BACKGROUND: Second cruise, formerly sailed on Carnival Imagination a few years back. Chose Carnival again because of a positive prior experience, and Carnival's good mix of adult and kid activities, since the dozen of us ranged from age 4 to 68.
SHIP INFO: Our cabins ranged from a 4A to my folk's 12 "penthouse" — which was very nice. Personally, I go cheap on the cabin because I only use it for the 3 Ss, but as a repeat customer I got a bump to a 4B (and a sexy gold card). Even the cheap cabins are nice. The over-the-door shoe caddy is practically a must for 3 girl's bathroom junk, even though there's a good amount of shelf space. Closet & drawer space was more than adequate, bedding was exceptional. Cabin service was, once again, primo — steward always gets a bonus. For interior cabins, a nightlight would be helpful, but we left the light on in the bathroom and the door cracked open. There's only one outlet, so consider packing a power strip.
The Liberty's décor is vastly more restrained and tasteful than the Imagination, but I reckon that Jean-Paul Gautier's nightmares are vastly more restrained than the Imagination's weird kabuki décor. On both ships, everything was clean and well-maintained.
FOOD & DRINK: One of the reasons I picked that particular vessel was the sushi bar (oh, I loves me some sushi) and the teen disco. I didn't realize that the teen disco was the grownup disco until 10:30pm. That was a bit of a letdown for the teenager. The sushi was a bit of a letdown for me. The sushi bar had some pretty limited hours, so I thought it'd be made on the spot, but it was prefab. It was a cut above the gnarly grocery-store stuff, but not what I'd hoped for. Once was enough.
We ate at the Harry's Supper Club on New Year's Eve. Friends, if you take only one piece of advice from me, let it be this: Eat. At. Harry's. Positively brilliant! I got the lobster there, and it's much better than the lobster in the regular dining room. (Although how they make passable lobster by the hundreds is a mystery in itself.) The chocolate torte was, seriously, one of the most exquisite things I've ever eaten. Everybody raved about their meal, and the service was impeccable. The reservations system has a few kinks. I reserved online twice but never got the promised response. I thought I didn't have reservations, so I made them in person on the first day. Ultimately, they actually had the internet ones. Just saying that you might want to take a little care to make sure everything's in order, because Harry's is a do-not-miss.
Had a few cocktails on the ship and they were mixed well, if a bit on the wee size. I asked nice and got a couple of strong ones, but didn't make a habit of it.
The Fish & Chips place is very good, and I love Carnival's 24-hour pizza. I didn't eat at the deli, but the reports were positive, and the sandwiches looked yummy.
Lido, unfortunately, is very crowded with long lines, more so than the Imagination, but Liberty is a bigger ship. Offering the Mongolian barbecue thing every night and custom omelets every morning generates wicked buffet gridlock.
Lido breakfast was the same thing every day near as I could tell. I'm a breakfast person, but the lines meant I generally stuck to coffee and those delicious, flaky cinnamon thingies, that I think I could eat about a hundred of. Carnival's coffee is really good too. I worked that machine over, and was sorry I didn't bring a big travel mug. Next time.
The ice cream stations are a really great idea, and the ice cream is tasty. Unfortunately they seemed to be offline a lot. On this ship there was a sundae station with sauces and jimmies and stuff. Nifty. My personal cruise concoction: Mug. Blob of chocolate/vanilla twist. Fill halfway with hot chocolate. Top off with coffee. Damn, I'll miss that.
The food in the dining rooms was very, very good, with outstanding variety. One of the best things about cruising is that you can satisfy 12 people with the food in one place. (Try that on a regular vacation.) Carnival has "Chef George Blanc" selections that range from great to eyes-rolling-into-the-back-of-your-head amazing. I'll fondly remember my moments with Monsieur Blanc. Good call, Carnival.
ACTIVITIES: The pools were kind of small, and surprisingly cold. I tried to get in once, then opted for a hot-tub. (I don't really like hot-tubs because I can't help thinking that it's like bacteria bisque, but I felt like getting wet.) There's a humongous water slide, but it's so slow that it wasn't that much fun — a concession to the little ones, I'm sure. I like the steamroom, and had it to myself. It had a window, too. Yay!
I know it's been said before many times, but I'm going to add my voice to the chorus: If you save deckchairs, you are selfish and you deserve a good punch in the neck followed by a swift kick to the groin. It's all I can do to resist the urge to take your crap and hurl it overboard.
There were tons of deckchairs on this ship, yet it felt like a major accomplishment to find one that didn't have somebody's crap piled on it. Two together was like hitting the lottery.
Carnival, if you're listening, here's my modest proposal: Place some cubbyholes strategically about the deck, along with lots of signs stating that "saving" chairs is absolutely prohibited, and stuff abandoned on chairs can be found in the cubbyholes or Davy Jones' Locker. Please? Thanks.
The organized activities onboard were plentiful and varied — there's always something to do. With only a couple of exceptions, the MCs were competent and cheerful. TJ gets a special shout-out for being a particularly good sport and overall fun guy. Brad in the piano lounge was good fun, too. One of our group won the talent contest, so that was a hoot. Go, Joe! Loved the trivia games, got another trophy.
The cigar lounge was very cool, but I'm not much of a jazz fan. I'd hazard that the jazz fans weren't besotted with the smoke. Can't please everybody. :D
KID-STUFF: There were three younger kids besides my teenager. I don't think my friends believed me when I told them that they'd hardly see their kids once they got into Camp Carnival. The kids all made friends on the ship, and kids like ditching the old folks probably more than we like being ditched. The staff does a heckuva program, keeping them busy and out of trouble. There were a lot of kids on the ship, and they were all well-behaved (apart from the 2 teenage boys smoking ganja a few cabins over who apparently never learned the wet towel trick.) The kid's talent show was totally charming.
EXCURSIONS: The weather wasn't entirely with us this time. Scrapped Jamaica (3d port), which was a mild bummer because I was going to load up on Blue Mountain beans and like, a barrel of rum. Some folks were bitchy about it, but hey — Carnival doesn't control the weather, and they were nice enough to give everybody a $75 hookup. Of the three ports, that was the one I was most willing to forego. Word on the street is that Jamaica is pretty dodgy.
I didn't see much of our first port, Nassau, besides the inside of jewelry stores because I promised my girlfriend something shiny from Little Switzerland. The non-shoppers hit the slavery and pirate museums and said they were worth a visit.
Grand Cayman was excellent. We're already talking about renting a house there in the future. Reminds me of Maui without the mountains. Naturally, we did the Stingray Sandbar thing (little kids along), and bought our tour right on the pier. The first guy shot us $40 each, but the second lady dealt: $40 for 13+, little kids for free. Done.
We ended up on a smallish boat, the Sea Bird, which was good, because the bigger ones looked like a hassle. However, larger vessels appeared to furnish masks and snorkels. I brought my own, and was glad I did, because it's really neat to watch what's going on down there. Captain Justin was great, and his mate Kimber was fun and very, very easy on the eyes. There was a photographer on board too, to get action shots of the stingray interaction. She was incredibly nice, but unfortunately, we got the German couple's pictures. Hope that gets sorted out. Captain Justin provided some squid for us to feed the rays, and Kimber wrangled them. Gotta say, the rays really seem to like it. They come, they eat, they play, and when they're stuffed and over us, they split. Everybody's happy.
If you've read the other review, you know that there was some drama getting everybody back on the ship. A storm blew up faster than they expected, which boofed up the tender service to the 3 ships in port. Another Carnival ship never even unloaded, and I feel bad for those guys. Most of my crew got stuck on the tender in rough seas for hours. (sing: a three-hour tour — the weather started getting rough — the tiny ship was tossed…) I refused to line-jump to join my group, so the 2 with me were stuck on the island with the increasingly surly horde. They ended up bussing us across the island and tendering where the water was smoother. Free tour and trip to a coral beach. There was a decided lack of communication throughout the situation, but it was clearly an extraordinary occurrence. The ship's captain made an excellent decision to try from the other side. Bravo, sir!
We had a lot of time between debarkation and the flight home, so we killed the morning by taking an Everglades tour. The visitor-center-cum-gift-and-bait-shop and the 'gator show were pure kitsch, but the trip on the airboat was interesting. Saw wild alligators, but they weren't more than 4'. Lots of birds, if you're into that sort of thing. Quote from my girlfriend: "I hate nature. It smells funny."
MISCELLANEOUS: On the last night I attempted to pull up my account on the TV. That feature wouldn't display. I called the desk and initially he acted like I couldn't read. I got transferred to another guy who finally accepted it was malfunctioning, and promised to look into it. I thought that meant he'd fix it so I could access it, but apparently not. I got the printout the next day, so it wasn't a huge cock-up, but it seemed a bit dismissive and considerably out-of-character for the normal level of service that's provided. If it's important to you to have this feature, check early.
I bought a 4-pack of Cruzan rum on the ship, which were delivered snugly nestled in a cardboard box. Since the fine folks at the TSA decided air travelers can somehow commit terrorist acts with cocktails, it’s gotta be packed in checked luggage. Whoopie. I put it in a suitcase with 5 hard sides and padded it with laundry. I’m not sure how the airline could pulverize the bottles into their component atoms where the ships porters, stevedores, and tour bus driver couldn’t, but they somehow managed. Congratulations, Midwest. I might as well have thrown them loose in a duffel bag. Anyway, I bring this up to make the point that if you’re going to buy bottles on the ship and fly them home, bring bubble wrap . . . and a small fire safe or armored personnel carrier.
Another tip that I sadly didn’t learn until after the fact: Ft. Lauderdale airport has a bag-stash service, so if you get your bags there and have time to kill, presumably you can check them in and go about your business. Midwest didn’t open their counter until 4 pm., so we hung around the terminal like vagrants. In retrospect, I should have kept one bottle out for lunch, and really worked that vagrant angle.
SUMMARY: It was a first cruise for more than half of the group, and even though the Nassau port was quick, the Grand Cayman port was crazy, and the Jamaica port was cancelled, we all agree we had great fun, great eats, great memories and will cruise again. Cheers! Or as our Captain liked to say, “arrivederci, and ciao!”