by Brent Clements
December 2, 2001
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 plenty of 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.