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Use Your (Carnival) Imagination
"Evolutions of Fun"

by Linda Coffman

February 2008 — Not since pop icon Cher hopped aboard USS Missouri to film the video for her smash hit "If I Could Turn Back Time" has there been such an evolution of fun afloat. In the case of their eight Fantasy-class vessels, introduced between 1990 and 1998, Carnival Cruise Lines is surpassing even Cher's attempts to turn back time aboard the well-loved and highly successful ships.

While we really liked the initial improvements we saw last year on Carnival Fantasy, the full array of "Evolutions of Fun" enhancements now complete on Carnival Imagination and Carnival Inspiration (and planned for their six sister-ships during upcoming drydocks) create an entirely fresh approach to the short-cruise experience.

During a recent 5-night cruise aboard Carnival Imagination, Cruise Diva was able to explore all the new features. The most obvious—it can be seen from ashore—is...

Carnival Waterworks
While berthed in Nassau, Disney Wonder was tied up alongside Carnival Imagination. We couldn’t help but wonder if they were just a tinge envious. Our water slide was bigger than their water slide. Way bigger. Pictures just don't do the Waterworks aqua parks justice. Four decks high, the 300 feet of spiraling slide (the largest on any cruise ship) and 82 foot long side-by-side racing slides are the centerpieces of shallow splash pools that also feature multiple fountains and water sprays. Set in a deck surrounded by chaise lounges, it's a cool place for the entire family.

When asked if grown-ups are allowed on the slides, Carnival Imagination Hotel Director Miles Willis answered, "It's positively encouraged." In fact, adults seemed to have just as much fun as kids in the area. Be forewarned, though—you must be at least 42" tall and not exceed 300 pounds to use the fully-enclosed spiral slide.

Lido Pool
If your taste runs more toward the traditional, you'll find that
"Evolutions of Fun" hasn't passed you by in the Lido Pool area. Originally cut in two by Carnival's signature water slide, the area is opened up by its elimination, as well as the repositioning of stairs that formerly made the pool bar seemed cramped. To give the area a resort-like "island" look, quirky palm trees dot the deck and faux thatched canopies cap the pool bars and outdoor food service area. One of two hot tubs is similarly covered and the outdoor stage is more of a focal point without the curving slide ruining the view. Loungers in a black and brown weave are a comfortable addition.

Purists need not fear that the enhancements have spoiled the fun of a Carnival cruise. You'll still find a lot of energy poolside, including a Caribbean band and activities such as the Hairy Chest Contest and other traditional competitions. Pools and hot tubs open at 8am and stargazers will be pleased that they don't close until midnight.

Adults-Only Serenity Deck
With the former aft pool area now devoted to families, it's only fair that the secluded children's pool deck is now the exclusive realm of adults. The new adults-only retreat is a haven of calm, with cushy oversized loungers, two hot tubs, umbrellas, bar service, a shaded relaxation area furnished with stylish wicker chairs and settees, and, best of all, magnificent ocean vistas. Well, maybe best of all is that we didn't see a single child in the area during our entire cruise. Unlike designated adult spaces on other cruise lines, pint-sized gate crashers simply aren't tolerated in Carnival's Serenity Deck. Bring along your iPod and be prepared to chill out in the totally soothing area.

The first thing I noticed when entering my Upper Deck standard stateroom was the improved lighting. Finally, there are lights flanking the desk/vanity! It's no longer necessary for female passengers to apply makeup or do their hair in the bathroom, although packing a hairdryer is still a must
—somehow Carnival overlooked adding them. There isn't much else they missed, though. A flat-screen television is now mounted in the corner and small nightstands are a welcome addition. In fact, the staterooms were literally gutted and rebuilt with all new permanent fixtures, an upgrade even from our previous accommodations aboard Carnival Fantasy. A bonus for families is the addition of 45 doors to create connecting cabins-to-cabins and cabins-to-suites where there previously were none.

Unfortunately, Fantasy-class ships lack the abundant private balconies found on newer fleetmates. You'll have to book a suite in order to have one. However, Carnival Comfort Bed systems insure everyone a good night's sleep and, regardless of category, all passengers are treated to fluffy robes to use during their cruise. Resist the temptation to stuff the towel animals (or your cabin steward) in your suitcase, though... you can learn to make your own terrycloth critters by attending a towel folding demo onboard and the gift shop stocks a "Carnival Towel Creations Book" with step-by-step instructions.

No description of food on a Carnival ship would be complete without mentioning pizza and everyone's favorite dessert, Melting Chocolate Cake. Both were superb on
Carnival Imagination and I can highly recommend the freshly made calzones—just ask for one at the pizzeria counter in the Horizon Bar & Grill.

While it wasn't ready during our sailing, a New York-style deli was being installed (a similar deli is already in place on Carnival Fantasy) and expanded food selections in the buffet include Mongolian stir-fry and rotisserie chicken, the latter served with mashed potatoes or killer macaroni and cheese. Additions to the Promenade Deck are the complimentary Sushi Bar and a specialty coffee cafe that also offers pastries and treats for an nominal charge.

In the formal restaurants, a huge improvement is the removal of booth-type seating, resulting in a more spacious look and feel. Numerous tables-for-two are a romantic—and welcome—addition.

Public Areas
While some of the original c
lassical mythology decor elements designed by Carnival's architect Joe Farcus remain, all public spaces have been refreshed with new flooring and upholstery. A huge sculpture has been replaced by the Lobby Bar, which now anchors the atrium. Hand-painted impressionist fabric tabletops encased in resin are being replaced by high-end granite-topped tables in the Horizon Bar & Grill.

The spa and fitness center have been completely rebuilt and outfitted with state of the art amenities. In the space that formerly housed an indoor hot tub, you'll find a spacious area for exercise classes. Locker rooms feature chic glass basin sinks and passengers awaiting spa treatments will find a spacious relaxation room complete with refreshments and calming, neutral decor.

Some improvements may not stand out at first glance—energy saving LED lights have replaced neon in the Atrium, sound systems have been upgraded throughout, and you'll have to be observant to notice the computerized window washing system that automatically cleans Promenade Deck windows every two hours. Flat screen televisions have been added in lounges that are mostly smoke-free (as is the Serenity Deck). Limited smoking areas are located in the Shangri La Lounge, Casino, Illusions Disco, and port side of the Pinnacle Bar on Promenade Deck; the Mirage (piano) Bar on Atlantic Deck; and the midship starboard side of the Lido Deck.

More Fun For Kids
The Camp Carnival facility aboard Carnival Imagination has been expanded in a new location on Verandah Deck and features age-specific programs for kids aged 2 to 5, 6 to 8, and 9 to 11. Judging by the smiles, one of the most popular Camp Carnival activities was the Teddy Bear Workshop, where children created their own bears.

Not complete during our cruise, Carnival is rolling out a new facility just for 12- to 14-year olds fleetwide. "Circle C" (artist's rendering is pictured here) fills the need for "tweens" to have their own custom designed gathering space complete with a dance floor, high-tech sound and lighting system, 42-inch plasma-screen TVs to watch movies and music videos, a touch-screen jukebox stocked with the latest hits, and PlayStations with popular video games, including Wii.

Teens 15 to 17 years old have their own "Club O2" with dance floor, Coke bar, flat-screen TVs, computers, and gaming stations. Like Camp Carnival and Circle C, Club O2 offers activities supervised by trained counselors, but, in typical teen fashion, those aboard our cruise seemed to simply enjoy the no-adults-allowed atmosphere to hang out with new friends.

For family fun, a miniature golf course on the top deck challenges "kids" of all ages.

Let The Fun Begin
While Carnival Inspiration has already been outfitted with the enhancements found aboard Carnival Imagination, Carnival Fantasy will be the next ship to enter drydock to complete her "Evolutions of Fun" extreme make-over in September 2008, followed (in no particular order) by Carnival Ecstasy, Carnival Sensation, Carnival Fascination, Carnival Elation, and Carnival Paradise.

Cher, in her never ending quest to retain a youthful appearance, has nothing on these Carnival sister-ships. Essentially, what we found when we boarded Carnival Imagination is a like-new vessel. It was remarkably like turning back the hands of time.

Photos © and Courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines

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