Monday, June 14, 2010

Review: Carnival "Imagination" Cruise to Nassau

I was a chaperone this weekend for The Eldest's Girl Scout troop for a cruise on the Carnival ship "Imagination" to Nassau in the Bahamas. What an experience! The kids were great. There was a little bit of drama but it was dealt with and everyone moved on, at least as far as I was able to tell. That part, being with the kids, was wonderful and a special memory I'll carry with me forever. The cruise itself... not so great.

There are some good things to say. A majority of the staff members were terrific- warm, friendly, and very helpful. There were a few, however, who were downright rude and snippy; sheese. The boat was older with outdated decor but it seemed well maintained. There were people cleaning constantly. Our room was spotless; they came in twice every day and cleaned up. They made the beds, replaced the towels, and emptied trash in the morning, then turned down the beds, left chocolate mints, and emptied the trash at night. (I'm sure they did other cleaning type things as well, that was just what stood out to me.) The cabin was well designed but it made me feel very uncomfortable to be in a cabin with only one exit. (We were in an interior room.) The mattresses were comfortable and the comforters were clean and fluffy. (I love me some fluffy comforters.) I actually slept, even on the first night, which is unusual because I almost never, ever, ever sleep on the first night in a strange bed. A miracle! (Thanks to my MP3 player, loaded up with sleepy music to block the noises from the corridor outside the room.)

Now for the negatives. The food was HORRIBLE!!!! I don't know what everyone is thinking when they say "cruise ship food is so wonderful" since that certainly wasn't my experience. They had very few vegetarian options on their menus and those they did offer mostly included eggs or dairy. (Vegans would starve on that boat.) They had a stir fry station that didn't have tofu. The salad bar was lame, lame, lame, but thank goodness there were kidney beans; I would have been seriously hurting without them. Those beans were my main source of protein for most of the cruise! They put out fresh fruit but it was mostly inedible. (Except the pineapple; I ate a lot of pineapple.) I really wanted to stick with healthy vegetarian options but to stay vegetarian AND healthy wasn't happening; it was definitely either/or. I also wanted to maintain my "5:00 snack" schedule but that wasn't happening, either; 5:00 is one of those in between times. Lunch is over and dinner isn't ready yet. I could get pizza or ice cream at 5:00, but I wanted SOMETHING HEALTHY. (Pizza and ice cream were available around the clock; I didn’t indulge.) I finally found the chocolate covered strawberries; they saved my 5:00 snack on the final day, but they weren't exactly a low cal choice, and they also were not included in the meal plan and cost extra. Oh, boy, did they cost extra!

Then there was the water situation. I drink seltzer water almost exclusively. Not available, at least not out of the complimentary soda dispensers in the cafeteria. Nope. I had to pay a small fortune for Pelligrino, once I found it. It took me a day and a half to find my water (at the same place where they sold the strawberries) but I was happy it was at least available.

As to the ship shops (say that 10 times real fast) I found the merchandise to be disappointing. With that many people on board they need something along the lines of a Walgreens, at least on a small scale. I was desperate for some toiletries I forgot to pack but they only had one small section of one shop for that type of item. With no access to outside stores, I was stuck.

Then the entertainment. I read over the schedules every day but none of the entertainment options appealed to me. There were shows and so forth but I didn't bother, so I can't speak to how good or bad they were. I did like the dining room "show" when the wait staff would all dance to whatever song they chose to play; that was fun. There were some lectures that looked interesting in the fitness center but I only found a listing for those on the first day, after they were over, of course. I was content with lounging around with my Kindle and not participating in the entertainment options, though, so that was neither good nor bad. I was disappointed that there were no quiet areas with comfy lounge chairs to go read and watch the ocean go by. The closest I found was at the very back of the ship, but they were still blaring music in that area. At least it was a little less crowded.

And speaking of the crowds, oh, my stars. I DETEST crowds but people were everywhere! There were long lines for everything and the too-small pool was packed every time I walked by. (I never put on my bathing suit; I wasn’t interested in that mess at all.) I fussed about it a couple of times and one of the girls in our group told me other ships don’t feel as crowded as that one did. (She’s a veteran cruiser.) I’m too introverted to cruise, I think.

Last but not least, their photo policies really annoyed me. I know they are trying anything and everything to part you from your money, but sometimes businesses get a little too carried away. One of their photographers set up our kids for a photo and I snapped a picture with my digital when she was almost done. You would have thought I was shoplifting or something the way she reacted! She informed me that taking my own photos was not allowed and said I had to delete the picture from my camera. I wasn’t using my regular camera and didn’t know how to delete on that particular camera so she took it from me and did it herself. (With my OK; I wasn’t going to fight with her about it since I didn’t want to get tossed overboard or anything.) Now, while she wasn’t outright rude, and I understand that she was doing her job, I felt thoroughly embarrassed and humiliated. (The Eldest told me later there were signs that you couldn’t take pictures of the pictures, but I missed them. I wasn’t intentionally breaking the rules and fully planned on buying the photo from the ship.) There was absolutely no warmth or understanding or kindness from her about it at all. Brusque, businesslike, and judgmental; yuck.

I’m used to Disney. Their photographers will take the photo-pass picture that you can purchase, but they’ll also let you hand them your camera and take a picture for you. Then they’ll sell you a CD with the copyright, at a huge cost, so you can get reprints of the pictures they take if you want them later on. Of course, they have a wonderful website with special Disney borders that are absolute must haves, so they make their chunk of change without upsetting anyone. (You can even upload pictures from your own camera onto said website and get the special borders, which we did. Our Christmas cards last year were from the Disney photo pass web site.) As pricey as it is, I love the Disney photo pass system and that’s what I’m used to, so the Carnival photo policies really pissed me off.

So, to sum up, I won’t be cruising Carnival again if I can help it. I was saying I’d never cruise again at all, but one of the kids (the veteran cruiser) and one of the other chaperones (who has worked for several other cruise lines) said not to judge by that experience. My fellow chaperone summed it up nicely when she said “Carnival is the Wal-Mart of the cruise industry”. There’s a time when Wal Mart is appropriate, like when Girl Scout cookies are paying for the cruise and it’s about being together more than the cruise experience itself, and there’s a time when you want Macy’s. Next time I cruise, if there is a next time, I definitely want Macy’s.

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