This is a full review of our cruise on the Carnival Imagination from the port of Long Beach, California. Our sailing dates were February 1-5, 2014. We went on this cruise for our 12th wedding anniversary.
If you’re thinking about booking this cruise, don’t. Save your money. If you don’t want to read the entire review, skip to the bottom for a summary of pros and cons.
We booked through Expedia. This is a cruise for two people, originally advertised on Expedia at $149.00 per person. When we clicked through to the actual booking, that rate was suddenly “sold out” and they forced us to select a cabin at a higher rate. The rate had “gone up” to $169.00, and the purchase breakdown showed actual charges of $179.00. What a racket.
Fare – $358.00 (For two people, inside guaranteed cabin)
Taxes & Fees – $144.24 (For two people)
Service Gratuity – $92.00 (For two people, although we asked for ours to be removed and tipped in cash)
Refundable Onboard Credits – -$10.78 (We still don’t know what this was from)
Non-Refundable Onboard Credits – -$50.00 (Expedia’s “deal” – raise the rate $60 and give a $50 credit)
Total base cost for two – $533.46
I will also note here that Expedia asked us specifically if we were celebrating any special occasions. We listed our anniversary for both passengers on February 2. I don’t know whether Expedia didn’t pass the information along to Carnival, or if Carnival didn’t care, but Carnival did absolutely nothing to mark the occasion. I even mentioned it at check-in and to several Carnival employees, but nobody made any notes and nobody said a word for our anniversary.
Here are the Carnival Fun Times itineraries, brochures and pamphlets we were given during our cruise on the Imagination.
I hope this review helps answer any questions you have about our experience.
You can see tons of photos and videos from our trip on my Flickr account.
Day 1 – Embarkation at Long Beach, California
We left Arizona for Long Beach at 6:30am on Saturday morning, February 1, 2014. We arrived at the pier at about 12:30pm. Our check in time was between 1pm and 4pm, which is apparently the same for everyone. There were about a thousand people there when we arrived.
We parked in the pier garage ($17 per day) and didn’t know where to go from there. There were no signs, and no staff to help us. We found our way into the check-in line, but weren’t sure if we were in the right place since we already did online check-in the night before. As it turns out, everyone waits in the same line regardless. Why bother checking in online? It saved other people some time, but not us. Once I tracked down a Carnival staff member to find out we missed the porters, I dragged our luggage back to the packing garage and tipped the guy $4 to take our two suitcases.
Once back in line with Andrew, we waited about an hour to check in. By that time it was 2:00pm. When Carnival says in their embarkation packet, “After receiving your boarding zone, have a seat in the waiting area,” I don’t know what they are smoking. There are no seats. You have to stand outside in the open lot in the sun. When I say there are no seats, I mean there literally are no seats at all. You have to stand the entire time. That giant white dome? You only shuffle through it to go through security.
Long Beach Cruise Terminal
Zone 9 was called within about 15 minutes, around 2:15pm. We figure we waited the least of almost any passenger due to the time of our arrival. They started boarding Zone 1 at 1:00pm so by the time we made it through the check-in line, they were already on Zone 7.
They walked our zone into the dome and into security. It’s just like an airport screening. That took about 15 minutes. We declined our first of about 1,840,286 photo opportunities, then took the escalator upstairs to board the ship.
Heading into the Dome
The Gangway to Carnival Imagination
We were officially on board the Carnival Imagination at 2:30pm, two hours after we arrived at the pier. We went directly to our stateroom, R215 on Riviera Deck 4, which was ready for us. I took a bunch of pictures of the clean room before we messed it all up. Our luggage arrived five minutes later and our porter asked me to take his picture too as a joke, so I did. He was very friendly. So far, so good.
The room was clean. It is showing small signs of age but for a ship built in 1995, I was impressed. Other reviews warned of sewer smells and freezing cold rooms, which other passengers did experience, so I guess we got very lucky. Our only issue was that we were right above the propellers, so there was a constant loud vibration in the room. It actually helped me sleep better, so I didn’t mind it.
The cabin had lots of storage space. There were three closets (one had ladders in it) and five big drawers. The desk space was ample for our needs. Our full size suitcases fit nicely under the bed. We had two twins pushed together to make a queen, and there were two more bunk beds high on the way that could have been lowered to sleep four total. I can’t imagine trying to squeeze four in there, however. I should note we requested two twins for a configuration, but we got a queen, and I didn’t bother asking them to change it.
Carnival Imagination Stateroom R-215 Riviera Deck 4
Our in-room safe was broken at first. We told our stateroom attendant, Noervi, who promptly had maintenance come change the battery in it. The safe worked fine after that. You just use any credit card to lock it, and that same card to unlock it. There is no charge to use the safe. There was enough space in the safe for my professional DSLR camera, an iPad, two smart phones and our passports. Plenty of room for our needs.
We panicked when we heard the room only had one single 110v power outlet. We brought a 3-outlet expander which worked great to plug in two things at once. There isn’t much room above and below the outlet, so things like my camera battery charger would not fit without an expansion plug or an extension cord.
Carnival Imagination Stateroom R-215 Riviera Deck 4 – Electrical Outlet Plug
After scoping out the room, we went all around the ship to take pictures and see where everything was. We grabbed some pizza on the Lido deck. People were still boarding the ship after 5:00pm, even though the last boarding was supposed to be at 4:30pm. Due to that, our muster drill didn’t start until about 5:15pm. We made our way to the Illusions Nightclub, muster station D, for the mandatory drill. We were not required to bring lifejackets to the drill. They provided a brief demonstration of how to use the life jackets, then walked us in two single file lines up the stairs to deck 10 to debarkation station 18. After standing sardine style for about 10 minutes, a signal sounded and we were released.
From the muster drill, we headed straight to the Pride Dining Room to get in line for the 5:45pm dinner. We had the Free Style dining plan, assigned by Carnival, so we were given a choice to dine ‘alone’ or ‘with others.’ We chose alone, which meant we were squeezed between several other two top tables with couples about 6″ on either side of us. We had a friendly conversation with the couple next to us the entire meal, which turned out to be the norm for the dining room during our cruise. For starters, we chose broccoli cheddar soup and artichoke dip with chips. Both were bland and watered down. Andrew got lasagna, while I had tilapia. Again both were bland. Dessert was chocolate melting cake (which I referred to as lava-hot flour-less cake), while Andrew had the orange cream cake which was good. I would have appreciated the meal more if I knew how bad the rest of our meals would be.
By 7:20pm when we left the Pride dining room, the line for a table was very long. We were glad we went early. After that we crashed. It was a tiring day.
Day 2: Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, California
I woke up at 5am starving, and went out to find some food. The pizza station guy did not want to make me pizza, that was clear. He suggested room service. The ice cream station was being cleaned. Room service estimated an hour wait. I stole a box of cereal from the buffet. I located a staff member, who was bothered by my request for milk and a spoon. She said she couldn’t get me a milk carton and I could use the coffee creamer if I needed it. It was gross, think watered down skim milk. This ship advertises 24 hour food availability. That’s total crap.
At 6:30am we went back to the Lido deck for continental breakfast. Fruit, pastries, lunch meat, etc. The fruit was pretty old and the pastries had clearly been frozen and dethawed. They had the classic old-crunchy texture. None of it was good.
We happened to catch the sunrise on the deck, which was unbelievable with bright reds and oranges complimented by beautiful clouds. Of course, I didn’t have my real camera so I had to use my point and shoot.
Sunrise in Avalon
At 7:00am, the breakfast grill opened. The pancakes and potatoes were okay. The bacon was far too greasy. Andrew had an omelet from the omelet station which was edible.
Right after breakfast we hopped a tender, with no waiting, for Avalon and Santa Catalina Island. By 8:00am we were dropped off and the island and proceeded to walk around town. The town was dead. Nothing was open at all. We walked around Avalon for about two hours. It was a challenge to find interesting things to photograph. Eventually some shops opened around 9:00am. I got some candy at Lloyds of Avalon. Bored, we mailed postcards to my brother Noah and my friend Shannon in Germany. The corner drugstore sold me some stamps to use. She even gave me directions to the Post Office which is easy to find.
Tendering to Avalon
The Avalon Gas Station
Back on the pier at Avalon, we ate an overdone funnel cake. Yuck. Then we boarded a tender back to the ship, again with no waiting. I’m glad we went early even though the shops weren’t open, because the line to get to the island at that point was ridiculous.
Back on the ship we grabbed some books and went to the Serenity Deck. It was serene for a bit except for the seagulls who were noisy and aggressive. Then some older ladies showed up and never shut up so I couldn’t relax. After a while we went for lunch. We thought the poolside buffet opened at 11:30am. We waited for about 10 minutes while a line queued up behind us. Nobody who was working behind the counter could tell us what time they planned to open. The food was out on the buffet, but we couldn’t eat it. I found out later they open at 12:00pm that day. It was very annoying to have the variations in time for every dining establishment. They should pick one constant time, and stick to it.
Frustrated at the confusion, I went to ask for pizza again. The lady who took my order obviously didn’t feel like making pizza that day. She was rude. Ten minutes later, I had two slices of pizza hot pizza with the cheese sliding off. It was not very good, but at least it was edible and available when I was hungry. Once the buffet actually opened up, Andrew got an old hamburger, some chicken tenders and old dried out fries from the grill poolside. It was pretty gross.
Hamburger, Chicken Tenders, Fries
It was at this time we started wishing we could get off the boat and go home. We went back to the room to read and type recaps. Trying to make the best of it, I took some LEGO minifigures around the ship for some funny pictures.
Since it was Superbowl Sunday the ship had a lot of football and team spirit activities. We went back to our room for kickoff at 3:00pm and ordered room service. I got a grilled american cheese which was a panini style white bread with three slices of unmelted cheese inside. The cheese was still cold. Andrew got a pastrami on rye sandwhich, which was quite small but edible. The sides of chips and pretzels were the best part. Dessert was the chocolate cake which was decent, and assorted cookies which arrived as four chocolate chip cookies that were also on the dining buffet. Less than impressive overall. It took 30 minutes to arrive, sooner than the 45 minute estimate we were given when we ordered.
Room Service on the Carnival Imagination
We watched the Superbowl while playing Uno in our room. The Seattle Seahawks kicked the Denver Broncos’ asses, 43 to 8. It was humiliating to watch. I actually felt sorry for the Broncos. We hate sports, but the Superbowl was the most interesting thing to do on the ship that day.
Andrew managed to catch the Transformers 4: Age of Extinction commercial during the Superbowl. We bolted up on deck to download a cached copy of the commercial onto our tablet while we were sailing away from Avalon. We suspected, although didn’t know for sure, that we wouldn’t have cell phone signal for a while. We didn’t realize this would be the last time we would have signal until we docked in Long Beach – 3 whole days away.
Verizon Data Coverage
We headed to the formal dinner in the Pride dining room at 6:00pm, before the game officially ended so we could beat the rush. We were seated immediately next to another couple from Scottsdale, Jaime and Chris. We enjoyed chatting with them for most of the dinner. For starters, I had the stuffed white mushrooms with cheddar cheese, which was surprisingly good. Our waiter was kind enough to bring me a small sample of the strawberry bisque which I really liked. I shared the unused portion (still in the serving bowl) with our tablemate Chris and he was thankful to try it. Andrew had pumpkin soup which he called decent.
For the main course, I had the flat iron steak with veggies. The night before, our tablemates had it and it looked amazing. My plate? Not so much. I asked for it medium and it came well done and chewy. Andrew had the martini braised basa which was spicy but edible. Dessert for me was the chocolate ice cream, thankfully they couldn’t screw that up. Andrew had the souffle which was okay. Overall the dinner was somewhere between disappointing and edible.
After dinner, we went back to the room and I promptly fell asleep while Andrew watched television for 45 minutes. Then we made our way to the Xanadu lounge for the adult comedy show. Our dinner mates, Jaime and Chris, were there are well. The show was pretty funny but I felt most of the audience, foreign tourists and older couples, didn’t understand most of the jokes. The topics were primarily about rap music and 90′s cultural references.
We crashed hard after that. I was smart enough to bring fruit back to the room from the buffet to avoid another early morning snack attack.
Day 3: Ensensda, Baja California, Mexico
We awoke to the sound of the propellers underneath us changing the ship course at 7:00am. We were docking in Ensenada, Mexico. I went down to grab breakfast and look around. I took some panoramic photos of the shoreline from the front of the ship while Andrew got ready. Then he had breakfast and we went up to the very top, Deck 14, to check out the city for a while. We still had not decided whether or not to get off the boat.
We tried heading to the Library but we couldn’t get there. The ship is confusing to navigate. From our room on deck 4 aft, taking the elevators to deck 8 is useless. You immediately have to go up one flight of stairs to deck 9 to proceed. Then they were blocking the only hallway with construction equipment to fix a sign, so we couldn’t pass by along deck 9 to get to the other side of the ship where the library was. Instead, we grabbed some games and books and sat down on deck 9 to relax. I continued the trip recaps so we wouldn’t forget anything.
Bored to tears, we decided to venture out. We walked off the boat to the pier in Ensenada. Leaving the ship was easy, and it was a short walk into town. The local peddlers are relentless. As soon as we got off the pier onto the first bridge, we were inundated with children and adults blocking our paths trying to get us to buy trinkets from their cardboard boxes. The kids were the worst. They would stand in front of you and jockey back and forth to block your way while shoving things into your face. Just getting by them was a pain in the ass.
We made it to the main drag, Avenida Lopez Mateos, about 3/4 of a mile from the pier. We walked north up the road and then south again, repeatedly saying “No, gracias” to dozens of peddlers and shop owners who tried repeatedly to get us to go into their shop. They would stand up just as we approached and say things like, “Come on, friend, I give you good deal” and “Best prices in the morning, come inside” and “Now it’s my turn, friend, amigo, step inside, I give you best deal yet.” Several of them noted I was wearing an Arizona Diamondbacks hat, so they kept trying to point me to their Diamondbacks merchandise.
Avenida Lopez Mateos in Ensenada, Mexico
We basically speed walked through town as fast as possible, uncomfortable with every part of being in Ensenada. We stopped in at McDonald’s, hoping to get some ‘real food’ that was better than what they had on the cruise ship. Unfortunately it was filthy and they have no seating in the restaurant, so we passed on that. Later, we stopped in at Sweetberry which is a yogurt shop. The girl at the counter spoke no English whatsoever, and they only took Pesos so my US Dollars were no good there. Since it was Día de la Candelaria (a national holiday in Mexico) that day, none of the banks were open so I couldn’t exchange any money. I didn’t want to buy anything from a local and then try to get Pesos back in change, so we just gave up and went back to the ship.
We had lunch on the Lido deck from the buffet. Burger, chicken tenders, chips. It was terrible just like it had been for the past two days. I took some pictures of my Mexican LEGO minifigures to try to have some fun. Both of us desperately wanted off the ship at this point. Being cut off from the digital world, with nothing to do, forced to consume the crappiest food we had ever repeatedly experienced, certainly took its toll on our spirits.
Maraca Man & Taco Tuesday try their luck with the money grab machine
Dinner was once again in the Pride dining room. I had cured salmon and mango cream soup for an appetizer, both of which were good for once. I don’t remember what Andrew had. My main course was attempt #2 at the flat iron steak. This time it was cooked right. For dessert, I opted for the orange sherbet. We chatted with a couple from Mesa for about 90 minutes who also were dismayed at how bad the cruise was.
After dinner, we died of boredom. Err, I mean, we went to bed. We set an alarm for 11:30 pm to go to the Mexican buffet, but when the alarm woke us, we decided staying in bed was a better decision.
Day 4: “Fun Day at Sea”
We awoke at 5:30am to a very rocky ship. What do you get when you mix 30 mph winds, a sailing speed of 10 knots and a drunk captain? A ship of 2000+ seasick passengers heading due west of Ensenada then turning south for no reason whatsoever. This is apparently Carnival’s way of handling a “fun day at sea.” We pulled a random day-long circle in the Pacific ocean below Catalina Island.
Carnival’s Fun Day at Sea Ship Route
Andrew was feeling very sick so he stayed in bed to watch Pacific Rim on the movie station. About 3\4 of the way through the movie, the channel suddenly switched to the TV guide. Seriously.
I tried to get breakfast at 7:10am but of course, they weren’t open, and none of the staff could tell me when they were going to open. I went back to the room to eat the fruit I had stolen from the buffet the night before. As it turns out, the buffet opened at 7:30am on this particular day.
Did I mention how much we wanted off this ship?
Andrew wanted some breakfast around 8:30 so we wandered to the buffet. It was terrible, just as we had come to expect. Afterwards, we played some card games we had brought with us to kill time.
I went to the Towel Animal folding class which was cute. All the kids were allowed to sit up on stage and were given towels to play with as they demonstrated how to make several of the animals. Even adults were given sets of towels to follow along if they wanted. They followed the demonstration with Towel Animal Theater, a children’s puppet show. It was very cute.
Carnival’s Classic Towel Elephant
We got our debarking zone tags delivered to our room around 11:00am. We found out that we were in zone 23 of 25, which was last to get off the ship around 11:00am. We were not looking forward to that.
At 11:30am, we went to the Seaday buffet in the Pride dining room. We waited half an hour with a pager in hand to be called. I got the pancakes, which were raw, and the mac & cheese with bacon, which had clearly been sitting out because the cheese on top was old and hardened with fresher cheese inside. It arrived with fried chicken instead of bacon as I had ordered it. Andrew got the french toast with frosted flakes. They arrived plain. Another couple nearby took a few bites of their food and just got up and left. After waiting a while for the waiter to come back, we left before they brought the brownie we had ordered for dessert.
The ship was rocky all morning. It was hard to walk anywhere. Many people were seasick. What a “fun day at sea” this was. You can see a video of the ship rocking here.
We went back to the room to nap and watch more parts of Pacific Rim. They repeat the film at 6, 9, 12, 3, 6, and 9 during the day. By the third showing, they finally showed the ending all the way through. Andrew read his book for a while.
We went to the Sign & Sail kiosk to review our bill. Carnival automatically charges you a gratuity per person based on the length of your cruise. For our 4-night cruise, it was $46 per person. We decided to go to customer service and ask them to adjust the gratuities. We wanted to take some off the dining staff and give it to the stateroom attendant instead. Without explanation, the service representative simply removed both $46 gratuity charges off our bill. When I asked how we could adjust them, she explained that now we had to pay in cash. She gave us some envelopes. We had very little cash on hand, and the ATM fees were ridiculous. We scraped together what we had left and put it in an envelope with Noervi, our stateroom attendant.
We went to the Pride dining room one last time for dinner. At this point, they knew we had removed their gratuities from our bill. Ironically it was the best dinner we had. I think that was a coincidence, however. For a starter I had the fruit cocktail (a bowl of fruit) and Andrew got the Caesar salad and the crab cake (the best thing he ate all trip, he said). We both got the flat iron steak, since that was the only thing on the menu we thought they might be able to get right. Both were good. For dessert, I had the apple pie and he had the baked Alaska. They were plain but okay.
We went back to the room and packed the luggage. It had to be out in the hallway with our zone tags between 6:00pm and 11:00pm.
We went to the all ages comedy show in the Xanadu lounge. It was mildly entertaining. Then, we walked around a bit and I was able to get souvenir casino chips to take home with me. At first, the dealer said he wasn’t allowed to sell me any chips to take home with me. When I started to walk away, he said, “Let me just ask again.” He turned around and asked the floor manager, who looked at me and waved his hand in dismissal, so the dealer said, “Well okay. How many do you want?” I got a $1 and a $5 for my collection and we were off.
Carnival Imagination El Dorado Casino
We noticed a $20 bill in the ATM that somebody had forgot which I turned into the cage. The cage attendent was so shocked I would do that, that he just gave me a dumbfounded look. There, I did my good deed for the trip. I wonder what he did with it.
For one final attempt to experience something entertaining, we sat down early for the Rock Anthem show in the Dynasty lounge. The opening act played about two dozen Rock riffs on an electric guitar and he was fantastic. I thought to myself, WOW this is going to be a great show! Then, the show started. Oh my. Talk about an audience that was dead as doornails… the show cast was really working it, I give them big props for energy. If you like Queen, Heart, and Billy Idol you might like this show. Think: David Bowie in Labrynth. 70′s glam rock all the way. The audience was either so in shock they didn’t know how to react, or they were so sick of being on the ship they may have been sleeping. Either way, it was like watching a train wreck.
Before we went to sleep, we put our luggage outside as required by Carnival and crashed for one last night.
Day #5: Debarkation in Long Beach, California
We got up at 5:45 to the sounds of the ship docking at Long Beach. We quickly got ready, finished packing and headed downstairs to get a comfortable seat and table to play cards on while we were waiting. Since we had to vacate the stateroom no later than 8:30am, I wanted to beat the crowds to get a good seat. We expected to be stuck until at least 11:00am.
Breakfast opened at 6:30am today (big shocker, a different time than before) and we took turns going upstairs to the Lido deck for food, then coming back to the Promenade deck to eat. Seating turned out to be easy to find, unlike our previous cruise experience. We spoke with another couple who cruises a lot, and they were also dissatisfied with this cruise. In fact, of the half dozen couples we talked to near the end, only one seemed to have a good time.
Debarkation was relatively painless. We were last to leave the ship with zone 23 of 25. They said we would be called around 10:30am-11:00am. Lucky for us, they called our zone at 9:20am. We were past US Customs by 9:45am. They have separate lines for US and Non US citizens. The US Citizen line was much shorter. WE WERE FINALLY OFF THE BOAT. We were in our car and on the road by 10:00am.
Carnival Imagination Ship Summary
- Stateroom. Our attendant, Noervi, was the best on the ship. Friendly, great service, always called us by name. He was fantastic. Stateroom was clean and relatively spacious with lots of storage. Bathroom was a good size with a larger shower than our previous cruises.
- Large common areas. Open lounge and show spaces are large and inviting. Most common seating areas are comfortable.
- Casino. The gaming area has lots of tables and slots to choose from.
- Serenity Deck. It’s is a good place to hide if nobody else is there.
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- Food. Sucked. Most of it, anyway. Service sucked too. Food was raw, burned, frozen, wrong orders… Most places were closed when we wanted to eat. The hours changed daily…. The staff was rude everywhere, from the lido deck to the promenade to the dining room. All cakes we tried were bland and flavorless. They were all stiff like they were frozen a long time and left out too long before serving. Popovers and pancakes were raw. Steaks were burned. We had fish several times and it was always overcooked and too salty. The bacon was swimming in a pool of grease, and was paper thin and floppy every day. Pastries had a distinct old/hard texture at each buffet. Hash browns were severely overcooked, as were the eggs benedict. Overall the food was extremely disappointing. Even my breakfast milk was frozen and had cubes of ice milk floating in the carton. The crab cake, gourmet burger and the strawberry bisque were the best things we ate on board.
- Stateroom randomness. Some people complained their room was stinky, and some said it was far too cold. We got lucky on both accounts.
- Price. It’s cheap, right? You get what you pay for. Our $149 cruise turned into $781 really fast, and that’s without excursions, photos, alcohol, gambling or any shopping. They charge for everything, and even their free stuff is an excuse to try to sell you more stuff. Every time we turned around someone was trying to sell us add-ons like sparkling water, photos, shots, drinks of the day, spa treatments, excursions, tours, special dinners, bingo, gaming tournaments, Towel Animal books, DVDs, photos, alcohol, photos, alcohol, photos…. Alcohol. Photos…. $22 per portrait. Drinks were $7-$12 apiece.
- Ship was confusing. Some elevators took you to places on a deck but others wouldn’t allow us through. Some buttons worked but others didn’t. There was no way to tell if an elevator was going up or down. Pressing one buttons called all four bank elevators to your floor simultaneously, which meant your elevator would randomly stop on several floors each trip. To get to the Pride dining room, we had to take the elevators from deck 4 aft to deck 9 aft, then walk across the ship to the forward stairs and walk down the stairs.
- Ports sucked. Avalon was boring. Ensenada was scary. We would have stayed on the boat but we were bored to tears. I recommend taking excursions just to give yourself something to do, regardless of how outrageously expensive they are.
- Hand sanitizer. Most of the stations ran out by the morning of day 3.