A general note about this review, I write it as advice to future prospective passengers and as an open letter to Carnival identifying areas for improvement. It contains more than a few issues, but most of them didn't significantly detract from my cruise experience--I stand by my 4-out-of-5-star review, and overall, had a great time on the 10/6/2012 sailing of the Carnival Liberty.
I am a young professional and took this cruise with my girlfriend. We are Florida residents and booked within a month of sailing. We have each cruised before on Norwegian and MSC. She's sailed on Carnival before, but I had not (also read: neither of had any sort of meaningful status with Carnival). Overall, the cruise was a great value for the money, and I would strongly recommend this ship and route to other similarly-situated (i.e. no children) Florida residents looking for a last-minute vacation.
We arrived at the port around 11:00 a.m. and found the boarding process reasonably quick. There were short lines at each stage of the check-in and boarding process, but each seemed to move along at a decent pace. Having your own documents and baggage in order seems to greatly help in getting on the ship quickly.
Issues with embarkation:
Two days prior to embarkation, Carnival emailed me an "Urgent Notice" requesting that I not arrive at the cruise terminal prior to 1:30 p.m. This was not well received, as I had great doubts that ALL passengers (i.e. those with status or who had booked air travel through Carnival) received the same request. Somewhat more trivial, I felt like Carnival was telling me to skip lunch on the ship. I suspect that this was somehow connected to my completing optional information during online check-in regarding how I would be arriving at the port on embarkation day. I naively stated that I was being dropped off by friend/family. Pre- and post-cruise travel plans aren't required information as part of the check-in process, and I would urge future cruisers who are being dropped off at the port by friends/family to OMIT that information during online check in. Above I stated that I arrived at the port around 11:00 a.m.--yep, I blew off the "Urgent Notice" and was on the ship before noon with no mention of it.
Carnival's liquor search procedures are simply demeaning and overly-intrusive. They're really more serious about making sure you don't have a bottle of vodka than an operational firearm. It goes so far as to open sealed cases of soda cans or water and closely inspect the seals on each can or bottle. Security literally isn't this tight in entering the United States, boarding a plane, entering a military base, or entering a prison facility. It's overkill, and the last thing passengers want is to be treated like criminals before they're even on the ship. I suspect these procedures are the result of a calculated business decision by Carnival, but no other cruise line is so draconian about it (I just tossed newly-bought, unopened, full-size liquor bottles in my checked bag on MSC and it wasn't an issue) and passengers voicing some opposition is the only way it might change. So, here's my opposition.
We booked an interior cabin on deck 2 (Main Deck) towards the bow (front) of the ship (I like to retain some degree of anonymity or I'd just list the cabin number). The difference in fare wasn't worth upgrading as compared to the available rooms with windows or balconies. Overall this was the nicest cabin I've had on a cruise. It was clean, reasonably spacious, and it seemed like good thought had been given to maximizing the utility of the space with cubbies, closets, drawers, etc. There were more than enough hangers and closet space for all of our clothes.
We were told that our cabin would not be ready until 1:30 p.m., so we headed to lunch and found that it was actually prepared early (around 1:00 p.m.).
All of the public spaces were clean and spacious enough so that people didn't seem to be getting caught in traffic jams. There was always space and chairs available on the decks and around the pools. I will say that I wasn't a fan of the loud music the DJ was blaring at the main pool. Fortunately, that and the crowds were easily avoided by going to either the bow (adult-only Serenity area) or aft (adult pool) of the ship. These are also great places to avoid the hard day-drinking crowd and the families with small children.
Overall, I would also give the food 4 out of 5 stars. Everyone has different tastes, so I'll just keep this to a few specific notes.
Guy's Burger Joint: If you like Five Guys, you'll love this place. Big, greasy burgers and fries. After a day with an excursion that only provided a light lunch, I made a beeline here.
Blue Iguana Cantina: EXCELLENT. I wish I could have eaten here more, but the hours were too limited. I might be in the minority on this, but I'd rather have Guy's and Blue Iguana trade operating hours. I was only able to eat here once. Also, whoever is responsible for this restaurant needs to get himself or herself to a Chipotle and see how they make burritos, particularly, how they do it in a reasonable amount of time. I gave up on a line about 8 people deep after waiting for 10 minutes with no advancement. Get the line moving faster, Carnival.
Dinner: Try the Indian Vegetarian dish on the "Everyday" side of the dinner menu. I'm not a vegetarian, but this was my favorite meal on the ship (ordered it three of the seven nights and actually would have preferred it to the filet mignon). We opted for anytime dining and would do so again. If you like to eat later, the later of the scheduled dinner passengers are all leaving around 8:45, so 8:45-9:00 is the best time to arrive for dinner if you want very prompt service and significantly reduced crowds. Dinner service was a little slow during peak times, but was excellent at non-peak times.
This is important enough to me that it gets its own section. The fitness center on the Liberty is the best I've encountered aboard a cruise ship. There are many treadmills, elliptical machines, and recumbent bikes. There are only two upright bikes, but I seemed to be the only one interested in those, so the limited number didn't actually matter. There are also dumbbells up to 70 pounds along with benches and resistance-training machines for every major muscle group. All of the equipment is relatively new and in good, working order. Finally, there's a room with spinning bikes that is also used for group fitness (I never went in here though). My SOLE gripe about the gym was the temperature--too warm for a gym. By the end of my workout, particularly on the bike, I was absolutely soaked in sweat (and I don't sweat heavily). The low ceilings over the bikes with hot light bulbs don't help, either. Cool it down in here and get the air moving around with fans.
Originally, I wasn't excited about going to Cozumel after having visited many times, often in unfavorable weather. After taking the "Amazing Secret River" (Rio Secreto) excursion, my views have changed. We booked this through Carnival, as the operator basically forces cruise ship passengers to do. I understand that other cruise lines don't offer this excursion. They're fools for that. Amazing Secret River is a tour through a recently-discovered system of underground caves formed by an underground river. I plan on doing a separate review of this on TripAdvisor, but I'll just say that this was the highlight of our cruise and I would absolutely go back a second time.
In Belize we went cave tubing, booked separately through Island Marketing, Ltd. This is a fun trip, and we saved a lot by not booking through Carnival. The one thing no one really explains fully is that this excursion involves a 30-45 minute hike through the forest carrying your tube. I enjoyed this, but some might not. So, now you know. All of the cave tubing tours appeared to go to the same place.
We did not take an excursion in Roatan, and it's probably the best place to skip an excursion if you don't want to take one at each port of call. The private beach is very nice, although I was a little surprised that food cost extra. Forget that--eat a big breakfast and grab a late lunch when you get back on the ship. It's an early departure from Roatan, anyway. There is excellent snorkeling to be had if you walk to the end of the beach, walk out to the end of the dock, and go off the left side. Swim directly away from the beach and you'll find a great reef. You'll know when it's time to turn back when the water suddenly gets extremely deep. The snorkeling from the shore in Roatan was better than the snorkeling from a boat in Grand Cayman.
In Grand Cayman, we took the Stingray City and Snorkeling tour, not book in advanced by arranged through someone at the dock. Prices are negotiable here, and we got the tour for $35 per person. Compare that to the price Carnival charges for this tour (maybe I could have omitted that detail if Carnival hadn't searched so vigorously for liquor I wasn't smuggling onto the cruise ship on embarkation day?).
Final Odds and Ends:
Some of the reviews I'd read here stated that there was a lack of sufficient clocks and hand sanitizers aboard. No idea how they got that impression. There were more than enough of each. I was also pleasantly surprised to find a public restroom available nearby whenever I looked up for one (this wasn't the case on other cruises I've taken).
If you like real drinks, as opposed to fruity frozen drinks, visit the Alchemy Bar and have Dario mix something for you. He's absolutely excellent. $9.00 (or whatever it was) for a martini with premium liquor made by Dario was 100% worth it.
In the dining rooms, the tables for two are positioned too close to one another and are awkwardly long. This creates a situation where, if there is a couple seated at the table next to you, you'll actually be closer to the person next to you than the person you're dining with. In turn, you're hearing them over your own partner. If you go to dinner later (see above), chances are much better that no one will be seated next to you.
On the final day of the cruise, immediately before you leave the ship, go for the buffet breakfast rather than to the dining room. In the dining room, you'll be seated at a table for ten with others who spend most of the time griping about their return flight or heading back to work on Monday.
Avoid eggs at breakfast and brunch. This was the one thing I just couldn't eat.
Carnival, get some fans installed for the crew members who work in the pizza place. Just judging by the heat that was coming off the place, it's way too hot back there.
The jogging track is 1/9 of a mile, for whatever that information is worth to any runners and fitness walkers out there. Running on the jogging track was much more enjoyable than running on a treadmill in the fitness center.
All of the entertainment was good. Of course, some was better than others, but I never regretted taking the time to see any show or comedian.
In the fitness center, Carnival offers (for a fee, of course) a footprint analysis to purportedly diagnose various knee, hip, and back problems. It's basically the "wet test" in which they have you wet the bottom of your foot and then make a wet mark on a dry surface to get a print of the bottom of your foot.
This is pure snake oil, and no one should pay for it or give any credence to the purported "results." It's borderline insulting, given how much academic literature is available that absolutely pans the "wet test" as an effective tool for analyzing posture, anatomical issues, or gait issues.