Just got off the Inspiration (11-30 THROUGH 12/7)and here is my review of things I did in ports and general ship comments, I'll try and touch all bases. This was my first cruise and I found these boards extremely informative so I though I'd chime in with a first timers review.
We arrived at the port at 11:30 in attempts to board the ship early. Didn't happen. I guess the ship was late getting in and customs was also holding up the debarkation process or the previous guests. We waited until about 1:30 before they called the first group to board. I still recommend getting to the port at 11:30 to avoid the long lines and they do get long. If I remember correctly they announced 2300+ prople were on board. Luggage was at our room very quickly!
EXCURSIONS: I had booked excursions at Grand Caymen and Cozumel myself online. I chose the Stingray Swim with Native way and both the Dolphin Royal Swim and Sea Lion Swim with Dolphin Discovery in Cozumel. I'll get into more of those soon. I didn't book tours at Costa Maya or Belize so after finding my room I went to the Shore Tour desk picked up a copy of the Shore tour list and chose a beach and snorkel tour in Costa Maya and the horseback riding tour in Belize. More to come on those also.
SPA: I also went to the spa to book a couples massage for my wife and I. The couples massage was expensive- I think $242 for an hour. My wife caught a virus of some sort in the middle of the cruise and I had a bad stiff neck from the pillows. Don't get me wrong the beds were comfortable I just didn't seem to care for the pillows themselves. Due to these two things, we cancelled the massages with more than 24 hours notice and didn't suffer a penalty for that. I figured if I'm going to pay that much for a massage I damn well am going to enjoy it. And between the neck and the virus we didn't feel we would enjoy it. Here's something I did find. After like the fourth day into the cruise, the spa started running specials, lowering the prices on their services. Massages are cheaper in a port then during a sea day. My wife and I were walking along the Lido deck when I saw a deck massage chair that advertised 20 minute back and neck massage for $20 and a foor and ankle massage for the same amount of time for $15. My wife and I both did these and they were wonderful. I'm glad I cancelled the full price deal and then found this Lido deck deal. Money well spent. Neck was still sore but a little better. Anyways, I'm not sure if the spa kept lowering their prices because they weren't booked or if this is common on all ships.
DINING ROOMS: We were seating at the late Dining time (8:30) In the Mardi Gras Lounge. I feel this time is best because it gives you time to visit the ports, get back on ship, have a nap and a shower and get to dinner, and enjoy the rest of your night on ship. Our Server was Noli. The food choices, preparation and Service were all top notch! Excellent dinning room food! Excellent service! If you want more than one item- no problem! But you have to ask. They won't just give it to you. There was only one dish I didn't care for and Noli had absolutley to problem in changing my item for something else. It was just a personal choice, had nothing to do with the preparation.
For breakfast I either had it delivered to the room by a time I designated (cards for this are by the rooms closet) or I had In the Brassiere Dining room. Practically everything you could think of for breakfast was there and was outstanding.
Lunch I had at either the Brassiere Dining room or on the Lido deck. Once again- excellent! Lido deck is always Hamburgers, hotdogs, chicken sandwiches and Garden Burgers. You need to ask for the Garden burger to be made if that is what you like. Also, fries, cold salads and other picnic type foods. The Brassiere was always a buffet style with two sides to it. On one side is a taste of the day with dishes served emphasizing a certain culture. I remember Chinese, Italina, Mediterranian, and spanish. The others I don't remember. The other side had typical buffet style food- some pasta, a carved section (one day beef, another pork, another chicken and etc.) cold salads, some rice dishes. A salad bar was in the middle of the room. Everything once again was excellent. I cannot over emphasize the quality of all the food! Pizza was good- my wife felt it was awesome and I rated this as good- being originally from Chicago I'm picky about my pizza, but it was still good.
I didn't eat at the midnight buffet but the friday night one which is THE BIG ONE is definately one to be seen. The way that the chefs get artistic with the food is absolutely amazing! I took a huge amount of pictures of this. This friday night midnight buffet is definatley not to be missed! It looked so good I can't believe that everyone destroyed it by eating it.
GRAND CAYMEN: Arrival in Grand Caymen was by tender which you catch on the third floor front of ship. Like I said I booked the Stingray Sandbar tour through Nativeway Tours online. I went with them because of recommendations I found on this board. And I'm glad I did. I easily found them where the tender let off in Grand Caymen. One of their representatives were holding a sign that read "NAtiveway Tours". Now the reason I'm glad I didn't book through the ship is that all of the ships in port (I think there were 3 of them) had this excursion cancelled due to "unsafe" water conditions. Now I don't want my life threatened but at the same time I've come so far to experience this that I don't want a snap judgement to end something I've been waiting three months to experience. The Nativeway representative was always on the phone with the crew aboard their boat to dertemine the water conditions were not unsafe. And they were correct. The water was a little wavy but not unsafe by any stretch of the imagination. Had I booked through the ship, been cancelled due to some waves, and then found out that the water really was not bad I would have been pissed. The Nativeway crew was very helpful. Highly recommend this company. And I paid $25 pp instead of the $65 or whatever the ship was. Oh and it is on a sandbar, water is between 2-5 feet deep so If you can tolerate the waves at a beach, then these water conditions would not have bothered you. After about 1 hour with the Stingrays we went to another area to snorkel some. This is where the small waves could bother people. If you aren't experienced at snorkeling, you probably ingested more sea water than you cared to with waves going over your snorkel. If you book with Nativeways they have two times, a morning and an afternoon trip. You must take the morning tour! There is not enough time to take this tour and get back on your boat.
ONE THING I HAVE NOT READ ON THIS BOARD: The ship remains on ship time which is the time you left out of the port. In my case it was eastern standard time. You must keep this in mind if you book tours on your own. Also, ports where you must tender to the ship you must be on the ship 1 hour before the sailing time. So if you are in Grand Caymen until 3:30, you must be back at the tender no later than 2:30. You miss that time you miss the boat. Other ports where you walk right off, you must be back on 30 minutes before ship time
COSTA MAYA: We booked a beach and snorkel adventure through the ship. It was cancelled due to dangerous water conditions. Which once again meant the waves were too high. Could you imagine if you were booked for both of these excursions through the ship and they were cancelled how you would have felt? The thing I didn't like about the trip being cancelled was that we were not told until after we got off the ship that it was cancelled. If you book a excursion through the ship you have to meet at the Paris Lounge. I would have imagined that the ship personnel would have been notified of the excursion cancellation. If we were told about it ahead of time, we could have made some last minute decisions on another excursion that was available. We weren't extended this courtesy and were left on shore with nothing to do. We made the most of it by spending the day looking at the shops and on the beach at the port. The Costa Maya Vendors are very pushy for you to buy something and the pricing is near ridiculous. I heard some of them ask for $45 for an item that the person walked away from and by the time they were out the door the price went to $10 and then to offer me something. So don't be afraid to basement lowball an offer on something you're interested in. Or walk out and see how the price changes.
COZUMEL: By far the best time I had in a port!!! I booked a Royal Dolphin Swim and the Sea Lion Swim onlne through Dolphin Discovery. Once again I did this for two reasons- 1) I hear this excursion books quickly (and it does) 2) the price. Now I have seen on this board that you cannot book this tour on your own if you are on a cruise ship. THIS IS COMPLETELY FALSE! You can book on your own. When booked through the ship, this excursion will cost you $179 pp. And this is for the Dolphin Swim. There is another ship package which is cheaper and from what I saw is a waste of money, so the swim or nothing. I went on my own and booked both the Dolphin Royal Swim and The sea Lion swim for $159 total per person! What a deal to go on your own! I think the dophin royal swim alone was $119 and the Sea lion alone was $69 pp. Because I booked both as a package, I received an additional discount. And this price included the price of the park admission ($10). The difference between the ships swim and the Roayl swim was the Roayl swim got to do everything the Ships swim did and then we got to experience tricks with the dolphins. We got pulled through the water by two dolphins while gently holding their upper fins. Pushed us through the water by placing their snoots on the balls of your feet and swimming forward, and jumped over a pole that two people hold in the water. You are supplied with life jackets so no need to worry if you are not a seasoned swimmer. This was fun- a video of the experience was $49 and I think pictures they took were $14 each. Now- you are not allowed to take an underwater camera with you on the dolphin experiences, so don't think you'll get your own pictures. Trying to take video from shore is a waste also as it is too far away unless you has a super zoom on your camera.
Now for the shocker- I liked the Sea Lion Experience better than the Dolphin experience!! I'm a huge dolphin fan, and for me to feel that way is a huge surprise. This is not available to book through the boat. On My dolphin swim there were approximately 20 people each trying to get as much petting and playing time as possible. The sea Lion Swim is not popular at all, and thus there were three of us. Me my wife and another gentleman! What an awesome time!! In my opinion, it blows the Dolphins swim away, and that might have something to do with the amount of time you get with the animal. A video of this was $29 and pictures were still $14 but they allowed us to bring a waterproof camera on this experience. I think we spent 1.5 hours with the sea lion and approximately 85% of the time was actually playing or petting with the animal. The rest of the time was speaches teaching you about the animal. You don't just sit on the shore petting the animal either, you are actually in the water with the sea lion where they do the sea lion show. I highly recommend this Swim over the Dolphin Swim. The price is right so you might as well book both on your own. I booked the 12 pm dolphin swim and the 2:15 pm sea lion swim and found that this is probably the latest time you can do these two swims and make it back to the ship on time. Go to the park early (via taxi $10) and spend the entire day there. I didn't go early and wish I did. There is so much more to experience in the park.
BELIZE: I booked the horseback riding trip through the ship and had a great time. They have horses for both experienced and inexperienced riders. Very Beautiful ranch in a nice mountainous country setting. A vast difference from Belize City which is a dump of a place! An absolute dump! I don't recommend walking around outside of the tourist shops in town. If it wasn't for the setting around the horse ranch, I don't think I'd want to ever visit Belize again. I'd like to take the ruins tours before I totally wrote off Belize though.
ACCOMODATIONS: I booked an oceanview room but did not choose my specific room at booking and left it TBA. We would up with an Upper level ocean view room. Sixth floor. Room was nice. Bigger than I expected it to be. No refrigerator. No Hair dryer, but there was a basket of tooth brushes, tooth paste, razors and other items that are yours complimentary. Bed was comfortable, but I didn't care for the pillows, might bring my own next time. No clock either but you can place wake up calls through the phone system and it worked everytime!
ENTERTAINMENT: My wife and I are not into the Las Vegas style song and dance style shows- they aren't impressive to us.. We did see one of them and really didn't care for it as we felt. But if you like those types of song and dance shows I'm sure you would have liked the ones on ship. The comedians were all good. The magician started out his show great and then got boring and lost the crowd in my opinion. The adult only shows very very funny and very adult.
SHIPS CONDITION: I felt the ship was in awesome shape! I've read that some believe that the ship has gone down some but I disagree. If it is true, then it must have been one absolutely beautiful ship when it was first constructed.
SEAS: The seas were rough on my cruise. Even some of the staff could be heard commenting on it. Several passengers were sick due to the seas but I wasn't completely bothered. A dose a dramamine each day helped with that. I'm sure everyone would have had an even better time if the seas had cooperated, but that obviously is not Carnival's fault.
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 email@example.com. Put in the subject line Carnival Inspiration so that I don't accidentally delete it.
The only complaints I have about my experience are that I wish we would have been told about the excursion cancellation before we got off the ship in Costa Maya, and a bad problem we had with the Port parking garage. You can read about that by doing a search on the title "Dangerous Parking in Tampa". Besides those two things one small and one quite large, I highly recommend this ship!
I'm not 100% positive the pillows we're the problem. But I've never had a stiff neck like this, for this long. It's my lower neck into my shoulder and almost feels I have whiplash. Hard to turn my head back and forth. So I have to suspect it is the pillows. Which I would say are on the hard side. Bed was very comfortable!
The frozen yogurt machine was working fine the whole trip. The Ice Cream machine would go out every other day, would be fixed but the chocolate side would never completely freeze which often left a small mess.
Another thing I noticed was that the Ice machines would go out often on the Lido deck. There are plenty of ice machines around, it was as if the machines decided to take alternate days off- .
I did it at the same place you did it at. I guess they were having problems with people losing their cameras and asking for someone to try and retrieve them. I'm sure there are plenty of them sitting on the bottom of the ocean right there. So cameras are not allowed on this portion anymore.
The Sea Lion Swim is actually in their tank which I found to be about 5' deep where we stand. So if you drop your camera, it is easily found in the clear water. Honestly, I took enough pictures to where I was happy enough to just put the camera aside halfway through the swim and fully enjoy the experience.