Carnival Imagination: The Former Fantasy Class Ship

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It wasn’t so long ago that Carnival Imagination was sailing on the high seas. Even into early 2020, cruisers were enjoying this ship’s retro vibes and the family-friendly appeal that had subsisted even despite the ship’s age. However, that all changed later on in the year, when Carnival sent the ship off to be scrapped, in August of 2020.

Despite the fact that Carnival Imagination is no longer around, though (and probably for good reason; at this point, the ship would’ve been 30-ish years old), it still holds a spot in the hearts of avid cruisers who remember a simpler time, before cruise ships turned into mega cruise ships, with 20-plus restaurants, roller coasters and surfing simulators. 

Want to see what you missed? Here’s everything you need to know about this former Fantasy-class cruise ship.

What Happened to Carnival Imagination?

Carnival Imagination was benched by the cruise line in mid-2020. At that time, Carnival had not announced the ship would be retired, but, by August 2020, the ship was headed for the scrapyard in Aliaga, Turkey. The ship arrived there in September and scrapping began in early 2023. 

Carnival Imagination Stats

So how did this ship stack up, in comparison to the seemingly larger-than-life ships that we see today? Overall, Carnival Imagination is on the compact side.  

  • Gross Tonnage: 70,367 GT
  • Length: 855 feet
  • Passenger capacity: 2,040 (double occupancy)
  • Maximum passenger capacity: 2,634
  • Crew: 920 members
  • Total decks: 14
  • Decks open to passengers: 10
  • Cabins: 1,026

The ship is very similar in size and style to its Fantasy-class sister ships, which include Carnival Inspiration, Carnival Ecstasy, Carnival Elation, Carnival Fantasy, Carnival Fascination, Carnival Paradise and Carnival Sensation

These eight ships debuted in the 1990s, and today, only two of the ships are still in operation: Carnival Elation and Carnival Paradise (so if you read up on what all Carnival Imagination offered and wish you could’ve experienced it for yourself, book a cruise on either of these two sister ships!). 

Construction

This ship was built by Kvaerner-Masa in Helsinki, Finland. Fun fact: The construction of the eight Fantasy-class ships was considered one of the most expensive shipbuilding projects in the world at the time, not including ships built for naval purposes. It took nearly a decade to build all of the Fantasy-class ships. 

Construction on Carnival Imagination began in June 1993, before the ship was completed and christened in the summer of 1995. The ship was christened by Jodi Dickinson, who was married to Carnival CEO Bob Dickinson at the time.

Carnival Imagination
Carnival Imagination

Fantasy-class ships, and Carnival Imagination in particular, offered some unique features for the decade. For example, Fantasy-class ships were the last cruise ships to only store their lifeboats on the upper deck. Additionally, Carnival Imagination was the first ship in the fleet to offer a 24-hour pizzeria! Furthermore, all Fantasy-class ships were a little light on balcony staterooms, with this cabin category at a minimum.

After Carnival Imagination’s debut, it served a variety of itineraries, with a special focus on the U.S. West Coast, offering trips from Long Beach to Catalina Island and Baja California. These cruises have typically been relatively short, only three or four days in length.  

Ship Dry Docks

Over its lifetime, Carnival Imagination has undergone renovations several times, with the most major renovations taking place in 2007 and 2016. The latter helped bring the ship up to standards that helped it serve cruisers into 2020. 

In 2007, the Fantasy-class ships, including Carnival Imagination, began receiving the Carnival Cruise Lines’ “Evolutions of Fun” upgrades, a fleet-wide initiative that cost quite multiple millions, but that took Carnival’s ships into a new age of cruising. Standout features that were added to ships at this time included the WaterWorks water parks, miniature golf courses and new amenities in staterooms, such as flat-screen televisions.

Aerial View of Carnival Imagination
Aerial View of Carnival Imagination

In 2016, the ship’s multi-million-dollar renovations took place during a three-week dry dock, Sept. 4–22. These later renovations heavily focused on adding new venues to the ship, including Guy’s Burger Joint, BlueIguana Cantina, RedFrog Rum Bar, Alchemy Bar, BlueIguana Tequila Bar and Cherry on Top. These brands and venues are all still seen on Carnival’s cruise ships today, and helped Carnival Imagination remain relevant for at least a few more years.  

Cabins

There were 1,026 cabin options aboard Carnival Imagination, of which very few have balconies. This was the case across all the Fantasy-class ships, making them stand out quite a bit from today’s modern cruise ships, which prioritize balconies and offer unique features that elevate the balcony experience (such as indoor-outdoor living spaces and verandas).

There were more than 50 suites and 19 types of cabins to choose from in all, with the large majority being interior staterooms and ocean-view staterooms. The largest cabins available were the Grand Suites, with 330 interior square feet and room for up to five cruisers. Grand Suites offered large seating areas and bathrooms, with separate showers and tubs, including whirlpool soaking tubs.  

Venues

Another factor that made Fantasy-class ships stand apart from more modern vessels was the limited number of dining options. You wouldn’t find 20-plus restaurants here. Instead, the cruise ship offered its main dining room, the Lido buffet, a sushi bar, Guy’s Burger Joint and BlueIguana Cantina. Both of these last two were added to the ship during its 2016 dry dock.

The ship did offer some Carnival-classic dining experiences, though, such as the Chef’s Table experience, wherein a limited number of cruisers enjoy an intimate chef-led dinner, as well as the Seuss at Sea experience for families with small kids.

Carnival Cruise Line Chef's Table
Photo Courtesy: Carnival Cruise Line

The ship offered a range of lounges, bars and music venues for adults, as well, plus the Serenity adults-only space on one of the decks, with its 100 lounge chairs and a whirlpool. Watering holes included the Mirage Piano Bar for tunes and spirits; BlueIguana Tequila Bar for Mexican-themed, poolside drinks; Alchemy Bar for professionally-created cocktails; and Shangri La Lounge and Bar for karaoke and a dance floor.

A fitness center was also available, as well as a jogging track. The spa included a relaxation room, steam room and sauna, in addition to the typical treatment rooms, as well as a salon offering haircuts and colors, styling, manicures, pedicures and more.  

For the kiddos, Camp Carnival (the original name for today’s Camp Ocean) offered programming for the younger children in your crew, while the preteen and teen-centric clubs provided a safe, chaperoned space for their age set, without too much adult intervention.

Carnival Imagination WaterWorks
Carnival Imagination WaterWorks

For fun in the sun, the WaterWorks Aqua Park provided waterslides and a splash zone, while, nearby, the sports courts offered basketball, volleyball, ping pong and miniature golf. In total, the ship boasted three pools, along with seven jacuzzies. 

This ship did feature a casino, with all the favorite games, including tournaments, slots, table games, poker, black jack and more. The casino housed a bar as well. 

Decor

While this ship did undergo refurbishments multiple times over its long life, including as recently as 2016, those refurbishments didn’t really help bring the ship out of the 90s very much.

It seems the ship’s dry docks were more so focused on adding new venues, like restaurants and bars, than majorly overhauling the ship’s interiors. Think very 90s-esque carpet and wallpaper, and classic Carnival colors like burnt orange, red, yellow and blue. There was a fair amount of neon, too, in spaces like the Grand Atrium — imagine the heyday of 1980s or 1990s mall culture.

Carnival Imagination Atrium
Carnival Imagination Atrium (Photo Credit: vgm8383)

In short, anyone who’s more accustomed to sailing on the newest, biggest, fanciest, or most luxurious ships would find the décor on Carnival Imagination sorely lacking or even off-putting. That said, when it first debuted, this ship would’ve been top of the line, and no one would’ve ever questioned its aesthetic!

Carnival Imagination Scrapping

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the cruising industry’s abrupt halt in response, Carnival planned to indefinitely lay up some of its ships, including multiple Fantasy-class ships. The cruise line told investors that the group of ships chosen for this purpose would only include its “less efficient” ships.

Cruise Ship Graveyard

However, that indefinite halt in service turned into a full retirement and Carnival announced that it would sell several of the impacted ships, including Carnival Imagination, later in 2020.

Read Also: Uncovering the Secrets of the Cruise Ship Graveyard

Following, Carnival Imagination traveled to Cuaracao, where the ship was stripped of some of its pieces, then sent off to Aliaga, in Turkey, for further scrapping. The ship arrived in Turkey on Sept. 14, 2020. However, the ship was not immediately dismantled. The ship waited several more years, with rumors of potential purchases of various elements of the ship swirling, until, finally, scrapping began in February 2023. 

Was Carnival Imagination a Good Ship?

When Carnival Imagination first debuted in 1995, it was a top-of-the-line cruise ship. The Fantasy class overall was considered impressive, and some of the best cruise ships in the world at the time. However, the cruising industry moves quickly and, soon enough, Carnival Imagination was considered a little outdated.

That said, the ship, thanks to multiple major renovations, did still retain its appeal for certain cruisers, for quite a long time. The ship managed to still compete with newer ships throughout the 2000s.

Carnival Imagination Cruise Ship
Photo Credit: Lisa Bronitt / Shutterstock.com

However, eventually, the ship was more of a vintage experience, something that would only appeal to cruisers who specifically wanted that 1990s cruising vibe, or cruisers who wanted an affordable, short cruise experience from the West Coast, and who didn’t necessarily need or want all of the fancy, luxurious bells and whistles that came with newer cruise ships.

So, was Carnival Imagination a good ship? Definitely — but only inarguably for a time, and then the ship lost some of its luster, just as is the case with any cruise ship.

Carnival Imagination Cruise Ship FAQ:

How many pools were on the Carnival Imagination?

There were three pools aboard Carnival Imagination. This was in addition to the ship’s seven jacuzzies, and included the resort-style pool on Deck 10 and the WaterWorks pool on Deck 11.

How big was the Carnival Imagination?

The ship had a gross tonnage of 70,367 GT and length of 855 feet. There are 14 decks and a total guest capacity of 2,634 passengers and 920 crew members.

What ships are in the same class as Carnival Imagination? Carnival Imagination was a Fantasy-class cruise ship. As such, it had seven sister ships, with only two still in service as of April 23, 2024. Sister ships included Carnival Paradise, Carnival Elation, Carnival Inspiration, Carnival Fascination, Carnival Sensation, Carnival Ecstasy and Carnival Fantasy.

Holly Riddle
Holly Riddle
Holly Riddle is a travel and food freelance writer whose work can be found in print and digital publications all around the world. She is additionally an entrepreneur specializing in content and marketing services. Beyond frequent travel, Riddle enjoys cooking, reading, camping and spending time with her husband and two dogs. Her favorite travel destinations include Chicago, Amsterdam, Edinburgh and just about anywhere in the Caribbean. Find out more about us here.

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