7 Day Southern Caribbean New Year's Cruise December 28, 1997
The flight:Our flight was out of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on United Airlines. I was extremely pleased with this flight and it went smoothly. Menus were distributed listing what was available for breakfast, warm towels were provided before the meal, and lemonade was handed out later in the flight. We had a lot of fun on the flight in the rear section of the plane interacting with a friendly, and very funny, flight attendant. These extra services were the same on our return flight.
Arrival in San Juan, Puerto Rico:We arrived early afternoon in sunny Puerto Rico, right on schedule. Now before we left, I had gotten several responses on whether a Carnival representative would meet us upon deplaning at the gate, so I was curious as to what would be the outcome. A representative was not present, so we proceeded to baggage claim, and not too far down from the gate, a Carnival agent was there, pointing us in the right direction. Down the escalators to the baggage claim provided a view of complete chaos. We were told by a Carnival rep that the bags from OUR FLIGHT and OUR FLIGHT ONLY were to be automatically transferred directly to the M/S Inspiration. What a relief that we did not have to wait in the huge mess of people claiming their baggage. Other Carnival passengers headed to the M/S Inspiration, arriving in from DIFFERENT flights than ours, had to claim their baggage and transfer it to the bus. Back to our situation, we proceeded directly outside to the bus loading area. We boarded the bus, and were off to start our vacation! The whole airport arrival experience took around 10 minutes, which was excellent! What a painless process, for us at least.
Check-In Prior to Boarding:Arrival at the bus terminal provided fantastic views of the Monarch of the Seas, Norwegian Sea, and of course, our own "Fun Ship." Once inside the embarkation terminal, we found very few people and short lines. There was a long line of representatives ready to check you in. Again, it was another quick and painless process. Your cruise card is also distributed prior to actual embarkation. You literally board the ship right off the pier, onto Deck #2. Have a photo ID available, in addition to your cruise card. You will be asked for both, not only here, but when re-boarding the ship in all ports of call. A single staff member was positioned to welcome you, and hand out pocket size ship maps with barely a hello.
The Stateroom:Our standard outside cabin, R139, located on Riviera deck, was done in orange and black. Happy Halloween! Large, and very comfortable, it suited the three of us fine. It was larger than RCI standard cabins, which was a nice touch, but the size of a cabin isn't a forum for complaints, at least for us. It's a room, on a ship, I am there, I am happy. Storage space was adequate and the bathroom was fairly large as well. One interesting note is that there is no temperature control for the room, at least we didn't find one, but rather a control for the amount of air that flows from the main vent. Another point, which I think is a mistake, is that the cabin stewards are NOT there on the first day. A note dictates that it is their day off. I found this highly unusual. So I don't think we met our steward until either late that night, or the next day. Again, not a big deal, just different from RCI. Our luggage was delivered in a timely manner.
Quick Note Regarding the Lifeboat Drill:This is no regular run-of-the-mill drill. A majority of the stations are on the Promenade Deck in the various public lounges. Upon the standard signal, you gather in your respective lounge. After about 15 minutes of sitting, and hearing the instructions in 2 languages, you are escorted one lounge at a time, UP TO YOUR RESPECTIVE LIFEBOAT LOADING STATION!! I was shocked, but this is a good practice, I believe, as everyone is made aware of their loading area, and the most efficient way to proceed there. Passengers were dismissed upon hearing the ships horn, NOT the captain, who NEVER spoke over the PA system the entire 7 days.
The Ship:Weighing at 70,367 tons and at a length of 855 feet, the Inspiration is no dinghy. Description of the ship and my impressions/comments follow, to the best of my non-interior designer/decorator mind.
The focal point of the ship is the Grand Atrium/Spectrum, which soars straight to the top of the ship, covered with glass. Here, neon outlined elevators whisk passengers to various decks, while the huge, glossy paper-mache looking sculpture, Bird of Paradise, presides over the entire area. The atrium changs colors/hues several times a day, most noticeably orange/green, and pink/purple. An attractive double-staircase connects the bottom level of the atrium to the deck directly above. The area was adorned with Christmas trees, as were other public areas, as the Christmas holiday was only a few days before our sailing.
On Atlantic Deck, one deck up from the Pursers Desk and Shore Excursion Desk on Empress Deck, we find the lower level of the Paris Lounge, where production shows and variety shows occur. This lounge is done in yellows, golds, aqua blues, blacks and vibrant purples, among others. It is a very attractive room, and serves its purpose with few sightline problems. Right outside we find the Galleria Shops, with a full selection of merchandise, with much of the clothing being VERY overpriced, with much of the Carnival and Inspiration shirts (not t-shirts) coming in higher than Hilfiger shirts! It's a shame too, many were quite sharp. Circling around the atrium, we find the Rhapsody in Blue Piano sing-a-long Bar on the port side. This room is done in light blues, golds, blacks, and tan. The hanging silks from the ceiling with the lights glowing through them created a calming and warm effect. The piano was raised in the center of the room, with a round marble table and stools surrouding it. The Shakespeare Library is across the atrium, still on Atlantic Deck, starboard side. This room was extremely attractive and creatively done, aptly matching its name. Dark woods, tans, and golds predominated. There was plenty of seating in chairs and sofas, which the books being almost unlocateable, hidden behind large cabinets with etched glass.
Heading aft, is the first main dining room, the Mardi Gras. This was not our dining room, and in my opinion, came in second place in regards to decor. Colors again were dark and fall-like, to the best of my memory. The Carnivale Dining Room, situated completely aft, was our assigned nightly feeding ground. Colors again included golds, various shades of yellows, maroons, blacks, and grays, with hints of red. Seashell-like, oriental-looking, gold fans were situated around poles, and also around other lampshade-like protrusions from the ceiling. I found it very attractive, despite my poor portrayal of the architecture, colors, and design of this room, and other rooms for that matter. Lights were embedded in these lamplike things, and along the curve where the ceiling met the exterior walls. These would often blink, chase, and flash during waiter performances. I can hear the groans now, but I am a sucker for that type of display. :Overall, I enjoyed the ambiance of the room.
Moving on up to Promenade Deck, we find lounges and public areas galore situated off Inspiration Promenade, the single thoroughfare of this deck. Forward is the balcony of the Paris Lounge. Proceeding aft, we pass the atrium, and start our walk along Inspiration Promenade, the table, chair, and booth-lined walkway which serves as the entrance to all lounges. The theme of the entire ship is art-noveau, and on the Boulevard, we find huge partial models of violins, lining the port side, overhead, and also in/around pillars. It's an interesting, yet neat, effect to the walkway, also making for some creative photo opportunities. Blues, blacks, smokey grey's, and tans give the area a dark feeling, a general feeling I got from the entire ship, as opposed to the bright and pastel-colorings of RCI vessels. Dark, but still attractive, IMO.
Inspiration Boulevard is a place to see and be seen, with the indented booths and table/chair sets providing a perfect people-watching "arena." Next on Promenade Deck is the mammoth Monte Carlo Casino, which keeps taking your donations till the wee hours of the morning. Money green was the main color here, along with ivory cremes and neon slot displays to easily light the room, separate from the main lights. The casino payed out very well the first few days, and significantly tightened up later in the cruise.
Outside the casino, just a few steps, is a champagne bar, which was new to me, having not seen one on the Fascination when I sailed aboard her. Lots of marble was showcased here, along with a limited amount of seating. Not nearly as large and elegant as RCI's equivalent.
Next stop is Violins Bar, which is by far the most popular bar on the ship. Hordes of people congregated nightly here for their daily libations. Several showy violins were displayed nicely behind the bar. A multitude of barstools provide opportunity for casual conversation. Waiters roamed taking drink orders from the nearby tables.
Cafe de Artistes is a very much unused area, with tiered seating and tables. I never saw drinks being served here, nor very many people even sitting down. This is a good little nook for a private, intimate conversation. The Avante-Garde Lounge, moving farther aft, is probably the most "expressive" lounge, in terms of decor. Gold-riveted posts are dispersed throughtout the room, with white walls, gold stripes in a diamond pattern, each with blue spots inside each diamond. And that's just the wall pattern. Eye-popping certainly fits. White and ivory chairs surrond checkered ivory and black tables. (Mind you, ivory being the color, not the actual material.) The floor is also this checkered design, with the carpet looking the same, except for some salmon/purple-type design. Furthermore, life-size Picasso/Cubist type figures adorn the walls, most not fully clothed. A large stage, dance floor and bar complete this wild lounge.
Immediately next store, we find the Rock and Roll Disco, a truly fabulous and exciting place to dance the night away. This room is quite large, but usually only half of the room is utilized. The room is decorated with large guitars on the walls, and has pulsing lights in the ceiling above the dance floor, in the dance floor, and around the guitars and the perimeter of the room. TV screens behind the bar, over the DJ booth, and at other locations in the room sometimes played music videos, football games, and also live shots of dancers on the dance floor. Various other lighting and smoke effects really made this joint a high-tech sight to see. The room is done in a sublte pink, in blacks, greys, and dark salmons. The Rock and Roll Disco was usually always crowded at night, and ranks as one of the top disco experiences I have had at sea.
Further down Inspiration Boulevard we come to the Chopin Lounge, which has a staircase connecting it to the Carnivale Dining Room. This lounge contains a large bar and seating on both port and starboard sides in comfortable chairs and sofas. A fairly intimate area, it is done in purples, muted gold, green, creme, and light wood colors. The ceiling is "indented/raised" in spots I guess, into long rectangular sections that at night have a very attractive neon pink glow, in part because of the ceiling color and embedded hidden lights. It added an elegant touch to the lounge, in addition to the grand piano on the starboard side. The Chopin Bar was extremely popular for cigar smokers and those grabbing pre-dinner drinks.
The Chopin Bar leads right into the Candlelight Lounge, a lovely room that looks better at night than in the day. An enormous bar anchors the front of the room as you walk in, with the stage being the other main focus. The seating here is mostly large, circular booths, some with very high backs where it is impossible to see who is occupying them until you peer over the edge. As the name implies, white candles (electric) are everywhere, positioned mostly in groups, on tables and between booths, and anywhere else space allowed. Circular rings of candles hang from the ceiling. Rows upon rows of candles loom above the dance floor, creating a different look. The room is done in golds, maroons, mauves, and dark yellows, making for an interesting visual display. Scroll-like hangings adorn the walls near the windows, and also by the stage. At night, the hundreds of candles seem to come alive, lightening the room, producing an enchanting, romantic atmosphere. This area quickly became a favorite.
Heading up another deck to Lido, is one of the first chances to be outside. The oversized pool and two jacuzzis are the main attraction here, along with the twisting blue waterslide which was a big hit with the kids, but was not open for long periods of time. The deck has plenty of chairs, both in the sun and in the shade, with the latter chairs also having tables. Tiling around the pool is orange, black, and sky blue, certainly eye-catching. A raised stage area is located directly aft of the main pool, often the site for contests, dances, and the ever-popular steel band. A buffet line completes the outside area of this deck, serving the same items that were available inside at the Brasserie Bar and Grill, where casual buffet breakfasts, lunches, and Seaview Bistro Dinners were served in two lines, along with the 24-hour pizzeria and a small bar. It's an immense room with plenty of seating to accomadate, as well as some tables outside in the fresh Caribbean air. Purple tendrils, otherwise known as octopus tentacles, burst out of the floor and rise pass the curved booths, then spread outward, looming over prospective diners. Tables are set with cloth napkins and silverware rather than at the beginning of the food service lines. The remaining colors that make up the room are vibrant, mainly greens, purples, reds, and cremes, adding to the overall tropical aura.
Verandah Deck overlooks the main pool, providing nice views of the main pool area, refreshing breezes, and additional sunning room. Far aft is a gargantuan open sunning deck, with two jacuzzis and a pool centered in the middle. This was a popular area for those seeking peace and quiet from the constant action around the main pool.
Right below the huge, red, fan-tailed funnel that sets Carnival ships apart, is the Topless Sunning Deck, where cameras and videos are prohibited.
Sports Deck contains the large gymnasium with your standard fare of workout equiptment, mens and womens lockers, shower and steam rooms, massage rooms, the Beauty Salon, and a nice enclosed aerobics area. The facilities are quite nice, with the carpeted areas almost dizzying. The Nautica Spa, the formal name for this entire area, seemed popular, offering several specials and a wide range of treatments thoughout the entire voyage.
Sun Deck provides a few more chairs for sunning, and provides a panoramic view of Verandah and Lido Decks. Here we also find the Olympic jogging track, comfortably padded for the runners at heart. Shuffleboard courts and a volleyball net complete the interior spaces of this deck. Another late thought, the elevators were incredibly speedy!! Mind you I didn't use them, but my dad never waited more than a minute for an elevator.
And so concludes the description of the Inspiration. Easily noticeable throughtout the ship is the use of curvy, wispy, mini-tendril shaped decorative forms that are around the elevators and public stairwells. This curvy, wispy nature is also used in decorative aspects of the Paris Lounge. Overall, there are plenty of options on-board, with a lot less neon than I feel the previous Fantasy-class ships possess. I liked the ship quite a bit, but it was darker than I had expected the decor to be. I don't think the decor and colors are overly obnoxious anywhere, and for the most part, the ship tries to be elegant, and half-succeeds, in some places more than others. The layout is not too confusing, with public rooms mostly on Promenade Deck. The ship succeeds in the same way the other Fantasy-Class vessels have, and is the reason Carnival continues to crank them out.
Service:Overall, very good. Our cabin steward, once we met him, was very friendly, but I have a feeling he didn't speak a huge amount of English. He was always cheerful, greeting us with a smile and a nod. The cabin was adequately taken care of, and many animals appeared on the bed nightly, made of our clothes and adorned with other miscellaneous items from around the room. They were truly a hoot, providing many laughs and cute pictures.
In the dining room, our busboy was EXCELLENT, the best out of ANY cruise. He certainly outshined our waiter in friendliness and personality, and was super-efficient the entire cruise. Despite having other tables, he always seemed to be right there at ours, clearing something or pouring additional water. A wonderful job. Our waiter was efficient as well, and kept the courses coming in a timely fashion. He seemed to be mostly just business, but was upbeat, and unrobotic in personality. I missed the personal contact and rapport you develop with RCI waiters. Our busboy fit more of the RCI profile in regards to dining room service. The headwaiter only appeared once at the table during the seven-nights, but did traverse the section to make sure things looked okay. The bar waitress who served our area was a real dear, friendly and organized. She had a killer memory, having my dad's cruise card (folio) number memorized within the first day or two.
Other shipboad staff for the most part were friendly, if a bit robotic at times. The Revue Cast doubles as cruise staff, and are only seen at bingo really. Some were friendly, others seemed like they had had enough of the bingo thing and were a bit cold. Again, I miss the full-time cruise staff that are usually quite visible on RCI ships.
Food:To begin, food is a personal and subjective matter so please don't rebel if you happen to not agree with the following. In the Brasserie Bar and Grill, breakfasts were pretty poor; RCI gets the nod for this meal. Bread and sweet selections were poor, and food was never consistently warm. Omelettes were available, as was the standard breakfast fare. We weren't too impressed.
Lunches on the other hand, were a whole different story. My mom and I raved about them, and looked forward to the meals there everyday. Besides hamburgers, hot dogs, and french fries, other hot entrees were provided as well. Chicken breasts were always available too; I liked this option and they were quite tasty. There's still more for lunch too. A huge salad bar is in the center of the room, you have pizza, caesar salad, and italian small items in the port corner, a daily pasta dish in the main line, AND still yet a different daily set-up speciality, like guacamole and salsa, a taco bar, or perhaps crepe-style items. To top it off, have some frozen yogurt. Sorry RCI, but Carnival has you beat for casual lunches. The set-up and process to get food wasn't set up in the most efficient way, with back-ups and confusion. Not a big deal though.
I cannot comment on the dinner offerings of the Seaview Bistro, but our first-seating dinner was always quite empty, so I imagine many took advantage of this option. As expected, first-seating dinner had far less people than second seating. We were at a table for eight, and only five of us were assigned to it. This was much the case throughout. Second seating was packed.
Dinners in the dining room were a very pleasant experience. Theme nights included Caribbean, Oriental, French, Italian, Captain's Gala, International, and a special New Year's menu. Offerings were varied and creative, except for the bread, which never varied the whole trip. I really had no complaints about the food in the dining room, as we found the quality to be great. Steaks were very tender and had a nice taste. Prime Rib was another highlight, and the seafood usually received positive comments as well. I was very impressed with the food, considering this was Carnival. We left the table each night stuffed, and satisfied. Special requests and seconds were accomodated without a problem.
One side story about our dining experience. The table right next to us contained a group of six of the most LOUD and OBNOXIOUS people I have EVER seen. One night, they were literally SCREAMING and POUNDING their fists on the table. This was certainly uncalled for. They were so loud for three nights it was hard for our own table to hear our conversation. The Pat Riley look-a-like thought he was hot stuff, and had to SHOUT every single word he uttered. It was truly awful, and their loud and rude behavior didn't stop in the dining room. For instance, at horse racing in the large Paris Lounge, loudmouth stood on stage and YELLED to his friend in the UPPER BALCONY about which horse he wanted to bet on. This went on for about five minutes. I mean, we dreaded seeing these people on the ship. Back to the dining room, my dad was so infuriated he had to leave the table or things were going to get ugly. These were couples in their early 30's I would say. SO, when it just got out of hand, and we weren't going to let it go another night, we spoke to our waiter, Pat Riley's waiter, and had our busboy talk to the headwaiter and/or Maitre D'. Couples seated FOUR tables away were even complaining. It was a big mess. The next night after reporting the problem, they were MUCH quieter. YAY! Oh, and by the end of the cruise, Mr. Pat Riley loudmouth, LOST HIS VOICE.
One last afterthought here, the first night's dinner is open-seating, beginning at 5:30 pm for main seating, causing late seating to be earlier than normal as well. One small part I disliked, compared to RCI.
Entertainment:There was certainly a plethora of entertainment options nightly to fit everyone's wishes. Two major production shows took place on our cruise: "El Nuevo Caribe," and "Shout!" Both were lavish and full of special effects. "Shout!," the show later in the week, is by far the best show my mom and I have EVER seen at sea. The material mostly centered around the oldies, from Beach Boy scenes to 50's Diner acts. The dancers were often in the audience, down the center aisle, appearing at the top of the main staircase, you name it, they appeared there. The unpredictability of it all kept your attention, not to mention lasers, smoke effects, and a full array of dazzling pyrotechnics. The singing was fantastic, as were the dancing abilities of the cast. "Shout!" is overflowing with energy, and is a show NOT to miss.
"El Nuevo Caribe" was decent as well, with a Spanish/Caribbean theme carrying the show. It wasn't as impressive as the previous show, but some of the costumes and scene props were attention-grabbers. Other acts in this lounge included, comedians, singers, and illusionists. All were fair.
The passenger talent show was wonderful, but too bad the woman who sang and brought the crowd to her feet had to slide PERSONAL BUSINESS SOLICITATIONS under every cabin door, with contact information, graciously announcing that her cruise was a tax write-off. This was in poor taste and many were offended by it.
Mele, a country-dressing woman, entertained nightly in the cozy Rhapsody in Blue Lounge. Piano sing-a-longs were the main draw here, and she seemed to always succeed in attracting a crowd.
Performing adjacent to the Violins Bar was a man and his guitar, his name escapes me. He had a cult following too, and the seats around his area were hard to come by. Don't ask me why, but this man needs to be put out of his misery. I don't mean to sound like a poop, but his voice was irritating, and unfortunately the loudness of his performance took away from Inspiration Boulevard. Again, not a big deal, I wasn't sitting and listening so it's all good.
Performing in the Avant-Garde was a band who played a wide variety of music, which I could never narrow down to a specific type. Crowds were average to low here.
The Rock and Roll Disco had dance music of course, most of the songs being current. A few nights were themed, meaning for a couple of hours, for example, Latin music would be played. It provided a comforting variety to the often repititious schedule of music.
The Chopin Lounge featured a fabulous piano player, who entertained at all times of the day.
Finally, in the Candlelight Lounge, minus the late-night R-rated comedy routines which weren't anything special, was a trio called "La Banda," who played "International" music. The lead singer, I believe her name was Andrea, was a young, petite woman from Peru who spoke Spanish, French, and a bit of Italian as well. Each night, she would perform various Spanish and Latin American songs, including boleros, merengues, salsa's, cumbia's, and much more. Her voice is SPECTACULAR, and the music equally as beautiful. She performed some gorgeous slower paced songs too, and her shows always brought in a crowd, including many dancers! In addition, she sang a small selection of songs in French, truly magnificent to say the least. My mom and I were nightly regulars, with me even video-recording songs here and there to bring back home. I believe her trio will only be on for 2 more months, or possibly a matter of weeks, so if you are sailing soon, DON'T MISS HER. It's a very enjoyable, culturally-rewarding experience. "La Banda" receives my vote for top lounge act.
Of course, the casino was always open and I ended up leaving the cruise with around $130.
Various pool games and your standard conglomerate of activities were held as well. Free liquor flowed freely quite often during the cruise, much to my surprise. (HINT HINT RCI!)
The Captain's Welcome Aboard party was worthless, with the cruise director introducing the senior officers, and the Captain speaking about all of 15 seconds. Again, I miss the personable captains of Royal Caribbean. The hors d'oeuvres were tasty though. There was a Captain's Farewell Party/Gathering which took place on Inspiration Boulevard and was basically an open invitation, meaning there was really no set time to go. I liked how the hors d'oeuvres were self-serve, along with waiters serving them. The Repeater's Party, yet again ANOTHER opportunity for free drinks, was invitation only, your invitation being your ticket to get in the Candlelight Lounge. Again, this was done by the cruise director, NOT the Captain, adding to my feeling that the Carnival experience is not as personable as you would find on RCI.
New Year's Celebration:I will definitely say that Carnival does know how to throw a fantastic New Year's bash. The main party was held up on Lido Deck, where the champagne flowed freely like water. Everyone gathered up on deck creating an unbelievable sight of wall-to-wall people. "La Banda" started out performing, and then closer to midnight, The Paris Orchestra took over. Noise-makers and party hats were handed out in the dining rooms, with the streamers already up on deck. The whole night was crazy fun, as people's adrenaline was high, all ready to ring in the New Year. The decks were packed, and most were dancing.
At the stroke of midnight, strangely without a countdown, the ships forward horn blew three times, which was quite hard to hear. No matter what, everyone started screaming and cheering, throwing streamers about, along with one person spraying champagne from the above Verandah deck, down to the wild maniacs (yes me too) dancing below on Lido. It was a fabulous time, and is something I will always remember. I do believe the ships horn in the main funnel should have been used as it would have been easier to hear and more thrilling, but that's just my crazy mind speaking since I have a thing for ships horns, as it always sends chills up my spine and gives me goosebumps. Don't ask me why, I just love it. The heavens opened up on us shortly after midnight, leaving people scrambling for cover. Too bad, as I believe the party outside would have continued much longer. The party then moved to the disco, which was packed to the rafters. The best music was played this night IMO, and all the lights and smokers were going full-force.
What a night! The whole experience was unforgettable, and if I take another Carnival Cruise agian, I will make sure its over New Year's!
Debarkation:Luggage is color-coded as on most lines, with all your debarkation info waiting in your cabin the last night. The morning of debarkation, breakfast is served at the crack of dawn in the dining room, and the Brasserie is also open additionally. The latter was the more popular option.
Based on the location of your cabin, you are assigned to a public lounge to wait until you are directed to leave by a cruise staff member. Due to problems clearing the ship, the waiting time was fairly high. The San Juan tour groups lost quite a bit of time off their tours. I chose to spend the time sleeping.
We were eventually led down and off the ship. We walked the entire length of the ship to get the luggage, and then headed back another length of the ship for customs, and then again two more times the full length to check luggage and grab the bus. I don't mind walking one bit, it's not a big problem or a pain. Of course, my dad thought this was ridiculous, but then again, most of you don't know my father. This walk could also be hard for the elderly.
The debarkation process was easy and efficient in my opinion, and we were whisked off the the airport in a timely matter, sad to see the ship slowly disappear from sight.
St Thomas:We docked right behind the Monarch of the Seas. The day was spent at Havensight Mall shopping, and also at Magen's Bay beach. Town was quite crowded with the two mega-ships in port. There is plenty to do here, shopping heading the list for most. A few minutes behind schedule, we blew our horn, and pulled out, passing the recently re-opened and refurbished Marriot Frenchman's Reef, which looked superb.
Guadeloupe:Along with the Inspiration, the Aida and the Emerald, which I quickly noticed was the former Regent Rainbow, were docked near us. I do not know who markets the Emerald ship, my guess was Thompson or something in Europe. If anyone knows for sure, if you could e-mail me the answer, I would surely appreciate it.
In port, we walked around and found a HUGE market, selling fresh fish, vegetables, spices, live chickens which were attached to trees, and quite a variety of fruit. It was a real sight to see, with umbrellas shading the vendors from the hot sun. A nice "park" area is located adjacent to this market. We walked around some of the streets, moving farther away from the ship. A few blocks in we discovered ANOTHER huge market, very similar to the first one. Town was okay, fairly depressed though. It was nice to see the area near the ship, as we hadn't ventured very far when we were here on the Fascination.
Later in the day, we took an oversized pontoon boat party tour, named the King Papyrus. It was a double-deckered boat, with plenty of seating for all. Rum punch and few other choices were available, the rum punch not tasting very well at all. The tour takes you over the a small island in a pretty setting for swimming and sunning. The beach was miniscule, most of the area being covered by grass/weeds/some green stuff. We had an hour plus here, and then reboarded the King for a leisurely cruise back along the coast which was quite pleasant. The lower level of the boat livened up on the way back, but sunworshippers didn't move from the top deck. It was a nice trip, but it doesn't match up to the Kon-Tiki or Jolly Roger trips.
St. Lucia:We chose to do a catamaran tour here which took us over the Pitons and to the port of Soufriere. From there, we toured the sulphur springs and the botanical gardens. Following this, we had a delightful buffet lunch at a local restaurant. It was then back to the catamaran for the cruise back, including a stop at a nice beach, as well as a cruise through Marigot Harbor. Let me tell you, the rum punch was flowing VERY freely and the crew was a lot of fun. The whole trip was spectacular and well-worth the money. There are several tours to choose from in St. Lucia, and this catamaran one was perfect.
Grenada:Grand-Anse Beach was our destination for the day. Grenada is beautiful in all regards, and is probably my favorite island in the Caribbean. We tendered ashore, and were met by TONS of men asking us if we wanted to take a water taxi to the beach. Well, of course we did, but let me warn you, the water taxi men are VERY aggressive and are in large competition with the others to get your money. People were practically shoved onto boats, after being dragged there. The ride is $2 per person, and is a short ride over to the beach.
Grand-Anse beach is gorgeous, and was quite crowded, but we found a nice area to spread out. The water was great, as turquoise as could be. Many vendors walk about, offering their goods. They were EXTREMELY friendly, and if you turned them down, they said, thank you and have a nice day. It was a nice change from other islands. Strolling musicians roam the beach, and try to sing to you. They are impromptu and will sing about your name, or what you happen to be doing at that very moment, or even wearing. It is hysterical. A bar was a short-distance from us, and had oversized Coke bottles for a cheap price, perfect to quench our thirst.
Before boarding the tender back to the ship, we stopped at a long row of vendors, all selling spices. The deals here on spices are unbeatable, and MUCH MUCH cheaper than in the states. Stock up while you are there! There are also spice baskets and spice necklaces - you really don't wear them, but nevertheless, both make nice gifts. The tender is enormous, so the waiting isn't long at all.
The next day was our regularly scheduled day at sea. What a relaxing day this was, basking in the sun. A full roster of activities were scheduled.
Santo Domingo:Well, we never made it to the actual port, but we saw PART of the island. Due to the deep draft of the ship, Santo Domingo's shallow harbor, and rough seas, we were unable to make it into port. The seas were a bit rough, but the sun was completely out, which seemed a change from normal rough seas weather. It was decided that we could not call there. Tour money was promptly refunded and the port charge for the island too!
Many may not know, but Santo Domingo is a port of Embarkation/Debarkation for the people of the Dominican Republic. So what were we going to do? We had passengers on board scheduled to get off today, as well as new passengers scheduled to board at the dock. This is the first time ever this has happened to the Inspiration, so initally the Miami Headquarters were called to obtain advice, subsequently telling us not to try and dock in port.
SO, we sailed around half of the morning, and by afternoon, we were very close to the shore. We all watched as the ship did a 180 degree turn, and reversed for what seemed like miles, until we could drop ropes and tie the back of the ship to two, large, orange oil barrels floating off-shore. It turned out we were right by La Romanna, so they could watch this whole thing from their beach. The anchor(s) were lowered up front, with the rear of the ship being tied to the barrels. We were VERY close to shore and I thought about how much room was actually under the ship!!
Tenders were brought in and a makeshift pier/loading dock was set-up (quite a process to watch as the seas weren't all that calm still). The situation was handled wonderfully by Carnival. All luggage was unloaded first, followed by the passengers. Then the new passengers were tendered all the way from Santo Domingo, which we couldn't even see, to the ship. This is a process that lasted well past the scheduled 5:30 pm normal departure time. The ship ended up leaving around 9:30 pm.
No San Juan passengers were let off obviously, and many additional activities were planned to keep everyone happy. Consequently, more free drinks were passed out in the afternoon on the pool deck. We essentially had a day at sea, or a day at anchor. Since we left port so late, we SPED back to San Juan, and with the seas still rough, I retired early to my cabin, not feeling well. We arrived in San Juan Sunday morning about two hours late. We were disappointed to miss the port, but there was absolutely nothing we could do. I enjoyed another relaxing day in the sun.
Conclusion:There are some points of RCI that we missed and wished we could have had on the Inspiration, but then there were points also that we enjoyed on Carnival that are lacking on RCI ships. It's an equal trade off.
I DID enjoy this cruise a great deal and would cruise Carnival again. IMO, Carnival has improved noticeably since my last cruise on the Fascination in 1994. I came away being very impressed with the whole week, and having my faith in Carnival restored to a degree. While Carnival is not for everyone, those who go are assured to have a wonderful time on a nice, immaculately clean "Fun Ship!"
My first few days on board I felt weird, almost like a trator, for not being on a RCI ship. But soon, I found myself saying, hey, this is great! Variety is the spice of life, no?
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