I just completed a week-long Eastern Caribbean cruise on the Liberty. This was my third time cruising, and the first with Carnival. The others were with Norwegian and Azamara. I had prepared myself to expect less from Carnival, but I was pleasantly surprised by the features, cleanliness, and level of service.
We were a loose party of 11 - family and friends who converged on Miami the day before. The size of the group virtually guaranteed each of us a willing partner for any activity, but there were also plenty of opportunities to head of on one's own. Our fellow passengers were mostly Americans, lots of families with kids. Our group had no kids, but the Fun Ships do a good job of offering something for everyone.
My sister and I had one of the L-shaped balcony cabins at the aft of the ship, and my mom had an adjoining one. Unfortunately the partition between them couldn't be opened, but each balcony had plenty of space. The cabins themselves were a comfortable size and we especially liked the extra window and configuration of the beds that allowed you to look out them from bed. We had two chairs and a lounge on the balcony. Although we had been warned about noise from the lounge below, we didn't find it bothersome. The motion of the ship here was also not a problem for us. I would choose these rooms again in a minute - and so would some of my traveling companions who had opted for the more traditional balconies.
Our steward was Pichet, and he took very good care of us without being obtrusive. He had an uncanny knack for attending our room as soon as we left it. Retno took care of us in the dining room. This was my first experience with an assigned dining time, and I was pleasantly surprised that I liked it. Although the time (8:15) was later than I was used to, it allowed for a more relaxed day. It was nice to not have to wait in any line at all for a table, and Carnival made sure that everything that was scheduled - from shows to excursions to dining times - ran like clockwork. Our large party had its own table right in the center of the Silver Olympian dining room, and dinner provided our one guaranteed opportunity each day to hear what everyone had been up to. Food was good - nothing wowed me, but it was all tasty and nicely presented. The prime rib was very good, and the soups and desserts were delicious.
The size of our party did seem to slow the service, as the staff worked to ensure that all our food arrived at once. Considering that this was my single biggest "complaint" of the cruise, I'd say I fared quite well. I wouldn't opt for late dining again, as Carnival seemed to schedule many activities during that time that I would have liked to check out. But they did make sure that late diners could catch the shows.
Those shows were exceptional, much better than I had anticipated. The singers and dancers managed to put on at least 4 different shows during the week, and each had elaborate costumes and moving sets. I was very impressed by the entertainment, from the brass quintet in the atrium to some of the duos and trios throughout. I unfortunately didn't get to hear any comedians, as these shows were packed and the late dining prevented us from arriving early.
The other food options were good. Guy's Burger Joint was a real hit, and we also liked the 24-hour Pizza Pirate. We weren't able to try the steakhouse on this trip.
Fate led us to discover the Alchemy Bar as we left Miami on day one. That was either a very good thing or a very unfortunate one, as we paid it a visit each and every day. We were instantly hooked, not just on the limitless number of concoctions that could be made to cure all ills, but on the personalities of the staff. In particular, Inna shone, with her fast-talking humor and good-hearted nature. It's employees like her that will make me consider Carnival again for a future voyage. I know it's typical for a cruise, but just about every Carnival employee I encountered was helpful and seemed sincerely friendly.
This was the largest ship I had yet sailed on, and there were many activities and restaurants to take advantage of. For the most part, I was glad for the variety that the size brought. But with that comes more people, and at times it felt crowded, particularly at the buffet or when in port. Any larger might be too much.
This was my first time to Miami and the Caribbean. I was very impressed by the efficiency of the port operations. Some of us had FTTF and it was well worth it, but even those who didn't were able to get onboard before noon. Our rooms were ready, as promised. I only took advantage of FTTF one other time, at guest services, where it saved me a few minutes. (At disembarkation, they really need to reverse the plan to Keep The Fun Going - Carnival was almost too efficient in getting us off by 7:30)
Half Moon Cay was wonderful - the beach day was a nice way to begin the trip, and the private island was perfect. We didn't think to get a cabana before they all sold out - that would have been ideal - but we got one of the 5 beach villas. Although that was a bit of overkill, especially with the hot tub, it was a great base for enjoying the beach. The snacks that came with the rental were meager, but it was close to the lunch BBQ, which was great. And it was nice that the lunch buffet was available to all on the cruise at no extra cost.
St. Thomas was ok. I opted for the Trunk Bay beach and snorkel trip. Although getting there took up about half of the 4 hour excursion, I enjoyed the boat ride and taxi on St. John. St. John was really beautiful, and when I heard that my friends who remained on St. Thomas didn't think much of Charlotte Amalie, I was very glad that I had made this choice. Though a bit overcast, the beach was lovely and the reef had some beautiful corals and fish.
San Juan was a real surprise. I was off the ship before 8 and explored Old San Juan on my own by foot. I wound up spending most of the morning at the castle and the afternoon at the fort. The colonial architecture of Old San Juan was really interesting, and I ironically felt most in a foreign country in this port because of the Spanish influence. I could have easily spent more time there.
I'm glad I stopped in Grand Turk, but don't need to go back. I don't know whether the new cruise center and arrival of the cruise ships are a good thing or bad thing for the island and its people. On the one hand, I'm sure they bring money. On the other, the cruise center is isolated from the rest of the island and its culture. I chose to leave that - Half Moon Cay was good enough for my beach experience - and took the Segway tour with local guides. There frankly isn't much to see on the island, but the residents are proud of it, and it was very different from other ports.
I did like that each port had its own character and unique offerings. It was a good introduction to the variety of the Caribbean. St. John was my favorite island and I'd like to visit more like it on future cruises. Overall, I was very happy with Carnival and the Liberty - the price, the service, the quality and the itinerary. I would definitely recommend this cruise to others.