So what can an investment of over $30 million do for ship that's nearly 13 years old? Cruise Critic took some time away from Seatrade, the annual cruise industry convention, to tour the 70,367-ton, 2,052-passenger Carnival Imagination. That ship is the second recipient of Carnival's $250 million Carnival's Evolutions of Fun program, through which all eight of the line's middle-aged Fantasy-class vessels will be completely upgraded by the end of 2009.
For a reasonably old ship, Imagination now looks quite new. The updates are dramatic -- including new carpets and furnishings throughout, a makeover of the ships' 12,000-square-ft. spa facility, the addition of custom-designed clubs for 12- to 14-year-olds under the Camp Carnival children's program, interconnecting staterooms for families, and new sound and lighting systems (which were bordering on being obsolete) in the ships' main show lounges. Nothing is frayed, nothing faded. Cabins were all redone, with new bedding and flat-screen TV's (honestly, we doubt the lines have the option of buying anything but flat-screens at this point). Even the public bathrooms, which our various tour guides mentioned at least three times (two times too many), were impressive, as far as bathrooms are concerned, with gleaming new tiling and fixtures.
But for anyone who's been onboard Imagination or Inspiration (the first to get the enhancements), the most eye-catching additions by far are found on the open deck areas. There's Serenity, a quiet adults-only area with blue padded loungers and plenty of shade. And then there's the Carnival WaterWorks, which includes a four-story, 300-ft.-long, twisting tubular waterslide; an 82-ft. triple-lane waterslide (good for racing); and a spray park, complete with various sculptures spewing water. One interesting note: Earlier designs for the twisting slide were actually almost as tall as the funnel. Concerns about wind and vertigo quickly quelled such plans, but standing at the top, I wish they would have gone bigger.
They've also added a mini-golf course and driving range net, both staples on all newer Carnival ships.
Another great addition is an outdoor stir-fry venue (very popular, if the long line of salivaters was any indication) next to a spot offering rotisserie chicken.
Back to the layout, though: The odd thing is that Imagination debuted in 1995 (Fantasy, the first in class, launched in 1990), when having less than a single deck of balconied cabins was the norm for Carnival. There's no two-floor dining room with a dramatic staircase. The ceilings in general feel lower. We visited the ship's "suites," mid-ship balcony cabins that would at best earn the distinction of mini-suite on a more recent new-build. Public rooms in general are more cramped. Those things aside, the ship is in great shape; and while a certain absence of features -- most notably balconies -- might become irksome on longer sailings, Imagination is perfectly well-suited for its four- and five-night Caribbean itineraries.
Fantasy will get the upgrades later this year, with the remaining five ships in 2009.
--by Dan Askin, Assistant Editor
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