We are a family of 5, DH and myself, DS 18, DD 16 and DS 11. We sailed with another family with kids the same age. We just returned from a back to back cruise on the Liberty. First week was Western Caribbean, second week was Eastern. The experience was a mixed bag for me and this review will be long.
Pre-cruise we spent two nights in Miami at the Marriott Biscayne Bay which was nice, and really enjoyed an airboat tour of the Everglades with Coopertown's Everglades. We hadn't seen the everglades before and it was really fascinating. Gators everywhere! We enjoyed dinner at Bubba Gump's, one of our favorite restaurants in Maui, and the Miami version didn't disappoint. Post-cruise we had to wait most of the day for our flight home from Miami so spent the day at Jungle Island. We LOVED this place and got to hold a skunk, feed kangaroos, pet Galapagos tortoises, and even get our picture taken with a tiger cub and baby gibbon on our laps. Awesome.
Embarkation was no problem. We didn't get to board until about noon. Our cabins were clean and bright and we loved our balconies. We were aft on deck 7, just across from the laundry. I don't recommend that particular location as we found the laundry room was always busy, and you can easily hear the conversations going on as people come and go. Our room steward Dala and her assistant were simply terrific! They knew our names the entire two weeks we were aboard, even though we had to switch to cabins on the port side for week 2. Dala even went and searched the garbage room for some fins my son left in a trash bag. She found them and returned them to him. Wow!
That brings me to a high point of this cruise. The crew! We found the crew, especially the room stewards and the dining room staff to be fun, friendly, helpful and genuinely nice to be around. Any time I said hello, even to the stewards all along the hallway who had no idea who I was, they lit up with bright happy smiles and greetings. A highlight of the experience without a doubt. And they should all be commended highly for dealing with some of the passengers on this cruise. More on that later.
We did not have a problem getting around on the ship. We got the hang of deck 5 being the indoor throughway pretty quickly. The ship was in wonderful condition and sparkling clean all the time.
We are not "foodies" and were not overly particular about our meals. We found the dining room to be consistently fine. My husband said one night his steak was tough. Only one night (I had warned him the steaks had a bad reputation on CruiseCritic.com). The rest were delicious. I decided against salmon one night because it smelled too fishy for my taste. I just ordered something else and had a fine dinner. We enjoyed the melting cake we'd heard so much about. It's more like hot chocolate pudding with a cake crust. Works for me! I can also highly recommend the Grand Marnier Souffle and the Bitter and Blanc. Yum. The buffet was a buffet. We didn't go hungry. The last sea day one half of the buffet is all chocolate. Cakes, milkshakes, puddings, even fondue with donuts and fruit to dip in. Yahoo! The pizza was great. My youngest son very much enjoyed the 24 hour soft serve ice cream and yogurt. I thought the vanilla yogurt was much better than the ice cream. Try both and see what you think.
We ate at Harry's Supper Club twice and I can honestly say these were the best meals I have ever had. I've done some 5 star dining in Las Vegas, and this beat it. Everything was delicious, the presentation was spectacular, and our waiters (Manoj week 1 and Zhenette week 2) were SO fun! We simply had a ball there and I can highly recommend it. Word of warning, even though Carnival says that on formal night jackets are "suggested," Harry's REQUIRED them on formal night.
As far as onboard activities go: My husband and kids liked an outdoor movie or two on deck. The only bummer was people chatting away along the railing while the movie was taking place and a lengthy announcement by cruise director Steve (week one) which canceled out the sound of the movie for about 5 minutes during a critical part. My husband and I LOVED the "On Deck for the Cure" walk on Friday at sea. It was led by the Captain who invited breast cancer survivors to join him up front. We walked a mile, a couple hundred people, being cheered on by crew with towels, ice water and lemonade. There was a very nice camaraderie about the whole event and it felt good to be doing something that wasn't totally hedonistic for a while. ? We enjoyed comedian/hypnotist "Puck" at his family show. It was hilarious. The R-rated midnight show was too late for me, I'm a morning person. My husband enjoyed "The Soul Man of Bourbon St." show. I had a nice time in the gym. It's beautiful and well maintained. I participated in the Yoga classes (word to the wise, sign up early! I didn't realize there were sign ups and was on a wait list week one, but I got in. There are also advance sign ups for Pilates, spinning, etc.). I enjoyed the Yoga, it was relaxing and a very beginner level. Not quite what I'm used to but very nice. My husband, DD and myself enjoyed several spa treatments. I liked my aroma sea wrap (but be forewarned, they whip the towel off the entire top half of you to apply the mask...not something I had ever experienced in a spa before!), had a lovely facial in a treatment room with floor to ceiling windows looking out to sea, and LOVED my hot stone massage. I've had several hot stone massages and this was truly the best I'd ever had. I also tried acupuncture. It was fascinating and something I wouldn't have tried at home. I'm glad I did it. We made use of several of the formal night photo opportunities onboard. I found the quality and personality of the photographers a little inconsistent (some of them seemed really bored! I can't blame them, but they might want to brighten up a little to attract more customers). But there were enough good photos that I spent a ton of money on pictures! How often do you have everyone together looking sharp? My youngest son enjoyed the arcade, especially the air hockey. My husband enjoyed hanging out on deck for an hour or two during the day. It was too hot for me. None of us ever made it on the water slide, the line was long and moved slowly. But clearly it was getting a lot of use and providing a lot of smiles. My husband and two eldest kids enjoyed the volleyball court. There were usually games going on. Be aware it closes at 5 pm because it is above Harry's supper club. Probably my FAVORITE onboard experience was hanging out on my balcony taking pictures. Being a morning person I was treated to some of the most amazing sunrises, clouds with rainbows wrapped across them, storms in the distance, and scenes watching us dock. It was spectacular. We even had a thunderstorm one night and I got some lightening pictures I'll treasure. Some especially glorious scenes were sailing into San Juan week 2 with the El Morro Fort sticking out onto the promontory alone and brooding with a fascinating colorful neighborhood stacked into the cliffside beyond. (I found out later it's a slum called "La Perla" or the Peril). Another glorious scene was sailing into St. Thomas. It's such a beautiful port and several laughing gulls were flying alongside the ship. I got more great photos. Standing up on deck aft and watching the sunset with our wake making a straight line to the sun was pretty awesome, too. We enjoyed reading on the balcony and just listening to the water as it gently slaps the side of the ship, it sounds like a constant breeze in treetops. Ahhh.
The ports. I did my research on CruiseCritic.com and booked activities in advance and we thoroughly enjoyed each and every one. In Cozumel we did the Dolphin Royal Swim and it was a hoot! They keep it moving quickly, and the photos are simply terrific. I booked it independently. My husband and eldest son did a dive in the afternoon and loved it. In Grand Cayman we did the Stingray City Sandbar and Snorkel tour with Moby Dick. Being with the rays is a once-in-a-lifetime experience! We had a blast and very much enjoyed the guys at Moby Dick. Our captain had even trained a wild eel over a period of 7 years to come out and swim to him at the snorkel site. Cool. The rays are wonderful! I booked Moby Dick independently. In Ocho Rios we spent the day with Marva Shaw of knowjamaica.com doing her Dunn's River Falls/River Tubing tour. So fun!!! Marva is friendly and full of information. We felt completely safe and so well cared for, we didn't have to worry about a single thing. The Falls were hilarious, full of silly tourists climbing. We had a blast. The river tubing was gorgeous! The guides randomly burst into song and it was relaxing and really fun. Marva even arranged a birthday cake and balloons for one member of our party as a surprise where we stopped for a terrific lunch. It was a great day and I highly recommend Marva and her son Javia who we also met. They feel like friends. I would not return to Jamaica without spending my time with them. I booked Marva independently. At Half Moon Cay my husband and two sons did the Deep Sea Fishing excursion. They each caught (and released) a barracuda, and my youngest son almost landed a Mahi (it broke the line about 10 ft. from the boat). They loved it. My daughter did the horseback riding where the horses go in the water. She loved that, too. My afternoon snorkel was cancelled because the water at the snorkel site was too rough. We rented a cabana and it came with fruit, a bag of chips with salsa, guacamole, etc., veggies, sodas, snorkel gear and some floats. It was great! The beach and sand at Half Moon Cay are just wonderful and the water is perfect. I booked everything through Carnival. At St. Thomas we booked a day sail. We hired Capt. Pam of the Daysail Fantasy and had a second boat, Capt. Kathleen of High Pockets because there were 9 of us. This was a perfect day. Their driver Wally picked us up in a spotless van and gave us a tour of the island on the way to the harbor. We stopped at an overlook of Charlotte Amalie (and had our photos taken with a donkey named Monica Lewinsky), stopped at Sapphire Beach, etc. Then we set sail and it was so quiet and peaceful and relaxing! We felt so far away from the crowds at the ship!!! We snorkeled at St. John for a nice long time then got back onboard our sailboats for lunch. Capt. Pam served us curried shrimp and veggies over rice, French bread and salad with oatmeal cookies for dessert. Her mate Connor made rum punch and had other beverages available, too. The kids over on High Pockets had lemon chicken linguini and homemade rum cake. We sailed back to the harbor and were all VERY happy! Wally then drove us back to Charlotte Amalie were we had about an hour to shop before we needed to reboard. A perfect day. I booked the sail independently. At San Juan my husband and eldest son had booked a private shore dive through Shoretrips.com. It was cancelled due to poor visibility from rain the day before. The rest of us did a Segway tour with Jose of Puerto Rico Segway. It was AWESOME! The Segways are a so easy to get the hang of and so fun! Jose is a terrific guide. There is so much fascinating history in San Juan, I would have hated missing out on it. Jose also gave us a private tour of the El Morro fort. I highly recommend him. I booked him independently. He only has 6 Segways so book early. At Grand Turk my husband and eldest son did a boat dive. It was scheduled with Blue Water Divers but the owner was on vacation so they were transferred to Grand Turk Divers. They said it was the best dive of the trip as they dove the "wall" and went about 100 ft. down. We booked that independently. The younger two and I did the Power Snorkel which was really fun. We booked it through the ship. They returned to the ship and I did the Ultimate Snorkel by boat. Too fun! I snorkeled with a nurse shark!!! I didn't find it frightening at all, but I love wildlife. For me it was a highlight of the trip. I booked the snorkel excursions through Carnival.
Okay, so it sounds like a perfect trip, right? And I LOVED a lot of it. But I don't think I'd sail it again, at least not with Carnival. Why? The passengers. While we met a lot of nice people (including teds and deblee from our roll call), there were enough low-lifes onboard to really affect my experience. I'm not a stick-in-the-mud and I routinely smile and say "hi" and make new friends wherever I can, so please don't think I'm just uptight. Heck, I even have a tattoo! ? But these things actually happened and it got to me: -I had parrot head decorations for our cabin doors. Each week they were stolen outright or had their faces ripped to pieces while we either slept or were away from the cabin. Both cabins. Both weeks. (I do have to say that I tried to be playful with this instead of annoyed. I put heart shaped post-it notes all around the ravaged, faceless Mr. Parrot and asked for notes of condolence. Of course the pen I left out was stolen within 30 minutes. But our room stewards week 2 wrote hilarious notes along the lines of "Mr. Parrot I'm sorry your face was stolen but your feathers are still lovely.") -One night some late teen/early 20's guys made their way down our corridor and stopped just long enough to rip the steel mailbox out of the wall at the cabin my kids were in. -I was awakened at 3:30 am 4 out of the first 7 nights by a loud drunk who had a cabin down the hall. One night he was singing at the top of his lungs. He hit our door and I discovered he had removed the parrot face. I called security the next morning and they expressed their apologies and suggested that since they don't have cameras in the halls, I should call them right away next time. The problem with that is the guy would already be in his cabin by the time I did so. -Several machines in the arcade were vandalized including guns broken in half and machines unplugged by kids. -In the gym, I saw a man grunt to a passing spa employee as he rode a bike, "Towel." She stopped what she was doing and went out of her way to get a towel for him. He didn't respond in any way. Just rude. -At Half Moon Cay we were waiting in a long and very obvious line to return to the ship on the tender. Many people just walked right around the side of the line, behind some bushes, and cut into the front of the line. Several people started pointing out, "There's a line!" and the cheaters simply did not care. It was frustrating. At one point one man, when told "There's a line!" got in the face of the person in line and told him to back off. Not a relaxing situation. I started to feel that every time we had to get on or off the ship I was on guard. Yuck. -In the dining room, right next to our table, a mother made her approximately 7 year old daughter climb out of her seat and drop to the floor and do pushups as punishment. She then continued to berate the child for another 5 to 10 minutes while we tried to scrape our jaws off the table. -Also in the dining room, on formal night, at the other table next to ours...a man arrived for dinner in a sleeveless T-shirt and denim shorts. The maitre-d eventually arrived to speak with him. This conversation took place again right next to our table and included the sleeveless man offering the maitre-d first $50 then $80 as well as telling him he knew the owner of the ship. Eventually sleeveless man sat back down and waited for food (I don't know if he had ordered before the maitre'd approached him or not). Upon receiving a plateful of food, he dumped it in his napkin and sprinted from the room. -Worst of all were the fights that broke out in front of my daughter and her friend. They were taking formal portraits in the main promenade corridor near the casino. They witnessed an approximately 16 year old boy being jumped by several older boys. (My husband heard the older boys had been purposely crowding the younger boy into a corner in the elevator and the younger boy had said something about it). The younger boy's father jumped into the fray to protect his son. One woman bystander was knocked over. A middle aged male bystander was hit in the jaw. My husband was nearby and said that what bothered him the most was that security seemed unable or unwilling to put an immediate and effective stop to the situation. One security officer was being repeatedly threatened by one of the combatants and backed down. The situation in my husband's opinion went on FAR too long, and he felt that bouncers or police officers would have had the combatants under control immediately. There were two other fights that night. The girls were understandably upset, one of them remarking that it made her stomach tie in knots. I walked by after it was over (I'd been in the photo shop) and saw the bystander who had been hit in the jaw talking to security. I thought three things: 1. There must have been a fight. 2. I was not going to be able to sleep until everyone was safely back in the cabins. 3. I can't wait to get off the ship and away from these people.
Now that's just not how I want to feel on vacation.
In all fairness, we asked the family we were traveling with, who are Platinum members with Carnival, if they had ever seen anything like this and they said never. We also asked our cabin neighbors who had sailed Carnival previously and they too said never. Maybe it was a fluke. But I can say I didn't see anything remotely like the behavior I witnessed on Carnival when I sailed Princess twice in the past and I feel that I would give my business to Princess and not take another chance on Carnival.
I'd be happy to answer any questions or share photos if you like. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.