Carnival Liberty Cruise Review by DarthGrady: Carnival Liberty, 09/19/09
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Carnival Liberty, 09/19/09
My wife and I booked this cruise in early 2009 after finding it for a really great price. We were booked on the Carnival Fascination, but cancelled that booking when we found this cruise. Both went to Half Moon Cay, but Liberty was also going to San Juan, Grand Turk and St. Thomas. This was very appealing since we have never been to any of those ports, with the exception of St. Thomas. We had also never been on the Liberty, so it was a chance for me to explore a new ship which I always enjoy. We booked a category 1A room (with portholes), and paid $450 per person after all fees were factored in.
This is one area where the Port of Miami really shines. Their embarkation process is really top notch. This was especially noticeable since we just went through the general disarray that is the embarkation process at the Port of Vancouver. Upon arriving at the pier in Miami and dropping off the luggage we entered the security area. More I was expecting to wait in line with everyone else, but the signage indicated that there was a separate line for VIP guests (I am Platinum with Carnival). We were able to bypass the long check point line and went right to the front. This was great, and exactly what I felt Vancouver needed since you have to go through security and Customs. After the screening we were directed to the VIP check in lounge, and the man at the door took our names for his list. He said that we could sit and wait, and we would be called to the desk when they were ready for us. They had the lounge set up very nice, and even had a little lemonade dispenser. After about 10 or 15 minutes they called us to the desk and checked us in. This took all of a few minutes, we got our Sail and Sign cards and were then off to the gangway. From the time that we parked the car, to when we boarded the ship was a half hour at most. The Port of Miami should be the model for all other Carnival embarkation operations.
We booked room #1212 on Riviera deck. This is a category 1A room with upper/lower bunks and two porthole windows. This was a great deal for us since we got an ocean view at a price less than an interior. We didn't mind not sleeping in the same bed, so the wife took the pull down bunk and I had the twin bed. I loved this room or the same reason that I loved our 5A on Inspiration, the portholes! They are a great compromise between interior cabins and ocean view. I can close the porthole hatches to make it dark like an interior room for sleeping in late, and then open them for a view outside. Everything in the cabin worked fine except the TV. The set itself was fine, but at least six or seven channels never worked. Some of the ones that did work would cut in and out intermittently.
I found the Carnival Liberty to be a very nice and clean ship. Its layout is virtually identical to the Carnival Glory which I had been on previously. The lobby and public areas are very bright, especially when compared to other Carnival ship I have been on. There is a lot of white faux rock with wrought iron pillars and acres pastel watercolor paneling. The rest of the public areas have that same Tuscan inspired theme. The bars and lounges all had standard setup and dEcor. The chandeliers around the ship, including the large one in the atrium, change colors in sequence and are a nice touch.
The Promenade on deck 5 is the central entertainment area of the ship and is the home of the Czars Palace Casino. It has the Liberty's main disco, the "Hot and Cool" lounge, which was curiously decorated with giant plastic arms sporting various forms of tattooing. I immediately had flashbacks of the Sensation's piano bar that has giant plastic hands. The teen club "Without Batteries" was right next door, which also includes the arcade. I'm too old to hang out there, but it looked nice and had a very decent collection of arcade games. The "Piano Man" piano bar, "The Stage" jazz club, "Paparazzi" wine bar and the "Victorian Lounge" cabaret are all on the promenade also. The Liberty promenade also has the "Origami" sushi bar, the Jardin Cafe coffee bar and the Carnival Loyalty and Future Bookings desk.
Emile's restaurant on Lido deck is the ship's buffet area. The area is almost identical to the Red Sail on Glory, except that they eliminated the stairway up to the Supper Club for the Liberty. The restaurant was very light and open. We ate in the upper area where the Fish and Chips counter is located. That area is much less crowded than the lower area, I assume because most folks don't want to ascend the stairs to get up there. Emile's also has a burrito bar which serves hand made burritos with chips and salsa. I tried it the first day and liked it a lot, not up to Moe's standards, but few are.
The lido area was tweaked slightly at some point between the Glory and Liberty. The two central whirlpools and the main (middle) pool are right next to each other on Glory. On Liberty they have moved them next to the tiered seating area, flanking the doors that lead to the atrium. They also eliminated the raised stage area and its cover. I assume this was done to create more open seating area for Liberty's Seaside Theater screen that is above the main pool. Whatever the reason, the result is a cleaner looking area that flows much better.
Day 1: Miami, Fl.
Most of the first day has been covered by the above. We mostly explored the ship and hung out in the room as we were both pretty tired. We did go up on deck for awhile to watch sail away from one of the forward observation decks. Carnival added two large suites on Lido deck right above the bridge which eliminated access to the bridge wings. That is where I usually like to spend sail away, but life goes on. The upshot of this is that the observation deck above those new suites (Panorama Deck) is now very large, since they had to add onto it to make the suite's roofs.
We selected "My Time Dining" for this cruise, but ended up eating a snack at Emil's and then ordering room service. After getting some rest I went up to the aft pool for our Cruise Critic group meet and greet. It was well attended and I got to meet lots of nice folks that I had been talking to for months on our roll call.
Day 2: Half Moon Cay, Bahamas
After a late wake up we decided to skip breakfast and head for the island. The line for tender boarding was very long, backed up several decks from the bottom. I took advantage of one of my Concierge Club perks, priority tender boarding. The fellow at the Platinum guest counter seemed confused at first, saying we would need to go to the Victoria Lounge and get tickets. I think he simultaneously remembered what to do, because he then said to follow him and he would escort us. He took us down to the gangway and had one of the other crewmen put us into the line. This is a very nice perk for ports like Half Moon Cay when so many people are trying to leave the ship at once. I was very grateful for it, and found it to be yet another reason that I will continue to cruise with Carnival.
I simply cannot express how much I liked Half Moon Cay. My previous experience with private islands was limited to Royal Caribbean's Coco Cay. Everything that I liked about that island was present on Half Moon Cay. The clean atmosphere, provided lunch and lack of pushy junk hawking natives were the main points. But I put Half Moon a little beyond Coco Cay for one reason, the beach. Coco Cay's beach was very nice, but Half Moon did not have all the sea grass on the bottom. At Half Moon the entire swimming area has white sand beach and smooth sandy bottom. This combined with the crystal clear water make it like a very, very large swimming pool. We spent the day on the beach and swimming after meeting up with the folks we met on Cruise Critic. After the tender ride back to the ship and hit the hot tubs following a couple of trips down the water slide.
We went to the main dining room for dinner, using our "anytime dining" option and heading there at a very-early-for-us 6 PM. They were able to provide us with a two seat table and we had a very nice dinner. The only noticeable difference between anytime and regular dining was that there was already a basket of bread on the table. The food on Liberty is very good, on par with the food we have had on other Carnival ships. The seaside theater movie for this day was 007: Quantum of Solace which I really wanted to see. However, it was showing at 6PM which is still pretty hot and sunny so we decided to skip it.
In the evening we headed to the piano bar and stayed for an hour or so. Duane the Piano Man is very good and kept the crowd constantly going. He had a good mixture of new, old, fast, slow, and many different genres. Afterward we saw the Rotten Brothers Human Side Show (think comedy mixed with side show stunts). It was their R rated material; the show was silly but also pretty funny.
After a full day of listening to him, I really began wishing that Butch the Cruise Director was not allowed to speak on the intercom. He is a good and energetic CD, but when he gets started talking it doesn't stop for what seems like five or ten minutes. He drones on and on about everything that is happening around the ship. This information is already given in the Carnival Capers daily newsletter, so the announcements are mostly unnecessary. I understand that they have to do this, but I wish he would keep it as brief as possible. Other Cruise Directors we have had were not nearly as long winded, keeping their announcements fairly concise.
Day 3: At Sea
The morning of day 3 started out much as day 2 did, with Butch gabbing over the intercom at 10 AM like a teenage girl on a telephone. Now had this been reserved only for the open decks and public areas I would have been fine. But it gets blasted throughout the halls and subsequently resonates into the cabins. So everyone on the ship gets a wake up call, whether they want one or not. I debated with myself briefly about going on a covert raid and stealing his P.A. microphone and throwing it into the ocean. I decided not to only because I determined that he would likely just find another one and that I would probably be locked up or set adrift in on a small wooden raft.
Later in the day we had our Cruise Critic group meet and greet. We all decided to pay extra and have an open bar party in one of the lounges. We all had a great time and the Carnival staff did a wonderful job bringing the drinks out to us. We spent the rest of the day hanging around the pool and having a great sea day.
After dinner, I went to the Ault Comedy show featuring Phat Kat. After that we spent some time in the Piano Bar, but it was fairly empty so it wasn't a late night.
Day 4: St. Thomas, USVI
I slept in until almost 11 AM on Tuesday with no interference from Butch. I stopped by the Purser's desk on the previous evening and made a polite complaint about the volume of the announcements in the cabin areas. The crewman did say that Butch used to do them at around 8 AM, but pushed it back to 10 due to complaints. I'd like to think that this quiet morning is due to mine, but it's more likely that he just did not have as much to announce since this was a port day.
We had lunch in the Lido buffet, and the Deli sandwiches were good as usual. I also tried the Mongolian Grill for the first time; it tasted alright but not wonderful. We spent a little while in St. Thomas, but the weather was rainy so we just went back to the ship. This was not really a big deal since we will be going back there in October on the Freedom of the Seas.
We decided to lay out by the pool with friends during the evening after leaving St. Thomas. While there, I went to the aft pool bar to get a bucket of beers. For some reason, it was totally unmanned and I stood there for several minutes waiting on the bar tender to show up. This was the second such occurrence of an abnormally long wait at a bar this cruise. The first was at the casino bar on the previous day, where I waited for over five minutes for service. The bar tender saw me, but she apparently felt it too far to walk since I was on the other side of the bar. To her credit, she did provide dazzling service to the several people that walked up after and were closer to her.
We chose to eat dinner at the buffet this night since the menu for the main dining room wasn't fantastic. As fate would have it, the buffet dinner would prove to be equally lackluster. We ended up just getting room service, as their steak and brie sandwich is very good.
We received our invitations to the Past Guest Party, with no accompanying pin. I had read on Cruise Critic that the Platinum guests would still get one, but the folks at the Purser's desk said that this was not the case. She said that the program was totally gone, that there were none to be had, and to possibly check EBay. I checked the gift shop for them, but they had none either. This was a common occurrence at the Liberty's gift shop. They have no ship pins, and no Liberty specific shot glasses. This really got me peeved since I usually collect both from all the ships I cruise on. Day 4 was a little dodgy; I went to bed hoping for a better day 5.
Day 5: San Juan, PR.
After a dicey day 4, we had a much improved stop in San Juan. We slept in until about 8 and had breakfast in the main dining room for the first time on this cruise. I had the eggs benedict which were good, but not the best I have had on a Carnival ship.
After breakfast we left the ship and headed into San Juan. We were immediately bombarded by persons selling taxi rides, island tours, fishing trips and city tours. I immediately wished I was back at Half Moon Cay. As a matter of complete fact, I wished that our cruise was just six days at Half Moon Cay. After escaping the hordes of sales people, we started toward the fort El Morro.
We took a wrong turn, and accidentally walked down the City Wall path that runs next to the ocean. We were thinking that this would eventually lead us to the fort. However, we got a fairly big surprise when it dead ended into rocks near the foot of the cliffs that the fort sits upon. We turned around and retraced the 1.5 miles of steps that we had just traveled. Apparently we missed the small sign stating that this particular trail was a dead end, had no restrooms, no water, no shade, and should not be taken by anyone. We counted this as our daily exercise, got on the right path, and continued to the fort.
When we did make it to El Morro I was pleasantly surprised. It was very interesting to learn about the history of the place and of surrounding Old San Juan. We spent a couple of hours exploring the fort and taking many pictures. We then walked back through the city and eventually to the ship. I also made it up on deck for sail away and got many good photos of the fort as we left San Juan harbor. Overall I was very happy with our day in San Juan. Had we had more time I would have visited the other fort, San Christobel, but that will give me something to do next time.
In the evening we attended the Past Guest Party. Apparently there were many past guests on this sailing since they had two parties at different times. We met up with some of our Cruise Critic friends, and we all headed to the same party (some of us had different times). They didn't check what time we were supposed to be there, so I assume they didn't mind. They were serving free drinks and cocktails as well as beers. I'm fairly certain that they were handing out Heineken, which is on tap on the Liberty. I was surprised that they were serving something other than Bud or Coors. We kept the fun going by moving our little party to the Gloves Sports Bar. This was a very nice little room that seems to be underused due to it's off-the-promenade location. The bar tender seemed happy we were there, brining out chips to our table.
We had dinner this night at the main dining room. They were serving beef stroganoff, a dish that I had not seen on Carnival before. I gave it a try, and it was pretty good! I will definitely order it again, classic comfort food. I also had the flat iron steak which was cooked well, but kind of tough. I wished I had just gotten two orders of the stroganoff.
Later that evening we went to the deck party and midnight Mexican buffet. The buffet was pretty standard tacos, chips and desserts. A lady in line ahead of me apparently did not know that the carved fruits are decoration. I surmised this after seeing one of the cantaloupes that had been carved into a flower on her tray next to her food. I don't know if she intended to eat it or take it home, but I found it immensely comical either way. Due to our unplanned hike, we were both pretty tired, and headed back to the room following the buffet.
Day 6: Grand Turk, B.W.I.
I awoke at 10 AM on the dot to the dulcet tones of the morning announcements, at least Butch kept it under a few minutes this time. After lunch we went into Grand Turk, it was the first time there for both of us. The pier and its shopping complex are nice and very new. We were told that the whole area had to be rebuilt after a major hurricane a few years ago. There is a large swimming area right at the pier complex with lots of lounge chairs. We did not feel like being at the beach, so we went to Margaritaville.
The new Margaritaville at Grand Turk is huge, as is its swimming pool. Use of the pool is free, so we just hung out there for the day. The pool itself must cover half of an acre. It is lagoon shaped, with an island in the middle. There is also a swim up bar, and lots of lounge chairs and tables. They have clean bathrooms, which is always a plus and private cabanas that are available for rent (at a fairly high cost). We did not order any food or beverages there, but our friends who did complained of fairly slow service. I was also put off by the behavior of some of the other guests. A large group of folks (I assume they are residents of the island) brought their own food and beverages to the pool. That was not the problem, what was incredibly off putting was that they started eating their food while wading in the pool. I saw a few pieces of food fall in, as well as the kids washing off their hands in the water! Thankfully they left soon thereafter.
Prior to dinner we attended a cocktail party put on by the Loyalty and Future Bookings agents. They served free wine and champagne which was very nice. They gave a short pitch on buying future cruise vouchers. For the voucher you pay $100 toward a future booking, and you get a free onboard credit based on the length of the cruise. We had already bought one certificate earlier in the week, and went ahead and bought one more.
They served Chateaubriand at dinner, which is one of my favorite Carnival dishes. This was only the third time in five nights that I ate in the Dining Room. This is highly unusual, as we almost always have dinner there. I believe this is one of the side effects of My Time Dining. On the traditional setup, you get used to you wait staff and vice versa. With MTD, you have different people every night. I think the personalized service gets lost, even though it is very convenient to just go eat when you want to.
After dinner we went to the Paparazzi Wine Bar and found the Liberty Ninjas. That being said, it would probably help if I actually explained what the Liberty Ninjas are. They are a couple of fellows from the entertainment staff that publish a clue about the place and time that they will be at. If you find them, or just happen to be walking by, you can play whatever game they happen to have for a chance to win a ship on a stick trophy. This time the game was house of cards building. Whoever stacks cards the highest takes it; with a lot of luck I stacked 14 levels for the win!
In the evening we attended the hypnosis comedy show performed by Asad. His show was very funny, and we stayed at the theater for his adult "R" rated show afterward. I was one of his volunteers that he performed the hypnosis on. I will say that I enjoyed the show, other than that I have no further comments. My fellow Cruise Critic members in the audience that night might be willing to tell their stories though.
Day 7: At Sea
Our last day was spent at sea, and was pretty well packed with activities. We had breakfast in the main dining room, and then played a round of mini golf. The mini golf course is located on the deck that wraps around the funnel. This is a drastic improvement over the courses on the older Fantasy class ships. On those older ships, they place the course on the top deck of the ship, all the way at the front. The high winds there make the game all but unplayable on sea days when the ship is moving. On the Liberty, the wind speed is lessened by the time it makes it to the funnel deck.
After mini golf, we attended the galley tour, which is apparently only available to Platinum Guests since we did not see it in the Carnival Capers at all. This marked the first time we actually saw crew members working in the galley as we toured. There were several people preparing many different foods to be served later. This was much more interesting, since it's usually just a static display with only a few crewmen standing around. We even got to ride the server's escalators before we completed the tour. My wife competed in the slot tournament, but did not make it to the finals. After that we went to "The Cabinet" cigar bar for Carnival Cruise Line's History Trivia. The lady from the entertainment staff that was running it said that this was the first week they were doing it. Thanks to all the CCL knowledge I have gained from Cruise Critic, I won another 24k Gold (plastic!) Ship on a Stick!
We had lunch in the main dining room for the first time this cruise. I had the spinach and ricotta cheese ravioli that was very good. Our waiter Tanaska talked with us awhile after we ate, he was the best server was had all week.
Later in the afternoon we watched the "Love and Marriage" (formerly the "Newlywed, Not so Newlywed") game. It was very funny as usual. We also went to the Farewell Reception for the first time. I was a little leery about this, since they were having it in the relatively small Victoria Lounge. The lounge was full, but not packed and they served the same free cocktails that used to be given out at the Captain's Cocktail Party. This was a far cry from that recent entry into the Carnival History Book, but it was still fun. The Captain himself did make an appearance, giving greetings at several tables. He was definitely one of the most visible captains we have had, I observed him walking the ship several times throughout this cruise. I did like that this was a casual dress event. It's nice to get the free drinks and not have to put on the formal wear to gain entry. I'm sure it's also better for Carnival, since they now only have to put on a single event.
Leaving the Farewell Reception, we had dinner at Harry's Supper Club. Like the other Carnival Supper Clubs we have visited, it was absolutely delicious! I had the crab cake, lobster bisque, French onion soup and the filet mignon. This is simply the best meal that I have ever had for such a low price. I would recommend that anyone that has never tried it, to visit the supper club at least once on a Carnival Cruise. The $30 per person cover charge is well spent.
The saddest part of any cruise is the last night. Since we had reached this unavoidable depressing event, we had to pack up our bags. They had to be outside the room by 11 PM, so we got everything ready and put our luggage out. They gave us zone 1 tags, but we decided to have a leisurely breakfast on the last morning and leave the ship at the last possible moment. I don't mind admitting that I felt sad that this cruise was over. We had met so many great people from Cruise Critic, and had such a great time with them, that I did not want it to end. We all said our goodbyes, and headed for our rooms.
Day 8, Miami and Debarkation
We had our last breakfast in the main dining room with some of our Cruise Critic friends. We took our time, and eventually left the ship at around 9:30 once the crowds had dies down at the gangway. It was so nice to not have to wait in lines. We easily found our luggage on the carousel, and went right through customs. The entire process from scanning our Sail and Sign card, to walking out of the building took about 10 minutes. This is yet another process that the port of Miami has down to a science. My only complaint is that they pulled the ship up to the terminal next to the one that we left from. The Destiny was at the pier that we started at. This meant a long walk in the sun with luggage to the lot where we parked. Not a big deal, but mildly annoying.
This was an overall great cruise. There were a few bumps in the road, but nothing that came close to ruining our good time. I tried not to compare the Liberty to our recent Alaskan cruise on Spirit because that just wouldn't be fair. I instead tried to keep my experience on Glory in mind. The two cruises compare pretty evenly, both were awesome cruises with only a few flaws. I would not hesitate to cruise on Liberty again; she is a great ship, with a good crew that keeps her impeccably clean. The four stop Eastern Caribbean was wonderful, the highlight being Half Moon Cay. I would definitely recommend this ship and itinerary. Less
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