We live in Central Florida so we are able to drive to any of the Florida ports in 5 hours or less. This made it easy to decide to look for a reasonably priced short break from work viaa one of the multiple cruises available in the ports near us. We saw the price drop to a good rate for the cruise to Key West and Cozumel in the weeks following some of Carnival's problem cruises so we booked the cruise and quickly started planning shore trips. Many of our friends asked if we were sure about booking Carnival, but we just joked with them about taking big paddles with us.
Both my daughters, their husbands, and my 16 month old grandson were going, and the itinerary seemed to suit us quite well--long enough to relax a bit and short enough for my grandson to tolerate without too much difficulty.
On embarkation day, we drove to Miami. I'm not a big fan of the port at Miami, but it was better this time than when we were there a year ago. We chose to park at the port and pay the $20 per day fee. Last year we tried off site parking and waited over an hour for the shuttle when we got back. This time we decided it just wasn't worth the small savings because we would be dealing with a toddler during all that wait time. Embarkation went fairly smooth. We arrived at the port at about 11:30 and were on the Lido deck by 12:15. A couple of the security agents were rather difficult and not understanding about the extra time it takes to get a toddler and his cargo all the security checks. One was pretty pushy about making us separate and take the baby on upstairs as he was calling for his mom, who was still gathering his materials from the x ray machine. Surely a little understanding could be shown, but that's just the way some agents are.
This was my first time on Carnival and I found the ship more difficult to navigate than the others lines I've been on. We found the Lido Deck and the mob at the buffet. The outdoors grill with hamburgers and hot dogs had a line that wrapped down the side of the ship. My SIL waited over 20 minutes for a burger. I decided the stations at the buffet would work for me as did everyone else in our party. I'm not terribly demanding about food, and I thought it tasted good. My DD reported that the sandwich from the Deli station was excellent.
Our cabins were ready about 1:30 and they had unobstructed ocean views. They were larger than the cabin I had on both Royal Caribbean and Norwegian and everything was spotless. I unpacked my bags and stored them under the bed. I found the storage space more than adequate with one drawer and two shelves empty.
The staff on the Imagination was very friendly. Our room steward called us by name in the hall and was responsive to any of my requests. I didn't realize Carnival didn't have hair dryers in cabins and asked if he could bring one. It appeared in less than 5 minutes. Everything was kept clean and fresh throughout the entire cruise and we had ice every day. I had to request it one day, but I preferred that to having the ice melt while I was out on an excursion. I had a new towel animal each evening and had no needs that were not met. The waiters in the Pride Dining Room were excellent--always polite, friendly, and responsive to our requests. Staff members we met in the halls smiled and said hello.
We picked anytime dining, and we found navigating to the entrance of the Pride Dining Room frustrating. For some reason, we kept getting on the wrong elevator and having to backtrack to get to the right spot. I consider myself a bit directionally challenged, but my SIL is great with navigating, and he also found it a challenge. A minor issue really but still a bit frustrating.
We ate breakfast in the buffet one morning and the food was fine; however, I prefer the dining room. It's just calmer and more peaceful to sit and enjoy coffee while someone else does the serving. On excursion days we did lunch in the buffet and found the food quite good. The mashed potatoes were especially good on the American station day. On sea days we did the dining room--again calmer and more relaxing. I never had any food that I did not enjoy. Some meals were better than others, but overall no one in our group had any complaints with the food. One night rainbow trout was my choice, and it was truly delicious. One note about dessert. So many people I know have raved about the chocolate melting cake, which I did not find that good. It wasn't bad but just did not live up to its reputation in my opinion.
In Key West no one in our party booked excursions. One of my daughters and her husband walked off the ship and rented bikes. They had studied a map of Key West and knew where they wanted to go while we were there. The bikes were a perfect mode of transportation for them and they raved about the tour the took of the Hemingway House. The rest of us walked off and bought Conch train tickets from the kiosk. I was so glad we had not booked them through the cruise line. We saved a little money but the cruise ship excursion train was packed! Our train was not nearly has packed, and it is the exact same tour as the other except you have to walk to the station to get on the train. I believe the ship tour train came to the pier for pickup. The tour was quite enjoyable with lots of history and tidbits of information about the various architectural styles in town.
In Cozumel, we again split for shore excursions. My daughter and her husband booked a tour of the ruins on the mainland. The rest of us stopped at the store at the pier and bought water. They told us on the ship that you are not supposed to take food or beverages off the ship. Water was a bargain at $1 per 32 ounce bottle. Then we got taxis at the pier and went to Chankanaab National Park for the afternoon. We negotiated a one way fare of $12 for the trip to the park which covered all five of us. Admission at the park was $21 per person. The park is beautiful with a small shallow beach area that was perfect for my grandson. There was also a swimming pool and a great area for snorkeling and swimming on down the side of the island. We took turns watching the baby and swimming in the beautiful clear waters. We also saw the sea lion show. There are multiple optional activities at the park, but we didn't really have time for any of them. Our taxi ride back to the ship was $11. This was an inexpensive shore excursion for us--Water, taxis, and park admission totaled less than $120 for all five of us. It could be much more expensive if you chose to do the various optional activities.
One area that I found a bit lacking on the cruise was entertainment. The shows on the Imagination were OK but not up to the caliber of what we saw on either Royal Caribbean or Norwegian. Maybe some of Carnival's newer, bigger ships offer more, but these were OK but certainly not great.
Back to Miami and the port. I don't know why but it's just harder to disembark here than at other ports. It's not a cruise line issue because it was even harder last time when we booked through Royal Caribbean. I prefer to sail from other ports, but that didn't keep this from being a good cruise.
I would some this cruise by saying great staff, good food, and enjoyable. Some negatives with the port and entertainment but overall a nice time for all of us.