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Are Carnival Cruises as bad as everyone says? My Carnival Imagination Review from Long Beach California.

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


A little over a year ago I was in the middle of a “Diamond quest” with my wife. She started the year with no status and ended the year as Diamond (need elite point help? Ask my pal Adam). In the middle of this we found ourselves in the Long Beach, CA area and decided to take a quick 4 day cruise to warm up in the middle of winter on the Carnival Imagination, a Fantasy-class cruise.

Well, that was the plan anyway.

A quick Uber ride to the cruise port and then wait to board. We were some of the first ones there; I am all about getting on the ship ASAP to begin to enjoy the trip from day 1.

Boarding, arriving that early, was efficient. Those who had suites and priority got in first but with such short lines, we were next up with a minimum delay. The staff continually asked if we had “Faster to the Fun” to direct us to the expedited lines, which seems like a good thing, but they said it so rapidly and repeated it so many times it made it feel like an interrogation. They were also carrying hand units to sell the “Faster to the Fun” perk on the spot.

One thing I love about most NCL ships is there is an adults-only area. Serenity is one of the reasons we booked the Carnival Cruise.

Departure day was amazing. A little cool but still gorgeous. I was excited to try something other than NCL.

I love sea life of all kinds (well, other than sharks maybe). Like diving, you never know what you are going to see when you look out into the big dark blue!

On to our room review (it will be quick). Normally we book at least a balcony or a suite but this time, due to the short cruise and that it was just a fill-in during a mileage run, we went with a porthole room.

Impressed? Wow, what a tiny room (disclaimer: I have never booked an interior room nor would I ever). Thankfully the porthole did at least let a little light in. The bed was OK and the room was clean. However, the heating/cooling was a ceiling mounted unit which we could either open or close — but no actual thermostat to regulate temperature. Plus, we kept getting whiffs of cigarette smoke when it was running. Very disappointing.

Our room steward was great and took good care of us. The bathroom was decent size considering the size of the cabin. I would not book this again.

As I mentioned we were hoping for a few warm days at sea. But here is how it turned out.

Clearly not Carnival’s fault but it was rather wet. And not just wet.

It was wet and cold. Like really cold. Winter coat cold on-deck.

Well, that is unless you are a kid in the pool watching ice carving I guess. 🙂 Time to head back inside.

I freely admit I am judging the “Carnival Experience” in the mirror of NCL. I really like NCL. I like the crews, the ships, the small touches and more. I like the simplicity of the drink package, for example. My wife and I both have to buy it since we are in the same room. If I want to go get drinks for us both – no problem. With Carnival, my wife had to tag along to get her own. Frustrating. There was also only one bar open on the ship at a time that would pour wine into an actual wine glass, the rest of the time it was poured into a clunky, plastic goblet. Think Medieval Times-ish. Yuck.

Then there was the decor of this ship. Not really my taste. It seemed like a cheap movie set.

And lastly there was dining. I like that in the main dining on all of NCL’s ships you still get a table cloth and feel pampered. Not so much on this ship.

Not only did the tables feel incredibly dated but the food was, at best, meh. I really expect to be “wowed” when it comes to cruise ship dining. I tend to avoid the buffets and such but when the below happens at a meal.. well…

I think you see my point. I am starting to think Carnival is simply not for me. Now I know this is an older ship, but NCL has older ships but keeps refreshing them (just like Delta does with their interiors).

The one thing I was really impressed with from Carnival was the app. Looking at what shows and such were coming up and then reminding me of ones I “liked” and planned to see was great. I wish NCL would add this to their onboard app.

This was a cheap cruise. I paid for it in full with points including the drink package and that really was the best part of this experience.

Have you been on the Imagination? Were you impressed? Did you enjoy your cruise? Let me know in the comments below. – René

Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

René de Lambert is a contributing writer and the founder of RenesPoints. He is an avid Delta and SkyTeam flyer who has held Delta’s top Diamond Medallion status for many years and flown millions of miles.

10 Comments

  1. Georgeanna Murphy

    Our very first cruise was on the Imagination, in ‘96, early in her first season. We were easily impressed. Loved the food, couldn’t get over how BIG she was, laughed at the silly activities organized by the CD. Our favorite place on the ship was what we called the “back porch” – had good pizza and/or ice cream out there.
    Since then, we’ve worked our way through Celebrity and Princess and have now become fans of Viking Ocean. Still have fond memories of the Imagination but it would be hard to go back.

  2. Joanne Gray

    You could not pay me to go on carnival. Been on NCL and that was ok. But I’m on Seabourn right now so there’s that

  3. We’ve cruised with all the major mid-tier lines and Carnival is the lowest within that mid-tier (though MSC may be joining them there soon). But Carnival is *cheap*, we cruised from Long Beach to Ensenada a few years ago (5 day if I recall) and it was just under $200 a person.

    We literally just got off an MSC cruise a few hours ago, and we (16 of us this time) we somewhat disappointed with a few things. 1. Entertainment has gone way down, all the shows were basically the same – singing and dancing with same group every time. 2. Food is really meh, it’s like they are afraid of spices. Ice cream on pool deck is disgusting – no cream in it and hardly any milk, it’s like iced sugar water with coloring and sweetener. 3. No tissues available except in Yacht Club!!! That’s ridiculous. I had a cold for 2 days and my nose was running constantly so I had to carry toilet paper in my pockets at all times. 4. No large towels available in gym changing room/sauna/showers. The gym attendant actually had the chutzpah to tell me to use a few small towels to dry off after a shower!

  4. Jackson Thompson

    Carnival is what it is. Based on the pictures Carnival is bare bones in all aspects. The bathrooms are sterile, the rooms are 30 years passé, the dining room look like a 70s casino, the atrium looks like a circus. Carnival is cheap and is cheap for a reason. In addition to the cheap decor, the cheap prices attract those who usually wouldn’t be found in large numbers on other cruise lines. A disproportionately high amount of violence is all that needs to be said.

    If you are on the right boat at the right time you can have fun though. The cheap prices can mean a party boat for spring break for 21 year old college kids. There are certain themed cruises that attracts certain groups. I would imagine some longer and more international itineraries have a different type of cruiser but you still have to put up with the awful decor (environment for me whether hotel room, hotel bathroom, business class cabin, stateroom or cruise dining room is just as important as destination).

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  6. I think the thing with Carnival is that it varies a lot from ship to ship. We have been on the 4 day Imagination from Long Beach and were not overly impressed (but it was dirt cheap so it was hard to complain too much). We’ve been on newer ships and longer itineraries (not a booze cruise) and thoroughly enjoyed them. Still not up to Disney level (which is our other main cruise line) but great for the price.

  7. Jeffrey

    Carnival is the economy line of choice. Do not expect something from it that it is not. Especially on a short 4 day cruise. I took my teen age kids a number of years ago on their line because the price was right. They all had a great time the 3 times I took them. If you want a better ship and experience, pony up the money and get one. For what it is, Carnival is o.k.

  8. Gregory G

    So we just off the Sensation this morning, also a Fantasy class ship. We went out of Miami, so the weather was delightful. We had a picture window cabin on the riveria deck (deck 4) it was my 2 kids and myself, but with the bed in the wall folded down and the room configured as an L, suprisingly a fair amount of room in this configuration.

    Had choose your own dining the first night and service and food were both not good. Switched to late dining and service was much better and food was considerably better as well. Not a wine drinker, so I cant comment on the glasses. The Alchemy bar is quite good, while I didn’t have the drink package this trip, we had the drink package on the victory and magic last year. Food and service were much better on these ships.

    I had the drinks on us package from the casino, so while I was in the casino all my drinks were free and I think I had 17 drinks over 4 night cruise.

    I would cruise carnival again, but not a fantasy class ship. Like you the cabin steward was very professional. The Fantasy restaurant was poorly run, waited 15 minutes before I asked a hostess if we can get someone to get us coffee on sea day brunch. Wait staff seemed confused and was serving the wrong food to tables.

    Anyway, I would try a larger, newer ship in a balcony or better before writing off carnival.

    Gregg

  9. Rene, you need to try Princess instead of Carnival to compare to NCL – it’s a better equivalent.

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