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By PAUL MOTTER
With the entire cruise industry on the cusp of a far reaching cycle to introduce new and bigger ships next year, now is the perfect time for Carnival Cruise Lines like to upgrade their older Fantasy-class of ships make them more in keeping with what you'll get when you book a brand new ship.
We are sailing on Carnival Imagination this week to get a firsthand sneak peak of the improvements that are scheduled for every ship in this class of smaller and older Carnival vessels. Carnival Imagination and Inspiration are the first to be completed, with Fantasy scheduled to be finished next. All eight of the ships should be finished by the end of 2009, but be sure to keep checking CruiseMates cruise ship reviews to know whether the ship you are booking has all of the improvements completed or not.
What kind of improvements are we seeing? The most exciting thing for kids is the new waterpark, set to rival anything at sea. The waterpark on this ship has a water slide that is 300 feet long and four stories high. It has twists and turns and finishes with the slider skidding through a big splash pool at the end to slow down. There is also a separate double water slide, side by side, for racing, and there are sprayers and water jets and other fun things to do to keep you cool in the hot Caribbean sun.
But the fun for the kids does not stop at the water park. The 02 Club for teens (developed with Coca Cola) has been upgraded with a new DJ booth, dance floor and sound system and lighting, plus PSP ands Wii game consoles in a separate room. "Tweens" of the ages 12 to 14 have their own private area where they also have gaming consoles and other games to play.
There is a huge video arcade for kids of all ages, with everything from Ms PacMan to motocycle racing and guitar hero.
The youngest kids looked the happiest however -- there are a surprising number of kids on this cruise who were obviously taken out of school for this vacation. With their bubble-making machine working overtime, we passed through just as their counselors were about to set off a baking soda volcano that would put Mt Etna to shame. They have teddy bear-making kits, interactive games, play areas and a kid's pool. Carnival says they are the only cruise line that will actually change diapers. Talk about a vacation for mom! What could better?
Kids of all ages love the new nine-hole miniature golf course. There is also a golf driving cage in the middle of it. The resident golf pro onboard not only gives lectures, but also live demonstrations and even one on one training - for adults of course.
Just below the water park, on the rear deck which once had the old children's pool, is a new adults-only area called sinply "Serenity." This all new area has all-teak decking, two hot tubs, and over 100 soft and cushioned reclining loungers, some even double sized for couples. This area is away from all the noise and activity and has sunny and shady spots. It's the perfect spot to get completely relaxed and enjoy to gentle sway of the ocean.
All of the cabins are upgraded with new bedding. Each has the Carnival "Comfortbed System" with new mattresses, duvets and fluffy feather pillows. They are so comfortable the line is actually selling tons of them online. The accompanying furniture is all new, and although a little sparse it makes the room feel bigger. The bathrooms are some of the most conveient we have seen on a ship. Plenty of space for the shower, sink and toilet area (big enough for three close friends). My bathroom sparkles and I especially appreciate the firm rubber floor padding which is soft and completely non-skid. There are no over-flowing shower problems on this ship.
Every cabin now comes with amenities for the bathroom, but still no hair dryer! However, the room stewardess can get you one if you happen to forget yours. All the colors of paint and paneling are new. The televisions are now flat-screened models, and the desks have rounded corners so the room feels more comfortable and inviting.
The restaurants are all new. The Spirit and Pride dining rooms have had the booths removed so there is much more space around all of the tables. Many tables for two have been added. The marble floors and carpeting are all new, and windows sit on granite ledges.
The spa area has also been fully upgraded - gutted to bare walls. It now has a serene new room for people waiting for their massages with cool or hot teas, lemon water, soft and cushy sofas, quiet music and everything else you need to get ready for your massage. There are steam and hot sauna rooms (separate) for the men and ladies. The fitness center has all brand new equipment and flat panel televisions on the walls and built-in to many of the fitness machines.
In fact the are new flat paneled televisions on walls throughout the ship. They add a level of information everywhere you go. Some bars have ESPN, others will show CNN, others will be running the ship's schedule for the day, and others may be showing our ship's position. It brings a level of high tech to the cruise to remind you are on a state of the art vessel.
Well, I am enjoying my Fantasy-class cruise on Carnival Imagination, and I am sure you would, too. Especially since these ships generally sail anywhere from three to seven-day cruises at bargain rates. This cruise I am currently on sells for as low as $299 per person. That is a smoking hot deal for what you get.