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Carnival Inspiration, September 2 sailing to Catalina and Ensenada (with pictures)


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I was on a six-year cruising hiatus, until one day, while sitting at work, I had that "I need a vacation!" moment.  So I requested time off, picked a cruise, and the rest is history.  Like the previous times,  I went solo.  I just wasn't solo for very long, since I met some very fun people during the cruise.  This cruise was different from the previous two in a sense that my pre-cruise day was just as fun as the actual days on the ship, rather than being an equivalent of standing in line at a Disney World ride.  It was totally worth flying in a day early and the extra costs associated with it.  I was floored by how much I liked Long Beach: I got to stay on a historic ship and try In-N-Out Burger.


Day 0: Pre-cruise hotel

I arrived to LAX in early afternoon, and hopped on the Super Shuttle to the Queen Mary in Long Beach.  It's a hotel built inside a refurbished historic ship.  The shuttle ride was mostly uneventful.  I ended up talking to a couple headed to the Imagination that day.  Since I've been on that ship before, I gave them a few pointers.  When I was arrived at my hotel, I was floored: it just breathes history!  If you overlook the fact that people wear modern clothes and carry cell phones, it might as well be year 1919, not 2019.  Almost everything is original and decently preserved, outside of usual wear-and-tear.  My room was nice too, although the HVAC system, being as old as it is, made the room very cold at night.  The extra blanket I requested was only marginally helpful.  After getting settled in and putzing around Queen Mary for a few hours, I hopped on the AquaLink (a water bus) into town for dinner; there's are normal buses too.  The Queen Mary hotel is located in an isolated but safe area, so you need to get on a bus to go anywhere, unless you rent a car or pay through the nose for meals at the hotel.  And if you ride the AquaLink instead of a normal bus, some destinations require walking from the docks.  But in Southern California weather, that's rarely, if ever, a problem.


Being a Midwesterner, I picked a very California dinner place: In-N-Out Burger.  I ended up having some good conversations with the locals on the AquaLink.  When I got there, I had a double-double animal style, fries well-done, and a soda.  After dinner, I went to a nearby CVS to buy a bottle of wine for the cruise and some bedtime snacks.  The local employees were very friendly, and engaged me in conversation.  The walk back to the AquaLink dock was a bit chilly; it cools off quickly in the evenings on the West Coast, apparently.  The rest of the night consisted of more putzing around Queen Mary and drinking an overpriced beer at the hotel bar.



A nice send-off drink at ORD before my flight.  Also a quick
introduction of yours truly.


This is what my hotel looked like.  It was built during the same time period as the

Titanic, and shares some of its architectural elements.



This is what the hallways on the Queen Mary look like.  All original elements.



This is what my room looked like, right before I settled in.  Also all original

elements.  The HVAC system made it too cold, but I toughed it out.


This used to be the bridge on the Queen Mary.  Now open to the hotel guests

and restaurant patrons as a museum-like area.



The usual bucket list dinner for anyone visiting California.



(cue Homer Simpson voice) "Mmm... In-N-Out Burger!"  It was good indeed.



This is what the Queen Mary looked like when I saw it from the AquaLink on

the way back.  It's gotta be the classiest-looking ship I ever saw.


Hope you enjoyed the account of my pre-cruise day.  More to come.

Edited by LandlockedCruiser01
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Oh, and we were on the Imagination, so we may have waved at you if you were outside watching us sail off into the sunset. It looked like there were two weddings happening on two different decks on the QM. Did you happen to notice them?

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3 minutes ago, fyree39 said:

Oh, and we were on the Imagination, so we may have waved at you if you were outside watching us sail off into the sunset. It looked like there were two weddings happening on two different decks on the QM. Did you happen to notice them?

Oh wow, small world.  I was probably waving at you from the AquaLink while you were still docked.  I did see the weddings on the QM: one took over the aft part of the open deck, a.k.a. the "poop deck", and the other was in the chapel.  When I had my pre-bedtime beer in the Observation Bar, I saw some nicely-dressed people, who must have been wedding guests doing an impromptu after-party.

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2 minutes ago, LandlockedCruiser01 said:

Oh wow, small world.  I was probably waving at you from the AquaLink while you were still docked.  I did see the weddings on the QM: one took over the aft part of the open deck, a.k.a. the "poop deck", and the other was in the chapel.  When I had my pre-bedtime beer in the Observation Bar, I saw some nicely-dressed people, who must have been wedding guests doing an impromptu after-party.

I used to live in Arlington Heights. Dad was a pilot for United and flew out of ORD. Where are you from? Go Cubbies!

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11 minutes ago, fyree39 said:

I used to live in Arlington Heights. Dad was a pilot for United and flew out of ORD. Where are you from? Go Cubbies!

I'm not too far from there.  Speaking of Cubbies, William Wrigley owned an estate on Catalina, and the Cubs used to train on the island.  Heck, he pretty much owned the whole town of Avalon at one point; his estate is now a museum. The tour guide seemed intrigued when I told her I was from Chicago.  She said that Avalon even had celebrations when the Cubs won the 2016 World Series, although not to the scale of Chicago.  I'll post a Cubs-related picture when I get to the Catalina day.

Edited by LandlockedCruiser01
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Thank you for the "start" of your review.  I'm going to see how many "memories" you will be bringing back to me of this same ship and itinerary, which was very enjoyable to my friend and I.  I believe my only drawback was that when in CA. at times, it would be chilly, as I "think???" that CA. should be warm all the time! 🙂

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Living in California (grew up about 10 miles from Long Beach), it will be fun to read a review from someone seeing everything for the first time.  I've been to the Queen Mary, Catalina and Ensenada many times over the past 55 or so years and seen many changes.  I'm looking forward to your "fresh eyes" perspective.

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Day 1: Embarkation
This cruise was also unusual in a different way: my hotel was right next to the cruise port.  So instead of looking for a shuttle to get to the ship, I just walked for 5 minutes.  But first, I needed breakfast.  I didn't want to pay $26 + tax for a buffet that was nothing special, so I rode a bus to downtown Long Beach, to look for a breakfast place.  I found Long Beach Coffee & Tea (480 Pine Ave).  Their food is amazing and reasonably priced, and the owners are super-friendly.  They loved hearing my past cruise stories, complimented me for making it to the West Coast, and gave me some pointers for Catalina.


Back to the Queen Mary.  I packed my bags, checked out, and walked to the Inspiration.  It seems like Carnival upped security since my last cruise, because my carry-on bags were checked more thoroughly.  But the line moved quickly, and the security worker was friendly.  I called family back home to tell them I was safe, and walked up the ramps onto the ship.  The cabins opened shortly after I made it onboard.  I offloaded all my bags, and went to the Lido for a celebration drink and my first meal on the ship: Guy's Burgers.  I'd say they're on even footing with In-N-Out. But it was nice to finally try one, after years of only reading about it on Cruise Critic.


With the celebration drink glass empty and the meal finished, I went to my cabin to relax a little and read over the Fun Times.  I didn't bother much with unpacking; just dumped everything onto the ledge in front of the portholes.  After the muster drill, I danced the Cupid Shuffle at the sailaway party, then started exploring my ship, taking mental notes of venues to go to that night.  Although since I sailed on Fantasy class ships before, I pretty much knew everything already.  I took some sunset pictures, soaked in the Serenity hot tub, and sat in the sauna, to relax my leg muscles after two days of nearly nonstop walking.  


Dinner rolled around just as I got hungry.  Not everyone showed up at my table that night, but just enough people came to keep the table from being empty.  The food was good, the waiters were friendly, and I liked the American Table menu, despite originally believing it to be a cutback.  The "Welcome Aboard" show changed since my last cruise: it was shortened and audience participation was added in, although Cruise Director Savannah did a good job keeping it fun.  There wasn't much to do afterwards.  Most venues didn't seem very lively, despite the ship having a young-ish crowd, and the nightclub didn't appeal to me.  I mostly wandered around the deck and gazed at the dark ocean.  This was the only time during my cruise when I had true "lonely moments".  Or maybe I was just tired.  I called it a night, and went to bed.  Perhaps it was for the best, with the 2-hour jet lag and not sleeping well the night before.



The Queen Mary is so close to the cruise port, I saw my ship and its ubiquitous

whale tail without even leaving the hotel.



Finally made it onboard.  Who-hoo!



Celebrating with a Miami Vice cocktail.  I got a sugar straw.
It wasn't as bad as people on here make them out to be.



My first meal on Carnival Inspiration: a Pig Patty from Guy's Burgers.  I think
I liked the fries (I made mine loaded) as much as the burger.  And the spicy

mayo (a.k.a. "donkey sauce") was better than In-N-Out's animal-style spread.



Attending the sailaway party, right after the muster drill was over and done.

Crew members performed first, before inviting passengers to hit the dance
floor for some line dancing.



Getting ready for dinner in my cabin, using the porthole ledge for unpacking.



The American Table appetizers: seared tuna and duck meat pot stickers.



The "Welcome Aboard" show, led by Cruise Director Savannah.  The old-style
inflated ship and dancers were gone.  They were replaced by informal skits.


And that concludes the first day.  Catalina and the formal night will be next.  Stay tuned.

Edited by LandlockedCruiser01
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2 hours ago, fyree39 said:

Lovely day. I'm sorry you felt a bit lonely. I hope the next nights were better for you.

Thanks.  Come to think of it, the poor sleep the night before kind of sapped my energy, so the lonely moments felt stronger than they would otherwise.  It did get better for me the next night, when I went to the piano bar and got "adopted".  I'll cover that part in the Catalina day's review.

Edited by LandlockedCruiser01
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The story continues...


Day 2, part 1: Catalina
This was my first time ever in a tender port, in the town of Avalon.  (I will not embrace the term "water shuttles"; they're tenders.)  Which I already knew meant long lines to go ashore.  But I had an excursion ticket, which meant I'd get priority tendering.  So I wasn't too worried about getting in line early, and instead took my time to get ready and pack my backpack.  I went upstairs to try Blue Iguana Cantina for the first time ever.  I got arepas and huevos rachneros, with pico de gallo and watermelon.  It was really good, almost as good as an authentic Mexican restaurant.  (Although I think arepas are more Central American.)  And of course, coffee.


With food in my stomach and caffeine in my brain, I grabbed my backpack from my cabin, and made my way to deck 3.  The tender line was very short; I was in my seat in under 10 minutes.  The tender ride was a lot of fun, and I really liked seeing my ship anchored at sea.  I met my excursion bus, and we started heading up the mountains.  Having lived my whole life in a city that's as flat as a pancake, and doing my other cruises out of a state that's equally flat, it was quite a shock.  I  even had my ears pop from the altitude change.  The scenery was absolutely gorgeous, and the semidesert terrain was more scenic than I imagined it.  I can totally see why Catalina is so popular and expensive.  We briefly stopped in front of the William Wrigley estate.  It was really cool.  I knew that he sponsored the Wrigley Field, but I didn't know that he lived in Avalon or that the Cubs once trained there.


We headed back down to the sea level for the rest of our excursion.  The tour guide explained why there are so many golf carts: there simply isn't enough room for normal cars, with the streets being old and narrow.  Which I'm sure isn't a problem in the local climate.  The highlight and final stop of the tour was the Casino, which is actually an old movie theater.  (The word "casino" historically meant "entertainment complex", until it was co-opted by gambling venues.)  History is one of my biggest passions, so I really liked this part; the architecture was amazing.  I spoke to the tour guide for a while, and she told me that the Cubs play a noticeable role in the local culture.  There were even celebrations when they won the 2016 World Series.


After the excursion, I spent a few hours wandering around Avalon, checking out local shops and art galleries, and stopping for snacks.  I had a swordfish taco in one place, and a beer and pretzel in another.  One souvenir shop had, wait for it... Cubs merchandise.  So of course I got my picture in front of it.  The salesgirl wasn't surprised when I told her where I was from. With time to get back on the tender getting close, I sat in a city park for a little bit to enjoy the scenery for one last time, then made my way back to the dock.


Avalon, as seen from the ship.  I really like the mountains.


Aperas and huevos rancheros.  My best breakfast on this cruise.


The Inspiration, as seen from the tender.  It's not often that  you see a cruise

ship up close and not docked.  They usually look small at sea from the distance.


One of Avalon's major streets.  It runs along the oceanfront.  I did much of

my shopping there.


The Inspiration, as seen from a Catalina mountainside.  Again, it's not often

that you get to see a cruise ship from a mountain, with a possible exception

of Hawaii.


The entire town of Avalon, seen from the entrance to the Wrigley Estate.  The

flat terrain is only a few square miles in size.


Golf carts on city streets, standing in for cars.  Getting a permit for a regular 

car in Avalon is very difficult and lengthy process.


The Avalon Casino, as seen from the outside.  No gambling

takes place there.  It was built to provide entertainment of

good moral value and divert people from unsavory pastimes,

like the actual gambling.


The inside of the movie Casino's theater.  We watched a short historical film.  

The picture quality was quite decent.


This is one of the shops I visited.  Go Cubs!

This ends my day in Catalina.  Elegant night is next.

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Day 2, part 2: Elegant night
Once back on the ship, I went straight to my cabin to cool off and relax a little, from half a day of walking in the sun.  A towel animal was waiting for me.  The rest of the afternoon was relaxing but uneventful.  I had a late lunch in the buffet, sat in the hot tubs, and spent more time in the sauna.  The dry sauna is nice and strong.  But the wet sauna (steam room) was lacking in the "wow, this is hot, but I'll feel great later!" department, that you find in some land gyms or Turkish baths.  It was like that the entire cruise.  I don't know if it's just bad luck or they're making it American-friendly, but take note.


Suddenly, the cruise director announced that there was a medical emergency, and the ship was heading back to Long Beach to debark a passenger who became ill.  But because the distances on this cruise are so short, she assured everyone that there will not be a delay with getting to Ensenada.  I stood on the deck, watching the ship pull into Long Beach, smirking to myself that it wasn't debarkation time just yet.  They had a Captain's Celebration that night.  The captain couldn't come, because he was handing off the passenger to local authorities.  But all other high-level officers were there.  They were warm and personable, but still maintained that "officer" vibe.  I got my picture taken with them, of course.  The cruise director later announced that the ill passenger and their travel companions were in good hands.


Then came dinner time.  The ship must have been going at double speed to get to Ensenada in time, because I really started feeling the movement.  All the tablemates came, and everyone was dressed to the nines.  We had good conversations comparing notes about Catalina.  The menu, however, was kind of lacking.  The lobster was eliminated, obviously, and the rest of the items didn't really appeal to me.  I ordered grilled shrimp in tomato sauce, with mashed potatoes.  The shrimp were good, but the potatoes had lumps.  Ugh!  Needless to say, I didn't eat them.  (I should have gotten the blue crab ravioli.)  The waiters were very friendly and quick, though.  It was truly the best MDR service I ever got on a cruise.  I went straight to the show afterwards, and enjoyed the dancing parts.


The night was still young, so started looking for things to do.  I briefly went to the nightclub, but found too many couples there. So I wandered into the piano bar.  It had a very lively, boisterous atmosphere, with a group of people being in the center of the action.  They kept making song requests and bantering with the pianist.  At one point, while feeling brave, I joined in with a perfect comment.  It made the pianist double over in laughter and got everyone's attention.  The group's "ringleader" started talking to me, and complimented me for cruising solo.  We all hung out in the piano bar until it closed; the pianist just wanted to go sleep, but us singers kept saying "encore!"  As he closed up shop and the group dispersed, the "ringleader" practically insisted on me coming back the next night.  I gladly agreed.


This towel animal was waiting for me in my cabin.  I think it's a brontosaurus.


Me with the ship's main officers.  I also have pictures with the First Officer

in Command and the Cruise Director.


Elegant night's dinner.  This was one cutback I actually noticed and felt.  I

want the lobster back, and not the $20 Steakhouse Selections one.


Studio VIP show.  I was pleasantly surprised by the Playlist Productions

shows.  I was half-expecting them to be glorified movies.


Looks like my cruise just went from simply "fun" to "incredibly fun".  Ensenada coming soon.  Stay tuned.

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34 minutes ago, Joebucks said:

Looks like fun. I've always debated if I wanted to do that itinerary or not. Looks like I have to try it. Especially with Panorama on the way.

Go for it!  You just might like it.  Catalina is great no matter what you do, even if you just walk around (100% free) or rent a golf cart (inexpensive with 2 to 4 people).  The quirky layout, with stairs standing in for streets in some hilly parts, is very fun to explore.  Ensenada, you kind of need an excursion for.  It's not the safest to wander around in by yourself, although if you're a young-ish man, you should be mostly fine.  La Bufadora is pretty much the highlight, so I'd recommend that.  My next review portion will have pictures of it.


I don't know if the Panorama will be doing the same itinerary.  It'll probably sail farther south to Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta.  4-day cruises are usually the prerogative of Fantasy class ships.

Edited by LandlockedCruiser01
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As I said earlier.............your review with pictures would probably bring back some good memories, which it has.  When seeing the golf carts, I remembered that is normally ALL they have there for people to get around on, and I believe you have to live there about 10 years before you can get a car, if you want to.  Of course, the only way back to land is by boat.  We did rent a golf cart, and had a wonderful time checking everything out of this beautiful area.

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6 hours ago, beshears said:

When seeing the golf carts, I remembered that is normally ALL they have there for people to get around on, and I believe you have to live there about 10 years before you can get a car, if you want to.

Glad to hear you had a good time there.  The tour guide talked about that.  While there is no residency requirement of 10 years before buying a car, the waiting list to for a car permit can be 10 years long.  Many residents want a car, but the number of car permits that get issued is very limited.  But much of the town is very walkable.  Come to think of it, it's not much different than Belgium or Germany, where people walk everywhere or drive miniature cars.

Edited by LandlockedCruiser01
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