Our next cruise was in 1998, and it was to see a near total eclipse (we just couldn't afford to pay for one of the ships going to the heart of the eclipse which was centered over Guadeloupe- we saw a 93% eclipse at Grenada). Along with my wife and I, we were joined by our friends, Marylou and Bill. This was their first cruise, and I think they were happy to have two "old seasoned pros" like us guiding them through it.
The Inspiration is also of the 70,000+ ton Fantasy class and has the same shell as the Fascination, but it's appointments were far more conservative and elegant. This ship was downright beautiful- still one of the prettiest Carnival ships I've been on so far. The typical Carnival glitz wasn't as overbearing on Inspiration. The food was also the best of any of the three CCL ships I've been on to date. Our ports were again southern caribbean: we went from San Juan to St. Thomas to Guadeloupe (very french, very expensive- get out of the port to enjoy the natural beauty... the falls we swam in were awesome!) to Grenada (a great source for spices if you're a cook- but don't bother with the beaches as you'll be swarmed by the pushy locals) to St. Lucia (whose natural beauty is evocative of Hawaii) to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. (in my opinion, this island is unsafe for travelers unless you're at one of the controlled island resorts. If you must go ashore, I'd recommend seeing the Columbus Monument- visible from the pier, it's huge- but be forewarned that Columbus might not actually be buried there according to some historians.)
Thinking back, I believe we flew down the morning of the cruise (We don't do this anymore... always fly down at least one day before a cruise!) from Philadelphia to San Juan, PR. I remember all four of us having hamburgers on an outside deck on the Inspiration and I remember feeling like I was at home right away on this ship. Our first island was St. Thomas, VI. We took Marylou and Bill to Magen's Bay... one of our favorite beaches in the Caribbean.
Our second port was the beautiful French island of Guadeloupe. Here the four of us took a tour that included the Carbet Falls and a swim in one of the ponds near the base.
Friday, the 26th of February was the solar eclipse. Our location was somewhere in the Caribbean between St. Lucia and Santo Domingo... a day at sea. We were able to see about 98% coverage of the Sun by wearing safe solar eclipse goggles purchased before the cruise. I remember at the height of the eclipse it got about as dark as an extremely overcast day and a cold wind whipped up! I pointed my camera up at the Sun and took a snapshot (for safety, I was wearing the goggles when I did this... never look directly at the Sun through a scope, binoculars or even a camera. Blindness is the usual result of doing this even for an instant). The picture shows the glaring Sun at bottom and rays reflecting but I also captured a lens flare which depicts the actual eclipse at the top of the photo... this would normally have appeared as a dot or a series of dots in a normal photo. Instead, we see what looks like a crescent Moon, but is in fact an flare image of the Sun's disk almost covered by the Moon.
Our final stop was Santo Domingo. Here we toured the island stopping here and there along the way. There were some pretty dangerous looking spots but the highlight of our tour was the Columbus Memorial Lighthouse. This enormous structure is in the shape of a cross and illuminates the night sky with a crucifix. Here, there are remains thought to be those of Christopher Columbus but this is apparently in dispute. Others claim it's one of his relatives entombed here. Nevertheless, this is a cool stop on a trip to Santo Domingo.
By the Inspiration cruise, we were starting to grow weary of the Carnival product and we were ready for a change. I can't speak for the new Carnival cruise ships- but I've heard mostly nice things about them- especially the Triumph and the other Destiny class ships. I've also read that Carnival has tried to rein in the over the top partying that goes on- if this is all true, perhaps Diane and I will revisit the fleet again someday. Update: We continue to hear that we ought to give Carnival another try from fellow cruisers in 2009... apparently Carnival has really made many improvements across the board. Maybe someday...
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