Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Imagination
Sailing Date: June 26th, 2004
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
This was our first cruise experience. My wife and I were joined by 3 other couples for a nice group vacation.
This being our first cruise, we did not know what to expect at the embarkation. Upon arriving we were quickly greeted by a porter who took all of our bags. These gentlemen were very helpful and well worth the tip. Once inside, the security line moved rather quickly. However, after we moved through security there was mass confusion. There were no signs directing you where to go, nor were there employees pointing you in the right direction. We got into a line and hoped it was the right place. A passenger in front of us grabbed a Carnival employee and asked whether this was the correct line for individuals who had registered on-line and received a ‘Fun-Pass.’ The employee told her that this was the wrong line if you had a ‘Fun-Pass’ and that we should move. At least we were not the only people lost, since after the employee pointed this out about 20 people moved out of that line. Although we had arrived at 1:30, the recommended beginning boarding time, the place was packed. Even with the long lines we moved through in about half an hour.
Upon boarding everyone was very helpful in pointing us to our room. The hallways and stairways are very well marked which made our search for our room very easy. When we arrived at our room everything was clean and in perfect order. The only problem was that we had no paperwork regarding the excursions or the daily ‘Caper,’ which is the daily itinerary. We paged our room steward and he responded very quickly. He apologized for the oversight and quickly gathered the appropriate paperwork. (Apparently, there was an immigration check that day so everything was running slightly behind.)
Although our room was in good order some of our friends had problems. One couple’s room had a heavy smoke smell. Their room steward actually washed down all of the walls and the ceiling within a couple of hours of the complaint. For their trouble, they returned to their room after dinner to find a bottle of chilled champagne.
Another couple had a room that was set up for three beds. Our friends told the room steward they only needed two and that they should be set up as 1 king bed. When they returned from dinner, the third bed was gone, but it took two more days until someone came and put the beds together. Once again, they also received a bottle of champagne for their troubles. (Not chilled.)
This was complete anarchy. You would expect passengers to not take this seriously, but I expected more from the crew. Beyond wearing neon green hats, the people in charge of the drill were invisible. If there was a little more leadership from the crew, this drill could have gone much smoother and much faster. Instead we stood on deck for a prolonged period. According to the page over the intercom our group, Group B, was the only group that could not get the drill right. Rather than filling in gaps and getting us to the right place, the crew just stood there until a more aggressive crew member came along and took charge.
The food and service were both excellent. We enjoyed a wide variety of food that seemed to please everyone at our table. Although many tables seemed to get their appetizers and salads before us, we did not mind because were in no hurry. I was able to try quail, duck and several new pasta dishes. Although I cannot stand fish, the selection was vast. My wife and friends seemed to have some sort of fish with every meal, either through the appetizer or the main course. If you could not find something that you liked on the menu, you could just go upstairs and have a cheeseburger.
Breakfast and Lunch:
We only attended sit-down breakfast and lunch on one day. As with dinner, the food was great and the choices plentiful.
The24-hour pizzeria was nice, but it seemed that many people, especially children, are unfamiliar with the concept of getting in line. Most of the time you only had to wait a couple of minutes and during off-peak hours you could get your food in a matter of seconds.
I did have one unpleasant experience at the pizzeria. My wife and I and two of our friends went up for some pizza. Our friends each ordered two pieces and then went and sat down at a nearby table. When my wife and I asked for two slices each we were told that they just ran out and it would be a few minute wait. That was fine. We went and sat with our friends and waited a few minutes. I then went up alone and asked for 4 slices. Two for me and two for my wife. The cook handed me two slices and I said ‘I ordered 4.’ He looked at me and said, ‘You can only have two, the rest are for the other guests.’
This ticked me off for a couple of reasons. (1) This is an all you can eat cruise. There were no other people in line at that time, and if I wanted 20 pieces, I should have gotten them. If there was a long line of people I can understand limiting quantities, however this was not the case. (2) I saw little kids ordering 4 or 6 slices each all week long and I never heard a cook deny them anything, even if the lines were long.
As for the other buffets, they usually offered a good variety of food at most times of the day. On two of the nights they had a midnight crepe buffet that was very nice. The cooks made fresh crepes while you waited and they were an excellent before bed snack. On the second night however, due to the water main break (see below) the crepe buffet was shifted to the outside bar and grill. The buffet was set up the same way, but unfortunately the deck was populated with children, that at 2:00 a.m., probably should have been in bed. It’s not that I minded the children being up, it was the fact that they were jumping in front of people in line and filling their plates with the fruit that was meant for the crepes. Yes, there was plenty of food, but after the kids were done, it was all over the counter tops and on the floor.
Although I did have a couple of unhappy eating incidents, overall the food and service were top notch.
Although some reviews I read said the boat was looking a little worn, I thought the boat was in great shape. Of course, this is my first cruise so I have no comparison.
The pool and deck area were in great shape and there were ample chairs for sitting or sun bathing. The boat had several pools, and although smaller than I expected, they were usually not too crowded. The wait staff was abundant on deck and we had no problems getting drinks at any time. It was also a nice touch that each bar had a large jug of ice water. Some days were hot!
The gym was also in good shape, but some of the equipment is a bit worn. They should probably have more cardiovascular equipment since those machines were usually full and the weight machines were usually empty. For a cruise ship, the gym probably had as much equipment as a small health club. It was a nice place to burn off some of those calories.
The duty free shops were nicely kept and there was always someone to help. I purchased a watch and they immediately re-sized the band. I can also see why people stock up on alcohol and cigarettes...amazingly low prices.
The Water Main Incident:
On or about the third night of the cruise, there was a water main break. According to a bartender, a pipe leading from one of the pools had broken. For the rest of the cruise, half of the Horizon Bar and Grill was completely closed. Water also seeped downstairs into the Xanadu lounge.
Although this was a minor inconvenience, the smell was terrible. The odor in the Horizon was horrible, there was a moldy smell in the Xanadu lounge, the Pinnacle bar smelled, and the surrounding hallways and stairwells smelled the worst of all.
Any time we were in these areas we played ‘Name That Smell.’ I thought that it smelled like yeast that had been sitting out for a week. Someone thought it smelled like wet socks that were shoved under a bed for a week. The consensus among the group was that it smelled like someone cleaned up spoiled milk with wet towels and then let them sit in a warm locker for a week.
Accidents happen and this did not ruin the cruise, but it will be one of the most vivid memories.
We went to see all three comedians and they were all pretty good. The R-Rated show by a gentlemen named Chris Wiles (I hope that is his name.) was hysterical. For anyone who has not been on a cruise, the comedians will have ‘family’ shows in the main lounge during the evening, then at midnight they will have a second R-Rated show. Although both shows are pretty good, for a bunch of late 20 somethings the R-Rate show was much better.
On the last night they had a ‘Legends’ show, where other guests of the cruise impersonated ‘great’ singers. This was a fun show to see. Many of the guests had great singing ability and the ones that didn’t were still pretty entertaining. You have to have a lot of guts to get up and sing in front of a packed house. This was in no way a karoake event. The singers were good, the costumes were spot on and the back-up dancers made it seem like a mini-concert.
The day before we stopped in Grand Cayman there was a briefing about excursions and general safety tips. On the last day they had a briefing on the debarkation procedures the next morning. Both of these were very helpful and for a first timer well worth the time. Both last about one hour each. One tip. Show up about 20 minutes late. The first half of these things are spent plugging merchandise and other general advertising. If you read the daily ‘Caper’ the first 20 minutes are a waist of time. Anyway, they record these events and then replay them in a loop in your cabin for the rest of the week.
Our ship visited Grand Cayman and Ocho Rios on consecutive days. In Grand Cayman we visited Stingray City and went snorkeling afterwards. I have to say that this was a fun excursion. When you entered the water there was no shortage of stingrays. You could feed them, swim with them and the locals would even pick them up and let you take pictures with them. The snorkeling afterwards was just as good. The water was about 15 to 20 feet deep and extremely clear. After the excursion, we decided to skip shopping and go back to the boat. From what others told us it was a very commercial port. (They even had a Hard Rock Café. I’m sorry, but I’m not going to Grand Cayman to visit a Hard Rock Café!)
Our next day in Ocho Rios was very nice. When we left the boat we left a secured area and had about a ½ mile walk to the shopping village. Although there were many taxis, it was a short walk and there was a large police presence. However, this did not stop people selling everything from bongos to necklaces. My favorite guy was a cab driver who said ‘Need a taxi?’ I said ‘No thanks.’ Then he said ‘How about some reefer?’ Everyone of us was offered some sort of drugs in our short stay.
We did not go on an excursion, instead we went to the shopping village and spent most of the afternoon at Margaritaville. Decent food, strong drinks and a pool with a slide. We loved everything about this place. A nice way to spend a relaxing afternoon if you don’t want to take an excursion.
Some of our friends went to the Dunns River Falls, which they said was nice, but crowded. (Even our waitress the night before told us that there would be about 1,000 people at the falls.) One couple took the ‘party boat’ to and from the falls. Loud music and all the rum punch you could drink. They loved the boat and were drunk before noon.
We chose express debarkation because we heard getting off the ship is a pain in the butt. For express debarkation, you carry your own bags and must meet in the Dynasty lounge between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. Although it was a lot of sitting around, we got off the boat and were in a taxi by 8:30. By any means this is a gamble. Our flight was at 4:35 that evening. If we caught an early flight, the early debarkation was worth it. If not, we’d be sitting in the airport for the next 7 hours. We got lucky and made it onto a flight at 11:15. Rather than taking a 4:25 flight, we walked into our house in Chicago at 2:30 that afternoon.
Two couples followed the regular debarkation procedures. They got to sit down and have a relaxing breakfast and then wait until there section was called to debark. The only difference is that they got to the airport at about noon rather than 9:00 a.m. like we did. Their luck was not as good, and they did not catch an early flight.
If you want to take a chance on an early flight, the express route was great. If you are in no hurry or know for a fact that you won’t make an early flight, you might as well follow the normal debarkation procedures.
One last word on flights. We flew in a day early to avoid any problems. Good thing that we did. United lost my wife’s luggage. We arrived at the airport at 1:30 p.m. on the day before the cruise. We did not get our luggage until 12:00 a.m. If we had flown in on the day of the cruise, my wife would have been wearing the same t-shirt and shorts for two days until we docked in Grand Cayman. It’s worth the price of a hotel stay for the piece of mind.
The group consensus was that this was a great trip. There were little problems here and there, but nothing that you wouldn’t run into on any vacation. The ship was nice, the crew was extraordinary and the food was great.
Although I had a few complaints about kids, I fully realize that there were a lot of children on the ship because we went on a trip during summer vacation. It was sad that parents treated the ship as one big day care, but that’s more of a gripe on bad parenting, not on the Carnival team. When we go on our next cruise, we will definitely go during the school year to avoid the throngs of children.
The next time we cruise, I would have no problem using Carnival or the Imagination.