When you're shopping for a cruise, often embarkation port and price are two of the biggest factors to consider. For travelers sailing out of California, there are even fewer choices than on the East Coast. So we looked at two of Carnival’s lowest price west coast-based ships — Carnival Imagination and Carnival Inspiration — to see what sets the ships apart.
The sister ships, both part of Carnival’s Fantasy class, carry 2,052 passengers each. The ships both launched in the late 1990s and have received upgrades over the past two decades. Big changes came in 2016, though, when both ships underwent multi-million dollar renovations that added the same new restaurants, bars, and public spaces, part of a larger initiative across the fleet. So how can you choose between them? Read on to find out.
Both ships are based in Long Beach (the port for Los Angeles) and do three- and four-day roundtrip cruises. The shorter itineraries only include one port stop — Ensenada, Mexico — while the longer cruises add time on California’s Catalina Island. These cruises are also wallet-friendly, with prices starting at around $180 per person regardless of which ship you cruise.
On the top deck of both ships you’ll find the WaterWorks aqua park with a kid-friendly splash pad, racing slides, and a 300-foot-long Twister slide. The kids can also head to the new Camp Ocean kids club, and both ships have a Serenity adults-only sun deck area. Other family-friendly activities include mini golf courses and the audience-participation Hasbro game shows, plus the "Seuss at Sea" program, which includes story times featuring Seuss classics and a Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast.
The 2016 renovations brought two of the line’s most popular eateries to both ships: Guy’s Burger Joint and BlueIguana Cantina. These complimentary poolside spots serve decadent cheeseburgers and fries, and burritos and tacos, respectively. Overall, the dining on the ships is casual, and neither has the line's specialty Italian or Asian restaurants or the steakhouse that's so popular on newer ships. There is a Chef's Table on each ship, though, and if you are looking for a "celebration" night at sea, that's the place to go.
Carnival ships are known for their after-hours fun as well as day-drinking spots, and the 2016 renovations brought additional night life options on board both vessels. Both ships now have the RedFrog Rum Bar and the BlueIguana Tequila Bar, each serving tropical drinks that feel just right on cruises south from California. The line also put an Alchemy Bar on each ship. This popular lounge serves cocktails designed to heal what ails you, including the energizing mint martini. There are other nightlife options, too, including the line's revue-style Playlist Productions and the Punchliner Comedy Club.
Now that they have both had renovations, these ships are incredibly similar. Since both offer short, inexpensive cruises out of Southern California, there's only one big difference between them: The ships never depart on the same day, so which one you choose may come down to something as simple as the day of the week you want to start your vacation. Carnival Inspiration departs on Fridays and Mondays while Carnival Imagination departs on Thursdays and Sundays.