Background: This was our fourth cruise -- our first with Carnival. We've sailed with RCCL, Princess and Disney. I place the Carnival Liberty (even during Spring Break!) on par with every other ship we've sailed, and all have earned excellent reviews. Our family consists of me, my husband and two sons (12 and 17). This was an eight-night Western Caribbean to the Panama Canal.
Arrival and Embarkation: We flew in same day, on a flight purchased through Carnival. I would have chosen to fly directly into Ft. Lauderdale rather than Miami, but we had no issues with the flight or transfer from the airport to the port. Because we didn't arrive at the port until around 2:00pm, we had a long (but not unpleasant) line to wade through to embark. But we were able to go straight to our cabin where two of our three bags were already waiting for us!
Stateroom: We booked a balcony stateroom on deck 7. It was plenty roomy for the four of us (although our 17yo is outgrowing the twin bed!). Storage is plentiful, even for our 16 pairs of shoes! Absolutely take a clock of some type with you and a power strip if you need to plug in lots of devices. We were fine with the two outlets provided. Our steward, Manny, and his assistant, provided just the right amount of attention -- morning and evening service including fabulous towel animals.
Ship: The ship is probably the largest we've ever sailed on, but not too difficult to figure out. Our cabin placement allowed us to walk directly downstairs to our dining room and directly upstairs to the Lido deck which was fantastic. We had a slightly longer walk to reach the "Main Street" areas of shopping, theater and casino but no worries! I personally saw the crew swabbing the decks during the middle of the night, as well as working all day long to keep the ship squeaky clean.
Dining: We thought the quantity and quality of the food was first rate. We ate from every venue (I think). Pizza -- awesome; Sushi -- awesome; Grill -- burgers and fries were okay and our son loved the chicken nuggets; Fish and Chips -- good to great; Deli -- okay to good (I think the hot sandwiches were better than cold); Frozen yogurt -- awesome; Stir Fry -- very good; Buffet -- okay to good; Dining room -- good to awesome (fish entrees are best; beef entrees are weakest; yes, the chocolate melting cake is awesome); Room Service -- food was fine, delivery was late but it was on a very early port day so requests were probably numerous. We did not eat at Harry's Supper Club because we're just not "foodie" oriented enough to spend the extra $30. We were happy to see people dressed nicely on regular nights and very dressy on formal nights (tuxes are not out of place).
Activities: We are BIG fans of sea days -- either relaxing on deck or on our balcony or enjoying the activities on board. I enjoyed playing bingo this cruise; I've never done that before. We enjoyed watching and playing in the casino (yes, it's a bit smoky). There were plenty of trivia games, game "shows", contests, etc to keep anyone busy. DH had two massages in the spa which he loved. We enjoy the art auction (mostly for the champagne). The brand new mini-golf course was in use. Chair hogs are inevitable; it's a little frustrating, but patience usually wins the day (and a lounger). The On Deck for the Cure Walk was very cool!
Children's Clubs: We saw our kids in bed and (usually) at dinner -- that's it. Both attended the orientation programs for their age groups (12-14) and (15-17) and met friends the first night. The 12yo did most of the organized events (I was jealous that I couldn't do some of the fun things they did!) and hung out with friends the rest of the time. The 17yo and his group were usually on "Main Street" (Promenade Deck 5) playing cards/socializing or near the pool/hottubs.
Service: The service was fabulous; we simply didn't have a single complaint. Every staff member looked you in the eye and said hello. We especially loved spending time at the Paparazzi Wine Bar with Tommy, the singing bartender! He knows everyone and takes very good care of his customers! Try the Deja Vu martini! Another "service" I appreciated was the availability of washers/dryers for passengers ($2 in quarters to wash or dry).
Entertainment: We enjoyed the Welcome Aboard Show. Cruise Director Steve was likeable and enthusiastic, as were the other Our sons liked the other production shows (we didn't go). The first comedian (David Sayh) was very weak. Eddie Capone was much better. It sounds silly, but I thought Steve's disembarkation talk was really funny.
Shore Excursions: We didn't do any Carnival excursions, but were very happy with our independently organized tours. Cozumel: taxi to Paradise Beach. The $10 wristband kept our 12yo busy for a few hours and hubby enjoyed a 30-min massage for $30. The food is pricey but good -- take cash, though; they charge a 15% fee for credit cards. Limon, Costa Rica: boat ride through canals to see monkeys, lizards, etc., walk through organic farm to see lots of local produce and a mama and baby sloth, tour of Del Monte banana facility and a stop at a grocery store to purchase coffee, etc.. The van was comfortable; drinks were plentiful; guide was knowledgeable and very nice. Downtown Limon is not tourist friendly -- lots of razor wire and iron bars. Stay with a group. Colon, Panama: canoe ride to Embera Indian village and then on to Canal to watch ships navigate through the locks. Again, good experience with comfortable transportation and friendly tour guide.
Disembarkation: No problem. We weren't in a hurry because our flight was late afternoon so we went when our number was called, hopped on a Carnival bus and, reluctantly, headed back north!
We will definitely consider Carnival for another cruise -- the sooner, the better!