This was our first cruise so I can't really compare it to anything we've done before. We went the week before Christmas and took our grown kids for their Christmas gift. There were eight of us in four cabins total, and we all had an amazing time! The Carnival Imagination is definitely older and the decor is dated, but it's still really nice. They keep everything very clean, with the exception of the pool which looked kind of green one day. But the next morning it was clear again, so I assume they do clean it daily. The hot tubs (there were 4 total) were almost always full. You really had to stalk one to get a chance to use it. The ship could definitely use another hot tub or two. I loved the adults only Serenity deck. The lounge chairs were very comfortable and it was a nice place to relax. The vibe was laid back out there most of the time, but one day there was a crowd in the hot tub who were drinking heavily and getting annoyingly loud. We just went and found a quieter place to hang out elsewhere on the ship. Our sailing was full but I never felt that the ship was too crowded. There are plenty of places to find peace and quiet if that is what you want. I loved watching the sunsets from the deck. That was one of the highlights of the cruise to me!
The crew was for the most part amazing. Service was mostly great, and at times extraordinary. Only one bartender was unfriendly and unattentive, and maybe she was just having a bad week. We just avoided that particular bar because there were plenty of other bars to get a drink served with a smile. It pays to make friends with the crew, tip them a little extra, and they will take really good care of you. Our room steward, Trevor, was fantastic. He always greeted us by name, and was quick to respond to any request. Our cabin was cleaned throroughly at least twice a day. I absolutely adored the little towel animals that we found on our beds every evening. What a nice special touch that was. The cabin (we had an inside cabin) was small but not too small. There was enough room for us and our stuff. I did bring, thanks to tips from Cruise Critic's forum, an over the door shoe holder, which was a fantastic idea to keep stuff in so that you don't have to take up all the counter space, which is very limited. We might try a balcony room next time just because it would be nice to relax in the privacy of your own cabin and watch the sea. But I can't imagine spending a lot of time in a cabin, with all there is to do on the ship. I thought the entertainment was good. Not broadway quality of course, but still entertaining and diverse. There were many choices in the evenings, with different types of music and activities to choose from. I can't imagine people who say they get bored on a cruise ship. There were shows and activities I missed that I wish I had found the time to do. There's always next time!
The food was good, but not great. It was about what I expected. It's not gourmet quality, but I would say more banquet quality. If you consider that it is included in the price of your fare, it's a great value. There is something to eat at all times, 24 hours a day, as much as you want. We all had no problem finding somethng that we liked, both on the buffet and in the dining rooms. The buffets were beautiful presented, and the lines weren't too terribly long, except for the Asian Wok station. It seemed to be a favorite at lunch, with lines easily 30 to 45 minutes long. I braved the long line on the last day, and found it good but prbably not worth the wait. The main dining room had the best food. I am a bit of a foodie, and I was satisfied, although not overly impressed. It met my expectations and I was never disappointed.
We visited two ports, Key West and Cozumel. Key West was fun, but would have been so much better a little later in the day. We were there in the morning. I would like to visit again in the afternoon or evening. Cozumel had beautiful clear water. We visited Paradise Beach and The Money Bar. Paradise Beach was fun but very touristy. The snorkeling from the bank was the best from the shore I have ever done. I think next time I would pay for an offshore snorkeling excursion though. I imagine it would be amazing to go out to reefs. Shopping in Cozumel is fun. I enjoyed haggling with the shop keepers and getting great deals on souveniers. My overall impression of the part of Cozumel we saw was that it doesn't really feel like Mexico. It seems to be very Americanized, and very touristy. But I supposed that is to be expected at any Port that caters to cruisers.
I have read a lot of vacation reviews, including a lot of cruise reviews. I think the people who complain are those who set their expectations too high. If you go on a cruise expecting gourmet 5 star restaurant food, you will be disappointed. If you go with reasonable expectations and the realization that they are feeding thousands of people on a boat, and that the price of your cruise includes not only room and board but pretty much all the food you can eat 24/7, then I think you will be happy. The same goes with the service, entertainment, and overall experience. You are not at a 5 star resort. But it's a great experience, lots of fun, and it will not be our last cruise! I want to try a bigger and newer boat next time, but I would definitely consider cruising on the Imagination again at some time in the future.