After just returning from our 3 day cruise to Ensenada on the Carnival Imagination (2014), I realized that I never did a formal review of our 3 day cruise to Ensenada on the Carnival Paradise back in 2011! Oops! Since they are both Fantasy Class ships and my experience with both were relatively the same, I thought I would consolidate my reviews. First of all, the short cruise markets tend to not be a great example of what cruising is all about. It's a great "first taste" to cruising for people who want to experience a sample, but there are definitely some short-comings on these cruises. However, that being said if you view this as a short getaway with all your meals included and a traveling entertainment zone it's really a great value close to home.
These ships depart from the Long Beach terminal, which is housed in what used to house the Spruce Goose, located right next door to the Queen Mary Hotel. It's an easy 15-20 minute taxi ride from the Long Beach airport and about 35-45 minute ride from LAX. We try to fly into Long Beach whenever we can because that airport is such a dream, so small and quaint and recently renovated with great added services now. It used to be portable buildings with a snack shack. Now they have some dining venues and a very nice bar area along with some shops. Jet Blue is the carrier from SFO and OAK into Long Beach but only about 3 flights per day. Taxi from Long Beach is going to run about $30 plus tip and from LAX about $60 plus tip each way.
Typically, the 3 and 4 day cruise market is operated on older ships, so they are not the newest with the latest and greatest amenities. You can definitely see places of wear and tear and on this cruise with the Imagination the ship definitely smelled old. We got to our cabin and actually had a terrible sewage odor in our bathroom. We called to have it checked on, they flushed out the drains and the odor was gone for the remainder of our cruise. This seemed to be a known problem and it almost seemed as though they do this "flush" between sailings regularly and maybe our cabin accidentally got bypassed because they were very apologetic. Thankfully, the flushing of the drains worked because the smell was horrible. Our cabin was quite spacious, in fact larger than I had remembered but we did not lack for space to move around and we never bumped into one another. The bathroom- also large for a cruise ship, especially a cruise ship this old. The shower a good size so that you can actually bend over and not have your butt hit the wall or poke out the shower curtain. I will say that the in shower amenities are horrible. The shampoo was OK, but the body wash--never really did do the job of washing off my sunscreen. I always bring my conditioner because you never know, but with Carnival I do know that you don't get conditioner. Also, on these older ships- Hair Dryers are NOT standard in every room, so you need to bring one. They do have some you can call for, but not enough for the entire ship. We learned this on the Paradise in 2011 and had to call for one (my husband who uses the hairdryer almost had a heart attack when he discovered we didn't have one in the room and I had simply not even thought to confirm prior to our cruise), this time we knew and I reminded everyone in our group to bring their hair dryers. The bed was comfortable with nice fluffy duvets which made for a great night sleep each night. We had an ocean view cabin, so I did miss having a balcony but again on these older ships the only balconies are with the suites and I did not want to spend that amount of money for a 3 day cruise. We didn't spend that much time in our cabin anyway.
Dining on the Paradise in 2011 was fine, I don't recall having any problems. On this cruise though on the Imagination, food was hit and miss. We were with a group of 10 people to celebrate my husband's birthday and each night there were at least 1-2 people with issues regarding their food. I personally had great meals each night for dinner. Chicken breast one night, Prime Rib the next and Filet Mignon ($20 surcharge) the last night and all were very good. They offer a side dish of Macaroni & Cheese with bacon that was to die for! I had it with the Prime Rib and then on the last night I skipped the starter and ordered two of them to go with my steak! My husband ordered the full Lobster one night ($20 surcharge) and it was pretty impressive and very good he said. We did have one guest with food allergies that seemed to always present a problem with the dining room staff. They would take her order the day before, but one night she didn't receive her meal until we were almost done with ours- it was unacceptable and then to apologize the Maitre'D delivered chocolate covered strawberries to her room - even though Chocolate was one of the known allergens! Just stupid and careless on their part. We also had another guest who had purchased a bottle of White Wine the first night and asked to have it corked and refrigerated for the next night. When it was brought to the table the next night it was not cold, they brought two new glasses of wine chilled that night, but then on the third night they said her bottle was given to the bar. It was quite the mess and the wine steward really did not handle the issue well- he kept trying to explain instead of just making things right. He was argumentative and trying to make a point- just bad customer service.
As for other dining venues. I'll be honest, we never had breakfast in the buffet- mostly because we didn't get up early enough and I was also trying to stay to my weight loss program and brought along my protein drink, so I would get a carton of milk from the buffet and make my drink in the cabin. My husband did get lunch at the buffet once and we ordered room service once- both were good. I also dined at the grill (burgers, dogs, etc.) two days and that was all fine. We had friends who did brunch in the dining room one day and they said that it was pretty good. Bar service throughout the ship was acceptable and by the pool area they were always coming around and weren't very harassing, which has been known to happen on previous Carnival cruises that I've been on.
Entertainment on this ship. As always- we are happy if we can dance. On the Imagination they put the really good dance band at the Dream Bar- which is basically along the open Promenade and if you want to dance- the "dance floor" is in the middle of the thoroughfare where people walk from one end of the ship to the other. It's a bad location and poor planning on Carnival. A band like that should be in the Shangri-La Lounge which has a band stage and a nice dance floor with plenty of tables and chairs around the lounge. Instead, they used this wonderful lounge for hours and hours of painful karaoke. The lounge never had more than 20 people in it! They have pretty much dubbed the Xanadu Lounge the "Comedy Club" now on the ship and they run 3 comedy shows each evening. We went to one and it was pretty good. The Dynasty Lounge is the Theatre and we only made it to one production on the last night "Epic Rock" which was musical tribute to old time rock and roll music. It was a decent show. The Disco was always jumping, before 10pm for the teens and then after 10pm for adults- we did get in a fair amount of dancing here- the floor was a bit sticky, but we managed.
Of course, during the day you have the various pool games going on, you have the trivia in the lounges, ping pong tournaments, art auctions, mini-golf is open, the spa is ready for anyone wanting to pamper themselves. The fitness facility is pretty decent size with both free weights, machines, cardio equipment and classes in the group exercise room. I did my walking on the treadmill one day and then the other day did laps on the jogging track, I have no idea how many times I went around and around to hit my 3.66 miles- but the map on my Runkeeper app looks pretty funny with all the circles! The casino is open while at sea for anyone wanting to donate or hopefully strike it rich and there is never a shortage of photography stations ready to take your portraits. They did have quite a few unique backgrounds for photo taking, so that's always fun. Camp Carnival does a great job keeping the kids busy and entertained, so it really is a fun vacation for the entire family.
This 3 day cruise has one port of call- Ensenada, Mexico. Three years ago, my husband and I took the cruise on the Paradise to celebrate our wedding anniversary so for our shore excursion we picked a wine tasting tour- which was so surprising to see because you never think of Mexico as a wine growing area. Well, this is the only area in Mexico that grows wine making grapes come to find out. We thoroughly enjoyed that tour in 2011 that we decided to do it again this year on the Imagination with our friends and everyone raved about it. The tour takes you about 45 minutes inland to the country area where the wineries are located and you visit two wineries. The first stop L.A. Cetto is more of a commercialized winery with the large warehouse type facilities with the large barrels and vats. They give you a walking tour and explain about the different stages of wine making- all very interesting and then they take you into the tasting room and you taste 5 different wines. You are also served homemade bread with cheese and olive oil. All very, very good. Upon departure, they give you a bottle of wine to take home with you. Then 5 minutes down the road, a stop at the Organic Winery Dona Lupe, which is more of a "home" winery, it's small and quaint and the tasting it outside on covered/shaded patio. They have Mayan dancers (I think they were Mayan, could be Aztec) entertaining you and again you are served some snacks- homemade pizza, breads, jams, olive oils, etc. We tasted 4 wines there, but you could have tasted more- they were very generous and never very diligent about marking your tasting ticket each time. Then the 45 minute ride back to Ensenada with a choice to be dropped off downtown or back at the ship. We had an excellent tour guide and all in all, a great day in Ensenada. I would most definitely do this excursion again, it is THAT good! Side note: you are allowed to bring home 3 bottles of wine per couple duty free. We ended up with 6 bottles (our 2 free bottles, one free bottle from a friend and then we purchased 3). When going through customs they ask you if you are bringing back any tobacco or alcohol. I told them that we had 6 bottles of wine and they stamped our form and said have a good day. It was not worth their time to collect 50 cents per bottle over the 3 allowed in our case. I figured as much. Although, TSA did go through my suitcase after it was checked and left me a little note that they had done so- I'm sure the 4 bottles of liquid set off the "liquid alert" buzzer, which is fine. I think I'd be concerned that they didn't check it out!
Disembarkation went very smoothly on this ship and because we were doing the Imagination from a Thursday-Sunday, we were able to then have brunch on the Queen Mary which was very, very nice. When we did the 3 day on the Paradise in 2011, it was a Friday-Monday cruise and we did visit the Queen Mary and have breakfast in their restaurant, but it's not the brunch except for Sundays. Since we had an afternoon flight from Long Beach we had time to kill and this is a nice place to do that. You can check your bags with their bell desk and they will even have a ride to the airport arranged for you at a given time. We told them we'd like to leave at 130pm and they had a towncar waiting for us and a flat rate of $30 to the airport.
All in all, everyone had a great time on Bill's Birthday Cruise and Bill & I had a great time on our Anniversary cruise 3 years ago. It's really about realizing what you are getting into when you board the ship. We had one first time cruiser on the Imagination with us and he was in heaven, he didn't have any expectations and was very happy with his cruising experience and everyone else was either seasoned enough to know what to expect or was easy going enough to not be bothered because it was really about a good time with great friends! They say Life is what you make of it, well so is a cruise!
Because these are short cruises, I don't run around the ship and take pictures of all the venues like I normally would do, so I don't have a photo album on either of these cruises. UPDATE after 3/26/15 cruise: We were cruising on this ship again to help another friend celebrate a 50th birthday. Well one of the people in our group was on her first cruise and she took a ton of cruise pictures of this ship! So kudos goes out to Julie M., responsible for this album- available to view on Flickr...click here - CARNIVAL IMAGINATION PICTURES!