I must admit from the beginning, this was my first Carnival cruise, although I have been on almost 20 cruises, and even worked for Carnival once in the early 1990s. This was a cruise with 7 other friends who also live in the Miami area...a ... Read More
I must admit from the beginning, this was my first Carnival cruise, although I have been on almost 20 cruises, and even worked for Carnival once in the early 1990s. This was a cruise with 7 other friends who also live in the Miami area...a lively, fun-loving group...so a Carnival cruise seemed like a natural choice. Also, the price was exceedingly modest.
In today's cruising world, it seems like more cruise lines (and cruise ships) are becoming more and more like each other...I've been on three cruises the past three months, and was struck by how the onboard atmosphere of a Carnival cruise is so markedly different...in some good and some bad ways.
Friends dropped us at the Port of Miami about 2 p.m., perfect timing for a stress-free embarkation. The process was without incident and we were onboard in less than 15 minutes...the only annoyance and delay being the inevitable photographers trying to take your pictures as you board.
The Grand Atrium is awash in Carnival's signature glitz, 90's style. Although flooded with natural daylight through a huge skylight, at night it became alive with crowds of spectators and what seemed like miles of bluish purple neon. The most noticeable aspect of the ship's 1995 vintage was the huge Lucite-encased sculpture...it looked rather dated and should probably be removed.
The Imagination in general is a floating theme park, with loud, colorful decor. At first I dismissed the decor but the more I looked, the more clever I realized it really was. Although some elements of the decor screamed 1990s! in general it was cheerful and put everyone in a holiday mood. One area where Carnival truly shines is in the generous size of their staterooms. I've been on Majesty of the Seas and Sun Princess this year, and the Carnival stateroom was by far the most generous, even bigger than the balcony cabin I had on Sun Princess. Category 5A, located at the very front of Upper Deck, has 2 portholes versus the normal picture window in most other outside cabins. The cabin features the new Carnival Comfort bed which truly lived up to its name. The bathroom was also very generous in size, with a large tiled shower. My only gripes in the bath were the tacky "trial size" basket of amenities, which were never replenished. I did, however, like the liquid soap and shampoo dispenser in the shower. Everything in the cabin was in very good shape, considering the grueling schedule of 4- and 5- day cruises the Imagination makes year-round.
All of Carnival's eight Fantasy-class SuperLiners are undergoing renovations beginning this fall to bring them more inline with the current trends in cruising. Probably the major fault these 8 ships have is their lack of many balcony cabins, which seem to be an expected amenity nowadays. They are available in the Category 11 Demi-Suites and the Category 12 suites. I must say that, while pleasant and energetic, the decor was looking a little dated. The ship was exceptionally clean, with the possible exception of the pool deck, which got lots of use during our cruise. What surprised me the most about the Imagination, was the excellent service throughout the ship...almost everyone I encountered smiled and made eye contact. The deck stewards were exceptional...knowing the name of every member of our group within a day or two, even those who were not "regulars". Very impressive.
Although the Imagination does not have the myriad dining options of some ships, the traditional fixed dining (we ate at 8:30) in the Pride Dining Room was a nice ritual. I was floored by the quality of the food, and the service, honestly! I've been on some high-end ships that certainly didn't have the quality of service and food I experienced on the Imagination. Our dining room steward(ess), Tatiana, ranks among the best I've ever encountered. She was assisted by Frank, they made an exceptional team. Everything was delivered with a smile to our group, food arrived quickly and hot, always exactly as requested. Wow. The Sun Princess, which I went on 4 weeks after the Imagination, couldn't hold a candle to the service and food on Carnival.
One nice touch was the Pizzeria, located in the Horizon Bar and Grill. It was open exceedingly late, and had really excellent pizza. The Horizon Bar and Grill also had good food for a buffet, once again superior to Sun Princess. The decor left a bit to be desired, though.
If I had one physical complaint about the Imagination, it would be the incessant music and entertainment on deck, and the generally dirty condition of the Lido Deck and pool area. I think this is more related to the clientele, than the staff however.
Speaking of clientele, that is the primary difference I found with Carnival. Obviously many first-time cruisers having a great time! They were an exceptionally raucous group of passengers, made even louder by the loudness of the Imagination, I believe! There was also lots of people roaming the ship inappropriately dressed. And this isn't meant as snobbery, I mean guys wearing no shirts in all the public rooms except the dining room, swimsuits as all-day attire indoors, that kind of thing. There was also a higher energy level than many cruises I've been on, lots and LOTS more drinking (not that I didn't LOL) and LOTS of emphasis on onboard revenue..."inch of gold" sales, the dreaded art auctions, photographers everywhere, "Fun Ship" drink specials hawked all day, etc. It's a finely-tuned product...I was alternately fascinated and horrified by it. Carnival, in my opinion, delivers exactly what they promise, and most Carnival passengers know exactly what to expect, especially on their first cruise.
I'll disappoint you on the ports of call, though: I didn't even bother to get off the ship, sorry!
In closing, I was MOST impressed by the SERVICE, PERSONNEL, and food. I enjoyed the Imagination cruise even more than I expected, although being with a group of friends definitely enhanced this. If you're looking for a short, high-energy cruise from south Florida, the Imagination may be just for you. Read Less