November 21, 2007 -
Back in the mid 1990s, I was chosen to be the first cruise director of the Imagination when it debuted in 1995. This would be my second new ship as cruise director following the delivery of her sister, the Sensation in 1994.
Back in those days, the ship would arrive in her homeport (Miami, in this case) and sit dockside for 10 days or so before her inaugural season began. This meant that myself and many of the staff would join the ship in Miami rather than in the shipyard as we do today.
I remember walking off the Sensation and my mate Gordon Buck, who is now vice president of Caribbean relations, gave me a lift down to the pier in his car with all my luggage. Of course, this was before dockside security was at the level we are at today.
I have to say that from the moment I walked on the ship, she instantly became my favorite ship…………and she still is. Why? Well, the crew, the captain, the decor, the guests (we called you passengers back then), the ambience, the ports and oh yes……..Heidi and I got engaged on that ship a few years later. Overall, it has something “unique” — something very special and it always has. Ask many of our crew what their favorite ship is and the answer will no doubt from many be the Imagination. And you know what? She just got better.
Following some time in dry dock, the ship has been….well, rather than me tell you let’s chat with someone who is there and was such an important part of the Carnival Imagination’s rebirth. We have been friends a long time. Like me, this young man is British — very British in fact — and can often be found wearing his favourite cricket jumper. He has been with us a long time and, therefore, let’s meet the man himself as he took time to answer some questions. Ladies and gents, please say hello to the hotel director of the Carnival Imagination, Mr. Miles Willis.
Miles, you have had an illustrious career with Carnival. Please tell us about your journey so far.
Thanks for the “illustrious” bit. I started in 1983 on the then flagship of the fleet, the Tropicale. I worked in the pursers’ office as a cadet purser; the duties are a lot different to what they are now. In 1990, I was promoted to executive chief purser (the title now is hotel director) and have served in this capacity on just about every Carnival “Fun Ship.”
So, before we talk about the new Carnival Imagination, let’s chat about the work. Where was the ship in dry dock and how many people were involved?
The Carnival Imagination is the second ship to undergo the complete “Evolutions of Fun” upgrade (with the Carnival Inspiration being the first – as covered in your blog!)
Overall, the Carnival Imagination was in dry dock for just over a month. The first two weeks were spent in Charleston, South Carolina. During this time, we were tied up and pretty much “gutting” the vessel to get it ready for the reconstruction work that the “Evolutions of Fun” upgrades entail.
Following our time in Charleston, the ship relocated to Freeport, where the work continued. Our total crew count was more than usual – 1,100 employees. Added to this, were 800 contractors, so as you can see, we had a lot of people onboard.
But it was certainly necessary considering the extensive refurbishments that the Carnival Imagination had to undergo – just about every part of the vessel was renovated in one form or another, from totally redesigned open decks to upgraded cabins, a totally redesigned spa, even new sound and lighting equipment for the various lounges and bars. It was a challenging process but the end result is certainly worth it.
What are the good and not so good points for the crew while in a dry dock…………be honest now.
For me the good points were the variety of construction projects – some areas are brand new, while others were refurbished to look new. Also, it’s very interesting to watch the ship undergo such a dramatic change from an engineering perspective. The crew loved attending their daily worship at the local Wal-Mart.
For the not-so-good category, I really can’t think of much – the refurb schedule was certainly ambitious but, in the end, everyone came together, worked hard and delivered a beautifully renovated ship for our guests to enjoy.
OK, here we go. Simple question……….what’s new?
A better question would be “what isn’t new?” As I mentioned before, “Evolutions of Fun” is quite extensive and involves upgrades to virtually every guest area. We renovated the ship’s staterooms and suites to give them a more contemporary décor and feel, added conference facilities, upgraded public bathrooms, and even built a new children’s play area from scratch. We also renovated the dining rooms and redesigned the spa.
But perhaps the most noticeable change is on the open decks which now feature the “Carnival WaterWorks” aqua park, “Serenity” adults only area and a new main pool area with a tropical design that features thatched huts, colorful umbrellas and more.
The ship just returned to service last Thursday and guest reaction to these new and expanded facilities has been nothing short of sensational. Everyone is raving about the “new” Carnival Imagination – and for good reason!
You must be very excited about all the new attributes that make the Carnival Imagination a must see vessel. Is there one particular area or redesign that has become a personal favorite?
Has to be “Carnival WaterWorks” aqua park. We now have three slides — one is a 300-foot-long tube that has many curves before it deposits riders in a run-off chute; the other two are 82-foot-long straight-away racing slides for the “not so daring.” The entrance to the “curly wurly” slide is at the top of a high tower which is almost as high as the smoke stack! It is fantastic and you can see it from miles around.
I remember when we delivered the Carnival Imagination. It had a “special ” feel about it which is why I have written many times that it is one of my favorite ships. Do you think it has that special feeling today and if so……….why is it so many crew members’ favorite?
That’s a very difficult question to answer as I think you will agree. Some ships resonate personally with you and some don’t. And the ships that “have it” always do, doesn’t matter where they sail out of or the itinerary or the ever-changing crew. The Carnival Imagination has always been one of my favourite ships and always will be.
Tell us about the Carnival Imagination’s itinerary and any particular favorite ports of call you may have.
Carnival Imagination operates four- and five-day cruises out of Miami (although we will be switching to the ever-popular three- and four-day cruises from Miami next year).
Our four-day cruise schedule departs every other Thursday and includes a visit to Key West followed by Calica, Mexico, a “fun day” at sea then back to Miami.
There are two different five-day itineraries, one departing alternate Mondays and the other on alternate Saturdays.
The Monday departures include three ports (rare for a short duration cruise). The cruise starts off with a sea day, then visits beautiful unspoiled Grand Turk, then a day-long call at the private Bahamian island of Half Moon Cay, followed by Nassau and then finally back to Miami. The five-day itinerary starts off with a sea day, followed by spectacular Grand Cayman (home to the famous Stingray City), then Ocho Rios (your favorite John, with the unbelievable Dunn’s River Falls), then another sea day before we head back to Miami.
The Carnival Imagination’s excellent combination of ports on three distinctly different itineraries can’t be beat. My favourite port of call has to be Half Moon Cay, our private Bahamian island. This crescent-shaped beauty is really an island paradise. It is a truly beautiful, superbly developed facility for our guests.
Finally, I know you have a love of flying. What can you tell us about this aspect of your life?
I started flying gliders at 16, got my powered license at 20. Have flown a variety of aircraft, the most fun/challenging being the Pitts S2B – what a ride. I learned competition- style aerobatics in Florida flying this aircraft. The pinnacle has to be flying a Supermarine Spitfire MK VIIII from Goodwood in England, although, sadly a couple of years later it was destroyed in an accident on landing.
Favorite all time aircraft?
As above, the Spitfire. I have a picture taken in Hong Kong when the family used to live there with my Dad standing next to a Spitfire on display. I was 4 years old. Have never been the same since I first saw one.
Finally, you get to fly a private jet to any destination in the world. Where are you going and which six famous people are you taking with you? Please fill in the blanks.
Let’s go to Tibet.
SOMEONE TO MAKE YOU LAUGH
No Politician would ever get on any private jet with me.
SINGER OR BAND
ONE BEAUTIFUL LADY
My fiancé Jana
Thanks, Miles, for that special insight into why the reborn Carnival Imagination is now the perfect ship to experience just why Carnival continues to be The World’s Most Popular Cruise Line.
Actually, just between me and you, I just booked a cruise on the Carnival Imagination for Heidi and I. We will be sailing directly after the Bloggers Cruise on January 28 – a five-day cruise….anyone fancy joining us?
John and Heidi