Review of Carnival Liberty Cruise, September 6, 2008 Scheduled for the Eastern Caribbean, diverted to the Western Caribbean. The continued ramblings of a harried cruiser
Category: 8E Verandah Room: 1035 on Panorama Deck Booked through: Travel agent and direct web sites Late seating, Golden Dining Room, Table 212 Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0
This was a long anticipated vacation and as with most, we didn't think it took that much planning. Being a Cruise Critic dot com member and conversing with so many other folks on the roll call board who were going to be on the same cruise was a huge bonus and greatly enhanced the whole cruise experience. For some reason, this group of "Crazy Cruzers" clicked and we all had a great time. This was not the case in 2007 when there was little organization with the roll call members aboard the Carnival Triumph and we never met any of those we had communicated with.
WEATHER / ITINERARY / SHIP'S SAFETY
We had been watching the weather forecasts for weeks and sure enough, a hurricane had formed in the Eastern Caribbean headed right for where we were heading. As a result, at 4:30 PM the day before we were to depart, Carnival rerouted us to the Western Caribbean due to Hurricane Ike, and were now scheduled to visit the ports of Grand Cayman Island; Cozumel, Mexico; Belize City, Belize; and Isla Roatan, Honduras. Carnival posted the note to their web site at 4:30 PM on September 5th. Many passengers flew in that day and were unaware of the itinerary change until they actually arrived at the Port of Miami. While some were complaining about the itinerary change, we weren't as we love the variety of cultures offered in the Western side versus the Eastern side. But this was now our third trip to the Western side and we're going to do the Southern route next time. We had no objections to the itinerary switch. I look at it as the Captain, Capt. Nogara, did what he had to do in order to protect the safety of his ship, his passengers, and his crew. No complaints here!
Our trip from Boston was right through tropical storm Hanna. Once we got on top of the storm, it was a fairly smooth and uneventful flight into Fort Lauderdale. Once we arrived, we gathered our luggage which took less than ten minutes and located the Carnival representatives who checked us in while we waited for the first bus to arrive from Miami. We wound up talking with other guests who were going to be on our ship and in about 20-30 minutes we were brought outside to board the bus. Everything went quite smoothly, which is what we've come to expect with Carnival. The trip to Miami was a typical bus ride and nothing extraordinary. Upon arrival at the Miami Pier, we were kept on the bus until the driver unloaded all the luggage and then we were allowed off the bus and told to find and stand by our luggage so they could be tagged for a second time. It didn't make much sense at the time for Carnival to send pre printed luggage tags in the mail if they were only going to re-tag them upon arrival at the pier.
Going through security was no big deal and not as crazy as airport security. Then it was wait in the long queue to get checked in and obtain our sign-and-sail cards. From there it was a long walk to the ship to punch in and have our ID photos taken. Then, up to the Lido deck for lunch at the well-stocked buffet. Once we were well fed, we had arranged to be at the bar under the Jumbotron and eventually got to meet some of the "Crazy Cruzers!" "Doc" finally showed up as did a few others and we were well on our way to a great time on the seas.
The Muster Drill was uneventful and for once, there wasn't much talking during the PA announcements. It wasn't long after the conclusion of the Muster drill that the lines were cast off and we were off!
Our luggage showed up shortly thereafter and it didn't take long to get settled in. We finally met our cabin steward, Jaya, and his assistant Saso, and they took good care of us.
After our first day at sea, we were informed that we were to change our watches back one hour for the duration of the cruise, and we changed them back to Miami time after we departed Isla Roatan. Of the now four cruises we've been on, this was the first time we've had to change our watches, which made things very confusing for everyone, especially the crew since they have to do it every week! On our three previous cruises ship's time was Florida time and it remained so throughout the duration of the cruise, regardless of what the time zone was that we happened to be in. We were told at one point it's the Captain's prerogative whether the times get changed or not. It would seem to be easier all around if there was one standard time, home port time, throughout the cruise. Then again, given the time of the year close to the solstice, maybe the Captain wanted to maximize the amount of daylight the passengers had every day.
Our stateroom was the typical balcony stateroom we've come to expect on any ship. Everything worked as expected and had no issues. We noticed the in-cabin refrigerator was locked and we had to ask the cabin attendant to unlock it so we could keep our own beverages cool. The beds were okay and we slept quite well, for what little sleep we got!
The first night's dinner was the first time we all met together as a group. One of our members arranged to have those of us who had requested this seating to sit together and we had two large tables to accommodate us. After we all got to know each other, the fun really started. Our headwaiter, Roldan, and his assistant, Yohannes, did their best to keep up with us. The only complaint I could find was I had to keep asking for coffee during dinner and not after. This was our third Carnival cruise and the service was what we've come to expect, and that was very good. We had cruised on a Royal Caribbean ship once prior, and the service on that ship was just a notch higher - not that we're complaining at all - just making a statement. Comparing the coffee situation, on RCI's Mariner Of The Seas, our beverage person or assistant waiter would always have a fresh cup of coffee for me usually within one minute of being seated, without having to ask. Now that's service!
The food selection was ample and there was always something to our liking on the menu. The food was quite tasty, expertly prepared, and we could order as much as we wanted. Only once did my wife not like what she had ordered. One woman in our group wasn't interested in the main menu one night and actually chose a selection from the kid's menu! They were very accommodating!
We preferred to eat as many meals as we could in the dining rooms to avoid the hassles with the Lido buffet. We enjoyed having a set table and a freshly prepared and served meal. Plus, we got to meet new people from anywhere in the world and had some wonderful experiences to share. We found the Lido Buffet on the Liberty to be the same as on all of our previous cruises, crowded and difficult to find an empty table. The Lido food was very good but we preferred the restaurants over the Lido Buffet. For lunches we either did the grill for a fresh burger, the deli, or the pizza stand and the lines moved a lot faster there than in the main buffet lines.
We could not have been more impressed with how clean the ship was kept. The ship was just spotless! It seemed that every time we turned around, there were staff members mopping the decks or floors, cleaning the handrails, or wiping the tables and other areas. The only thing we could offer for a criticism, and admittedly it is minimal, is the lack of sanitary cleaning stations as we had on the Mariner of the Seas. There, every time you entered a dining area, you were given a squirt of a sanitizing gel to clean your hands. But we later learned that further studies minimized the effectiveness of that act, preferring a full soap and water washing. One thing that surprised us on the Liberty versus the other Carnival ships we've been on was the somewhat subdued design elements. The various rooms, while each had their own unique identity, were not overly ostentatious or over-the-top as Joe Farcus, Carnival's chief marine architect, had done on the others.
We noticed that in many instances when we passed staff members, they had big smiles and were quite cheerful with most offering appropriate greetings. This applies to the cabin stewards, the waitstaff in the restaurant, and to many of the ship's officers. I had a very interesting conversation with the ship's chief engineer and he was very accommodating and answered my questions without hesitation, which included an interesting technical discussion of Azipod propulsion versus propeller shaft propulsion.
ON BOARD SHOPPING
Some folks were commenting that there were essentially only two on-board shops. On one side of the ship was the jewelry, make-up, and accessories side and the other was the liquor and souvenir side. My retort was that sure, on the Mariner of the Seas, there were many smaller shops, each specializing in one facet of the shopping experience, whereas on Carnival, they're grouped into various departments within a larger single store. Regardless, I felt the amount of space allocated for shopping was comparable. We did take note of the sales staffs in the shops and found them to be fairly knowledgeable about their products and not just "cashiers" ringing up sales. They seemed to know the subtle differences between seemingly similar watches and other similar pieces of jewelry.
A few suggestions I can offer for the folks at Carnival are to have more ship-specific clothing items instead of the generic Carnival brand. The Carnival Miracle had nice polo/golf shirts and hats with the ship's profile and name embroidered on it, the Carnival Triumph had the same with hats but no polo or golf shirts, and the Liberty just had a mesh hat with the profile and name, a regular hat with the name and a flag, and a single ship-specific tee shirt.
Another thing I can suggest to Carnival to offer through their on-line store is ship-specific clothing and other items as noted above, including ship-specific photo portfolios such as those sold in the on board photo shops. This would be a boon to past guests who may have forgot to buy something or if the ship was sold out of an item, as well as those who have cruises already booked and who want to wear the gear for their respective ship. This provides Carnival and their respective branded cruise lines additional sales outlets to promote their brands.
Fortunately, due to the time of the year, there were not that many school-age children aboard, and therefore we were not finding kids running all over the ship at all hours. Those younger, were taking part in Camp Carnival, which I happened to overhear one parent say to another that she felt Camp Carnival was a better experience for the kids than the cruise they had recently taken on a Disney ship.
This is the one area that Carnival, or probably more appropriately, the U.S. Customs Dept., absolutely needs to fix, especially as they put newer and larger ships on line. It was a complete train wreck almost from the get go one of the worst disasters we have ever experienced. (I think the only experience that was worse was the Orlando Airport fiasco with Royal Caribbean trying to get checked in for a shuttle bus to Port Canaveral.) They really need to separate U.S. Citizens from non-U.S. citizens to speed the lines. This probably applies more to the U.S. Customs Department than Carnival Corporation, but it does reflect poorly on Carnival. Eleven Customs agents cannot possibly process 3,400 people in a reasonable amount of time to enable connections to the local airports. We heard there were both serious computer-related issues with the Customs folks, as well as trainees in the booths. But what was further slowing everything down was the processing of aliens, having to fingerprint and photograph each one. This is no place for trainees if this was the case! Trainees should be at the airports where the crowds are smaller, not at cruise ship terminals where everyone is trying to make connecting flights. When it was discovered there were computer problems in the terminal, announcements should have been made aboard the ship informing the guests what the reasons were for the massive delays. It took us almost three hours to get off the ship, through Customs, and onto the bus. We made our 12:50 PM flight at FLL with only 20 minutes to spare. This was not a comfortable margin and fortunately we were through TSA security at FLL in less than five minutes. If changes are not instituted in the Port of Miami, it will seriously make us consider taking a cruise from another port and avoiding Miami altogether.
SUMMARY AND COMMENTARY
To sum up this experience, it was the best cruise we've taken, and probably the best vacation we've ever taken. A lot of this has to do with the people we traveled with courtesy of Cruise Critic as well as the overall shipboard experience. The couple of areas we noted above, with the exception of the debarkation meltdown fiasco, were admittedly trivial and we had to dig pretty deep to come up with them. Carnival definitely has their act together and I hope they keep doing what they do best. All things considered, even with this our third Carnival cruise, and admittedly we raised the bar for this cruise based on our previous two, the Carnival Liberty exceeded almost every one of our expectations, far exceeded some, and only met just a few.
Weather and Ship's Safety 5.0 FLL Airport Experience 4.5 Embarkation 4.0 Time Change 3.0 Cabin 4.0 Dining Room Waitstaff 4.5 Food 4.0 Excursion Desk 5.0+ Shore Excursions 5.0 Future Cruise Desk 4.5 Ship's Entertainment 5.0+ Ship's Cleanliness 5.0+ Ship's Staff 4.5 On Board shopping 4.5 Children 4.0 Debarkation 1.0
Overall rating, giving proper weight, is approximately a 4.5