By Marcia Levin, Cruise Critic contributor
Carnival Imagination Overview
I've sailed on Carnival Imagination three of four times since its inaugural in 1995. The ship homeports in Miami, sailing a series of three- and four-night cruises to the Western Caribbean and the Bahamas. It was one of the original "Fun Ships" and now, after a costly 2008 refurbishment -- to the tune of over $40 million as part of the lines' $350 million Evolutions of Fun Fantasy-class initiative -- Carnival has added some thoroughly modern touches in a setting that has proven to be popular with passengers through the years.
I miss the gigantic sculpture that was once the centerpiece of the Atrium. It's been replaced by the Atrium Bar, but it is still the Promenade on Deck 9 that is the heart of the ship (though now less visually stimulating). Lining the Promenade are a disco, lounges, casino, coffee and sushi bars. Guests don't have to look far to recognize the va-va-voom of the original "Fun Ship" concept -- consider the gilt-painted mythical winged deities decorating every part of the ship depicting some form of happy creature (exactly what it is, no one can identify.) Today, instead of the neon and glitz of the ship's earlier persona, lots of happy red and blue LED lights are everywhere.
The 2008 refurbishment introduced the Carnival WaterWorks, with jets, slides -- one 300 feet long -- and sprinklers galore created for kids of all ages. Also new is the delightful Serenity Area for adults, a touch of quiet overlooking the sea with some of the best lounge chairs around. (The introductions of these "Evolutions of Fun" upgrades are scheduled for all Fantasy-class ships. Upgrades have so far been completed on Carnival Fantasy, Carnival Inspiration and Carnival Sensation.) The program ushers in a new era for Carnival, and carries a whopping $250 million price tag -- an onboard extreme makeover and makes its competitive with newer vessels offering these amenities. Also just introduced are plush new soft goods and redone bathrooms. Families will notice that the ship now has 50 connecting staterooms and an updated Camp Carnival where kids of all ages (from 2 to 17) appear to be having fun whether in the water park, on scavenger hunts or at teen discos.
Carnival Imagination remains a good ship for a great getaway, and with the makeover almost appears new (despite a decidedly dated design -- note paucity of balconies). Because of its itinerary of short cruises, the ship attracts many first-timers as well as veteran cruisers who enjoy the casual attitude and the comfort of the familiar.
Carnival Imagination Fellow Passengers
Carnival passengers skew all over the place. Expect to see honeymooners and young, young families, groups of singles, seniors, parties of three of more generations, and many first-timers. On my January cruise many passengers represented the Western U.S.
Carnival Imagination Dress Code
Tuxedos are a rare find on formal nights with most men opting for dark suits. Casual nights seem "dressier" than on past Carnival cruises with nice, collared shirts for men and sweaters/silk tops with slacks for women. On a five-day cruise expect one formal night.
Carnival Imagination Gratuity
Carnival recommends $11.50 per person, per day. The guidelines allocate $5.80 to dining room services, $3.70 to cabin services and $2 per day for alternative services, which include kitchen, entertainment, guest services and other hotel staff members. The amount is automatically added to your shipboard account, but can be adjusted in either direction at the guest services desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills. Tipping for room service at delivery is expected (and appreciated) by the service staff.
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