I recently returned from my 12/05/11 sailing on the IMAGINATION. This was my PLATINUM Carnival Cruise and I have also cruised NCL and RCL. 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 in depth and I hope that my experience is helpful to you.
I took this same cruise two prior sailings, once in 2009 another in 2010. I recently sailed on the DREAM in September and LOVED it. The IMAGINATION is still among one of my favorite Carnival ships. I simply enjoy the itinerary, ports and layout of the ship all together. This is why I decided to sail solo for my birthday on this specific ship. The IMAGINATION is really a nice ship and very easy to navigate, even for the first time cruiser.
ITINERARY: Miami-Key West-Cozumel-day at sea-Miami. MIA airport is a short fifteen minutes from the port. There is one formal night on day three, making this a perfect getaway trip.
CARNIVAL TRANSPORT: I was planning an early arrival into MIA so did not purchase the Carnival transport as I was not sure if I wanted to do something before embarkation. I decided to just head to the port directly. I proceeded to the luggage claim and quickly found the Carnival agent to purchase my transport ticket. They make it so easy. You simply show your boarding pass and ID and they can add the transport to your sail and sign account on the ship. It was only $16 one way and worth the price if you do not want to the aggravation or a taxi to the pier. Charter bus and a short drive and you are at the pier. 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 10:15-10:30. Since this was my PLATINUM sailing I was directed to the VIP lounge for check-in. I've been to this port a few times and never even knew there was such a room. I was literally walking onto the ship after about a 5 minute stop at the desk. Membership definitely has its privileges here! I do remember from my last trip to this port in 2010 they have kiosk terminals for regular check-in like an airport after you go through security. There are only a few entries and a scan of your passport to receive a ticket and go right up to the desk to receive your sail and sign card.
CABIN: E4 PORTHOLE forward.... This was my first time booking a porthole stateroom and I would book another in a heartbeat. For location purposes, I was just 2nd from the front of the ship located right under the name on the outside of the ship. The stateroom itself is same size and shape as a regular ocean view cabin except you are only charged for an inside price. NO FRIDGE, but I knew that. This is your typical stateroom; 2 beds, but no pull down bunk. 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 at the junction where the laundry room was located if you need it. I was not bothered by any traffic in and out at all. COMPLIMENTARY BATHROOM BASKET included his/her Razor, toothpaste, Pantene-RED color enhancer, some upset stomach packets (like TUMS), bar soap and tissues. Shower: Shampoo & Liquid Soap (I brought shampoo w/conditioner, a travel Lysol spray). The room itself appeared to be in NEW condition. Perhaps it was one during the latest dry dock? (One negative: if you need to know is that the crew deck quarters is also located at the front of this ship. So there was one night when there was a late night deck party and the music was a little loud. I say, the crew deserves a good time also so a few hours of base thumping I could handle for the service I received.
ROOM STEWARD: RENALTO greeted me at my door minutes after sail-a-way. He was extremely courteous and always took the time to say hello and ask how my day was. Beyond that he never disturbed me 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 only had to call him once for laundry bags (Platinum perk) and he was knocking at my door within seconds of the call. 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.
PORTS: Key West, Florida & Cozumel Mexico
KEYWEST: Since I did my usual at this port I will simply copy from my last review. 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. I chose to not do an excursion, as I normally do here, but this trip I walked around the harbor walk and it was very peaceful and interesting. 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. If you continue up Front street to the Harbor, there is a small Moped rental stand that I was told by locals is a good price. I was offered $35 for about 4 hours.
COZUMEL: If you cannot find something to do here then something is wrong.
EXCURSIONS: I chose to explore the MAYAN RUINS of TALUM. I've wanted to do something historical and "discovery-like" and it was worth it. Do not be discouraged by the long 7 hour duration. It is split up into parts (Ferry ride to the mainland- Playa Del Carmen). It is about 45min charter bus ride; with a stop at a souvenir shop and bathroom stop. This is a real store not a straw market. They have nice items and clean updated bathroom facilities.
FERRY RIDE: First off, if you are pronged motion sickness, request to sit inside on the lower level. They loaded us all on the upper deck which was very rocky. The locals refer it as the "BARF-BOAT" for tourists that race to sit on the outside 2nd level LOL. Inside are plush air-conditioned seats. We all sat there on the way back. They offer water, drinks, and some snacks for sale on the ferry. Polite crew
MAYAN RUINS of TALUM are located south of the Ferry. Our tour guide had much information to pass time along the ride to the ruins. This is a WALKING TOUR and there is a lot of area you can explore. At first the tour guide will introduce you to some of the area, and then you will have approx. 2 hours to explore on your own. Bring a camera there are some nice photo opportunities. You are not able to climb the main temple as it has been closed to tourists to preserve it. You are able to swim on the beach just below the temple, but it is at your own risk and a very small beach area for your items. I did not notice any lockers or chairs, simply a beach. When you return back to the bus area you can grab some food for an additional cost, and shop in the small straw market area. It you get a chance try to catch the times for the dancers swinging on the "MAY-POLE" I missed them and wish I had a chance to see it. Load the bus and it's a 45 minute return ride to the ferry and back to the ship. Our return time was approx 8pm.
FELLOW SHIP PASSENGERS: This is a topic I usually try to cover in my reviews because although Carnival technically has no control on who books a cruise, it reflects the "type" of passenger that chooses certain itineraries as well as what the age-range to help others choose vacations times. I thought it was a nice quiet relaxing vacation since it was just after Thanksgiving and usually not so many children as they are back to school. Everyone I met had a smile on their face and I personally did not hear anything bad or complaints. It was a full sailing, but did not feel overly crowded at any time.
FOOD/DINING: Since I was solo, I had "YOUR TIME DINING" on this cruise. It is as easy option when you are alone or a small group of 3-4. Only downside I see is that you have a different waiter each night, and I prefer the same servers. 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 servers each night were great and her assistants just as pleasant. The rest of the cruise I 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. The 24 hr pizza this cruise was not as good as past sailing so not sure if it has changed?
GALLEY TOUR: As a platinum guest I was able to attend the behind the scenes Galley Tour. I took this tour when on the DREAM in September as well. It is an interesting tour to get an idea of how the food services work on the ship. It also can give you an appreciation for how the staff handles orders and deliveries.
STAFF: (I split this up into several captions) WORKING STAFF: Same as my last trips on this ship in 2009 & 2010. 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 carnival ships. It is very noticeable how the Carnival crews are always cleaning, wiping and maintaining their ships.
CRUISE DIRECTOR- "SKIPPY" I liked this cruise director. Much better than the last one on this same ship. He had just enough humor and was not "Over the top" like some are. He was fun and informative, and also all around the ship unlike some that never seem to leave the main lounge. I'm glad to see that JORGE SOLANO is being assigned to this ship for 2012 when SKIPPY is not working. JORGE is a great CD and as a founder of the comedy club also funny as well. The assistant cruise director, SAMMIE JEWER was also fun and I had some great conversations with her. Sammie and Skip are a good team for this ship.
ENTERTAINMENT: Carnival is discovering that the Main Atrium is valuable space for more entertaining than just the piano bar. The HIP-HOP crews "FUNFORCE" performs in the atrium after show times and always are fun to watch. Since this was a DECEMBER sailing they also made it snow 3 times a day with Christmas carols in the background. It was a nice unexpected touch out in the middle of the Caribbean. The Dynasty Lounge shows perhaps are becoming a little old for me. It's exciting to sit through for the first time cruiser, but after a few sailings it becomes a bit repetitious. I still think they are handled well for what they are worth, but Now that other lines are investing money into bringing Broadway known titles like Blue Man group and Chicago, I think this is an area Carnival can look into updating.
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.
DEBARKATION: As a platinum member I took advantage of the VIP debarkation and was off the ship by 9am. I set my luggage out the night before and had no trouble locating it at the terminal. Carnival transport back to the "MIA" airport was as pleasant as it could have been.
LIKES: PRICE, ITINERARY, FOOD, SERVICE, CLEANLINESS of the ship, HIP HOP, mini-golf on deck 10 forward? And never forget the "WCMC": warm chocolate melting cake. mmmm
DISLIKES: Dynasty Lounge-UPSTAIRS seating. Elimination of the COMMENT CARDS? NO option to view your account or menus from your stateroom TV like other ships, but they now offer a kiosk-like machine by guest services to check on your accounts.
In the end, this is my third sailing on the Imagination in 3 years, and I would definitely do this cruise again and recommend it to others. It is a nice FIRST TIME cruise itinerary and a good taste of the Carnival experience. If you have any questions feel free to contact me via cruise critic under handle: wiskt