We had a great cruise aboard Carnival Liberty, sailing from Fort Lauderdale February 17, 2007 to Costa Maya, Limon, and Colon. We're a family of five - Dad, Mom, sons 15, 10 and 6 (turned 7 during the cruise). This was our fifth cruise, but first cruise outside the summer season. Since we're from New York, our kids have a school break the week of President's Day. (For those of you who've ever wondered why some school districts are off that entire week - back in the 70's during one of the energy crises, the folks in Washington decided that if all schools closed during that week in February, we could save lots of energy by turning down the heat in the schools, and students could attend school one week later in the school year when there was no need to run the heating systems. After the energy crisis died down, most schools went back to their original calendar - but some schools decided they liked the week off in February and kept it in the calendar.) There weren't as many kids as I More
expected on this cruise - they announced there were 300 (compared to the announced 900 when we sailed on Conquest in July 2005).
We had a fairly active roll call before our cruise, and it was great meeting so many CCers on board. We met right after boat drill, then on the first two sea days in the morning. The roll call also paid off in Panama, as you'll read below. Hi to scperk, boatnick, giofamily, beachbumscanada, star10, Maggie, Dr. Jack Daniels, and anyone I missed; I'd love to cruise with all of you again!
Fort Lauderdale: We arrived the day before sailing and stayed at the Best Western Oceanside on Seabreeze Boulevard. It's a smaller, older hotel, but it worked just fine for us since we wanted to be near the marina for the Jungle Queen dinner cruise. It's also a short walk to the beach - which was too cold to enjoy during our visit, but was very nice for a walk. The Best Western also has a full buffet breakfast included. There's no shuttle to the port; you will need to call a cab.
The Jungle Queen is a riverboat that takes you on a one-hour ride along the New River through Fort Lauderdale, past some of the most expensive real estate and yachts you will ever see. It was certainly an unbelievable comparison to the living conditions we'd see later in the week in Central America. You then arrive at the Jungle Queen's island home, where your dinner consists of all the ribs, BBQ chicken, shrimp and side dishes that you can eat. The ribs especially were wonderful. Then there's a revue; on our tour, it was an impressionist, a magician, and juggler. We ended up in the front simply by virtue of being seated there for dinner and it being too cold outside to have the revue at the outdoor theater - with the result being that our younger sons were picked on, much to their (and our) amusement.
Embarkation: We arrived at Port Everglades around 11:30 and were aboard by 12:30. Lots of lines, but they moved fairly well. Despite having taken the time to complete the FunPass and having my print-out stating that FunPass for all of us was complete, we still had to fill out a form with this information - somehow it never made it into Carnival's computer system. Also, in a change from our past experiences, we had to activate our S&S cards once aboard ship, in the Golden Olympian restaurant. It wasn't a big deal, but I expect to stand in lines portside - once I'm aboard, the last thing I want to do is stand in another line! However, I figured we'd grin and bear it - after all, there wouldn't be a drink of the day until there was an activated card. We also had continuing confusion regarding our younger sons' cards; they deliberately weren't activated, but we kept getting memos from the Purser to advise us they weren't activated. We finally ignored the memos, which worked out fine.
Carnival Liberty: Doug and I both thought this ship had much more subdued dEcor than the other Carnival ships we've sailed. We liked the ironwork and flowers in the atrium and along the Promenade deck, as well as the ever-changing lights. Both dining rooms have "dinnerware" themes - one in gold, the other in silver. The Venetian Palace, the main show lounge, is just that - Venetian themed. I liked the harlequin figures on either side of the stage "holding" back the curtains, as well as the blown-glass lighting. I'm not a disco fan but I thought the hands and feet in the disco were fun, and the piano lounge with its keyboard theme was done well. The Cabinet, which is the cigar bar and also hosts afternoon tea, was okay but rather plain - not nearly as nice as the comparable Ionian Lounge on Victory.
Food: In the past, we'd always been so satisfied with the dining room food that we never opted for the supper club. This year, as a belated Valentine's Day gift to each other, we went to Harry's one night. What an experience! The first thing you notice is just how much quieter Harry's is. The service is highly polished and personalized; between the hostess, sommelier, and wait staff, I think we had five people wait on us. And as much as I've enjoyed meals in the dining room, this meal shone. I had lobster bisque and filet mignon and Doug had onion soup and surf and turf; both were definitely a cut above the versions served in the dining room. Dessert was a chocolate trio; any one of the three would have been a filling dessert. There was also a musical duo - nice music for dancing.
The main dining room food was just fine, even if Harry's spoiled us. We had a great server, Eveline, and assistant, Par; Eveline always gave us recommendations for dinner, and she never steered us wrong. Although I'm not fond of the 5:45 dining time (we requested 6:15 but didn't get it - I think one of the groups aboard had a lot of tables reserved at that seating), I'm glad we didn't try to change. The Lido deck fare was good as well. And for some reason, I never had to wait long for the deli line.
Activities: We're very partial to trivia contests, having won ships-on-a-stick in the past on Conquest, Legend and Victory. It took a while, but we finally won our Liberty ship-on-a-stick on the last sea day. Okay, it looks like a Spirit-class ship (funny - our Conquest award looks like one too) but it says Liberty! I've never been a fan of the hairy chest contest, but we managed to walk in on it - and it really was rather funny. "Fear Factor" was good as well: shaving-cream "hot potato," holding breath underwater, and eating a rather disgusting concoction of buffet foods (you know a mixture that includes both Jello and raw onion can't be good).
The CD was Todd Wittmer; we sailed with him two years ago on the Carnival Conquest Hurricane Dennis Tour. While a CD doesn't make or break my cruise, I do like Todd; he's down to earth, funny (even if we did hear some of his jokes on Conquest) and not terribly intrusive with the announcements. He had a good staff working under him.
At night, we had planned on visiting the Cabinet after shows so Doug could have a cigar; however, most nights the Cabinet had little entertainment going. We did visit the piano bar one night, with Robert at the piano. Heard "New York State of Mind" twice in the two hours we were there; no offense to either Robert or my fellow New Yorkers, but being on vacation I certainly was NOT in a New York state of mind!
Shows: The two main productions shows were "Wonderful World" and "Rocking Down Broadway." "Wonderful World" was probably the most elaborate show I've seen yet on Carnival, both in terms of costumes and sets, and we really enjoyed it. "Broadway" was okay, but I felt as if the cast and crew had given their all for the first show. Another night's show was "Swinging with the Big Band," a tribute to Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. We saw this show last year on Legend, and it was just as enjoyable the second time around.
Costa Maya: Based on what we read on the "Ports of call" board, we booked the "Mayan Experience" tour with David and Ivan's "The Native Choice" company. This tour is fantastic! The first part of the tour takes you to the Chacchoben ruins, about a 45 minute ride from Costa Maya. Along the way, Ivan gave us some of the history of the state of Quintana Roo and some of the villages we'd be passing along the way. At the ruins, Ivan gave a very personalized talk about what life would have been like at Chacchoben, as well as pointing out some of the native plants and their uses. My oldest son was fascinated by the tour; the younger ones loved the ruins, if not the talks. After visiting the ruins, about half the group returned to Mahajual, while the rest of us journeyed to the modern-day village of Chacchoben for a pre-Hispanic lunch with a Maya family. Our oldest son won an ear-to-ear smile from the grandmother when he greeted her with "Hola - Cómo está?" Four years of Spanish started paying off for him. Grandmother demonstrated how to make tortillas just right, so they would puff up when placed on a flat stone over a fire; the best tortillas any of us ever had. Making tortillas isn't easy, as we learned. Lunch was a stewed chicken with rice and vegetables, a version of "Mayan sushi," and a variety of fruits, accompanied by an iced tea made from the hibiscus flower. After lunch, two family members demonstrated traditional dances and then gave us a tour of their homestead. If you're worried about "Montezuma's Revenge" taking such a tour, everything is prepared with purified water. Don't be afraid to try it.
Limon: Enough has been said about the "incident" that led Carnival to first drop Limon as a port of call, then add it back given safety assurances by the Costa Rican authorities. My own thought: No matter what port you're in, do your research ahead of time. Use a tour guide with a good reputation; there are lots of recommendations on the CC "ports of call' board. Use a ship-sponsored excursion, if you're more comfortable with that. But whatever you do, unless you're only aboard for the ship and not the ports, don't stay on the ship because you're leery of the port, since you'll miss meeting some really nice people and having the chance to see places you're unlikely to see again. Bad things can happen in any port - just be careful of your surroundings.
We opted for the Carnival-sponsored "Caribbean Train, Boat, Bus Excursion." This tour involved a 20-minute bus ride to the docks at the Tortuguero Canal, followed by a canal ride where we saw birds and sloths, along with one small-ish American crocodile. After the boat tour, we boarded the train for another 45-minute excursion. In between the two portions, we were treated to a snack of fresh pineapple, banana, coconut, and other fruits - really good. After the train, we visited a banana plantation and viewed the packing process. I will never, ever complain about the price of bananas after watching this very labor-intensive process and understanding that these people receive relatively little pay for what they do. Then we rode back to the pier, after which we did some shopping - lots of coffee. There was some really lovely woodworking available as well, though.
Panama: Several months before we sailed, we booked My Friend Mario's "Panama Canal and Beach Break" tour based on reviews we'd read about Mario and figuring that after two full days of educational experiences our kids would be ready to kick back and enjoy a beach. A few weeks before sailing, Mario e-mailed me and advised that he didn't have enough booked for this excursion and wanted to re-book us on a different one. That's when the roll call really kicked in; Dr. Jack Daniels posted about trying to book this tour and being directed to the alternate tour, then scperk and crew joined in with interest, then beachbumscanada - ultimately, we had about 40 people from the roll call interested in the tour! After that response, Mario agreed to the original tour. The beach was "Playa Langosta," on the way to Portobelo. Nice beach with a bar and restaurant as well as changing facilities ( $.25). Mario's crew provided soda, bottled water and beer, and later made margaritas. They also had breakfast pastries (we arrived around 9 in the morning) and empanadas - meat-filled pastries. Never, but never, have I had three beers and a margarita before 11:30 in the morning! Even if you buy the beer, it's only $.75 a bottle. After the beach (some of us weren't sure we wanted to leave) we went to the Gatun Locks to watch a ship lock through. On the way back, Rey, our guide, showed us where the new set of locks is planned. If you have kids and think they won't have the interest in a longer Canal tour, this is the tour for you.
Debarkation: Since we had a late flight, we booked Carnival's "Everglades Experience" airport transfer tour. A nice way to spend time before our flight. After a 20-minute bus ride, you board some airboats (the most uncomfortable boats I've ever been aboard, I must say) for a 45-minute ride through the Everglades to see wildlife (yes, we did see alligators), then back to the park for an alligator show. We were at the airport by 12:30.
Our "negatives" for this cruise - obviously, not many:
(1) 5:45 dining is just too darn early. On our first day, it meant missing a good portion of our CC get-together; on other days, it was just too rushed to get ready for dinner. That's why we reserved our table at Harry's for 6:30; that's our perfect time. Understanding that our perfect time is not a perfect time for Carnival, we managed just fine with 5:45.
(2) Noisy neighbors. None of our neighbors seemed to understand the advantages of not slamming cabin and balcony doors, and twice I had to break up an impromptu meeting taking place late night right outside our cabin.
(3) Cabin location. Our cabins were 6259 balcony and 6257 inside. I had read that forward cabins on deck 6 above the main show lounge tended to be noisy, but since we weren't directly above the lounge I though we'd be okay. Not so - the noise from the lounge came right up the stairwell and into our cabin. At the same time, though, deck 6 is a great location - just one deck down to Promenade and just 3 decks up to Lido. I'd just book a cabin aft of the forward stairs/elevators, if possible.
(4) Chair hogs and seat savers. I'm not a sun fan, so chair hogs don't affect me that much - but the chair hogs were definitely out in force on this cruise. Two mornings, we had the wonderful sight of chair hogs' belongings getting very wet when a sudden shower came up and none of the hogs were out on the Lido deck to rescue their belongings. I'm more bothered by seat saving in the main lounge, and for the first time I actually confronted one of the seat savers. He saved about 8 seats in row 3 where we were sitting, insisting that his family was having a portrait taken, it was taking too long, and that justified the seat saving. I finally invited another couple to join us, which resulted in the seat saver calling me "rude" among other terms. His family finally showed up minutes before the show began - wearing tees and shorts. Hope it made for some nice portraits!
All in all, not many negatives, but we're aboard to have a good time - and we did. I'd be happy to help with questions. Less