Carnival Liberty Cruise Review by roseoftx: Ship was great - Some ports didn't live up to expectations
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Ship was great - Some ports didn't live up to expectations
This is a review of the Carnival Liberty, sailing on March 1st for an 8 day Eastern Caribbean itinerary. It was our 3rd cruise in the last year (Western Caribbean on the Carnival Conquest and Alaska on the NCL Pearl last year).
We arrived on Thursday night, primarily because my brother and his wife were joining us from the Seattle area for their first cruise. We wanted a day to acclimatize before sailing and to give us a buffer if anything went wrong. Good thing we did as their flight was canceled and they arrived at 9:00 Friday morning after a red eye flight. So they had a day to recoup from this. We stayed the La Quinta at the Fort Lauderdale airport which offered a cruise port shuttle but by the time we tried to book it, it was full.
We requested a taxi which arrived at 11:15 and took us to the port by 11:30. The lines were short and embarkation sped right along. We were on board by 12:00.
We had lunch on the Lido deck, did a More quick tour of the ship and went to our rooms at 1:30. Everything was ready and our cabin steward, Mandy, introduced himself shortly thereafter. No complaints here as the room was always well maintained. We had two small problems with the rooms. Our cabin door wouldn't lock unless you pulled on it. When we brought this to his attention, it was fixed later that day. The mini bar in my brother's room didn't cool so they brought him a large ice bucket they filled everyday.
Our rooms were adjacent balcony rooms on the upper deck (6403 and 6407). We got no noise from the Promenade deck. Club 02, the teen club, was below us but we never heard anything from it (although I think I saw less than 2 dozen teens total on this cruise). The room was very convenient to the central stairs and elevators. We considered requesting the balcony divider be opened, but after looking at it realized that it would block the window of one of the rooms so elected to just talk across it.
The ship layout was easy to learn (although we had a head start from sailing on the Conquest last year). It has a wide selection of things to do. I knew that the Conquest had a mini golf course that was added last year after we sailed and I commented that I was disappointed the Liberty didn't have one. Well, as we were waiting for Disembarking, we noticed a big crane on the dock. When we looked down beside it, there were several big packages that were marked "Mini Golf - Liberty Deck 12". They were getting ready to install it as we left. By the time you read this, I am sure it is operational.
We had the early dinner in the Golden Olympian Dining room. Our servers, Made and Edgar made a great team and things ran very smoothly. They learned our habits quickly and my ice tea was there without me asking. My DW and I are not coffee drinkers and they didn't ask us after the first night. The food was generally pretty good with a few exceptions. While the dining room ran smooth, the Maitre D, Fernando, didn't compare to the one we had last year on the Conquest. Fernando did chastise a number of people one night for wearing shorts to the dining room but other than that his presence wasn't memorable. We ate one night at Harry's supper club (on the 2nd formal night) and the service there was excellent. The food was well prepared and the presentation very interesting (I have a picture of the cheese cake to prove it). It was worth the extra $30 pp to do it at least once. We ate breakfast and lunch on the Lido deck almost every day and while the lines could be long, they moved. There was a wide assortment to choose from. We did the fish and chips a couple of times, the stir fry, the deli, the hamburgers/hotdogs and the Mexican. The chocolate buffet was the 2nd sea day of the cruise which caught us off guard and we almost missed it.
The on board entertainment was good. The dance shows just aren't things we go for so we only attended the welcome aboard show. We attended a couple of the comedian shows. The best was Happy Cole and we attended both the early 10:30 and late 12:00 shows that he did. The legends show the last night depends a lot on the talent of the ship and this cruise lacked a bit in that department. We sailed the Conquest last year and that cruise had an amazing set of talent so this show didn't compare to it. We attended several of the ship activities, like the trivia contests and Family Feud and the staff did a good job organizing them. We did bingo a few times but never won anything but Carnival does offer some good prizes (a cruise at one and up to $3000 at another). One night we went to the showing of Harry Potter on the big screen under the stars. It was a lot of fun and reminiscent of going to the drive in. They had their share of pool side activities, like the "hairy chest contest" which we didn't attend but saw on the on-board TV. (Don't these people know they are being video taped?)
An interesting lesson we learned was the difference between port time and ships time. We moved our clocks 1 hour ahead to Atlantic Time before getting to any ports. But in St Thomas, the 2 other Carnival ships in that day were on Eastern Time. This meant the independent shore excursion we booked had to cater to both. "If you are on the Glory, meet here at 3:00 but if you are on the Liberty meet here at 4:00" (both of which were the same local time). Later, when we arrived in Nassau, we didn't set our clocks back to Eastern Time so we were 1 hour ahead of local time. I think this was a nice thing they did for our cruise. Since we were returning to Ft Lauderdale on Sunday the 9th (the first day of Daylight Saving time), rather than set our clocks back on Friday night and ahead on Saturday night, we just left them alone both nights. It caused some confusion in Nassau but it made it a lot easier on us. Excursions:
San Juan PR - We were planning on just walking around the old town area. But we were convinced by one of the local tour guides on the dock to do a $20 PR tour. It wasn't worth it, we went to the hotel district and saw some neighborhoods but by the time we to some of the more historic sites, it was dark. (This will improve throughout the summer as it stays lighter later of course) We were dropped off in the old town and the souvenir shops and many restaurants were open, but quite a few of the local shops were closed. We walked back to the ship about 8:30 and there was the biggest line we ran into anywhere during the week and it took 15-20 minutes to get back on. We went up to the buffet on the Lido deck to eat. It was really busy. A lot of people seemed to only spend a couple hours ashore (except maybe the ones hitting the bars). If we were to do it again, the walk around old town and the closer fort (San Cristobal) would have been sufficient. We'd give it a rating of 5 on a scale from 1-10.
St Thomas USVI - we were docked at Crown Bay, about 4 miles from downtown. There were 6 ships in and this made it really busy. We booked a shopping, island and beach tour through Godfrey's. The number of people in port really made this less enjoyable than it could have been. It was further complicated that the ships in port were on different clocks and 1 hour apart. Godfrey did his best to make things run smooth, but the number of people at every stop made things run erratically. Mountaintop was a zoo with tour vans trying to negotiate a small entry road and limited parking. Despite this, he still gave us 2 hours at Sapphire Beach which was a very nice beach and less crowded than the other places we stopped. The wind was blowing and the water a bit choppy which made snorkeling more difficult and the water less clear. Godfrey arranged a taxi to take our small group directly back to the Liberty because we were running out of time (we got back just after 5:00 rather than the scheduled 4:00). It was one of the open air taxis common to the island, but he had us sit 2 to a seat rather than 4 and to hold on to our packages - which was a good thing because the taxi ride was a lot more "exciting" than riding with Godfrey. In this port, 7 people missed the 5:30 on board time, but the Liberty waited. 4 got there right at sailing time and 3 were about 5 minutes late. Everyone watching from the ship applauded when they finally arrived (they were lucky we didn't have far to go). We'd rate this destination a 7.
Antigua - This was our favorite excursion. We did Eli's Eco tour and it was a lot of fun. They met us right at the dock promptly and we were on our way. We saw Dolphins, Turtles, various sea life and a number of different birds. The stops were beautiful, the water clear and colorful. Before Lunch we stopped at Bird Island on the boundary of the Atlantic and Caribbean that was wonderful. We took a pretty easy walk to the top and the views were incredible while some elected to stay by the boat and sunbath and/or snorkel. When one of our party decided to make the trek up while everyone else was headed down, our guide Chris repeated the entire explanation for just them. Lunch was provided and the barbecued chicken was very tasty. We then went to the Hell's Gate, a natural bridge which you can choose to climb. There were some tight spots and the rocks were sharp, but quite a few managed it. The final stop was at a reef for some snorkeling. The only negative this day was that the wind was pretty strong and the snorkeling took some effort to keep from getting blown back to the boat. We were back at the dock by 4:00. This rated a perfect 10 on our scale.
Tortola BVI (Virgin Gorda) - We booked the Carnival tour to Virgin Gorda and the Baths. While many cruisers discuss the ease of getting to Virgin Gorda on their own, we elected to book via Carnival because of a 3PM sailing time and not wanting to work out ferry schedules. I have no regrets about doing it this way. We met the tour shortly after 8:00 and they bused us over to the ferry which left shortly thereafter for a 35 minute crossing. It was still windy and a bit rough (we were glad it was only 35 minutes). On arrival, we were bused to the top of the Baths trail. The walk down was pretty easy although uneven at spots. We were at the baths before 10AM. Our guide, Carla, then explained that the best thing to do was not to stay at the Baths but to follow a trail through the rocks to Devils Bay, which was even more spectacular. I had researched the Baths and wanted to do this anyway but she lead a majority of the group through to Devils Bay. It was worth it. The rocks here were amazing and the water great for snorkeling. We saw a wide assortment of different fish and the water was smooth and snorkeling easily. She gave us extra time to spend at the beach. The walk back up from Devils Bay was a bit longer than down to the Baths but wasn't as rough. We repeated the process of buses and ferries and were back on board the Liberty shortly after 1:00. We'd rate this on an 8.
Nassau Bahamas - We arrived at 12:00 (11 Nassau time). We had a tough time deciding what to do in Nassau. We weren't interested in going to Atlantis so we booked the Carnival Historical and Pirates tour. For the historical tour, they break you into smaller groups of 9-12 and each gets their own taxi vans. Our taxi and driver were less than great. It was a hot day and the AC didn't work well, the taxi was old and the driver difficult to understand. Most of those on our taxi didn't get to see the Queens staircase because the taxi driver didn't stop for it. When we were stopped at Fort Fincastle I walked down on my own, and to me it was one of the highlights of the tour. Fort Fincastle was interesting and provided a good view of the island but was surrounded by many vendors selling T-shirts and souvenirs. The rest of the historical tour was not very interesting and didn't have much I would call history. The stop at Fort Charlotte was brief and only outside (our guide pointed out that we had seen the inside of Fort Fincastle and why would we want to see the inside of another). The Pirate tour (which was an option on this tour for the same price as buying the ticket at the door) was reasonably good. My wife compared it to walking through Pirates of the Caribbean at Disney (although not animated). There were a number of exhibits and plaques on the wall with various pirate facts. I read that there are guided tours though here which adds to the enjoyment but the self guided was just "okay". Afterward we walked though the Straw Market and did buy a few things but most of the shops sold the same T-shirts and souvenirs. Overall, we would rate this combined tour about a 4. Disembark: We set out our luggage Saturday night and were in group 18. At 7:00, they started self assist and shortly after 8:30 starting calling numbered groups in groups of 5. Our group was third and the lines to get off the ship were long at the stairs around the lobby, they moved quickly. There was no line at immigration or customs. Claiming our bags was easy as they were grouped by number so all we had to do was find the group for 18. A porter was there to help and we grabbed 2 taxis to the airport rather than try to wait for a van to carry all 4 of us. I was flying on Continental and did curb side check in and was done by 9:30. My brother was flying on Frontier and their counter didn't open until after 10 so they had a longer wait. The airport was packed and all of the restaurants had long lines but generally everyone was easy going (since most like us were returning from cruises and mellow).
Final thoughts. We had a good time and the staff and ship were excellent. The itinerary could be improved and if we had to do again would probably have picked a southern Caribbean itinerary but there's always next time.
Pictures posted at http://flickr.com/photos/roseoftexas/collections/72157601820066732/ Less
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Cabin review: Carnival Liberty