I recently returned from my 12/10/12 sailing on the IMAGINATION. This was my 4th time on this sailing, 12th Carnival Cruise, and I have also cruised NCL and RCL. Although I enjoy Carnival, I do critique what I see and my overall experience in hopes the cruise line and future passengers may benefit. I tend to cover multiple captions in depth and I hope that my experience is helpful to you.
I recently sailed on the LEGEND in September and LOVED the upgrades from the first time I got to sail the Legend in 2006. My 9/12 Legend review was chosen as "Review of the Week" and can be found in the links below my signature on all my posts. The IMAGINATION is still among one of my favorite Carnival ships. I simply enjoy the itinerary, ports and layout of the ship all together. This is why I decided to sail solo for my birthday on this specific ship. The IMAGINATION is really a nice ship and very easy to navigate, even for the first time cruiser.
Much of my review regarding the ship is the same as past Imagination reviews, but I try to do different excursions and things to change up my experiences.
ITINERARY: Miami-Key West-Cozumel-day at sea-Miami. There is one formal night on day three, making this a perfect getaway trip.
CARNIVAL TRANSPORT: MIA airport is a short fifteen minutes from the port. This trip I managed to grab a "hacker fare" with flights (two one-way flights) for a cheaper price. I took the first flight out and arrived in MIA early. Instead of purchasing the Carnival transport this trip I grabbed a TAXI to make my way to the port. For only one person with one bag it can save you a couple bucks. Usually I take the transport, but as I mentioned I like to change up different things and experience the trip different. You can get the transport right at airport in the luggage dept. Its only $16 1- way & worth the price if you do not want to the aggravation or a taxi to the pier. Charter bus and a short drive and you are at the pier. My Taxi ride was quick and only cost me $12 with tip.
EMBARKATION: I arrived about 10:30-10:45. Since this was my PLATINUM sailing I was directed to the VIP lounge for check-in. I've been to this port a few times and it is very easy to navigate. Check-in was speedy and I was boarding very shortly once VIP and FTTF passengers were called.
CABIN: E61 Ocean view mid shop. For location purposes, I was just off the Atrium and right near the elevators. It is located just under the FUN SHOPS to no noise from above at night when they are closed. The only drawback is there seemed to be a little more than usual traffic being right off the Atrium and near the MAIN glass elevators. I would take this stateroom again for convenience, but would opt to be a little farther away from the MAIN ATRIUM if I could. The stateroom itself is same size and shape as a regular ocean view cabin No Fridge, but I knew that. Typical stateroom, 2 beds that convert to a KING, SAFE, 32" flat screen TV, water and soda to purchase in the room. Two robes hanging in the closet.
Conveniently located on the same deck as the laundry room if needed. My suggestion is to do any ironing LATE the first night and get it over with while it is empty. I was in and out in 10 minutes ironing a couple shirts and touching up pants. COMPLIMENTARY BATHROOM BASKET which the items always switch so no need to list what I got. Shower: Shampoo & Liquid Soap (I brought shampoo w/conditioner, a travel Lysol spray & my preferred bar soap). The room itself appeared to be in great condition. Clean and kept.
ROOM STEWARD: MICHAEL & his assistant were tending rooms later that night so I introduced myself. Both were extremely courteous and always took the time to say hello and ask how my day was. I was never disturbed at any point during the day and THAT, IMHO is what makes a good room steward; one that knows your name, schedule and can work around your vacation down time. They are an asset to the Carnival crew.
PORTS: Key West, Florida & Cozumel Mexico
KEYWEST: I wanted to rent a scooter or take the Conch train excursion, but after realizing I forgot my sandals I took the opportunity to shop. The short time you are there limits any extended plans, but it is enough to cover this port and get a taste of what it offers during the 6-7 hours you are there.
The Aquarium is right in town center and if you walk up Duval Street a few blocks you will pass SLOPPY JOE's, HARD ROCK, JIMMY BUFFET's Margaretaville & some nicer shops. I remembered a friend on my last cruise refer me to KINO SANDALS 107 Fitzpatrick Street; about a 2 block walking distance from the drop off point. They are reasonable but have few men's styles to choose from. Not finding what I wanted I ventured up Duval St to window shop.
This is a good port to grab some last minute items at CVS or pick up one of their famous KEY LIME items.
COZUMEL: If you cannot find something to do here then something is wrong. Take an unexpected excursion or simply grab a taxi downtown and shop. During my time in port I was told that Donald Trump is planning on building a resort in Cozumel in the upcoming years, so enjoy it while you can for the culture and history Cozumel offers.
EXCURSIONS: I've taken the TALUM tour in 2011 as well as coverage for the AMAZING SECRET RIVER 2010 & Sept 2012. Please check them out!!
The excursion I chose this trip was the MAYAN RUINS, TEQUILLA tasting and BEACH excursion. (4.5 hrs) This was a very fun excursion and worth the price. We travelled by charter bus to "PEE-PEE" station gift shops. Ive been here in past years on other excursions and they apparently have expanded adding a short walk through park like setting and describe how Tequila is made. Ending the path is a TEQUILLA TASTING area with the option to purchase bottles of spirits. They are pre-wrapped for luggage transport and the staff was very friendly.
Back on board the charter bus to the next stop: SAN GERVASIO MAYAN RUINS located on Cozumel island. You are in the center of a jungle setting and may want to pack a small bug spray to keep the flies and gnats away. These ruins are not as grand as the mainland locations of TALUM or CHICHEN ITZA, but still a nice visit. Although small, these "Ruins of Fertility" have their own historical contributions to offer. We were told that SAN GERVASIO purchased the land but did not realize he had also purchased the Mayan Ruins that were concealed in the thick jungle. After his death he donated the site to COZUMEL as a historic park which is now run by the National Institute of Anthropology & History. They will charge a small fee to bring in professional video recording equipment but small iPhone or still photo cameras are free.
Finishing up we boarded the charter bus and headed to the beautiful beach at PLAYA PUNTA SUR. I was at this beach a few years ago and they have built up the facility nicely. I believe it was 2007 when I was here last. Now there is a nice bar, outdoor eating facility, relaxing wading pool, Hammocks and a MASSAGE HUT located right on the beach. If I had enough time after eating I would have indulged in the massage on the beach, but unfortunately took advantage of the sunset for photos. You will want to pull out the bug spray as the mosquitoes start to stir at sunset.
We arrived back at the Port around 7:15-7:30. Enough time to do some quick port shopping. I managed to jump back on the ship, take a quick shower and change then head to my scheduled sit-down dinner at 8:15. I could have went back ashore to walk around and shop for souvies since we left at 10pm, but I've been to this port so many times I opted to stay on board. SAIL AWAY night we enjoyed a fun MEXICAN SAIL AWAY party on the Lido deck.
FUN DAY AT SEA: On this day I chose to take the BEHIND THE FUN TOUR of the ship. Ive always wanted to take this tour, but never have. The cost of the tour was reasonable and worth the money. Cameras are not allowed on the tour at all.
ALAN SUEN the HR rep. was a great informative guide for the tour. SCHEDULED: 2.5hrs tour of the ship included GALLEY, Laundry services, Engine control room, Loading/Unloading area, recycling areas, food storage, visit to behind the Stage productions, a visit to the HR DEPT learning about the training & working environment of the ship crew, Crew Entertainment room & Crew Galley, and a conclusion on the BRIDGE where we got to meet the Captain and some of his offer staff. A gift hat, lanyard and complimentary photo on the bridge are all included in the tour. You learn a lot of interesting things about the running of the ship & everything Carnival does to make your vacation a memorable one. This is a tour I wish I would have taken on other ships and will consider on future cruises as each ship is different.
FOOD/DINING: I cruised solo this trip but still opted for sit down 8:15 LATE dining. I prefer the same servers each night and enjoy meeting new people and dinner conversation. Once again I have nothing bad to say about the food on the ship. Our waiter JESUS and his assistants in the dining room were excellent. They could not have been any better. While on the BTF tour we got to glimpse at the "Employee Recognition Board" where your comments on staff members are posted for them to view. YES, they are hearing you and get to see your praises and criticisms. Coincidentally, I happened to spot one regarding our waiter from a past passenger. Having him as our waiter I agree with everything that the past guest stated.
STAFF: (I split this up into several captions) WORKING STAFF: Same as my last trips on this ship in 2009 & 2010. I have nothing bad to say about the crew on this ship. Information, Excursion, dining, housekeeping, officers, shops, bar service, casino were all great! I don't know how they keep up the positive attitudes day after day, week after week, month after month! B-R-A-V-O to all of you! The ship was always clean and they take care it. One of the reasons why the IMAGINATION is one of my favorite ships.
CRUISE DIRECTOR- SKIP LYONS I liked this cruise director and have been aboard in 2011 when he was sailing. He has just enough humor and was not "Over the top" like some are. He was fun and informative.
ENTERTAINMENT: (Some of this is a cut & paste from a past Imagination review) Carnival is discovering that the Main Atrium is valuable space for more entertaining than just the piano bar. The HIP-HOP crew "FUNFORCE" performs in the atrium after show times and always are fun to watch. Since this was a DECEMBER sailing there was SNOW 3 times a day with Christmas carols in the background. It was a nice unexpected touch out in the middle of the Caribbean. The Dynasty Lounge shows perhaps are becoming a little old for me. I still think they are handled well, and look forward to new upcoming productions that I hear are in the works with the new 2.0 upgrades. The CARNIVAL DANCERS in the shows on this trip were better performers than I've seen on other trips. The FEMALE lead singer "ARETHA" has a very good Voice and IMO was the highlight of the show.
Same negative comment from last year: Dynasty lounge 2ND level is not as steep as other ships I've been on so some seats are limited visibility. For this ship I think lower level is better seating unless you arrive early and get a booth UP front on 2ND level. If Carnival really wants to make a major improvement to this ship I would tear out the entire 2nd floor of the Dynasty lounge and reformat the seating into stadium seating. The booths just do not work if you actually want to watch the performances.
FELLOW SHIP PASSENGERS: This is a topic I usually try to cover in my reviews because although Carnival technically has no control on who books a cruise, it reflects the "type" of passenger that chooses certain itineraries as well as what the age-range to help others choose vacations times.
I thought it was a another nice quiet relaxing vacation since it was just after Thanksgiving and before Christmas. Not as many kids on board as in the summer as you would expect. After several cruises over the past years I have noticed the less "ROWDY" crowds cruise during the week as apposed to the weekender get-a-way cruises. This was a full sailing, but did not feel overly crowded at any time.
I did not use the SPA or CAMP CARNIVAL so have no comments to make here.
DEBARKATION: As a platinum member I took advantage of the VIP SELF-ASSIST debarkation and was off the ship by 9am. I took the Carnival transport to the FLL airport for the 2nd half of my "HACKER FARE." FLL is an easy 40 minute estimated ride but I would still book flights no earlier than 12-12:30 in case of traffic or delays.
LIKES: PRICE, ITINERARY, FOOD, SERVICE, CLEANLINESS of the ship, HIP HOP, mini-golf on deck 10 forward? And never forget the "WCMC": warm chocolate melting cake. mmmm
DISLIKES: Dynasty Lounge-UPSTAIRS seating. Still No option to view your account in your room, but they now offer a kiosk-like machine by guest services to check on your accounts.
In the end, this was my FOURTH sailing on the Imagination in 4 years, and I would definitely do this cruise again and recommend it to others. It is a nice FIRST TIME cruise itinerary and a good taste of the Carnival experience.
If you have any questions feel free to contact me via cruise critic under handle: wiskt