Background: Myself 50, Husband 54, Son 21 and roommate 21. We booked this cruise over a year out and decided to take my son and his friend along as a treat for excelling in their college studies.
We flew AirTran direct from Indianapolis into FLL and arrived at 5pm on a Friday, a day prior to our cruise. Needless to say, this airport was a madhouse. We found our way to baggage claim and then to the hotel shuttle pick-up area where we placed a call to our hotel, Sleep Inn & Suites FLL airport. Their shuttle arrived within 10 minutes and a very courteous driver loaded our bags and drove us the short 10 min drive to the hotel.
The hotel itself is a 4 story, indoor corridor hotel which is located next to a 24 hr Walgreens and across the street from a shopping center that has a grocery store and 3 restaurants. Having shopping and a restaurant made it very convenient to purchase our pop and wine plus have dinner without having to worry about hiring a taxi cab. We booked two side-by-side rooms and received parking lot views on the third floor. This was a great location as we were at the end of the hallway and facing the back of the hotel. It turned out to be a very quiet location. The hotel has a nice pool and hot tub with clean, well maintained pool furniture and pool towels. A nice touch was a handicap lift-chair for both the pool and the hot tub. Kudos to the hotel for this. The next morning, the hotel offered a very nice hot breakfast that was included in our room rate. The hotel is nothing fancy but is convenient to shopping and dining and worked out perfect for a one night's pre-cruise stay.
We hired QLS shuttle service for our port transportation. We picked a winner as their service was top-notch. They called me 15 minutes prior to arrival and then again when they were actually in the hotel parking lot. The driver loaded our bags and checked our names off of his list. Our hotel filled up the entire shuttle so we were on our way to the port of Miami. We had a 9am hotel pick-up time and arrived at the port around 9:40. It was early but we ended up being among the first in line.
We arrived at the port at 9:40 and after sending our checked bags on their way, were able to be among the first to enter the port at 10am. We were given zone 2. They started boarding VIP, Weddings and Special Assistance @ 10:50. We boarded shortly after.
It's always a treat to see the faces of those who are on their first cruise as they enter the ship atrium for the first time. The lobby area is just beautiful as was the rest of the ship.
We had a Guy's Burger -- very good but a big burger if you are not a big eater -- Everyone enjoyed the Drink of the Day and shortly after, our cabins were ready.
My dh and I were in a mid-ship balcony on the Empress deck with the boys across from us in an inside cabin. Our room was clean and we ended up with a great room steward that kept our ice-bucket filled each morning and evening. We made sure to use our Cruizin/Snoozen door cards to make his job easier by knowing when we were out of the cabin, so he could slip in and do his magic.
We selected AnyTime dining and it turned out to be a good choice for us. We usually ended up dining from 7pm - 7:45 each evening and only twice, received a beeper for a short 15 wait.( just a tip- the beeper works in the Casino and the Casino bar area.) After a couple of evenings, we ended up in Ba-Wa's section ( Bah-Wah) He and his waitstaff were amazing. If you have AT dining and want a great waiter and staff, request his section. We requested him for the remainder of the cruise and he got to know our names, and our drink preferences etc.... We had the pre-paid gratuities but did end up giving him and his helpers a little $ above and beyond, as they were the best wait staff that we have had so far.
The food in the Main Dining room was very good. We are easy to please folks so no complaints what so ever. Some of our favorites were the different soups each night, the vegetarian dishes, and also the Spa desserts that are made with Splenda.
We used room service for our morning coffee and juice and they were always on time. We enjoyed the Lido buffet for breakfast and again for lunch. After discovering the Pizza in the Aft pool area, it became my favorite of the trip. My dh enjoyed his Guy's burgers and the Oysters from the Fish & Chips area, while the boys seemed to really like the Deli selections. There was something for everyone.
Our first port of call was HALF MOON CAY: We rented a Cabana along with a cruise friend, who we met on the Legend in 2010. We were in cabana #10 which turned out to be a perfect location. It was very close to the bathrooms and near the path to the dining pavilion. We ended up with a picture-perfect sunny day for this port. We spent lots of time in the crystal clear water and even though we applied a waterproof sunscreen, became sunburned anyway. So a heads-up to remember to reapply often. The lunch was very good with my favorite being the jerk chicken and the broccoli salad. The last tender boat left at 4:15, so we packed up and got into a very long line around 3pm. It did move rather quickly and the only downside was a very nasty lady that was extremely rude to the Carnival staff telling them that she had waited over 3 hours in line. This was not true as we waited 35 minutes from getting in lint to entering the tender boat. The staff apologized to her but did not allow her to cut to the front of the line as she has requested. Kudos to them for handling the situation in a professional manner.
ST THOMAS- We had not made any previous plans for this island so on the evening prior to porting, we all booked an Island and Shopping tour with Carnival. The excursion did not leave until 1pm, so this left us time to exit the ship as our leisure and do some shopping near the port area then return to our cabin before meeting in our designated area. We boarded a newer, open-air safari style bus that gave us a nice tour of the island while working it's way up to the mountain top. At the top, there is a large gift shop and snack bar with an overlook area. They serve their signature made to order banana daiquiris. I am not much of a drinker so I passed but did take a sip of my hubby's, WOW, they are strong !!! After our allotted time on the mountain top, we were taken to the downtown shopping area where we were given 2 hours of free time to shop or dine. We had a short period of light rain, so we ended up at a quaint little restaurant called Jen's. It didn't look like much from the outside but it was very nice on the inside. The staff was over-the-top friendly, the prices very good, and the food and drinks delish. After our 2 hours, we met back up at our pick-up spot for our return ride back to our ship.
SAN JUAN- We took our time getting off the ship in this port and ended up doing a self-guided walking tour to both of the forts. We took the free Trolley to the first fort and then walked to the second one. We then took the free trolley back to the ship. It was a lot of walking but there are vendors along the way selling water, shaved ice, and canned pop. The forts also sell Sports drinks and bottled water, in their gift shops. TIP--- If you want to take the free trolley and avoid a huge crowd--- after exiting the port, turn left and walk down the sidewalk to the trolley stop near the coffee cafe. This is the last stop in the cycle but you will be one of the first to board hence beating the large crowd at stop #1 which is across the street from the port. When returning, just stay on the trolley until you get to stop #1. You will then just cross the street right to the port area.
GRAN TURK- We had another beautiful, sunny day and our initial plan was to make this another beach day BUT, we all had sunburns and the boys even had a trip down to the ship's medical center for treatment, so the sun was not an option today. Myself, my dh and out cruise buddy friend walked down the beach to a cute little family owned beach bar/restaurant called, Jack's Shack. I had a few sodas while my dh and cruise friend had a couple of tropical drinks. We enjoyed the view and talking to some fellow cruisers that we met and then made our way back to the port shopping area. The boys ended up taking in the sights and games around the Margaritaville pool. They had a great time and we almost had to pull them away.
SEA DAYS -- Since this was a cruise centered around enjoying family time, we spent our sea days playing putt-putt golf as a group, relaxing in the lounge chairs up on deck while enjoying a cold drink or two and reading on our balcony.
ENTERTAINMENT- No complaints what so ever. We did catch a few evening shows and in our opinion they were all good. We also took in some of live music in the Casino bar area and in the Atrium lobby. The boys went to a few of the Adult comedian shows and expressed their enjoyment. We also really enjoyed the Love & Marriage show which was offered on the last sea day. We spent some time in the Casino and while we didn't win-big, we were able to win small amounts here and there to keep us entertained and playing longer.
DEBARKATION- We had a 2:50pm flt out of FLL and were given debark zone 7. We waited in the Casino seating area and our zone was called at 8:45am. We were through customs and had our baggage by 9:20. We called for our QLS pick-up which arrived within 20 minutes. We were at FLL by a 10:20. We were extremely early for our flight but security was very, very long so I would have been in a panic if I had an early flight to catch. The airport was, again, extremely crowded. Not sure if it's always like this or if it's just typical of a cruise days. Our return flight also occurred right after the Boston bombing so security was taking extra measures hence a long line and short tempers.
All in all, we had a fantastic cruise. We had absolutely no complaints. We all had a great time and got to spend some much needed family time together while enjoying a beautiful ship, great food, great service and fun entertainment. We received our money's worth and then some. The Liberty is a beautiful ship and I would not hesitate to book a cruise on her again.