We (hubby and I) arrived in Ft. Lauderdale around noon on the Friday and picked up our rental car from Budget. You have to take a short shuttle ride from the terminal over to the rental car counters and garage. We had planned on returning the car to the airport the next day and riding a free shared shuttle to the port but we were informed that this shuttle did not exist from the airport. The friendly Budget counter staff suggested that we return the car to the location at Quay Centre and then take the free shuttle from there. The Quay Centre is very close to port, almost directly across the street.
As for accommodations, we were originally booked at the Comfort Inn on Sterling Rd. but after hearing some unflattering reviews of the place, I changed our hotel to the Extended Stay in Plantation, which was won on Priceline.
The drive from the airport to Plantation is very easy. Even though Mapquest says it's about 20 minutes, it was more like 10 minutes. The Extended Stay is a very no-frills hotel. Our room wasn't quite ready when we arrived so we had lunch at the near by Olive Garden. The room had two double beds and a kitchenette with a stove, fridge and microwave. The room was clean and comfortable for a one night stay. Despite its name, I don't think I would want to stay at the Extended Stay for more than one or two nights! The front desk staff was friendly and one staff member even printed out a map from Mapquest with directions from the hotel to the port. The location of the hotel is also a very close to shopping areas such as the Broward Mall and the Fountain Shops. It is also a 10 minute drive to shopping mecca, Sawgrass Mills, which of course, we had to experience for ourselves. There is a Super Target there for any last minute needs or booze runs.
We arrived at the port around 11:30am. The area was not well organized with luggage porters flagging in cars and people just stopped randomly. Also, the area was wet with puddles and mud so watch yourself if you are wearing flip flops or white pants! Once the luggage was dropped off, we headed inside where a huge line had already begun to the counters. We filled out the Bahamas immigration papers and wished they had been available for download for those who had e-docs so we could fill them out in advance. We arrived on the Lido deck for lunch by 12:45pm.
Our stateroom was an inside on deck one (yes, there is a deck one). It wasn't all bad...walking up nine flights of stairs to the Lido deck helped us keep slim and trim through out the week. Deck one was also a relatively quiet deck with minimal slamming doors and loud drunks in the halls at night. Our cabin steward was Clinton. He dropped by on the first or second day to introduce himself. He did a good job keeping our room clean, refilling the ice bucket and providing various towel animals to keep us amused. The bed was extremely comfortable and I absolutely loved the heavenly duvets and soft pillows. And the robes were a real bonus too. It made us feel a bit special, even though we didn't have a suite.
Dining Room - Breakfast
We tried to eat breakfast in the dining room as often as possible to avoid the bustling buffet in the mornings. The menu remained the same throughout the week and I wish they would have had at least one special per day. I'd recommend the French Toast and omelettes. We particularly enjoyed breakfast in the dining room because they served pineapple juice, not available in the buffet.
Kudos to the Liberty kitchen for having crispy bacon! I always order crispy bacon every where but rarely that request is honored. On the Liberty, the bacon is always crispy, whether it is requested or not.
Dining Room - Lunch
Again, we tried to have lunch in the dining room just to avoid having to serve ourselves. Lunch in the dining room is perhaps where the food stood out the most.
Our favorite lunch offering was a sandwich on focaccia bread with slices of mozzarella, tomatoes and topped with a fresh pesto dressing! I also enjoyed the Chinese pepper steak stir fry and chicken Caesar salad. Desserts were also good at lunch with the warm bread pudding being most memorable and my favorite the pineapple sorbet.
Dining Room - Dinner
This was probably the weakest meal in the dining room. I'm a big fan of soups and fish but I found most of the soups to be extremely salty. The infamous pumpkin soup burned the lips and throat with its high salt content. The only soup that was done right was the French Onion. As for the fish, I noticed that most of our mains would arrive at the table lukewarm and I think you really need to eat fish warm. I don't blame this on our server, Teck, and his assistant, Novie, who gave us excellent service throughout the week. The appetizers were good though...the escargots, crab cakes, sushi and shrimp cocktail (old standby) get a nod, while the salads were flawless.
Also, the lobster served on formal night was HUGE...possible the biggest tail I've seen anywhere. And it wasn't rubbery or overdone as mentioned in previous reviews. Emile's Buffet
We tried the buffet a few times at breakfast and once at lunch. I tried the make- your-own stir fry station and it was good, although the line was long and they tend to overcook the veggies (I like mine crispy).
24 Hr Pizza
The pizza is delicious. The crust is soft and fluffy. The pizza always tasted fresh so it made for a good snack between meals or a late night bite.
The sushi here was good, although you can only get 6-8 pieces at one time, you can always go back for more. The addition of miso soup or green tea would have been great.
Food - Miscellaneous
We really enjoyed the ice cream machines and perhaps overindulged on cones during the week.
The Lido bar does sell popcorn and I bought some ($1/bag) because I was attracted to the smell. But the corn was dry and flavorless (not salty or buttery at all). Not a great buy.
We spied several recycling bins around the ship and were very happy to have a place to put empty cans and bottles.
We wish that Carnival would invest in some hand sanitizer stations outside of the food venues. We brought our own small bottles of Purell.
Ports of Call
San Juan, Puerto Rico - We arrived in San Juan around 5:00pm. Getting off the ship was a bit chaotic as there were huge line ups. We had a beer at the restaurant owned by a famous Puerto Rican baseball player (the name escapes me) and then we walked up to Calle Cristo. Most of the stores on that street (Marshalls, Coach, Puma, etc) close at 7:00pm so the stores were just closing as we arrived. As we headed back to the ship, we stopped in at the Old Harbor Brewery and tried two of the beers from this local microbrewery. I highly recommend a stop in here for any beer lover. The Old Harbor Brewery is a nice pub/sea food restaurant.
St. Thomas - We chose the Sonny Liston shopping/island/beach tour ($25/person). We met Sonny just as we got off the boat at 10:00am. There was no signage so just ask around, people will direct you to where you have to go. Our tour started with 2 hours of shopping time in downtown St. Thomas, but I'm not a big fan of souvenirs and don't have a deep enough pocketbook for all the expensive jewelry shops. But it was still fun to duck into them to enjoy a few moments of air conditioning before heading back out into the streets. At 11:45am, it was back on the open air buses for the island tour, which include 3 scenic stops. Because the group was so large, we felt rushed at the stops and it was hard to hear Sonny at times. Our final stop was Sapphire Beach around 2:15pm and we were to meet back at 4:30pm to go to the ship. Sapphire Beach is nice but busy while we were there. The bus ride from Sapphire Beach back to the ship took about ½ hour or so.
Antigua - We did the Adventure Antigua (Eli's Eco tour - $90/person). I didn't love this excursion, not as much as those who previously reviewed it. It felt like we spent a majority of our time cruising around in their boat. We were picked up around 10:00am close to dock and it was off to pick up a few more participants from the Sandals resort. From there, we went to Bird Island for a hike to the top, which yielded a lovely view of the Antigua's surroundings but nothing else of particular interest. We were served lunch on the boat, which for me, was the highlight. The BBQ chicken and plantains were to die for. The menu also included a pasta salad, a green salad and banana cake for dessert. We were also served our choice of punch (guava passion fruit or tamarind, which reminds me of prune juice) and Coke or Diet Pepsi. After lunch, we went to Hell's Gate and were given the option to climb to the top of it or stay on the boat. We chose to climb and I regretted it when I saw the narrow path and sharp coral corners. I found the climb difficult and scary at times. Once at the top, the climb down was even more difficult as there are is no marked footpath. We made it back onto the boat with just a few scratches on our feet so it wasn't that bad. Our final stop was a coral reef for snorkeling. It was pretty disappointing as there was not much fish to see. A few members of our group reported seeing a sting ray (not of the petting variety). It could have been just that day that the fish weren't stirring but we've had better snorkeling experiences in Grand Cayman and Cuba. As we headed back to the Liberty, we were served a rum punch. All in all, it was a long day and it felt as if we had spent about 75% of our time riding around in the boat. If we were to go back to Antigua, I would choose this tour again.
Tortola - We decided to take cab to Cane Garden Bay. As you walk off the ship, a man will ask where you're headed and then he will direct you toward a cab. You have to double check with the driver that's where the cab is going. The price per person to Cane Garden Bay was $6/person one way. I believe this has gone up from $4, mentioned in previous reviews. Once we found the correct cab, we had to wait a few minutes for it to fill up before it took off.
The ride to Cane Garden Bay takes about 20 minutes. Once we arrived, our driver asked us what time we would like to be picked up to go back to the ship.
I have to say, the beach there is beautiful. It was spacious and quiet. You can rent chairs there, but we opted to just lie on the sand. I think this was my favorite stop of the cruise.
Nassau, Bahamas - We decided to have another beach day and took the #10 bus to Cable Beach for the affordable price of $1/person one way. The bus stop is easily located behind the Straw Market and the ride is only about 15 minutes. Get off any of the resorts and walk through to the beach. We were able to use the chairs for about an hour before security asked for money for the chair rental. Entertainment
We saw a variety of shows and comedians throughout the week. The shows that featured the Liberty singers and dancers had fantastic sets and colorful costumes. On the last night, the show featured fellow guests with CC's own Mr. October bringing down the house with his rendition of Frank Sinatra's "My Way". I can't say the same for the poor woman who stumbled her way through a Gloria Estefan tune.
And as it turns out, we knew one of the saxophone players in the orchestra. At Thursday night's show, a sax solo was introduced as "From Toronto, Canada, it's John on the sax". And true to the stereotype that all Canadians know each other, we really did know him! He had played in a band with my hubby a few years ago so we went down afterwards to say hello. Small world!
As part of the Halloween festivities, there was a midnight showing of "Nightmare on Elm Street" in the theatre on the Thursday night. I wish they would have showed more midnight movies in the theatre rather than on the outdoor screen, which we missed because those movies always started during our dinner time.
Karl (with a K) was our cruise director. He was outgoing and entertaining but we were somewhat annoyed with him for the daily activities announcements. It just felt like he was constantly pimping out the activities and we were thinking 'we know Karl, we have the Capers in our room'. And usually by the time he makes his announcements, we already have our day planned and have circled all the activities that we wanted to participate in.
We played Bingo once (Win-A-Cruise Bingo - $10/card or 3 for $20)) and didn't win but I thought the Bingo prices were quite fair and you could play for awhile without spending too much money.
About Cruising with a CC Group
We were going to book this cruise on our own but when I saw that there was a CC group (Saint and Sinners 3) with great rates and amenities, I decided to join without knowing very much about what cruising with a group would entail. I have to say that this was a great experience and everything was a breeze, from dealing with the group's travel agent to getting advice/help from the group members beforehand.
Our group leader GoinCrusin (Chris/Lucy) was great at organizing activities and we were thrilled with our dinner companions - Hawkette64 (Barb and Bob, KansasScrapper (Wendy and Wade), JimandSteph1070 (Steph and Jim) and their friends Janet and Luis. Really, we couldn't have had a better table! And of course, we were entertained nightly by the slick dancing moves of sexy ReeceShowMe (Reecy). We also met Woohoo4ue (Becky and Katie) in the pool and then again on the Sonny Liston tour. Throughout the week, we participated in some of the group events like group photo, state gift exchange (thanks to SeaTurtle (Pam) for her great "Virginia is For Lovers" t-shirt and I hope Tib2024 (Roberta) enjoyed her ketchup chips and stuffed beaver from us) and cocktail parties but we also did things on our own and never felt that we were obligated to participate in all of the group's activities. I wouldn't hesitate to join another CC group cruise in the future and I think they are a great option for anyone who wants to add an extra element to their cruise experience.
End of the Cruise
We booked the Everglades tour with transfer to the airport through the excursion desk ($45/person). The tickets said we were to meet in the theatre at 8:15am and we didn't leave the ship until almost an hour later. We exited the ship as a group to go through customs and pick up our luggage. With luggage in hand, we looked for the bus, which was parked just outside.
The ride to Everglades Holiday Park took about ½ hr. Once there, we boarded the airboats for a one hour guided tour through the Everglades. We saw three gators in total along with a variety of birds and lizards. After the tour, we were asked to buy a souvenir photo and key chain ($10). Then we were ushered into another area for an alligator show and given the chance to hold a baby alligator for a photo ($5). Then it was back on the bus headed for the airport. We arrived just before 1:00pm. It was a good excursion to eat up some time as our flight wasn't departing until 3:00pm.
This is our second cruise, first with Carnival. We were hooked on cruising after our first on Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Sea. Would we cruise Carnival again? There were some definite bonuses to Carnival like the great bed linens, robes, winning $200 in the slot machine at the Casino, etc. But I think because we are novice cruisers, we would like to try other lines before devoting our loyalty to just one. So, in the future, if the itinerary and price is right, we may be back on Carnival.