Background: This was our first cruise ever for me and my husband (38) and our son (9). We were looking for a vacation where we could all be together as a family, but have times that my son could play with other kids and time for me and my husband to spend together. It was a 7 day with 3 ports: San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Maarten. We liked that it wasn't too port intensive.
Travel To Port of Embarkation: We flew Delta to Miami the evening before our cruise on a Friday night. We arrived in Miami at 11:45pm with no problems or delays. Took a shuttle from the hotel to the port the next day. Arrived at port at 12:25, we were on the ship at 1:25. I had heard it took about an hour to get through the check-in and I had heard about winding through the "ropes" so we were prepared and it wasn't that big of a deal. I've waited in longer lines at Walt Disney World.
Hotel Info: Since we arrived so late in the evening, we stayed at the Embassy Suites Miami International. There was a free shuttle to the hotel from the airport. Check in was easy and we were in bed asleep by 1am. The next morning we slept in a bit and then went to the breakfast downstairs which was surprisingly quite good. We took my son to the pool for a while to swim. The pool area was very nice-the only thing was we were so close to the airport-so lots of big planes going up over us. No big deal-we weren't there for a week-just an overnight. Check out was 12 noon. I had booked a package that included a shuttle transport to the the port($133 + tax room/b'fast/airport shuttle/port shuttle), I wasn't sure if we would use it or just take a taxi, but the shuttle left at noon, and that was the same time we planned on taking a taxi so, we just took the shuttle and saved our money. No problems at all with the shuttle very easy and we were the first dropped off. I'd do it again. We were very happy with what we got for the money we spent.
Stateroom: WOW! I made a point to book a special room for this cruise. I booked one of the two corner aft wrap balcony cabins that accommodated 3. We were SO impressed! Our balcony was huge-like 40' long and wider than we thought it would be. There were two lounge chairs and 4 or 6 chairs and a little table and lots of room still. Our room was configured in a corner, so even though it was pretty much the same amount of square feet as a regular room, or room was so open and spacious. There was even a chair and table in one of the corners, which was pretty nice to have. We will ALWAYS try to book this cabin if we can in the future. Everything in our room was so nice too. The linens, towels, carpeting, etc. were all in great shape, no stains or rips or anything. The beds were very comfortable. There was a lot more space in the cabin for storage than I thought there would be. We were very impressed with our cabin. Also, it was very nice and quiet, we never heard anyone in the hall or in the adjacent cabins. The only thing that wasn't quiet was our neighbor on one side who let the door to the balcony SLAM shut every time they went in or out of it. WHY??? Please, have some respect for the people around you!
Ship Info: We were very happy with the ship. Everything always seemed to be clean and neat. We didn't think the decor was too bad-I mean it is a little more over the top than most of the hotels we have stayed in...but we sort of expected it to be a little more over the top. The cruise director was Noonan. I thought he was funny and amusing. It seems like he tried to keep announcements to a minimum.
Dining: We were very surprised at how good the food was. We were very happy with all of our dining from the dining room to the buffet to room service. Sure, it would have been nice to get more a full breakfast for room service rather than just continental-but we were fine with it. My eggs Benedict in the main dining room were nice and soft and quite good. Yes, I've had a little better...but they were at a restaurant made to order, so these were perfectly fine with me. I will admit, the eggs Benedict on the buffet were not so good-I sort of expected that though. We never really ran it to the massive lines at the buffets that some people talk about. I waited with about 3 people in front of me for the deli a few days-but that didn't seem unacceptable to me. I don't think I ever really waited in any lines more than 3 or 4 people anywhere at any time. My son LOVED having ice cream available 24 hours a day. The grill and pizza were always handy, as was room service. Our main dining room service tended to be kind of slow, but we had the late dining and were not in a hurry so, we weren't really bothered by it and it was nice to not be rushed. We did eat in Harry's Steakhouse one night and we love it. The service was really great and the food was very nice. A very nice evening. I did go to the sushi bar twice-it was good.
Activities/Entertainment: I can't say too much about the activities as we really didn't participate in many of them. I do know that there we many activities to choose from if we wanted to. Some of the activities around the lido pool were amusing: ice carving demo, master mixologist, live music(very small-1,2, or maybe 3 performers)the various contests...great people watching I guess. I liked that you could do as much or as little as you cared to do. We never saw the shows-not really our thing. I guess I would have gone to one, but my husband wasn't into it-so it was fine with me. My son went to one show with the camp and was very impressed and thought it was pretty cool. We aren't gamblers or smokers so, we didn't spend much time around that area at all. I did use the spa one day. There was a port day special: pick 3 treatments-20 minutes each for $99 or 4 for $129. I did 4: ginger lime scrub, foot reflexology, hot stone massage, scalp massage. This was SO nice! I've had many massages before, this was the best ever. Yes, there was the "hard sell" at the end. There was one product I actually wanted and said no to the other two, and that was fine, no problems. Next year I will try to do this again-it was worth it I thought.
Children's Clubs: Camp Carnival was WONDERFUL! My son LOVED the camp. The staff there were so nice, yet really had safety in mind. They really gained my trust as the days went on. The kids were very nice, everyone got along great, my son made friends. I even let my son go to the late night party-something I said I wouldn't do when we got on the ship-by mid week I had become comfortable enough to let him go-and he had a BLAST! The Camp earns very high marks from us!
Service: We were impressed with the service-it was better than we expected. Our room steward was just wonderful and always greeted us by name and high fives for our son. We had towel animals every night. Service around the ship was great. Everyone always would stop and smile and say hello-I didn't really expect this and it was so nice. Bar service was very good-never had to wait much at all and the roaming servers on the lido were always around to take your order. I do think the dining staff were great, but I think there could have been a few improvements there. These poor people just had too much to do for too many people. Apparently there used to be a sommelier on staff-not anymore-and it would have been better service if there was one. We wanted wine every night and it was an extra that our server had to deal with that I suspect he just didn't have the time to deal with-but he did his best I believe. Apparently there were 4 bar servers on staff for the dining room. It wasn't until the last night that we ever saw one at all. This is missed revenue for Carnival. If someone asks/suggests a drink or a bottle of wine-I suspect there would be people who would order-but if you are not asked, it seemed difficult to get bar/wine service at dinner. Of course, different story in Harry's-there was a sommelier there and we had VERY attentive service in all areas there. Also, as nice and hard working as our 3 servers were in the main dining room, there was one server who every night attempted to "pull on our heartstrings" and tell us about his son at home that he misses that doesn't recognize him, and how our little journey to get to the ship is nothing compared to his 20 hour journey, and how he doesn't get any sleep and how hard the work is. I know all of these things-I read Cruise Confidential, but I don't want to be reminded constantly while I am on this wonderful vacation.
Port & Shore Excursions: We went on our own in port and didn't use these services
Disembarkation: We had a 2:30pm flight out of MIA. We were not in a hurry to get off the ship. Understandably, Carnival was in more of a hurry to get us off the ship. We stayed in our room until about 8:30, which was no problem, ate breakfast at the Lido buffet and then grabbed lounge chairs by the Lido pool until we were given "last call" at 9:40am and headed off. Very easy and smooth getting off, a small line here or there then right into a taxi and to the airport.
Summary: We LOVED our vacation on the Liberty. We felt that we got a lot for the money we paid. We could have paid a 1-4 thousand more to go on other mass market lines for the same week going Eastern at lower cabin categories-but I'm not sure that it would have been THAT much better. We loved that this trip had so many days at sea. We were just happy to enjoy the ship and the sea. We have booked again for next year! Unfortunately, the 2 aft wraps are already booked, so we took an aft extended and have wait listed for the aft wrap in the hope that one opens. Either way, we just loved being on the ship and had a very relaxed and pampered vacation, which is exactly what were were going for. My son said it was "better than Disney" that is a pretty amazing compliment from him. We have to agree, this was our best family vacation ever and we can't wait to go again next year.