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 It's been replaced by the Atrium Bar, but it is still the Promenade on Deck 9 that is the heart of the ship (though now less visually stimulating).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.
In the some-things-stay-the-same department, Carnival Imagination still offers two dining rooms with two different seating times (6 and 8:15 p.m.); buffet meals on the Lido all day long; a singing and dancing wait staff; and great pizza -- whether covered in healthy veggies, anchovies or the more prosaic cheese -- that are made fresh.
Booths have been removed from Pride (mid-ships) and Spirit (aft), the full-service main dining rooms, making room for some intimate two-tops, but set tablemates remain for larger groups. Breakfast and lunch are open seating. New furniture and carpeting are attractive. The Georges Blanc signature menu items (identified with a specific logo) are almost universally good choices (Blanc parted ways with the line in 2008). I love the way the talapia is prepared and served with a herb butter sauce, as well as tomato, shallot and eggplant. The melted chocolate cake, served with vanilla ice cream, is absolutely sinful and is on the menu nightly.
The cruise line recently updated Spa Carnival Fare, gourmet-style health-conscious items. Vegetarian choices, fish, chicken breast and steak are always available. Sushi is available from 5:30 - 8:30 p.m. across from the El Dorado casino on Promenade Deck (Deck 9) and the Vittorio's Cafe, a coffee bar (further along the same deck) offers designer coffees and cold drinks with $2.50 - $3.50 price tags, plus a variety of cakes and desserts.
Lido dining, (on Carnival Imagination the area is dubbed the Horizon Bar & Grill at poolside and Seaview Bistro inside), is always a favorite. The made-to-order omelet station is a popular place in the morning, and hamburgers and some of the best fries at sea are almost de rigueur at lunchtime. New to the Grill is a rotisserie chicken that gets rave reviews. Those 24-hour pizzas are a big draw, as is the ice cream and frozen yogurt available around the clock. A new deli sandwich station in the Seaview Bistro offers freshly made salads, wraps and sandwiches with your choice of breads. A salad bar provides dieters some great choices and may feature chicken salad one day, calamari the next. My favorite outdoor spot for dining is on deck directly behind the pizza station where the changing sea and sky are the perfect dining companions.
Midnight buffets are not as popular as they once were, but the Grand Gala Buffet featuring food sculpture, ice carvings and a variety of night time snacks is scheduled one night in the Pride dining room, and a Mexican buffet takes place another night on the Lido Deck with the requisite nachos and tacos. A chocolate buffet appeals to all sweet teeth and a late-night Bistro menu(sandwiches, fries and the like) is also offered.
For an exclusive dining event for just 12 guests, book the Chef's Table through the ship's information desk. For $75, diners can attend a multicourse dinner, hosted by one Carnival's master chefs. The evening begins with a private cocktail reception and a tour of the galley, led by the chef, and concludes with a sumptuous dinner in a nontraditional dining venue, such as the galley or the library.
Complimentary room service is available all day.
The two-story Dynasty Lounge offers fairly good site lines, but there are some seats with a limited view. A new very expensive sound system has been installed and bar service is always available. Entry to the Dynasty Lounge on Deck 9, the Promenade Deck, takes guests past the photo gallery, and the Deck 8 entry is via Galleria shops. The glittery gold curtain on the stage, metallic tables and blue/purple/gold color scheme is a warm setting for the entertainment offered in the room throughout each cruise.
The Promenade Deck (9) is where everything happens. There's Dream Bar, a piano bar. Shangri La and Illusions Dance Club come to life when the sun goes down, and the Pinnacle Club and Xanadu Lounge (one side permits smoking) attract before and after dinner crowds. El Dorado on Deck 9 is a magnet for late-night partiers and gaming enthusiasts. All rooms have been refurbished with a contemporary decor. Those winged deities remain, but colors and furniture are more current looking. And anywhere along the Promenade one can find a front-row seat for people watching.
Curiosity Library and Mirage Bar are on Empress Deck (8). The Library features a Victorian setting and is a comfy place to park with that bestseller you picked up at the airport. (Another great place to read is camped on one of the window seats on Lido Deck or along Promenade Deck.)
The Internet setup is based on Empress Deck across from the Atrium Bar and near the Shore Excursions Desk. Rates are fair and Wi-Fi hotspots are available around the ship. Carnival Imagination has sufficient computers on this vessel, but you might want to bring your own laptop.
A standard room runs about 185 square ft. The newest enhancements include upgrades such as bathrobes in all cabins, outstanding new Comfort Beds with plush mattresses, luxurious duvets and fine linens and pillows.
New drapes and a bed slip feature a pretty soft rust hue. In standard oceanview cabins, guests will find a single chair and a desk bench.
Cabins can be arranged as a king with twin beds put together; one twin on one side of the room, the other on the opposite wall, or close together.
Closet and drawer space is more than adequate for four and five-day cruises, and the bathrooms have been redone. (Shower stalls aren't any larger, but new plumbing features a soothing spray that helps get the knots out after a day of touring or taking the stairs.)
Bathroom amenities still feature sample-sized packaged toothpaste, shampoo and a razor or two. In-wall bottles of shampoo and body wash can be found in the shower stall, but bar soap is also available. Wash cloths and towels are absorbent and new looking, a lot fluffier than in past seasons. A full-length mirror would have been nice -- and a hair dryer.
Balconies are few, but lovely. This is one element -- the small number of balconies -- that really "dates" the vessel.
Fifty cabins have been created to adjoin and 24 accommodate physically challenged guests.Flat-screen television sets offer CNN and ESPN. Carnival Imagination requires a credit card to lock (or open) the safe!
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.
|Fitness and Recreation|
Spa Carnival is a 12,000 square ft. area for beauty salon, fitness center and spa. You may run into a spa therapist with a sales pitch, but if you firmly state you have all the products you need, she'll turn off the pitch. I had one of the best facials I've ever enjoyed.
Use of the Fitness Center -- with new state-of-the-art equipment -- is complimentary, but some yoga classes carry a modest fee. Eight times around the deck equals a mile, and the stairs provide good exercise. The top deck features a jogging track.
Carnival WaterWorks, the new waterpark, is fantastic. Spigots and slides, and water, water everywhere attract kids and some older kids as well. Located aft on Deck 11, it is a great addition to the ship's amenities.
Live musicians entertain at the main pool every afternoon.
The best thing to happen to Carnival in years is the creation of Serenity, located aft on Deck 9. The adults-only area features approximately 120 beautiful and comfortable lounges, new decking and two whirlpools. There's no "mommy, look" or "daddy wait for me" -- instead, it's just some background music and waitstaff on tap. It is an oasis of quiet -- serene, if you will -- in a Carnival atmosphere.
Golfers don't have to give up the game to go to sea: An opportunity exists to received personalized lessons and play a number of challenging courses. Shipboard lessons are conducted at a covered and lighted "driving range" and utilize teaching computers.
Families enjoy the Carnival product. Consider late-night adults-only comics for mom and dad, a fine Camp Carnival program for toddlers through their teens and the creation of additional adjoining cabins. Kids hooked on pizza or hamburgers? Chicken fingers? Does grandma want escargot? Are the old folks far from home eager to sit in a quiet area and read, or do the 20-somethings want to play pool games?
The Camp program is geared to the needs and interests of kids from under two through the teenage years. For the under two's, there's babysitting on port and sea days at convenient hours; there are specific projects for ages two to 11, Circle C for kids 12-14; and the brand new Club 02 for teens created in partnership with Coca Cola. Some teen-only shore excursions are also offered.
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.
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.
The two-story Dynasty Lounge is a multi-purpose showroom. My boat drill took place there, and it is where I watched a couple of excellent production shows, attended the Captain's and Repeat Guest parties and heard the cruise director do his debarkation spiel. The casino is well-designed and offers Texas Hold 'Em poker (but of course), blackjack and craps, in addition to Caribbean Stud and other trendy variants of the poker phase.
Daytime activities include a "hairy chest contest" and wild and wacky pool games.Karaoke and dancing are big on Carnival Imagination and the sound of music prevails: Whether it's a cowboy-dressed musician with a guitar, some classical offerings, reggae or big band dance sounds, the ship hums.
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