Fodor’s Expert Review

Ship Overview

Carnival Cruise Lines
Cruise StyleMainstream
Ship SizeLarge

Insider Take

Overview

One of the oldest “Fantasy-class” Carnival ships (1991), fine for short inexpensive getaways but the age shows in decor.Read More

Best For People Who Want

Non-stop entertainment, lively casinos, extensive deck space for sunning, large, if very pink, facilities for fitness/spa and children’s activities, large cabins, good food, and very informal service. Especially recommended for families, singles in groups and first time cruisers.

Onboard Experience

Identical in all but decor, Carnival Imagination and her seven Fantasy-class sister ships (Fantasy, Fascination, Ecstasy, Inspiration, Paradise, Sensation & Elation) always seem to have something of interest going on, and thus are ideal for the up-and-at-’em style cruiser. Carrying 2,052 passengers, the ships are big enough to provide diverse entertainment, ample deck space for those whose idea of being entertained is basking in a warm sun shine glow, and separate facilities for passengers of all ages.

Having been launched in 1995, in today’s whirlwind pace of change in the cruise industry, Imagination is not so full of neon, chrome and mirrors as her younger sister ships. But it’s there if you know where to look. Like at the Illusions Dance Club with her brass barstools and neon-rimmed mirrors and ceiling panels.

In addition, a further upgrade completed in 2007 includes a snazzy new pool area with teak decking, new umbrellas, a tile “beach” for the pool water to lap against and a new thatched roof for the hot tub. The kids will rave about “Carnival waterworks,” the new water park featuring a 4-story tall and 300 foot long “Twister Water Slide.” Another slide is three side-by-side tubes 82 feet long. This is all part of a waterpark with all kinds of sprays and other devices to keep the kiddies cool and fresh. There’s also a new nine-hole miniature golf course.

As if that isn’t enough for the kids, “Camp Carnival” received a makeover, and the ship has new interconnecting staterooms for families.

The adults haven’t been left out; there is a new “adults-only” area called “Serenity” with a deck of solid teak panels for soft cushioned loungers in sun or shady areas and two hot tubs.

New enhancements indoors include a coffee cafe with specialty coffees (for a price) but free pastries. There is a new art & photo gallery and the atrium bar has been updated. New sound and lighting systems have been installed in every public room, and the ship now has flat screen televisions in several places to keep up with sports and other vital information.

All of the staterooms are updated as well with new fabrics and finishings, and flat panel televisions for a more updated look and the important added space.

Ideal as it is for the sort of person who likes to have loads of activities planned, Imagination also offers lots of out-of-the-way places to read or just contemplate the sea. During summer cruises, however, when there are hundreds of kiddies aboard, quiet contemplation might become a luxury reserved for another ship.

Decor

Every Carnival ship, designed by fanciful designer Joe Farcus, has a unifying theme for the decor. The unifying idea behind Imagination’s interior decor is imagination – that is to say the focus is on famous mythical places of mystery and illusion. You’ll find the the Illusions Dance Club, the Dream Bar with its rotating mirror balls and ceiling mounted lava lamps, The names of the rooms alone evoke mystery; the El Dorado Casino, Shangri La Disco, Illusions Dance Club and the Mirage Piano Bar.

Public Rooms

The ship consist of 10 decks with most of the public rooms concentrated on Atlantic, Promenade and Lido decks (decks 5, 6 and 7). The cabins are mostly concentrated on decks one through four; Riviera, Main, Upper (which is actually a lower deck 3) and Empress decks.

The ships centerpiece is their seven-deck high Grand Atrium, bathed in brass and glass and surrounded by stone monolith centurions holding up the surrounding upper levels, the carpet and the wall decorations are mesmerizing matrices of blue and gold intertwining lines. You can stroll on the “Imagination promenade”, or plop down into a soft banquette to ogle passers-by. The two-level, 1300-seat Dynasty Lounge at the front of the promenade presents live production shows, comedians, magicians, and passenger talent shows, with exemplary sight lines and good seating throughout.

The ship’s most fanciful decor is in such entertainment venues as the popular Mirage Piano bar featuring an enormous circular piano which doubles as a bar for those who like to sing along. You’ll also find a vibrant disco and cabaret lounge along the boulevard.

Other public areas include the Galleria shopping mall, the Virtual World arcade, and the ship’s photo gallery. Vittorio’s Cafe and Internet offers access for 75 cents per minute; for those who plan to spend more time on the computer, there are 100 minute packages available for $50 (50 cents per minute) and 250 minute packages for $100 (40 cents per minute).

All of the public rooms recently received new sound and light systems to add a touch of excitement. Flat-screen televisions have been added to many lounges to keep up with sports and other events. The ship now has a specialty coffee bar, new art and photo galleries and purpose-built conference facilities.

Cuisine

From the best pizza afloat (available 24 hours per day) to haute cuisine in the main dining room, Carnival really delivers on the food front.

Restaurants

Total Choice Dining provides for four dinner seatings in the main dining rooms, alternative Bistro dining every evening, and an increased number of service staff. Passengers are assigned a table for dinner in one of the two main dining rooms – The Pride Dining Room on Atlantic Deck, mid-ship, or the Spirit Dining Room on Atlantic Deck, aft – at one of four seatings; 5:45 p.m. or 6:15 p.m. and 8 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. There are very few tables for two in either of the two main dining rooms; expect to dine with four, six, or eight fellow voyagers. Both dining rooms are named after future Carnival ships that at the time were only a part of the founder’s “imagination.”

You typically have a choice of six starters, a couple of salads, and six or seven main courses (pan-fried fillet of red snapper, sweet and sour shrimp, rack of New Zealand lamb and Beef Wellington). The menu also includes Spa Carnival selections for those trying to reduce their intake of calories, sodium, cholesterol, fat, or meat.

Additionally, the poolside Lido eateries are converted into Seaview Bistros between 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. each evening, offering buffet dinner with no reservations or advance notice required. The informal Horizon (T-shirts and shorts are OK) Restaurant on the Lido Deck offers both inside and poolside seating. All meals here are served buffet style, with open seating for all three meals.

Other alternative eating options include a 24-hour pizzeria, a complimentary sushi bar and 24 hour room service. Added in the 2007 renovation were a coffee bar in the atrium and New York-style deli in the Lido restaurants.

Service

Don’t expect formality. Indeed, expect wacky dances after dessert – and then to come back to your cabin to find that your cabin steward, cut up that he or she is, has left a towel folded to resemble a dog on your bed. The hi-jinx never stop!

Tipping

Carnival automatically adds $10.00 per person per day in gratuities to your Sail & Sign card unless you’re under two years old, and if you’re reading this, you’re probably not. This includes $3.60 for the stateroom steward; $5.50 for the Dining Room team, and $.90 for service in the alternative dining rooms. Visit the purser’s desk during the cruise to raise or lower this amount.

You may also prepay gratuities for all service personnel at a rate of $10.00 per person per day. On Cruises-to-Nowhere, gratuities of $10 per person per day must be prepaid.

A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to all beverage tabs. Tip the maitre d’, room service, spa, casino and other staff as you deem fitting.

Entertainment

The prime entertainment venue is the 1,300 seat Dynasty Lounge theater, but karaoke draws big crowds to the Illusions Dance Club, while the Xanadu Lounge offers a variety of dance-music combos from pop standards to even folk and country musicians. A variety of dance music is spinning nightly in the Shangri La Disco. Regardless of what sort of music you like most, you’re pretty much assured of hearing it.

By day, there are bingo and Trivial Pursuit contests, not to mention such highbrow events poolside as the men’s hairy chest contest.

Cabins

Because they were built just before the shift toward lots of verandahs, just the 26 demi-suites (250 square feet) and 28 full suites (400 square feet) have them.

However, in 2007 all of the staterooms in the class of smaller Carnival ships received a facelift to bring them up to date. All of the staterooms now have new flat screen televisions, for example, a subtle change but one that lends a significantly different feel to the room while also adding a little extra space – which never hurts.

The cabins on these older ships always appeared spartan compared to the newer Carnival ships due to their lack of wooden desks and cabinetry. The colors, fabrics and linens have all been upgraded, but they are still light on amenities (a color TV with CNN, telephone, radio, no hair dryer, and a basket of “free-sample” toiletries). They are roomy, however, among the largest in the cruise industry: inside measure 185 sq. ft, outside 190 sq. feet. Even in the minimum category inside or outside stateroom you’ll still enjoy ample space. Cabins for four and five are understandably popular with families, and go fast.

Oceanview staterooms and suites offer a mini bar, bathrobes, and fairly large bathrooms with a hand-held shower and medicine cabinet. There are also 26 mini-suites (226 sq. feet plus 36 square foot private veranda) and 28 suites measuring 350 sq. feet with 71 sq. foot balconies.

Children’s Facilities

Carnival’s celebrated Camp Carnival program offers a full schedule of supervised activities, from finger painting and singalongs for younger children to photography workshops, late-night movies, and pool parties for their older siblings. The ships’ 2,400-square foot “Children’s World” play areas are stocked with a computer lab, a climbing maze, an activity wall, and an assortment of toys, games and puzzles.

The 2007 upgrade added a nine-hole miniature golf course as well as a waterpark that is better than the larger Carnival ships. The kids will love these supervised diversions giving you plenty of time to relax by the pool.

Attire

On the two “formal” nights per week, most men wear a dark suit instead of tux. By day, nearly everyone wears shorts, T-shirt, sneakers/sandals, bathing suit, and a hat.

Should Be Avoided By People Who Prefer

Sophisticated “seen but not heard” service people; cabins with private verandas; mega-ship action; understated elegance in a low-key environment; no children; dozens of varieties of food.

Fitness/Spa

With no fewer than 12,000 sq. ft. devoted to fitness and spa facilities, these ships are a dream come true for those who like to keep in shape during their cruise. The “Evolutions of Fun” upgrades of 2007 paid particular attention to the spa area with more elegance and amenities.

The gyms have a private trainer and 35 state-of-the-art exercise machines. There’s a day-long schedule of aerobics, and stretching yoga, and Pilates classes (usually around $10 each), as well as body composition analysis and personal training sessions, $75 for 60 minutes. There’s a fully jogging track and a volleyball court. Women who want to sunbathe topless will find secluded areas in which to do so.

Those who prefer to skip shore excursions and snorkel on their own can rent equipment for $26 for three days. The inescapable Steiner’s of London operates the ship’s spa, which offers lots of different kinds of massage – and pushes its beauty products rather more zealously than most passengers would prefer.

Ship Overview

Introduced in 1995, the fifth ship in Carnival’s eight-ship Fantasy-class is Carnival Imagination. Like other Fantasy-class ships, she has received numerous upgrades throughout her tenure and features a secluded adults-only Serenity Deck, but there is no word at this writing on whether the ship will be updated to add Carnival’s “Fun Ship 2.0” upgrades. After embarkation in Miami, passengers on Carnival Imagination sail on three-night cruises to the Bahamas or four-night cruises to the Western Caribbean, including a stop in Key West, Florida, on some sailings.

Bathed in fiber-optic light, glitzy Fantasy-class interiors added expansive six-deck atriums and a new dimension to the original superliner concept. To keep the fun going, these ships offer an almost wearying assortment of places to have a good time. As times and tastes have changed, the ships have evolved as well, with new lobby bars, dedicated club spaces for teens and tweens, miniature golf, and Internet centers. Even newer are Carnival’s WaterWorks water park and the Serenity Adult-Only Retreat, which increase the appeal of the older Fantasy-class vessels.

Only one level below the Lido deck, the indoor promenade connects major public rooms on a single deck, with only formal dining rooms, shops, and other small spaces one deck below. Large in size and ideal for a short itinerary, these ships have sprawling outdoor pool and sunning areas, but they can feel cramped when sailing at maximum capacity. Cabins provide calm oases from sensory overload. With the exception of Carnival Sensation, Carnival Fascination, and Carnival Ecstasy, to which balconies were added to existing cabins, you’ll have to book a suite if you want the solitude of a private balcony.

The world’s largest cruise line—and one of the most widely recognized—originated its “Fun Ship” concept in 1972 and has been launching party-packed superliners with signature red funnels ever since. The line’s ever-growing fleet features entertainment and activities designed for passengers of all ages, from game shows and lip sync competitions to twisting waterslides and mini golf. These ships are a reliable choice for families as well as young singles and couples who want a vacation that won’t break the bank.

Nearly all onboard dining options are included in the fare, as are comedy and production shows, children’s programs, and use of state-of-the-art fitness centers. With some of the most comfortable accommodations at sea, large new ships are continuously added to the fleet and rarely deviate from a successful pattern, while older vessels are updated with popular features, such as the poolside BlueIguana Tequila Bar with an adjacent burrito cantina, the Red Frog Rum Bar that also serves Carnival’s own brand of Thirsty Frog Red beer, and Guy’s Burger Joint, created with Food Network star Guy Fieri.

  • 10 passenger decks
  • 2 dining rooms, buffet, ice cream parlor, pizzeria
  • Wi-Fi, safe, refrigerator (some)
  • 1 pool, children’s pool
  • fitness classes, gym, hot tubs, sauna, spa, steam room
  • 5 bars, casino, dance club, library, showroom, video game room
  • children’s programs
  • laundry facilities, laundry service
  • Internet terminal
  • no-smoking cabins

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

Pros
Cons
Central atriums are stunning when sunlight streams in through skylights
Surprisingly large libraries are ideal retreats for reading or playing board games
Freshly made pizza and calzones are available around the clock
Despite upgrades, the decor is still pretty gaudy
These are ships designed for partying, so quiet spots can be difficult to find
Sushi bars earn high marks for their complimentary creations, but sake costs extra

What to expect on board

Staterooms & Cabins

Layout
Bathrooms
Accessibility

Fantasy-class ships have a higher percentage of inside cabins than the fleet’s newer ships, and with the exception of Carnival Sensation, Carnival Fascination, and Carnival Ecstasy, only the suite categories offer balconies. Every cabin has adequate closet and drawer–shelf storage, as well as bathroom shelves. Light-wood cabinetry and simple decor are the norm for all cabins, while suite embellishments add the convenience of a seating area and small refrigerator. In addition to the extra space, a whirlpool tub is a deluxe appointment in Penthouse suites. Inside cabins have ample room, and their curtained faux windows mimic those in the more expensive standard ocean-view accommodations. High-thread-count linens and plush pillows and duvets add a touch of luxury to all accommodations. Doors have been added to a limited number of adjacent cabins to create connecting accommodations on Fantasy-class ships, and lighting in the vanity/desk area has been improved on some. Bring your own hair dryer.

Extras include shower-mounted shampoo and bath gel dispensers and an array of sample toiletries, as well as fluffy towels. Bathrobes for use during the cruise are provided for all.

Twenty-two staterooms are designed for wheelchair accessibility.

Food & Drink

Food

Two formal restaurants serve open seating breakfast and lunch; dinner is served in two traditional assigned evening seatings or an open seating option. The casual Lido buffet with stations offers a variety of food choices (including a deli, salad bar, dessert station, and different daily regional cuisines); at night it becomes the Seaview Bistro for casual dinners. There’s also a pizzeria; rotisserie; poolside outdoor grills for burgers, hot dogs, and the trimmings; a specialty coffee bar and patisserie; a complimentary sushi bar; and 24-hour room service with a limited menu of breakfast selections, sandwiches, and snacks.

Entertainment

Only Elation and Paradise are scheduled to receive Carnival’s new bar features in 2014 and 2015 respectively. All have spirited piano bars and nightclubs offering music for dancing and listening. Production companies and guest entertainers performing in the show lounge, comedy clubs, karaoke, and deck parties are signature nighttime activities.

Spa & Fitness

Steiner Leisure operates the well-appointed spas that offer treatments including a variety of massages, body wraps, and facials for adults and teens; there are relaxation rooms where you can chill out before or after your appointment and complimentary steam rooms and saunas in men’s and women’s changing rooms. Salons offer tooth whitening in addition to hair and nail services.

QUICK FACTS

SHIP STATS
Entered Service
1995
Number of Cabins
1,028
Passenger Capacity
2,056(2,610 max)
Crew Members
920
Passengers to Crew Ratio
2.23
Gross Tons
70367
Width
103 feet
Length
855 feet
CRUISE LINE INFO
305/599–2600 or 800/227–6482

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