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Christel

Age: 42

Occupation:Sales

Number of Cruises: 3

Cruise Line: Carnival

Ship: Carnival Imagination

Sailing Date: July 16th, 2007

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

We have just returned from our cruise on the Carnival Imagination and miss it already! I wanted to write a review while everything is still fresh in my memory. I know that I scoured the the internet when I was booking our trip -- so I am trying to repay the favor!

This was our first cruise as a family. My husband and I have been on cruises before,but this was our attempt to find a vacation that would appeal to everyone. I think it is important to share that we are a family of six with 4 kids (ages 16, 15, 9 and 9) As you can imagine - finding something that everyone wants to do it very hard. However I am convinced that cruising may be the perfect answer. It allowed us to stay together as a family -- we always had breakfast and dinner together and did the shore excursions as a family. That allowed everyone to carve up the day as they wanted to -- my 16 yr old daughter sunbathed allot but my husband would hate to do that -- he spent time on the balcony reading & relaxing or in the casino working the craps table (he did very well on this trip!). Our 15 yr old son loved the party they threw every night in the Club 02 and you could find him there during they day as well as they had a Wii, A Playstaion 360 and music playing. There was always a Carnival employee in the club to keep an eye on the kids so that was good! The younger kids loved the freedom the boat allowed them...we allowed them to check themselves in and out of the Camp Carnival program. Sometimes they loved the activity that was going on (i.e., the scavenger hunt) and sometimes it didn't appeal to them at all (i.e., dance lessons with an Imagination dancer!) We pretty much set up times for checkpoints and agreed when and where we would meet...it worked well.

They boys also loved having the fountain card that allowed them to get soda at will (you can pay for every fountain drink separately or get this card which I think was about $25 for the five days) The kids also loved having the Sail & Sign card with their name on it. We did allow them to authorize purchases and wondered if we would regret that move -- surprisingly they all did very well! We only had an overage on video games! We had told the two younger ones that they could use $5 a day at the video arcade....come to find out that their card would let you take out up to $20 a day for games! I think you can modify this limit by talking to the purser....the kids spent $20 more than they should so it was a minor blip...they will however have to work it off here at the house!! :-)

After spending lots of time reading the various internet sites on cruise reviews and port reviews, we decided to book our shore excursions by ourselves instead of through Carnival. I would highly recommend doing that as it worked out very well, saved us money and I believe allowed us a much greater experience. In the Grand Caymans, we booked a Stingray City and snorkeling tour through Capt. Bryans. We made sure to get a tour that goes to the sandbar so the water is only about 4 ft high. The boat for Capt Bryans is a very nice sailboat with lots of room to layout and enjoy the sun as you rode the 30 minutes to get out to the sandbar. I think we had about 25 people on our boat -- which was about 5 different families. Compare that to some of the tours I saw that had 50 - 75 people on a boat packed in like sardines on something that looked like a tender boat. Capt Bryans and the Buccaneer (sp?) was the way to go! My husband even praised me on my ability to find such a nice tour. It wasn't a "party boat" although they did have food and drinks available to purchase nor were they pushy about receiving tips...it was just a very nice experience. I will tell you that I was a little bit nervous when we got off the boat and walked the block to their location and all I saw was a shack that you walked up to - (you didn't even go inside) but this is the case of not judging a book by the cover. They had one of the nicest boats by far and I highly recommend this tour. They take you to two snorkeling spots after Stingray City so it was a full day!!

In Ocho Rios, we also booked a private tour that I had arranged ahead of time. I had read about him on the various threads and he seemed to always get glowing reviews...mine is equally as flattering. While we did not have Phil as our tour guide, but rather someone who works for Phil....still he was there to greet us when we got off the boat and was our guide for the entire day. We chose to do the Dunn's River Falls and river tubing tour. The falls are always a great choice for someone new to Ocho Rios as they are fabulous. One of my 9 yrs old walked up it and one chose to stay on the sidelines. Inter4estingly enough, the one who decided to sit it out wished he had done it so that tells you that it is a fun thing to do. We got some great pics at this location. Be sure to buy your water shoes before you go and keep an open mind if you decide to walk through the craft market at the end of it. Our driver told us how to avoid the market if we wanted to -- but part of the allure of Jamaica are the people and the negotiating. I was sure to tell the kids not to accept something from anyone and the various tricks that someone might use (like telling you it is a gift or it is free but then want money) We were always polite and jovial when we said no to the vendors. We did end up buying a t-shirt or two while we were there -- be sure to negotiate! It is expected and while I don't really like doing it -- I also know that if you do not -- the vendors share with one another that you will pay full price and miraculously the prices always start going up! The other activity we did in Ocho Rious is river tubing and it was a blast! We al wished that it lasted longer -- it's only about 45 minutes down the river but it is fun the whole time. The river is clean, cool, not too deep and swift! While I think of river tubing more like a lazy river -- there were areas that were like small rapids. You also get the chance to stop mid-way and do a rope swing or jump off a cliff into the blue, blue water. Everyone of us took the plunge -- which was later captured on film by entrepreneurial Jamaicans! :-) We ended up buying all 6 of the pics because they were do much fun! If you get the opportunity to do this activity - you should -- a fun time was had by all! We were done with the private tour by about 1 PM (we started 1 hr after the ship docked) so some of us went back out for a little souvenir shopping. There are plenty of shops within 5 minutes of walking if you find yourself with a little time on your hands!

As for the cruise itself, we loved our room. It was the first time for a balcony and I am hooked. We sat out there and watched the sunsets, or even during the day to read a book or just watching the waves....it was very relaxing.

The food on the Imagination is plentiful. It is not gourmet but certainly is nicer than the meals that I put on the table at home! We had a table to ourselves and at first that made me a little bit sad -- as part of cruising is getting to know the other passengers...however it turned out very well. As I mentioned, we usually reconvened as a family over dinner so the kids knew they had a standing date at 5:30 PM each night (we had early seating at 5:45) Having dinner as a family let us hear what each person had been up to and what they had planned and allowed us to revisit the various things they had done and what they liked the most. Our servers were excellent and always remembered our names, our likes, etc. You should know that kids can order kid-friendly food while in the dining room even though it isn't on the menu. We always asked our kids to order 1 thing new or different off the starter list and then they could fall back on pizza, chicken nuggets, or burger for the main meal. Speaking of pizza, the 24 hour pizzeria was wonderful. The teens often went there after a night of clubbing and I am pretty sure the younger ones had pizza everyday for lunch. The pizza is good and usually didn't take too long although there was almost always a line!! You can get Caesar salads here too although they don't advertise that so much!!

There is a casino aboard the ship and while I am not a big gambler - my husband likes to play craps so he was very happy that they had 1 table. I think he played there every night for at least an hour. He did well enough that on the last night -- he took some of his winnings and paid off the Sail and Sign account! How fun is that?

All in all -- this was a very enjoyable trip. I highly recommend cruising for families with kids at various ages.

Oh and one more thing -- we loved having the photographers every where you went. I know I have read reviews where people hate it and they hate the price ($21 for an 8x10!) but I have to say that we ended up getting some wonderful family shots. Infact, I waited before buying the first family shot on formal night because I wanted to see what the pics for the next night looked like. When we did have pics taken, I usually stopped at at least 2 different photographers with different backgrounds so I would have a choice in pics....it doesn't cost anything to have a picture taken so I took advantage of it. In the end, I ended up with a family picture that is absolutely stunning -- but I will tell you that for this 1 awesome picture we probably took 15 bad ones -- where someone had their eyes closed or wasn't looking at the camera or the camera wasn't focused correctly. My advice is to take advantage of the photographers!!




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