I am a veteran cruiser, and have cruised on Princess (and loved it) recently, but have not been on Carnival in a very long time. Last month I sailed with my family and friends (50+ of us) ranging in age from 5 -- 85 on the Carnival Imagination.
We chose this ship because; it was one of a few ships that did not sail to the Bahamas; we had children sailing with us and most importantly, we had first time cruisers with varying budgets.
Embarkation & Disembarking from the ship was a breeze, but it is a very small ship and I did not expect this would be an issue. What did surprise me in light of the "Costa" backlash -- was the indolent way in which the Coast Guard Safety Drill was performed. We were assembled in a lounge and no one checked us in or had a list to ensure we were indeed in the correct muster station.
The ship itself was okay -- and since I was not expecting a new ship I was not troubled by the traditional "Carnival" decor. The Serenity Pool was very small and not worth the effort it took to find it. I was surprised to find people walking about the ship in their bare feet with other bare assets exposed as well. Tiny bathing suits with no cover ups at breakfast were a bit much.
Our rooms were on Empress, Upper and Main decks. All ocean-view and absolutely nothing to rave about. It did take a day or two before we found the air condition controls -- which were located on the fan in the ceiling. The room had no mini-fridge and no storage in the bathroom. We had to repeatedly ask for ice and cold water in the room even though temperatures topped 100 degrees. Missed having places to sit when people came to visit -- as we had just 1 chair in the room. Also, our room remained un-serviced until after dinner on two of our four days. The towel animals each day were nice, but skip the chocolates -- they are not worth the calories.
Even though this was not an "upscale" cruise, we were hard pressed to understand why -- no fewer than 4 of our staterooms on different floors had "clothes" from the previous guests left in closets and drawers when family members arrived at their rooms. The biggest complaint our group had was the lie Carnival told us about "Trundle Beds" for the 3rd or 4th guests in the cabin. Since we had families sailing -- 1/3 of our group had a 3rd or 4th person in their room. We were told that a Pullman or a Trundle bed would be in the stateroom, but 7 months in advance they could not tell us which rooms had which type of beds. We arrived to find the "Trundle" was actually more like a pallet with a mattress -- approximately 1" off the floor! We were very upset to find out that the price paid did not even warrant a roll away!
Dining - Lines in the Horizon Grill where out toward the pool even at breakfast. The worst issue by far was during the first night's dinner. Our group was spread across 8 tables and as I ordered dessert -- I heard the Waiters singing "Happy Birthday", "Happy Anniversary" etc. to members of our group at another table -- 2 days early. By the time I got the error straightened out, my table companions were beginning to leave. I asked our Waiter if I could have my Key Lime pie wrapped up so that I could enjoy it in my room and he replied "No" and removed it from the table without another word! I have NEVER had that happen before!
Entertainment -- was the saving grace of this cruise. The Comedy Shows, Latin Band, Acoustic Guitar player and Karaoke were a big hit with my family & friends. Camp Carnival also got high marks from the parents in our group. But the Theater Shows were not that great and I noticed a few people sleeping.
The Crew on Carnival - with the exception of our Group Coordinator, was very apathetic. They answered questions, but made you feel like you were "bothering" them. I witnessed two Guest Relations staff members raising their voices at an older guest who did not like "MY Time" Dining and blaming the guest' Travel Agent for the issue. This was in full view of 4 other passengers including myself while we waited in line for assistance. I also kept wondering why it took 2 staff members to berate this poor lady instead of the other staff member making sure the line was being serviced.
Our excursions were varied: I took the Hop on Hop off Trolley in Key West but purchased our tickets before we left home. (Saved a lot of money since children under 12 were free and the fare was only $17.00 and not $29.99 if purchased via Carnival.) And we had a beach day in Cozumel since I was just there in February while sailing with Celebrity.
Lastly, Photographs -- We made arrangements six months in advance for a group photo and we were very disappointed. The Photographer arrived on time, but did nothing to block the stairs while we took pictures -- he took 7 shots and he never even made sure that our group was looking in his direction when he took the pictures. (We had other people waving and making foul gestures in the background.) He was gone in exactly 15 minutes. When I went to purchase them later that day the ONE shot they printed was blurred and not in focus. We had to ask 2 Managers to print or at least show us the other 6 shots. They denied my request for a discount and I wound up purchasing 2 photos at $21.99 each and have taken them to a professional to see if he will be able to Photoshop and fix the issues. We would have done better with our own cameras but wanted to ensure everyone was in the photo.
And yes, I filled out the survey, but as of yet I have not heard one word from Carnival.
This was the 1st cruise EVER that I only tipped the requisite amount -- no extra $$$ for anyone!
I went into this cruise experience with low expectations -- I only wanted to receive "good service" -- and somehow Carnival managed to set the bar even lower.....