Recently enjoyed a relaxing 4-day cruise on the Carnival Imagination over spring break/St. Patrick’s Day. We had two cabins, a balcony junior suite for my wife and me, and an interior room for my two teenage sons and two of their friends. Our family has been on several cruises. This was the first cruise for their friends.
After reading a few of the recent reviews on here, I was wondering if it was going to be a disaster, but it was not anywhere close to as bad as some people portray. If you want to find something to complain about, you can. If you want to relax and enjoy and not worry about the small stuff, you can do that to.
Hotel Info – We stayed on the Queen Mary the night before the cruise. This was a really fun way to start a cruise, particularly if you have never been on a cruise before and want to see how sea travel used to be done. I reserved a queen room for us, and a two queen room for the boys. My wife and I walked to our assigned room and found one twin. The front desk could not explain why I did not get my reserved room other than to say they had no vacancies and could not give us that kind of room. They moved us to a two twin cabin and knocked down the price, but I was not thrilled (I know, don’t sweat the small stuff).
That night was the Queen Mary’s St Patrick’s Day party, so the ship was crowded and noisy in some areas, but you couldn’t hear it in the rooms. As part of the stay, you get the opportunity to walk around the ship and do the self-guided tour for free. It was very interesting and we spent the next morning waiting to board the Imagination running around the Queen Mary.
We were able to leave our van in the parking lot right in front of the Queen Mary, not the multi-level parking garage nearby where all other cruise passengers park. They charged the parking fee ($17/day) to our room and when the noon check out time came, we just left what we wanted in the van and walked the block or two to the large dome used for Carnival check-in. (Note: Carnival use to check people staying the night before on the Queen Mary in on that ship, but they no longer do that. The check-in area still exists - we found it while exploring the ship.)
Embarkation – We got the e-mail from Carnival that warned us not to show up before 1:30 and don’t expect to be able to get to your bags or room anytime soon. Of course we head over there at noon and there are already plenty of people there to check-in. We approached from the Queen Mary side and walked up to an outdoor check-in area where we got our Sign and Sail cards. Others were bypassing the outdoor check-in and going inside the dome. Perhaps if we had approached from the parking garage, we might have been told there was a difference between the two areas because for the first time ever we carried all of our bags through screening and right on the ship. We had them marked with the room tags and expected them to be taken from us at some point, but they never were. Luckily it was not that big a deal for us since we came prepared with rolling bags, etc.
Once we got on the ship we walked right to our rooms and dropped off our bags – also a first time ever. On all other cruise we have been on, the hallway doors to the rooms were closed until later in the afternoon. This time everything was open including our room on the Upper deck and the boys’ room on the Riviera deck. I don’t know why or if it is like that for every cruise, but it was nice. Of course some people were still dragging their bags through the cafeteria because they thought the rooms were unavailable.
Stateroom- We had U9 which is a junior suite with balcony. It had a king bed with a couch that looked like it could be made into at least a twin size bed. It also had a small refrigerator, which was handy. The balcony is nice, but it can be a little chilly when the ship was moving. The rooms are non-smoking and our neighbors smoked on the balcony which is allowed, so you do have to put up with some cigarette smoke swirling your way.
The boys’ room (R299) had two twins on the floor and two bunks that were folded down by the steward at night. I chose that room because it was conveniently located right next to the forward stairs and elevator. I thought later about the elevator noise, but they said they couldn’t hear it, so all was good. (Note: be sure to bring power strips, a lesson we learned from previous cruises. Our cabin had two 110 volt plugs and one international one. The boy’s cabin had one 110 plug and one international one. Teenage boys have to be able to charge their iPhones (not for cell phone use, but for their music) and you can imagine the mayhem if they only had one plug.)
The Ship – Some people on this forum mention the dated neon and brass look of the ship. Yes there is a lot of neon and brass. It was built that way and I don’t see any reason to change it – it is a CRUISE SHIP. Others say it is run down and dirty with an indifferent crew. As I walked around I saw smiling and friendly crew cleaning constantly. I watched one morning as a multi person crew used a large floor scrubber to clean the floor of the Serenity spa area. Another time I saw a crewman scrapping off a metal surface near a life boat in preparation for repainting – an on-going and necessary chore for a ship in salt water. You could tell that they are doing their best to maintain the ship.
Dining - There is always something good on the menu and many at my 10-person table had a chance to try things they have never had before like escargot, frog legs and lobster. I thought just about everything I had was very good to outstanding. Particularly good were the lamb shank, beef tenderloin, lobster with shrimp and pasta de la mare (not sure of spelling but it was pasta with lobster sauce and seafood – mussels, shrimp, calamari, etc.). I, and the teenage boys I was with, generally ordered at least two appetizers and at least two entrees, sometimes three. Don’t worry about it, the waiters are used to it and they will just bring one after the other until you were done. And then it is time for dessert. The Chocolate Melting Cake was outstanding as always, but other desserts were equally as good like the pies and cheesecake.
Entertainment – We went to a few shows. The adults-only comedy show was funny (there were two or three comedians over several nights – we saw Willie Barcena). The Hasbro Game night was fun to watch, but the “Grand” prize of $150 worth of Hasbro games was pretty lame considering it is a huge commercial for Hasbro and co-sponsored by Carnival. A little on-board credit, a bottle of champagne (for adults), would be nice - something other than games from Hasbro that probably cost them all of about $5 to produce.
I also watched part of the call in trivia show, but it got so annoying with people calling in before the question was even asked and then prolonged periods of audio feedback (repeated pleas to turn down your TV while on the phone), I turned it off before it was over.
During the early morning of the day at sea, the staff put towel animals all over the pool lounges. It was fun to see more than a hundred different animals they can produce. Of course they also put one in your cabin each night.
Catalina – My youngest son and I signed up for the zip line. If you haven’t done anything like it and are not scared of heights, it is a blast and definitely worth the money. Nick and Chris did a great job making sure we were safe, but also talking about the islands history and plants/animals as we waited our turn to zip down five different cables.
We also rented a 6 passenger golf cart for a one hour tour around the island ($60/hour). It was a good way to get some elevation for great views of the harbor and ship and be able to see all over the island quickly and safely. You have to leave a cash deposit so be sure to have some cash on you. There are several different places to rent the carts.
Ensenada – We did not do an on-shore excursion, but I understand from the others at our dinner table that the blow hole tour was good and there was a nearby flea market with REALLY good deals to be had. We chose to just walk into town which you can get to by walking to the end of the pier and turning left. Or taxis at the end of the pier will take you there (or anywhere) for a negotiated price.
There were many, many vendors of various things along the way and we also found the local fish market which was interesting to see. Be prepared to see a lot of women with babies and children asking for money as you walk by. The vendors also have no problem coming into any restaurant or bar you are in to try to sell things – particularly name bracelets and little bobbing head animals. Hammocks and hammock chairs are also popular and go for $10 to $20 depending on the type of string it is tied with, color, etc.
Disembarkation – Because we had a junior suite, we were offered early disembarkation, as long as we carried our bags ourselves. Since we carried them on, we could carry them off, but being there at 7:15 a.m. did not allow for some of our group (teenage boys who like to sleep in) to get anything to eat in the cafeteria (they do serve breakfast in the cafeteria on the final morning). I was concerned about morning traffic in LA and wanted to get through it as quickly as possible, so we left when they said we could around 7:40. We got in line with everyone else leaving at that time, went quickly through Customs and were in the van and driving by 8:15. Traffic was not bad, so if I had to do it again, I think I would have just waited, relaxed, had something to eat and left around 9:30 or 10.