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Nancy Norris

Age: baby boomer

Occupation:Travel Professional

Number of Cruises: many

Cruise Line: Carnival

Ship: Carnival Imagination

Sailing Date: September 8th, 2005

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

This cruise was planned as a mother/daughter adventure. My daughter, Heather, is a senior at Ohio State and has been deprived of cruising with me of late. She is an avid cruiser, much like her mother, and between her rigorous college and work schedule it has been difficult to squeeze in a cruise outing. We were finally able to get our calendars to mesh and both of us were looking forward with great anticipation to our time together. As it turned out, our timing could not have been more perfect as we managed to schedule our trip between Hurricane Katrina, Ophelia and Rita. (In this very active hurricane season we felt quite lucky). Although I usually like to fly in at least one day before the cruise, our schedules did not allow for that particular option this time. So, we rose early to make our 5:30 AM USAir flight from Columbus to Fort Lauderdale. We arrived in Fort Lauderdale a bit behind schedule (10:30 AM), retrieved our luggage and took Tri-County Airport Express to the Port of Miami ($17 pp).

We arrived at the port before 11:30 AM and found ourselves in a short line as the security checkpoint had not yet opened. It was only a matter of about 15 minutes, however, when the line began to move and we were onboard about noon. Although guests were welcomed aboard, our staterooms were not scheduled to be ready until about 1:30. So, we made our way to the Lido Deck for lunch in the Horizon Bar & Grill.

Before I begin my review, I would like to interject a disclaimer at the beginning. Since the primary purpose of this trip was for my daughter and I to spend some quality time together and it was only a 4 night cruise, this review is not as comprehensive as most of my mega-reviews. You may also find that I do not have pictures of all the public areas that I refer to, as I just did not have enough time to capture it all.

My cabin:
As this was such a short cruise, we opted for an inside cabin on the Upper Deck (U184). Having sailed on other Fantasy Class ships in the Carnival fleet, when I entered my cabin I was presently surprised to discover that it had been updated and was much more appealing. White down comforters and fluffy white pillows adorned the beds and were a nice complement to the light wood and neutral tones of the walls and ceiling. However, the drapes were still bold and garish and did not fit with the subdued ambiance the rest of the cabin provided. Beds were arranged on a diagonal allowing for ample room in the center of the cabin. An interactive TV was housed in a corner shelf above the foot of the two beds. (Satellite reception was quite good on this cruise as a number of major network channels were available, as well as multiple movies that ran continuously along with the standard ship/cruise channels.) A storage cabinet was tucked into the corner below the TV and was used to stow the lifejackets. A vanity/desk with four side drawers, one center drawer and a mirror above occupied the opposite end of the room. There is limited counter space as the phone, ice bucket, water and sodas occupy much of the space. Be advised there is only ONE electrical outlet, so bring a power strip if you are sharing the cabin. We found the closet space to be more than sufficient (particularly for a short cruise). A shelf unit separates two full length closets. A safe, activated by swiping a personal credit card, is located on one of the shelves in this unit. The beds were extremely comfortable and high enough to store luggage underneath. The bathroom was nothing spectacular, but adequate. The shower had an adjustable shower head on a removable hose and offered ample water pressure. As an added bonus, the cloth shower curtain actually stayed in place and didn’t cling to my body as so many do. An amenities basket with toothpaste, disposable shavers, and shampoo packets is provided. Our cabin steward was excellent and quite accommodating! He tried hard to please and always greeted us with a pleasant smile.

The Riviera, Main and Upper Deck are the lowest 3 decks accessible to guests and all space is relegated to staterooms. One of the most convenient amenities on a Carnival ship is the self-service laundry. So many cruise ships no longer offer this convenience I applaud Carnival for continuing to provide this facility. A self-service laundry was located on the Upper Deck aft and the Empress Deck forward.

The Grand Atrium

Empress Deck is the lowest level of the Grand Atrium and provides an impressive first glimpse of the public space upon embarkation. The central focus of the Grand Atrium is a large sculpture created by Len Janklow. This unique sculpture is divided into cubic compartments and is well-suited for a ship named The Imagination. At night The Grand Atrium alights with vibrant colors and is a perfect example of the glitz that is equated with a Joe Farcus design. Guest Relations and the Shore Tours Desk are located on this deck around the periphery of the Grand Atrium. This is also the location of the Internet Café. The rest of the Empress Deck houses staterooms.

Continuing upwards to the Atlantic Deck, the main level of the bi-level theater occupies the forward portion of the deck.

The Dynasty Lounge

The Dynasty Lounge is an attractive theater that offers a variety of seating options from standard theater style to comfortable sofas. However, the site lines in many of the seats on the upper level are not good. A plexi-glass partition obstructs some views, while the incline is not graduated enough for viewing over the heads of people sitting in front of you. Just outside the Dynasty Lounge is the Galleria Shopping Mall where one can find the standard duty-free shops for jewelry, liquor, logo and cruise wear and sundries.

The Mirage Piano Bar

On this deck of the Grand Atrium we find the Card Room, which was used as storage for the Art Auction and the Mirage Piano Bar. With its prime location right outside the entrance to the Pride Dining Room, it proved to be quite popular both before and after dinner. Colors explode in this small bar (seating for 92) and the décor is anything but understated. But everyone seems to have a good time there and the décor seems to fit the venue.

The Pride Dining Room

The Pride Dining Room is one of the two dining rooms onboard. This bi-level dining room seats 650 and has a variety of seating options from tables for 2 to booths for 4 and larger tables for 8-10. There is actually a forward and aft entrance to the dining room and my daughter and I found this a bit confusing one night (more on that in my travelogue). The one distracting characteristic of this dining room was the long open serving station that occupied the center of the dining room. The galley separates the Pride from the Spirit, the second dining room. The location of the galley makes it impossible to get from one end of the ship to the other without going to the deck above or the deck below, making this one of those situations where, “you can’t get there from here”.

The Spirit Dining Room

Perhaps the best way to get to the Spirit Dining Room is via the staircase that leads downward from the Pinnacle Club. The Spirit seats 658 guests on one level and is brighter due to the neon lighting, but, in my opinion, is not as appealing. The children’s playroom is tucked behind the Spirit Dining Room and is most easily accessible via the stateroom corridor one deck below or the outer deck staircases one deck above.

The pulse of the action onboard the Imagination centers on the public venues that run the length of the Promenade Deck beginning with the upper level of the Dynasty Lounge. Exiting the lounge, a video arcade is along the port side of the atrium. Continuing past the atrium one enters the Imagination Promenade on the starboard side. An Egyptian theme runs the gamut of the promenade as golden sphinx atop columns line the walkway.

The Promenade Seating

A number of table and chairs, arranged in small conversation pods lined the starboard corridor of the Promenade and were perfect for people watching. A small sushi bar was open each afternoon, but the line was usually quite long and seemed to move quite slowly.

The El Dorado Casino

The El Dorado Casino offered all the standard gaming tables and banks of slots that saw a lot of activity on this cruise.

The Promenade Walkway

The Dream Bar fronts the casino and this bar open to the promenade makes for a great meeting spot. Party music kept things lively here on most evenings.

The Shangri-La Lounge

Continuing aft, The Shangri-La Lounge was a pleasant lounge with comfortable seating and nice size dance floor. Variety dance music from pop to rock was performed there nightly.

Vittorio's Cafe

Vittorio’s Café served specialty coffees and sweet snacks from noon to 12:30 AM (for a fee). A flat screen TV was kept tuned to sports broadcasts most of the time. Illusions Dance Club is the disco and was packed each night until the very wee hours of the morning. In fact, spirited and energetic dancers often spilled out into the promenade. Illusions was used as a teen disco early, then was open to the over 18 crowd after 11 PM. The décor is as vibrant and colorful as its patrons. Understated is definitely NOT a way to describe this spot. The Pinnacle Club was an interesting lounge as a large staircase (used as an egress to the dining room below) divided the seating in the room into two separate areas. Flat screen TVs were mounted on the walls along both sides and along the bar. In addition to acting as the Sports Bar on this particular cruise (more about that later), one side of the club was used for “Texas Hold ‘em” each evening, it served as the Cigar Bar and piano music provided pre-dinner entertainment for those dining in the Spirit. Beyond the Pinnacle Club was the Xanadu Lounge.

The Xanadu Lounge

Smaller than the main Dynasty Lounge, Xanadu was used for karaoke, adults’ only comedy shows, art auctions and other daytime events. The children’s pool is completely aft on Promenade Deck. It is accessible through Xanadu Lounge or from the open deck stairway on the Lido Deck above.

The Horizon Buffet Bar

There are actually two identical aft portions of the Lido Deck, one port and one starboard that provide outdoor seating for the Horizon Bar & Grill Buffet.

The Horizon Buffet

This was my favorite spot to enjoy my early morning cup of coffee in quiet solitude. There are two main serving lines that offer the same fare on both sides and multiple smaller serving stations that provide alternate fare, thus eliminating huge lines. Opposite the main serving lines, are a full service bar and a 24 hour pizzeria. Additional seating can be found along enclosed corridors on both sides of the ship as you exit the Horizon Bar & Grill. Although the space was well designed for traffic, I found the industrial metal chairs and modern décor to be somewhat cold and sterile. (Definitely not my personal preference.)

The Main Pool

As one exits the Horizon Bar & Grill, two additional Poolside Grills served hot dogs, hamburgers and fries at lunch, but also served breakfast and dinner items. A nice size pool, flanked by two hot tubs and Carnival’s signature pool slide are the focal point of the open deck.

The Pool Deck

A pool bar, stage, multiple lounge chairs on a tiered pool deck and large screen television complete the space. This space is well-used and the main venue for many daytime activities.

Staterooms occupy the Verandah Deck forward.

Verandah Deck Pool

A small pool and additional hot tubs, a golf driving practice net and plenty of open space are located in the aft portion of this deck. Although a bit windy, if you are looking for a quiet respite from the buzz of activity around the main pool, this is the spot!

The Sports Deck is the location of the spa and fitness center. I must admit to never making it to this portion of the ship on this cruise. The Sun Deck, the uppermost level boasts the jogging track, an observation area forward and a miniature golf course aft.

Dining & Service:
I have already outlined the main dining venues onboard, but a word about the quality of food itself. I was actually pleased with the variety and quality of food served in the main dining room. On our short 4 day cruise, lobster, prime rib and filet mignon were all offered. There was a wide variety of other well-prepared seafood, pasta, vegetarian dishes and meat dishes served nightly providing adequate options for any palate. My daughter is an exceptionally “picky eater”, so often chose items from the Kid’s Menu and she was not impressed. Desserts ran the gamut from very good to OK. While the food quality was good, the presentation left much to be desired. Our wait staff was mediocre. While they were professional and service was prompt, they appeared to be somewhat detached and less than eager to be there. They did their job, but nothing more. Of course, if I had to do a song and dance routine to accompany every evening meal I served, I may not have been all that engaged in my work either. The food in the buffet area was standard buffet fare, but good and quite varied. Queues were often long in the two main service stations, so try to avoid the peak dining times at breakfast and lunch. The pizza and burgers were quite good and our personal favorite at lunch. Surprisingly, there was even a grand gala buffet on our one formal night of the cruise. I did not sample room service on this cruise, but there was certainly no shortage of food or dining options.

Okay, I have always felt that Carnival’s entertainment was one of the strengths of this cruise line. Well, I must admit to being a bit disappointed in that realm, or at least filled with mixed emotions. The live bands, musicians and comedians performing in the various lounges and around the ship were all enjoyable and quite entertaining. However, the production shows were another story. The lead vocals were not only weak, but the female lead was often off-key and lacked any kind of stage charisma. My daughter and I both enjoy the shows and it took every bit of self-control we could muster to not walk out on the performances. With that said, I must share that a pleasant surprise was the lack of activities centered on drinking and sexual innuendo. Although there was lots of fun and frivolity in events, it was a pleasure to not be inundated with suggestive and over the top activities that I remember from past Carnival cruises.

The Imagination Docked in Miami

My Travelogue:
Day 1, (Miami): Having enjoyed our first lunch onboard at the Lido Buffet, we explored the ship before making it to our staterooms. But, first we needed to make a detour. Although I had confirmed late seating dining, we were assigned an early seating. Now, for my daughter and I, that was just not going to work. So, a trip to the maitre d’ was in order. He was able to place us at a large table in the center of the Pride dining room at our requested time (more about this later). We began to settle in and awaited the 4 PM lifeboat drill. Yuck! For any of you who have read one of my reviews, you know that this is my least favorite activity, followed closely behind by the dreaded packing-up to leave. Upon returning to our cabin, we had planned to make our way to the pool deck to participate in the Sail Away Party. However, our luggage had been delivered while we were attending the lifeboat drill and we decided to do a bit of unpacking before we began our cruise revelry. Ah! Big mistake! As we unpacked we got into deep conversation and lost track of time. One of the major drawbacks to an inside stateroom is that you have no idea what is going on outside. So, while we chatted away, the cruise ship sailed away. By the time we realized the ship was actually moving, we had missed most of the party. Having begun our day at 3:30 AM, we decided that a short nap was in order if we wanted to make it through dinner. Rested enough to at least get through the next few hours, we prepared for our first dinner in the dining room. Well, we were in for a surprise. Yes, we had been reassigned to a large table at our requested time, BUT, all the other guests at the table spoke Spanish. All we could do was laugh as neither Heather nor I speak Spanish. They were all nice couples and three of them spoke limited English, so we figured we’d make a go of it. What the heck, we had planned to spend the time bonding anyway, and Heather and I have never had difficulty finding topics of conversation to keep ourselves amused. We past on the Welcome Aboard Show and managed to enjoy an after dinner cocktail at the Dream Bar, before both of us admitted to be being totally exhausted and headed for bed.

Docked in Key West

Day 2, (Key West): We arrived in Key West early Friday morning at approximately 7:30 AM. Unfortunately, we docked at the military base on the outskirts of town. You must allow for additional travel time to take the trolley to get to and from the center of Key West. For security reasons, walking along the pier is strictly forbidden. Since we had to be back on board by 1:30 PM, this would be a short stay. Once the initial rush to leave the ship subsided, Heather and I made our way to the gangway and onto one of the waiting trolleys.

The Key West Trolly Station

Dropped off at the trolley station, we then meandered our way down Duval Street, stopping to shop along the way. It was quite hot and it was not long before we wearied of walking, so we made our way back along Duval Street to Sloppy Joe’s.

Sloppy Joe's in Key West

Crowded, as it always is when ships are in port, we found a couple of seats at the bar and ordered a beverage and lunch. This is a great place for people watching and being entertained at the same time. Time passed quickly, and we had to make our way back to the trolley stop for our return to the Imagination. The sun was shining and it was still early, so a few hours of lounging in the sun by the pool was the next order of business. While relaxing in the sun, the Rum and Reggae Party kept us entertained. This was our one formal night of the cruise and we had a full evening planned ahead of us. So, as is true to form, a short nap in preparation of a late night was next on the agenda. We had decided that we really needed a new mother/daughter photo.

Heather and Nancy at the Captain's Cocktail Party

So, before attending the Captain’s Cocktail Party we made our way to the numerous formal portrait venues around the ship in hopes of garnering one really good picture. After the cocktail party, we made our way to dinner to once again to enjoy scintillating conversation with our tablemates. In their defense, they were very gracious and attempted to include us in as much of the conversation as possible and a lot of laughter was shared by all. Of course, that was after Heather and I managed to spend the first 5 minutes of dinner at the wrong table! There are two entrances to the Pride Dining Room and since we entered the dining room from the direction of the Dynasty Lounge, rather than our stateroom, we were completely turned around. We sat down and introduced ourselves to the one couple that was seated there (since our table the night before had 2 vacancies we assumed they were our missing tablemates). It wasn’t until the waiter greeted us that we realized we were on the wrong side of the dining room! DUH!!!! In our defense, however, both sides of the dining room are carbon copies of each other and we didn’t realize that there were two entrances. Ah, well! After dinner, Heather and I were both looking forward to the first production show of the cruise, “Living in America”. Well, I have already shared that the performance was a major disappointment and we were hoping that the Adults Only Comedy Show at midnight would be better. We found a seat in the Xanadu Lounge and played Late Night Cash Bingo, before the show. I am not usually a great fan of the Adult Comedy Shows, but compared to the evening’s production show, this performance was thoroughly entertaining. Sine we had retired so early last night, I had promised Heather that I would stay up late to party with her. True to my word, from the midnight comedy show we made our way to the disco. Hmm, well, this was truly a labor of love. The music was targeted to the 18-25 year old crowd that was jammed into Illusions. Talk about feeling like a fish out of water, I was clearly out of my element. I often enjoy the disco on cruises, but this was definitely not one of those cruises. So, by the time 3 AM rolled around I had to cry “uncle”. So much for mother/daughter cruises, or at least the kinds of activities we could enjoy together.

The Pier in Cozumel

Day 3, (Cozumel): We were not due to arrive in Cozumel until noon, which was a good thing after the late night we had logged last night. My internal clock still fully functional, I awoke early anyway and quietly exited the room to let my daughter sleep. I found my favorite spot to enjoy my morning coffee, a light breakfast and a quiet place to relax at the outdoor Lido Buffet dining area on the fantail. The morning started out sunny and quite promising, but as the morning wore on clouds and stormy skies were approaching. Not to be deterred by the weather, when we were given the all clear to go ashore, Heather and I decided to maintain our original plan and check out Paradise Beach. Well, as it turned out, the decision was quite fortuitous.

Paradise Beach

The weather at Paradise Beach was perfect and the storm clouds maintained their distance and blew off in the opposite direction. Floating in the tranquil blue ocean, catching the sun’s rays, lunching on succulent shrimp and calamari while sipping Paradise Punch made for a perfect afternoon. Heather indulged in a massage while I took a walk along the beach. We were scheduled to be in Cozumel until 10 PM, so we decided to make the most of our day and made arrangements to visit the San Gervasio ruins.

The San Gervasio Ruins

Not far from the center of town, these are definitely a Mayan ruins “light” experience, but are still worthwhile and interesting (particularly if you don’t want to spend the day traveling the long distances required to visit some of the more major sites). We hired a guide onsite for $8 and were able to tour the site in a little over an hour. This turned out to be plenty of time as it was extremely hot and humid. We were ready to move on to our final stop of the day, our traditional Carlos ‘n Charlies visit. The party was in full swing when we arrived, and we got into the spirit immediately. We met some other passengers from the Imagination while there, and the group decided to check out the scene upstairs at Senor Frogs before heading back to the ship. Heather and I chose to leave a bit earlier than the others as this was the night of the BIG game. As a student at Ohio State, Heather was not going to miss the game between Texas and OSU. We hustled back to the ship just in time to catch the second quarter beginning. The Pinnacle Club was packed and, interestingly, filled with Ohio State fans. In fact, there was a wedding party in attendance and they were all still dressed in their wedding attire, wearing “Beat Texas” t-shirts over their formal wear. As best we could determine, there was only one lone Texas fan in the bunch. Unfortunately, he was the only one that left the bar in good spirits that night. A bit dejected, but also exhausted, we gladly retired for the evening.

Day 4, (At Sea): Days at sea are often my favorite part of a cruise, so I was looking forward to our lone day at sea. It was an absolutely beautiful day and once again I enjoyed my morning coffee on the Lido deck fantail and prepared to spend the day planted at the pool. This was obviously a ship filled with late night partiers as the pool deck was relatively quiet until close to noon. However, by noon the pool party was in full swing. “New Wave”, the calypso band, kicked off the party mode at noon and things were kept jumping until late in the afternoon. Ice carving, the “men’s hairy chest contest”, dancing, “water wars” and towel folding demonstrations kept the pool crowd entertained.

The Towel Folding Demonstration

The afternoon wore on and Heather and I made our way to our stateroom to begin the task of packing to leave. Ugh! At least being only a 4 day cruise, this process would not take long. We had planned another full evening of activity and anticipated making the most of our final night. Tonight’s production show was scheduled pre-dinner and we had decided we would give the Imagination Singers and Dancers another shot. We stopped at the Mirage Piano Bar to listen to Brad and grab a quick pre-show cocktail. Well, we probably should have stayed put since the production, “Shout”, was a greater disappointment than the first show. After the show we had time to do some last minute shopping and select our formal portrait (yes, we actually found one that both of us liked) before heading to dinner. Since Heather would be back at school on her actual birthday (Sept. 23), we decided that we would celebrate it together tonight.

Heather and Nancy at the Birthday Dinner

Our tablemates got into the spirit of our “pre-birthday” celebration and got the waiters to deliver a birthday cake to her. As it turned out, one of the men at the table was actually celebrating his birthday that day. So, when 2 cakes were delivered to our table we were surprised with a special treat. The Birthday Boy’s wife had a beautiful voice and rather than the standard waiters “Happy Birthday routine”, she sang a beautiful Spanish rendition of “Happy Birthday” to both her husband and Heather. It was so captivating that the entire restaurant got quiet and she received a glorious round of applause. A very special moment was shared that Heather and I will both remember. After dinner we made our way back to the Dynasty Lounge for the Guest Talent Show. Wow!!! The Imagination production cast may have left something to be desired, but the talent displayed by the guests was simply spectacular!!! I must admit to being blown away by some of the performances. We originally planned to check out the Late Night Comedy Show, but we had enjoyed the entertainment at the Mirage Piano Bar so much, we decided that would be our next stop. We had not yet visited the Shangri La Lounge on the cruise, so fulfilling our mission of testing every lounge we headed there for a nightcap. The “Rise Up Band” was performing Beatles tunes when we arrived. Now, this was a lounge that I could spend dancing the night away! So, since I was such a good sport about sticking it out in the disco, Heather quite willingly subjected herself to my kind of music for the evening. It was actually a wonderful way to end the cruise as we talked and danced and just thoroughly enjoyed the time we shared together. Yes, this cruise had achieved its goal, for my daughter and me to add just one more lifetime memory to our growing bank of shared memorable moments.

If you are willing to carry your own luggage off the ship, Carnival schedules an early disembarkation allowing you to be the first off the ship. Since this was only a 4 day cruise, for us that seemed like an obvious option. With this “express service” we were off the ship, shuttled to the Alamo Car Rental location and in our rented vehicle exploring Miami by 10 AM. The whole process could not have gone more smoothly.

The Imagination's Atrium

Overall Impression:
The Imagination was clean and well-maintained for an older vessel. This cruise is an excellent choice for a first-time cruiser, or for a short getaway. Although priced for the budget conscious, the Imagination delivers a standard mainstream cruise experience. Food was definitely better than expected and the new comforters and bedding in the cabins made the cruise a bargain for the money. If you are looking for a fun time, no pretense and an escape from the rigors of the daily routine than this is a good choice.

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