Carnival Imagination exceeds expectations. Not because expectations are particularly low, but because Carnival reminds us that cruising can still come close to being an affordable, mostly all-inclusive vacation. What does less than $100 per person, per night (sometimes even as low as $75) buy you? Surprisingly, a lot: made-to-order breakfast burritos, an adults-only sun deck, fantastic kids programming, family activities like a live-action game show, access to the sauna and steam room, full gym, mini-golf, live music, comedy, theater performances, a nightly three-course dinner (or a greasy burger!) and towel animals to spare.
The trade-off is that the luxury of choice leaves something to be desired. For staterooms, the lack of cabin categories could be a hindrance for those used to a veranda. There's a low ratio of suites and no standard balcony cabins -- less than 3 percent of cabins have balconies -- so booking one could be tricky. While much of the ship has been refreshed, cabins are difficult to retrofit. Luckily, the inside and outside cabins that make up the majority of the rooms are spacious and comfortable.
The advantage of fewer options is you might end up spending less money. When pretty much everything is included in your cruise fare, you don't need to budget a ton for specialty restaurants or dinner theater shows. Sure, you could order off the small Steakhouse Selections menu each evening in the main dining room and spend $20 per entree on lobster and filet mignon, or book a pricy Chef's Table experience -- but those are the absolute exceptions when it comes to dining. Deli and pizza stations in the buffet fill in the gaps during mealtimes, while BlueIguana Cantina and Guy's Burger Joint on the pool deck are always fun alternative lunch options in a pinch. The ability to just show up at a designated time for dinner and pick from the rotating menu was actually freeing from having to make a million choices about where and when to dine -- and the food is good, to boot.
Where Imagination does have lots of options is its entertainment and activities. Musical acts could be found in most public spaces throughout the four days of our sailing, and -- we're not sure if it's because the cruise leaves from LA -- the talent was superb. A male/female duo, two singer/songwriters with guitar, another duo with a Latino bent, a full band and two DJs mean you're never far from music. Song covers were artistic and well executed, not cheesy and one key off as cruise ship entertainment can sometimes be guilty of. We were impressed by the theater troupe and comedians as well -- even the towel animal puppet show was fun.
The same applies to multigenerational activities. Carnival makes an effort to provide age-appropriate as well as family activities onboard. There is a dedicated kids' clubs with three age groups and two teen clubs that keep current with what 21st-century youth is into these days. On the rare occasions you do see your kids (cruises make for fast friends), it might be at Hasbro, The Game Show or a dancing jamboree to raise money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. The line's partnership with Dr. Seuss is also great for families, incorporating character fun at photo ops, a parade and a dedicated breakfast, along with literacy at Story Time, into their fun-for-all programming.
Fun is a key component of sailing on Carnival Imagination, not just in the onboard activities but in the decor as well, which some might call tacky -- think lots of women's heads with wings situated around the ship, Egyptian sphinx busts glowing gold around the Deck 10 atrium and large chrome angels with wide wingspans overlooking the Xanadu Lounge. Yet, the tackiness works when you're trying to spend a few days not taking anything too seriously.
The main takeaway from a Carnival Imagination cruise is its value. For the money, service on Imagination is paramount, and the crew is always encouraging passengers to take things less seriously and have a genuinely good time.
Carnival's staterooms (about 1,557 of them) are slightly larger than industry standards (approximately 185 square feet for a standard room) and there's not much disparity between cabin categories. However, the ship's lack of balconies does stand out -- just 45 cabins have verandas, including the suites.
Accessible cabins are available in all categories except junior suite.
Decor is simple -- sherbet orange bed ruffles, curtains and some accents; rust-colored lights and shelving; maroon carpeting and crisp white bed sheets, towels and shower curtains. Closets and nightstands are a medium-brown wood. One work of art hangs on the wall; ours was bright, cheery and reminded us of a Matisse tablescape. There's a desk with one chair, a safe in the closet, a hair dryer in the top draw of the desk, a small flat-screen TV, bar soap, shampoo and bodywash dispensers in the bathroom and one U.S. outlet above the desk. Suitcases fit under the bed and there's plenty of storage space for clothes and shoes, especially for a short cruise.
You can opt for two single beds or have them pushed together to form a queen.
One facet of the room that makes it feel a tad outdated is the air-conditioning system; there's no thermostat so our room was always cold because air is constantly blowing through a ceiling vent -- all we could do was try to close the vent to the best of our ability.
Interior: There are about 988 inside cabins onboard. Some feature an upper pull-down or sofa bed to maximize space for two cruisers traveling together who don't want to share a bed. Others accommodate three to four passengers, with twin beds and a pull-down bed, sofa or trundle bed. Inside cabins can be found on all passenger decks.
Oceanview: There are roughly 524 outside cabins with a porthole or window onboard. There are no outside cabins on Deck 11.
Balcony: There are no standard balcony cabins onboard Carnival Imagination.
Junior Suite: There are 17 Junior Suites -- nine on Deck 11, along with eight junior suites with an obstructed view. Junior suites feature more interior space with a small couch. All have a balcony, can sleep up to three people and come with VIP check-in. The balcony comes with two chairs and a small table.
Suite: There are 28 Grand Suites on Deck 6. For the most inside and outside space, plus VIP check-in, book a full suite. Rooms come with a couch, an armchair, and a dressing area with a vanity. You will find two chairs and a small table on the balcony, as well. Grand Suites can be connected to other rooms, but each room can accommodate up to five passengers.
The freedom of dining onboard is that no imagination is required; it's straightforward, delicious and -- with few exceptions -- free. There are about six free dining venue options, and only two or three extra-fee experiences. Despite the lack of alternative dining options aboard Imagination, menu offerings in the buffet and main dining room rotate daily meaning you won't get tired of the same roast chicken and onion soup. Plus, sailing short cruises, you don't have time to get bored of the food. With the addition of the cantina and burger bar on the Lido Deck, there's more than plenty to keep taste buds and tummies (including those of any picky eaters) satisfied. During the "in-between" hours -- 3 to 6 p.m. or late at night -- there's a deli open about 12 hours a day (typically until 11 p.m.) and a pizza station that never closes.
Spirit & Pride Main Dining Rooms (Deck 8): Passengers will find the same meals served in both dining rooms, but Pride is reserved for the flex-schedule Your Time Dining from 5:45 to 9:30, while Spirit hosts two set seatings -- one at 6 and one at 8:15. Pride is forward, and Spirit is aft.
Decor in the dining rooms is pretty simple, dark pink carpeting with a leaf motif; colored lighting on the ceiling that shifts from night to night (red, blue, gold); and gold metallic pillars. The atmosphere is upscale but not stuffy, with jazz and big band standards piped in quietly in the background. Seating is situated mostly around large, round wooden tables accommodating 10 to 12 people. Two-tops and four-tops can be requested, but can be hard to nail down.
American Table is the main dining program onboard Carnival ships, and we feel the quality, service and hallmark Carnival entertainment (dancing, singing and napkin-waving) is up to par with other mainstream cruise lines. The left side of the American Table menu rotates daily with featured soups (including a cold soup), salads and appetizers. Examples include shrimp cocktail, mango soup, kale or romaine Caesar or broiled sea scallops. A "rare finds" item gives diners the chance to try escargot, frog legs, alligator fritters and other plates not usually found at your dinner table. A featured wine list is also recommended. Six main dishes change nightly and include entrees like root vegetables in a pie crust, roasted duck, jerk pork loin, blue crab ravioli and Japanese sea bass. A vegetarian dish is always available, typically Indian dishes with sauces and spreads to feed an army.
A "from the grill" section remains the same all nights, offering salmon in a citrus-pepper rub with vegetables, chicken breast with garlic and herbs, a pork chop with onions and apples, and a grilled beef tenderloin with polenta and broccoli in a red wine sauce. Choose from six sauces to accompany any dish: chimichurri, barbecue, bearnaise, peppercorn, roasted garlic and tomato tapenade.
On the right side of the menu, the chef selects a cocktail, appetizer and entree to highlight the cuisine of the ports you're sailing. In Ensenada, ceviche, chili rellenos and por supuesto, a margarita, were on offer. Alcohol and drinks aside from ice water, coffee and standard teas are always additional.
On cruise elegant night, the menu is dubbed "American Feast," and tables are dressed up with white table cloths.
Dishes in the main dining room are free, except Steakhouse Selections, a small section on the bottom right of the menu, which offers four entrees for an additional charge of $20 each. Choose from a Maine lobster tail, 9-oz. broiled filet mignon, a 14-oz. New York strip steak or a surf and turf with a filet and lobster tail.
The dessert menu introduces three new options each evening, in addition to the always-available ice cream, cheese plate, tropical fruit plate and, of course, the signature Carnival melting chocolate cake. A no-sugar-added dessert, like chocolate panna cotta with warm chocolate sauce, is also usually offered. Other options might include vanilla bean creme brulee or fig and date bread pudding. A range of after-dinner cocktails and specialty coffees are available from $1.95 to $9.25.
Held in the Pride dining room from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the sea day, Carnival's sit-down Seaday Brunch includes savory and sweet options like tomato soup, fruit and cottage cheese or bagels and smoked salmon, to start. Order steak and eggs, a pork chop, eggs Benedict or French toast coated with cereal for the main event. Even order ice cream for breakfast, if you want. A Bloody Mary bar is offered with tons of garnishes including hot sauce and rum, gin, tequila or vodka bases. Walk up to the bar or have one served tableside and save the trip.
Horizon Bar & Grill (Deck 10): Teal neon circles light the way throughout the Horizon Bar & Grill, just beyond the pool deck. This is the ship's buffet and while it's not very big, it offers a lot. There are two sides with the same items, which helps with crowding. In the morning, expect eggs, bacon, an omelet bar, cold cereals, hash browns and plenty of pastries. (Insider tip: the omelet bars get crowded -- to avoid the wait, check out the omelet station tucked between BlueIguana Cantina and Guy Fieri's restaurant outside the buffet by the pool. This is also where you can find a snack station, later in the day, with items that appear to have been brought over from the buffet -- we found strawberry cake pops, cookies and Jell-O here on the first day. A Continental breakfast is served between 6:30 and 10:30 a.m.; the full buffet opens at 7 a.m. and if you were cutting a rug the night before, a late-risers buffet is available from 10:30 until noon.
Lunch and dinner are themed, meaning you'll find Italian, Caribbean, French or traditional American fare featured each afternoon and evening of your cruise. On the afternoon we dined here, we found comfort food including fried chicken, mashed potatoes, salad, cornbread, baked fish, pot roast, turkey stuffing, clam chowder and even pickled okra. That same afternoon there was a chocolate buffet from noon to 2:30, with cakes, cookies, fondue and other treats derived from cocoa. Lunch is typically available from noon until 3 p.m. A variety of salads, cold cuts and other sides, like fruit, are always available during lunch.
Dinner is pretty flexible; it's open until 9:30 p.m., but doesn't start until close to 6. If you know you get hungry right at 5, grab a sandwich, burger or burrito from the deli or Lido. When it is open, you'll find plenty of hot entrees, including a carving station, as well as vegetarian and gluten-free items.
Self-serve beer stations are available from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m., but only stocked with Miller Lite. You need to swipe your card to purchase.
After a night of imbibing and/or dancing, you can find snacks -- chili dogs, fries and the like -- set out at a station in the buffet from 11 p.m. until around 1 a.m.
If you are patient enough to pass up the first available seat in the buffet, head outside at the very aft of the buffet or along the sides, there's usually plenty of great alfresco seating.
Pizza Pirate (Deck 10): This is your "anytime" option onboard Carnival Imagination, but leave some time for it to be prepared. Pizza Pirate is a popular stop at the back of the buffet, and while sometimes you might get lucky finding just the pie you want, other times you might have to wait 10 minutes or so for a new one to bake. Choices include Margherita, rustic (pepperoni), anchovies, goat cheese and mushrooms, and all veggie. Pies are typically medium in size and you'll get half -- two big slices -- unless you ask for the whole thing. Calzones and tossed Caesar salad are available upon request and so is gluten-free dough.
Carnival Deli (Deck 10): Looking for a quick sandwich? The onboard deli, located within Horizon Court, serves turkey wraps, tuna, hot corned beef or pastrami on rye, grilled ham and cheese, hot dogs and more. And, "like every good deli" (or so the sign says), you'll find pickles as well. Stop by for a bite from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., daily.
Guy's Burger Joint (Deck 10): Guy Fieri ushers you to Flavortown with a choice of burgers slathered in his signature "donkey sauce" with cheese, onion rings or even chili. Choose your caloric threshold wisely and leave room for the seasoned fries. Veggie burgers are available upon request. A toppings bar lets you pile on the pickles, jalapenos or ranch dressing, ad nauseam. Guy's Burger Joint is open from about noon to 6 p.m., daily.
BlueIguana Cantina (Deck 10): A poolside spot serving up tacos, burritos, arepas and huevos rancheros fits right in on a Baja California itinerary, but the BlueIguana Cantina has also good food anytime and anywhere. Choose from jalapeno or wheat tortillas. All meals are made to order and once your Mexican dish is complete, you can top it off with a sizable salsa and toppings bar. Watermelon and the black bean-corn salsa make any order complete. We were total suckers for the breakfast here as well, served from 7 to 10:30 a.m., most days. The hash browns in the breakfast burrito deserve a Nobel Prize. Lunch is served from 12:30 to 2 p.m.
Room Service: A continental breakfast (cereal, yogurt, toast, eggs, coffee) is available any day except debarkation morning, and can be ordered ahead of time by hanging an order card on the door handle of your cabin by 5 a.m. The rest of the day, sandwiches -- tuna salad, turkey, BLT, PB & J, ham and cheese and a Reuben -- are available with a choice of potato salad, coleslaw, chips or pretzels. You can choose from white, whole wheat, rye or gluten-free bread. Garden or Caesar salad and a vegetable platter are also available. Cheesecake, chocolate cake and cookies are on the complimentary section of the room service menu. Juice, soft drinks and coffee or tea are available to order anytime, but only coffee, plain tea and water are free.
The second half of the room service menu is available for an additional charge. Chicken tenders with dipping sauce, wings, pan pizza, cheesesteak or a chicken quesadillas are all $5 each. Spicy fried firecracker shrimp is $6. Sweet potato fries are $2 (regular fries are $1.50); a banana split is $4. While most room service is free, it's polite to tip a dollar or two upon delivery.
Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast (Main dining room); $5 per person: Dr. Seuss comes alive at the Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast. Held on the sea day morning at about 9 a.m., families and even adults interested in meeting Thing 1 and Thing 2 can attend a special breakfast hosted by Sam I Am and members of the activities staff. A Cat in the Hat ice sculpture is just part of the zany decor. Of course, green eggs and ham are on the menu, along with a stack (and we mean stack) of red velvet pancakes, waffles with icing and fruit loop-encrusted French toast with frosting -- steak and eggs and omelets are available for the less adventurous. Fruit parfaits serve as a sort of breakfast dessert. Photo opportunities with all the characters are offered, and the crew even perform a special dance near the end of the meal.
Chef's Table (location varies); $75 per person: Probably the most indulgent experience onboard outside of the spa, the Chef's Table is a multicourse dining event, including wine, held once per cruise and hosted by the executive chef. Location and menu items vary by sailing, so if you're curious, be sure to ask once you get onboard.
Vittorio's Cafe (Deck 9); a la carte: The onboard espresso bar draws a crowd with its specialty coffee drinks -- a tall latte for $2.95, $3.50 for an iced mochaccino, or $5.95 for spiked coffee. Tea lattes, hot chocolate, milk shakes and even cans of Rockstar energy drink can also be found, along with sweets like chocolate-covered strawberries, slices of carrot cake and entire cakes for special occasions like a birthday or anniversary. We cruised in the fall, and yes, pumpkin spice lattes were available (you could even add in a shot of Bacardi Oakheart). We were surprised to find the World Series playing on the flat-screen TVs behind the bar, hence passengers dutifully gathered at the seating in the promenade to watch. One touch we appreciated was that each day, a different crossword puzzle is offered at the cafe. The coffee shop is open 7 to 10:30 a.m. and then 3 p.m. to midnight, on port days, and 7 a.m. to midnight on the sea day.
The weather is warm and the dress is casual. On a four-night sailing, there is one formal night -- ours was the second night of the cruise. Formal, for Carnival, is "cruise elegant," meaning whatever refined threads you feel like slipping into. Attire on this evening really runs the spectrum from button-up shirt and khaki dress pants to gowns and military uniforms. With the exception of shirts and shoes required in the Horizon buffet off the pool deck, it's come as you are and dress in what's comfortable. If you feel like getting into the spirit of the Electric White Night deck party, wear something white and you will qualify for drink specials.
The ship's main theater is the Dynasty Main Show Lounge, located on Deck 8 forward. Talks with your cruise director or shore excursion staff; Hasbro, The Game Show; Towel Animal Theater; bingo and more are all held here during the day. At night, the Playlist Productions cast performs for two audiences -- one earlier in the evening and one later. On our sailing, the shows were Epic Rock and Divas, one centered around classic '70s and '80s anthems and the other celebrating the women of contemporary pop along with songstresses from the past. Color us impressed. The quality of all the entertainment onboard was definitely a notch above what was anticipated, with the theater cast belting out Beyonce while they shook their groove thing.
The theater is large, and the sparkly golden curtain is stately, but sightlines aren't always great -- large, shiny pillars block a lot of angles. Seating is not the most comfy either -- banquette seats are low and losing their bounce; the chairs we chose on the mezzanine level were enough we couldn't even sit in them.
Carnival keeps it going, and even with a full day onboard, there weren't any lulls. Trivia -- from Harry Potter to sports -- is offered at least twice per day, plus an oversized Trivial Pursuit session (with pie pieces the size of small shovels) that took place in the Xanadu Lounge one afternoon to a healthy turnout. Aside from soaking by the pool or on a sun deck all day, there's also art auctions, spa seminars about balance or weight loss, digital scavenger hunts, bingo, events at the shops, arts and crafts and tournaments in the casino.
The onboard arcade is located on Deck 9 forward, open a dangerous 24 hours per day. If you know your young ones might be inclined to swipe their keycards for one too many sessions of Star Wars pod racing, be sure to put a limit on their cruise card.
LGBT, AA and military interest groups all have the chance to meet during specified times throughout the sailing.
Imagination has a reasonably late bedtime, as cruisers try to squeeze as much out of a four-night vacation as possible. However some of the smaller bars might shut down by midnight, depending on the crowd. The area around the casino and the nightclub, on the promenade, is where you'll typically find the last revelers.
The El Dorado Casino, located off the promenade on Deck 9 midship, stays humming, with plenty of slot machines, blackjack tables and Texas Hold'em tournaments. Events like a "Pin & Win or $100K Slot Tournament are held regularly when the ship is at sea, and the floor is always open until "late." We heard plenty of yelling, and from what we can judge, it was in approval. If you can't tolerate smoke, it might be tough to spend too long here as the air is saturated with the stuff. You must be 18 or older to enter the casino.
The Punchliner Comedy Club, held in the Xanadu Lounge, hosted two comedians -- one male, one female -- on our cruise, and they did double duty with PG shows and some downright raunchy 18-plus explicit comedy. Shows began around 7:30 for the family-friendly crowd, with the last stand-up act going on at 11:45 p.m. We went to one (adult) act each, and thought it was as good as you would find in any land-based comedy club in a major city.
If you're not enjoying a meal or a drink, you can keep yourself occupied at night with karaoke in Shangri La, themed deck parties or letting loose late into the night at the Illusions club. A "Thriller" dance class was even held in Xanadu one night of our sailing. Meet-and-greets are organized near-nightly for single cruisers.
You could visit two different bars or lounges every night of your four-night cruise, and still have more to see. Imagination boasts 10 bars and lounges, most located along the Promenade Deck (9). There's a nice variety with tequila, cocktail and rum bars, and even an espresso bar. Lounges host karaoke, comedy and late-night piano sing-alongs.
Atrium Bar (Deck 7): If you can't wait to have a vacation drink as soon as you get on the ship, this is your bar. Located smack dab in the middle of the atrium, this bar is a general service watering hole serving just about anything you could want, including Carnival specials like pirate punch ($8.95) or a pomtini ($9.25), plus wines by the glass. It's a fun place to grab a drink if there's live music playing. The dining rooms are just one deck above, so it's also convenient for pre-dinner cocktails. Open from about 8 in the morning to midnight or later.
Mirage Bar (Deck 8): If you're looking for the ship's piano bar, you'll find it at Mirage in more ways than one. The actual bar that surrounds the piano player is designed to look like piano keys. The standard onboard drink menu is served here, with seating directly in front of the performer at said bar, or in comfortable nooks and tables nestled around the room. The pianist on our voyage had a killer voice, and while he belted out all the Bon Jovi and country rock hits, folks happily added to the volume with sing-alongs and plenty of ad-libbing. During the day we saw it used to host the once-per-cruise, behind-the-scenes ship tour.
Dream Bar (Deck 9): Save for the serious smoke, Dream Bar is the place to be. The bar, backlit by a golden angel-like figure, faces the promenade and a small stage, making it one of the better utilized casino bars we've seen. Many times we had to stop here to watch one of the talented performers, grabbing a seat or a table just off the bar. (You know the musical acts have talent when they warrant people stopping and filming them.) Maybe due to the gambling, or the cigarettes, possibly it was the rocking music, but Dream seemed to keep the party going into the wee hours… and party hard people did. The bar opens sometime in the afternoon -- anywhere between 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. -- and stays open until "late."
Shangri La Lounge (Deck 9): If you like to sing in front of strangers, put this promenade stop on your radar. Shangri La is the ship's dedicated karaoke lounge; it was also occasionally used for trivia during the day or in the early evening. Every night (starting at about 6 p.m.), cruisers file into the space, but we either saw it packed with no seats or nearly empty, and not much in between. Table service is available, and binders went around with song lists, but we found them pretty stale. By the time we finally got around to going back for a duet, it was after midnight and already over.
Illusions Nightclub (Deck 9): The dance club onboard Imagination is open every night of your sailing, except during the deck party, when passengers are encouraged to get funky under the moonlight. The party gets started late (10:30 to 11:30 p.m.), which is perhaps why we didn't see too many people fist-bumping, but not for lack of bass. (Most night owls we came across never strayed far from the casino.) On the last night, club hits like the "Harlem Shake" shook the ship enough for us to poke our heads in. The club has strobe lights and a back bar -- everything you need to make moves. Specials, like Ladies' Night, save clubgoers $1 on certain drinks. Be sure to show up with your onboard cruise card, along with a government-issued ID as you must be 18 or older to enter.
Alchemy Bar (Deck 9): Pick one of the many thoughtful concoctions on the list (an electronic, e-reader-like device) or ask the skilled bartenders to put something together. The Perfect Storm is sweet, but not overly; the basil drop is refreshing. All cocktails are $10.95 and a seat at the apothecary-themed bar also comes with a snacking plate of almonds, olives and mild white cheese. If you can't decide, join the white-coated bartenders for a for-fee martini flight and tasting, held once per sailing. Alchemy occupies the seating area in front of Xanadu -- we like the sleek brown leather couches and cream-colored chairs near the window, which seemed like a quiet place to read or work (if need be). The Alchemy Bar opens in the late afternoon -- between 2 and 4 p.m. -- until 1 a.m. each night.
Xanadu Lounge (Deck 9): At the back of the popular Promenade Deck, Xanadu is used for trivia and games during the day and the Punchliner comedy shows in the evening and at night. The decor here is fantastical with dark, demonically lit angel busts lining the walls atop red pedestals and overlooking furniture in an off-putting cream color with mauve cushions. There is a bar along the entire back of the lounge, but it's only open during the comedy shows. During the day, Xanadu is heavily trafficked as a quick way to head out onto the outer decks from the ninth deck.
RedFrog Rum Bar (Deck 10): There's something about a cruise vacation that screams "rum." Get your colada fix at this fixture on Imagination's Lido Deck. ThirstyFrog Red, Carnival's own beer on tap, is served here along with a variety of tropical tipples. The prices of individual rums vary from Jamaica's Appleton at $6.50 to 18-year-aged Flor de Cana rum from Nicaragua for $8.95. Frozen drinks are $8.25 ($3 off for virgin) and featured cocktails cost $8.95 (Red's Rum Treasure is 16. Oz. for $10.95). Our favorite drink here is the Ting mojito -- a blend of Ruby Red vodka, grapefruit juice, mint, lime, lemonade, a splash of Jamaican Ting soda but regretfully, no rum. Sip in the shade at the tiki hut-style bar or sit at stools around oblong countertops. RedFrog Rum Bar is open for most of the day, sometimes from 8 in the morning until 1 in the morning.
BlueIguana Tequila Bar (Deck 10): The counterpart to RedFrog's Rum Bar, BlueIguana keeps things cool on the pool deck with tequila-based cocktails, buckets of beer and…drumroll… a beer cocktail. Draft beers are about $5.75 or $29.95 for a tube; buckets of beer save you $2 on four bottles of beer; frozen drinks like a guava margarita are $8.25; featured cocktails and margaritas like an Iguana Iced Tea (similar to a Long Island Iced Tea) are $8.95; featured tequilas vary in price. Pitchers of margaritas or spiked lemonade are $25. Virgin drinks are $5.25. There's some stool seating at the bar along with a few shady spots to sit. Oddly, on our sailing, BlueIguana Tequila Bar was often closed with no explanation. If you have your heart set on a signature margarita, grab it when you can.
Lido Aft Bar (Deck 10): Open until 4 a.m. each night, the bar at the back of the Horizon Bar & Grill is a safe bet to grab a beer or Bahama mama with meals, to hang by the pool or enjoy anytime. There's not much of an atmosphere, being it's in the buffet, so it's more of a grab-and-go location.
There is one main pool, located on the Lido Deck (Deck 10). One whirlpool hot tub flanks either side. Attached to the main pool is a smaller, adults-only section of the pool. In the middle of the pool deck is a stage where musical performances happen during the day, or group dancing at the deck party is led by night. It's also a fun alfresco area to grab a drink and listen to some tunes or do the shuffle all night long.
Whether you're looking for a deck-high water slide, a little shuffleboard or a free lounge chair, Imagination offers plenty of space to stretch your legs on one of its outer decks.
Known for its water parks, Carnival has a variety of slides, even on older ships like Imagination. Located on Deck 11, Twister is a curvy tube slide, plus there's a set of racing slides and a smaller set of mini-racers. All slides empty into a shallow pool. Children must be at least 42 inches tall to ride the Twister and racing slides and 36 inches tall for the mini-racers. Children who are not toilet-trained are not allowed on the water slides or in the pools.
If 24-hour mini-golf sounds appealing, there is a great little course on Deck 14 in the City Sports Park, available for free play. The jogging track surrounds the court on Deck 14, and 11 laps equals a mile.
Shuffleboard and Ping-Pong can be found looking down on the pool area, on either side of Deck 11.
We figured that on a short, fun-in-the-sun cruise with just one sea day, there was no chance at finding a deck chair… but that wasn't the case. There was plentiful sunbathing real estate surrounding the pool, the hot tubs and one deck above, on Deck 11. We found two blue deck chairs together without a problem, and the crowd was boisterous but not obnoxious.
For adults 21 and over, Serenity is a kid-free, complimentary oasis at the very back of Deck 9. Serenity's signature teal cushioned deck chairs, yellow umbrellas and fluffy yellow towels cover the space, which has two whirlpool hot tubs, but no pool. Souvenirs are available for purchase at the towel counter -- $22 for beach towels, $49 for a bathrobe and, unsurprisingly, a book that teaches you how to make towel animals for $15. A drink steward makes the rounds taking orders for the bar, but the turnaround time can be a bit lengthy; if you're desperate for a colada, bring your own before you get comfortable. Bathrooms are located just inside, one staircase down.
Don't laugh, but we think the sun deck near the water park is the best-kept secret in sun-worshipping space. If you don't mind a few squeals and squalls from kids running up and shooting down the slides, then there is not only tons of open space, but also a gorgeous view of the ship's wake. We cruised in late October, so the middle of summer or the holiday season might mean a bit more crowding and kids howling.
The Grand Atrium is awash in color and light with red and blue neon squiggles lining the inside of each deck and the elevators designed to look like prisms. In the midst of it all, on Deck 7, are the guest services and shore desks. To discuss an onboard charge, lodge a complaint or address any other matter, guest services is available 24 hours a day -- a separate counter is dedicated to Diamond and Platinum loyalty members. The shore excursions desk is available to book or discuss plans for tours on land. The desk was open until 7 p.m. on our first night and from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. then 5 to 7 p.m. on our first port day. Brochures and info packets are always available to grab.
In front of the theater, along Deck 8, you will find the onboard shops, called the Fun Shops. Open while the ship is sailing, you can browse Edco cocktail rings, Effy jewelry, Carnival logo items and a variety of liquors. Sales, like an Invicta watch event, are held throughout the cruise. We found a $795 timepiece for $199.
Located right off the promenade on Deck 9, Cherry on Top is the spot for a little something sweet -- whether it's candy for the kids or some flowers for your beau. Novelty and souvenir lunch boxes or logo items from Dr. Seuss can also be found in this tiny gift shop, colored like a glazed cherry and, of course, whipped cream. The store is open during the sea day, or while the ship is sailing.
It became a ritual to take a cheesy portrait or pose for a ridiculous photo at dinner and then check it out the next day at Pixels, the photo gallery midship on Deck 9. It became increasingly difficult, however, to pick our photo out of the thousands of pictures printed and hung around the atrium. While the shots were divided by dining time, or day and event, we often found our faces in the wrong section. When we finally did find a picture we considered taking home, pricing was a bit high -- $22 for an 8 x 10 picture with fingerprints all over it. We would have preferred a thumb drive with all the photos from the cruise -- even if it meant shelling out three digits -- but that option is not available. A digital copy is only offered when you buy a physical print -- and then, just of that print. GoPro equipment and fanciful, light-up photo holders or frames that look like a towel animal, are also sold at Pixels.
Park West runs the art gallery onboard Imagination (and many other ships and cruise lines). Events like a Champagne art auction and Guess the Price are held throughout the sailing in the Illusions Nightclub. Someone in our party won a $100 credit toward a piece of art in a raffle, but most are in the thousands-of-dollars range. (There is an "Under $500" sale advertised). Browse the works and visit the desk aft of the atrium on Deck 7.
We wouldn't call it an internet cafe, but the small area to the right of the Atrium Bar consists of five desktop computers and a ledge with one printer. Wi-Fi plans are simple and divided by what you use: access to social sites only (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more) is $5 for 24 hours, $15 for the four-night cruise; 24 hours on email and basic web costs $16 or $35 for the length of the cruise; premium internet, meaning access to streaming music or video, is $25 per day or $60 for the cruise.
Curiosity Library, on Deck 8, is one of the finest libraries we've seen at sea. Curiosity is oddly majestic, eschewing Carnival's signature va-va-voom for a Victorian design. Picture spiraling gold pillars, tile floors overlaid by Oriental rugs, beautiful stained glass ceiling finishes, booths in every window and furniture that mimicks antique oak cabinets, tables, chairs and even a desk. The assortment of books was a bit uneven -- we couldn't find any travel guides for the ports we were visiting -- but there were plenty of board games to keep a family occupied. The library never closes.
Small, self-serve laundry facilities are located midship on Deck 6 and forward on Deck 7. You will find two detachable ironing boards, four washers, four dryers and a dispenser for soap, bleach and softener. Each load is $3 and detergents are available for $1.50 each by coin slot. Same-day and next-day laundry services are also available for pick-up in your stateroom. A wash and press for a men's blazer is $5; a women's dress is $7.50. Bags of laundry run about $15.
If you're in need of the ship's doctor, the medical center, along with the gangway, is located on Deck 3 forward.
Kids and teens won't have a chance to be bored on Imagination's four-night sailings, which are jam-packed with water slides, Dr. Seuss-themed activities, dedicated kids' clubs and a towel animal theater show that we thoroughly enjoyed, even as adults. When the brood isn't relishing the time with their new friends, there are ample opportunities for families to spend time together, as well. Hasbro, The Game Show is held twice per sailing and incorporates trivia and your family's favorite board games into a live-action contest for all ages. Even the comedy and theater performances offer early, family-friendly show times.
The partnership with Dr. Seuss is ingenious in the sense that classic characters like The Cat in the Hat appeal to the child in many of us, across generational gaps. Dine on green eggs and ham (or let the little ones go crazy with a sugar rush a la cereal-coated French toast) and get some fun family photos with Thing 1 and Thing 2, and of course, Sam I Am at the Green Eggs and Ham breakfast. The breakfast is followed up with Dr. Seuss trivia, an interactive parade and a Story Time, later that day.
Camp Ocean (Deck 11 forward) has replaced Camp Carnival as the kids' club for those aged 2 to 11. The club, with an aquatic motif, is supervised by about 13 dedicated youth staff, and the junior cruisers are divided into three age groups: Penguins (2 to 5), Stingrays (6 to 8) and Sharks (9 to 11). Open house and registration was 12:30 to 4 p.m. on embarkation day, followed by icebreakers from 8 to 9 p.m. Activity hours ran 8 to 10 p.m. our first night onboard, then from morning (7:30, 8 or 10 a.m.) to 3 or 5 p.m. on the following days. After the dinner break, the club reopens from 6 to 10 p.m., nightly. Dedicated family play time is available most nights from about 5:15 to 6:45 p.m. The club is open on port days.
Penguin activities might include Play-Doh creations/kitchen corner, silly songs and a Royal Gala story time; activities for Stingrays might include Steal the Bacon, volcano-making or sand art; and activities for the Sharks group could be a scavenger hunt, video game play or ocean-themed bingo.
Night Owls, an after-hours program, runs nightly from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. and includes babysitting for tots less than 2 years old, in addition to children up to 11. The program includes video games, movies and other activities, and costs $6.75 per hour per child, plus a 15-percent gratuity per child. Owl Jams, a once-per-cruise party for children up to the age of 11, took place on our third night and advertised additional activities like crafts and music. The party is a flat fee of $15 per child, plus a 15-percent gratuity, and ran from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.
In the interest of doing good and having a good time in the process, a Beary Cuddly Workshop ($19.99 per bear) is offered on the sea day in Camp Ocean, and requires kids to team up with a parent to help design a bear for the St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. Groove for St. Jude ($10 donation each) also brings family and friends together to dance the night away -- T-shirts included.
We didn't see many teens loitering around the stairwells or in the hot tubs. Instead they all seemed to be engaged and having a genuinely good time interacting with their peers. Each teen club has its own director, and activities are loosely organized so teens can come and go without feeling too scheduled on their vacation. Teens also meet to attend theater shows or shipwide parties together in a group.
Circle C (Deck 8 forward) is the dedicated space for teens ages 12 to 14, and stands for "cruise, chill, connect." It's not very big but has a space age-looking green couch and blue cushions fit into the windows, which we honestly wish we'd had in our room. Circle C activities include mini-golf and Ping-Pong play, trivia, foosball competitions and a teens-only deck party.
Club O2 (Deck 9 forward) is for teens 15 to 17 only. Our first day onboard, we mistook the slick red-and-white space with its bumping bass and a DJ booth for an actual club. Air hockey, Wii competitions, Hasbro game play and a Dress to Impress party are a few of the activities that older teens can do together to pass the time.
Hours for Circle C and Club O2 are 4 to 6 p.m. nightly and then 8:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. (hours can vary).
Cruisers on Carnival's four-night Baja California sailing are primarily from the West Coast or just outside it -- California, Utah, Arizona, Las Vegas -- and constitute couples (both those on their honeymoon and pairs in their twilight years), families, church groups, birthday gatherings, bachelorettes... you name it. It's a diverse group, which makes the atmosphere all that much more fun.
The spa, on Deck 12, is pretty plain, but dressed in soothing colors of creams, light wood and green accents. All spa and fitness facilities are open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., daily. A spa raffle is held on the first day and specials are run throughout the short cruise (save $122 on a 75-minute, $291 package, for example). Treatment rooms for seaweed wraps, facials, teeth whitening and couples' massage are all low-lit and dedicated to a specific treatment. Prices can be high; you'll find a 50-minute hot stone massage for about $150 (15-percent gratuity is automatically added to each treatment). Inside of the men's and women's locker rooms is a separate sauna and steam room, our absolute favorite part of the spa, which comfortably accommodates about five people each. The rooms are complimentary -- rare in a mainstream cruise ship spa. We found the facilities to be well-maintained, especially considering they are open to all passengers. During our time there in the late afternoon on a sea day, only two or three other women were using the rooms and soon enough, we had them to ourselves.
A full-service salon is adjacent to the treatment rooms, offering hair coloring, manicures, pedicures and trims and shaves for men. A signature Fire & Ice pedicure is $70; a 25-minute express shave for men is $45.
Free seminars like improving posture, footprint analysis and a ladies-only pamper event are held throughout the sailing, but expect a sales pitch at the end.
The fitness center is a light-filled space with plenty of recumbent bikes, treadmills, ellipticals and other machines encircling the gym along floor-to-ceiling windows at the very forward of Deck 12. A separate room is used for classes like yoga and stretching. Free classes such as abs or stretch and relax, run about a half-hour early in the morning (7 to 8). Other classes including yoga and indoor cycling are $12 each. Body Sculpt boot camp is a high-energy course that runs $69 for two sessions.
Never fear you'll miss the big game if you take time to head to the gym; on our first day onboard we spotted the televisions in the fitness center were running all the big sports games, which we thought was a nice touch.
If you're looking for the jogging track, head up to Deck 14 -- it takes a dizzying 11 laps to run 1 mile.
Carnival recommends $13.99 per person, per day ($15.99 per person, per day, for those in suites). This is divided between dining room services, cabin services and alternative services, which include kitchen, entertainment, guest services and other hotel staff members. The amount is automatically added to your shipboard account, but it can be adjusted in either direction at the guest services desk. A 15-percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills. Tipping a couple of dollars for room service at delivery is appreciated by the service staff.
Country of Registration: Bahamas
Regular Capacity: 2056
Maximum Capacity: 2056
Number of Crew:920
Crew Nationality: Multi-national
Officer Nationality: Multi-national
Language(s) Spoken: Multi-language
If you could design your dream vacation, what would it look like? A little sun, a little sea... but a lot of fun, right? On Carnival Imagination, this is your reality. A ship designed to pay tribute to fantasy and ancient legends, its décor provides a timeless backdrop for modern-day cruise ship delight.
But the legendary fun aboard this ship is more than surface-deep ... it's also remarkably up-to-date. Among the vintage Carnival selection of bustling bars, laid-back lounges and cool-to-the-core clubs, you'll find the some of the latest hotspots from across our fleet. Modern open-air legends RedFrog Rum Bar and BlueIguana Tequila Bar, for instance, have come to claim their place in history, as has Alchemy Bar with its borderline-magical cocktails and Guy's Burger Joint with its renowned eats designed by Guy Fieri. And BlueIguana Cantina with tacos and burritos made the classic way, of course: fresh and by hand.
Then, just for the kids, we've got whole bunches of awesome stuff to do, all across the ship. There's age-appropriate chill spaces like Camp Ocean, Circle "C" and Club O2... plus the splashes-definitely-allowed of Carnival WaterWorks. (Actually, kids and adults alike are encouraged to make the most of this waterful thrill space.)
Nothing brings the family together like the time-honored tradition of food and fun, and there's plenty of that to go around on Carnival Imagination. Oh, also: mini-golf. You can never play too many rounds of mini-golf, especially at sea.
Health and Beauty
No. of Dinner Sittings: 2
No. of Dinner Sittings: Flexible
Special Diet: Available upon request
Dress Code: Daytime: Casual / Evening: Resort wear to formalGratuity Policies
Guests in Standard Staterooms $12.95 per person/per day
Guests in Suites $13.95 per person/per day