Not much to recommend on the Carnival Liberty (Eastern Caribbean 10/13/12).
My wife and I are seasoned (over 20) cruisers, on multiple cruise lines. This was our sixth Carnival cruise. I had read about the 2.0 upgrades and was looking forward to enjoying the new features on this ship.
But, Carnival got three strikes early in the cruise and failed to impress in any area.
There was the typical line and delay to go through Security. Passport scanning was new for us, and screening of carry-on luggage was uneventful. Once inside the terminal, the line to check in moved very quickly. When we reached the counter, we showed our boarding passes, were given sign and sail cards in less than two minutes, then told to sit and wait until our boarding zone number was called.
It took about 20 minutes for Security and getting the sign and sail cards, but then more than one additional hour to get on the ship.
There must have been between 20 and 30 agents handling check-in and giving out the sign and sail cards. But, at the end of the line before boarding the ship, there were only two employees, upstairs, one each on either side of the building, taking the pictures to link each passenger with their sail and sign cards. Common sense tells me that there is a bottleneck. Even with two on each side, there would still be a bottleneck.
The excuse is that there are two machines but "one just broke". Did this happen on each side of the building? What an amazing coincidence! And did Carnival just happen to have pre-printed zone numbers for everyone? Or was the waiting planned? It sure seems to me that rather than eliminate the bottleneck with the picture taking, Carnival choose to make the waiting process better organized. Carnival easily wins the "Stupid Management Award", wouldn't you agree?
Whoever designed the waiting process and the number system, must be fairly high up the management chain or have a cruel obsession to see it used on passengers.
With most tenders, passengers proceed to the gangway and board the tenders in orderly fashion. Sometimes there is a short delay as one tender leaves and another pulls along-side the ship. Not so with Carnival! You need to go to the theater, get a number, and wait until your group is called.
The excuse... seas are a little rough that morning, so only the large tender is operating. The three smaller tenders were not in use. With 3,700 passengers and 300 passengers per trip, that's quite a few round-trips for everyone to get to Half Moon Cay on only the large tender. It was a bit shaky to cross the ramp from the ship to the tender, but the tender ride was not rough at all, and exiting by the wide front ramp of the tender to the shore was very easy.
Ring, ring! Hello Carnival, is this the first time that you have encountered rough seas? Is the size of the tender really an issue? If so, isn't it time to arrange more than one large tender? Have you considered building a better ramp between ship and tender?
Or is it just standard policy to have passengers wait in groups? Is it intentional???!
There were three groups of musicians who played for your dancing pleasure. The groups were talented and played well.
A duet played in the lobby. Now, who wants to dance in a brightly lit lobby and feel like they are performing on stage?
A five member band played adjacent to the casino. They were quite good and played a variety of dance music. But who wants to dance in the main walkway by the casino bar, where hundreds of passengers walk when going to and from the dining rooms and the theater.
A three member band was the only group stationed in a night club. Not surprising, they had the most dancers because of the venue. However they were limited in range and played only Latin music. Whenever I was present, I heard them sing in Spanish only and with the same merengue beat.
The disco wasn't to my taste. The DJ played music aimed at an age group most of whom were too young to be allowed to enter the disco! Ever wonder why the disco is empty most evenings?
And finally there was a DJ instead of a Caribbean band on the Lido deck. He did not have a clue. Whoever heard of an Eastern Caribbean cruise without Calypso, Reggae, or Soca music?
Carnival..... are you listening????! Does Carnival carew????!
Food & Drinks
Over the years, we have gradually lowered our expectations for the quality of the food and the level of service on cruise ships.
Food was adequate and met those lowered expectations for the most part. The seasonings and flavors were neither memorable nor remarkable.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner selections were ordinary, without any outstanding items.
The Caesar salad was consistently tasty, but the French onion soup was horrible. The half lobster tail was a decent size and cooked properly (not overdone). The deep fried calamari and shrimp fritter from the fish and chips bar was tasty but very greasy.
Guy's Burgers is a definite hit. The "Ringer" is currently the best burger on a cruise ship.
The 24-hour pizza station was a flop. The texture of the pizza was light and crispy, but the taste was so bland.
At $35 per person, the steakhouse wasn't an attractive option.
The quality of the drinks varies depending on where they are made. My wife and I like Mojitos. Some had too much ice, some did not have enough sugar, or rum, or mint flavor; and only a couple were just right. Sort of hit or miss!
Like food, our expectations for the shows have been lowered.
On the second night, there was a featured juggler/comedian who was excellent. I thought he deserved a standing ovation for his unique performance, but I was among the minority one-third as the majority sat. Tough audience.
Two nights later, there was a featured male singer, who wasn't very entertaining. I stayed, thinking the show would improve, but walked out in the middle of the show after he butchered two Frank Sinatra songs.
The two production shows were typical. The dancers were energetic and talented, wore great costumes and had interesting props. The male lead singer shouted too much, and the (better) female lead singer didn't have enough singing roles.
The comedy shows were all well attended. In fact, the lounge was too small for the crowds. It was incredible that Carnival asked you to leave the lounge after the first show, and join a line to re-enter the lounge for the next show. It would have been better to have the shows in the main theater. [This waiting theme pops up here again.]
All together, with Comedy, Quest and the Marriage game, the shows were well run and certainly adequate.
For the most part, the staff was all pleasant, courteous and attentive. The cabin stewards, dining room waiters, bar waiters, entertainment staff, gift shop workers, and even the photographers were all very good.
The exception is the casino staff. They were not very welcoming, smiled infrequently and failed to initially greet the players with enthusiasm.
I ran into one card dealer who was somewhat rude. In response I left immediately and never went back for the remainder of the cruise. When I choose to lose my money in a casino, the least I expect is a pleasant environment.
I saw one lady, who qualified for free drinks, trying to get a soda. She was told that she could not get a soda at the bar. A waiter had to serve it to her at the table. There was no waiter around and the Pit Boss did not try to summon one. He told her that she had to wait! Amazing, isn't it?
Ports of Call
Half Moon Cay -- not as good as Labadee
St. Thomas -- Magen's Bay does not live up to the hype. Shopping not nearly as good as in the past.
San Juan -- interesting to see old San Juan, but now it is in the "been there and done that" category
Grand Turk -- the beach is a delight. The water was crystal clear. Tasty conch fritters at the Local Village Bar, next to the cruise terminal.
The Liberty can be an enjoyable cruise, especially for first or second time cruisers. However more experienced cruisers will probable feel that it is merely adequate. Carnival certainly does too much that annoys without providing any Oomph effect to compensate.
It just crossed my mind that Carnival recently introduced the Faster to Fun program. This new program gives you priority to bypass all the different wait lines.
It is interesting to note that almost all of the recent reviews mention embarkation delays and/or tender problems. I never experienced this level of waiting on my previous Carnival cruises. Is all this waiting designed to make the Faster to Fun more valuable, and create demand for it? Sad thought, isn't it?
Instead of correcting a bottleneck problem, they design a process to make the wait more organized; then they create a new program for you to pay to avoid the lines. Wow!
Sounds familiar? Instead of maintaining quality and service excellence in the dining rooms, they lowered the standards; then they created specialty restaurants for you to pay for that quality and service that was once standard.
Most cruise lines are taking advantage of the premium restaurant craze. But Carnival, sadly, has sunk to a new low with this waiting scam. I sincerely hope that this disgusting scenario doesn't spread to other cruise lines.
I am already booked on Carnival's new ship, Carnival Breeze, for a December sailing. If the experience isn't better than the Liberty, it could be my last Carnival cruise... ever!