First of all: Thank you to everyone who posted helpful hints and ideas on Cruise Critic. They were of great value! We sailed on the Carnival Liberty out of Miami on April 7, 2012. Embarkation was quick and pain free. The earlier you arrive at the terminal the lower your "zone", but no one was allowed to board before 11:30am to afford Carnival time to disembark the returning cruise passengers, clean, etc. We were given a card with zone 30 and waited less than 30 minutes. They called 3 or 4 zones at a time. The first of many photo opportunities slows things down a bit as they take every one's picture as you cross the gangplank.
Once on board everyone scrambles to either the buffet on Lido deck, or to claim a lounge chair near one of the pools. Be sure to bring a swimsuit in your carry on because you won't see your luggage for a while. We relaxed in the adults only "serenity" area on deck 10 until our cabin was ready. The Miami skyline is beautiful from the top of the ship.
Our cabin was on the Lido deck and we had a nice balcony with a small round table and 2 chairs. A heavy curtain completely darkened the room if you wanted a mid-day nap. There are 4 small dresser drawers and 3 closets, one of which had shelves instead of clothes hangers. Bring extra hangers if you have clothes you don't want to get wrinkled. Clean robes hang in one of the closets along with life preservers. There is a small safe inside one of the cabinets that is locked with the swipe of a credit card. There is only one outlet in the room so bring a multi-strip outlet if you want more. There is an outlet in the bathroom as well. There is no clock in the room. You can arrange a wake up call instead of using an alarm. Our king bed was soft but you could tell it was 2 twins hooked together. The linens were plush and soft, and extra pillows were delivered within minutes of being requested. Your choice of down filled or foam. A small love seat and coffee table were just the right size. We never once heard noise from outside even though we were right near the action.The bathroom was small but sufficient. There was no exhaust fan. Soap, toothpaste, floss, and breath-right strip (oddly enough) are in a little basket. There are tissues too. The water is hot and the pressure is good. The shower head adjusts and can be hand held. Body wash and shampoo are in a dispenser in the shower itself. Bring clothes pins! There is a retractable clothes line in the shower stall.
Meals! We ate breakfast at the buffet every morning. Yes, the lines can be long but they move people quickly for the most part. Cooked to order eggs can be gotten at the omelet stations! There was something for everyone including dry cereal, hot cereal (oatmeal and farina), scrambled eggs (looked like powdered),pancakes, french toast, bacon, sausage, ham, potatoes, fruit, every pastry imaginable, cheeses and meats, and yogurts. Servers offer mango and other juices from carts or you can go to a beverage station for coffee and juice. There is a breakfast burrito bar too. If buffets are not your style then you can eat in the dining room for a cooked to order breakfast. Breakfast is also available via room service.
For lunch Guy's burger bar cannot be beat. Fresh hamburgers with a fixin bar that includes real bacon, sauteed mushrooms, sauteed onions, and everything else you might expect to put on a burger. The fries were out of this world. There is a wok where made to order stir fry is served, "Fish and Chips" included delicious fish similar to Arthur Treachers or Long John Silver. They even serve Ahi tuna and ceviche!! The buffet offers various hot items as well as a great salad bar. There is a deli for sandwiches. Pizza is served 24 hours a day. The food was good, hot, and plentiful! Sushi is served in the evening on deck 5. Servers quickly remove your plates for you and wipe the table.
We ate dinner in the dining room every night. We opted for the any time dining feature and we never waited for a table for two. The food was good, but not outstanding. The servers were outstanding and very attentive. Special occasions like a birthday or anniversary are celebrated with singing and applause, as well as a slice of cake. 2 formal nights require "smart casual" dress, with no t-shirts or jeans, and no flip=flops. We were surprised by how many families wore suits and evening dresses. There were even a few tuxedos. It was quite fun to dress up and enjoy the ambiance. There were many photo opts on every deck of the ship on those nights. The ship! Something to keep you as busy as you want at almost all times, or you can relax on deck near one of the 3 pools. The horror stories of being like sardines in the pool never came true even on "at sea" days. There is always music...in all the bars, on the lido deck, and in the lounges. Bingo and other games are played at various times during the day. We opted to lounge in the sun, cooling off in the pool once in a while. A well kept secret is the aft pool on the lido deck. It is adults only (2 huge Jacuzzi too) and the roof is retractable if it rains. We did not play mini golf although we had planned to. There are plenty of nooks to sit and enjoy yourself. The casino opens once you've left USA waters. There is a library, piano bar, sports bar, game room, Internet cafe (expensive, but available at least) and shops. We heard some people say the Liberty was smaller compared to some other ships but we were pleased with the venues they offered.
The entertainment was better than I had hoped for. Yes, the dancers lip-sync, but it is Carnival, not Broadway. The sets in the main theater were surprisingly good, and we were amazed they had pyrotechnics. The Comedian/Juggler was outstanding as were the headline acts. The comedians in the punch-liner lounge were very good. Each night featured a family friendly early show and then 2 "adult only" shows. Karaoke was featured in the lounge too. There were always DJ's or live singers on Lido. All the action could be seen on the jumbo screen above the pool. Late night movies are shown on this screen but they're not exactly first run. Yes, they pop popcorn and have butter and flavored toppings.
Excursions. Carnival did a nice job of getting a lot of people off the ship quickly when in port. You'll wait in line for a tender at some ports (Belize and Grand Cayman for instance)but the tenders hold 200+ people so it does not take too long. The boats run back and forth often.
Debarkation could have gone quicker. Again, they call zones over the loud speaker. We sat on the Lido deck and enjoyed the sunshine while waited. Customs seemed to be the issue. You must fill out a declaration form if you purchased anything on the islands or in the shops on board.
Complaints? Not many. Carnival does not enforce their no smoking rules. Teens were chased out of the adult only area once in a while but many people think the no children rule does not apply to them. Although there were 3 different DJ's on the Lido deck they all played the same style of music for the most part. The chocolate night was not advertised or well signed. Many people missed it including us. The only things available for a late night snack were pizza, ice cream, or limited room service. We don't drink, but we heard many a complaint about the price of drinks. There are so many photo opportunities on formal nights that they block the aisle-ways at times.
Other helpful hints for first timers? Don't over pack. Self service laundry is available for $3 a load. Dryers are $3 also but that is for an hour of drying time. Change is available at guest services. We brought 2 Tide all in one packets in a ziploc baggy. Beach towels and a hair dryer are provided so you won't need to bring those. Bring a trash bag to keep items dry on excursions, zipper baggies for cell phones, etc. We used the bag for dirty clothes later in the week. Bring a refillable water bottle. Ice, water, tea and lemonade are free while you're on board. Bug spray and sun block are a good idea but we never needed the bug spray. Flip flops or water shoes are a must because the deck gets quite hot in the sun! We found no magazine shop on board so bring your favorite with you. Ask any crew member if you're lost or need information. We found everyone to be knowledgeable and helpful. Most of all, remember you are on vacation and bring a relaxed attitude.