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Carnival Imagination Cruise Review by bassspanker: Great family cruise!


bassspanker
1 Review
Member Since 2010
40 Posts

Member Rating

Cabin 4.0
Dining 3.0
Embarkation 3.0
Enrichment Activities Not Rated
Entertainment 5.0
Family & Children 4.0
Fitness & Recreation 4.0
Public Rooms 4.0
Rates Not Rated
Service 5.0
Shore Excursions Not Rated
Value for Money 5.0

Compare Prices on Carnival Imagination Mexican Riviera Cruises

Great family cruise!

Sail Date: July 2014
Destination: Mexican Riviera
Embarkation: Los Angeles

Our family took the short 4-day Baja cruise out of Long Beach on the Imagination last week. My wife and I have been on a few cruises before, but this is the first time to bring the kids along. In addition to the travelogue, I'll do my best to point out tips, lessons learned, & other things we think others would find useful in planning their trips.

I think this particular cruise gets neglected a bit on these forums because it is shorter, on an older ship, and not as glamorous as most. But a whole lot of people do it, so I’m hoping a more detailed review on this short cruise will be helpful to some.

Booking

This was a very last minute thing for us, and I booked only 2 weeks before departure. We decided to do the short 4-night cruise since it was the first time to bring the kids on a cruise. Our kids are evil monsters- strike that- I mean they are a delightful handful, so we weren't sure how it would go. We decided to go with the Imagination because More it was more recently renovated and has the waterpark stuff for the kids.

I initially priced the cruise with 4 of us in one cabin. But the per-person rate was not discounted nearly as much as I would have expected. So, I booked two staterooms so the kids would have their own room. It cost a little more that way, but was definitely worth every single penny. After this cruise, I wouldn't consider doing it any other way.

Passport Drama

While filling out our cruise documentation, I was shocked when I noticed my passport had expired just a few weeks ago. Argh! I distinctly remember renewing last time, and can't figure out how 10 years went by so fast. Anyway, I immediately consulted the forums here and learned that this is a much discussed topic, and that I had nothing to worry about.

I could have applied for an expedited renewal. But that would be a lot of extra money and extra stress right before the vacation trying to deal with that. My wife & kids all have their passports, so it was a little embarrassing for me to be the one to present the lesser documentation- since I'm supposed to be the "seasoned traveler" in our family. But other than that, there was no problem at all using my drivers license and birth certificate. Not even a delay with customs, as Carnival suggests might be the case, so don't buy into the paranoia that you may read in some forum posts. I've already applied for a renewal, and should receive my new passport in a couple of weeks. Aside from business travel, I hope to use it on several cruises before it expires again.

Getting There

We live in AZ, so it's a 6hr drive to Long Beach, which isn’t bad. But this time we drove out the day before just so we wouldn't have to wake up early and be rushed to get there. I tried to get into one of the Long Beach park & sail deals that several of the local hotels offer. But the ones I wanted were sold out. Instead I got a killer priceline rate in Anaheim so the 3-1/2 star hotel + pier parking was the same as the the park & sail packages I was looking at. We arrived in Anaheim around 5pm, checked into the hotel, and spent the evening hanging out at Downtown Disney (free shuttle from the hotel). We had dinner & watched the fireworks. The next morning we slept in, had breakfast, and headed to Long Beach, which was about 1/2 hour drive.

Arrival & Embarkation

We took our time sleeping in and getting out of the hotel, so we got to the dome about noon, which was apparently the absolute worst time to arrive. I think everyone showed up at the same time. If we had been a little earlier or a little later, the lines would have been much shorter. Took us about an hour or so before we were on the ship. Our rooms were ready when we boarded. Lunch on the Lido deck was a zoo, but we scarfed down some food and spent some time exploring the ship.

We went to the “mustard station”, as my 6yo called it. After explaining to him why there were no hot dogs there and finishing the drill, we went back to our rooms to unpack. We went out onto the forward deck above the bridge for the sail-away. There are two forward facing decks on this ship- one is accessible from the forward Lido deck. The other is accessible from the jogging track/mini golf area at the very top of the ship. Both of these areas are off the beaten path, so at the beginning of the cruise not too many people have discovered them yet, and they are a great spot for the sail-away. Even later in the cruise, these decks are not crowded, and were my favorite spot to quietly watch the ocean. I usually had the whole deck to myself while everyone else was clamoring over deck chairs around the pool.

Impressions of Ship

There are a lot of complaints in these reviews about the ship seeming run down but I didn’t see it. Yes, of course it isn’t quite as nice as some of the bigger newer (more expensive) ships. And yes, the decor is very gaudy and looks kind of dated. The predominant decorative feature all over the ship were these Egyptian sphinx-like characters with boobs. I have no idea what that was all about… But in general things were in good repair and clean. We went on the Ecstasy many years ago when it was here on the west coast- which is basically the same ship- but the Imagination seemed cleaner and in better shape than what I remember from our Ecstasy cruise. The remodel a few years ago seems to have done some good.

Staterooms

We were in cabins M1 & M3. These were perfect for us, but maybe not for others.

First of all, these are porthole rooms, which I loved. They don’t give you much of a scenic view, but you can tell if it’s day or night and see if you’re in port or not, or moving, which is what really bothers me about interior rooms. If I want a view, I’ll go hang out at one of my favorite spots on deck.

These are at the very end of the hallway with no passing traffic. In general the rooms were quiet. EXCEPT- when pulling into port the front steering thrusters, the anchor, and other associated mechanical noise were VERY loud for maybe 20-30 minutes. So, basically this was our alarm clock. That was fine for us since we generally wanted to get up & get to the port before the rush. But if you want to sleep in, this is not the cabin for you. While docked in port there was some engine rumble that we could hear & feel, but not bad. It was very quiet while sailing.

In our particular case, we were less worried about being insulated from outside noise, and more worried about protecting other guests from our noisy kids. With the kids in M1, they were insulated on all sides between my wife & I (in M3) and the mechanical area of the ship. There are no staterooms below this room, so they could stomp all they wanted. So this was a perfect setup for us.

The ship’s noise while pulling into port was actually kind of cool for the kids since they would hop up and look out the portholes to watch all of the docking activity. Really helps remind you that you’re on a ship and not in a hotel, which is a good thing in my book.

Catalina

We woke up early (see my comments about noise in stateroom), had breakfast, and got to shore before the big rush. The ship does not dock in Catalina- you have to take a tender from the ship to shore. There are VERY long lines to wait for the tender throughout the day, but if you time it right it’s not so bad. We went a little earlier than most, but after the initial rush for the first couple of tender runs. Maybe around 9am we just walked right on the boat. Later in the day, the lines spiraled up the staircase from deck 3 to deck 10 so we’re glad we missed that. When the tender arrives, the line goes down quickly as the boat fills up all at once. But if you’re several flights of stairs up the line, you may have to wait for a few tenders to fill up before you get there.

The problem with going early to avoid the tender line is that the town really doesn’t wake up until about 11am, so a lot of the shops are closed. But we weren’t looking to spend a lot of time in town anyway, and didn’t do any excursions here, so it was fine for us. We enjoyed the downtown area for a bit, then headed back to enjoy the empty ship, since everyone else was headed ashore (well, not empty, but a whole lot less crowded, which was really nice). This was our general strategy for both ports this time.

Ensenada

I travel regularly to Ensenada on business. It’s a great town and it was fun visiting as a tourist for a change. The advantage of my frequent visits is that I knew where to go for lunch. Whenever I visit, there are a few favorite restaurants that the guys at the local office always take us to. One of them is right downtown so we could walk there. There is a great Birria restaurant right off the main tourist street (Lopez Mateos). Turn on Macheros St., in the direction away from the water. The Birria restaurant is about ½ block up the street on the right hand side, called “Birrieria La Guadalajara”. Since this is a little off the beaten path, we were the only cruise passengers there. The rest were locals and a few off-duty staff that we recognized from the ship. This is one of my favorite places & highly recommend it for some authentic Mexican cuisine and atmosphere. I usually get the lamb birria, but they also have beef, chicken, & goat.

Another tip for Ensenada- when you come out of the cruise terminal, there will be a line of shuttles and taxis offering to take you to the “main shopping area” of town. You don’t need to do that. The “main shopping area” is within easy walking distance. Just turn left when you get off the ship and walk down the sidewalk to the main road. If you hang a hard left right out of the turnstiles, you can bypass the shops and shuttles, and avoid some of the hard sales pitch you will get there. The main tourist shopping street is First Street, AKA Avenue Adolpho Lopez Mateos, which is one block inland, running parallel to the shore. So when you get to the main road that runs along the shore, just cross the street and go back one block away from the shoreline, then turn left. It will be fairly obvious when you get there. There are several bars, restaurants, and shops along this street. Prepare to be approached constantly by vendors trying to talk you into buying their stuff- most of the “stuff” is exactly the same at every street vendor. Don’t pay asking price for anything and don’t feel pressured or guilted into buying stuff.

There are also a few nice little cafes and restaurants along the street with free wifi if you need it. I resisted the urge and left my iPad on the ship.

While I had no interest in taking those shuttles at the cruise terminal, others might want to take try them. I think the shopping area they take you to is just at the far end of the shopping district, so some of the shops that get less foot traffic can get some customers. I get that… Also they will try to sell you on their own shore excursions. The cruise line will try to scare you away from the local excursions because they are not backed with their guarantee. But the local excursions are a whole lot cheaper than the ones you book on the ship. There are more opportunities for local excursions as you walk into town. If you are adventurous, you may consider it. I’m sure there may be some risk involved, but we’ve done it this way several times on other trips in this and other ports, and always had a good experience. To be safe, we’ve always used the more reputable looking ones that have direct access to the terminal with nicer looking busses, and not the grizzly looking shuttles and taxis that will hit you up in town.

Day at Sea

Not much to tell since we did a whole lot of nothing- which was exactly the plan, and the reason I go on vacation to begin with. Since nobody is leaving the ship for port, everything is naturally more crowded. We tried to get up a little earlier so we could claim deck chairs in the spot we wanted, and set up camp for most of the day. The kids did their thing, and we vegetated in the sun while soaking in the ocean view.

Food

This is extremely subjective, which is why the reviews are all over the map. I think a lot of people are disappointed because they put on all the trappings of a very fancy expensive restaurant in atmosphere & presentation. But if you are expecting the food to taste as good as your favorite high-end restaurant, it’s probably not going to impress you. If you go in without the inflated expectation, it can be quite good. I had some dishes that I really liked, and others that were not so great. In my book, it’s all good because we didn't have to do the cooking or cleaning, and if I didn't like something there was plenty of other food to try.

We did MTD, which is much discussed and debated on these forums. We definitely like the format since our schedule is different day to day and we don’t want to be rushed or restricted by a set dinner time. It’s all just a matter of timing so you don’t have a long wait to get in. This cruise wasn't long enough to really figure out the pattern, but I think these suggestions may help: There seemed to be an initial crowd right when the dining room opens. If you’re not in the first batch of people that fill the dining room, and show up right after the initial rush, you may have a long wait until people start finishing their dinners and leaving the dining room. There also seems to be a big rush right after the big shows. On port days the crowds seemed to be later, but on sea day the rush was early. In any case, they give you a buzzer & you can hang out on the promenade deck while you wait. Our longest wait was supposed to be 40 minutes, but our buzzer went off in 20. We walked right in with no wait for a couple of other meals.

Entertainment

The entertainment is just as subjective as the food. But I’m a semi-pro musician, and also have a career in the music industry, so FWIW I’ll add my opinion.

As with food, and the cruise in general, your experience will depend on your expectations. For this type of venue, I thought the entertainment was quite good. It’s not going to be like a $100+ per seat show in Vegas or Branson. But it’s a whole lot better than your average college or community music theater, and definitely better time spent than the TV you’d be watching if you were home.

For me, a live show, with all of its imperfections is always going to be more enjoyable than a polished recorded performance. People these days are having a harder time knowing the difference, and live shows are often too harshly reviewed as a result because people aren't accustomed to the imperfections of a live show.

Also, remember these guys are pulling off their dance moves while singing- while the floor is moving beneath them. The weather was good, and the ship was still rocking. I’m sure they have to do it in much worse conditions. I don’t know how they do it, but I was impressed.

The “Divas” show was good. These “diva” songs are by nature really hard to sing and perform. Truth is no matter how good the cast is, nobody is going to sound like Christina Aguilera, and the other powerhouse voices they were covering, so I’m quite impressed that this company had the guts to tackle such an ambitious show. With that in mind, this cast really did a good job and pulled it off. We really enjoyed it. But we enjoyed the Classic Rock show the best. The classic rock seemed to be more in the zone for the performers, and they did a great job. I was a little bummed that there wasn’t a live pit band, but that is for bigger ships and more expensive cruises, I suppose.

Speaking of live bands, the house band “The Regulators” were awesome! These guys were outrageously good. They did different genre sets throughout the cruise. One night was all 80’s, they did a classic rock set on another night, and a 70s funk set. They totally nailed each style, which really speaks to their versatility and musicianship. They also did a live-band karaoke one night. My only complaint is that the venue was lacking. They were basically playing in the hallway of the Promenade deck. I would have much rather seen them perform in one of the lounges that is more show-friendly. I definitely recommend blocking off time in your schedule to enjoy the live band.

A few other solo performers on the ship were also very good. I found the piano bar guy to be kind of annoying, but that’s just not my scene, so it had to do more with the format and not the talent of the performer.

Disembarkation

Thursday morning we were in no hurry, since we didn't have a plane to catch. We hung out on the outside patio behind the dining area on the lido deck (which was surprisingly not crowded at all like the rest of the ship). We took a couple of hours to decompress and snack on breakfast and final ice cream cone runs for the kids. With internet and phone access again we used the time to start digging out of email inboxes, caught up on Facebook, etc. We were in one of the last zones to disembark, but next time I may just wait till the end of the line anyway just to have this extra unwind/transition time in a peaceful place on the ship.

A few other random notes

Camp Carnival:

We were very happy with Camp Carnival and had no problems at all. The kids favorite activities were making a volcano, making T-shirts, and of course video game time. I don’t have a lot to write about here since I wasn't there. But the kids always came out happier than when they went in. Meals at Camp Carnival were a lifesaver for us since they had no interest in joining us in the dining room, and the couple of times we dragged them along for dinner, it was not pleasant.

Power Strips:

As is customary, we've always brought power strips for cruises in the past. But a funny thing happened this time- we didn't need it, even though we probably have more electronic devices than ever before. Historically, we always had several chargers with their own unique connectors. Well, it seems that in the past few years everyone has been standardizing to the same connectors. So, in each room we had one charger with dual USB jacks, with a microUSB connector and the other with an Apple connector. Between the two cables we were able to charge cell phones, iPads, nook, kindle, video games, camera, iPod & fitness tracker. We also found that we didn't use these devices nearly as much as we do at home (that’s the mark of a good vacation…) so we didn't have to do a lot of charging to begin with. Also, it’s amazing how long your phone lasts while on airplane mode! The only other time we needed the power outlet was when my wife did her hair, but it was easier for her to just unplug the charger for a few minutes rather than juggle a power strip.

Soda Sticker

This is a much discussed topic on these forums so I figure I’ll add my experience. I've got a serious hard core Diet Coke habit, so getting my money’s worth wasn't an issue. I usually filled up at a bar, where they usually (not always) swiped my card to verify my photo identity & poured a glass of soda from a can. I had my own tumbler, which I was thinking I’d use for soda on the cruise. Some of the bartenders were cool and filled it. But several bartenders refused to fill it, saying they were only allowed to serve by the glass, or so many ounces at a time. I was kind of annoyed that they would be stingy about it, but overall not so much of a big deal. Service for soda refills from servers was very slow and sometimes non-existent. I guess they are busy filling paid drink orders with tips, so my “free” soda is not a big priority. But I got good service if I just went to the bar and asked for a soda- especially if it wasn't one of the crowded bars like at the Lido pool. So overall, the soda card gets a thumbs up and was worth the money.

Parking

I should mention that if you are driving, now (Summer 2014) the parking rate is $17 per day. It is advertised as $15 per day, so the rate may have increased recently. However, it is covered parking, which was nice. We haven’t cruised out of Long Beach for several years, so last time I remember just a big outdoor lot. So I guess that’s somewhat of an upgrade

Overall, a great experience for the money and a great little getaway. Hope this is helpful! Happy Cruising! Less


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Cabin review: Carnival Imagination M1

We were in cabins M1 & M3 on the Imagination. These were perfect for us, but maybe not for others.First of all, these are porthole rooms, which I loved. They don’t give you much of a scenic view, but you can tell if it’s day or night and see if you’re in port or not, or moving, which is what really bothers me about interior rooms. If I want a view, I’ll go hang out at one of my favorite spots on deck.These are at the very end of the hallway with no passing traffic. In general the rooms were quiet. EXCEPT- when pulling into port the front steering thrusters, the anchor, and other associated mechanical noise were VERY loud for maybe 20-30 minutes. So, basically this was our alarm clock. That was fine for us since we generally wanted to get up & get to the port before the rush. But if you want to sleep in, this is not the cabin for you. While docked in port there was some engine rumble that we could hear & feel, but not bad. It was very quiet while sailing.In our particular case, we were less worried about being insulated from outside noise, and more worried about protecting other guests from our noisy kids. With the kids in M1, they were insulated on all sides between my wife & I (in M3) and the mechanical area of the ship. There are no staterooms below this room, so they could stomp all they wanted. So this was a perfect setup for us.The ship’s noise while pulling into port was actually kind of cool for the kids since they would hop up and look out the portholes to watch all of the docking activity. Really helps remind you that you’re on a ship and not in a hotel, which is a good thing in my book.

Port and Shore Excursions


We woke up early (see my comments about noise in stateroom), had breakfast, and got to shore before the big rush. The ship does not dock in Catalina- you have to take a tender from the ship to shore. There are VERY long lines to wait for the tender throughout the day, but if you time it right it’s not so bad. We went a little earlier than most, but after the initial rush for the first couple of tender runs. Maybe around 9am we just walked right on the boat. Later in the day, the lines spiraled up the staircase from deck 3 to deck 10 so we’re glad we missed that. When the tender arrives, the line goes down quickly as the boat fills up all at once. But if you’re several flights of stairs up the line, you may have to wait for a few tenders to fill up before you get there.

The problem with going early to avoid the tender line is that the town really doesn’t wake up until about 11am, so a lot of the shops are closed. But we weren’t looking to spend a lot of time in town anyway, and didn’t do any excursions here, so it was fine for us. We enjoyed the downtown area for a bit, then headed back to enjoy the empty ship, since everyone else was headed ashore (well, not empty, but a whole lot less crowded, which was really nice). This was our general strategy for both ports this time.


I travel regularly to Ensenada on business. It’s a great town and it was fun visiting as a tourist for a change. The advantage of my frequent visits is that I knew where to go for lunch. Whenever I visit, there are a few favorite restaurants that the guys at the local office always take us to. One of them is right downtown so we could walk there. There is a great Birria restaurant right off the main tourist street (Lopez Mateos). Turn on Macheros St., in the direction away from the water. The Birria restaurant is about ½ block up the street on the right hand side, called “Birrieria La Guadalajara”. Since this is a little off the beaten path, we were the only cruise passengers there. The rest were locals and a few off-duty staff that we recognized from the ship. This is one of my favorite places & highly recommend it for some authentic Mexican cuisine and atmosphere. I usually get the lamb birria, but they also have beef, chicken, & goat.

Another tip for Ensenada- when you come out of the cruise terminal, there will be a line of shuttles and taxis offering to take you to the “main shopping area” of town. You don’t need to do that. The “main shopping area” is within easy walking distance. Just turn left when you get off the ship and walk down the sidewalk to the main road. If you hang a hard left right out of the turnstiles, you can bypass the shops and shuttles, and avoid some of the hard sales pitch you will get there. The main tourist shopping street is First Street, AKA Avenue Adolpho Lopez Mateos, which is one block inland, running parallel to the shore. So when you get to the main road that runs along the shore, just cross the street and go back one block away from the shoreline, then turn left. It will be fairly obvious when you get there. There are several bars, restaurants, and shops along this street. Prepare to be approached constantly by vendors trying to talk you into buying their stuff- most of the “stuff” is exactly the same at every street vendor. Don’t pay asking price for anything and don’t feel pressured or guilted into buying stuff.

There are also a few nice little cafes and restaurants along the street with free WiFi if you need it. I resisted the urge and left my iPad on the ship.

While I had no interest in taking those shuttles at the cruise terminal, others might want to take try them. I think the shopping area they take you to is just at the far end of the shopping district, so some of the shops that get less foot traffic can get some customers. I get that… Also they will try to sell you on their own shore excursions. The cruise line will try to scare you away from the local excursions because they are not backed with their guarantee. But the local excursions are a whole lot cheaper than the ones you book on the ship. There are more opportunities for local excursions as you walk into town. If you are adventurous, you may consider it. I’m sure there may be some risk involved, but we've done it this way several times on other trips in this and other ports, and always had a good experience. To be safe, we've always used the more reputable looking ones that have direct access to the terminal with nicer looking buses, and not the grizzly looking shuttles and taxis that will hit you up in town.

Read 244 Ensenada Reviews

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