SUMMARY: Overall, our cruise to the Western Caribbean on Carnival Liberty was a truly wonderful experience. We're in our 20's & 30's and this was an engagement cruise. This was my second cruise. After having booked an oceanview window the first time around, we booked a balcony guarantee - ended up being upgraded to Lido deck and this proved to be very nice as we were so close to the food, pools, elevators and entertainment.
BEFORE THE CRUISE: We flew in on AirTran on Saturday afternoon because I wanted to relax without having a flight and cruise departure on the same day. Again, this proved to be an excellent and very relaxing choice. As far as Airtran, my overall experience with them has been good and their prices very low. This time was no exception. Having booked online for $49 per person each way, we made the flight with only 20 other passengers - so relaxing with no crying babies, etc. and we were allowed to sit wherever we wanted. Great start to our vacation! After arriving at the airport in Ft. Lauderdale, we picked up our luggage immediately, used the courtesy phone to call our hotel (Airport Hilton/Ft Lauderdale) and the free shuttle was there for us within 3 minutes. The hotel itself was wonderful - quick and easy check-in (booked a king bed room on hotels.com for less than $80/night). This hotel is only a couple miles from the cruise terminal and is right next to the airport, yet no noise - great room, comfy bed, nice outdoor pool & hot tub and even a Starbucks in the lobby. I highly recommend this hotel - it's really a diamond in the rough.
EMBARKATION: On Sunday morning, we got a shuttle to Port Everglades ($8 p/p) and were in line a little before 11am. The port is very busy and not very scenic, but it's a shipping port, not a vacation destination. Around 11:30, the line started moving and we were onboard by noon. I found check-in at this time to be very easy. Sure, there were a few lines and some minor delays here and there, but that's to be expected. We were even able to get the Sail & Sign cards done right then and there, despite what I'd read about having to do them onboard instead. I asked the woman about that, and she said it all depends on how crowded it is. I highly recommend getting there around 10:30-11am like we did. We were onboard sunning and drinking on the Lido deck in no time and with no aggravation. We were immediately hounded by waiters wanting to give us Fun Ship drinks (this would last for several hours), but these little buggers have a $9 price tag so be cautious - they're certainly not free as you might think. A bunch of us from the Cruise Critic "Roll Call" board planned to meet at the Versailles pool bar on Lido deck wearing beads at 3:00, and upon arrival and announcing my screen name, we were greeted very warmly. This was wonderful, as it seemed like we had a dozen friends on the ship already! The doors to the hallways where the cabins were located were locked until shortly after 1:00pm. We were given a flyer upon boarding that said our rooms will be available at 1:30, but we were able to get in a little early. A balcony room certainly makes all the difference. Our stateroom stewart, Imade, came and introduced himself and asked if we had any special requests, dietary restrictions, what the best times would be for him to come by and clean the room, etc. Very considerate. He did a great job and always addressed me by name, although we really didn't see him very often.
FOOD: We generally ate dinner every night in the Silver Dining Room where we were assigned a table for 2 at our request, and the 5:45 seating which was not at our request but decided to keep anyway. We had originally asked for the 6:15 seating, but the 5:45 turned out to work great for us, and we were able to enjoy more of the evening doing fun stuff throughout the ship. Our head waiter (Sumpena) and his assistant (Heri) were fantastic, as was the Asst. Maitre-D' (Silvia) and she even made a special announcement the second night of the cruise when we got engaged. It made the night even more special for us and we got many congratulations on the way out (and even a Mazel Tov!) Our breakfasts were mostly from the Lido buffet - not really that great and long lines (it was a full cruise) but it's typical breakfast buffet fare. Scrambles eggs were runny, bacon dripping and not crisp, sometimes OJ ran out but oh well - it's a buffet. I brought cafeteria trays along because I read that they don't have them. Wrong - they do. Towards the end of the cruise, we chose to eat our lunches in the dining room for personalized service and much better food. No pre-arranged seating - you can request tables for 2 or 4 if you want. Also shorts are allowed for lunch. Our favorite meal was at Harry's. Well worth the $30 extra p/p and the meal lasted about 2 1/2 hours plus featured a duo playing 80's love songs all night. We danced a couple of slow songs and it was very romantic. By the way, with all meals, you can have as much as you want of whatever you want. Want 3 appetizers? 2 entrees? Just ask. We did a couple of other dining-related experiences that were fun. One was a wine tasting class, which was very informative ($10 p/p) but was held at noon. Great class, but a little early for 4 glasses of wine and I had a buzz for the next few hours.The other was tea time, which was nice as well. It was indoors, and included tea, finger sandwiches and small desserts (no extra charge for this).
SHIP ACTIVITIES: We decided to see what the art auctions were all about, since they advertise them non-stop throughout the ship. I was a little turned off by the fast-talking sales feel of the whole thing, and the minimum bids were usually well above $500. If you have money and like art, check it out. Warning - they try to get you to sign up for an "art credit card" at an interest rate of like 24%. Impulse shoppers may give in to the pressure, but seriously I wouldn't recommend buying what you can't really afford. I was pretty disappointed in the entertainment, overall. For their main (showcase) shows, there are only 2 singers and they were of mediocre quality. The rest of the cast was comprised of decent dancers who looked nice but lip-synched everything. Seriously, they lip-synched. I was expecting real singing and was kind of disappointed. The fact that I was seeing (except for 2 people) a lip-synched show being promoted as real entertainment bothered me. The small "orchestra" played along with the tracks and perhaps augmented them, but Broadway it ain't. More like cheap national tour quality would be my best description, but a non-seasoned theatre-goer probably won't have as much of a problem with this as I did. The one comedian we saw was Percy Cruz and he was pretty funny. Typical "white people do this and this" sort of act, but it was a midnight show so it was R-rated which made it more fun, at least for us. We occasionally went to the casino and actually came out a little over $100 ahead on the slots. They are pretty tight, though, compared to regular casinos. We didn't spend alot of time in the main Lido pool area, as we found it crowded and obnoxious, plus this is where the chair hogs generally set up camp. We chose instead to use the pool and hot tub in the Versailles pool on the same deck but at the very back of the ship. MUCH more sane and relaxing, plus not nearly as many kids (kids aren't allowed in the hot tubs here as they are in the other ones). Plus, the pizza, grill buffets and ice cream machine are right here as well. We enjoyed sitting in the hot tub one evening and watching "Talladega Nights" on the big screen outdoors, although this was in the regular main Lido hot tub and we had to put up with 5 little kids splashing and banging into our legs all night. Just keep thinking "FUN ship...FUN ship!" and you'll be fine :-)
PORTS OF CALL: As far as ports of call, we chose to go on our own rather than book sip excursions and this proved to be a good choice as well to save money. Freeport wasn't the most scenic destination as building and land seemed very run down, but a taxi ride to the Lucaya beach brought us to a beautiful area. We rented a wave runner for $60 for 1/2 hour and this ended up being a real highlight of our trip. If you want to have fun and love to go fast, this is the thing to do. We loved the clean beach and the crystal clear water as well. Grand Cayman was awesome. As soon as we got off the ship, there is a kiosk to book excursions if you hadn't already done so on the ship. We got a great deal on the Turtle Farm tour which including snorkeling on your own in their lagoon full of zillions of tropical fish. The turtles are very cute and they let you pick them up, get pictures with them, etc. Everything - the tour, an hour of snorkeling and equipment - was only $75 p/p total. Afterwards, the bus went back to the pier but we had the option of getting off at the beach and we did. Again, a very beautiful beach where we spent a lot of time in the warm water. We actually decided to walk to 7 miles back to the ship along the beach (you can see the ship in the distance and it really doesn't look that far....but it is. Although we did it, I wouldn't recommend this for most people unless you're pretty physically fit and the sun doesn't bother you. It worked for us, though, and we had a great time although a little sunburned. We got to Costa Maya, and were trying to dock, but after about 15 minutes they made an announcement that the water was too rough and we would be heading back to Ft. Lauderdale. This was the most disappointing part of the cruise by far, as we could see it right outside our window and had actually booked a ship excursion (Mayan ruins) for this one. The did refund our excursion cost automatically, plus $25 p/p credit for being disappointed (I think everyone on the ship got this), but there's really nothing they could have done. So we had an extra "Fun Day at Sea".
DISEMBARKATION: Getting off the ship was a breeze using self-assist, and we booked the same hotel again for a one night post-cruise stay, which we spent on the beach in Ft. Lauderdale. This helped ease the sadness of having to go home immediately after the cruise, plus really allowed us to relax and have one last day of fun before flying home on Sunday morning.
WISH LIST: -I wish the outdoor movies would have been better. They're advertised as first-run, but they've all been out on DVD for at least a month. I would go with some crowd-pleasers like Grease, Star Wars, Lion King, etc. -I wish the internet onboard was more affordable, or free. -I wish drinks (maybe one glass of wine or mixed drink per meal, or at least sodas) would be included -I wish Bingo was a lot cheaper. $20 for 5 games/3 cards is pretty steep. -I wish Chair Saving was banned and the rule against it was actually enforced -I wish the souvenir photos they take so many of and try to get you to buy were less than $22 each.
TIPS: If I had to recommend some things that will help you have the most enjoyable cruise possible, it would certainly be arriving a day ahead, staying a day late (if possible) and eating as many meals as possible in the dining rooms rather than the buffet if you don't have kids. Also, take part in the activities but don't be afraid to just chill out and take a nap in front of the TV or turn in early after dinner. It's all about relaxing and doing what you want to do, and there's certainly many options on a Carnival cruise. We were never bored. Not everything will go perfectly, but as long as you're not expecting perfection and white-glove service, and you leave room for flexibility, you should have no problem enjoying your cruise.