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To say I was excited to take my fourth cruise was an understatement. I have always loved cruising since my first Caribbean one in 2004, but our first cruise as a family three years ago showed me just how much I loved them now I have kids. They are just so easy and it was the first time I felt like I had had a break since having kids.
Fast forward three years and instead of a 1 and 3 year old, I now have 4 and 6 year olds and a 7 month old baby. Instead of leaving from Florida, we were leaving from Long Beach, California. Instead of an 8 day cruise on the Carnival Freedom, we were taking a 4 day Carnival Imagination cruise. Would we find the experience equally as rewarding?
Below, you will find our Carnival Imagination review from our Carnival Imagination cruise. You’ll be able to see inside our cabin, read about the Carnival Imagination food, activities, kids club and details about taking this cruise as a family of 5.
The Carnival Imagination is much like the other Carnival cruises we have taken although it is smaller than our previous experience on the Carnival Freedom.
We took both cruises at a similar time of year, but our cruise of the Caribbean took us to warm climates whereas it was sunny, but cold on our Carnival Imagination cruise. It is different taking a cruise where it’s not hot compared to where it is. I missed all the frozen cocktails getting passed around!
You can read about our previous experience on the Carnival Freedom here.
Checking into the cruise did involve a long line. We were there quite early, although after our allotted check in time. It was good we didn’t arrive earlier as it did not seem like they started checking people in until 1:30-2. It was all quite orderly and my only complaint is that they don’t give any priority to families with babies and other young kids.
I had checked in online beforehand and this did seem to speed things up. We were on the ship before we knew it!
There are many things to do on the Carnival Imagination including “Waterworks” which consists of some water slides, a main swimming pool and some Jacuzzis. There’s also a walking track and mini golf outside.
You can take a look at the top deck (and Ensenada!) here…
Other Carnival Imagination amenities include a day spa, gym, theatre, shops, casino, night club, Camp Ocean (kids club – more below), library/games room, a teens area and internet cafe. WiFi was nowhere near as expensive as the last time I did a cruise with varying package prices starting at $5 a day if you just want social media.
Everything just looks fun and I loved walking around the ship.
There is definitely no lack of Carnival Imagination food. There are two main restaurants – the main one which is fine dining and the buffet. There are also many small ones including a burger joint, pizza place, a cafe, deli and others. There’s included room service as well, but the choices are limited.
There’s always something to eat with the buffet restaurant having generous opening hours.
We started the day with room service breakfast, had lunch and snacks wherever we felt like it and had dinner in the main dining room, Spirit, most nights. On our four day cruise, there was only one Carnival Imagination formal night where we were supposed to get dressed up to eat there.
We loved dinner in the Spirit dining room. It had far and away the best food on board and we had no problems going there with our kids.
The service in Spirit was also very good. I loved that every evening, Baby J’s highchair was already there and the kids activity books and menus were in their usual seating spot. Our waiter always remembered our name and the service is very friendly while still being very professional.
We ate some great food here. Just superb. There is a kids’ menu but they can also order off the regular menu. They were happy to get a bowl of steamed, finger food sized vegetables for Baby J.
The buffet is not so good and is far more about quantity than quality. We were not that impressed with the room service food either. While you definitely won’t go hungry and there are parts of all meals that were delicious, mostly it’s bland with things tasting the same.
I did like the pizza place and the deli though. The burger joint had some of the best fries I have ever had!
Like all cruises I have taken, there are many things to do on Carnival Imagination. When you are not using the facilities, there is an entertainment program which includes shows, live music, activities and competitions as well as their usual art auctions.
I did find the program was not as full as other cruises I have taken with the biggest disappointment being that there was only the big evening show at 8pm two nights of my cruise. I usually love these shows and look forward to them but they sounded just like live music this time rather than a production and mostly did not take place until 10pm which is just too late for us.
Otherwise, the entertainment was great! We went to some entertaining shows and have to congratulate the towel animal theatre in particular which was very good. We also loved the Seuss themed entertainment (more about this below).
I must admit that I had a shock when we walked in our cabin – it was so small! Nothing like the relatively spacious cabin we had on the Carnival Freedom. Given we were paying for a 5 berth outside cabin, I had expected a room that was big enough to have at least three of the berths on the ground and I had expected there would be somewhere to sit.
What we found was a hallway part with cupboards on one side and a compact bathroom on the other. There was a desk and stool next to the cupboards and then a big bed with a single chair to the side. There were two pull down beds on the wall, one of which was over the pillow area of the big bed.
I didn’t work out where the other berth was for quite awhile – it turned out there was a fold out bed underneath our bed. I don’t see how it would have fit into the room without us losing access to the bathroom.
While I am super happy that the Carnival Imagination has 5 berth cabins (this is far more rare than it should be!), I don’t think it’s fair to have to pay so much per person to get a fold out bed and the same size room as people paying less than half of what we paid.
I was happy to find that when we returned from dinner to find the upper berths set up, that it was not as squished as I had imagined. However, the other bed was never set up for us which I found strange. We decided not to use it (Baby J shared with us) but we were never asked if that was our preference.
The upper berths are quite low and I hit my head many times during the night when I would have to comfort baby J.
If you have three older kids, I would definitely recommend getting two cabins. The price is not much more and it would be far better for your sanity. If you do stick with one, don’t go overboard with luggage as there is not much cupboard space for five people either.
There are obviously lots of things to do on the Carnival Imagination with kids loving most of the Carnival Imagination activities mentioned above. There’s also a couple of special features that we particularly enjoyed.
Camp Ocean is the fabulous kids club on board Carnival Imagination. Our older kids loved it!
There are three different age groups – 2-5, 6-8 and 9-11. They are strict with these so unfortunately our kids were in two different rooms. They also have activities for under 2’s but these are limited, esoecially as when we tried to attend two family sessions, they did not run!
Our kids loved going here and soon had friends all over the ship. The staff seemed to do a great job playing with the kids and were also generous with giving out prizes and gifts to the kids.
The opening hours are quite long and it’s super easy to drop the kids off for an hour, get them again and then take them back later. Whatever suits.
Dr Seuss was a fun part of our Carnival Imagination experience. There was a program of events themed around Dr Seuss and the Cat in the Hat. Our kids have recently become fans of these books so it was extra timely for us.
The events all took place on our day at sea apart from the room decorations we had bought before leaving Australia. It was fun to turn up to our cabin to find the Seuss at Sea decorations set up in our room as well as the Cat in the Hat book and a towel.
On our day at sea, we started the day with a special Green Eggs and Ham breakfast. This is an extra, but good value at $5 per person. The main dining room was decorated with themed breakfast choices. There was also the chance to meet the Cat in the Hat, Thing 1, Thing 2 and Sam I Am.
There are normal choices to eat, like steak and eggs, as well as choices like awesome looking pancakes which were red and white and stacked together to look like the famous hat.
Later in the day, there was a Seuss-a-palooza parade, story time and the chance to have photos with the characters. It’s definitely one of the top Carnival Imagination things to do for families.
I do believe a cruise is a fun experience regardless of your kids ages. There are some things which are annoying when taking a Carnival cruise with a baby – I write a lot about that here.
Basically, babies do cost the same as an extra adult in the room despite the fact that no proper bed was provided for our baby, he only ate scraps of food and he is not allowed in the swimming pools or water parks (kids must be toilet trained for that).
He is only allowed in Camp Ocean at certain, limited times of the day (which didn’t seem to run) and there are only certain, very limited periods where he can be left there and that’s at an extra charge.
It’s best to just get over how unfair that can seem when paying the same price and just enjoy the cruise. We found the best way to do this was to remember that we were paying full price for our baby so we did everything we wanted without feeling bad or like we shouldn’t take a kid to an activity. We have found our cruises very enjoyable (and so have our kids) by following that rule.
Our baby seemed to enjoy the cruise. In my experience, babies are always happier when everyone around them is relaxed. He got a ton of attention. Since you need to be 6 months to do a Carnival cruise, I think he may have been the youngest kid on board and those big blue eyes charmed everyone.
What did work really well is finger food for babies. It was very easy to get something appropriate for baby J to eat (but note that there isn’t baby food like you’d buy in a store).
My biggest tip from my Carnival Imagination cruise reviews is to get the Carnival Hub app. You can get it on your phone once you are on board for free or be organized and get it beforehand.
It’s super useful. It has all the activities and what’s happening on board for your cruise. You can “favourite” the activities you are most interested in so you can see them easily and the app will notify you 15 minutes beforehand. You can also check your cruise account and see an itemized list of what you are spending.
If you can manage it, we found it much easier to take our own luggage off board the cruise when we arrived back in Long Beach. This way we were able to pick what time we left the ship instead of waiting to be called.
Needless to say, a 4 day cruise is too short! 8 nights was far better. In saying that, whatever you can do is worth the effort and it is still very worthwhile doing a 4 day cruise.
I mostly wish it had been one day longer. My first cruise was 5 days with a day at sea for the first and last days and this was much more preferable. As much as I love port days, sea days are tons of fun and nice and relaxing as well. I like to start and end a cruise with one.
I only wish these things because the cruise was great and we enjoyed it a lot. Catalina Island and Ensenada are nice, low key ports that are fun to explore and a good contrast to each other and where we had come from (LA).
At this time of year, it was our only option out of LA and we are so glad we did it.
If I had never done a cruise before, I would have loved our 4 day Carnival Imagination cruise without any buts. It was fun. We enjoyed the ports and we enjoyed our day at sea. A family we talked to at dinner was doing their first cruise and they loved it.
However, since I had high expectations after our Carnival Freedom cruise I did have some disappointments. Mainly that the cabin was small and that the entertainment schedule was not as full. It’s also not quite as fun doing a cruise in the cold – not that this is the cruise’s fault of course!
We did love it. I unfortunately did not find it was the break from life as a parent this time. Not that it was the cruise’s fault at all, just the nature of travelling with a 7 month old baby who thinks sleep is for losers. We had to spend too much time awake and still had to do all the normal baby jobs like preparing and cleaning bottles, etc. Our youngest kid last cruise was 1 and this made a big difference. It was a lot more relaxing.
I still think cruises are great for every age – we still loved it but it becomes even more fun as kids get older. At least, I imagine it does! It would have been so so easy had we just had our older kids.
All in all, our Carnival Imagination review was an outstanding success. We loved it and are so glad we made the time to do it on our US trip.
We went on this cruise as part of a 2 week adventure exploring Southern California. Read all about it here.
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