sign and sail card in a slot, look down and were photographed. This procedure was repeated every time you left the ship and the security guards would verify your face to your 1st boarding picture anytime you returned to the ship.
A gripe that I had heard about the Julia Street Pier was that the parking fee had gone up from $49 to $70 per week, but others told me that they parked at Fulton Street nearby for $5.00 per day. As I travel around the country a lot, I know that airports have had to move parking spaces back from the terminal and have increased parking fees to account for lost revenue from the missing parking spaces. Perhaps this was the same case.
Our luggage was on the ship and waiting for us when we arrived, that was nice. We had purchased a category 11 room from the start and were familiar with what we would be getting for our money. So here comes my first gripe and it's not really a problem that I can really harp on because I intended to pay for this trip at the quoted price in the first place. After the September 11 tragedy, many folks began canceling their cruises, so Carnival dropped prices and upgraded folks several categories to get them to stay. The fault is mine that I didn't call Carnival and request to be upgraded to category 12, some folks we met on board, did. On the other hand, I like the V deck anyway. Gripe number 2 - not major and really only rankled me apparently. It seemed that I could never get the room temperature cool enough for my likes, unlike our previous cruise. Indeed, it seemed like the whole V cabin section seemed warmer than the rest of the cabins we visited. The room steward called engineering twice to try to fix the air conditioner and while there was evidence they attempted to solve the matter, it just never got cold enough for my likes. On the other hand, my wife loved the room temperature. I just slept with less bed covers.
We immediately took the SPA tour, something we didn't do on other trips, wish we had. The tour explained the spa, the exercise equipment and the health and beauty facilities on board. We booked two different massages on different days and while they were about twice what we would pay for a normal massage ($50 per hour), these did include facials and aromatherapy. The second massage came at a 30% discount as a previous customer. Best of all. we found the HOT spa and the sauna and steamrooms. The hot tubs in the spa were truly hot as opposed to the luke warm spas on deck.
The lifeboat drill was a tedious necessity, but was done with efficiency and over in about 20 minutes. It was cool in New Orleans and as the ship debarked at 6:00 PM, we were unable to see a lot of the Mississippi but did notice from our balcony, that the Mississippi didn't seem all that wide in some places. We had heard stories of a lot of twists and turns, but we didn't really notice any rough water.
At dinner we were seated with only one other couple, apparently the others never chose to avail themselves of the formal dining. As we had made friends with some other couples, we arranged with the Maitre'd to all sit together at another table. We felt bad about leaving our headwaiter with no guests, but he remained friendly and loyal as we visited with him most every night. Our new headwaiter seemed kinda miffed about our new assignment and always seemed to want to rush us. The Assistant waiter, the other hand, was charming and attentive to all of our needs. He also made it a point to meet and greet us as we saw him working in other venues.
The first two days were at sea and were lazy and enjoyable, One of our new found friends was a contestant in the on Board 'Survivor' game and we watched those games as they played out. We spent most of our time on the upper deck at the smokestack, for those not aware, on Carnival; this is the topless deck. This allows those that choose to, may sunbathe topless. While this is the case, not all do and some folks come up here for solitude as well as it is generally less traveled, gated off with swinging wooden doors to the stairs and a sign warning of topless bathing and prohibition of cameras and video cameras on that deck. Many of the Carnival employees tend to sunbathe on that level on their off time as well. My wife loves to sunbathe sans suit top and has no problem with traffic on that deck, but be aware there always seems to be a parade of unaccompanied men parading from the two staircases. We have termed those folks as 'Ogglers'. Ogglers seemed to be numerous on the final day at sea; perhaps they finally got their courage up. Also be aware that on this itinerary the Captain seemed to have the pedal to the metal, so it was a bit windy on the topless deck.
The first stop was at Montego Bay, Jamaica. I will agree with most every review I have read regarding Montego Bay. A very poor country and the roads are horrible. We chose the Chukka Blue horseback rides and really enjoyed it. The ride was about a half hour with a very sweet tour guide, and no request, hint or begging of any tip by her or the bus driver. The Chukka Blue folks were very friendly. We had a group of about 40, so it took a little while to get everybody on a horse. They seemed to take great care in matching the horse to the rider and were ever present and offering assistance and advice during the ride. We rode through an old plantation before crossing under the highway and to the beach, riding along the beach and bush until we got to the beachside corral. At this site we were offered rum punch and drinks for purchase while they unsaddled the horses and allowed folks to change into swim wear. The surf ride was broken into groups of twelve, everyone required to wear a floatation belt. The retired polo ponies were then ridden to about shoulder heighth and we galloped back and forth up and down the beach several times. It was very refreshing to humans and horses as well. After the ride, the horses were fed while we waited for the bus to arrive. Chukka Blue does videotape the whole event and sells them for $30. They are duplicated and sent to the ship for pickup at the Pursers Desk. Comments - wear long pants for the ride. The saddles were almost all English saddles with no saddle horns.
Upon returning to the ship, we chose to shop at the stores within the port compound. While the shop keepers were indeed a bit pushy, apparently not as bad as those within the city itself according to those that went on shopping tours. Gripe 3 - not sure if Carnival has any control over it. Most of the port shops had the American Express logo in their windows, but when you tried to use your Amex for a purchase, they conveniently were out of Amex slips, or had no phone connection available to verify your card.
Day four was in Grand Cayman. We really loved our Swim with the Stingray excursion. We did not book this through Carnival, but rather directly through the Internet with Captain Marvin. What a great experience. Small group, smaller boat. We went to the same place as everyone else, but stood off slightly from everyone else. It was a wonderful experience. After the Stingray swim, we went to a reef and snorkeled at our leisure. Punch, cola and water was included. We returned to the pier and shopped for rum cakes at a store that gave free, fresh samples.
Day five was in Cozumel. We took the Passion Island trip. This was a half hour bus ride through the wilderness on a bumpy road until we came to a small beach. We then boarded a boat that took us to the equivalent of Gilligans Island. We would have normally had the option to canoe over ourselves, but the current was too strong. The island has dining hut, a bar, gift shop, hammocks, beach chairs, volleyball and floats and a lot of secluded beach. Great prices on silver and other jewelry. This trip was all-inclusive that included all beverages. The intricately tiled bathrooms were kept immaculate by a young Mexican boy who obviously had pride in maintaining his venue. Now.. These guys made no bones about asking for tips. In fact, there were many signs reminding you that they lived off tips, and at the end of the day on the boat, the chefs who had prepared a great lunch (best avocado dip I have ever had), passed their chef hat around. There was a gentle admonition not to give all your tips to the cooks, cause the tour-gides needed money too. Normally, that kind of thing bugs me, but every one of the aforementioned individuals busted their butts to make sure you had a great time. These guys deserved any tip you could provide. This was a five hour trip.
Okay, here's my next gripe. All three days in port were too short, requiring that you be back on the boat by 3:00 P.M. In fact, in Grand Cayman, you had to be back on the ship by 1:15 for a 2:00 departure. It seems to me that perhaps we could have steamed at night a little faster and stayed in port a little longer. Leaving Cozumel by 3:00 P.M. had us at the mouth of the Mississippi in the middle of the night, and in fact we were docked in New Orleans by 2:00 A.M on Sunday Morning.
The shows were good, unfortunately we were often too tired to stay up for the complete shows, except for the late comedy shows. The Piano bar had a very good piano player, but he does get quite risque at times. The passenger talent show was a lot of fun.
Sushi was served every night from 5:00 to 8:00 and was very popular, especially after every one found out about it. There was kareoke, and it seemed to be well attended every time I walked by. The disco was kind of sad and never really hit its stride until the Saturday night before returning to New Orleans. It seemed that the DJ could not get a handle on the music for the crowd he had in the disco.
I visited the casino and actually won a little bit of money playing roulette. If you are roulette player you will be disappointed to know that the dealer stops the wheel after each roll and then spins it in the opposite direction, forget clocking or system play. I heard several folks telling me that they had won small amounts at the slots.
Another surprise. almost a gripe. - I bought some drink coupons prior to arrival. The face value was $4.75 per coupon. Some drinks were $4.95. The options then became 1. Order a cheaper drink, 2. Give them an additional coupon, 3. Put it on your sign and sail card. I actually used all three options at one time or another.
Tips - Carnival now adds the tips automatically to your sign and sail card and it averaged about $70 each for my wife and myself. I have no real heartburn over this per se' as I suspect that some folks were stiffing the staff, but I also suspect that it contributed to the less than stellar performances of the room steward and the Head waiter, imagine his surprise as our table handed additional envelopes to the Assistant waiter. We also tipped a few other Carnival employees that went above and beyond the call of duty.
Debarkation was orderly and would have taken only a few minutes except that someone dropped a glass on the escalator on the pier side and we had to wait until the shards were cleaned up. Another interesting piece of information, I saw no customs officials and in fact, returned home with my custom form in my pocket. We walked into the luggage area, picked up our bags and was in a cab 5 minutes later.
To recap, a cruise is what you make it, and we made it a great vacation. Carnival had tons of ways to separate you from your money, but then so does Disney, Universal and any other profit enterprise. Be responsible and have your eyes wide open. The Carnival staff, with very few exceptions was attentive, helpful, eager to please, and went the extra mile. If you don't want to worry about being high-brow, over indulged like aristocracy and just have a great vacation, then this cruise is for you.
This was our third cruise overall and our first with Carnival. Our two previous were on the Nordic Empress and Sovereign of the Seas. We traveled to New Orleans the day before and stayed at the Hampton Inn French Quarter (which is actually a block west of the Quarter). The hotel was very nice and the price was reasonable. We didn't have any trouble walking to the French Quarter and seeing the sights. The night we were there was the kickoff to Mardi Gras. The crowd was not too bad though. We highly recommend the restaurant NOLA on St. Louis Street. The food was a bit pricey, but probably one of the best meals we have ever had. The service was excellent as well.
Embarkation - Sunday morning we checked out of the hotel around 11 AM and headed straight for the pier. The parking is very easy to find and quite convenient to the cruise terminal. There are plenty of porters waiting to help you with your luggage. Embarkation was a breeze with a sail and sign card in hand 30 minutes later. We had an outside cabin on theUpper deck. The rooms are much bigger than the older Royal Caribbean ships. I hear the newer RCCL builds are bit more spacious. We had a gift basket with assorted toiletries along with robes in the closet.
Overall Impression of the Ship - The decor is a bit gaudy and takes some getting used to. However, the ship is very clean and there are always people cleaning and polishing. The atrium is quite nice with most of the public areas centered in that area. The galley is located between the two dining rooms which forced you to go up or down a few levels to get from the front to the back of the ship. Overall, it wasn't too hard to get around. Probably our favorite part of the ship was the pool deck. We didn't really have a problem finding deck chairs though it did get crowded from time to time. There were always attendants discarding of unattended towels which cut down on the saving of chairs. Our favorite entertainment was the Calypso band which played for a couple of hours each day.
Service - We found the service to be pretty good. Our cabin steward kept our room clean and always left us with an interesting animal towel. The service in the dining room was spotty with one dinner taking us over two hours to complete. The problem actually had to do more with the kitchen and less to do with the servers. We found our waiter and assistant waiter to be friendly and very hard working. You could often see the frustration they were having with the kitchen problems. This will be covered more in the food section. We tried room service a couple of times, and after the first day they were very quick in bringing your requests. Carnival (like most cruise lines) makes a substantial percentage on their drinks, so you didn't go more than 10 minutes without a drink server coming by. We found the pushing of photographs a bit excessive as well.
Food - Definitely the low point of the cruise. We had breakfast in the main dining room and upstairs in the Brasserie several times. The food was basic but good breakfast fare. The service was also quite good. Lunch in the main dining room was also good with a nice selection to choose from. The Brasserie offerings for lunch were fair at best. They were mostly leftovers and they looked that way. Most of the time, we found ourselves gravitating to the pizzeria. The pizza was very, very good (probably the best food on the ship).
Now to dinner. This being our third cruise, we had somewhat of a benchmark to compare the food with. We would have to characterize the food as poor to fair. Out of seven nights, I can only think of two entrees that were above average (filet mignon and sweet/sour shrimp). We have never sent food back on a cruise before, but we became well experienced by week's end. I actually had one entree', Beef Wellington, that I was not able to cut with a sharp steak knife. The lobster tail was very rubbery as well. You could see the frustration that our waiter (Suphkadee) had with the food preparation. After a few days, we think he started bringing us extra food just in case. Let me say though that we don't go on vacation for the food, so it didn't spoil our vacation in the least. We had two wonderful couples as dinner mates which more than made up for the sub-par food. The dancing and singing by the waiters was also very entertaining.
Entertainment - Horse racing, bingo, newlywed game, hairy chest contest, game shows...the standard cruise fare. We enjoyed the couples and lovers party at the Avant Garde lounge. They gave you free champagne if you participated in the video diary show that night. My wife couldn't have the champagne because she was five months pregnant. As a matter of fact, many of the activities (captain's party, art auctions) provided free champagne. It would have been nice to provide a non-alcoholic alternative as well. Again, the pool band was very good and definitely entertaining. We also enjoyed the art auctions, although we are not exactly art afficionados. The auctioneer was very informative and you felt like you knew more about art when you left the auction. We purchased two Warner Brothers serigraph (for the baby's room) at a significant savings. We only saw a couple of the shows in the main lounge, but they were pretty good as well.
1st Port - Montego Bay - We had heard many negative things about Jamaica. However, we really enjoyed our time on the island. We signed up for the Black River Safari. We were a bit hesitant about this tour since it was not even mentioned in the shore excursion talk the cruise director led earlier. The tour bus picked us up right at the pier and we started our journey to the south coast. The ride was a bumpy, bumpy hour and a half ride. However, the tour guide was very informative and you got to see the real Jamaica outside of the tourist areas. The island is actually very beautiful. We drove along the south coast where we saw some of the most beautiful (and unspoiled) beaches we have ever seen. The safari itself was pretty neat with close-up views of several crocodiles, egrets and cranes. It was also amazing how cool and relaxing it was on the Black River. On the return visit, our guide sang us the Jamaican national anthem and the Americans and Canadians responded in kind. We did a little shopping in Montego Bay, but we found the vendors there to be a bit pushy. I found you could get a better deal in Black River than you could in Montego Bay.
2nd Port - Grand Cayman. We caught a tender to the island without having to wait (which was a improvement over most peoples experiences). This is a small island, and was quite crowded with three large ships in port. We did the beach break at the Dive Resort. Note: buying this excursion on the boat is no cheaper than purchasing a day pass at the resort. The beach was a bit crowded, but when you're on a beautiful beach and in crystal clear water what difference does it make! We really enjoyed the beach and wish the boat was in port longer. After leaving the beach, we did a little shopping and found a few bargains. Returning to the ship was quite an adventure. It turns out the one of the tenders broke down and they were only running one.
3rd Port - Playa del Carmen/Cozumel - We did the Tulum tour. Note: if you are prone to seasickness, the ferry to/from Playa del Carmen could be an adventure. That is the only time during the cruise that Kay felt a little sick, and I was glad I hadn't eaten a big breakfast! The bus ride to Tulum is not too long. You make a stop on the way at a souvenir stand. The brochure states there is a $10 fee for video cameras, but it is only $4. Interesting enough, the admission to the ruins is only $3. When you first see the ruins, it is an impressive and awesome sight. A tour guide walks you through the ruins then gives you free time to walk around. If you have never seen the Mayan ruins before, it is worth the trip. Remember, the temperature at Tulum is very, very hot and you should bring plenty of water. The guide provides beer and soda on the return trip. After getting to Cozumel, we did a little shopping and found a few bargains. It was interesting pulling up to the pier at Cozumel and viewing two sets of cruise ships. One was the Crown Princess and Fred Olsen's (I think) Black Watch side by side. The other two ships were the Voyager of the Seas and Regal Empress side by side. It definitely gave you two different views of a cruise experience - the floating hotel/resort and the classic designed small ships.
Debarkation - Relatively painless. Your luggage and time to leave the ship is based on the color of your bag tags. We did have a bit of a wait to get off, but once our color was called we were on our way home pretty quickly.
Summary - We enjoyed our first seven day cruise for the most part. Would we go on Carnival again? Perhaps, if the price was right. I think we might try Royal Caribbean, Norwegian or Holland America next time we decide to cruise. We also preferred to see more ports as opposed to "fun days" at sea.