We took the Carnival Liberty, Western Caribbean, out of Miami on March 13 (Spring Break). We are a family of four including kids 16 and 12. For my wife and me this was our 4th cruise (2 on NCL and 1 on Holland), for the kids it was their 2nd (1 on Holland).
Travel to Miami We purchased air from Carnival since we didn't think we could do better on the price given that it was spring break. Carnival put us on a direct flight into Miami arriving at 2:15 with a nominal 4:00 ship departure, later than we would have wanted but all indications from Carnival were that if we were a little late, they would wait (no guarantees of course). We took a taxi to the port of Miami (fixed fare of $24 plus tip) with no problem at all and were there around 3:00. Having to print out our own luggage tags and staple or tape them on did not impress us.
Embarkation Since we were arriving so late, embarkation was a breeze with no lines to speak of. We were on the ship within 30 minutes or so. I did like that you didn't have to carry your life preserver up on deck for the drill though some may want to try it on if it makes them more comfortable. We left port about 1 hour late.
The Ship The ship seems typical for this vintage in its layout and any complaints are minor. Generally only decks at the top allow walking around with a view due to all the balcony cabins on lower decks and there is at least one deck where you cannot walk the length of the ship (you must go up or down and then over). We would have liked a better map of the ship to know the layouts of the decks and had to rely on the maps next to the elevators which gave a layout of that deck. A couple places like the Library were tiny and didn't serve a useful purpose. Some of the room signs and deck numbers (in the carpet) are hard to read for some people. The water slide was a favorite for us. We had a blast on it. The pool was always crowded and loud but it was spring break and I would expect that anyway. The mini golf was not bad as a diversion.
Cabin We had an inside cabin, Deck 2 Aft. Kids got the upper bunks that lower from the ceiling and we had the lower beds pushed together in the middle of the space. This was a typical inside cabin and worked fine for us. There was no lotion or hair conditioner, so bring your own. We did get occasional noise or vibration from the drive motors but not too bad (pick mid ship or forward or higher if you can). We got significant noise from our neighbors a couple of nights, usually around midnight when they had their front door open and the party was just getting started (it was spring break). Cabin stewards did a fine job and we liked the cruise-favorite towel animals.
Food Food on the ship was a mixed bag, but no better than average on the whole. We were assigned to the Silver dining room but there was no view from our table (which probably goes hand in hand with our Deck 2 inside cabin). Dinner attire is very casual on the Liberty. We saw shorts and t shirts on casual nights and jeans and collared shirts on formal night. We liked the service in the Silver dining room for dinners (we ate all our dinners there and our servers quickly learned what we liked and were very friendly) but the food there was average at best. It did seem to get better about half way through the cruise for some reason. One piece of meat served as a filet mignon was not even close (more like pot roast was our consensus). Desserts at dinner were generally good, but bread was nothing to write home about. Breakfast was below average. We ate at the buffet except for 2 sit-downs (which were better). The eggs (which are rarely real eggs on a cruise I think) had a poor texture and I could barely eat them. Grits were ok as well as Danishes, but pancakes and French toast had little flavor. Buffet breakfast on Holland was much better with more selection including things like Eggs Benedict at the buffet (only available at sit-down on Liberty and not as good as Holland). Liberty does serve their bacon 'chewy' where other cruises we have taken served it 'very crispy'. Lunch was probably the best meal on the Liberty with very good selection and taste. We liked the deli, burritos, Mongolian (long lines), fish 'n chips and buffet lines. Pizza was ok with the kids and burgers and hot dogs were good, too. Long lines are likely to be the biggest issue. My kids loved the frozen yogurt, available 24 hours. We also enjoyed the afternoon tea on sea days, it was good.
Entertainment The entertainment was typical for what we've seen on past cruises. We particularly enjoyed the comedian, the jugglers and the hypnotist who were all quite good (including a 'learn to juggle' class). The usual song and dance programs seemed typical of other cruises but we don't normally attend much of those programs and didn't on this cruise either. Other entertainment such as trivia contests and the like were better executed on other cruises we have taken. The early dinner seating works better with the entertainment schedule in our opinion (we had late seating).
Fitness The fitness center is well equipped with modern equipment and was not crowded when we used it. One oddity is that when you are on the treadmills (which are arranged in an arc at the front of the ship), the windows stop at your knees and you can't see anything. I'm used to being able to watch the sea. At least they had tv's built in.
Kids Programs Our kids, one in the older kids group, Club O2, and one in the middle group, Circle C, tried one or two activities and liked them. I think most people's kids had a very good time in the kids program; ours just had other interests.
Excursions We planned our own excursions except for one in Cozumel. In Cozumel, my son and I did the Amazing Cozumel Race (thru Carnival). We thought this was fantastic and I recommend it if you are a regular viewer of the show and can jog a couple miles. My wife and daughter booked a snorkeling trip thru Manta Raya. They had a neutral opinion of it. In Grand Cayman, my son and I booked a waverunner trip thru Fat Fish and were lucky to have it all to ourselves for the 8:00 AM trip. Neither of us had ever used a waverunner but you pick it up fast. The guide was friendly and informative and got us out to sting ray city (after visiting some starfish and the mangroves) ahead of basically everyone else. We had the place to ourselves for at least 15 minutes. Since it was just the 2 of us, we got to hold the stingrays multiple times, feed them multiple times and interact a lot, much better than the huge groups that go out there. After sting ray city, we went to a reef to snorkel, then a brief stop on shore if we wanted to get a drink and a great ride back. It was my teenage son's favorite activity of the trip. My wife and daughter booked a sting ray city tour thru Moby Dick Tours. While they greatly enjoyed the time with the sting rays, they suffered from an impersonal staff, and slow boat ride. In Ocho Rios, we all had signed up for a combo Dunn's River Falls/River Tubing tour with Phil Lafayette. We were happy with the tour and would definitely recommend Phil Lafayette. We had Phil's daughter since there were 2 groups that day and she was great. We had a slight delay in leaving due to a daylight savings time issue and needing to wait for everyone that was signed up, but I don't think it mattered much. I don't think it is really possible to beat the crowds to Dunn's River. Once there, you are queued up in groups and handed off to guides who are very entertaining but a little pushy selling the DVD at the end. The climb up the falls, done almost entirely holding hands, is nice and worth doing once, but probably only once. You can avoid the vendors at the end by heading for the entrance and they will divert you at the last into the end of the vendor area where a quick exit can be made if desired. Some enjoyed the shopping, but we just didn't want to deal with the 'if it is put into your hand, you bought it' hard sell. The river tubing was actually nicer, I thought. It lasted about 30 minutes. We also took a scenic drive and stopped for some Jamaican food (try the pork/chicken, they were very good). We were dropped back at the ship or shopping if you wanted.
Disembarkation We were in a later group which was fine since Carnival had us on a mid-afternoon direct flight out of MIA. We had to wait a little bit for the luggage to come out, maybe 15 minutes. The whole process was pretty easy. Carnival had included transfers back to MIA for no charge (though not on the front end?) and this worked well.
Summary We had a good time, but would probably think twice about sailing Carnival again.