This is a long review, so grab a cup of coffee and enjoy. We are a family with 3 kids ages, 15-12-8. We really enjoy cruising Carnival not only because the price point allows us to afford to go on a 7 day cruise, but we can get two balcony connecting rooms and we’re almost guaranteed there are a lot of other families with kids which makes it nice for our kids to make friends and have a better cruise experience. It’s the best vacation for us and the difference in our kids ages. There’s always something to do, no arguments about where to eat and what to do. And the activities for the kids at night actually give us parents flexibility to do what we want to do for just a few hours.
I hate to even mention this, but I’m so glad I didn’t pay attention to the THREE emails sent from Carnival reminding us that our embarkation time was 1:00pm. The reason I hate mentioning it – well because we arrived at 11am and we were able to basically walk straight onto the boat-it’s so nice that most people don’t show up early. I had read on other reviews that the ship was ready by 11, but that you may have to tow your carry-ons, so in a way I’m hoping most people still don’t find out you can board early.
I like to have a relaxed approach to embarkation. Never do I fly in on the day of embarkation. We flew into Miami 2 days before and spent one day just touring Miami. If it’s port city I haven’t been to before, I do enjoy taking a tour of that city before we embark the ship. We booked with All About Miami tours and were completely satisfied with our taste of Miami the day before getting on the Liberty. A perfect beginning to the vacation.
We stayed at the Embassy Suites Miami Airport. If it hadn’t been for this huge music festival in Miami the weekend we were sailing out, I believe the rates would have been normal for an ES Hotel. They were super inflated and I’m glad I had Hilton points to cover our stay.
The Ship Overall
Since this is our 4th Carnival Cruise in four years, we are pretty familiar with the lay-out of the ship. You have the bottoms floors which are usually rooms and the main dining room. Then the 4th and 5th floors are the open inside public areas. The top deck 9-12 are the Lido, Spa, Gym, basically all out door public areas.
I like the size of this ship. We’ve sailed the Dream and I felt like it was too big – too many people. The Liberty is big enough, but I never felt crowded. Maybe because it was also not a traditional Spring Break week either, but it just felt like the ship was not full – yet I know it was sold out. So very nice that people spread out the way they did.
If you can afford balcony staterooms, I always recommend that. Balcony and as close to the center of the ship as you can get. We had rooms 8421/8417, which were connecting rooms – very convenient for giving us parents and the kids their privacy. It was actually a perfect location. One floor below the Lido deck restaurant. Right by the rear stairwell and elevators. Since most of our activities were on Lido – it was again, just perfect. I do wish we had the mirror staterooms on the even side of the ship, because that is the side of the ship that faces the port cities when you pull in. We could only see the ocean everytime we were parked in a port. Need to change that next time.
We do early dining because the kids always have activities to get to at night with Camp Carnival, Circle C and Club O2. There’s a new menu set-up and I’m glad it’s a little different. Again being our 4th cruise in 4 years – it was nice to see the change. Our waiter, however, had just come back from his 3 month hiatus and was completely blindsided by the changes. Imagine leaving to go home for 3 months and coming back to a COMPLETELY different program. He was great though and he actually apologized for not being on top of things, explaining that he was getting used to the new menu. So although there were some hiccups, I felt it went smoothly and our waiter was very emphatic to stress that he would get us anything we wanted. His name was Suteja – from the Phillipines (?). He was always conscientious about our needs and I know he was doing his absolute best.
I like the new menu, I think it could be organized a bit better. Not only for the cruisers but for the waitstaff as well.
We always enjoyed the abundant offerings in the restaurant on the Lido Deck-Emiles. You can always find something you want. Then of course, there’s the 24 hour pizza and sandwiches. I didn’t try the burrito bar, but my daughter said it was fantastic. And Guys Burgers and Fries was off the charts. How nice not to be subjected to those stale burgers, hot dogs and fries. This was the good stuff and the fries were FRESH CUT potatoes.
Love getting my cappuchinos at the coffee shop on the 5th floor. It is a fee, but it’s so good.
Oh, we also bring on our allotted amount of drinks in bottled waters. I just feel better knowing I have clean water with me at all times.
Specialty Steakhouse: We always do the specialty steakhouse one night of our cruise. Usually after the first elegant night. It’s always a treat and so decadent. You’ll want to carve out a night to try this restaurant. It’s SO GOOD!
I have to mention the spa because I used it’s services profusely. They seriously give the best pedicures and manicures. Especially the Shellac Manicure. Your polish won’t budge. I had a total of 3 massages. A hot stone at the beginning and end of the cruise and a Bamboo mid-way through the cruise because I was doing the gym’s bootcamp. The bamboo was a bit painful, but I woke up the next morning and all my muscles were loose and felt wonderful. By the third massage I could tell all the knots in my back had finally released. This is a huge splurge – but it’s my 40th birthday and I came prepared to splurge. I only wish I had gotten a facial- oh well, next time.
What I don’t like it everything they try to sell you. Mind you, they are good products and I did buy some, but I also didn’t feel bad to turn them down either. That’s the only thing I wish they would stop doing, but that’s just not going to happen. Just resolve to say no if you really don’t want what they’re offering.
We made full use of all the classes that were offered. We signed up for their weeklong bootcamp (me and my 15 yr old), a pilates class (these two were for a fee). We also did their morning stretch and abs class every morning. (these were included). I wouldn’t have done these on my own before, but my daughter is huge into fitness right now and it’s nice to do things with her. After staying active during the cruise (despite my huge caloric intakes), I will most likely do this on all future cruises. It really helped my not to feel so bloated and tired. The biometric test they do as part of the bootcamp was eye opening. Again, it’s for a fee – but I knew this going in and was prepared to spend the money. I thoroughly enjoyed working out with Steve and Rico. They were funny and made the workouts bearable.
Camp Carnival, Circle C and Club O2:
I’m so fortunate that my kids embrace meeting other people. I always worry that they won’t click with anyone and have a good time. All my kids enjoyed their activities and I always felt confident that they were safe on the ship to go to and from their activities. Except for the 8 year where we had to check her in and out, of course. I didn’t hear any complaints and that’s always a good thing. Plus they always wanted to go to their activities after dinner.
Half Moon Cay: Too windy, we didn’t get to port. Disappointed, but nothing we could do about it. So spend more time in the spa. YAY!
St. Thomas: We did the ziplining tour through the Carnival Excursions. This was a great activity for any one. The views from the mountain you zip line from are incredible. The ziplining is incredible. And then you have just enough time to shop through the port shops there at the ship. Loved St. Thomas and the fact it’s a US port – my cell phone worked (AT&T).
San Juan, Puerto Rico: We referred to Trip Advisor and booked with Spoon Food Tours for a walking historical tour with little stops along the way to experience some of the Puerto Rican Cuisine. This is a slightly different take on touring a city and one we thoroughly enjoyed. Our guide, Nicole, was super friendly and the three hours went by FAST. Again, a US port, Cell phone service a major plus.
Grand Turks: This is basically a cruise industry created port on the back side of the island that looks like it was once an industrial area. I referred again to Trip Advisor and booked horse back riding with Sunset Tours. I’d never done horseback riding, the kids have ridden before at various summer camps, so I thought this would be something exciting and different. The company was not professional and like I said – it was a sad looking area. We finally got to the beach and rode there, but again, it could have been nicer for what we paid. If we ever come to this stop again, we’ll just stay in the cruise ship area which has a Margueritaville on one side, a huge shopping area and then another beach side with shade and tons of chairs. Just make it a beach day unless you want to do a water sport with a company there.
We basically put a few items out to be taken the night before and kept our carry-ons and one large suitcase to take off in the morning. We had a really late flight, so we knew we wouldn’t get off the ship until last call. We went up to Emile’s on the Lido deck and had our last breakfast outside by the back pool and just sat there until the last set of numbers were called. We had breakfast, cappuchino’s, and even took advantage of the ice cream machines for the last time.
When we finally made our way down, you’ll want to take the center elevators down to the main lobby, there was still a huge line to get off the ship. No worries, we just parked our luggage and sat in the Victoria lounge until the announcer said “There are 25 of you still left on the ship, unfortunately, it’s now time to leave your home away from home.” LOL – wow, we really were the last to leave. But even that was great – hardly no crowds, we went straight to our luggage, grabbed a porter who led us straight to a cab for the airport. Perfect.
Tips and Ideas:
- Always look on TripAdvisor to get an idea of the ports you’re going to and what there is to do there. Also read the reviews of the Carnival Sponsored Excursions. We’ve booked with Carnival and outside of Carnival and have always had good fortune with both.
-If you can get in the night or two nights before you head out, it’s always nice to have the hotel take you straight to the terminal. I really like the Miami terminal. It was easy and nicely set up for embarkation.
-Try and be one of the firsts to get on - or at least go ahead and get to the terminal. It’s best to be waiting at the terminal as the first in line, than to get there at 1pm and be in this huge line outside. Also book your flights so that you can leisurely get off the ship. Although if you’re driving in, you can get off the ship by 9:30 and that’s still late. If all goes well with documentation, they can get people off starting at 6:30am. However, they had problems with our ships’ coming back, so first call wasn’t until 8:30am. A gamble if you’ve booked an early flight.
-When choosing your food, always try things you’ve never had before and order more than one entrée if you’re not sure. You can order as much as you want – don’t be embarrassed. Stay away from pasta dishes – they aren’t that great in the Main Dining Room.
And if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to email me! Love cruising with families and love Carnival.