by Julia O'Brien
March 23, 2003
Let me start by saying that we had a GREAAAAT time. We had a direct flight to Tampa early Sunday morning, and were on the ship by 12:30-1:00 p.m. easily. Embarkation in Tampa was absolutely no problem. It took us about 40 minutes from the time we first got in line until our group (#8) was called to board the ship.
Since I addressed embarkation, I'll address debarkation now, too. We had absolutely no problems. We did happen to be in the first color group called (red - for Main deck forward), so I have no idea how long it took for the last group to be called. We got into the Paris lounge, our designated waiting area, at 8:30 a.m., and our color was called at approx. 9:30 a.m. Then we proceeded to our luggage area, where our bags were easily located and porters were available (I had placed a bright colored duct tape on all of our luggage handles). Then off the airport to go home:(
Our cabin was Main Deck 66, a standard outside cabin. My husband, myself, and our three sons seriously had no problem living there for a week. Part of this was because our steward, Jesse, was fabulous, and always had our room back together by the time we were finished with breakfast. I know many people have stated on these boards that five people in a room is awfully uncomfortable, but we didn't find that to be so. I guess it would depend upon how close your family or group is normally, though.
The ship is not brand-spanking new, but all of the posts I read about the elevators being so scratched up and keyed that you couldn't tell what floor you were on were bogus (and believe me, we were in every elevator numerous times when our legs were just too tired to carry us). The cleaning crew on the ship works non-stop, and the ship looked pretty good, considering how many folks have sailed on it. The carpets are not horribly stained or anything like that, either. There is what I would call normal wear and tear, but nothing out of the ordinary.
The food - how can I start? It was just high quality all the way around. We had an early seating at the the Carnivale Dining Room, and our headwaiter (Lalu) and his assistant (Iva) were fabulous. They were very patient with three pre-teen boys who are not the best at manners. Our bar waitress asked us what we wanted on the first night, and from then on it was always on the table when we arrived. These staff people were beyond excellent. We ate in the dining room every night, and for most of the breakfasts. The food was uniformly well-cooked and well-presented, and high quality.
We usually ate at the Lido deck buffet for lunch, and there was plenty of variety, usually with a different carved meat item every day, plenty of fresh salad makings and fruit, and wonderful desserts. The pizza and the soft ice cream at this location was also a big hit with our boys.
We arranged all of our excursions privately, so I can't comment on Carnival's excursions. We did stingray city/snorkeling in Grand Caymen with Nativeway Sports (they were great). The trip from the ship to the island was tricky, as the waves were high which made the tenders very rocky. Many seniors had trouble getting on the tenders. I understand that after our tender left (we were in the second one), they decided to move the ship to the other side of the island where the waters were calmer. Thank goodness the Nativeway Sports folks found out about this, because otherwise we would not have known where the ship was! Anyway, Nativeway delivered us right back to the ship when we were finished.
At Cozumel, we went to the national park, which was very pretty and pristine. There were many things to do, but we mostly relaxed at the beach and snorkeled. It was $10 per person to get in. One thing I wish I had paid more attention to: most of the places at Cozumel that we went to did not accept credit cards. We had not really brought along enough cash, so thank goodness that the cantina on the beach did accept Visa/MC, or we would have all been sharing one burrito or something for lunch. Next time we would double the cash amount we took along.
Our other port was New Orleans, which we also really enjoyed. We had decided to do a carriage tour of the Garden District, and we easily found a vendor. It was 1 1/2 hours long and our tour guide seemed very knowledgeable (my husband is an American History teacher, so the guide couldn't get away with a whole lot of ad-libbing). It was a nice way to spend the morning. For lunch, we ventured into the French Quarter to go to Pat O'Brien's (this is my husband's name, and he wanted to get a T-shirt). The food was only so-so, but the experience was worth it. We kind of hurried our pre-teen boys out of the French Quarter, though. Even at noon, it is not G-rated!
The shows on the ship were uniformly of good quality. There were two vegas type shows: Nuevo Caribe and "Shout", which we enjoyed. There were also several good comedians, who would normally do a "family" show earlier and then an adult-only show at the later venue. They were funny even at the early shows. We also had a magic show and some dance group from Argentina who were quite good, and put on quite a unique performance. The cruise director, Greg Kneale, was pretty amusing.
We did not gamble at all, so I could not comment on the casinos or the bingo, horseracing, etc. People seemed like they were having a good time, though.
Camp Carnival did not disappoint, although our guys were old enough to pick and choose their activities. They did about half Camp Carnival and about half just hanging with the friends they had quickly made on board.
The best thing I took along (besides my family) was the over-the-door canvas pocket organizer. It was invaluable to store all the little items like sunscreen, socks, hairdryers, etc. I think this is why our cabin always seemed roomier than it was, because there was a place to put everything.
We are already looking at booking another cruise. I would happily go on the Inspiration again, but would probably try the Paradise, because a smoke-free environment would be so nice.