November 13, 2018

That Time I Cruised on the Carnival Inspiration...

I got to travel for business to Los Angeles which put me in a perfect position to go on a West Coast cruise. I wanted to use as little vacation time as possible so I picked a 3-day cruise on the Carnival Inspiration which has just one port stop in the Mexican Riviera: Ensenada.

We stayed in the nearby Residence Inn because I had Marriott points to get a free room, but had that not been the case, I hands-down would have stayed on the Queen Mary which has been turned into a hotel and is permanently docked right next to Carnival's cruise terminal...

We could see our ship from the hotel!
We liked the Residence Inn (it's maybe my favorite hotel brand) and the outdoor pool, but didn't like that when we realized that we'd left our wine in the fridge, and called to get it back, they said "sorry, it's not in the lost and found and no, we can't check the room itself or talk to the housekeeper who stole our wine cleaned our room.

An email has been sent to Marriott.

Anyway. So we got to the cruise terminal and our little Inspiration didn't looks all that much less impressive than the larger ships we'd been on previously. It probably would have been more apparent if they were side-by-side. the main visual difference between the newer ships and the older ones is that there's only one deck that has balcony cabins on the older ships instead of almost all decks.'

The cruise terminal itself was a weird dome, but I liked it.

I basically ran all the way up the gangplank and Husband had to keep telling me to slow down (I didn't).

I was giddy with excitement.

Day 1:

This was our first time with Gold VIFP ("very important FUN person," Carnival's loyalty program) status which was a little exciting even though Gold doesn't get you much, and it gets you even less if the cruise is less than 5 days long.

We also paid for Carnival's "Faster to the Fun" option, which allowed us to go in a special priority line to enter the terminal, and there was no waiting to board. The FTTF option price and availability varies by both cruise length and by ship. It also allowed us to go straight to our rooms to get our S&S cards and drop off our luggage. Cabins are officially available at 1:30pm on every cruise, unless you have FTTF or VIFP priority. The later requires Platinum status though, not Gold.

We were greeted by the walking towel elephant, whom I love.

And stopped to visit Patch the Pumpkin Captain (I think is his name?)

We had a little interior cabin, which I expected to be smaller than on the Horizon. But it was actually bigger! Not by a lot, but noticeably so. Most notably, the shower is bigger and there is a third closet vs. the two on the Horizon.

There is a fake window with a curtain which is just aluminum behind it. This was actually weirdly disorienting so I used a hair tie to pull back the curtain so my brain would stop trying to get me to look out it.

The other weird thing was that the air conditioning control is just a dial on the unit itself. Not the end of the world, but I was expecting a wall-mounted thermostat, and started to think that We were stuck with a very cold room.

I'm definitely spoiled by the Horizon and Vista. They have two U.S. electric outlets and two usb outlets for charging. The Inspiration just had one sad U.S. outlet and some kind of European outlet. 

Luckily I always bring a splitter and extension cord in case I need it.

Last, the walls have a way thicker plastic coating than the Vista Class, making them less magnetic! So my heavy-duty hooks that Huband could hang his pants on could barely hold up my S&S card on its lanyard.

There were a couple of spots that had metal that was legit magnetic, but that was very limiting. I might try for some stronger magnets if I go on a Fantasy Class ship again.

But we got to be in our cabin first, so yay!

We got to change into our bathing suits and head to lunch on the Lido deck, and then the Serenity deck. We walked past Guy's Burger Joint and it had a very short line so we jumped at the opportunity to get a no-line burger.

The Serenity deck on Inspiration was small but seemed adequate for the amount of people on board. The ship wouldn't be leaving until 6:30pm, so there were still a lot of people not on board yet, allowing us to get one of the hot tubs to ourselves and pretty much have our choice of loungers.
Sooooo Serene

I really liked that Serenity was on the back of the Inspiration, and a few decks from the top as opposed to being all the way forward and the top deck of newer ships. The latter has a nicer view maybe, but so much more windy when the ship is moving! 

From the Serenity deck I had an excellent view of the Queen Mary and regretted all my choices in not staying there the night before.

After a bit of relaxing we went back to the lido deck because Husband was in need of pizza. Of course. I had heard bad things about "Pizza Pirate" compared to our experience with Pizzera del Capitano on Vista and Horizon.

Husband said it was just like the pizza on the Vista Class ships, (my pizza-memory is not as good as his) and the menu choices were exactly the same, so we think that they switched to making it the same way on all the ships.

That, or, because people want NY style pizza and the ships have Neapolitan style (a la Naples, Italy), that they think its bad, but it's Husband's favorite kind.

I think it's okay. I prefer NY style, but no way is Carnival gonna get that right.

After the muster drill we went back to our cabin to get ready for dinner. We had Assigned/Traditional dining for the first time and were both nervous and eager to try it out. I picked the 6pm, early dining option so that we would miss less of the fun stuff.

Overall, I think we like assigned dining better. It's definitely faster than anytime dining, which makes sense because the servers just get two sets of tables, instead of waves and waves of random tables for hours. I bet the better servers work assigned dining too.

We had a table that's for 10 people and only one couple joined us the first night, we ate elsewhere the second night, and NO ONE joined us the last night... okay well a nearby couple who wanted dining companions but were put at a two-person table asked to join us, but none of the assigned people!

At least we didn't have to eat with people we didn't like. We're going to try it again on our next cruise and hopefully have some company to really decide if we like it or not.

As a bonus, we indicated in our booking that we were celebrating both of our October birthdays so we got a tiny-but-delicious birthday cake. 

We'd already had dessert off the menu so we took it with us.

We made it to a couple of the comedy shows which were excellent as usual: John DiCrosta and Jaylyn Bishop and then headed to bed.

I figured out that the free movies in the room are not on demand, unlike the Horizon & Vista, but the movie that was currently playing was fine for some background noise.

Day 2:

I had decided a while back that this was the right time to finally try out the Cheers! drink package. You are able to purchase it: before the cruise, day 1 of the cruse (for an extra $5 per day), or day 2 of the cruise (also for an extra $5 per day, but don't pay for day 1). So for my 3-day cruise I was able to get it for only two days by buying it the second day.

I wanted to try it to: a) to find out if we should start buying it for our cruises, and 2) to be able to speak intelligently about its value from experience.

I ended up with two additional uses for it: 1) to actually test if you can get more than the 15 allotted drinks by paying for them after #14 (you otherwise get cut off no matter what after 15), and 2) record the prices of their various liquors. Because of this, I made sure to keep track.

I actually chatted with someone who complained about this having happened to him on day 1, told him about the hack on day 2, and he saw me and thanked me on day 3 for it work

I asked at at least three bars for a whiskey list and they said that I can pick one from what I see behind them and they will tell me the price. NBD with Cheers, but annoying if I'm paying a la carte. (I started a list, that I will be adding to, that can be found on my Carnival Bar & Restaurant Menus page)

Anyway. We got up, went to the closest bar, purchased Cheers for $130 each (includes a 15% gratuity) and picked an AM appropriate drink to take with us to Sea Day Brunch.

Brunch was delicious as always. Husband got both the Steak & Eggs and the Lox & Bagel. I got the Mac & Cheese with bacon.
Breakfast filet mignon
And mimosas to go with our Pomegranate Margarita and Vodka Cranberry (cause fruit juice = breakfast).

After brunch we ventured to the casino bar for some trivia. We did not win Harry Potter Trivia nor 90s Music trivia. I got closer to winning on the latter.

We then hit up the pool for a while which was actually warm! This was a first for me on Carnival. Usually the pools are too cold for me to get in and I just stick to the hot tub.

For dinner we had a reservation for Chef's Table. This was another first. We met up with the other diners in the atrium lobby and were given a glass of champagne. I'd brought a drink with me (which I would later have to abandon for some reason when we were in the kitchen), not realizing that wine was included with dinner.
Halloween Drinks

We were taken into the kitchen for a brief tour, the demonstration of how the Chocolate Melting Cake is made (I got selected to be the Chef's lovely assistant), and 4 amuses bouche (I'm guessing that's how you make it plural).

We were then taken to the Library where a large table was set for all 10 of us to eat together. We took a group photo with the Chef (we later got a print of it as a souvenir). and then sat down for dinner.
Also the recipe for Chocolate Melting Cake
There were about a million six courses plus dessert and they were all delicious. 

The Wagyu Beef was my favorite and the Beet Blanket my least favorite. 
Wagyu Beef with Bone Marrow Souffle
Carnival is currently updating the menu on each ship one at a time. Not entirely sure why it takes as long as it does, but such is life. 

After dinner we were sleepy from being so stuffed (and probably a little jet lagged still) and were only able to make it through one comedy show before crashing for the night. Not the best use of the Cheers Package, but we did pretty good for the day. 

Day 3: Ensenda

We didn't have any excursions planned so we had a leisurely breakfast of pizza and melon with more mimosas before getting off the ship.

We got back on around 2pm so that we could maximize Cheers and because Husband wanted to compete in the Stein Holding Competition which was being held as an Oktoberfest event. 

We had some time so we hit up the Alchemy bar for some custom cocktails which are always delightful. 

And then the watersides because how could we not? The water used for the slides was really cold so We only went once, but they were fun enough to do again. Nothing particularly special, but nice that they're there. 

Also while we were up there we were able to get right next to the whale tail which was really cool and not something you can do on all ships - at least not the Horizon & Vista.

The Stein Hoisting competition consists of holding a full 48oz beer stine in the air longer than the other competitors. Competitors stay in the game as long as they don't get three strikes for breaking their form, lowering their arm, or supporting their arm with their other hand. 

The girl shockingly mysteriously didn't win
Husband would have won if strikes weren't a thing or if they were more strict about giving strikes. The guy who won got two strikes, but it was like 30 seconds of him resting his army by bending his elbow for each one and Husband didn't get any strikes, but suddenly just lost it.  

As a consolation prize he got an Oktoberfest hat, and every contestant got two cans of Paulaner beer, because they had to pay $10 to enter. (P.S. Carnival: if you are reading this, your Funtimes indicated that the contest was free *cough* *cough*)

We wanted to try the "Sushi at Sea" - I believe is the same as Bonsai Express, but I've never had the latter, so not sure - so we placed an order for a few nigiri and a spicy tuna roll.
The Sushi at Sea is just a little kiosk so it was served in a to-go box for us.
Sorry that this photo is so crappy.
They have buzzers so that people don't have to stand in line to order while the sushi is made-to-order.

We took our sushi with us to the Atrium bar and ordered champagne to go with it while enjoying some live tunes from the musician.
Love the glass elevators

The next couple of hours were spent running out our Cheers drink allotment at the Blue Iguana & Red Frog bars.

We went to dinner again and like I said, no one who was assigned to the table showed up. We had a nice dinner with the couple from the nearby two-person table. We were able to order wine with dinner without having to pick the lowest-price option. 

After dinner we went to a comedy show before having to get changed into our costumes for the contest. 

For the contest, everyone met in the Candlelight Lounge so that we could walk to the atrium all together. We were then each announced into the contest and judged by the audience's applause. 

We came in a close second and made away with a bottle of champagne and a Ship on a Stick to add to our collection.
My costume is actually a bathing suit.

Most of the rest of the evening was spent at the Piano bar with Rohan. He was just wonderful and we very much enjoyed some of the random songs he had on his song list.

At some point the Mardi Gras party started in the atrium so we went to see what was up. They had a King and Queen of Mardi Gras contest, which Husband won by ripping his Superman shirt off and I probably would also have won, but that's a lot of prizes to go to one couple. 

Once again, we did not get packed the night before. We didn't use the Faster to the Fun benefit of being able to get off the boat earlier, because our flight wasn't until 2pm and no way were we walking up to get off for no reason. 

Another benefit of FTTF is getting to use the priority line at Guest Services, which we used twice. So I felt like I got my money's worth.

We had a small breakfast before getting off and an old lady that was bedazzled by a Trump bedazzler didn't understand that SHE was the reason that I wasn't smiling and tried to cheer me up. It was everything I had to not scream in her face.

Then it was sad as usual getting off the ship. I really enjoyed the Inspiration and will gladly choose a Fantasy-Class ship again if it works with my cruising interests. We really liked that the pool deck was made of teak wood instead of plastic. It doesn't hold up as well, but is way less slippery and feels nicer to walk on.
Mmmmmm woooody.
What I couldn't get over was how they used to have names for the decks instead of numbers. You could generally refer to your deck by its number, but the elevators had the floors' first initials instead of numbers.
Ah yes... R, M, U, E, A, P, L.
We took a Lyft to the National Rental Car Place so that it would be slightly cheaper the airport and had a smooth journey home. 

All the flights went according to schedule and we had just enough time in O'Hare to get Chili's boneless buffalo wings and chips & salsa to take with us on our connecting flight home.
And with that... I'm off on my next cruise (it's actually been over 3 weeks already): 11-Day Southern Caribbean on the NCL Gem. See you soon!


More on Cruising :)

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