IN GENERAL: We had a great time aboard the 10/18/2008 sailing of the Carnival Liberty. I will outline the highs (many) and lows (few) of our experiences. In general, we will cruise again because this vacation met or exceeded our expectations in all but a few areas.
ABOUT US: Couple in late 30s/early 40s on first time cruise, and first visit to the Caribbean and Miami, FL. I researched this vacation for about 1 year online and through reading books and talking to friends who had cruised.
THE SHIP: The Carnival Liberty is a beautiful ship and we were thoroughly impressed. Rarely did it feel crowded even though there were 3,000 pax. and more than 1,000 staff on board. The public spaces were decorated in a flashy, but pleasing manner. The layout of the ship could be confusing at times. The map provided on board and at the elevators was not as detailed or easy to understand as the map used in Carnival brochures/online when choosing your cabin. I suggest bringing one of those maps until you get the layout. Most floors can be walked from front to back, except 3, 4, 11, 12. Floor 5 with the casinos and nightclubs may seem like the only option, but one can walk the floors with cabins.
ON BOARD ACTIVITIES: DAYTIME ACTIVITIES: I was actually surprised at how few activities were planned on the Lido deck or otherwise. I had heard that Carnival was the "party" cruiseline so I thought there would be more silly/tasteless activities. However, I did notice that these onboard activities would be replayed on the TV to encourage the purchase of a cruise-made video, so this may make people think these activities occur all the time. We enjoyed laying out at the pool, especially the aft (Versailles) pool with the sun roof (when raining) and the adults-only whirlpools (enforced). At sea days had many more activities planned, of course. Teatime was offered both sea days, the day I went I was disappointed because the tea is in bags, not brewed as the Brits take their tea. The sandwiches and treats were all right, but not fabulous. The service was attentive; however, everything was served rapidly so I felt rushed. The company of the other passengers at tea was first rate and I enjoyed my conversations very much.
NIGHTTIME ACTIVITIES: The shows in the main theater (Venetian Palace) were good to exceptional. We attended all but one night's show. The first and last night's shows were passable and featured our cruise director (Steve) and his social hosts and the on board orchestra/band (leader, Jimmy). Jimmy's ensemble were excellent musicians and adaptable to many styles of music. One evening we went to both shows because the headliner, Marcus Anthony, was so exceptional. The crowd at the later show was more enthusiastic which made the show even better the second time around. We did not gamble. The late night comedy shows were decent. The comedians seemed to struggle when delivering a PG set the first and last nights, but the late night shows were much better (rated R - don't get insulted because you are warned that it's adults only before it starts). The various venues like disco, Karaoke bar, and piano bar were all right. We enjoyed the ambiance of the piano bar; however, the piano man (Larry) has only a decent voice which turns passable with the more he drank and smoked on his frequent breaks. The waitstaff in the piano bar was slow and inattentive even when there wasn't a full house. The musician (Tony) who played in the casino bar was good and he plays almost every night. The musicians rotated in the atrium bar/lobby and were decent. They were usually more sedate. We enjoyed listening to the various musicians when stopping for pre- or post-dinner cocktails.
SERVICE: We are pleased with the service received from our dining room staff and cabin steward. We were moved to add to the automatic gratuity for those three members.
The cruise director (Steve) was great when dealing with people in a large group format, or when on stage; however, he was not as appealing when dealing with him 1:1 or small group:1. I was much more impressed with the assistant cruise director (James)because he took time to talk to pax. He seemed to enjoy pax, where it always seemed like Steve was trying to withstand us and get away to be with other cruise employees. Steve and James hosted a daily live show (which replayed night and day) on TV. It was funny falling to the Bevis and Butthead mentality at times.
SPA: We enjoyed a couples' massage which was wonderful and relaxing. The room that was used is directly below the basketball court so I was started quite a few times. This was one of the few times where I wondered about the layout of the ship.
DINING ROOM: Late seating in the Silver Olympian Dining Room (aft). The room was beautiful. We were seated with 1 other couple and had quite a bit in common with them. I had expected more than one couple, but this was very nice. We ate in the dining room all but 2 nights. The food was great, tasty, and presented beautifully. Many choices in starters and entrees so I imagine anyone's tastes will be accommodated. I especially enjoyed the Pumpkin Soup, Shrimp Cocktail, and Smoked Salmon as starters. I didn't like the stuffed mushrooms which looked awful and tasted drenched in velveeta. I especially liked Seafood in a Lobster Cream Sauce, Pumpkin and other vegetables with cheese in a potpie, and Veal Parmesan. I didn't like the Lobster (chewy like shrimp) and Sweet and Sour Tempura Shrimp for entrees. Deserts were passable - really nothing special. The chocolate melting cake was enthusiastically enjoyed by others' at my table, but I thought it to be rich. The consistency ranged from brownie-like to thick syrup. We preferred it more brownie-like (you know, baked). We ate breakfast in the dining room one morning. It was a nice way to start the day. We sat with 3 other couples that we continued to see throughout the cruise. This gave us a taste of what anytime dining will be like (starting soon on the Liberty). We were seated with whomever arrived at the same time as us. It was all right. Although, you do get to know the other couple(s) you dine with night after night. Getting to know more people a little bit would also be nice.
HARRY'S: We LOVED this experience. The surcharge ($30) is worth it. I would do this once on every cruise it is offered. The food was much better. I loved the Lobster, DH loved the 24 oz. Porterhouse steak. I also enjoyed my wasabi mashed potatoes. An assistant chef not only serves the food but she explains everything that you are about to eat just like on Top Chef. The desserts were delicious.
CASUAL DINING: Great buffet options ranging from great: Fried fish, Stir Fry, Eggplant Tart, Shrimp Quesadilla, Empanadas, Pizza, Grilled rueben; to passable: Hamburgers, Oklahoma fries, steak fries, Chicken tenders, Ceviche, Fried chicken; and so much more. I can't imagine that one wouldn't be able to find SOMETHING to eat at any time of day. Lunch had the most options, then breakfast, then dinner. Breakfast was pretty much the same thing every morning. We really liked the made-to-order omelets but there was always a line and then you have to get into the regular line unless all you want to eat is in the omelet line.
PORTS OF CALL: HALF MOON CAY: Absolute perfection. Soft, white sand with beautiful blue water. We rented a float mat ($9/day) and snorkel gear ($18/day) on the island. I loved the float mat. Snorkel gear was kind of a waste because there was nothing to see unless you wanted to walk to point or other side of the island. Food was decent. They do clean up at 1:15pm and then there's nothing to do but wait until you're back on ship. We were the 3rd tender; however, coming back we had to wait 45 minutes in the sun for a tender. Go back to ship immediately after lunch, or wait until the end. This is one port where if you are in line they will not leave you behind.
ST. THOMAS: Sonny Liston tour ($25pp) made our day. He was fun and musical and informative. We stopped at Sapphire Beach and enjoyed 2 hours on this beautiful beach. We rented lounge chairs ($7/day) and float mat ($9/2 hours). The restrooms were gross, so come in your suit and go back damp because Sonny doesn't mind.
SAN JUAN: Tour guide met us at the port ($20pp) to see New San Juan, Corandado Beach area (Stop 1), Territorial Capitol building (Stop 2), and drop off at San Cristobal Fort (final stop). We toured the fort ($5pp) and walked Old San Juan on our own. We stopped to eat lunch at Parrot Club on Fronteleza just steps away from the park/square from San Cristobal. Great and authentic PR food. We ate the empandillos and Carne y Fritos, drinks, and Guava Custard ($50-60 including tip). Be sure to walk along the old city wall and the sea for beautiful views. We were in port during the daytime.
NASSAU, BAHAMAS: We took a Carnival excursion to snorkel which also included a harbor tour since this was a port substitution. Unfortunately, the sea was choppy and overcast so this wasn't the experience we thought it would be. Still, I would recommend this tour if it weren't for the poor weather. It was raining when we returned to port. We walked the shops a bit and returned to ship early.
MIAMI: We rented a car and drove to Everglades. We enjoyed the 2 hour tram tour ($16pp) in Shark Valley (the US National Park). The views from the tower were breath-taking. We saw wildlife including alligators. We ate at La Carreta, a cuban chain restaurant in Kendall. There is one in the airport too. Decent food, good prices, but Cuban food wasn't my favorite. We had a reservation with Hertz, but since the Food and Wine Festival was happening in Miami, they simply didn't send their pick up van to the port. We found out own way to their DT office, but we were told to just sit and wait and maybe in 2 hours they would have a car. We took a taxi to Alamo near the airport and got a car on the spot - paying 3 times in taxi fares and rental fees than our Hertz reservation. It was VERY FRUSTRATING.
EMBARKATION/DEBARKATION/IMMIGRATION/CUSTOMS: All these processes went as smooth as could be expected. Embarkation took about 2 hours from drop off at port to walking into our cabin (about 11am-1pm). Lunch on Lido deck was very crowded and just be patient. Debarkation and customs was easy. We were one of the last groups to debark (around 10am) and it took about a half an hour until we were on the curb. Immigration was completed in St. Thomas with officers coming on board. Just follow the directions. It was simple, but again the lines can be long.
ADVICE: (1) Bring your own insulated beverage cup so you can fill up with water or lemonade or iced tea at the casual dining and off ship. It was hot and we were glad to keep hydrated. (2) Research the ports for what to do and then figure you can only get 1/2 done/seen that you want to. (3) Bring less clothes and plan to dress casually other than elegant nights if you dine in dining room. We washed 2 small loads of laundry ($2/wash and $2/dry). (4) Be patient with embarkation/debarkation and tendering lines. They aren't pleasant but it doesn't help to yelp. (5) Make reservations with more than one car rental companies. They are not really saving you a car anyway and won't charge you (usually) if you just don't show up. I could have shopped around and had a better deal but was stuck when Hertz fell through. Also, if Hertz doesn't send their van, then they probably don't have a car for you anyway. Hop on any car rental's shuttle and go where there is a car. All the shuttles take you to the airport where many national chains and local rental companies are all along a 2-3 block area.
We had a great time and hope that you will too.