We booked the Carnival Imagination for the 4 day cruise out of Miami, FL to Key West and Cozumel leaving on a Monday and returning on that Friday. We flew in the night before and stayed in Miami (glad we did! What a fun night!!) at the Biscayne Bay Hilton (GREAT hotel- seems to be a good place, great views, and offered a cruise package which was $199 at the time for a Jr. King Suite, breakfast for 2, and transportation for 2 to the Port of Miami- plus they even gave us early transport to the Port which helped immensely!)
After reading some reviews initially (after accidentally stumbling on it), we bought the Faster to the Fun for the $50 charge- WELL WORTH IT! If you are questioning it, don’t- just do it! We got early embarkation, priority service at Guest Services and got early debarkation. Getting on board early made it worth it enough because it added about 2-3 extra hours to the trip. Got to the cruise terminal around 10:45ish AM on Monday and a porter took our bags (which you also get quicker to your cabin as part of the F2F program) and we immediately cleared security. The line at checkin was empty which was nice and we immediately got our F2F “boarding pass” and room keys and our accounts set up. I didn’t time it but I think we waited in there for about 45 minutes to an hour by the time we started boarding (right after the Platinum and Diamond guests).
As this was my first time being on any Carnival ship, let alone the Imagination, I didn’t know too much of what to expect. I did know it was an older ship (was told by a CS agent when I’d called a couple weeks prior) but that’s about it. When we boarded we got on through the atrium on Empress, Level 7. This was also where our cabin was (E160). The doors were closed and posted with the signs they were still cleaning the rooms, but we snuck in anyway hoping our room was ready so we could drop our backpacks off and head up to the Lido Deck (and yes it was, and I know, we are THOSE people). Once we dropped our stuff off, we made our way up, while exploring, to the Lido Deck. We grabbed some drinks and sat down by the pool. One thing I did notice that kinda bugged me through out the trip was the servers are a little pushy with drinks. It seemed as the minute you said no to one of them, another one was already asking. But, we did get a server when we wanted our second round and we was GREAT (albeit with that ‘pushy’ factor). He remembered our drink orders (Banana daiquiris and Budweiser tubs) for the whole trip- as well as our folio numbers!! It was absolutely beautiful in Miami that day so we’d worn our swimsuits on board and it was a wise choice! We dipped our feet in the pool and enjoyed the sun and stayed there until it was time for the lifeboat drill. Lifeboat drill was a little behind schedule (supposed to start by 3:30- cast off at 4 PM). Our station was ‘F’ which was on Lido Deck. We had to wait for all other stations to get up to Lido to know where their boats were in case it was needed- and this was going on while we start casting off. I have always LOVED cast off- especially since other ships were at the Port and everyone waved at one another. The crew deliberately blocked people from moving around (understandable) but they also blocked us from watching out the doors (which I didn’t get and kinda bugged me ). By the time the drill ended, it was a free for all to the back of the ship to watch- and got very crowded! Everyone was taking their pictures and watching as we passed by Miami Beach and the parks (cool scenic views!). and then we headed back to the pool area where the DJ was playing music and a lot of people are doing line dances and just dancing for the sail away party- I always love these!
We wandered the ship for a little while longer after the sail away party before relaxing in our room and cleaning up for dinner. We did Anytime Dining which is nice- never have a set time I’m hungry. Our service seemed a little slow by the staff (they were slammed but it seemed to take longer than 10 minutes just to get bread and water at the least. However, we sat in the same area 2 other nights and we LOVED Danny our waited and staff!). The crew dance was great- I like that Carnival does it every night rather than just at the end of trip like other cruise lines. The food for the whole trip was Eh. It wasn’t great, nor horrible. Some items were AMAZING and others, well, couldn’t finish them. I had heard that their food wasn’t the best prior to going on the trip so I wasn’t expecting 5 star cuisine. I definitely had my fair share to eat though!
On Tuesday we got into Key West around 7:30 AM. We ordered cabin service for breakfast knowing that the buffet would be slammed and we didn’t want to get up any earlier than necessary to hit the MDR. We were kinda peeved that no announcements were made that we could get off the ship but, it was maybe 15 minutes or so that we missed. We caught a trolley into town and started walking. I would recommend visiting Key West for sure- just not at 8 AM! Nothing was open. We decided we wanted to go see the Southern Most Point Buoy at the end of the island. It’s a decent walk- at least 1.5 miles- if not more. Some stores were opening on our way down to the SMP and we took note of others that weren’t so we could stop by on our way back to see them. We got some good pictures- there’s a line that is well respected and no one is pushy about it either- we got 4 pictures total which was nice. We loved seeing the chickens running all over the island and saw a momma chicken with her chicks as we left the SMP. We stopped and had chocolate covered Key Lime Pie for the first time (it’s delicious!!) and made our way back to the trolley to get back onto the ship (because we docked at the Naval base, you CANNOT walk on your own to the ship- police and security check your photo IDs and cruise cards… and I did enjoy the Key West Police Officer who so kindly jumped up as I took a picture of the ship yelling “photo bomb!” Got a bunch of us laughing.). I wish we would have had more time other than about 4.5 hours (we had to get back in line for a trolley back to the ship at 12:30 to get everyone on by 1:15 to leave at 1:30. We definitely could have used more time here for sure !! We’ve decided though we want to take a separate trip to Key West to further explore though!) Once back on board, we went up to the pool deck and after another sail off party, some drinks, and LOTS of sun, took a bit of a nap. It was Cruise Elegant night and even though it was only a 4 day trip, almost everyone was very dressed up! Due to the fact we’d gotten up very early and had a long day, we went to bed pretty early so I don’t know too much about the shows or club that night.
**Places to check out in Key West** Kermit’s- where we got our chocolate covered Key Lime Pie. They have other Key Lime stuff too- juice, chips, candies, but I love the little shop! Kai-Kai Sandals- The most COMFORTABLE flip flops I’ve ever worn- well worth the $60 price tag after walking all over in them in Cozumel… I’m hooked! Plus when you send them back after wearing them out they give you 40% off on a new pair. Last Flight Out- Cool store with shirts and items founded by a local- cool back story too! Tervis (at Mallory Square)- these are the coolest cups! Once you start, it’s like Pringles… you can’t stop! I’ve got the 16 oz ones, 24 oz. ones, and a water bottle! Loved the Key West exclusive cup, chicken and SMP patches, etc. Plus they’re nice to have on the ship so you can get your coffee/tea/water and they stay VERY warm!
Wednesday morning we were able to sleep in because we weren’t due into Cozumel until about 1:30 PM. It was raining in the morning so we couldn’t sit out on the Lido Deck like we wanted but none-the-less we were able to wander some more and played Bingo (hoping for beginner’s luck and it didn’t pan out- oh well!). We got into Cozumel early- around 1 PM- and docked next to the Carnival Elation (sister ship to Imagination - except Elation has a basketball court on top and Imagination has the kids water slide). There are some cool shops as you leave the ship and duty free area so if you’re looking for a last minute souvenir, give them a look. We took a cab down to the all inclusive at Nachi Cocom- a little pricey for the $80 or so that it costs but OMG the food was amazing!!! If I could have lived on their cheese enchiladas and tortilla soup the whole trip, I would have been just fine with that!! It did rain later on in the day but considering we were already swimming in the ocean, it didn’t bother me much. I doubt I’ll do an AI like this again since we stayed for maybe 4 hours, but it was a good experience (by the way, to save $5 per person, bring a towel from the ship! The ones we got as “rentals” we nappy and torn- yuck!). It was a torrential downpour as we headed into town but it stopped and dried off probably an hour or so later. Walked up and down, took pictures and got shopping done- we did a LOT of walking so dress for that! I think we finally got back on board around 7:30 or so and we were exhausted and after walking through the water from the sewers that flooded- we stunk too! Took a shower and ate in the MDR for dinner. Enjoyed the sail away party again- due to the rain, they moved to the Verandah deck… it was AWESOME! Entertainment staff handed out glow sticks and beads and everyone got in on the dancing… probably one of the best sail offs I’ve seen in awhile! We went and watched the 60 second challenger (won a medal for the stacking buckets game!) and danced in the club for a little bit (first time dancing in jeans, Toms, and a sweatshirt, but hey… it’s not dress to impress like South Beach! LoL). We got hungry late into the night- like 1 AM and we knocked out a whole pizza from Pizza Pirate (not bad for cruise fare… and nothing like “free” when at home that was easily an $8 or $9 plus tip pie1). Finally knocked out after a great, adventurous, long day!
Thursday was a sea day. Finally got a chance to sleep in- of sorts. Got up lazily, got breakfast, and laid out. It was VERY windy so the pool was closed off but we laid closer to the breakfast area and it wasn’t as bad. The entertainment staff did the Groove for St. Jude which is a good cause (give up getting one drink and give them the money instead- it’s for a great cause). We didn’t do too much on our sea day aside from relax. Packed later on in the evening- couldn’t believe how much I’d bought in the 4.5 days! (By the way, if you like scrapbooking and memory stuff, I HIGHLY recommend getting one of the scrapbooking kits Carnival sells. They’re $14.99 and worth it for everything you get!! I love the idea because you won’t find the logo or even towel animal stickers anywhere else!). We watched the Songs of the 80s show that night- due to the rocking of the ship they cancelled the dancing for the dancers’ safety but the singing was GREAT! We did last minute souvenir looking and looking through our pictures and finally called it a night.
In the morning of debarkation we ordered cabin service for breakfast again. We stayed in our cabin as long as we could until the room steward finally told us they needed to clean. The whole process from leaving our cabin to getting on the transfer bus to Miami airport was about 30 minutes- we also took our luggage with us. We initially got priority debarkation but asked for the last one so we could stay as long as possible. I would definitely do that again! I’d also book an earlier flight- sometime between 1-2 PM because it just added to the boredom sitting at Miami International (even after killing an hour at the airport Chili’s).
I was once a skeptic of Carnival- thinking of it as nothing but a dirty party boat with kids running amok- the Triumph fire didn’t help my thoughts either! But for the price, you can’t beat it. There were some kids running amok, but nothing I haven’t experienced on any other line. Yes, the decorations were slightly cheesy but it was an older ship so it’s to be expected. I am so impressed I’ve booked another trip for us- this time the Conquest in July.