Monday, February 14, 2022

Carnival Inspiration

This article first appeared in August, 2017.  The Inspiration has since been sold off or scrapped but this dives into reviews of food and entertainment offerings which still exist on all ships.

As you might know, I used to be a travel agent. More importantly, I am a self proclaimed travel expert.  This post is about my recent cruise aboard the Carnival Inspiration.  Remember, I don't ever tell you about things I have not done and I never make money off these recommendations.  If you have questions, leave me a comment!

Carnival Inspiration from as seen from Avalon, CA.  Photo by Alan Braggins

Now, I was on the Inspiration's sister ship, the Imagination, before I had a blog.  That trip was in February of 2016 and I went with my wife and my parents.  I did review it to the company but didn't do an online article.  I received a very nice response from Carnival and they seemingly corrected a few of the issues.

On to the current trip.  We boarded the Inspiration on Monday, July 31st for a 4 night cruise including stops in Catalina, Ensenada, and a day at sea.  Joining me was my wife, both boys, and my parents.  We had 3 staterooms all on Deck 7 Forward, the Empress Deck.  The ship leaves and returns in Long Beach.


Upon arrival into the Long Beach Cruise Terminal, the embarkation process is quite simple, mostly thanks to Faster to the Fun.  FTTF is Carnival's program for impatient people (me!).  It's $50-$60 per stateroom, not per person.  It enables your entire party to board early and avoid lines during embarkation.  It's basically paying for their VIFP Diamond and Platinum status and it is worth every penny!  We get to be among the first on the ship, have a special line at check in and guest services and can go straight to our stateroom instead of waiting for hours for it to be ready.  Remember, parking is $19/24 hour period and is not through the cruise line.

Entering the terminal.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

The Cruise Terminal as seen from the ship.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Waiting to board in front of the Queen Mary.  Photo by Andrew Braggins

Recreating our special photo.  Photo by Alyssa Braggins


The Inspiration is updated as part of their "Fun Ship 2.0" program.  What does that mean?  It boils down to sponsorship really.  I don't mean that negatively.  Sponsorship equals theming and theming makes a difference.  For example, when we were on the Imagination in 2016, it had not undergone it's updates yet.  There was a burger grill and several bars on the Lido deck.  After the updates, the burger bar is Guy's Burger Joint and the 2 bars are the BlueIguana Tequila Bar and RedFrog Rum Bar.  More on those later.

The ship is clean and freshly painted.  Every area is well themed and appointed with appropriate decoration.  There were still some issues.  One of the 2 main atrium elevators was down our entire cruise as was one of the two Lido Deck spas.  Now, I realize that the ship operates continuously and doesn't have "down time" to do repairs, but it shouldn't have taken the entire cruise and who knows how much longer to fix these two issues.

The ship has a little bit of something for everyone.  Overall, this "2.0" ship provided a nicer experience than the Imagination did 18 months ago.  The Imagination was showing it's 20+ years but the Inspiration wasn't.  The theming is a big part of that!

The bow (front) is off limits to guests. Photo by Andrew Braggins.
The Lido deck is midship and is the hub of activity.  Photo by Alan Braggins.
The Stern is home to the Serenity Deck and is the Aft (rear) most spot on the ship.  Photo by Alan Braggins.


I have stayed in just about every type of state room.  I have done the Suite thing.  I have enjoyed the Verandah (balcony).  I have had an Ocean View, a Porthole, and an Inside state room.  This time, we were going to book an Inside state room for budgetary reasons and because some itineraries don't warrant an ocean view,  We ended up upgrading for a couple of bucks to a Porthole.

Now let's be clear, state rooms are not hotel rooms.  They are not your bedroom at home.  They are tiny.  The walkways between your bed and the bulkheads are narrow.  The space between your toilet and the bulkhead can be knee busting.  That being said, you should know that going in.  Carnival rooms are decently appointed and I am glad we went with the port hole instead of an Ocean View.  Sure, I don't get a 180 degree view, but I feel more nautical and that's worth it!

Our rooms were located on Deck 7, Forward.  For the uninitiated, this is the front of the ship.  For those prone to motion sickness, this can be troubling, but it's not an issue for us.  Our room was E1, the forward most room on the Starboard (right) side of the ship.  The boys were next to us in E3 and my parents had E2, the forward most room on the Port (left) side of the ship.

The beds on Carnival are some of the most comfortable I have ever had on a cruise ship.  The TV is about as bad as you'd imagine.  It's small, has Spanish channels, and is mounted in the corner.  The toilet paper is still one ply.  There is plenty of closet space and a surprisingly good use of the tiny area.

The King bed.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

The state room from the entry.  Closets to the left and bathroom to the right.  Both out of shot.  Photo by Alan Braggins.
One of two portholes in our room still offers a great view.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.


A cruise ship is an exercise in gluttony.   There is more food on this ship than even my teenage son could eat.  It's mostly included in the cost of your cruise (even room service!).  It's mostly good.


The most important meal of the day is available in many forms.  You can order a continental breakfast via room service or at the buffet.  You can also enjoy a large breakfast buffet including hot favorites like omelettes.  Standard breakfast fare is available in the main dining room if sit down service is more your style and of course, the BlueIgauna Cantina offers breakfast burritos on the Lido deck.  Nearly everything I ate was great except for the runny scrambled eggs and the sad bacon.  Now, I cannot offer an excuse for the bacon.  There is no excuse for bacon made so poorly.  The eggs are a different story.  Eggs are a personal choice.  I prefer dry scrambled eggs.  My parents love em wet so they were very happy.  A true breakfast highlight is the hashbrowns.  They are more like large and flat tater tots, perfectly seasoned.  We dined in each venue at least once and often had 1st and 2nd breakfast and even enjoyed the Seaday Brunch.

BlueIguana Cantina breakfast burrito with a glass of POG juice.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Fried chicken mac and cheese and the Seaday Brunch.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.
A breakfast omelette.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Funnest french toast (french toast coated in cereal).  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Bacon and hash browns.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.


Lunch consists of tacos at the BlueIguana Cantina, burgers at Guy's Burger Joint, or food from the buffet.  Of course, room service, the deli, and Pizza Pirate are also available around the clock.  More on those later.  The buffet houses something called Chef's Choice for lunch which is a different cuisine each day.  This included French, Caribbean, and American.  It's buffet so the quality is hit and miss.  Potatoes were often bland but meats were often good.  I always added a delicious salad.  The burgers at Guy's were tasty, if not high in calories and the street tacos at BlueIguana were good, if not authentic.  With the varying hours of food available, we often had 2nd and 3rd lunch.  (I only gained .2 pounds all week.)

A bacon patty on top of the burger patty.  Photo by Alan Braggins.

A buffet plate.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

The basic Guy's burger.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

A yummy afternoon salad.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

A buffet plate.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

A buffet plate.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.


While dinner is available in the buffet via Good Eats or via the deli and Pizza Pirate, we always ate in our dining room.  We enjoy the experience.  Back in the day, you ate at a specific time with the same group of people at the same table with the same waiter.  While this is still an option, Carnival offers "Your Time Dining" which allows you to go to the dining room and sit with just your party at a different table with different waitstaff each night at any time you want.  We exercised this option for our cruise.  (My stomach does not work on a set schedule and I didn't want to be held to eating at a specific time.)  The dining room has a dress code which is better enforced on this ship than on my last trip.  No flip flops or hats.  No torn jean shorts or bathing suits.  Formal night is even nicer with us dressing is suits and cocktail dresses.  The food is fancier and plentiful.  The food is better prepared at dinner and I don't think we had anything bad.  Dinner includes appetizers, entrees, and dessert and yes, you can order as many of each as you'd like.  Want 3 appetizers and 2 entrees?  We did!  We were pigs!  The boys even tried, and enjoyed things like frogs legs and escargot.
Steak and Potato.  Photo by Aaron Braggins.

Shrimp Cocktail (a nightly favorite) and Caesar salad.  Photo by Aaron Braggins.

Fried shrimp.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Miso Salmon. Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Stuffed mushrooms, shrimp cocktail, and scallops.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Strawberry bisque.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Grilled shrimp and duck. Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Spare ribs. Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Prime rib. Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Japanese Sea Bass. Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Chicken quesadilla. Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Frogs legs. Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Shrimp bowl.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Aaron had 23 spring rolls.  Karen had a few too.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Tyler tried escargot!  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Penne mariscos.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Chicken chow mein.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Red fish.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.


Desserts earns it's own section here.  Desserts come from the buffet via the Sweet Spot and 24 hour swirls and the dining room.  Desserts are hard to review because they are so yummy but I never had something I didn't like.  Always save room for dessert!

Tyler had the Carnival Melting Cake every night.  This night, he had 2.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Aaron's birthday cake!  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Tiramisu. Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Cheese platter. Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Creme Brulee.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Coffee Cake.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

S'mores Parfait.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Mango pie.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Cheesecake.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Banana Pie.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

A swan.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.


In addition to room service, which is pretty terrible,  the deli is open from 11:00 am to 11:00 pm and serves up hot and cold sandwiches and hot dogs.  There's also Pizza Pirate and Swirls available around the clock serving up burnt pizzas and mediocre soft serve.  There's also the Taste Bar serving appetizers on select nights and snacks at some bars and on Sea Day, there is Tea Time in the dining room.  Quality at everything varies depending on the time of day and the crowd.

The Taste Bar.  Photo by Aaron Braggins.

The Taste Bar.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Snacks at the Alchemy Bar.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Tea Time.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Tea Time.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.


What is there to do on a cruise ship?  Drink of course!  There is a bar on every corner and a roaming bartender every few feet.  See, drinks are where they make their money.  At an average of $10 a drink plus 15% tip, it can add up!  This is where the theming really shows.  While most bars on the ship are stock bars offering the same menu depending if you're inside or outside, there are 3 well themed specialty bars and a couple of beer stations.  It's a little ludicrous that I have to pay a 15% tip on a beer I pour myself from a machine, but hey, what can ya do?  There's always drinking in the dining room too.  We brought our own wine and paid the corkage fee each night.  On to the specialty bars...

The RedFrog Rum Bar is on the starboard side of the Lido deck.  The Caribbean vibe serves up a variety of rum based beverages as well as Carnival's own tasty beer.  The BlueIguana Tequila Bar is on the port side and offers tequila based drinks.  Who would have guessed?  Both spots offer good drinks and standard bar service.  If you want a really special experience, head to the aft section of the Promenade deck and visit the Alchemy Bar.  This was a real cruise highlight.  The staff is what makes it but more on him later.  The theme is that of a cocktail pharmacy where the drinks use fresh herbs and spices.  I had my favorite drink of the trip at this bar!

A drink.  Photo by Aaron Braggins.

A Beer Station.  Photo by Alan Braggins.

Jason pouring 4 at a time.  Photo by Alan Braggins.

Another drink.  Photo by Aaron Braggins.

A bottle of wine from Alyssa, our Boisset Wine Ambassador.  Photo by Alan Braggins.

Jason making 6 drinks for us.  Photo by Alan Braggins.

A delicious treat.  Photo by Aaron Braggins.

My first drink on board.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

The boys first drink on their first cruise.  Photo by Carnival Staff.

Martini tasting.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

A pitcher of margaritas on the Lido deck.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

Another Alchemy delight.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

They keep getting better!  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

A beer on Deck 11.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.


The staff is what can make or break your cruise.  On most cruise ships, you'll find a wide variety of staff members from a wide variety of backgrounds.  The Inspiration is no exception.  Now, this creates some language barriers but you'll get by mostly.  The staff exists mostly to make you happy and they try really hard to do that.  We had some good staff, some great staff, some mediocre staff, one really bad staff member, and one super great, trip making staff member.

The one bad one ended up being a decent performer but his attitude during the Muster Drill was not to be desired.  More over, he was my first staff interaction on the ship in the lobby.  I think his name was Lexx. The HUB app was malfunctioning (more on that later) and I needed to speak with someone in Guest Services about my account.  He tried his best to convince me to get out of line and go do my business at a machine that can't answer questions but would just show me what the app was showing me. He insisted that even though I had just boarded that there would already be hidden charges on my account.  As I had spent exactly $0 at that point, I knew he was wrong. After arguing with me for some time, he told me he was giving me the answer I needed and that I just didn't like it.  I finally got to Guest Services and it turns out I was right and the app was indeed broken in showing charges that didn't exist.  Imagine my surprise when I had to listen to this guy treat an entire theater full of people like garbage during the muster drill?  Like I said, he was a fine singer and dancer in the show later in the cruise, but his 1st interaction left a sour taste in my mouth.

Some great mentions go to Luis, Komang, Yvonne, and Runata in the Mardi Gras dining room who all provided excellent service.  They made the meals with them events to remember.  Oscar at Guest Services is the only staff member to acknowledge the Faster to the Fun line at the desk.  He always treated us well.  Every guest service staff should be trained on his example.  Edy, our room steward took excellent care of us and greeted us by name no matter when he saw us or where he saw us on the ship!  This is something I missed on the Imagination.

The real MVP of the entire cruise was Jason at the Alchemy Bar.  Outside of the fact that he is a master mixologist pouring me my favorite drinks and creating beverages I never knew I wanted, he is a genuinely great guy.  Utilizing my style of dry humor, he regularly entertained us while mixing our drinks. Seriously, he could be my long lost twin in personality. He is the reason we made our way to that bar daily.  He often took time to explain the drink or quiz us on what was in it.  He took extra care to learn our names and preferences.  He even mixed zero proof cocktails for the boys daily.  When his break schedule allowed, he sat with us in the adjacent lounge and chatted with us about our trip and life back home.  If I could request him on every cruise and every bar, I would.  Carnival would do well to keep him.

Jason stealing my mom from my dad.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

The rude one.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.


Cruising is not for everyone.  Days at sea can get very boring very fast.  That's not really an issue on a Carnival Cruise.  The Inspiration offers so much to do that I could never have hoped to do it all. We played mini golf and ping pong, exercised on the jogging track and in the fitness center.  I won a $75 spa certificate that I gave to my dad.  We swam in the pool, went down the water slides, and lounged on the various decks.  We saw a comedy show and a Broadway show.  Alyssa even performed on stage with the cast.  Being with two minors, we avoided things like the R rated comedy shows, karaoke and dancing at the clubs, and the adults only Serenity area.

Water Works and Twister Slide.  Photo by Alan Braggins.

We enjoyed a couple of days up on Deck 11 at the Water Works play area.  This includes the Twister Slide which starts a good 3 flights above deck 12.  Tyler, particularly enjoyed it, riding 30 times.

The Atrium.  Photo by Andrew Braggins

The Atrium houses live music, a bar, trivia, and parties.  It's the hub for everything.  We enjoyed a few drinks here as well as music and a party or two.  It's decorated like old Vegas and can sometimes feel crowded.

Ping Pong.  Photo by Aaron Braggins.

We enjoyed more than one round of ping pong up on deck 11.  There are only 2 tables on the entire ship, but it was easy enough to get in for a few rounds.

Alyssa and Karen lounging.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

On more than one occasion, we spent time up on deck lounging in the gorgeous sun.  There are plenty of spots to do this and even with 2500 people, I always found a seat.  I do wish they had more lounging areas that offered some shade.

Mini Golf.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

We enjoyed a round of golf at the 9 hole mini golf course up on deck 12.  While it was often crowded, and very messy, I can't really fault the cruise line for that as much as the obnoxious teens.

The jogging trail.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

We began each morning with a jog around the track.  By jog, I mean walk.  By each morning, I mean 2 of 4.  It offers beautiful views and is well padded.  Now, to be clear, I AVERAGED 20,000 steps per day on the cruise and I only gained .2 pounds, so no judging.

The pool.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

We spent one afternoon in the pool on the Lido deck.  It is a small pool but didn't feel crowded.  The pool is saltwater and heated, though you'll be hard pressed to describe what level of heat existed.

Punchliner Comedy Club.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

We wandered into a PG comedy show after drinks with Jason at the Alchemy bar.  It was a good show and worth the 30+ minutes.

Cigars on Deck 11.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

It seems they took my advice and created a smoking area on Deck 11.  It was much more enjoyable to have cigars there instead of deck 10.

The arcade.  Photo by Alyssa Braggins.

The boys spent many minutes playing games in the arcade.  I joined them for a few rounds.  It's surprisingly fun, if not over priced.

Giant Chess.  Photo by Alyssa Braggins

We played a round or two of giant chess up on deck 11.  This is the best way to play chess.  Ignore the fat belly.

Our team.  Photo by THIS lady.

Alyssa and I participated in a late night, adult only, scavenger hunt.  This was some of the most fun I have had with strangers.  We were grouped with others to form a team of 8.  There was nudity, chaos, and innuendo.  It was a blast!

Diva Alyssa.  Photo by Alan Braggins

Alyssa got chosen to be a Studio VIP and perform with the cast on stage.  She's no stranger to performing and no stranger to doing it on a cruise ship.  The cast noticed and complimented her on her skills.  This was fun and included an after party with the cast and free champagne.

Tyler had fun playing in his club and even wishes he started hanging out sooner in the trip than day 3.  We also enjoyed time playing cards in various spots on the ship.  Not once was I bored.  We also attended raffles and liquor tastings in the Fun Shops.


This particular cruise isn't taking you to Hawaii or Alaska or Europe.  This is a budget friendly and short cruise.  The two stops are budget friendly ports.  There's nothing fancy here but you get what you pay for.  This is the 2nd time we've done this itinerary and I have been to both ports several times.


The ship anchors just offshore in Avalon and you take Tender ships to shore.  The most often thing we do is walk around town.  People might snorkel or take a glass bottom boat too.  This time, we opted to rent a 6 passenger golf cart from Catalina Island Golf Cart.  This company was easy to work with and it was a great experience.  We got to see parts of the island we had never seen before.  It was $130 for 2 hours and no, you don't need more than 2 hours.  The island is a finite space.  We drove all around above Avalon and spent some time walking through town shopping afterwards.

The 6 of us on a golf cart.  Photo by Andrew Braggins

Our ship from high above Avalon.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.


We opted just to shop around town as the boys were especially looking forward to bartering for the first time.  Ensenada is a wonderful town with kind people and great deals.  It's a lot of walking, but worth the trip.  We have previously gone inland to wine country or South to La Bufadora, but this time it was all about the shopping.  This nice thing about this stop is that you dock right at the pier and getting on and off the ship is super easy.

They've put a lot of money into the boardwalk area.  Photo by Andrew Braggins.

A Federale was kind enough to take this photo of us near the dock.  Photo by him.



All in all, we had a blast on this cruise.  It's budget friendly which is great for a family of 4/party of 6.  It's short, which is good for those unsure if cruising is for them.  It's full of fun and friendly staff and a wide variety of good food and activities.  My family particularly enjoyed the Alchemy Bar (Jason in particular), Faster to the Fun (being escorted to the front of lines like a VIP), Ensenada, spending time with family, and the unlimited access to food.  Favorite foods included white chocolate banana bread pudding, shrimp cocktails, duck pot stickers, Japanese shrimp soup, and the hash browns.


Obviously Lexx was a real bummer on the trip and the lack of 2-ply toilet paper is a downer as well. Again though, you get what you pay for and the cruise line did improve smoking areas and dress code enforcement so that is progress! Specifically, my family disliked The Hub app for it's flawed info including inaccurate times for activities, inaccurate amounts in our Sign and Sail accounts, and most importantly, inaccurate safety info.  Perhaps, worst of all was the not reliable chat feature that we paid $5 per person for.  There was one day that I sent Aaron 16 messages in a row and he received none.  My family also thinks WiFi should be free.  It's 2017 and $20 per day is a bit ludicrous.  The Lido deck could also use a full size men's restroom.


I highly recommend this itinerary for first time cruisers and Carnival Cruise Line as a whole.  We have already booked our next cruise for Alaska in 2018.  If you have questions about cruising or Carnival or travel in general, hit me up in the comments!

Formal night with the Braggins family.  Photo by Carnival staff.