This was our second cruise on The Liberty. In April of 2007, we had done the 6-day Western Caribbean itinerary (Freeport, Grand Cayman, and Costa Maya) and we had a great time and booked the 8-day Eastern Caribbean cruise that left Fort Lauderdale on April 26, 2008. We got in a day early and stayed at an airport hotel that we booked on priceline. It was the Sheraton and wasn't cheap. But it's a very good business hotel with a nice gym, pool, etc with parking right out in front. We visited family near Fort Lauderdale and didn't spend much time at all in the hotel.
We did rent a car and I will say that there is an added benefit in doing that. There are free shuttles from the central car rental agency at the terminal that go to the cruise port. I guess this advice is less than timely for you future Liberty passengers since the Liberty is moving to Miami.
We arrived at the cruise terminal by 12:15 and the whole process of going through lines to finally getting aboard was a little less than an hour. That's not bad, all considering.
Cabin: We were in Cabin 8240. That's on the port side 1/3 up from the front of the ship. It's a great location. It's a typical Liberty balcony cabin.
The Great - Harry's Supper Club. We pre-booked reservations at Harry's through the cruise critic link and the reservation was there when we checked in. Harry's is equivalent to a top american steakhouse as it compares well with Ruth Chris. But the service is better. The food is outstanding and there is live entertainment for dancing. While the cost is $30 per person, it's well worth it. I'm kicking myself for not going to Harry's on my previous cruise.
The Bad - Breakfast at Emilles Lido Buffet. Once again, Carnival fails in the breakfast area. If you have cruised on Royal Caribbean, you know what a very good breakfast presentation is about. Well, Carnival, skimps in this area big time. There is an omelet station. The choices for ingredients is poor and the omelets are flat. On At Sea days, you can't even get any hot eggs before 7:30. The breakfast buffet also doesn't have bagels and lox, much in the area of baked goods, or much else. It's standard fare of scrambled eggs, bacon, grits, hash browns, etc. BAD, BAD, BAD. Bagels, lox, and cream cheese is available through room service. Often, we'd order that with some citrus fruit and juice and have breakfast on the balcony.
The Good - Emilles Lido Buffet does have a decent lunch. But be on the lookout for long lines at some stations. The Thai/Mongolian stir fry station lines can be 15-20 minutes long considering cooking time and waiting time. But it's good. So is the Fish & Chips seafood specialty restaurant upstairs from the main buffet area. From the Ahi Tuna appetizers, to the Bouillabaisse, to the fried oysters, once again we enjoyed that specialty area and open tables are easier to find up there. Other lunch dishes downstairs were decent. There is a decent variety for lunch and some things are good and some things are not.
The Good - The Pizza take out station. This is located in the AFT pool area. The pizza is surprisingly very good as is the variety of specialty pizzas.
The Good - Dining Room for dinner. We had the 6:15 seating at the Golden Olympian. Again, remember, this is banquet food prepared in quantity. But it's good. Carnival doesn't disappoint with variety and the quality is good for banquet style. I had the rack of lamb, (caribbean lobster), quail, grouper, spring chicken, and a couple entrees. My only disappointment was the prime beef fra diavolo. I couldn't taste any fra diavolo. The service was mixed. Our assistant waiter was very attentive (we tipped him extra). Our head waiter had good days and bad. Our kids were with us at dinner and his service could be slow and he could have made more appearances.
Ports: On this itinerary, there is no need to book any Carnival excursions. At least that was our case.
San Juan: Our itinerary had an evening stop in San Juan. After dining at Harry's, my wife and I were fortunate on our trip to be in a night of the artists festival and there was live music in the Old Town Square. I was surprised and pleased. We were there for an hour when it started to rain and we headed back to the ship.
St Thomas: Booked round trip transportation to Sapphire Beach at $20 per person with Air Force One tours. They were prompt. We let them know what time we wanted to go to beach. Once we got there, we informed driver the time we wanted to be picked up. Sapphire Beach is beautiful. They charge to rent everything. We brought our own snorkel equipment. There are two locations at the docks at the end of the beach to rent waverunners. Each charges $45 per half hour. The first one does not take credit cards. The second one does. It was a lot of fun and well worth it.
Antigua: We booked Eli's Eco Tour with adventureantigua.com. This tour is well reviewed and vetted on the cruise critic ports of call board. It's $90 per person and that includes much of a full day in Antigua, including a very nice lunch (bbq chicken, pasta salad, plantains, salad, and dessert). It includes a tour of Bird Island (very picturesque) snorkeling lessons for those who need like my kids, a trip to beautiful Hell's Gate rock formation, and two opportunities for snorkeling. Everyone had fun.
Tortola/Virgin Gorda Baths: We walked 10 minutes to the ferry docks and booked R/T transportation to the Baths at Virgin Gorda. This is a must see but involved moderate traversing in rocky area caves and boulders. The beach there is beautiful and there is great snorkeling there at Devil's Bay beach. Do not do a Baths excursion with Carnival. Do this on your own. The total cost for our family of 4 was around $110.
Nassau: We went to the Atlantis waterpark. The best way to do this is by booking a room at Comfort Suites next to Atlantis. Booking a room gives up to four people access to Atlantis and the water park there. The room cost was $200. After all fees, the cost was $248. The water park is very good. Unlike very good public american water parks, there were virtually no waiting lines on any water slides and this was a saturday. Everyone had a great time. We took a cab up at a cost of $4 per person. We had to take the ferry back because traffic that saturday on Paradise Island was at a virtual standstill. The nice people at Comfort Suites told us to go to the ferry and even walked us 90% of the way there. What great service. The ferry back was $3 per person and brings you right back to the cruise port. Our total cost for the four of us was $276. By comparison, just booking Aquaventure water park with Carnival would have been $544. The inconvenience of waiting 5 minutes to check into CS (where we went to the room to use "the facilities) was worth saving that $268. I couldn't justify $544 for four hours at a water park. It made no sense. But the $276, while not cheap, made sense.
Recreation: My wife used the spa and gym and I used the gym. My wife gives high marks to the spa and she availed herself to port day discounts. The gym has good equipment. Maybe the equipment could be updated a bit. It's more updated than most hotels but less updated than my local Boston Sports Club. My wife also took spinning classes ($10 extra fee), yoga, and some other classes. Carnival's spa and gym will not disappoint. However, the pools may disappoint. The pools are small and are filled with salt water. The Liberty is infamous for its chair hogging. "Reserve" your chairs early in the morning or be prepared to have to look hard for spots during the day. It's unfortunate that you see many chairs "reserved" with towels with nobody spending one minute at those chairs during the whole day. That's just the way it is. Carnival added a 9 hole mini-golf course on the sun/sports deck. It's windy up there and you may have to play a bit of hockey on the 8th hole.
Entertainment: Most of the shows were repeats of what we saw last year. But Carnival now features Christopher Graves doing a Sinatra/Sammy Davis Junior tribute show. Graves goes from ship to ship and the show is very good. The two other stage shows are good and typical vegas style revues.
Other entertainment on the ships is decent. The Piano Bar guy is very good and delivers the goods. He did sing alongs of Sweet Caroline (appealing and requested by Red Sox fans) and Hotel California while we were there. There is a Jazz Band that's decent in the Cabinet and other entertainment as well including a three piece orchestra in the main lobby/atrium area on the third deck along. There is a singer doing 70's 80's covers there as well for dancing. Be aware that, other than the show, it is hard to find live entertainment before 9:30. Carnival should address that. Our kids were in Camp Carnival from 8-10 and we were in a waiting mode for much of that time. One night, we extended them (for a fee) and extra hour so that we could go out.
Camp Carnival: Our kids were 8 and 10 at time of the cruise. There is a 9-11 Camp Carnival age group. They allow 8-year old siblings in that group. The kids love Camp Carnival and its many activities, including the new water wars facility outside on deck 10 or 11. Camp Carnival provides enough great stuff for the kids that parents can enjoy some adult activities.
Debarkation: We had a 12:25 flight on Delta. So Carnival gives those with flights before 12:30 preference to get off the ship early. They instructed us to go to the Venetian showroom at 8. It was disorganized and there was no actual Carnival employee in that room of about 300 people until 8:30. But we got off and through customs and were on a cab by 9 and at the airport by 9:30.
We had a great cruise. The last three years we have cruised to the Caribbean during this last week of April timeframe and the weather has always been great. I highly recommend the Liberty. We may take the Liberty, or more likely, the sister ship, the Freedom on a cruise to Europe without the kids. But for next year, we need a new ship and line.