Sometimes I chuckle when I read a Fantasy class ship review from someone who has cruised on the Conquest, or another larger class ship. More often than not they are disappointed about the lack of a specialty restaurant, or an ice rink, etc. Fantasy class ships have a draw to them, they are the workhorses of the Carnival fleet and you will find some of the most dedicated people working aboard. For that reason and many others we flew to Miami to sail aboard the Imagination.
Some logistics, my wife and I are platinum with Carnival, having been aboard the Mardi Gras, Celebration, Legend, Ecstasy, Elation, Conquest, Triumph and Magic. We are both mid 50's and not big party people. So why did we go on a spring break cruise from Miami? Price!
This was a cruise built around a teacher's spring break and the need to attend a wedding at the end of the week, so Carnival and the chance to see anything other than Progreso again lured us to Florida.
We elected to let Carnival plan our air travel, and I'd never do that again. We were on United from Houston To Ft Lauderdale and American for the return flight. Different terminals for parking and a tram ride once we returned were the end result. Mix in American Airlines in Dallas is the biggest collection of jerks in air travel and they tried to ruin the last day of a vacation. They failed.
Embarkation was a breeze; we arrived at the terminal and were headed aboard in about ten minutes. The ship was as expected, clean, nicely retrofitted from the updates and staffed with a friendly crew. Our cabin attendant was in and out quickly and made sure we had ice and extra towels. I had ordered flowers for my wife and bottled water, and those, along with our cruise pins were in the cabin.
Lunch was standard fare, and the weather was gorgeous in Miami. We really like the fantail decks that are aft of the casual dining so we opted to sit outside. Here's where we saw the first signs of Carnival cutting back on staff. These tables were all dirty, not from people just finishing their meal, as they stayed that way for a while. I cleaned one off for my wife and I and for the duration of our lunch no one else came to sit or clean.
The menus were the same from our most recent Triumph cruise, and with 800 (my estimate) spring break school age kids we expected to see main dining empty. A pleasant surprise when we met two other couples close to our age. We loved their company, and even did our excursions with them.
Wait service was prompt, and the food was predictable. We knew what to expect, and for those that haven't cruised in a while it might have been a surprise in the limited food selections versus from the past, but we found something we liked every night.
In Key West we did the bike ride, and I cannot recommend this enough. It's a leisurely paced tour around the island with stops at several of the landmarks. The host was well educated, giving a history of the island, the Flagler family and some of the idiosyncrasies of life in the Conch Republic. This is a short day in port, so get a tour quickly or find yourself wandering Duval Street.
This was our first time to dock on the military base, having been to Mallory Square when we were aboard the Rhapsody of the Seas. No big deal, just a required tram ride to leave the pier. No worries on arrival, but a madhouse for return to ship. For the life of me I cannot see why anyone would stand in the sun with their family and wait in line. I did the same thing as when in Grand Cayman and found a shady spot across the street and waited for the line to be less than fifty people. We found ourselves riding with a group of Florida State kids that had thoroughly enjoyed the island. We waited for a couple of stragglers, but I didn't hear anyone being paged and we sailed for Cozumel around 2:00pm.
The seas were the roughest for most of the next twenty-four hours, especially as we approached shallow waters. Wind speeds on this evening and the sea day were in excess of 25mph. In fact, on the day at sea Carnival used the ever so attractive Crime Scene Tape to block off the stairs to the upper decks, but more on that later.
Cruise Elegant Night was quite a study in who was aboard. For those of us with fixed dining times the crowd was about the same for most evenings, or about full. For the My Time Dining venues the lines were long, long, long. There is good reason we have never tried it, and if that's your favor, then great. I just would rather walk in the dining room and be seated with a Coke at my plate.
The Bottomless Bubbles option has taken on a new life, or it did for this cruise. We were asked for our cards more than once and our photos were verified. This happened in three different bar areas. We never waited long at bars for a soda, but as the cards reflected platinum status that might have been a factor. I didn't use any of the other benefits, just an observation.
Cozumel. My wife and I have enjoyed almost twenty trips here aboard a ship or direct flight from Houston, and this time was not a disappointment. We booked the Jeep and Tequila Traditions Tour (I think that was the name) and in retrospect, alcohol, Jeeps and crazy drivers in Mexico... what could go wrong?
The "other side" of the island is just beautiful, and I had wished we went to the beach first and skipped the tasting stops. We shared a Jeep with a couple from Raleigh, NC who were really nice. He is a disabled veteran, and shared how he was shot in Desert Storm. Powerful testimony, and I was glad to be his designated driver.
With a late departure time from port we enjoyed the shops in the immediate area, and kept tradition with a new watch while my wife found some earrings that needed a new home. I had done my research and captured screen shots from two online companies and Amazon, and Diamonds International matched the Amazon price.
The wind picked up as we left Cozumel, and the reported 6-8 foot seas were evident. We made it aboard with a slice of pizza in mind after a run, but the wind up on deck, coupled with the rocking made that a little tough. Hello pizza instead of exercise.
The sea day bordered on gale force winds, so Carnival brought out the nifty yellow tape and closed the top deck. Chair hogs never had a chance, as all the loungers were full before 11am. In the shade it was most comfortable with a sweatshirt and shorts, but I anticipated this, having cruised on many prior spring break vacations.
Entertainment onboard went from predictable to good. The Welcome Aboard Show I know from memory, so "looking good" and "uptight, outta sight" was a sing-a-long.
The final night's show was Shout. I wanted to sit with our new friends in one of the circular loungers the Fantasy Class ships are famous for, so I staked it out for the last ten minutes of the early performance.
Some say a bad cruise director can ruin a trip, but I disagree. The good news is Marcello from the Conquest has been promoted to cruise director and he's absolutely one of the funniest people at sea. All of us loved his spontaneity and ability to work a room. Wished I could say the same for the comedians aboard...
I'm not a prude, but enough F-bombs were dropped in the first five minutes to meet a Sirius Raw Dog Channel quota for the balance of 2013. I find that bad language is a lousy entertainers idea of covering for bad talent, and this guy must have been on sale. Trying to tell jokes in a Polish dialect didn't help his material get better from his native tongue.
Other items of note: the casino was smoky from about noon and never got better. I tried roulette and cards and took the carcinogen express out the door.
The little coffee bar off the side of the casino was excellent. My wife and I rewarded our zero weight gain cruise with a great slice of carrot cake the last night, and it was super.
Perfect vacation? No. But a nice trip, nice ship, nice people and a real need to increase the manpower for cleaning and it are a bargain.
If you are looking for the Emperor, Allure, Gargantuan of the Sea or whatever go see the anchor folks. If you have a comfort level with Carnival (we do with both, living close to Galveston) and want to sail without breaking the bank then look into a Fantasy class ship and compare prices. With the Triumph out of the picture and me getting over my "it's Carnivals fault" attitude it we booked this inside of a month before the trip. A rock wall was not worth $1000 for me.
Pics Link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/leeusry...57633027276278