Carnival Inspiration is an old ship with a young heart. The 2,056-passenger ship debuted in 1996 as the sixth of Carnival Cruise Line's eight Fantasy-class vessels, and are now the smallest and oldest ships in the current fleet. While the ship may be lacking in big-ship staples such as a sports court or plentiful balcony cabins, several refurbishments over the years have kept it fresh with new attractions, including a water park, themed bars and additional eating establishments like Guy's Burger Joint and the BlueIguana Cantina.
But it's the passengers who keep Carnival Inspiration feeling young. The ship's three- and four-night cruises attract a diverse crowd of passengers who have at least one thing in common: They are onboard to pack as much fun as possible into a short getaway. You will find more 20- and 30-somethings on this cruise than on longer sailings. It's popular with bachelorette parties and wedding-honeymoon combos, and offers plenty of cabins that sleep three, four or five, making the ship ideal for friend getaways and young family trips. But that doesn't mean older adults are left out; we saw plenty of grey hair in the thick of the action.
If the idea of a party cruise sends you running, you should know that in most cases, Inspiration is more festive celebration than debauched affair. People danced and shouted encouragement to karaoke singers, the night club was hopping before midnight, the comedy and theater shows were packed, cruisers enthusiastically participated in pool games, and trivia games routinely ended in impromptu dance parties. Whatever you wanted to do onboard, you never had to get the party started; it was already going. (Four-night cruises are slightly more laid-back than weekend sailings, with a somewhat older demographic.)
Inspiration has just enough onboard activity to keep you entertained for three or four nights. Any longer and you might be wishing you had a private balcony, more sports options or another sit-down restaurant choice. Thankfully, by the time you've fully explored the all the ship has to offer -- there's only one day at sea to fill, after all -- it's already time to get off. Yet Carnival does a nice job of packing that sea day with activities and events, so you have choices if your day isn't already booked up with sunbathing, spa appointments and waterslide races.
Service was pretty good for a ship of this size. Though we didn't interact much with staff, our room steward was accommodating about switching our bed arrangement and always said hello in the hallway. The main dining room waiters exceeded my expectations, and the buffet staff was constantly bussing dishes and cleaning up just-vacated tables.
Not everyone will be inspired by Inspiration. Devout foodies, design-sensitive folks who desire stylish accommodations over a hodgepodge of crazy public room decor, and fashionistas who demand elegant evening dress will likely find something to complain about. But if you just want to have a good time for a couple of days and are happy to do your own thing while other people do theirs, you can pack a lot of fun into a short timeframe on Carnival Inspiration.
Passengers are predominantly from the Western United States, especially California, Nevada and Arizona. The adults range in ages from 20s to 60s, and about 300 kids are usually onboard. (During the summer, that number can skyrocket to 1,000-plus.) You'll find folks of every ethnicity -- black, white, Asian, Hispanic -- and many people traveling in groups, from multigenerational families to bachelor/bachelorette parties, friend reunions of all ages, and common-interest groups such as dancers or seminar attendees.
Inspiration has a very minimal dress code. On casual evenings, anything goes; the only items banned in the dining room are cut-off jeans, men's sleeveless shirts, gym shorts, baseball hats, bathing suits and flip-flops. (If your flip-flops have rhinestones and are paired with a dress, no one will say boo to you.) On the one elegant night per cruise, cruisers are encouraged to get fancy with cocktail dresses, pantsuits or dressy skirts and blouses for women and nice slacks and dress shirt for men (sports coats suggested; suits or tuxedoes optional.) Jeans, shorts, T-shirts and sportswear are added to the banned list on these evenings. Those preferring not to dress up can eat at the buffet or order room service; there's no casual venue with waiter service. (The Brasserie buffet does require diners to wear at least shirts and some sort of footwear, including flip-flops.)
In practice, casual nights are really casual, and people might not change clothes for dinner if they're already in jeans or a sundress. On elegant nights, people do get gussied up; we saw a lot of coordinated outfits among groups, and folks posing for formal photos by the ship's photographers.
Fun and friendly with a laid-back vibe; highlights include waterslides, a singalong piano bar, nightly Punchliner Comedy Club and mini-golf; carries some 2,500.
Elation is the seventh of Carnival's eight Fantasy-class vessels (debuting in 1998), and went through a significant upgrade in 2009.
Smaller ship with a fun and family-friendly atmosphere: highlights include short warm-weather itineraries, a waterslide and mini-golf; carries about 2,500 people.
Fun, friendly vibe with a packed lineup of daily activities, nightly comedy, energetic stage shows, silly pool deck fun, and a multi-slide waterpark.
One of Australians' favourite cruise ships -- like a true Aussie, it's laid-back, fun and friendly -- from crew, to passengers and the atmosphere.
Lively and fun with a dizzying art-through-the-centuries decor, nightly standup comedy, two waterslides, four pools, and lots of bars and lounges; can carry about 2,500.
Fun and friendly with lots of pool-centric fun, a multi-slide waterpark, nightly comedy, and 16 lounges and bars; spends much of year in Australia.
Unpretentious vibe with pool-centric fun and water slide, plus Hairy Chest and Mr. and Mrs. Conquest contests; also 11 bars and 9 eateries; carries about 3,500.
Lively entertainment and activities include nightly stand-up comedy, high-energy Playlist Production stage shows, twister water slide, and a nonstop schedule of daily activities.
Fun, family-friendly ship focused on Carnival signatures like the high-energy Playlist Production shows, nightly comedy, RedFrog Pub and line dancing deck parties.
Silly poolside games, piano bar sing-alongs and PG- and R-rated stand-up comedy give this smallish mega-ship its fun vibe; also features the RedFrog Pub.
Fun, friendly vibe focusing on Carnival signatures like the Punchliner Comedy Club, gut-busting Guy's Burger Joint and cocktail-focused Alchemy Bar; holds about 3,500.
Fun, laid-back and friendly; highlights include nightly comedy, high-energy stage shows, twister water slide and the popular RedFrog Pub; holds about 3,500.
Can hold upward of 4,000 passengers; features indoor/outdoor pool with retractable dome, Twister water slide, mini-golf and just one extra-fee restaurant.
Fun, friendly vibe; features Guy Fieri's Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse, family-friendly and adult stand-up comedy, nightly karaoke, water park and mini-golf.
Holds about 4,000; highlights include water slides, the RedFrog Pub, two-bathroom family cabins that hold up to five, a ropes course and Carnival's signature fun.
Nonstop activities and attractions include top deck water park and ropes course, 4D Thrill Theater and nightly standup comedy; can hold up to 4,700 cruisers.
Fun and friendly with nightly stand-up comedy and short, energetic stage shows, plus a calorie-packed burger joint from celeb chef Guy Fieri; holds about 3,500.
Holds a bit more than 4,000 passengers; offers a waterpark, suspended-in-midair recumbent bike thrill ride, ropes course and the first IMAX cinema at sea.
Carnival's newest megaship, holding some 4,000 passengers, launches April 2018; highlights include new barbeque/brewery and Teppanyaki restaurants, an IMAX movie theater, waterpark, beer brewery and ropes course.
A completely reimagined ship, Carnival Sunrise is Carnival Triumph transformed with new venues, entertainment options, and a whole new Fun Ship look.