I have been doing cruise reviews on Cruise Critic for a few years. This was my 8th Carnival Cruise and I have also cruised NCL one time. Although I enjoy Carnival, I do critique what I see and my overall experience in hopes the cruise line and future passengers may benefit. I tend to cover multiple captions and I hope that my experience is helpful to you.
I took this same cruise in Sept 09 and have a review posted if you want to compare. After such a great experience last year I really wanted to take this cruise again. I did enjoy the shorter 4 day, but with some reservations this time around. This time I was traveling with 7 other people so I was expecting a different cruise experience. We chose this trip as a quick get-a-way and the price was too good to pass up. The IMAGINATION is really a nice ship and very easy to navigate. This could be because it is a smaller ship I think there may have been some additions to the signage on the ship, or perhaps I just noticed them more this time around, not sure.
ITINERARY: Miami-Key West-Cozumel-day at sea-Miami. MIA airport is a short fifteen minutes from the port. One formal night on day two and a great quick getaway cruise.
PORTS: I am going to jump ahead a bit here before I get to the onboard experience.
KEYWEST: This is a nice port and do not fret about the short time you are there. You can easily cover this port and get a taste of what it offers during the 6-7 hours you are there. My group chose to not do an excursion, walking around the shops and explore the immediate Mallory Square area. Duval St/ Front Street are no less than a tourist trap with plenty of shops for souvenirs and Key-Lime everything. The Aquarium is right in town center and if you walk up Duval Street a few blocks you will pass HARD ROCK, JIMMY BUFFET's Margaretville and some nicer shops to browse.
COZUMEL: If you cannot find something to do here then something is wrong. My group split up and did two separate excursions.
1- JEEP/SNORKEL excursion. Nothing but good feedback and seems to have been upgraded a little from what it was a few years back. Short drive to PUNTA SUR and told some of the best snorkeling my friends have seen in a few years. I was warned that they did have a long swim out to the reef. Sea Turtles, Coral, and plenty of fish. They got to visit a small Mayan ruin and a lighthouse. When asked to rate from 1-10 I was told 8+ (with a deduction from the long tiring swim)
2- AMAZING SECRET RIVER and CAVERN EXPLORE: I did some upfront research about this one and it seemed intriguing to me. Summary, WOW! A+++++++ May just be one of the BEST excursions I have ever done! I wanted to do something adventurous and different and this excursion did not disappoint AT ALL! We had only 9 people in our entire group which was nice and intimate. This RIO SECRETO was recently discovered a few years back by a local that was chasing an iguana in the jungle behind his home and it ran into this underground cave system. It is still being surveyed and had only been opened to the public for about 2 years. It surpassed all of my expectations I had even with some pre-research. Definitely worth the money and do not be discouraged by the long 7 hour duration. It is split up into parts (Ferry ride to the mainland- Playa Del Carmen) Short van ride to the cave system, 1 ½ cavern exploration, short meal break, 1 hr shopping time and van/ ferry tri back.
FERRY RIDE: First off, what a clean comfortable set up. I sat inside as I read that the locals refer to this as the "BARF-BOAT" for tourists that race to sit on the outside 2nd level LOL. I sat inside on the plush air conditioned seats. A little wavy, but not too bad. They offer water, drinks, and some snacks for sale on the ferry. Polite crew
VAN RIDE to the CAVES. Well once we turned off the paved roads and onto the dirt road you know the adventure was about to begin. It is about a 5 mile trip down a very bumpy raw unpaved road. My suggestion is to just enjoy as much as you can the best is yet to come. OH and most important..... USE THE BATHROOM on the ferry before getting into the van because the bumpy ride may not be for those with week bladders LOL.
CAVERNS/ STAFF and FOOD: We were all greeted by our guide AIDA and each provided with lockers and locks to keep our personals. AIDA was very informative and a great guide keeping everyone together and not missing out on anything from the first person in line to the last the entire time. This is a PHYSICAL TOUR so you do need to be able to bend, crouch, walk, swim/wade, and should have no problems with darkness, water and they say claustrophobia. There is really no tight spaces so do not be too discouraged about this. Water is fresh-water, crystal clear and about 70 degrees. They offer a walking stick. I say take it and even suggested to the guide once in the caves that they just pass them out to everyone instead of offering. You are not allowed to take any cameras or anything into the system. You get a knee length wet suit, swimming vest, water shoes and hard hat with a small light. DEFINITELY check and make sure your light works and is not dying before you start the hike. The sights are amazing inside the cavern and the photographer that tags along takes great photos. They are offered to purchase at the end. I took the entire CD of approx 30 personal photos and an additional 50 added cave photos for $59. WORTH every penny! Rating 10 A+++
CARNIVAL TRANSPORT: I chose this prior to the cruise. It was only $16 one way and worth the price if you do not want to the aggravation or a taxi to the pier. You can purchase a transport ticket at the airport and they will simply bill your sail and sign account. However, a taxi for 1-2 people is just as good. Larger groups should do the extra research and reserve a shuttle, it would save some cash.
EMBARKATION: I arrived about 10:00 and waiting for the rest of my group. We all entered the terminal about 11and went extremely quick. Carnival has added a new check in process that I did not see last year that made everything streamline. They have kiosk terminals like an airport and with only a few entries and a scan of your passport you receive a ticket and go right up to the desk to receive your sail and sign card. I was VERY impressed with this. I hope they implement them in the NY and other terminals.
ROOM STEWARD: HERALD greeted us at our door minutes of our arrival. He was extremely courteous and always took the time to come over and chat each morning if only to just say good morning, Beyond our morning greet, he never disturbed us at any point during the day and THAT, IMHO is what makes a good room steward; one that knows your name and schedule and can work around it without disturbing your vacation. I increased his gratuity directly to him and his assistant substantially. They really eliminated ANY worries regarding the cleanliness and status of our stateroom. They are an asset to the Carnival crew.
CABIN: OV R192 mid ship.... The setup and positioning of the beds this cruise really made the room seem larger. One bed was under the pull down and the other bed along the far wall under the window. Shift your beds like this it just seemed to create a lot of space. NO FRIDGE, but I knew that. This is your typical stateroom; 2 beds, pull down bunk and located in a perfect part of the ship. SAFE, 32" flat screen TV, room light switches at the bed, water and soda to purchase in the room. Two robes hanging in the closet. Conveniently located made moving around the ship simple. COMPLIMENTARY BATHROOM BASKET included his/her Razor, toothpaste, Pantene-RED color enhancer, some upset stomach packets (like TUMS), bar soap and I think make-up removing wipes? Shower: Shampoo & Liquid Soap (I brought shampoo w/conditioner, a travel Lysol spray)
FELLOW PASSENGERS: This is a topic I usually try to cover on my cruises because although Carnival technically has no control on who books a cruise, I feel it reflects the "type" of passenger that chooses certain itineraries as well as what the age-range may be helping others to choose vacations. The crew went out of their way to make certain that everyone was as happy as they could be. Everyone I met had a smile on their face and I personally did not hear anything bad or complaints. I know this was a smaller ship, but I did find it odd that the ship just did not feel crowded at any time. I was traveling with a group of 8 and we never had trouble finding seats at buffets or even on deck to sit together. Lucky? Perhaps, but it was unusual how "open" everything was, especially with a FULL sailing. Maybe this was simply a good time of year to sale since the "child attendance" was lower. I do have one complaint to my fellow passengers..... PLEASE do not put your children in the hot tubs with their diapers on! That to me is just unsanitary and I don't think a child that young should even be in a hot tub. Thank you.
FOOD/DINING: My group chose "LATE DINING" on this cruise. It is as easy option when you have a group so there is no rushing back onto the ship on port days, and we all know when/where to meet if separated. Once again I have nothing bad to say about the food on the ship. It was always hot, minimal waiting and delicious. The food & service in the Dining Room was excellent and could not have been any better. Our server NADINI was great and her assistants just as pleasant. The rest of the cruise we chose to eat at the buffets for breakfast and lunches. If I was in line more than 3 people deep at any given time it was a lot. This was when we really took notice of how un-crowded the ship was. Again, maybe it was just great timing for us. It was always kept clean and stocked.
STAFF: (I split this up into several captions) WORKING STAFF: Same as my last trip on this ship in 2009 I can honestly not find anything bad to say about the crew on this ship. Information, Excursion, dining, housekeeping, officers, shops, bar service, casino were all great! I don't know how they keep up the positive attitudes day after day, week after week, month after month! B-R-A-V-O to all of you! The ship was always clean and they take care of their ship. It is no wonder the IMAGINATION is ranked as one of the top working Carnival ships.
CRUISE DIRECTOR- TORY SECOY: I really didn't take to this cruise director. She did the usual cruise director routine, but if I had to sum up Tory in one word it would be LOUD. That's all I will say.
ENTERTAINMENT: I'll start with the good. The HIP-HOP crew Bboy Tony Fresh and his partner performing in the Atrium was a lot of fun. I was entertained last year and no difference this time. Another great performance option Carnival has added for different entertainment options. Dynasty Lounge shows. Last year on this same ship I saw probably one of the best casts I've seen on all my cruises. This time.... Not so much. Maybe it was a new cast, or I am just getting bored with the seeing the same version of "SHOUT" and the welcome aboard shows.
Same negative comment from last year: Dynasty lounge 2ND level is not as steep as other ships I've been on so some seats are limited visibility. For this ship I think lower level is better seating unless you arrive early and get a booth UP front on 2ND level. If Carnival really wants to make a major improvement to this ship I would tear out the entire 2nd floor of the Dynasty lounge and reformat the seating into stadium seating. The booths just do not work if you actually want to watch the performances.
I did not use the SPA or CAMP CARNIVAL so have no comments to make here.
LIKES: ITINERARY, FOOD, SERVICE, CLEANLINESS of the ship, KIOSKS at Embarkation, HIP HOP dancers in atrium, ADULT SERENITY deck. Could use an update like other ships with hammocks and perhaps an adult pool? And never forget the "WCMC": warm chocolate melting cake. mmmm
DISLIKES: Dynasty Lounge-UPSTAIRS level BIG THUMBS DOWN! Not impressed with this particular cruise director, this show cast seemed a little inexperienced, Elimination of the COMMENT CARDS? As a cruise critic member I do take the time to fill these out with purpose, NO option to view your account or menus from your stateroom TV like other ships.
I would definitely do this cruise again.