Many of you asked that I post the review of my recent cruise on Carnival Imagination (12/29 - Western Carib.) and offer a comparitive viewpoint for this cruise and my previous Princess experience. Well here it is......... I noted specific comparative notes where I thought appropriate. I welcome your questions if you are considering trying out Carnival. Overall, we had a nice time but the crowd is definitely different than your average Princess crowd. We never felt that pampered feeling that we felt immediately with Princess. The Carnival staff could all use lessons in courtesy but then again, with the general type of passengers that they deal with on a daily basis (mostly young, restless partiers and kiddos), it might not be as necessary as it would be on a higher-class line. Surprisingly, we would rate the food on the Imagination as equal if not better than the fare on the Grand. As you will read, our dining experience was wonderful. The cabins on Carnival are roomier than the Grand, especially the bathrooms but I will take the classier decor and aestheticly soothing tones over extra space anyday. Imagination/Carnival decor is designed for easy clean-up and hide-the-stains maintenance. Also, once you have had a Princess balcony - YOU SHOULD NEVER GO BACK TO AN INSIDE CABIN. We missed that balcony so much. Carnival's below deck hallways were very wide and were easier to travel through than the Grand and we did enjoy the glitz-ier atrium on the Imagination. But, no disco/dance lounge will ever rival the Grand's. Carnival's answer to this is no better than the one we have down the street here at home. The Imagination cruise director was no Graham Seymour and we missed having that truly talented/energetic party starter. Mark Price is a nice guy, very pleasant, but we never saw him except as MC before the nightly shows. Graham was EVERYWHERE!! when we were on the Grand. Again, we were spoiled with Princess in this venue and wondered why we didn't see more of Mark. Oh well, I could go on and on. Hopefully you will find the below useful if you are considering Carnival.
Here is a review of the recent cruise on the Imagination (12/29).
Background: Family of 5. Mom, Dad, Son (20), Son (18), Daughter (10). Previous cruising experience - Grand Princess, Celebrity Horizon, Royal C. Voyager.
Overall Rating : Nice cruise, major kuddos to Camp Carnival, some good, some bad on other things but great bargain for a family vacation. Bottom line regarding Carnival as compared to the other lines..........Carnival does the difficult things VERY WELL and the easy stuff POORLY. We were majorly spoiled by Princess on the "little things" which they seemed to put ALOT of effort into and made a huge difference in the way we originally viewed our Grand Princess experience.
Embarkation Day - reached the ship via van taxi from Miami airport at about 2pm ($30 for the five of us). We did not have cabin assignments yet so we were a bit reluctant to release our luggage to the porters with blank Carnival luggage tags. They had manifests onhand and were able to show me our cabin #'s. Unfortunately, it wasn't until this point that we found out that our 2 cabins were 70 rooms apart from each other. THroughout the vacation planning process, I was assured by Carnival that due to the ages of our children (under 21), our cabins would be "close". Don't believe it. We were told to check with the Purser's desk once we boarded the ship to request a change. No luck - ship was sold out and there was no possibility of a cabin change. We are pretty sure that if we REALLY made a stink about it that they would have done something but we didn't push it and just made do. The embarkation lines were not too bad but everything just seemed a bit too unorganized for our tastes (we were spoiled by the Princess process) and we were nervous from the start. When we did board and locate our cabins (inside Main deck) we were extremely pleased to find our luggage already there!! So much for our fears. Our cabins were nice but it is time for Carnival to update the orange formica counter and desktops. The bedspreads were well worn and the shower curtain was hanging on by only 2 hooks. Yes, there was the grafitti that everyone mentioned, chiseled right into the formica. But that is the bad................the good is that the bathrooms/showers are really a great size with tons of storage space. The cabin storage space is also the best that we have experienced with plenty of hangers/drawers and shelves. In our cabin, our daughter took one of the berths that folded up against the wall and my husband and I asked our cabin steward to please makeup the 2 twin beds into a double. This never happened. We had to make them up ourselves and every day on the cruise, the beds were made up again as separate beds ( a little thing but so EASY to fix!!) These are the first few issues that I will label as the EASY things for Carnival to correct that they seem to not care much about but they would go a LONG way in establishing better customer satisfaction. Anyway, the overall cabin setup is a good one and we never felt crowded, no matter how the beds are setup. Everyone on this board is right - it is dark!! in these cabins and you will not know whether it is night or day so bring your nite lites. (Boy did we miss our Princess balcony). We unpacked quickly and then went to the muster drill in the Dynasty Lounge. Not too bad but there were already a few party-ers who were VERY upset at having their drinking interrupted to have to sit quietly to listen to instructions about lifeboats. Made is difficult for the rest of us while they were reprimanded. After the muster drill, I escorted my daughter to the Camp Carnival Registration inthe Xanadu Lounge. We met the staff and reviewed the activities and signed her up for the 9-12 year old sleep over night. I can't say enough good things about this program. My daughter had a wonderful time and couldn't wait to get out of bed in the morning to go and meet her new friends for the all the fun activities. Only one word of advise for all you parents out there............I NEVER let my daughter sign herself out of Camp (which is their option for the 9-12 year olds) My daughter is a pretty responsible 10 year old but the ship is full of high spirited revelers whom your child will become dependent upon for directions back to mom and dad (no way). We brought walkie talkies with us and I made it clear to the counselors that I would be coming to pick her up at a designated time each day. While we were at CC registration my husband was in the cabin fighting with "FUNVISION" to reserve our tour excursions. This is the only way to book your tours and when it doesn't work, Carnival needs to have a better back-up plan. Again, we missed the wonderful process that Princess has - book you tours on-line before you leave home. This "FUNVISION" system is a good attempt but when the technology is "down" it makes for pure and utter chaos that made this portion of our trip a real downer. We endured wasting a few hours sitting in the cabin trying to beat the crowd and log-in into FUNVISION - what a waste! To make a long story short, we eventually were able to book our Grand Cayman adventure but Jamacia was never available (I.S. problems). When we went to the tour desk to "manually" book the Jamacia tours, the so called Tour Director looked scared out of his mind, didn't have an answer for anyone, looked like he was going to cry and ended up putting out the "TOUR DESK CLOSED" sign and ran through and slammed a side door to escape the demanding crowd that was gathering. We put our written request in the tour lock-box and headed back to our cabin not knowing what we would be doing when we arrived in Jamacia. Again............this is not the hard stuff - this should be a piece of cake for a cruiseline this big. Instead it was a shame.
Our first dinner in the Pride Dining room was exceptionally pleasant. We were thrilled to find ourselves seated with another family about our same age group with children around the same age as ours. They enjoyed each other tremendously the entire cruise and "hats off" to Carnival if they had anything to do with this sort of planning/arranging. Now this is difficult to do and I commend Carnival for taking the time to match tables appropriately - but then, maybe I give them too much credit. The food was excellent. We were very surprised. Each and every night, the food was presented beautifully with exceptional variety and taste. Our waitstaff was wonderful and we truly enjoyed our dining experiences on Carnival. The only sticky point throughout the cruise was the inability for the waitstaff to procure a bottle of wine that we ordered and have it to the table before the the main entree was almost completed. Each night, we would order a bottle of wine as soon as we sat down and each night it took an eternity to arrive. We wondered where the wine cellar was (Haiti??) On Princess, our waiter actually had 2-3 bottles waiting for us as recommendations to choose from each night. He learned from us the very first night that we enjoyed a good bottle of wine with dinner and that we were partial to good California Chardonnay -s and Pinot Grigio -s. Each night, there they were waiting for us. Not on this trip. We ended up just ordering by the glass and still waited. But overall, major kuddos to Carnival and the Imagination staff on wonderful dining experiences (consistently great food). We turned in early on this first night and enjoyed a very quiet, restful sleep. We felt no ship movement and heard nothing outside our door or above our heads. Wonderful sleep!
DAY 2 - Sea Day - Formal Night
Only negative comment today is why isn't formal night on New Year's Eve (tomorrow)??
We enjoyed a sunny sea day as we headed for Grand Cayman. The decks are spacious with lots of chairs and easy access to bars and food. We were disappointed in the limited amount of actual "pool" time that we thought we would use since the main pool is quite small and was always loaded with kids. But what can you expect with the wonderful water slide. It is truly for the kids and they were having a ball - as it should be. THe other pools were small and circular (no lap swimming) and looked dirty. Where, oh, where was the swim-against-the-current pool?? So we mainly camped out up on the funnel deck (adults only). Plenty of wide open spaces and chairs and lots of quiet. Not many topless sunbathers but the few who were topless were reportedly the ships dancers. This struct me as a bit inappropriate. Not the topless issue but the fact that the ships employees were permitted to lie naked among the customers. Seemed odd. So there we were, armed with our drinks, books and walkie talkies, basking in the beautiful sunshine on the most uncomfortable deck chairs that I have ever sat on. When they are propped up, it's not enough to sit comfortably and read so EVERYONE grabbed about 5 extra towels to put behind their back and neck for extra support. No wonder there never seemed to be enough deck towels (some things are really very simple to fix). Dinner was again, lovely. We went to the show (B-Bop) in the Dynasty Lounge and enjoyed this Broadway-level of entertainment very much. The dancing was fantastic. Better than what we saw on the Grand The 2 main singers were OK but looked like they were bored and just going through the motions most of the time. THe Dynasty fills up quickly with ALOT of seat saving going on, so get there early. Some folks get pretty creative with their seat saving techniques. One woman approached us as we were seating ourselves and told us that the seats were hers - "God was saving these for me". My husband told her that "God" must have had to use the men's room 'cause they were wide open when we sat down.
DAY 3 - Grand Cayman. We have been here many times and just love the slow pace, the beautiful beaches and the shopping. We took our reef and wreck snorkel tour and then went to 7-mile beach to relax for the afternoon with the kids - great day!. Tenders were fine. My husband and sons enjoyed the casino this night but lost each and every time that they played - no matter what they played. This was also New Years Eve and the Imagination did this just right. Free champagne for everyone on the Lido deck and it was just fantastic. Kuddos to the Captain for his wonderful New Years message to us all via the loud speaker.
DAY 4 - Jamacia. We took the Jeep Safari since none of us had ever been to Jamacia and we just loved it. Our tour guide was the best. We spent the day touring all over the island and ended the day climbing Dunn's River Falls. BE FOREWARNED........ this climb is not what we expected. Carnival should have been much more forthcoming as to the dangers that we encountered. We are pretty athletic and not scared easily by challenges but this climb was tricky and a haven for personal injury lawyers. Wear good water shoes with a decent tread and DON'T bring children under 10 years old. It's dangerous - period. but beautiful. When we reached the top, the guides steer you towards an exit sign to leave the park but all it does is take you into the tourist trap marketplace where we were descended upon by folks selling their wares - including the "manja weed"!! Again, Carnival should have prepped folks on what they would experience. Lot's of little ones from the ship were meandering around the market kiosks while shadey characters practically assaulted the adults for purchases. Can't help but feel that Princess would have shielded us from alot of this. We finally got out and headed back to the ship for another wonderful dinner and show.
DAY 5 - Sea Day. Another crystal clear day and another day to relax. My boys watched the "Survivor" game in the Dynasty lounge and we enjoyed the Not So Newlywed game among other fun things
DAY 6 - Miami. Not too bad getting off the ship. We found our luggage, no problem and the taxi's were plentiful.
So, all in all, we had a fine time. Carnival is trying it's best and again, with the stuff that is difficult to get right (food, entertainment) they are doing a fine job. But please Carnival, focus on the things that are no-brainers. The asthetic things, the little things, the things that are EASY and you will have us back. We still favor Princess over any of our cruises but Carnival met our needs this time around, especially for the kids.