This was a hastily scheduled cruise, booked about one week in advance. My wife and I were previously booked on a 7 day cruise on Carnival Legend in November, but it had to be cancelled due to my wife's employment changes. So ... Read More
This was a hastily scheduled cruise, booked about one week in advance. My wife and I were previously booked on a 7 day cruise on Carnival Legend in November, but it had to be cancelled due to my wife's employment changes. So to make it up to ourselves, we took two 3 day cruises before the start of her new job. One was on Monarch of the Seas on June 18, and the other on Carnival Imagination on July 2, 2010.
It has been a running joke between us that the Imagination is our "stalker" ship. This came about since she has been in port with us at least once on many cruises we have taken. So it seemed like a good time to give her a try and be able to say that we have "been on that one too".
My wife and I drove down to Fort Lauderdale the night before the cruise and stayed at the Mariott North hotel. My labor union has held conferences there in the past, so I was happy when Hotwire gave us a great rate for the night. For anyone looking for a hotel in a decent area, I recommend the Mariott North Lauderdale. It's a nice place right off I-95 with a big pool area, plus there are many restaurants near by. The drive to the pier the next day only took about 40 minutes.
As I have before, I will continue my praise for the VIP embarkation at the Port of Miami. We got to the terminal around 10-ish and were in the VIP Lounge in no time. As soon as they began boarding we got right on and were some of the first on the ship. It is such an easy and pleasant process; I just wish Miami was closer for us.
Having done so many of my cruises on other Fantasy Class ships, it felt like coming home when I stepped onto Imagination. The ship's interiors are still in good shape after her fifteen years in service. There were several places where the carpet had become tattered and needed replacing, but she was very clean and in mostly good repair.
Central on Empress Deck is the lobby of the ship, which is also the bottom floor of the expansive Grand Atrium. A lobby bar, guest relations (the Purser's desk), the shore excursions desk and the internet cafe can all be found there.
One floor up on Atlantic Deck one finds both of the main dining rooms (Pride forward, and Spirit aft), a piano bar, library, shopping area, and the first floor of the main theater. I usually make it a point to visit the piano bar frequently on a cruise, but for some reason we never made it in there this time.
Moving up from Atlantic is the Imagination Promenade. This is the main entertainment area and is home to the casino, two dance clubs, a cigar bar, and the main theater's balcony. A smaller theater is located aft on this deck, which is used mostly for karaoke and comedy shows. At the very back of Promenade Deck is the Serenity area. This is an adult only sunning deck with its own hot tubs. The staff generally does a good job kicking out interloping children. The exception was at night, when the area was still open but there was no attendant to be found. Once the crewman was gone, I saw several teens in the hot tubs.
Above Promenade is the Lido Deck. It is home to the ship's only pool. It is easy to tell that it is the lone pool, as it gets so crowded you can scarcely see that there is water in it. I enjoy swimming, but not with a school bus load of kids. One medium sized pool is simply not enough for 2000+ people to share. The two hot tubs that flank the pool were equally packed; I counted 10 children in one on the last sea day. With that many bodies on such a hot day sitting in hot water for hours on end, it becomes less a hot tub and more a human soup cauldron.
When Carnival had the Evolutions of Fun upgrades done to the Fantasy Class ships it eliminated the aft pool in favor of the Waterworks area. In theory this was a good idea. Have a big pool in the middle for adults, a water park in back for the kiddies. In practice, it seems much less logical. Kids still want to swim. So now the Waterworks is full up, as is the only pool. This leaves no pool for the adults to enjoy. It would have made much more sense to leave the aft pool in place and wrap the water park around it; thus containing the children, more or less, to one area.
Also on Lido deck is the Horizon Grill buffet area. As usual the food was adequate and plentiful. One of my favorite features on the Fantasy Class ships is the exterior lanai area on the back and to the sides of the buffet. It offers panoramic views while enjoying a meal. On the newer ships, the aft Lido area is enclosed due to the sliding dome.
Above the buffet on Veranda Deck is the aforementioned Carnival Waterworks. It has one large "Twister" slide and two smaller racing slides. These slides are accessed by climbing up one deck to the former (topless!) wrap-around funnel deck. At the front of that deck is the ship's spa and gym. The spa also has steam and sauna rooms, plus an aerobics room. I am a little resentful of the aerobics room, since the space it occupies used to house two hot tubs. They were a favorite locale of mine, since very few people knew about them. They were almost always empty, which allowed for uninterrupted relaxation.
At the very top of the ship is the mini golf course. I did not have occasion to use it this cruise, but it looked like it was still in good shape.
Our stateroom was M269 located on main deck aft. It was an ocean view room that looks out of the ships' stern. The view of the wake was nice, but the quiet location was better still.
Apparently the cabin area hallways and stairwells are the new cool hangout for kids and teens. They could be found there into the wee hours of the morning. We were constantly bobbing and weaving through them to get back and forth from our room. Thankfully, our room was off the rear hallway so it was pleasantly deserted most times. I can't even fathom how horrid it would be in a room nearer to the elevator lobbies. That seemed to be where the greatest concentrations were.
Our room was always kept clean by our excellent steward. We did experience moderate noise from the stern thrusters and rope winches, but it wasn't bad enough to be bothersome.
We were assigned to a two seat table in the Spirit Dining Room for the 8:15 seating. Our servers worked very hard and the food was good overall. The fish on the first night was overcooked, and the steak was nearly raw. But the food on the second and third nights was done extremely well. In fact, the onion soup and crab cake appetizers on the last night were the best I have yet had on a Carnival ship.
In regards to the serving team, they seemed very overworked. Usually one or both of them will stop by and chat for a little while each night. On this cruise it was like watching the Roadrunner serve us. Usually when I order two appetizers or entrees they bring them out one by one. But in this case the waiter simply set them down side by side, and then left the used plates there until the next course came. There have been many rumors about Carnival downsizing their wait staff, this cruise seemed to validate them. The other passengers may have also been at fault. Many came strolling into the dining room 30 minutes late expecting to be seated. What really blew my mind is that they were seated! Initially I thought they were Anytime Dining people, but our waiter told us the forward dining room was set aside for that.
Dining on the lido was typically decent, but not outstanding. My only complaint about the buffet area is that the crew really needs to police the exterior areas better for dirty dishes and tables. At times it was difficult to locate a clean table on the lanai areas.
We did not attend any of the shows, so I can't comment on their quality. I did go to the R-rated comedy show on the first night, but didn't stay long. The guy who performed on the last night was better, and we stayed for the whole show.
My wife is a part time travel agent, so she was able to get us into Sandals Royal Bahamian for the day. After a short bus trip to the resort we were poolside in a few minutes. The resort is one of their older and smaller ones, but it was very nice and super clean. Their pools were huge, and the swim-up bars are always nice. I highly recommend it if you are looking for a land vacation and don't have kids (it's a couples only retreat).
Behind the Fun!
On the last day we took the Behind the Fun tour of the ship. The cost was $55 per person, and started in the library at 9:15. Carnival laid out a nice selection of pastries and hot beverages in the library for us to enjoy before the tour. There were only 6 of us that showed up, so it was a small group since the maximum is 16.
Our first stop was the galley. After many trips through galleys this was not new ground. What was interesting was that the crew was still working, finishing up the breakfast service for the Spirit Dining Room. On most galley tours it is not active and is staged for the guests. On this trip we got to see a little of the chaos. At the end of the galley tour we were shown how the chocolate covered strawberries are made, and each given one to try!
Next was a trip downstairs to deck 2 and a brief glimpse into the engine room. We could not go see the engines due to the extreme heat and dangerous machinery. But a crewman was coming out, so our guide held the door open so we could peek in. The heat was outrageous; it had to be 115+ degrees. The poor guys coming out were drenched in sweat, so keep them in mind when enjoying a cruise. After that we headed to the laundry area and saw the massive washers, dryers, and folding machines.
On deck 3, we visited the food storage areas and beverage coolers. We also spent a good deal of time in the engine control room and were given a presentation by the ship's Chief Engineer. Moving forward we visited the waste incinerator, crew galley, crew dining rooms and the crew training area. The Imagination is one of Carnival's "college ships", so there was a group of new bartenders going through class there. We then visited the infirmary. After that we moved up to Lido Deck for the highlight of the tour, a visit to the bridge!
On the bridge we were shown the many control areas that the officers use. We also had a presentation from the Captain, and a Q&A session with him. A photographer was brought in, and we got to have a private photo with him. The ship's wheelhouse is a very interesting place; I was so excited to finally be in one. A little extra perk was when the ship's Quartermaster made a course change, taking the ship off auto pilot and actually steering it. Our guide told us that it was one of the few times that one of her groups has gotten to see a manual course correction.
We then went down to Atlantic Deck to see the backstage areas of the main theater. We were shown the cast's dressing rooms and the stage control area. After seeing the backstage area on Freedom of the Seas, I was amazed at how much smaller it was on Imagination. It is truly amazing that the cast and sets can change so quickly with so little space to work in.
We then walked down to Empress Deck and were allowed access the ship's forecastle, seeing the spare anchor, the ships bell, the crew's tiny swimming pool, and their smoking area. We also got to see the crew lounge. There was a list of crew parties that were upcoming, one of which was a "boxer shorts and underwear" party. From the looks of it, they have more fun than the passengers sometimes!
That wrapped up the tour, and we ended at the piano bar around noon. We got to keep our Behind the Fun lanyards, and also got baseball caps. Later that day they delivered our pictures along with a plate of chocolate covered strawberries. For $55 the tour was a great bargain. Anyone interested in the behind the scenes of a cruise ship should definitely consider it!
We awoke at around 8 am and had breakfast in the main dining room as usual. Normally we just wait for everyone else to get off and then leave when they do last call. But we had a long drive ahead, so I wanted to get to it. A crew member let us merge into the self-assist passenger's line since we missed the priority debarkation that they offer Platinum guests.
We were off the ship fairly quickly. The customs area was divided into halves, US citizens and non-US citizens. The non-US citizen side was completely jam packed. Surprisingly the US citizen side was almost empty! We walked through in about 10 seconds. Final Thoughts:
Due to the employment changes listed above, we had to break one of our cardinal rules of cruising: Never cruise during the summer season! This rule was completely validated by the hordes of kids and teens on this cruise. They were not so bad that it caused us stress, but the clientele on an "off season" cruise suits us much better. The service was great, and the ship was very nice overall. This was an enjoyable cruise, but I think that we will probably stick to ships leaving out of Tampa or Port Canaveral for short cruises in the future. Both of those ports are within a two hour drive from our house. The 4+ hour drive to Miami washes out the attractive lower fares, so a return to Imagination may not be likely if she stays in South Florida. Still, it was a fun time and I am happy we finally met our "stalker".
For those interested in seeing pictures, there are many included in my message board posting of this review. Here is the link to it:
http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1232183 Read Less