Pros: Great service, excellent dining room food, nicely remodeled rooms.
Cons: Lido buffet food was marginal. Cruising trough Hurricane Gustav.
Lido buffet food was marginal. Cruising trough Hurricane Gustav.
This is a review of my eighth and ninth cruises with Carnival. They were taken back to back; the first cruise began on 08/30/08 and went for five days. The second half of the trip began on 09/04/08 and went for four days. The first cruise had to be booked only two weeks prior to sailing due to some unforeseen events. It was booked as a category 4a guarantee, Carnival then upgraded us to a 5a on Empress Deck. We booked the second cruise in early 2008 as a category 1a guarantee, and we got upgraded to a 4c on Upper Deck. I have been on Inspiration twice before, but not since she received the Evolutions of Fun renovations.
Day 1, Embarkation:
We arrived at the pier at around 11:00 AM and were dropped off by a family member which saved us oodles in parking fees. After going through security, it only took about ten minutes to get to the embarkation desk. We got our Sail and Sign cards and were put in group #7. They hadn’t started loading the ship yet, so we had to wait in the lobby for about a half hour. We were given a letter from Captain Basso stating that, due to Hurricane Gustav, we would be calling on Key West on the following day and our call on Grand Cayman was cancelled. Later that day he informed us via the intercom that the call on Key West would have to be cancelled also. He also told us that due to the imminent rough seas that we would traveling through, we would simply be cruising very slowly straight to Cozumel. Everyone got a $25 on board credit to refund port fees.
Once on board we went right for the Brasserie Bar and Grill up on the Lido Deck. As always, the deli station was very good. The rest of the Brasserie food during the trip was so-so, and the pizza was on par with the other ships I have been on.
After lunch we went to our room (E-1) and unpacked. Our cabin was a category 5a, which had two port holes instead of a window. I may be in the minority here, but I now prefer the 5a room to the category 6a Ocean View. I really liked having the ability to close off the portholes. I am a fan of interior rooms mostly for the price, but partially for the lack of light, which allows me to sleep in late without interference by the sun.
The muster drill was held as usual at around 3:45 PM. It appears that they have changed the procedure again. We went to our muster stations as usual, and tried on the life vests. After that, they simply dismissed us. No march up to the boat deck, no standing in the sun, just dismissal right from the muster station, it was sweet. I thought that it might have been due to the rain on the first day, but they did the same thing on the first day of the second cruise.
We then set sail at around 4:00 PM. We passed under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge at around 6:15 PM and were out to sea. Our waitress Chonmila and her assistant I’ Made in the Carnivale Dining Room were excellent. The food was consistently well prepared every night of the cruise. I was disappointed that George the Greek was still off. We had looked forward to having him as our Maitre d’. I found out that he will be back in time for my January cruise, so I was happy about that.
Day 2, Sea Day:
We sailed through the outskirts of Hurricane Gustav and it got pretty rough at some points throughout the day. We mostly just hung out in the cabin, and went to tea time that afternoon. We had a small Cruise Critic meet and greet at the Brasserie. We got to meet Susan (hogladyrider) who is going with us on our upcoming Alaska cruise. The winds were really whipping the seas up, and it got worse through the evening and night. They had formal night during the evening, but we didn’t attend. We were both feeling a little woozy after a day of rough seas. Our cabin being at the very front of the ship didn’t help much either. I was disappointed to miss the lobster dinner, but I just couldn’t get it together.
I took the opportunity to explore the newly refurbished areas of the ship during the day also. The renovations look very nice, and the cabin remodeling has done wonders. All of the public area restrooms have been remodeled and look very modern and clean. They removed the nasty, dusty blue cloths from the ceiling of the Rhapsody in Blue piano bar, and it looked like they also installed new couches next to the windows. The lido pool area looks very open now that the old slide is gone. I liked the spiral staircases, they are just as functional, but take up less room on the deck. They have also replaced the old plain white plastic chairs that used to inhabit the lido’s exterior dining areas with nicer faux wicker pieces. They are more comfortable, and certainly not as cheap looking. Additionally, the old blue and white striped plastic deck loungers have been replaced with modern brushed metal framed models with dark mesh.
Day 3, Sea Day:
Breakfast in the Mardi Gras dining room was very good. I would highly recommend that everybody try to eat at least one breakfast in there. It is so nice not having to deal with the huddled masses that pile into the Lido buffet. We only ended up eating breakfast at the buffet (Brasserie) once during the nine days.
We had really nice weather in the afternoon. Once we got out of the final bits of Gustav, we didn’t see any bad weather the rest of the trip. My Fiancé went to the Serenity area and got some sun during the day. That night they hosted the Past Guest Party. Risa the cruise director told us that there were about 950 past guests on board, and of those about 30 were Platinum Guests.
Day 4, Cozumel:
After two and a half days on a ship, you would think we would be itching to get off and walk around. Well, it didn’t quite happen that way. We did get off the ship and walk around for about an hour. After that we just got back on the ship, since we were coming right back to Cozumel the following Saturday with friends.
That was a decision I am immensely pleased with. Being on board that day was very nice, the ship was totally deserted. We were able to spend time in the Serenity area, and ride the both Waterworks slides several times. I went to a Famous Faces trivia game and got a “Ship on a Stick”. There was only me and two other people playing, so I figured I had a decent shot at winning! Later we went up to the observation deck above the bridge before sail away and watched the drunks and “port time hogs” ambling back to the ship. That evening we attended the comedy show with Tony Esposito, he was very funny.
That night at dinner some of the rowdy folks who were at a table near us decided to show up for dinner highly intoxicated. They were very loud and causing a scene until Freddie the Maitre D’ quieted them down. Though I missed George, Freddie did a really good job the entire cruise. He was also kind enough to check and make sure that our friends, who were joining us for the four day cruise, were indeed at the same table as us for the next leg of the trip. He confirmed that they were, and even went a step farther to move us from a four person table next to a wall (near the revolving kitchen doors), to a very nice table near the windows. He got a nice tip on the last night!
Day 5, Sea Day:
We mostly just hung out on deck, and went to the Serenity area. The hot tubs there are very nice, and there are no kids in them. I do miss the old pool area formerly located where the Waterworks now sits. Mostly because the Serenity area does not have a pool, and it gets hot back there since there is no breeze. A lot of people were also commenting negatively about the lack of pools on board, since the main pool is the only one now.
We went to afternoon tea time again. That night we got packed up and then attended the “adults only” comedy show, again with Tony Esposito.
I also talked to Risa Barnes, the Cruise Director after her Debarkation Talk. She told me that her new contract will be on the Fantasy starting after December. I was a little disappointed since she won’t be there for my cruise on Inspiration in January. For those that don’t know her, Risa is a very good Cruise Director. She is pleasant and personable, and holds Q&A sessions at the coffee shop with passengers during some cruises.
Day 6, Tampa:
On the previous night we were given a letter from the Pursers desk informing us how the back to back procedure would go. We simply went through Customs at the Rock and Roll disco with the non-US citizens at 6:45 AM. We then went to the Pursers desk and they informed us to come back at 11:30 to get our new Sail and Sign cards and set up the new accounts. After that, we had a nice long breakfast and parked ourselves up on the Promenade. During this they moved our luggage and hanging clothes to our new room on the Upper Deck. It was strange walking around the empty ship during the time between the 5 day cruise passengers debarking, and the 4 day folks embarking. Carnival handled the transition for us very well. Aside from a little confusion caused by different pursers, it went off without a hitch. I wish we could have had the same cabin for both legs of the trip, but it wasn’t possible. When we do another back to back, we will definitely get the same room for both trips. Thus ended our five day cruise, it was certainly different since we spent almost the entire time on the ship. That was fine by me, since relaxation was all I was after. It was a great cruise, and we still had another one coming!
Our friends joined us later that day for the next cruise. We had some lunch at the Brasserie, and I took them on a tour of the ship. They previously only cruise on the Carnival Legend, so they had to get used to the layout. Our new waitress at dinner Liza and her assistant I’ Putu were also awesome! We were so lucky to have two great serving staffs in a row.
Day 7, Sea Day:
It was a pretty standard sea day really, just relaxing up on deck and in the hot tubs. We went to Kenny Miller’s adult comedy show that night, it was funny. I remembered him from one of our previous cruises, so the material wasn’t new to me.
Day 8, Cozumel:
On our return to Cozumel we decided to first do some shopping. Afterwards we had lunch and drinks at Pancho’s Back Yard, a nice little patio style restaurant on the main drag. I have been there before and I highly recommend it. They have good food, and even better drinks. They are VERY clean and have a reverse osmosis water purification system. They aren’t the cheapest, with lunches ranging between $10 and $20 American, but it was worth it.
After lunch we headed to Chankanaab National park for some swimming and sunbathing. They have a large freshwater pool with a swim up bar near the entrance that we helped ourselves to. It wasn’t until about an hour later that a worker told us that it was for the “Dolphin Experience” customers, apparently we missed the sign. So after leaving the pool, we walked down to the beach area. They have a very nice beach area, but actually getting in the water is not so easy. While the beach is sandy, you have to walk down rocky steps into the water. The water becomes deep fast, and the area is suited for snorkeling rather than bathing. Had we known this, we would have gone elsewhere. The park itself is very pretty though. There is a large tidal lagoon, nature trails and we also saw several iguanas and lizards walking around. After the park we returned to the ship and hit the Serenity area while the ship was still fairly vacant.
The Imagination was pulled in next to us at the Punta Langosta Pier. This gave me a nice opportunity to see the Evolutions of Fun upgrades done to her. I was surprised to see that they were not done identically as the Inspiration’s. There were some small differences. The Imagination had faux thatched roofs on the covers over the spiral staircases next to the main pool, as well as the cover over the forward hot tub at the main pool. On the Inspiration they are just white metal covers. She also has showers in the Serenity area, something the Inspiration unfortunately lacks. Imagination also has “Carnival Waterworks” in big letters on the back of the funnel deck, and also printed on the twister slide. I assume they did this for the publicity photos.
That night at dinner we hit the only real snag of the cruise. My friend took a bite of his dessert and found a piece of broken plate in his food. It was sharp and made a cut in the roof of his mouth. Not a huge deal, we just told Liza about it so she could let the kitchen know. The Maitre D’ quickly came over and apologized. He also sent over a plate full of chocolate covered strawberries. We also found out the next day that he added a $20 credit to both our rooms.
Day 8, Sea Day:
Another fairly standard sea day, mostly up on deck. We again went to tea time and had our last dinner on board. The wait staff again sang “Leaving on a Fun Ship” to us, which after 8 days on board stung quite a bit. We got all packed up, checked our bags, and hit the hay.
Day 9, Debarkation:
We definitely got a case of the last morning depression after waking up in Tampa again. We had a slight problem with our Sail and Sign statement also. Both mine and the Fiancé’s accounts showed a $5 balance. We looked into it, and they told us that they gave us too large a credit for the dinner incident. Our friends also had their credit reduced by $10. I felt that it was in pretty poor taste to do that.
We went and had a nice breakfast in the Mardi Gras dining room, and again found a nice place to sit on the Promenade to wait out the “cattle drive” debarkation rush happening down on the Empress Deck. Once everybody was off, and the last call was made, we went down to the gangway and left the ship. We collected our bags in the terminal and quickly made it through customs. Soon we were back on I-275, and the cruise was over.
I would recommend either cruise to almost anyone looking for a reasonably priced getaway. The ship looked very nice and the crew was always friendly. There were several changes they have recently made that I enjoyed. I like that they play the Fun Ship Films on a continuous loop now as opposed to set times like they used to have. I also like bridge and lido deck cameras. They also have an informational channel that shows the ship’s course heading, ship’s time, wind speed, ship’s speed, sea depth and a map with the ship’s location. All in all it was a great vacation; I can’t wait to get back on Inspiration in January for my bachelor party cruise!