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Emily

Age: 20

Occupation:Lawyer

Number of Cruises: 2

Cruise Line: Carnival

Ship: Carnival Imagination

Sailing Date: December 27th, 2006

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

This was my second Carnival cruise and I went with my girlfriend. I had been on Fascination previously so I had some idea of what to expect. Imagination was very similar in age, decoration and almost identical in their floor plans. Imagination, like the Fascination, is an old ship, clean but old. If you want a newer Carnival ship then you have to go on a longer cruise. The newest ships are Freedom (2007), Liberty (2005), Valor (2004) and Miracle (2004). (I'm actually planning a cruise for February 2008, hopefully on Freedom.)

We had an early morning flight day of our cruise (7am) and so we decided to stay overnight at an airport hotel near JFK. I would recommend flying into Miami the night before and staying overnight at a hotel in Miami. Someone recommended a Holiday Inn or Hampton Inn, the one downtown near BAYSIDE. It's extremely close to the port. And you can have a nice dinner at the BAYSIDE shops. That way you can sleep in, check out at 11am and then go directly to the ship. Anyway, we arrived in Miami around 10:30am and took a regular cab. It cost around $30 w/tip and the two of us just split the cost. Good thing b/c we didn't have to wait and at $15/person it was on par with the other ground transportation.

We arrived at the pier around 11:30 to 12pm. We were confronted by the porters (all in white) and we realized there is little choice but to have them take your bags. They do not work for Carnival, but there are Carnival signs everywhere stating that you have to leave your bags with the porters – go figure. You have to tip them too, at least $1 per bag. I gave them $4 and the guy smiled so I think it was a good amount. We had absolutely no wait and we got onto the ship right away. (Customs/Boarding, one note - My girlfriend is not a US citizen and so they took the green visa waiver form and returned it the night before we got back – she freaked out a little thinking that they were going to lose it.)

We went first to change our dining time with the Matre'd at the dining room, you should DEF get the 8pm or 8:30pm seating. That way you don't have to rush during the day. It's perfect.

Then we went to see our room and the room steward had the beds separated, no problem, we asked and she put them together. It wasn't ready yet so we decided to look around the ship. (Our room steward was EXCELLENT, she always had our ice, cool towel animals, and the turn down service was also really pleasant too). We had a 5A porthole category room and it was a good size. It was on the Empress floor and at the very front of the ship. It’s a good idea to use flip-flops in the shower – the color of the shower floor is suspicious.

We then had lunch on the lido deck and had the drink of the day. NOTE – if you ask for the drink without the souvenir cup you can save yourself about $4. It adds up when you realize you're going home with a set of 8-10 of these plastic souvenir cups. The drink was ok regarding the amount of alcohol, but the taste was very sweet, but that depends on your personal taste. This held true for all the specials of the day we tried.

We took some pictures around the ship and then took a tour of the spa/exercise facilities. Again, I do not recommend the spa treatments on the older ships. I had a pedicure done when I was on Fascination which was not so great and very expensive. So I passed this time around, got my mani/pedi done at home before my trip. The gym area is nice and clean and they keep it cold, nice touch when you're sweating (or when you come out of the whirlpool or sauna on the verge of passing out from the extreme hot water temperature). There are also huge windows to see the view while running on the treadmills. Again, everything's extremely clean but not fancy.

Muster drill. CHECK the back of your closet door, it will tell you where to go. Get a pocket map from the purser's station. Take your life-vest found in that little corner table to that place and then you get to sit there while they tell you things. You, like everyone else, will feel like a moron wearing the vest inside. However it is quite handy if you feel like taking a nap while the drill explanation is going on. Perfect head rest.

We then were up on the Lido deck for the sail-away party which basically consisted of just hanging out. The lido band was playing and it was pretty festive. It was overcast, windy and kind of chilly. But we took some nice pictures and enjoyed it.

We got ready for dinner and we were very happy with the service and our tablemates. Imagination doesn't have tables for two and so if you don't like your tablemates switch your table. BUT we were lucky and had some nice people to talk too. (Get the chocolate melting cake, you won't be disappointed. I had it every night.)

We saw the first night's show, and we were meaning to enjoy the dancing and other late night comedy etc, but we were exhausted and ended up just sleeping.

Key West
We didn't get any excursions here and I didn't think it was worth it for the time we had. We took the trolley (free) from the ship to the downtown area. The driver will give you a map (and you'll have one from your capers). We just walked around. We wanted to do a beach but it didn't really happen. There's one down by the – southern most point of the U.S. and there's also a hotel/inn down there where you can pay an entrance fee for a pool and drinks. We had a drink at an outside bar and then went back to the ship for lunch. Looking back, it would have been a great idea to rent a scooter and see more of Key West, because walking only gets you so far and the sun was pretty strong.

Lounge chairs on the Lido deck. This can be a problem. After lunch we went to our rooms and got changed into swimsuits and went back up. Thank God we came back to the ship a little early b/c it was packed by 2pm. We had fun and watched as the ship left port. The pool band is also so fun and the servers walk around non-stop asking if you want drinks – in order to avoid the harassment keep your (empty) glass next to you at all times.

Dinner the 2nd night was formal night. Our table was very formal, the men in tuxes, but many wore dark suits. I kind of felt underdressed b/c I chose to dress up a summer dress instead of wearing a cocktail dress. My next cruise I'll be bringing my formal dresses. But we had a really nice night. The food is good and plentiful. It's not going to be astounding 5-star food, so if you expect the Ritz/Four Seasons, you'll be disappointed. However, if you expect good food/above average with good service you'll be satisfied. There's plenty of seafood choices, light fare, and yes a great lobster tail. Our waitress was very good but we seemed to always get the food after all other tables, which caused us to leave later, which in turn meant that good seats for late shows were hard to get.

We watched the shows every night. I understand some criticize the shows, but all in all ours were good. The singing was actually quite good. I really enjoyed them myself. Just don't expect professional Broadway or authentic Vegas showgirls and you'll be fine. It is what it is, a cruise show. We enjoyed it. The comedians were good and our cruise director, Malcolm "in the middle", was awesome!

Calica, Mexico

I love cruises for the main reason that you wake up every morning in a new place! It's great! We had breakfast and then got ready to fight the masses to get off the ship. NOTE - with regard to breakfast – you can have a fresh made to order breakfast in the dining room. It's a little nicer and you can sit and enjoy the view and just wake up slowly. The quality of the food is much better, as well as having items not on the buffet, such as lox and bagels and eggs benedict.

We got off the ship around 1:30pm. We had done the Xcaret excursion. I had expected more than we actually got for what we paid. The place is huge and well landscaped. There was so much going on and we only had about 6 hrs so it was a little hard to see much and I felt that we were walking all over the place and not experiencing all we could. Mostly, I pushed for this excursion because of the raves with regard to the snorkeling river. It was good, but you couldn't really see anything in the river, so it was mostly just swimming. They encourage you to rent masks/snorkels, a locker, and fins. You definitely need the locker but can do without the other stuff – there is a fee for losing the mask (which happened to us), so it came out more expensive than originally planned. Also, the river's long, so if you're not up to swimming a lot then you should just avoid this. But we had a good time; we saw a native ceremony and saw this really awesome graveyard. I know, I said graveyard, but it's built up like a tower with a path that winds around. Each had a unique artistic tombstone with anecdotes about the deceased. I had the pleasure of having a Spanish interpreter (my girlfriend), who would translate the Spanish into English for me. We got back to the ship around 7pm and were exhausted with just enough time to change and get to dinner by 8pm. Remember what I said about getting the late dinner assignment, it comes in handy when you can't get off the boat until 2pm, if you had to be back by 5pm for dinner you wouldn't have anytime in Calica. Some of our dinner mates did the bike/snorkel/zip-line excursion and if I could do it again, I think I would have done that one.

Midnight buffet – we only went to see the buffet, we didn't actually eat any of it. We had only finished eating at 9:30pm so how in world could we eat more? It was amazing and beautiful, make SURE you at least go and take pictures. Or even better, eat a light dinner and feast at the buffet – it is likely that you will be one of the few ones eating.

Day at Sea/New Year's Eve Day
We woke up on the early side and went to breakfast in the dining room again. Again, good choice and got to meet new and interesting people.

We spent the morning/early afternoon out by the pool, relaxing and sunbathing. Make sure to lather up the sunscreen, the sun is very strong in the Gulf of Mexico! The band was nice, and there was a lot of weird stuff, like hairy chest contests, Tarzan contests, ice sculpting. We even took turns on the pool slide! Again lots of drinks of the day and just relaxing.

After we felt we were burning up into a crisp, we did a Pilates class (cost about $10 and there was a place for a tip, which I gave him, but I had mixed feelings about that). Strangely, the teacher/fitness guy, while knowledgeable, was not very nice. Everyone on the whole ship smiled and was very friendly except this guy…..hmm. We enjoyed the sauna a little and the whirlpools in the spa.

In the afternoon, Carnival also does a nice little afternoon tea in this one lounge which we went to. I know, we're a young couple, but I really enjoy tea and we were like, why not? It was good but I was hungry and I felt I had to keep asking for those little sandwiches.

We took a little afternoon nap and then got ready for dinner. For some reason, I did feel like we were a little bored on our day at sea. I think that if you really like the Lido deck and sunbathing then you'll have no problem. But in the late afternoon I felt a little like, what do we do now?

We were casual on New Year's Eve, but I noticed that most people got dressed up again. I think if I had thought ahead I might have dressed up too. We had a cool dinner, with noise makers and hats.

PHOTOS! One thing I love about cruises is the opportunity to take very nice portraits. Where else would you have access to free portraits? Of course you have to pay for the ones you like but otherwise they take them for free which is pretty cool. We took lots of pictures and made our own comments about the typical poses that all the photographers put us in. You have to buy the 8x10 to get smaller copies which cost about $20. There were so many we wanted to buy but ended up buying only three. Actually we joked about how many 8x10 photos can you really have? I think for families with children its really great b/c you can get really nice family portraits.

NOTE - While the purser puts a hold on your credit card, you can still pay your room account balance with cash. Also keep in mind that for a four night cruise for two expect to spend at least $400-$500 on the ship. I know that sounds high, but your excursions, drinks, photos, spa/gym, etc. goes on there. I remember some guy next to us shocked when his account was $3000. I guess he had a lot of kids with him. That's where the "on-board credit" specials some websites offer comes in handy. If you can get a $200 on-board credit, take it quickly over category upgrades.

NEW YEAR'S EVE

Carnival celebrates New Year's Eve at dinner with the hats/noise makers/lays. But then after dinner there's a huge deck party on the Lido deck with live music, white lights and lots of champagne. We didn't see any free champagne, but you can either buy it by the glass at the bar or a bucket with glasses and a bottle. The bottles of champagne were expensive. There was an awesome ice sculpture of "2006" and the ABC TV New Year's Eve special was blown up on one of the walls. The entire ship rang in the New Year, which was fun. I'd never been to a big party like that.

Afterwards, we went down to the karaoke and watched some of the singing and even sang a song. It was wicked fun, but I love karaoke. We then went to the nightclub.

Disembarkation

I was absolutely stressed about this. Let me explain. During my first cruise on Fascination, I remember it being quite crowded and frankly a nightmare. It took us forever to get off the ship. However, this time, I felt prepared. Instead of sleeping in to 8am and eating breakfast before getting off the ship, we woke up at 6am and quickly got ready. Before we knew it the ship was already docked around 6am, and when they called our color (corresponding to the color on your luggage tags) around 7am, we left our rooms and got right off the ship. There were no lines, actually hardly anyone was around. I think because it was New Year's Day most people slept in and didn't use the express disembarkation method. We were off the ship and in a cab heading to the airport by 7:30am. Note, I had originally booked a 10:20am flight home and kind of panicked thinking that it was too early, so I ended up paying a very LARGE fee to change our return flight home to 1:30pm. However, we ended up at the airport by 8am and could have definitely made the 10:20am flight. My advice with booking your return flight is to keep it no earlier than 11 or 11:30am, just to be safe. If time is an issue just get up really early and try to be the first off the ship.




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