Having sailed multiple times in the past, I tend to use our Princess cruises as the gold standard. This 8 day cruise on the Carnival Liberty failed to live up to expectations. Perhaps we were spoiled by previous cruise experiences (including Carnival), but if this cruise on the Carnival Liberty is the new standard, we will never cruise again. Our list of grievances is long, so I'll just hit the highlights:
General: From the minute we stepped onto the ship we got a feeling that the crew was worn out. The general lack of enthusiasm and spirit from the majority of crew was obvious. Facial expressions belied a lack of happiness and job satisfaction on many many crew members.
Activities: The lack of meaningful activities was quite surprising. One activity we decided to participate in was bingo. The wait to purchase cards was quite lengthy because there was only one person selling cards. When the game finally started, it took all of 15 minutes to finish the 2 games. I conservatively estimate Carnival charged $1500 for the cards that night. They returned $400 total to the 2 winners. It was obvious that the activity was more about making $$ for Carnival than providing a fun activity for guests.
Service: One of the most frustrating experiences onboard was when we went to a bar to get a drink. On multiple occasions it became obvious that the bartender was avoiding eye contact (to what end, I have no clue). In one instance, other customers explained that the bartender had been that way since the start of the cruise- nothing personal, just incompetent. Certain bartenders actually seemed to avoid doing their job, while others picked up their slack. Another very frustrating service experience came at the Omelette Bar. Rather than use the 3 grills available, some of the cooks would intentionally drag out the long lines by preparing a single omelette before asking the next person in line for their order. This phenomena simply reinforces my observation that the crew possessed a general lack of care regarding job performance.
Excursions: We got screwed on our San Juan shopping and city tour. The bus took us to the old Fort and we were instructed to be ready to board the bus to continue the tour at 10:30 AM. At 10:30 AM, the tour guide informs us that the bus would not be coming up the hill to get us. We were going to be required to walk down the hill to meet the bus. We walked down the hill & waited at the intersection as instructed, but the bus never showed up and we were denied the remainder of the tour to the old city. We had to make our own way back to the ship.
Cabin: On the bright side, our cabin steward was excellent. I've been told that the tip which was billed to the account on day one can be declined. Had I known that, we would have awarded our entire tip to our cabin steward. Our cabin 8236, a port side balcony room was excellent- ZERO complaints (except for the loud and rude residents across the hall- not the fault of Carnival).
Dining: Dining at the buffet was an awful experience. The food was generally inedible. Pork and beef roasts were almost like eating leather- no wonder the server cut paper thin slices to serve! Lines at the Hamburger joint, the Mongolian Wok, and the Burrito Bar, where the food was decent were long and slow. We were quite surprised when we learned our dining room was for dinner only. On other cruises, one of the most enjoyable parts of the cruise was the fantastic breakfasts, lunches, and dinners- not so on this ship. We ate in the dinning room the first night, and that experience (bad food & bad service) caused us to avoid the dining room all but 3 nights.
Children: We brought 6 children with 8 adults on this cruise. As a general statement, the Liberty is not a real child friendly ship. While there were activities for children, the ship clearly caters to young adults who like to party at the pool. If activities for children is more important than adult activities, the Liberty is not a good choice.
Entertainment: On a scale of 1-10, we rate the entertainment on the Liberty a 4. The theater shows were not real professional- the entertainers lack high levels of talent. The comedy shows in the lounge were very good, but they were too short and the lounge is too small to accommodate the crowds. The acoustics in the lounge are horrific- if you sit in the back, you cannot hear the entertainer. The band near the casino was so loud that it was uncomfortable to sit at the bar.
Our disembarkation was like something from Orwell's 1984. When my card was scanned, buzzers and bells went off and suddenly a white shirted security employee and a red shirted Carnival employee demanded my passport and customs form. The gestapo demanded that I follow him. After I told the gestapo agent that I was not going anywhere until I was informed as to the where and why- he finally told me he had to escort me to customs. Well- duh. Why they felt it was necessary for the cloak and dagger routine is beyond my comprehension. But the gestapo like treatment was purposely designed to treat us as criminals rather than law abiding US citizens. In the end, our customs declaration was perfect and we paid the required duty on the items we purchased. A word of education for those not familiar with "duty free" purchases: Your purchases while cruising are NOT duty free! Depending on where you purchase items, each person has a $800 or $1600 exemption. Anything in excess of that amount incurs a duty of 1.5 to 3% duty. Cheating on the customs declaration is not wise.
In summary, we do not intend to ever cruise with Carnival again. We never say never- but it is inconceivable to me that Carnival can fix everything which disappointed us. I cannot conceive the same kind of problems on a Princess Cruise. This critique was my therapeutic way of warning others to beware of the Carnival Liberty.