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Carnival Imagination Cruise Review -- What To Expect On A Carnival Cruise

Updated on May 4, 2012

First Cruise Aboard The Carnival Imagination

Though I am a frequent traveler, I'd never taken a cruise before this year. This February, I decided to change that and experience my very first cruise. Since I wasn't sure if I'd like it (my husband and I tend to not like resorts and touristy areas), I booked a four-day cruise aboard the Carnival Imagination that went to Key West and Cozumel. For good measure, our friend Scott and his 91-year-old grandfather, Gene (the only experienced cruiser in the bunch) joined us. I figured that this way, we couldn't go wrong with a short trip -- and if we didn't enjoy it, then at least we'd make our own fun as a group. Still, we didn't know what to expect on a Carnival cruise.

My main concern about taking a cruise was that I'd feel stuck being on the ship all day and would become bored. Happily, this never happened. Carnival's ships have so much going on that it's nearly impossible to be without something to do. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the four days went by (and then wished I could stay on longer!).

That said, I was pleased with the experience ... for the most part. However, there were some things about the Carnival Imagination that I felt could use some improvement. Still, you can't beat getting away to the Caribbean for a few days and the Carnival Imagination makes an excellent first cruise!

Carnival Imagination Tour

First Impressions Of The Carnival Imagination

Planning the cruise itself was really easy. Scott and I planned it together, via conference call to an agent at Carnival, and we were booked within less than 20 minutes. The agent was friendly and helpful and didn't try to push us into purchasing higher-priced state rooms. That said, the price was a bargain at less than $400 for the journey. We were all set to go!

Since we were leaving from the Port of Miami, we flew to Miami from New York City the day before and spent the evening exploring South Beach. The next morning, we headed down to the Port to board the Carnival Imagination. This turned out to be relatively painless, as well. There was a long line, but everything was quick and efficient. In less than 30 minutes, we were on the ship, ready to begin our journey.

We had staterooms on the Riviera deck, which is the lowest deck with cabins (the medical center is the deck below). I joked that we were going to end up in steerage, but our rooms actually turned out to be pretty nice. They were tiny, but each had a flat-screen TV and decent-sized, comfortable beds (we had a queen; Scott and Gene each had singles). There were also two fold-out beds attached to the wall for larger families, though this seemed like it would be realllly tight quarters. The bathroom was very basic with a shower, sink and toilet, but the shower was great with extremely powerful pressure that you could control, and a dial that let you control the exact water temperature. The one feature of the room that I didn't like was that there was no window, but there was a fake window covered in plastic. I didn't think that this would bother me, but I hated waking up at 8 a.m. and it being pitch black in the room.

One thing that surprised me about the rooms was that the higher-priced ones on the upper decks were basically the same. The exterior rooms had real windows, but the rooms itself were the same size as ours. There were a handful of fancier staterooms with decks, but really not that many considering that the ship holds over 2000 passengers. The Carnival Imagination was refurbished a few years ago, but I think it could stand to do some more renovation and add some more rooms with decks for families who want to splurge a little,

As for the ship itself, it was ... nice. Everything was well-maintained, but the decorations were cheesy. I'd pictured elegant surroundings like the Titanic, but the inside looked like an upscale disco with gold trim on everything and a lot of red and blue lights. Still, the main lobby was open and sunny, and the mood on the ship was upbeat. Being surrounded by relaxed, happy people almost guaranteed that you'd have a good time. 

Carnival Imagination Deck Party

Balcony Stateroom On The Carnival Imagination

Carnival Imagination Pool Deck

Carnival Imagination Pool Deck And Water Park

After settling into our rooms, we walked all around the ship so we could take everything in. Scott was pleased to see that there was a nice-sized running track on the top deck and Gene loved the water park, which included a huge, twisty slide (and, yes, at 91 years old, he did go down it!). There was also a mini-golf course up top on the deck above the pool. Though we hadn't even left port yet, the pool area was already crowded and a live band was playing. A few crew members got up onto a stage next to the pool and encouraged the passengers to join in a line dance with them. Meanwhile, a guitarist played downstairs in the lobby and a country singer crooned in the long hallway leading to the casino, sushi bar, disco hall and karaoke room. The constant music was one thing I really liked about the cruise and the performers they hired were quite talented.

Two things that I was disappointed with was the pool and the adults only Serenity Deck. For a ship with 2000 passengers, the pool was pretty small. During the week we went, it was rather chilly in the Caribbean so it wasn't even that crowded, but even with only 20 people or so in the pool, it felt jammed. Kids kept jumping off the sides and I feared that there would be a collision because of the lack of room. There were also only two hot tubs on the main pool deck. Since it was kind of cold, everyone wanted to be in them ... and each only fit about 10 people. So you had a long wait for the tubs, as well as the deck chairs since there didn't seem to be enough of those either.

As for the Serenity Deck, it had great views since it was right at back of the ship, and I enjoyed laying back and looking out at the water and clouds. Unfortunately, the deck was also pretty small and you had to wait for chairs here, too. There were two more hot tubs here, but again, they were extremely crowded. Fortunately, everyone was friendly so we got to know our neighbors really well as we all crammed into the tubs together!

Food On The Carnival Imagination

My traveling companions and I all enjoyed the food on board the Carnival Imagination. While some of the more seasoned cruisers on the ship complained that it wasn't as upscale as the cuisine on some of the other lines, we were very satisfied.

Because we didn't want to be married to a particular seating time, we opted to get "free" seating, meaning that we could come to the dining room for dinner anytime between 5-9 p.m. This arrangement worked out perfectly. We never had to wait for a table and we could basically eat whenever we wanted. We also weren't forced to sit at a large table with strangers (though some people enjoy this). Instead, we had different people sitting at the tables around us each night and we got to know many different passengers throughout the week.

You could eat in the fancy dining room for all three meals, but we chose to only have dinner there. For breakfast and lunch, we got the buffet, which was in the dining room right off the pool deck. There was plenty to choose from: salads, meats, fish, fruits, sandwiches, pizza ... never did we feel as if we were missing out on anything and everything was fresh and delicious. As for dinner, they treated us like royalty and the food was also quite good. As someone who is trying to lose weight, I liked that the portions were adequately sized but not supersized. I also liked that a low-fat "spa" option, such as grilled chicken with vegetables, was on the menu each day. I enjoyed everything I sampled from the aspargus soup to the roasted game hen to the fruit salad with vanilla ice cream ... and ended up losing three pounds over the course of the week!

Meantime, there were, of course, plenty of alcoholic beverages to choose from. On board, lemonade, water, coffee and juice (in the mornings) were free, but every other beverage had to be paid for and the drinks were a little pricey at $7 a pop. Each day, there was a "special" drink, but after having a few, we realized that they all tasted pretty much the same. Still, they had some tasty ones, such as a chocolate and Irish cream beverage. And when you're on a cruise, you have to have at least a few tropical drinks adorned with an umbrella.

While we enjoyed the food, there were a few things that could've been better. For one, the buffet always had a line and the adjoining dining hall never seemed to have enough tables. We always had to walk around for a while with full trays before finding a table. They did have extra tables outside, but they seemed to be in the windiest corner of the ship.

Meantime, the staff was very aggressive about trying to sell drinks because I imagine that this is where Carnival gets a good chunk of its money. They were never pushy, but just always seemed to be wherever you turned. When we went to see the musical show, there they were selling drinks. At karaoke, drinks. As soon as you came to the pool, "Do you want a drink?" I realize that they were just doing their jobs, but it felt very in-your-face.

I also wasn't too pleased with the waitstaff's "performances" on some nights, such as elegant night. In order to, I suppose, get the crowd hyped up, the waitstaff would suddenly break out some dance moves in the middle of serving everyone and attempt to get the diners to join in. Unfortunately, these staffers did not seem to be trained entertainers. Rather it seemed as if most had come on board for a job waiting tables and were forced into humiliating themselves in this way. You could tell that they were embarrassed and didn't really know what they were doing. That said, no one really joined in. We ended up feeling very badly for the waitstaff, especially after we chatted with a few and learned that Carnival recruited them from other countries ... and then had them working 16-18 hour days. I think that if they really wanted us to have entertainment during dinner, then the on-ship entertainers, who were actually trained in singing and dancing, should've stopped by. Needless to say, we gave out waiter, who was awesome, a huge tip on the last night.

Entertainment On The Carnival Imagination

As I said before, there was plenty to do on board the Imagination so we were always entertained. Each morning, they'd give us a newsletter that listed everything there was to do that day. They offered everything from Bingo tournaments to a Hairy Chest Competition by the pool (which was actually quite hilarious). But since we all love doing karaoke and going to piano bars in New York City, we checked out all of the musical entertainment.

Out of everything offered, karaoke was our favorite activity and we ended up doing it two nights in a row. While most of the cruise staffers were happy and smiling at all times, the karaoke deejay was kind of rude and surly ... and we loved her for it. Seriously. She ran a tight ship (no pun intended ) and refused to accept any nonsense. So when some stupid parents allowed their little girl to perform some rap about men filming naked ladies with a video camera, the deejay abruptly stopped the music and suggested that the girl choose something more age appropriate. Then when a drunk gay screeched into the microphone, the deejay mercifully turned down the volume. She was very encouraging when people followed the rules and showed respect, but if you didn't ... watch out.

While on board, we also checked out the piano bar, which we went to for a sing-along. The joint itself is cute with a bar that's shaped like a piano, but the performer that evening -- a nice guy named Bob -- just couldn't get the audience into the sing-along. Bless his heart, he was trying like crazy, but everyone (other than us, as we were singing at the top of our lungs), was just sitting there. Still, we appreciated his effort, though we ended up leaving because the bar was getting to smoky from cigarettes.

Meantime, there was a disco and a Caribbean bar that also offered music. We briefly stopped in, but our favorite thing to do was simply to watch the performers who played throughout the lobbies and arcade hallways. They were all very good and it was relaxing to just sit back and listen for a while.

The thing we were most disappointed with were the two "musical extravanganzas." Now, granted we're from New York, so we're used to seeing Broadway performers and are probably quite biased. However, we kept hearing how these shows were Broadway quality and had won several awards. Well, the singers were decent and the dancing was good ... but the shows were LAME. They basically did a series of skits and musical numbers from different eras -- and it was embarrassing to watch. There was one number danced to the '80s hit, "Physical," where the dancers did squat-thrusts; in the second number, they actually did the Macarena and then invited everyone to join in! That said, I think the shows have potential, but need to be updated so they don't seem as ancient and cheesy. However, Grandpa Gene LOVED them and kept going on, "What a show, what a wonderful show," so I suppose they do have fans.

Key West

San Gervasio Ruins, Cozumel

Carnival Imagination's Ports Of Call

We made two stops on our journey, to Key West and then Cozumel. Both were wonderful and we lucked out and had nice weather at both locations.

At Key West, we only got about four hours to explore the city, but we managed to see a lot. The cruise offered many excursions, but we decided to save money and walk around town instead. There, we visited the marker notating the southern most point of the U.S. and took a tour of Hemingway's home. We then admired the colorful houses around town and took a break to sample some conch fritters.

Carnival was extremely efficient at getting people on and off the boat and kept telling us to be back in Mallory Square by 1:15 p.m. Everyone was, but there was a long line and not enough trolleys to take us back to the ship. That said, there was a little bit of a hold-up, but Carnival must've been prepared because we only left about 20 minutes late. We were impressed by how organized they were, even when things got a bit out of control.

At Cozumel, we were pretty much given the entire day to walk around. Again, we skipped the excursion and instead hired a private van to take us to the nearby Mayan ruins, San Gervasio. For $15 a person, our driver took us there, waited for TWO HOURS, took us for some beer and then drove us back to port. It was a gorgeous day, the ruins turned out to be more impressive than we'd thought and we got a great "excursion" for a bargain!

Overall, we were pleased with the Carnival Imagination. The staff was warm and friendly and they had everything down to a science. We never lacked for anything to do and we never felt unsafe at any time. One thing we noticed was that there were many kids on board, but they were almost all well-behaved -- probably because Carnival kept them so entertained. That said, I think that this line is perfect for children and families. There's a good reason why they call themselves, "The fun ships."

As I said, there were a few quirks and some things I think needed improving, but nothing bothered us enough that it even came close to ruining our vacation. We had a terrific time in the Caribbean and would definitely give Carnival another try.


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